To a lot of people, headphones are headphones and that’s that. They own one pair of standard headphones and use them whenever they want to listen to music. Now we’re not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but we are here to point out that there’s a fair few different types of headphones, and that some types are better than others for certain applications. We’ve put together a quick list of some of the alternative kinds of headphones, and what they’re good for.
Ever been bothered by pesky headphone cables getting in your way during exercise or some other activity? Well, a pair of wireless headphones might just be your new best friend. Wireless headphones generally work on one of three technologies: radio frequency (RF) waves, infrared (IR) light waves, and Bluetooth. Each of these technologies has pros and cons, making them suitable for different situations.
For example, RF headphones have a large range (roughly 100m) and the signals can pass around objects and through walls/ceilings. They’re also effective in an outdoor setting. However, RF tech can pick up interference from other technologies operating within a similar frequency band, such as cordless phones and Wi-Fi networks.
IR headphones project an infrared beam in order to transmit information, and the obvious downside is that they require a clear line of sight to the transmitter, and will be disrupted by people walking in front of the beam. They also have a relatively small range (roughly 10m), making them best suited for something like sitting stationary in a room watching TV or playing video games. However, unlike RF headphones, they can’t pick up interference from other signal sources, and due to method of transmission, are generally thought to have better sound quality than RF headphones.
Bluetooth headphones work on a technology similar to radio waves, but with several key differences. The first is that Bluetooth technology relies on a near-field Personal Area Network, resulting in a smaller effective range. The other important distinction is that Bluetooth doesn’t pick up interference from other radio waves, but can interfere with other radio wave devices, such as those working on RF waves.
Wireless headphones could be useful to gym-goers, runners, or people who simply don’t like dealing with tangled cables. And if you want to try the best of both worlds (freedom of movement AND assured sound quality), you can buy headphones that appear to be standard cabled headphones, but can become wireless headphones through the removal of the cable and the flick of a switch.
The name says it all – these are headphones designed to aid and amplify a video-gaming experience. Generally referred to as ‘headsets’, they are bulky over-ear headphones with a mic on a stalk near your mouth for in-game chat. Some even have the microphone built into the band of the headphones in the form of many small mics working in tandem, removing the need for an unsightly and potentially vision-blocking microphone stalk. As with any headphones the more you spend the more you get, but what you get is slightly difference to what you get from a pair of headphones designed for music.
Gaming headphones are designed to provide immersive surround audio, which means that they’re designed to make the player feel like they’re in the game. If you listened to music on these for any lengthy period of time, you may begin to feel claustrophobic or isolated. That’s not to say these can’t be used for music, but it’s just not what they’re there for. Also worth noting is that if you’re using them solely for listening purposes, having a microphone in front of your face for no reason might get a tad annoying.
Have you ever seen a businessperson with headphones on, walking past having an animated conversation about business things of some variety, but they’re not holding a phone anywhere near their face? They were probably using in-line headphones. These share a feature with gaming headphones – namely that they have a built-in microphone. However, with in-line headphones, the microphone is – you guessed it – in line with the cable. This means that it’s generally a little rectangle on the cable about halfway between your ear and collarbone, which can be used as a microphone, and also generally has volume control function. In-line headphones can be useful for those who need to be able to communicate hands-free frequently.
When it comes to headphones, you definitely should own a pair of regular ones for everyday listening, but if you’re exercising or gaming on a regular basis, it might be worth looking into one of the above products as well.