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There's really only one way to choose the particular set of headphones that are right for you, and that's to sit and listen to as many different sets of possible. Everyone has different aural tastes - some like a deep bass, some like clearer speech, and some want to listen to Peter André (in which case, thank you so much for using headphones in the first place!) So, for the purposes of this guide, we won't go into all the technology and brands available, we'll just outline the four basic types to go for. What you choose depends entirely how you listen to your music - from sitting in the comfort of your living room via a top-end stereo, to jogging round the park with an mp3.

Earbuds, or in-ear headphones, are the type that you often get free with portable players, but higher-performance models can deliver sound characteristics that rival full-size models. They sit in the ear canal itself, or clip onto the edge of the ear, and so are incredibly lightweight and portable, with good resistance to interference from outside noise, and easy to wear or stick in your pocket when you're out and about. But unless you're willing to pay the top prices, sound quality and bass response are often not as good as you get from full-size models, and having something stuck in your ear all day can end up uncomfortable for many users. They're also easy to lose, get tangled up and are relatively fragile.

'Sports headphones' is a general term that encompasses the styles known as vertical, fashion, behind-the-neck, clip-on, neckband and portable headphones, and generally refers to lightweight models with two main headband styles - vertical bands that arch over the head or horizontal designs that extend behind the head or neck, although some have an ear clip or attachment instead. These headphones are almost always open-backed, so you don't completely block out the ambient sounds around you - very useful if you're out running, foe example, and need to be able to hear cars coming up behind you. They're all designed to stay in place during strenuous sporting activity (probably not rugby or ice hockey, though) but the bands can snap easily and sound quality varies substantially from model to model.

Ear-pad headphones are the type you most readily associate with the old-fashioned Sony Walkman, with a band that goes over the head and speakers that rest on the outside of your ears. In this sector, you can find everything from absolute tinny rubbish for a few pennies to high-end sets that rival professional sound quality. They tend to be very comfortable to wear, but offer less sound insulation than the in-ear type and less powerful base than full-size models. They're also a pain to stick in your pocket, although some manufacturers to offer fold-up variants to minimise this problem.

At the top end of the sound quality spectrum are the full-size headphones designed for the best possible audio experience. Also known as circumaural, or closed-back headphones, this type has padded ear cups that fully enclose your ears. Because of their size and their acoustic isolation, full-size headphones are often considered to be better suited to home use rather than as a portable option, but can handle far better bass and volume levels, while blocking off virtually all outside noise.

Author R. Germain
date added Tue 04 08 2009

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