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What can our headphones do for you?

Ready to move up to quality sound when you’re out and about? Or for great private listening when you’re at home? You’ve come to the right place. Are you after in-ear models, over-ears or on-ears. Wired or Bluetooth? Do you need isolation from the sounds around you? Or active noise cancelling, so that you can hear your music – or a movie – on an airplane? We’ve got the lot here at Addicted To Audio.

The best brands

At Addicted To Audio we carry an exciting range of headphones from some of the finest specialist brands in the world, such as Grado, Sennheiser, Campfire Audio, Westone, Noble, Focal and Final Audio. You may not know all of them, but they’ve got a quality experience in store for your ears.

The best place to buy headphones

There are two great ways to buy headphones. The best way for most people is at a quality retail outlet in your city. That way you can have a listen, try them out, see whether they feel like a good “fit” for you. But if you’re confident that you already know what you want, consider purchasing your headphones direct from us at Addicted To Audio. We are an authorised New Zealand reseller for all our products. We provide full service and after sales support. And we ship fast.

Headphones – what you need to know

As you can see above, there are lots of headphone options. How do you choose between wired and wireless, over-ear and on-ear, open-back or closed-back. Don’t worry, we’ll guide you through the process of finding headphones that will satisfy you for years to come.

For a wide overview of the types of headphones which are available, you could also check out our article: “How to Choose Headphones: what different kinds are there?

But even when you’ve learned all that you need, we’d still strongly recommend that you visit a quality high fidelity shop which sells the models that look like they may fulfill your needs. There you will be able to get personalised advice, perhaps have a listen and check for comfort, and even find out some tips that may maximise the performance of particular models.

Now, let’s break down the broad categories of heaphones.

Wired headphones vs wireless headphones

Wireless headphones are Bluetooth headphones and, of course, connect to your device via that radio technology. Because they can’t be powered by your device, they have amplifiers built in. And many also include special features such as active noise cancellation. (You can read about ANC in our article “How to Beat the Noise – Noise Cancelling vs Noise Isolating Headphones”.) Some wireless headphones are designed to fold down into flat, compact cases for travel. Many are over-ear models, but they typically have smaller earcups than wired models. Some use the standard Bluetooth audio connection standards, while others are provided with higher quality communication systems. Virtually all of them also come with a cable so that you can plug them in as well, should the battery go flat or you want to use them with the in-flight entertainment system on an airplane.

We’ve published an article on what to look for with wireless headphones in “How to Choose the Best Wireless Headphones”.

Wired headphones are connected by cable to a device – a music player or amplifier – that powers them. Since there are generally no electronics inside them to process the signal and correct any defects in performance, high quality sound requires excellent design and components, particularly the drivers. The cable may be fixed to the headphones or removable. The removable ones sometimes use standard 3.5mm plugs while others use proprietary plugs. It may connect to just one earcup or to both. It will typically be terminated in a single 3.5mm or 6.35mm stereo phono plug for plugging into your device. Adaptors are available (and sometimes supplied with the headphones) to convert one to the other.

Some headphones also come with “balanced” headphone cables or are compatible with after-market ones. These use special plugs and extra wires in the cable to keep the left and right channels entirely separate from each other. You can learn more about those in our article “Balanced headphones: what they are and should you want them?

On-ear headphones or Over-hear headphones?

On-ear headphones sit against the faces of your ears, while over-ear headphones surround your ears. The pads of those ones rest against your head around your ears. There are pros and cons for both, although most high-end audiophile headphone models use an over-ear design.

We dig into this whole subject in our article “How to choose: On-ear Headphones vs Over-ear Headphones”.

Open-back headphones or Closed-back headphones?

Open-back headphones have a grille or grate over the back of the speaker drivers within each earcup. That allows them to move a little more freely, since they don’t have the spring of an enclosed air volume behind them. Many audiophiles find that they provide and “airier” more “open” sound than closed-back models. But they offer very little isolation from outside noises, and anyone around you can easily hear what you’re listening to. They may even find it bothersome.

