Which of These Headphones Types Will Fit Your Head Best?

Headphones Types

There are no two humans alike...including their heads! So how is it that a generic pair of headphones can comfortably fit anybody’s head?

They don’t! That’s why there are so many different types of headphones.

So, what headphones type is right for you?


Earbuds are the default iPhone and iPod headphones. They are made with small speakers to insert into your ears, right outside the ear canal. They offer very weak isolation from external noise as they don't create a seal into the ear canal. Being so small, sound quality and sound stage is not very good. They're usually a cheap type of headphones in terms of price and quality. They usually go for less than $50. Their small size makes them very portable.


Earbuds are the default iPhone and iPod headphones

Your head doesn’t want earbuds. These are the headphones you want to upgrade from. Read on.

In-Ear, Noise Isolating

In-ear headphones are hot in these days...everybody wants them! They are similar to earbuds, but get inserted much deeper into the ear, right inside the ear canal. The eartips on the headphones noozle create a seal on the ear canal, strongly isolating you from external noise.

In-ear headphones provide the best noise isolation. Better than Active Noise Cancelling headphones. In fact, these type of headphones are also called In-Ear Monitors, as they're used by musicians on the stage during concerts, to get audio feedback while isolated from the external loud noise.

The seal creates an audio chamber into the ear canal that makes it possible to produce stunning audio quality. There are extremely high quality headphones in this category.

Klipsch Image S4i In-Ear headphones

Prices can vary from the low end, below $50, to above $500. There are very good quality mid-price models, such as the Klipsch Image S4i, that we strongly recommend, and very high end, audiophile level ones such as the Shure SE530.

Many brands produce high quality in-ear headphones: Ultimate Ears, Westone, Klipsch, Sennheiser, Shure, Etymotic, Westone among others.

Like earbuds, these types of headphones offer maximum portability. They do not have a headband, and they're extremely compact.

Custom In-Ear Monitors

A sub-category of in-ear headphones is Custom In-Ear Monitors. The manufacturer of In-Ear Monitors will create a set of custom eartips, custom molded to your ears. You get the best seal with maximum comfort!

Custom In-Ear Monitors

Custom In-Ear Monitors

This is the very top end of the spectrum of In-Ear headphones, with prices usually above $400, up to $1000+. There are several manufacturers building custom in-ear headphones. Ultimate Ears, and Westone are two of the most popular.

Portable On-Ear Headphones

This is more of a classical type of headphones. On-ear headphones can be either full size, used mainly at home for home theaters, or smaller and thus portable.

Portable headphones are very popular among iPhone and iPod users. They look similar to standard full size headphones, featuring a pair of earcups that sit on top of your ears and a headband. However they're smaller than full size, so they are easily portable. For some people wearing earphones within their ear canal can be uncomfortable. Especially for several hours. In this case a set of portable headphones solves the problem: they are portable, and don't need to be inside the ear canal.

Portable headphones can be circumaural, closed around-the ear, or supra-aural, open on-the-ear. Around-the-ear type has better isolation from external noise, and less sound leakage. So you won't disturb your neighbours.

With open on-the-ear headphones the speakers sit right in front of the ears with a foam pad layer. Open on-the-ear headphones are lighter than closed ones, and can potentially have even better sound quality, since there's no closed sound chamber that might produce resonations. However, being open, they offer no sound isolation. And they can potentially lead to more fatigue, as the cans press on top of the ears to keep the headphones on.

There are a lot of portable headphones available, from different manufacturers, in different price ranges. They start below $50, and go all the way up to $200+.

Sennheiser PX200-II Portable On-Ear headphones

A very good pair of portable headphones is Sennheiser's PX200-II. They are closed type, and have a cool folding mechanism of the headband, that allows them to be carried around very easily.

If you prefer an open type, Sennheiser's PX100-II are just as good, and have the same folding mechanism.

Full Size On-Ear Headphones

Full size headphones are the standard type of headphones used for home theater. They're quite large, and not very comfortable to carry around. They usually require more power than portable players can deliver, so they're not very suitable to be driven by an iPhone or iPod.

They typically are of circum-aural type, completely enclosing your ear within the cans. Price ranges can go from very cheap for low budget headphones, below $40, to above $1000, for high quality audiophile level.

Sennheiser HD650 full size audiophile headphones

A very popular great pair of full size headphones is Sennheiser HD650.

Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

Active Noise Cancelling headphones are an amazing piece of technology. They sense external noise with a microphone, and artificially reproduce an inverted version of it, through the headphones speakers. Noise gets almost magically cancelled, and you're left with just music!

This type of headphones is particularly suitable for noisy environments. They're very popular for plane or train trips.

Sound quality of Active Noise Cancelling headphones is not bad. But it's not as good as In Ear Monitors, or Portable On-Ear headphones, as the Active Noise Cancelling signal tends to create some artifact and hisses. Nonetheless this is the only way to get good noise isolation, with a non in-ear type of headphones.

Bose QuietComfort 3 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

Active Noise Cancelling headphones were invented and introduced to the market by Bose. Their QuietComfort line of headphones is among the best, and both the QuietComfort 3 and QuietComfort 15 models are very popular.

Several ohter manufacturers produce Active Noise Cancelling headphones such as Sennheiser and Audio Technica.

You can read more about Noise Cancelling Headphones here.

Wireless Headphones

Wireless headphones are great because they allow you to get free from your iPhone or iPod, and roam around listening to music, without being tied by wires. Experience music freedom!

Bluetooth technology allows headphones to connect wirelessly to your iPhone or iPod. The latest iPhone OS3.0 adds A2DP support, meaning that Bluetooth headphones can now produce stereo music from your iPhone. iPods will need a small adapter, that is usually sold together with the Bluetooth headphones.

Bluetooth headphones are a pleasure to use if you're looking to break free from your wires. The disadvantage is that sound quality is generally not on par with that of wired headphones. So, if you're looking for audiophile level quality, you should look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you don't care so much about top sound quality, and your priority is to be able to roam free, then a nice set of Bluetooth headphones can be the best choice for you.

Motorola MOTOROKR S9 Bluetooth headphones

Several manufacturers produce Bluetooth headphones. Popular models are the Motorola MOTOROKR S9 behind the head design, Nokia BH-905 on-ear, and Etymotic Ety8 in-ear.

More Info

If you want more detailed information, go read our best headphones section, and see which headphones I recommend.

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