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Getting the most out of your Headphones

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

NOTE: I have no idea which forum to put this in (full size or portable), so I'm posting it here.  It is a collection of lots of data I've collected about headphones and maintenance.  This is also an exact copy of my other thread on the iFans forums: http://www.ifans.com/forums/showthread.php?t=337759&highlight=headphones



This guide will help users, and buyers, get the most out of their headphones. Research is just as important as setup here. No, you don't need to drop a grand on a good pair of headphones, at the same time, you don't want to drop 5 bucks.

Choosing a pair o' 'phones

The most important thing here is to know yourself. I can't tell you what headphones to get if you don't know yourself, no one can. This can require you trying different headphones, but once you know what you like, you can eliminate the headphones you don't like. Some notes to getting you know yourself:

  • Sometimes it does depend, somewhat, on the music you listen to, so what music do you listen to?
  • What will you be using the headphones for? Walking, casual, athletic, at home, etc?
  • What kind of design do you prefer?
  • What do you like to hear, and how much of each? Bass/lows? Mids? Highs/treble?

Once you know who you are as a listener, you can then go off to decide to choose a pair of headphones. They all do not look, sound and work alike. First, choose a design based on your use. If you are walking, choose something smaller. Athletes should stick to the lightest ones that will move the least. If you are using them at home, you have freedom of choice. Choose something you like.

Now, you have the design down based on yourself. Go and find out what the different headphones sound like. No 2 headphones sound alike. They can sound similar, but not alike. To do this, look at unbiased reviews. Unbaised reviews have a couple of elements to them:

  • They are not all positive. They are also not all negative either.
  • They will point out major flaws and weaknesses of the headphones.
  • They are detailed and give lots of explanation for everything.
  • Many better ones tend to compare headphones, but don't always have to.
  • Look for longer reviews.

There are many places to find unbiased reviews. You are at one right now. The review team does headphone reviews. They are all unbiased and detailed. An excellent source for reviews. Head-Fi.org is a forum full of reviews for every headphone imaginable. CNET Editor reviews (not user) can also be a good place, they may not always be the most accurate, but still good. Now, I'm not saying that the user reviews on each product page is bad, just keep in mind they all have biases to them and don't give the full story most of the time. Use them all to get an overall view of the headphones.

When looking at the reviews, look for how they sound, are build, and comfortable they are. If design is important, take a look at that to.

With this information, you should be able to hand-pick your own pair of headphones that will suit you the best. No two ears are the same, no two ears will ever prefer the same. You're unique, so should your headphones.

Reading Specifications

Better put as why to not read specs. They are very misleading and tell very little about how the headphones will sound. However, here is a breakdown of each spec, and the deception used with them:

  • Driver

    This is simply what kind of

    speaker is in the headphone. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. There are two main ones. Dynamic and armature.

    The dynamic ones require less of a seal to get the bass, while the armature requires a good seal. Armatures usually sound more accurate and are smaller, so companies can fit more than one in the headphone. Armature headphones end up being much smaller than dynamic headphones, so they are lighter and more comfortable. Dynamic headphones can sound just as good though, and are much cheaper. Note that almost all dynamic drivers have neodymium magnets, so don't let that fool you, it's nothing special.

    This is a good thread to see the difference, in detail, between the two driver types: http://www.ifans.com/forums/showthread.php?t=151957
  • Frequency Response

    The frequency response of the headphones is basically what frequencies the headphones can create. Don't be fooled though. It can tell you jack about how the 'phones sound, and can be deceptive.

    This can be a ploy by the manufacturer. We can only hear around 20Hz - 20000Hz (20kHz). Any pair of headphones that can produce more is just for looks. Companies know that humans see more as better. There is no point in having more if you can't hear it.

    Also beware of reviews that say something like, "These headphones produce 5Hz, I can really hear the 5Hz". Not unless you are not of the human race, you can't hear 5Hz. I actually read something like this while reading reviews for the Apple IEM (which I reviewed myself).

  • Sensitivity

    This kind of tells you how they sound. What it really tells you is how loud the headphones can get with

    x mW of power current. It's measured in dB.
  • Impedance

    Ah impedance. The hardest thing to understand in the specs. Took me a while to understand, but my high school physics (electricity) helped a bit. This is measured in Ohms, or resistance. I'll classify these into two categories:

    • High (>32 Ohms)

      Requires a higher voltage to run at their best. Most MP3 players can't output that high of a voltage, so they may not be the most suitable for MP3 players. However, if you get a portable amp, then you're in business.

    • Low (<32 Ohms)

      Better for MP3 players. This requires more current to run and less voltage. Exactly what the MP3 player outputs. These still can get better amped, not but as noticeable as the high restive ones.

    As for the actual definition of impedance, let his YouTube video explain it with straws. It's easier to understand that way:


Remember, specs can only get you so far, so read reviews as they explain a lot more.

After Purchasing

OK, so now you have a good pair of headphones, or so you heard. Well, now it's time to make sure you hear them as they were meant to be. So lets get into some tips on how to get the best sound out of your headphones.