Closed-back headphones provide more isolation from the sounds of the outside world, and of course let less of the sound of your music escape. There are also many excellent sounding closed-back headphones on the market.

Dynamic drivers or some other technology?

Most headphones use circular dynamic drivers – small versions of the kinds of speaker drivers found in most loudspeakers. They use a permanent magnet and a coil of wire attached to the back of the diaphragm. Quality headphones typically use drivers around 40mm in size, sometimes larger.

But there are other kinds of headphone driver, such as planar magnetic or electrostatic. Planar magnetic drivers appear in some highly regarded (and often more expensive models) and are often praised for their sound. They also tend to be less affected by design weaknesses in some headphone outputs (see our article “Why most headphone outputs deliver inaccurate sound and what to do about it”.)

Electrostatic headphones have long had a reputation for being amongst the best sounding headphones available. But they require special electronic drivers to make them work and so are far from portable.

Learn how these – along with a couple of other rather surprising technologies such as the Air Motion Transformer – work and their pros and cons in our article “Headphone tech explainer – the machines behind the sound

Frequently asked questions

Do All Audiophile Headphones Need Amp?

No, although just about any wired headphone, even a lower cost model, will tend to benefit from being driven by higher quality electronics. We’d suggest that if you’ve paid a lot of money for high quality headphones, you may not be getting all you paid for if you’re running it from a $12 dongle plugged into your iPhone.

And while not all of them, some headphones are hard to drive and really do need a powerful, high quality headphone amplifier to drive. Both portable and desktop headphone amplifiers and DACs are available.

Should I Get A DAC For My Headphone Amp?

Well, it depends on what you’re listening to and how you use your headphones. And indeed on your headphone amplifier. Many headphone amplifiers have DACs built in, some of extremely high quality, so you don’t need a DAC for those. Or you may be listening to analogue sources, so of course you don’t need a DAC for them. As always, let your ears be the guide and upgrade if needed. Go to a quality high fidelity retailer if you think you aren’t getting all you can from your headphones and try them out on some of the products the retailer has on offer.

Which Headphones Give The Best Fidelity?

Anyone who claims to have a simple answer to this question is not really trustworthy. There are some general rules: the better the product build, the more careful the design, the high quality the components, the more likely a pair of headphones are to deliver the best fidelity. But headphones are highly personal, perhaps more so than any other component. That’s because our ears and heads are all different to each other – and likely different to those of the headphone designer. Those things affect the sound that you hear. So a set of headphones that sounds great to one person may not sound all that good to another. That’s why you should find that high quality high fidelity store I keep harping on about and have a listen. Have to listen to find the headphones that are right for you.

What Is Omni Directional In Headphones?

We see this question come up from time to time and we’re not really sure how to answer, because “omnidirectional” isn’t really a thing in headphones. An omnidirectional microphone captures sound more or less equally from all directions, but headphones are firing their sound directly into your ears.

Some headphones and headphone systems attempt to provide a surround sound experience. Some include multiple small drivers placed in different positions around your ear. In our experience they do not deliver a satisfying surround experience. Better are systems such as Dolby Headphone which process the sound so that different elements bear the sonic characteristics of sounds coming from different directions. These can be useful for surround sound on movies, but for music we, personally, prefer to leave the sound as unprocessed as possible.

One remaining related technology is binaural recording. This is where only two microphones are used for recording the music, and typically these are on a dummy head where the ears would be. The idea is that the sound is captured at the same place from which the headphones will be delivering it to your ears. Binaural listening can be a stunning experience, but there are very few binaural recordings. Chances are your favourite music will not be in this format.

How To Decide On A Headphone?

Study up on the options, read the words above and the various pieces linked there, and decide on a few models that look like they might be what you need. Then find a quality high fidelity store that carries some of them and go do some listening.