Looking to upgrade your listening gear? We’ve got you covered – well, your ears anyway.

1979 was an exceptional year in entertainment. At the movies, Ridley Scott unleashed Alien, The Warriors were fighting their way back to Coney Island, and former doctor George Miller put Mad Max behind the wheel. In music, London was calling The Clash and Led Zeppelin released what would become their last studio album.

It was also the year that Sony unveiled its latest gadget that would go on to conquer the world – the Walkman. Clipped to the belt, it was the first true personal stereo. And with it came the need for upgradeable portable headphones – the industry took off!

Today, headphones are a crucial everyday device that we use when we walk the dog, exercise, work, tidy the house or fall asleep while listening to music or podcasts. Choosing the right pair is essential, but where do you start? Walking into any JB searching for a pair can be a daunting task with so many styles on offer. Well, STACK is here to help. If you don’t know your wireless from your true wireless, or your open back from your closed, this is the guide you’ve been looking for.

What’s it all about?

For many, the one-pair-fits-all is not always a viable option – a pair of noise-cancelling headphones you use for travelling won’t be much use in the gym. Having multiple pairs for different applications doesn’t have to break the bank. Take some time to consider your needs. Earbuds are perfect for when you’re getting active, but traditional over-ear headphones are what you’ll want for the full audio experience. So what are the options? Let’s take a look…

Over-ear headphones

Music to your ears

The classic headphone design totally surrounds your ear, providing a snug fit. Over-ear headphones have two versions – closed- and open-back. Closed-back keep the party on the inside with very little noise spill, isolating a lot of peripheral sound (if you want to go one better, you’ll need noise cancelling – more on that later), and keeping the music very much in your ears.
Open-back, as the name suggests, permits some sound to enter through the earcup so you’re more aware of what’s happening around you. These tend to give the user a more natural sound. Being bigger headphones, you get bigger drivers (speakers), and yes, you guessed it, bigger sound.

On-ear headphones

Music to your ears

The clue is all in the name. On-ear headphones are smaller and lighter and thus more portable than over-ears. They fit tight over the ears and, like open-backs, the sound is more exposed to ambient noise.

In-ear headphones

Music to your ears

The ubiquitous earphone or earbud is designed to fit right into your ear canal, providing an often immovable proposition. As such, this style is particularly popular in the fitness and active sector. Easy to stow away in a pocket or bag, earbuds are also extremely convenient. And they won’t mess up your hairstyle or dislodge glasses.

So what’s the deal with wireless and true wireless earbuds? Are they not the same thing?
No. Wireless earbuds are joined via a cord, but that cord doesn’t connect directly to your device. Think of it as a necklace with an earbud on each end. True wireless, on the other hand, is exactly that – the earbuds are powered individually and, ingeniously, use the carry case they come in as an additional power pack, keeping you going for longer.

Should I go wired or wireless?

This is strictly a matter of personal preference but wired headphones are, by and large, more popular with musos, studio and sound engineers and audiophiles. Bluetooth has come a long way since its introduction 20 years ago when the connections and sound were appalling, and can now comfortably compete with its wired counterparts.

Wireless is favoured for many reasons: you won’t accidentally rip them off your head reaching for your phone and they don’t snag when you’re exercising. For our busy lives, wireless offers the ultimate in convenience. Many headphones come with a wired option as standard in the box these days, so you can have the best of both worlds.

I’ve heard a lot about noise-cancellation. Is it worth it?

Well that really depends. If you frequently use public transport or fly, where noise is at an optimum, then perhaps it’s time to consider investing in a pair. Noise cancellation technology was originally designed for long distance pilots to aid concentration and communication, before making its way to consumer technology. While it won’t eliminate all ambient sound completely, a good set of noise cancelling headphones, wireless or true wireless earbuds, will go a long way to blunting traffic noise, aircraft engines or that distracting office banter, leaving you to listen to your music – or noise-cancelled silence – in peace.

What about the sound?

The sound quality of a pair of headphones or earbuds is totally subjective. We can’t emphasise that enough. What sounds incredible to you might conflict with the opinion of somebody else. A budget pair may suit the needs of an occasional user, while others will strive for the highest fidelity irrespective of the price. But remember, you don’t always have to spend a fortune to get a good quality pair.

A little hearing history

Music to your ears

– Engineer Nathaniel Baldwin is credited with developing the first pair of headphones in his kitchen in 1910, but failed to interest investors. That was until the US Navy picked up on it and ordered 100 pairs.

Music to your ears

– It was German company Beyerdynamic who produced the first dynamic headphones – the DT-48s – designed for use in the home in 1937.

Music to your ears

– The humble Walkman ushered in a new design of lightweight foam headphones that, along with the 3.5mm jack, led the way in the explosion of personal headphones.

Music to your ears

– US musician John Koss had an idea to design a pair of headphones to use with portable phonographs. However, once he arrived at the final product, he decided to market them as stereophones, developing the same design and look we still see today.

Check out the huge range of personal audio at JB Hi-Fi.