Time to update your headphones? Here’s our guide to picking the right pair.

Walk into any JB Hi-Fi store and you’ll be faced with rows upon rows of headphones and earbuds in an array of different designs. Knowing which pair to buy can be a confusing proposition, but don’t despair – we’re here to unravel the tech talk and help you get exactly what you need.

I haven’t upgraded my headphones for a while. Why should I bother?
No different from buying a new TV, a smartphone or even a car, when you upgrade technology, you benefit from a whole suite of new and advanced features. Touch controls, improved noise cancellation, built-in voice command functionality and the implementation of Bluetooth 5 have ushered in a new age of convenience.

Bluetooth 5, now on version 5.2, enables multiple Bluetooth devices to connect at once, decreasing power consumption and resulting in longer battery life.

What do I need?
Will you be using them during a workout? A good sweat or weatherproof rating is a must, and a pair that will resist frequent and exaggerated movement is imperative. Are you intending to travel with them? A pair that doesn’t take up too much real estate is essential. Is music a big part of your life? If it is, you’re not likely to get full audio appreciation fishing in the budget pond. In fact, it’s not out of the ordinary to own multiple pairs for multiple purposes, and that doesn’t have to break the bank.

Over-ear and on-ear headphones – what’s the deal?
Over-ear headphones are the classic headphone design where the ear cups completely cover the ears, providing a snug fit. These headphones come in two variants: closed and open back. The closed-back models eliminate most external noise, providing a more inclusive listening experience. Open-back headphones, while still providing a source of excellent audio, allow some environmental sound in, so these work well in an office or home setting where some situational awareness is required.

Will in-ear ‘buds’ be a better option for me?
Designed to pop directly into the ear (and if they don’t, most sets come with interchangeable ‘sleeves’ to compensate for larger lobes), the snug fit make these popular for fitness activities. Small and compact, earbuds make the ideal travelling companion and typically come in a chargeable case to keep the party in your ears going for longer. And don’t let the size deter you – a good set of earbuds can sound exceptionally good.

Should I be wired or wireless?
Wireless is by far the most popular choice in 2021, and there are many reasons why this is the case. From an audio standpoint, contemporary Bluetooth connectivity can now compete with wired technology in terms of quality. Wire-free also means you won’t inadvertently rip them out of your ears or negotiate untangling cords. Besides, most headphones will ship with a detachable wire anyway, giving you the option for both.

Let’s talk wireless and true wireless. What’s the deal?
Wireless earbuds are still joined by a wire from bud to bud, but that wire doesn’t connect to an audio source via a jack; the battery, mic and volume controls are housed in the connecting cord. True wireless pairs are exactly that – they have no external wires at all and connect via Bluetooth. A rechargeable battery is built into the headphones, while volume and a mic are controlled via touch or buttons on the external cups or buds.

Noise cancellation – say what?
Active noise cancellation (ANC) is an absolute blessing when you want to eliminate environmental noise, especially with so many of us now working from home. Some headphones will even allow you to moderate the level of noise cancellation – ideal if you’re in a busy area of the city and need to be aware of traffic. It’s worth noting, too, that a little ambient noise will permeate even high-end models.

The sound of music – and other media
Every user’s aural expectations are different. Deep bass may be the order of the day for some, while others will prefer a more balanced soundscape. Often, an associated app will include an EQ and afford some level of audio customisation. It can also depend on what they will be used for; an audiophile’s needs will differ from someone solely using a pair to listen to podcasts. And price isn’t always indicative of sound quality, either. While a budget pair understandably won’t compete with its top tier counterparts, a mid-range pair can often punch well above its weight.