First up is something called burn in. This is really controversial among the audiophile community. Some believe it, some say it's just a placebo effect kicking in. I do believe in it. However, it doesn't hurt the headphones to try it. When you first get your headphones, the drivers in the headphones are stiff and need to be loosened up. To loosen them up, you have 2 main options. The first one being to listen to them to slowly adjust to the change that will occur (if you believe it occurs). The other option is to burn them in. This involves letting the headphones run constantly for an allotted amount of time (normally anywhere between 20 hours - 200 hours). This will loosen them up to sound like they should. There is also a bigger thread specifically on this topic on this forum: http://www.ifans.com/forums/showthread.php?t=181479

OK, now you have them. This is specific towards IEMs, but can also be for all headphones. This is to make sure you put them on correctly. Lots of people just push them into their ears, and it doesn't always work. View this video on how to insert them properly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KwXEqe6Gq4

Now the third thing, like the second, is mandatory as well if you want to get the best sound. This really only applies to IEMs though. The way IEMs work is that the bass response is based on the seal created by the headphones and your ear. Many headphone manufacturers give listeners multiple amounts of in ear tips to use so that they can get the best possible seal. Test each tip in each ear separately. To test, listen for bass in any song. The better the bass, the better the seal. Please also note that it can be natural to have two differently sized ears. With the Apple IEMs, I got the best seal with a medium in one ear and a large in the other. If you really don't want to fuss with eartips, there is always the option of getting custom ones that are molded to fit your ear. These are quite expensive though (100+ dollars).

Microphonics is the next topic. All headphones have some degree of microphonics. Some are very bad, like the Altec Lansing MUZX136. Others are really good, like the MEElectronics M6/M6p for example. There are many ways to reduce microphonics. One is to clip the wire to your clothing. The number one reason why microphonics happens is because the wire rubs up against your cloths. Another way, my preferred one, is to wear the headphones over the ear. To do this follow the directions:

  1. Wrap the wire around the top of your ear, between the backside of the pinna and your head.
  2. Pull on your pinna toward your head with one hand. With the other, insert the headphone into the ear and twist like you would if you were inserting it normally
  3. Release the pinna.
  4. Adjust the headphone if needed.

This method normally works very well for me, better than the clip, so it's worth a try. Some headphones require this type of insertion, and others can't do it because of the headphone's shape.

Accessories normally come with headphones. Whether it's a clip, or a case. If your headphones come with a case, use the case! It'll prolong the life of your headphones. If your headphones didn't come with a case, get one, they can be as cheap as 5 dollars shipped! You bought a pair of headphones that costs much more, protect your investment!

Even with the case, if you improperly wind up your headphones they will eventually break. Please note that the best way to keep your headphones is unwinded and straight. However, this is useless if you are putting it into a pocket, so try the over-under technique. Lifehacker has a nice article on how to do it: http://lifehacker.com/#!5409389/use-...ones-kink+free

Please note that some headphones require good audio quality to get the most out of them. So having higher bitrate songs may become a great idea to do. You're music will sound better, and your headphones will be aloud to shine. I would recommend against the converting to 128kb AAC trick to save room on the iPod if you have a great pair of headphones, you will hear the difference, trust me.

Some headphones, especially the high impedance ones, may need an amp to sound the best. All headphones will improve somewhat with an amp, high impedance ones, or low sensitivity, will get the most improvement.

Final Words

Well, that's it folks. Thanks for reading. I'd like to thank all the sources and links above personally so I didn't have to type up how to do everything. I'd also like to thank CNET for the over-the-ear insertion idea with IEMs. Sorry I can't find a direct link to that though. That is where I got it from originally.

Enjoy your headphones, the sound they produce, and I hope they'll last you. If anyone has any questions on how to get the most from your headphones, please let me know by posting in the thread. Avoid PMs, PMs help one person, a public post helps millions Happy listening people

Edited by tinyman392 - 5/8/11 at 8:27pm
post #2 of 5

Feel free to create a wiki entry for this, it's quite good. I'd say it refers to IEMs primarily, so the portable forum I think was the best choice.

Edited by Currawong - 5/8/11 at 6:59pm
post #3 of 5
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Currawong View Post

Feel free to create a wiki entry for this, it's quite good. I'd say it refers to IEMs primarily, so the portable forum I think was the best choice.

Thanks for the complements...  I'm kinda new on this forum, so I have no idea how to make a wiki...  Nor did I know it had one :p

post #4 of 5

I also think it's important to note that truly informative reviews contain comparisons to other headphones. Without comparisons, it's hard to take away anything from even a gushing unbiased-seeming review.

post #5 of 5
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by rymd View Post

I also think it's important to note that truly informative reviews contain comparisons to other headphones. Without comparisons, it's hard to take away anything from even a gushing unbiased-seeming review.

That is a good point, I added it in.  However, all headphone reviews don't need to compare to other headphones (just spell out in detail what everything sounds like).  It's good to compare though.  I have read some great reviews that didn't compare.  It's more of the amount of detail they put into the review.  At the same time, I have read lots of reviews that go into deep detail that tell me nothing :p  It does go both ways.  Your point is a good one though, so I did end it in. 

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