A Brief Guide To Understanding Earphone Specifications
As we frequently get asked about what the various specifications mean and how they affect a set of earphones, we thought it would be helpful to pop you through a quick guide with a few simple answers to further explain all the information we list for each set of earphone.
Exactly as you’d expect, this refers to the length and type of cable on the earphones/headphones in question. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to wireless or Bluetooth headsets!
This refers to not only the type of driver unit held inside each set, but the number of drivers within each earphone too. Many people feel that multiple drivers offer better sound reproduction, as with these each driver is designed to target a specific frequency range, whereas a single driver has to handle the full hearing spectrum.
The sizes and types of drivers affect not only the frequency response (for example larger sized drivers tend to offer more depth in bass frequencies), but the detail and clarity of the sound too. Multiple drivers can therefore in some cases mean more depth and clarity and balance overall.
This refers to the type of fit, which is how they sit on or in the ears. ‘Earbuds’ sit just inside the ear and so therefore do not allow for much ‘blocking-out’ of background noise. Most sets bundled with MP3 players will be earbuds.
Intra-aural earphones sit inside the ear canal and therefore usually come with interchangeable silicon and foam tips to allow you to get the best seal. A better seal means you not only experience the full potential of the earphones (as much detail and bass etc as intended), but also means more isolation of background noise. Most manufacturers suggest that a good, tight seal can allow for up to 90% of ambient noise isolation.
Supra-aural headphones tend to be a little smaller and sit on the ear, as opposed to encompassing the full ear in the way that circum-aural sets do. Both supra-aural and circum-aural can be either open or closed back. Generally speaking, open-backed headphones allow for a wider-soundstage and therefore a more ‘natural’ sound, some would argue. Their open design does mean that they do not block out much ambient noise, and also that noise-leakage levels are quite high, making them less suitable for use in public places where other people may be disturbed by the noise leakage. Closed-back headphones have semi-airtight cups that provide excellent isolation background noise. This makes them ideal for studio monitoring and/or DJ use. A closed-back design also means there is far less noise leakage, making them a little more suitable for use commuting, or in an office for example.
Frequency response is measured in Hertz (Hz) – one Hertz is one cycle per second. This is an important factor to take into account as it refers to the frequencies that can be reproduced by the earphones in question. Earphones with a wider frequency response can physically reproduce more high and low tones, and generally speaking, a wider frequency response means the sound will be fuller and more accurate –of course you want to hear the tracks as recorded originally, as they were intended to be. Broadly speaking, the average human hearing range is between 20Hz – 20kHz, and so whilst some of the tones reproduced may be technically inaudible, you will notice if they are not there, for example in earphones with a narrower frequency response.
The resistance of the headphones/earphones measured in Ohms. The greater the impedance, the more ‘energy’ needed to power the headphones. Sets with lower impedance will sound quieter than those with higher impedance because of the power needed to power them. Whilst lower impedance headphones are generally more efficient, meaning you will get more volume and playing time from them, just remember that other factors, such as power output, will affect the volume, and so it is often advised that the impedance of the headphones used match the audio device being used. Most portable media/audio players suggest the maximum impedance for headphones should be 64 Ohms.
This indicates the size and type of ‘jack plug’. Most music players have a 3.5mm headphone socket, which is the standard size. This also details whether or not the connection is straight, or right-angled.
Whilst we are confident in the quality of our products, unfortunately from time to time, things can go wrong. This section indicates the time period of the limited warranty supplied by the manufacturer.
Maximum Power Input
This is the maximum power a set of earphones can take before being damaged, and the circuitry being physically overloaded. This is something that is quite often only applicable when dealing with players that have a huge output, for example the Cowon D2 with its 74mW amp. It should be noted though, that when exposed to an input higher than recommended, the earphones won’t just blow automatically, and there will be a safety margin built-in by the manufacturer. I’d not advise testing this one at home anyway, blown ear-drums or permanently damaged hearing is something you’d probably wish to avoid…
In the age of music phones, many people require the option to switch seamlessly between calls and music. This section details the sensitivity of the microphone (where applicable, usually built into the cable of the earphones). Generally speaking, the higher the sensitivity, the more the microphone will pick up, which affects how far away from your mouth the microphone can be whilst you speak etc.
On our website, this is defined as an estimated optimum percentage of background/ambient noise. This is because this depends on the fit or seal of the set in question, and the environment in which they are being used.
Noise cancelling headphones are an entirely different kettle of fish. These earphones have special technology built-in, meaning tiny microphones pick up the surrounding noise, and then the special circuitry actively generates an identical out-of-phase signal that when played back, helps cancel out external noise.
This is a function of impedance and the relationship of the headphone output and the source material. To put it most simply, the better the sensitivity, the less power from the headphone amplifier is required to hear the smallest noise.
The weight in grams of the earphones/headphones (not including the cable)
Please bear in mind, that two different sets of headphones with similar specifications will probably sound entirely different, and that build-materials, tuning of the ear cushion tips, construction etc will all have an impact on the sound reproduction. Numbers may tell you one thing, but only your ears will really know which are best for you!