Dummys Guide to Understanding Headphones & Earphone Specifications

The choice of headphones / in-ear headphones / earphones / ear-bud can be a daunting prospect for people who read the packaging. Most people don’t reading the techy stuff, instead selecting ear-buds on three very different criteria:

• Whether they look good

• What price they’re being sold at

• What brand they’re manufactured by


Expensive Headphones

Expensive Headphones

In itself, there is nothing wrong with using the above criteria, but they should be joined by a few other issues which most people have a tendency to overlook – which is where that tricky writing on the packaging comes in. As a general rule, most people utterly overlook this, and the manufacturers are missing a trick by not making sure that their customers are educated in what these terms mean.

Don’t be fooled, either – there are a good many electronic shops where the staff won’t be able to help you decipher exactly what all this jargon means. I strongly believe that the customer should always know what they are buying, and so I’ve pulled together this list to describe, as plainly as possible, what the terms on ear-bud packaging actually mean.

Dummys Guide to Understanding Headphones & Earphone Specifications


Absolutely every package of ear-buds will mention frequency. It’s usually followed by some sort of number like 60hz-25hz, or 15hz-20khz.

That’s confusing to most people. They’re just random numbers with a selection of letters after them. So let’s demystify those letters, first. Sound is measured in hertz. The lower the hertz, the more bass the speaker is capable of. Yes, this is a case where the higher numbers are not always better – assuming you want deeper bass to your music.

When the numbers go into the kilohertz, they usually don’t matter. They’re there because the manufacturers know that people associate higher numbers with better quality. The human ear can only process sounds up to about 20khz, and when the numbers get to that point, deafness is a real possibility.


In its most basic terms, impedance is a measure of how well your ear-buds withstand electricity and vibrations. This means that it is a useful way to gauge how long your set of ear-buds will last you, and the quality of sound they produce. Low impedance ear-bud sets usually have a hissing sound.

Impedance is measured in ohms, and you really want this number to be as high as you can afford. After all, when you’re buying headphones it’s to listen to your music, not to listen to that irritating hiss that some lower-spec ear-buds give off.


Like frequency, this is one area where big numbers don’t necessarily mean better quality. Sensitivity is measured – and marked on the packaging – by decibels and sound pressure levels (dbSPL is how it’s shown). To keep things as simple as possible, let’s run through what the average person can hear.

The lowest possible sound sits at 0db. That’s as quiet as you can get while there’s still some sort of noise. Anything over 85dbs can cause hearing loss, so you can safely disregard anything that goes higher than that. Obviously, you want to be able to listen to music as loud as you want to, but keep your exposure to sounds over 85dbs to a minimum. Loud music is great, but deafness really isn’t!

Nominal Power Handling Capacity

This tells you how much power your ear-buds can handle before they die on you. Useful stuff to know, isn’t it? The maximum power is quite simply the most your ear-buds can handle before they begin to sound like they’ve gone through a serious beating. This ties in to the last point – if you keep your ear-buds well below this volume level, they’ll last longer and so will your hearing.


Ever wonder why over-the-ear headphones always seem to sound better – even when you buy ones for the same price as other ear-buds? It all comes down to the drivers. Over-the-ear headphones are bigger, which allows the manufacturers to place the most appropriate driver in them. In turn, this means that you get a far better quality of sound.

The stronger the driver is, the better the sound quality. Simple, right? Well, it is, but getting a driver small enough to fit into an ear-bud set isn’t easy.

Over-the-ear sets usually contain four drivers, and each one is meant to tackle a different part of audio quality. The cheaper sets of ear-buds contain two drivers. This is important to note, because no amount of kHz ratings will do you any good if the drivers can’t handle it.

So there you have it. A brief run-down of what you need to focus on when it comes to getting your next set of headphones. Just do yourself a favor and concentrate on the number and the quality of drivers. The big kHz numbers won’t matter a jot if the drivers aren’t up to scratch.

For best headphones & earphones visit SHOPPINGWAY online store.

About the Author. M Noman (Headphones-Earphones UK) is a ecommerce audio acoustic specialist, and this articles / product description is linked to his profile.

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