Headphones buyers’ guide
There’s nothing worse than a pair of headphones so loud everyone around you can hear your embarrassing taste in music; or even worse, ones that don’t block out that annoying background noise on your daily commute – a lovely ambient track mixed in with a commentary on last night’s Eastenders? No thank you!
Whether you’re looking for cheap unobtrusive earbuds or some full-sized, statement-making cans, Crowdstorm is here to help. We’ll talk you through the ins and outs of headphones here, so you’ll be confident to scroll back up the page to find your perfect headphones.
Better still, you can be sure to find the best headphones right here – and at the best prices. From Beats by Dr Dre to Sennheiser we have all the big names; but we also have the best deals from then retailers you trust – everyone from John Lewis and Bose UK to Hughes and Currys.
The first decision you need to make about style: and it’s not just a case of big or small. Headphones tend to be broken down into the following categories:
Earbuds: Sometimes called ‘in-ear’ headphones, these are the most common style and are perfect for listening to music on the go. They’re lightweight, portable and take up the least room in your bag. They’re also good at blocking out background sounds and won’t catch on hair, hats or earrings. On the downside you’ll have to take a knock in sound quality, while they can sometimes slip or be uncomfortable.
Full-sized headphones: Formerly only seen on the head of the person listening at the counter in HMV, Dr Dre has spearheaded a resurgence in full-sized headphones. These cans fully enclose your ears and almost completely isolate background sound, as well as usually offering far more bass and generally better sound quality than earbuds. The price for this is their cumbersome nature – you’ll either ned to have a large bag with you, or be wearing them on your neck all day!
Gaming headsets: These will come with a built-in mic so you can easily chat to your team mates and mock your enemies as you blow them away. The better sets will also offer virtual 7.1 surround sound for the ultimate gaming experience.
Sports headphones: Sometimes described as ‘around-ear’ headphones, these are designed to be worn securely around the ear, clipping to the back. They’re brilliant if you find in-ear styles uncomfortable or find they slip easily and are also ideally designed for sports, running and gym use. Unfortunately, they don’t tend to be as durable as other designs, while sound quality is often given up in favour of practicality.
On-ear headphones: These are bigger than sports or in-ear styles but smaller than full-sized headphones, instead resting over the head and on your outer ears. They tend to be comfortable and adjustable, but lack the quality, noise isolation and bass of the better in-ear or full-sized models.
Noise cancelling and sound isolating headphones
Headphones with these features work to limit or completely cancel out background noise.
Noise cancelling headphones feature little built-in microphones that work by producing signals and reversing outside noise so as to cancel them out. They’re perfect in environments with lots of constant background noise, such as on aeroplanes and public transport. They even double up as earplugs, effectively cancelling out outside noise even without any music playing.
Sound isolating headphones are also great for your journey in to work, but work in the opposite fashion. They trap music in your ear, meaning no one need know if you’re listening to The Best of Kylie on your daily commute! By blocking out background noise it also means you can play your music at a lower volume, causing less strain on your ears. If music quality is important to you these may be the best headphones for you.
Cordless headphones have been seriously upgraded in the past few years, with better sound quality and technology. They use Bluetooth or RF transmissions between the phones and a small dongle in your music player or laptop. The lack of wires has obvious benefits; the flipside being a very regular charging of changing of batteries. Sound quality is also not as great as on wired models, as you have to expect to lose something in the ether.
At-home wireless headphones are usually full-sized models with base stations. They’re brilliant if you hate annoying wires and you can really get immersed in the sound. But, as before, sound quality is compromised and many wireless models can some slight background noise/interference.
Other headphone features to consider
As well as style and quality, there are plenty of little added extras to consider looking out for. Here’s out pick of the main features that you may not be able to live without once you get used to them:
- Microphone: Whether you need some earbuds for your phone so you take calls, or want some cans with a mic for that ultimate online gaming experience, you’ll need a mic. These are often on the headphone wire with a handy set of buttons that can be used to skip tracks as well as take incoming calls.
- Made for iPods: Many headphones are optimised to work with Apple iPods and iPhones, with on-wire controls designed to work with iTunes.
- Cable length: Often overlooked, this can be crucial. You’re looking for something just right: too long and you’ll be dangling all over the place (as it were), to short and you’ll have to find a new pocket for your MP3 player.
- Volume limiting: This isn’t the most common of features, but is especially useful if buying for younger children. These headphones typically limit volume output to around 85dB, which is considered a level that won’t damage your hearing. Not great for listening to Motorhead, but good for your health!
- Biometrics: Looking for headphones to take on your run, cycle or gym visit? These can kill two birds with one stone by gathering heartrate information while you’re on the move and transferring the data to your fitness app of choice.
- Surround sound: If you’re a serious gamer or film lover with intolerant house mates, surround sound headphones are the answer to your prayers. They have multiple drivers in each speaker, allowing them to fool your ears by emulating proper surround sound.
What now? Buying your headphones
Hopefully that's all you need to know about buying headphones online and all the specifications you should look for you’re ready to scroll up to our comparison table.
Here you can compare prices and deals from the household names of UK retailing – safe in the knowledge we update our site every day with all the latest sales and deals.
Once you’ve spotted a price or offer that takes your fancy, simply click on the deal to be transferred to the site of your selected retailer.
Remember you’re dealing directly with them from that point onwards, so you can shop with confidence. So crank up the volume and get comparing!