FAQ | Lingo | Price-Based Selections | Gaming Headsets
Casual Portable Headphones
Where sound, style and fit meet
Sure, studio engineers and DJs have high standards for their headphones, but we also ask a lot of the headphones we use every day. We want them to sound good, look good, fit comfortably, and be able to travel with us anywhere we go. That’s a lot to ask, but thankfully, there’s no shortage of headphones up to the task.
This segment of the headphones market has always been in demand, but it’s really exploded over the past few years with the advent of brands like Beats By Dre. Since then, manufacturers from Bose to Sennheiser and Audio-Technica have raised the bar for what we consider “casual” headphones. It’s a big, broad umbrella with a lot of brands, styles, and price points to consider. If you’re shopping for headphones for casual listening, but don’t know where to start, fear not! We’re here to guide you based on what you want out of your headphones.
Below are some frequently asked questions about casual, portable headphones. Click a question to see its answer.
Got a question of your own? Leave it as a comment below!
To hear recordings as they were intended to be heard by the engineer, or to accurately mix your own tracks yourself, you’ll want a frequency response as flat as possible, or for all audible frequencies to be produced at as close to the same volume as possible. However, if you want your music to have boosted bass, you’ll want a pair of headphones that emphasizes frequencies between 20-150 Hz. This will really bring out the low end, making sounds from the kick drum, electric bass, bass synths, etc. louder.
Another factor to consider is driver size — the diameter of the actual speakers pressed against your ears — which typically ranges from 30mm to 55mm. Headphones with larger drivers can often reproduce lower frequencies with greater accuracy. Driver size is commonly listed in headphone specs lists, so be sure to read up on it if you’re looking for big bass!
If you’re turning up the volume because you’re listening in a loud environment, consider noise-canceling headphones instead. These headphones block outside noise, letting you hear your music more clearly without having to turn it up.
That depends on what type of listening experience you are looking for. If you prefer a flat response to hear recordings as they were meant to sound, then studio monitor headphones are generally a great choice.
If you are constantly on the go, you should consider that studio monitor headphones are generally larger than most casual listening headphones. Most do not feature convenience functions like on-board volume controls, an in-line mic for phone calls, Bluetooth connectivity or noise cancellation. Price points on studio monitor headphones also tend to be higher than casual listening headphones, but that’s not always the case; you can find some great studio monitor headphones priced lower than some casual pairs.
No, a microphone or playback buttons on the cord of your headphones does not impact the sound quality. You’re free to take calls and enjoy great sound!
Know Your Lingo
When comparing headphones, knowing the terminology can help you sort through models to find exactly what you need. Here are some terms relevant to casual headphones.
Over-Ear Headphones: (aka Circamaural, Full-Size, Around-Ear)
Put most simply, over-ear headphones fit over the ears, with the ear pads forming a seal that helps block outside noise from coming in.
On-Ear Headphones: (aka Supra-Aural)
On-ear headphones feature ear pads that sit on the ear. These headphones tend to be smaller and more portable than around-ear headphones.
Headphones with wireless capabilities typically receive a signal from an audio player via radio frequency or Bluetooth. They are a good choice for exercise, because they do away with cable clutter.
Some headphones feature a cord with an inline mic. These small microphones allow you to speak into them to conduct phone calls. They also often feature volume and/or playback controls for music and taking/ending calls.
Headphone drivers are simply small speakers — the magnets in each earpiece that vibrate back and forth, converting the electrical signal to sound. The size of drivers corresponds with the size of the headphones, and larger drivers tend to be able to reproduce lower frequencies with greater accuracy.
Not to be confused with active noise cancelation, noise isolation occurs when headphone ear pads help to block outside noise from your ears. Larger, over-ear headphones typically are more effective with noise isolation than on-ear headphones. Drummer isolation headphones are especially adept at blocking out noise even from loud sound sources.
The spectrum of sound a pair of headphones can reproduce is known as its frequency range, which is denoted in Hertz from low to high (ex. 20 Hz to 25 kHz). The range of human hearing is generally known to be 20 Hz to 20 kHz, in young people, and it is often debated if whether or not headphones with a frequency range beyond the range of human hearing yield benefits to the listener.
What’s Your Price Point?
Lifestyle headphones are available in a wide array of price points. Here are a few of our recommendations for three price levels.
Entry-Level: Headphones Under $50
There’s certainly no shortage of everyday-use headphones at affordable prices — and yes, these sub-$50 headphones are made to last. In fact, Shure SRH144s go through the same famous testing process as the company’s higher-end offerings. If your playlist packs in a ton of hip-hop or EDM, you’ll want a pair of Audio-Technica’s ATH-WS33X Solid Bass headphones. The name says it all, and with their frequency range reaching down to 10 Hz, they can be counted on to bring the boom. Finally, Samson’s HP30 headphones provide the ultimate bang for your buck with powerful 40mm drivers for a full range of sound.
Mid-Priced: Headphones Under $100
If you’re willing to spend a bit more, we’d recommend stepping up to Akai Professional Project 50X headphones — offering great style and an excellent frequency range for this price point — down to 5 Hz. AKG K72 headphones follow the company’s classic form, with a one-size-fits-all headband. Looking for deep sound? Audio-Technica ATH WS55 headphones fit over the ear and feature large 40mm drivers, helping them live up to their “Solid Bass” name…and then some.
High-End: Headphones for $100+
Boasting a slick, lightweight design, Audio-Technica ATH-SR5 headphones are more than a fashionable, comfortable pair of headphones — their 45mm drivers deliver surprisingly full-range audio. Representing the luxury end of wireless, Bose SoundLink II around-ear Bluetooth headphones let you control volume and take calls with ear cup-mounted buttons and microphone. Ultrasone HFI 780 closed-back headphones provide a uniquely tuned frequency response that’s ideal for gaming and movies, plus immersive S-Logic Plus technology for a spacious soundstage.
Are You a Gamer?
Finally, we wanted to include some recommendations for great gaming headsets. Gaming headsets differ from other headphones for one primary reason: they include a gooseneck mic for communicating with other players online. They also tend to feature large drivers (often 40mm and up) for immersive sound — an important factor when you need to hear all that’s going on around the battlefield.
If you’re a serious gamer who needs the mic, but also wants quality headphones for enjoying music, we suggest the Audio-Technica ATH-PDG1 headset — it features an open-back design for a great soundstage and lightweight fit that stays comfortable even after a couple hours of playing. It also features a flexible 6″ boom mic that can be positioned at just the right spot for any player.