Understanding Headphone Jargon

A simply Dummys guide to Understanding Headphone Jargon

There are many different types of headphones available today, and this range of options can make selecting the pair which is best for your needs can be confusing. So let’s see if we can begin to demystify some of these factors for you.

beats headphones


Open-Air vs Closed-Back

Open-Air headphones are meant to allow you to hear what is going on around you by allowing sound to pass through the ear-cups freely, whereas Closed-Back headphones are sealed, which helps to block out these environmental noises.

Closed-Back headphones will usually out perform the Open-Air versions because the sound is focused and doesn’t have to compete with the background noises. However, Open-Air headphones will usually distort the sound less, as the sound isn’t being restricted by the headphones.

Selecting which works best for you is very important, because they create very different atmospheres.

Active vs Passive Noise Cancelling

Passive noise cancelling devices are by far the most common. This form usually are closed-back headphones, and their effectiveness basically boils down to how high quality the ear-cup system happens to be.

Active noise cancelling headphones use a microphone placed in the ear-cup in order to pick up incoming sound waves. They then use a built-in circuit to generate an anti-noise sound wave in order to cancel the incoming sound wave.

Which will work best for you will depend largely on the sort of noise. Low-frequency, constant noises are the easiest for active noise cancelling headphones to work with, so if you are in an area with a lot of high-frequency noise, this sort might not be best for you.

Headphone Designs


Circumaural headphones have ear-cups which go over the ear. These ear-cups cover and seal the ears, but they are still available in both Open-Air and Closed-Back designs.


Supra-aural headphones are meant to sit on top of the ear. They are best used with portable devices, and are commonly Open-Air headphones. This doesn’t mean that Closed-Back supra-aural headphones cannot be found, but they are rarer.


These are one of the more common forms of headphones. The ear-bud is meant to sit just outside of the ear-canal, and they are frequently sold along with portable devices.


This form of headphones are also known as IEM (in Ear Monitors). They are meant to fit directly into the ear canal, helping to block out background noise. By nature, this form of headphone is usually a closed-back, passive noise isolating headphone.

Available Features

Volume Control

Most headphones still depend upon the volume controls of the device they are connected to. Adding extra volume control to the headphones themselves can distort the sound of the music that you are listening to. It is now rare to find mid and upper range headphones which include volume controls as part of the headphone itself.

Magnet Type

When you are looking for a new set of headphones, you should look to see if they have what is known as a Neodymium magnet. This form of magnet gives more magnetic energy than the other types, which means that you get greater sensitivity and better sound from less power.

Neck-strap vs Y Cord

Y-Cord headphones are absolutely the most common – close to 98% of all headphones available on the marketplace today are Y-Cord straps. However, the neck-strap is rapidly becoming more popular, because of the ease of use and the fact that they are less likely to get tangled than the Y-Cord.

Connection Quality

Power is great, but the ability to get that power to the drivers is better still. Check for oxygen free copper cords. This helps to improve your connection quality, improving overall sound clarity.

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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