The earbuds market is saturated with a comprehensive array of options. There is a choice for every desired use such as traveling, sports, work, home and kids. The array of features to consider is huge and you need to understand what they all are to buy the earphones that best match your requirements.
In this buying guide we will share the top features that should be considered so that the earbud buying process is straightforward. Earbud technology has advanced considerably in the last decade and the number of special features that can be found is huge. This helps get the most out of your personal audio solution without the limitations of previous generation products.
Earphone types based on use
Sports and exercise
One of the key benefits of earbuds is that they are smaller and allow for a secured fit. This means they are perfect for sports and exercise because they will not get dislodged during frantic movements. For instance, you could be sprinting or playing basketball and the earbuds will not come loose.
However, keep in mind that not all earbuds have a design suitable for sports, but there are enough options in the marketplace to get something suitable if you are a sports enthusiast. Furthermore, a number of the earbud options have a waterproof design. This makes them perfect for taking a jog in light rain.
Also, when exercising sweating can be a problem as it can damage the electronics of the earbuds. This makes a waterproof design very desirable for sports enthusiasts. You do not need to pay a premium to take advantage of such a feature as you’ll notice budget earbuds that come with the waterproof feature.
A reliable personal audio solution whilst taking part in sports is an excellent idea because you can tune out the surrounding and get focused on the exercise. This will increase the number of reps that you are likely to complete. The typical conversation inside your head that might cause you to quit will be removed as you focus on the music.
Earbuds can be used at the workplace if you need to tune out the surrounding environment. Nowadays the majority of earbuds have a microphone, which means you can make calls in an isolated manner. Even in a noisy office you will be able to clearly hear the other person.
Furthermore, you can leave one of the earbuds out of your ear if you’d like to enjoy personal audio, but at the same time you can hear the co-workers around you. The versatility of earbuds is excellent and therefore perfect for the workplace.
Additionally, if there is a daily commute to work, then you can use the earbuds to listen to music while travelling. You’ll see that the daily commute can be more bearable when you can mix the experience up with music and podcasts.
There are a number of earbud designs that are aimed specifically at kids. Here are the features that make these ideal for kids:
- Safe audio limit: child ears are more susceptible to damage than adults, which means listening to music via the earbuds at loud levels would be a complete disaster. Therefore, a lot of earbud designs for kids have a maximum decibel level that is in the 70 to 80 decibel range.
- Durability: kids tend to break stuff quite easily and that means the earbuds need to have a durable design. Most kid earbuds can take a beating before they will begin to show signs of wear and tear. Durable earbuds means that you will not need to constantly buy new earbuds as the old ones break.
- Low price: if you have a large family and not a lot of cash to spare, then you’ll be glad to know that earbuds for kids are priced at the budget end of the market. Expect to pay around $5-25 for the most part. The average child might not yet be able to appreciate audio quality from expensive earbuds, which means buying a cheap pair is the way to go.
Earbuds have a small and lightweight design, so they are perfect for traveling. They will not add much weight to your luggage and you can conveniently put them away when not in use. However, because of their small nature be careful not to damage them when traveling. Most come with a soft pouch that can be used to store the earbuds. Ensure that you use this accessory when you want to put the earbuds away in a safe manner.
When you travel freedom of moment is important. Earbuds allow you to walk and even run without the earbuds getting easily dislodged. A wireless option would be even better as there are no wires to deal with. Just make sure you select a model with a long battery life, because it would be disappointing if during your travels the battery life ran out.
When you want a personal audio solution at home earbuds can be great. A number of them come with excellent noise canceling features, which means that you’ll be able to drown out the audio of the surrounding environment. Furthermore, the audio produced by the earbuds will not leak out. This means those around you will not hear the audio and will not get frustrated if you are enjoying music at a loud audio level.
Basic Earphone Features
The amount of power that is required to power the earbuds will be determined by the impedance, which is measured in ohms. The impedance will be determined by the nature of the audio drivers and the amount of amplification that’s required. Typically this value should not be of concern, but ideally the impedance will be under 500 ohms so that additional amplification is not required to run the earphones.
You should take a look at the frequency response to determine what kind of audio quality you can expect. A bigger frequency response is preferred and it is measured in Hz. The human ears can only hear in the range of 20-20KHz, and you will notice that the majority of earbuds will show a value in this range. Keep in mind that the quality of the audio across the frequencies varies. So just because two different brands offer the same frequency response it doesn’t mean that you can expect identical quality.
