Today, headphones set the standard for the ultimate portable - and personal - way to listen to music. And with good reason: ever since the first stereo headphones were produced in the 1940's, ear-to-ear audio has seen drastic improvements in technology, quality, and selection. Before that, early headphones were used primarily in the world of communication; radio, telegraph, and telephone operators relied on them long before modern DJ's and mixing engineers did. Luckily, headphones have come a long way since Nathaniel Baldwin made the first pair by hand in his kitchen in 1910 (The US Navy ordered 100 pairs prior to WWI). What was once a crude, uncomfortable listening experience is now a revelation of clarity, comfort, and privacy.
There's a huge array of different brands and models, each with their own strengths and advantages. But on a broader level, headphones can be divided up into two main types: "circumaural" and "supra-aural." Circumaural headphones completely enclose the ear, while the earcups of supra-aural headphones sit on the surface of the ear. Because circumaural headphones completely encompass the ear, they're often better for isolating sound. When researching circumaural and supra-aural headphones, you'll see certain models advertised as either "open" or "closed." In closed headphones, a hard, shell-like cover seals the outside of the earcups, isolating listeners in their own sonic world - free from outside noise. Open headphones leave their earcups exposed to the outside world, without any sort of insulating shell; thus, there's less of a sound barrier between a listener and his or her surroundings. The Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Studio is an iconic closed, circumaural headphone; while the Audio-Technica ATH-M2X is a good example of an open, supra-aural model.
Finding your perfect set of headphones depends on how you plan to use them. Some headphones, called "studio" headphones, are built for professionals who demand detail, range, and sensitivity out of their listening experiences. The Sony MDR-7506 Studio Headphones are a popular example - these headphones are a staple in recording studios across the country. Studio headphones are often closed and circumaural; they offer mixers, musicians, and engineers the best quality sound, with maximum isolation from outside noise. This isolation also means that musicians don't have to worry about their headphone mix bleeding into microphones; this is invaluable to pro quality recording. Of course, once the music is made, studio headphones offer an incredibly lush, high fidelity listening experience to fans and pros alike.
Not all headphones are made for recording studios, though: take the Bose SoundTrue Around-ear Headphones II, for instance. These are a great everyday listening choice for music lovers. Their durability, comfort, and detachable cable make them ideal for travel, work, or relaxing at home. And because they're a closed, circumaural model, they offer a private, portable way to listen to podcasts, music, audiobooks, etc. Bose is also known for its noise-canceling headphones - like the QuietComfort 25 model. Noise-canceling headphones usually come in circumaural or earbud form, and actively neutralize outside ambient noise - like the low frequency drone of an airplane engine. Earbuds, also known as "earphones," are another popular choice for everyday listening. Unlike traditional headphones, earbuds rest in the outer ear, exterior to the ear canal. Apple helped popularize the use of earbuds as an accessory to the iPod; favored by athletes, earbuds pop in and out with the utmost comfort and convenience.
On the other hand, educators may be attracted to the super-affordable Samson CH70 Reference Headphones, which bring personalized audio into any classroom. If you're a professional DJ, take a look at the Direct Sound EX-29 Isolating Headphones; they offer thick padding, isolation, and incredible clarity - even in the noisiest clubs. In fact, isolation headphones are commonly used at shooting ranges to protect users' ears from loud gun blasts. When manufacturers decided to install drivers into these headphones, isolation models became a favorite of drummers, who rely on these headphones for a way to hear other musicians amidst the high SPLs of a drum kit.
With all the options available, picking out the right headphones for you may seem a little overwhelming. Call one of Sweetwater's sales engineers for advice, or browse our catalog of products until you've found your perfect match. It's an investment in musical enjoyment for years to come. Learn More
Sweetwater's Sales Engineers are regarded as the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the music industry, with extensive music backgrounds and intense training on the latest products and technologies. They are available to offer you personalized product advice any time you need it.