Headphones - Terminology, background and other information

General information and items that do not fit the more specific topics
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Headphones - Terminology, background and other information

Post by superphool » Thu Aug 29, 2019 10:32 am

Headphones were first created around 1910 using telephone earpieces mounted to a headband, for military communications and telephone operators.

The first stereo ones were released by Koss in the late 1950s

Headphones are also known as earphones and the two names are synonymous. However as some people confuse earphones and earbuds, we will generally avoid the name earphones.

In-ear type units are correctly called earpieces or earbuds.

Headsets are headphones with an attached microphone - eg. for communications systems, talkback to performers or announcers in studios, hands-free audio such as gaming and so on.

For both headphones and headsets, some communications or special function types only have one earpiece, so the user can still hear all sounds or conversations around then through their other ear.

Headphones are made in several broad classes:
Over-ear, where the earcups fit around the ear and the cushions fit to the head; technically, "Circumaural" fitting.

On-ear, where the earpiece or pad rests against the ear itself; technically, "supra-aural" fitting.

Each of those can be either open-back, where the earcup or earpiece housing has perforations or vents of some sort, or closed-back where the rear of the earpiece / speaker housing is completely sealed.

Open back types allow exterior sounds to be heard, and generally allow more "leakage" of what is being heard via the headphones.
Closed back types block exterior sound better and normally have less sound leakage.

Which is best depends on how and where they will be used; for example, if you are listening to music or a video stream at home and want to be able to hear kids shouting, the doorbell etc. then open back may be better.

For such as recording audio, if you need to listen to an existing track to play or sing in time while using a microphone, a closed-back over ear type than gives minimum possible sound leakage is probably best.

Noise cancelling is yet another variation.

That works by having microphones on the headphone earcups or the earbuds and using the sound they hear to add in an inverted sound to the earphone signal.

With just the right timing and amplitude, that can cancel out some of the external noise before it reaches your ear.

Better types have a very complex digital signal processing system that can recognise and predict regular repeating sounds such as constant tones or engine noise and cancel that out rather more effectively than random noises.

Which makes, types and models are best?
The basic rules apply; very cheap ones are likely so-so quality, but expensive does not mean good.
Some brands are in the techno-bling class, where the only improvement from cheap ones is the added name or logo.

A factual example of this: A couple of years ago, a young relative of one of our staff broke his expensive logo'd earbuds and wanted to borrow some for a trip. The only ones to hand were some we had just bought from a pound shop (two pairs for a pound) to chop up for test cables for a prototype device.
He did not know that when he borrowed them - but on his return asked where to buy some, because they were better than hs £60 ones.

Look at long established names and also check several different, independent reviews of the exact type you are considering buying, before spending any money!
If possible, listen to some of the exact type, either in a shop or a friend that has some. And listen to some known high-quality ones as a comparison, rather than only one type.

Then, and only then, decide what is best for you.

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