Earphones that have an excellent frequency response at the lower end of the scale allows for excellent bass quality. Brands like Sennheiser and Bose are known for developing products with excellent bass.
Stereo vs mono
The majority of earbuds nowadays are stereo, which means that each earbuds will have a separate audio channel. This results in audio that is of better quality and you will feel a sense of directionality from the audio experience. It is not as good as surround sound, but does improve the audio over the mono experience.
Mono earbuds mean that the same audio goes into the left and right earbud. This drastically reduces the quality of the audio experience, but is typically found in design where only one earbud is present.
Consider the weight of the earbuds as that will play a role in how comfortable they will be to wear. Most earbuds are light, but if you select a super light model, then you’ll feel as if you aren’t wearing anything at all. The super light models are ideal for those who wish to take part in exercise with the earbuds.
You need to consider the comfort of the earphones so that they match your preferences. Some have a design that attaches to your entire ear or you can have a minimalist look with small earbuds. Most have an in-ear fit that leads to a very comfortable fit.
Overall, the comfort of earbuds in the marketplace is excellent. Manufacturers have done an excellent job of implementing ergonomics that actually work. Furthermore, the number of eartips provided contributes to the comfortable nature of wearing earbuds.
Special earphone features
There are a number of earbuds that are created with a sweatproof or waterproof design that allows them to be used in light rain and while you are sweating. This feature is highly important for when you want to take part in exercise and not damage your earbuds.
However, make note that you cannot use the majority of waterproof earbuds under water. For that you’ll need to buy from a special category of earbuds that are specifically designed for underwater use. These are ideal if you are a swimmer and want a personal audio solution to enjoy while swimming.
Do you hate it when you can hear the audio in your surrounding environment when you are trying to enjoy your music? Then invest in earbuds that come with the noise isolation feature. The in-ear design of earbuds means the level of noise isolation is typically excellent.
You need to ensure that the eartip size that you select matches your ears. With a good quality fit the amount of ambient audio that can creep in will be down to a minimum. Most manufacturers include 3-6 different ear tip sizes.
However, the noise isolation feature is not always handy. For example, while you are driving or working and you want to hear the surrounding environment to some extent. Some of the industry leading Bose earbuds allow you to control the level of noise isolation that is provided at any point in time.
A microphone is handy to have if you want to make hands-free calls. You can ride a bike or drive a car and have a safe conversation using the earbuds. Just do not expect the microphone quality to be excellent. It is serviceable, but it will not blow you away in terms of the quality.
Most earbuds have a number of buttons on the wire that can be used to control the volume of the microphone, and you can even mute it. Also, most microphones are located along the wire a practical distance so that it ends up being relatively close to your mouth.
The volume limiting earbuds are great for kids as it reduces the chances of damaged ears early on in their life. Adults can also benefit from volume limited earbuds if you care about the health of your ears.
A lot of volume limiting earbuds are in the 70-80 decibels range, which most will find loud enough for the majority of applications. However, if you like to listen to loud music, then you might want to avoid this type of feature.
One of the best features that you can opt for is a wireless pair of earbuds that allow you to enjoy a person audio solution without the hassle of wires. However, a lot of the designs do have a wire that connects both earbuds and they can be wrapped around the neck.
When you choose to buy wireless earbuds you need to consider the following things:
- Bluetooth technology: most wireless earbuds make use of Bluetooth technology, but you need to inspect the specific version. Bluetooth 4.0 and later is ideal as that means the quality of the connection will be excellent.
- Range: the range of the Bluetooth might play a part in how useful it will be for you. However, if you wear the earbuds close to the audio emitting device all the time, then range will not a problem.
- Battery life: one of the limitations of wireless devices in general is the battery life that you can rely on. Every year battery technology is improving and even budget models can have excellent battery life. Expect 6-12 hours of battery life for a number of earbud options in the marketplace.
- Charging time: a relatively low battery life can somewhat be offset by a quick charging time. Some units might even have a “quick charge” feature that delivers a decent amount of battery life for a small amount of charging time.
The different features and buying considerations covered in this article should be understood before you go ahead and buy the earphones that match your requirements. Over the last decade improvements in technology mean that there are some cool features in earbuds like Bluetooth and noise isolation.
It can be confusing trying to make sense of all the different features. However, consider what you will be using the earbuds for and then you can pinpoint which features will actually be useful to you.
We hope that after having read this buying guide you can buy the earphones that match your needs. When you are clued up on the different features you’ll feel less frustrated and more in control of the buying process.