MICRO CENTER: COMPUTERS AND ELECTRONICS
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Tech Take-Apart
Finding the Right Sound
by kp

 

Shure SE420 Sound Isolating Earphones
Shure SE420 Sound Isolating Earphones

ifrogz EarPollution Crew Graffiti Earphones
ifrogz EarPollution Crew Graffiti Earphones

Monster Cable Dr. Dre Beats
Monster Cable Dr. Dre Beats

Monster Cable Turbine In-Ear Speakers
Monster Cable Turbine In-Ear Speakers

Panasonic Lightweight Shockwave Sport Clip Earphones
Panasonic Lightweight Shockwave Sport Clip Earphones

Skull Candy Asym Earbuds
Skull Candy Asym Earbuds

Sennheiser RS130 Wireless Headphone System
Sennheiser RS130 Wireless Headphone System

Turtle Beach Ear Force X4 Headphones
Turtle Beach Ear Force X4 Headphones

Investing in an MP3 player and digitizing your entire music library is no small feat. So, why use the generic headphones that come with your player? To get  the most out of your music, it is just as important to have the right headphones as it is to build the perfect playlist. Upgrading to a better quality headset can do more than just give you great sound - it can hold up better against everyday use. With a plethora of styles and features to choose from, finding a good fit can be a challenge. Here are some tips to guide you through the evaluation process:

Technology
Not all headphones are made equal. Depending on the design and material used to construct the earphones, it can make a world of difference in the sound. One feature to look for is the noise cancelling or sound isolating capabilities. This prevents or blocks ambient noise from disrupting your soundtrack. Noise cancellation technology uses white noise to counter the background sounds which can cause interference in your music. Sound isolation headphones work differently - blocking the outside noise by using a specialty-designed earpiece to fit snuggly in the ear canal. Sound isolation gives you more of the pure studio sound versus covering up the background noise with more noise. Shure SE420 Sound Isolating Earphones provides sound isolation in addition to Dual TruAcoustic MicroSpeakers for maximum sound quality. ifrogz EarPollution Crew Graffiti Earphones offers the same technology for 'direct-to-ear delivery.'

Another feature to consider is the type of speakers inside the headphones. There are two types of speaker designs: dynamic and electrostatic. Dynamic speakers use a cone-like construction connected to a voice coil to send sound waves. Some of these speaker types have neodymium drivers to improve sound quality by using their higher-powered magnetic charge.  An electrostatic speaker has a slightly different design by utilizing a thin layer of Mylar material that vibrates from an electrostatic charge. This type of speaker gives a more clear and wider range of sound versus the dynamic. Monster Cable's Dr. Dre Beats headphones, and Turbine In-Ear Speakers earphones use electrostatic speakers to give you studio quality sound at home.

Impedance is another critical feature to check for; it is to the difference in voltage and current used to measure the speaker resistance. Speakers with high impedance are more durable against wear as the sound fluctuates through the device, but they also take more power to operate. Monster Cable's Beats were developed with high impedance and require extra batteries to operate the headset. Lower-impedance earphones use the power from the connected audio device like an MP3 player, but don't give you the same depth in sound. When comparing specs, remember that higher impedance produces better sound.

Style
How you wear your headphones is just as important as what's inside the speakers. Where are you going to be using the headphones the most? Office? Gym? Home studio? Depending on where you are wearing your headphones, you need to consider the design of the product. For exercising, a pair of headphones that is durable and stays where they need to be may be more important than sound quality. Panasonic's Lightweight Shockwave Sport Clip Earphones are designed to fit securely around your ear so that the speakers remain in place when running or walking. Skull Candy Asym Earbuds also have a similar design but uses wires in place of clips to hold the earphones.

For home theater use, headphones with better sound quality are more important than how they look. Sennheiser RS130 Wireless Headphone System is unique in that, not only does it have a switchable surround sound option, but also is wireless. This headset gives you the freedom of moving around your office or studio. For gaming, wireless headphones can be beneficial, but to chat at the same time, look for headphones that include a microphone. The Turtle Beach Ear Force X4 Headphones feature 7.1 channel surround sound and include a boom microphone.

Maintenance
Once aspect of headphones that is often overlooked is maintenance. If the headphones require a separate power source, you should consider rechargeable batteries to save money and be green. In addition, most earphones come with replaceable ear pieces. If not, you should consider the extra cost for replacement parts. It's also important to check the durability of the connectors and wiring, particularly if you are going to be using the earphones for high impact exercising. Faulty wiring can not only damage the earphones but also can potentially cause damage to your other audio equipment.

References:
Creative Labs General Glossary
Creative Labs Headphone General Troubleshooting Tips
ifrogz EarPollution
Shure Sound Isolating Technology
Shure Earphones FAQ

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