Headphone Glossary

What Are On-Ear Headphones?

On-ear headphones sit on top of your ear vs over it or in it. Due to varying sizes of these ear-pads, it's important to find the right fit as a mismatched fit can cause the headphones to become uncomfortable after a while.

What Are In-Ear Headphones?

In-ear refers to anything that goes literally into your ear, and includes IEMs or classic earbuds.

What Are Over-Ear Headphones?

Other wise known as circumaural these headphones encompass your entire  ear. Generally headphones that are closed back provide a good deal of passive noise cancellation where as open-back circumaural headphones are designed to let some sound in as to better the sound staging.

What is the Difference Between Open-Back and Closed-Back Headphones?

Open-back headphones leak sound and allow sound in. Generally, open-back headphones are considered superior to closed-back, as they tend to have more spacious and multidimensional soundtsages, amongst other factors. The downside is that you can hear everything going on around you, and everyone else can hear you music. For this reason, some people prefer closed-back headphones, which isolates sound. It’s common for audiophile to use both, open-back and closed-back headphones, depending on the environment they are in.

What is an IEM?

An IEM is an in-ear monitor. Originally designed for stage musicians, IEMs sit inside the ear canal and are usually secured with an around-the-ear wire. They are particularly effective with respect to sound isolation. IEMs are now also widely used by audiophiles. In fact, most audiophile-grade in-ear headphones have an IEM design.

What is a Dynamic Driver Headphone?

A dynamic driver is perhaps the most common type of transducer used in headphones. It converts a signal from electrical to acoustic using a coil and a magnet. This signal makes the diaphragm (like you see in a speaker) move in and out, thereby creating sound to your headphones.

Dynamic drivers are not only good all-rounders in terms of sound performance, but they are particularly skilled at creating rich and powerful bass. For this reason, they are often integrated into IEMs with balanced armature drivers to power the bass frequencies.

What is a Planar Magnetic Headphone?

Planar magnetic headphones take a different approach to sound than dynamic driver headphones, which use a moving coil to transmit the signal. Planar magnetic technology employs a very thin film or membrane that sits in between two magnets. And the current from these magnets is sent through the membrane to produce sound.

Planar magnetic headphones are some of the priciest on the market. They can produce a rich, controlled and highly articulate sound without the added resonance that dynamic drivers sometimes suffer from.

What is an Electrostatic Headphone?

Electrostatic drivers also differ from dynamic, in that they drop the use of a moving coil. Instead an electrostatic driver employs a super thin and lightweight film that avoids contact with any other part of the driver. Electrostatic forces are applied to the film, thereby producing sound. It’s much like the static you may experience on clothing or material that’s just come out of the dryer.

Electrostatic headphones are also considered superior to dynamic headphones mainly because of their very low distortion. However, they tend to be less popular because they require very powerful amplification, adding greatly to the cost of the headphones themselves.

What are Balanced Armature Driver Earphones?

Balanced armature drivers are unique with respect to their small size. They tend to be employed in earphones, rather than over-ear headphones. In fact, many of the best IEMs are made with balanced armature drivers. And often, higher priced IEMs integrate a hybrid design of balanced armature and dynamic drivers.

A balanced armature headphone employs one or more balanced armature transducers. These type of drivers send an electronic signal to vibrate a wire that is balanced between two magnets inside a very small enclosure. The movement of the wire is transferred to a hard aluminium diaphragm. This stiffness of the diaphragm minimizes resonance, thereby achieving good clarity.

What is Headphone Clarity?

How well defined each element of sound is. For example, a pair of headphones with outstanding clarity will allow you to hear parts of the mix-down that you often can't really hear in very cheap headphones because these sounds are so subtle. Clarity is a key element to professional studio and audiophile headphones.

What are Sound Isolating Headphones/Earphones?

Noise Isolation is a term used to describe headphones that block out sound very well by virtue of their design. There is no battery or power needed for noise isolation headphones. It is generally the fit or way that they cover your ears (or seal into your ear canals) that provides the isolation from outside sounds.

What are Noise Cancellation Headphones?

Noise Cancellation refers to active powered headphones, that cancel outside noises in one of two ways. The most popular is reverse transient cancellation. The headphones basically have little microphones on them that take in the surrounding sound and create a revers transient sound wave of the ambient sounds. Then when that sound is played back into your headphones, it has the effect of canceling out the surrounding sounds. Some headphones in the lower price range simply use a white noise signal that is pumped into the headphones. This extra sound helps to block sounds out.

What Are Studio Headphones?

Generally, if a headphone is marketed or labeled as a "Studio Monitor" it usually means that all of the frequency ranges are represented in a balanced way such that there is no overwhelming presence in any of the lows, mids or highs. That being said, studio headphones aren't always completely flat in their frequency response. Some have kind of a "U-Shape", where the low and high frequency have a touch of emphasis. Other studio headphones can have slightly pronounced middle frequencies. 

What is a V-Shaped Headphone?

A V-shaped headphone has a sound signature in which the bass frequencies and high frequencies are emphasized over the middle frequencies. V-shapes produces very dynamic sound where the contrast between the lows and highs is pronounced. Many people like V-shaped sound when listening to pop music, hip-hop and other modern genres. It works less well for genres like classical music, where a more even balance is necessary to hear a realistic reproduction of the recording,

What is a Flat Headphone?

A flat headphone has a “flat” frequency response. That is, none of the frequency ranges are emphasized or recessed. If you looked at the frequency chart, the line would be flat. Flat headphones are often used by sound professionals to ensure that they are hearing the most honest presentation of their sound recording. Many headphone purists also like a flat frequency response because there is no artificial emphasis in any frequency range. On the flip side, some audiophile find fat headphones boring or lacking in color with respect to sound.

What is a Bright Headphone?

A bright headphone has emphasized high frequencies. It usually sounds brilliant and sometimes “sparkly” in the highs. Often, bright headphone have very light-bodied bass frequencies as well.

What is a Dark Headphone?

A dark headphone is the opposite of a bright headphone. It favors the lower frequencies over the higher frequencies. It tends to have a rich bass and prominent lower-mids.

What is a DAC?

A DAC is a digital to analogue converter. It translates the digital information of your music into an analogue signal. Anything that plays music, such as an iPhone, has some type of integrated DAC. But many DACs, such as the one on your iPhone, lose a lot of information in the conversion process. For this reason, many audiophiles buy dedicated external DACs to convert their files without losing sound resolution.

What is an DAC/AMP?

An DAC/AMP (or DAC and Amp combo) is an DAC (digital to analogue converter) and amplifier integrated into one module. It saves audiophiles from having to buy a separate, stand alone DAC and amplifier. Every integrated DAC/AMP tends to have its own sound characteristics and qualities, which is one of the reasons there are so many on the market. DAC/AMPs are also popular because they can be a small and portable solution to high resolution headphone playback on the go.

What is a DAP?

A DAP is a digital audio player. The ol’ Apple iPod is well-known example. But these days, DAPs can offer more storage and very high resolution sound (through integrated high performance DACs) with good amplification.

To find more answers to any headphone related queries, feel free to drop us a line or contact us for a Live Chat session at Audio 46.


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