Looking for better sound from your iPhone, iPad, iPod or Mac? New headphones are likely to do wonders, especially if you're still using Apple's standard Earpods. But there are so many headphones out there, varying in price, style and type, so it can be difficult to decide what type of headphones are right for you. It's also tricky to know what to look for in a new pair of headphones, particularly as there's little opportunity to try them out for more than a few minutes before purchasing them. Here, we bring you buying advice to help you choose which headphones are right for you, and offer some examples of the best headphones of 2013.
What to look for when buying headphones
When looking at potential headphone purchases, you'll notice that the main differences between them are usually type, comfort and sound quality.
How to choose headphone type
You'll first need to decide whether you want earbuds, in-ear, on-ear or over-ear headphones. In-ear headphones sit inside your ear canal, so they're small and very portable. While the quality of in-ear sound is typically not as good as on-ear or over-ear headphones, they're normally considerably better than earbud, which rest outside of the ear canal. However, the fit of in-ear headphones depends on the shape of your ear (although many in-ear headphones come with various tip sizes so you can customise them to fit better).
Some full-size headphones, like V-moda’s over-the-ears Crossfade M-100 (£270) minimise sound leakage.
On-ear headphones are usually smaller than over-ear headphones, as they rest on the ear, whereas over-ear headphones cover the entire ear. Both of these types of headphones tend to have better sound quality than similarly priced in-ear and earbuds, but they're often not as ideal when it comes to portability.
Wired or wireless headphones?
On-ear and over-ear headphones are also sometimes available as wireless models, so they'll normally connect to your iPad, iPhone, iPod or Mac using Bluetooth. It's worth noting, though, that Bluetooth can mean that your music undergoes some compression that may make the sound quality less satisfactory than wired headphones.
Canalbud-style headsets, like Logitech’s UE 350vi (£49.99) fall between earbuds and in-ear-canal models.
Headphones buying advice: Specs and Sound Quality
Manufacturers will list the specs of their headphones, but much of that information – particularly the frequency-response numbers – don't actually mean a lot. That's because there's no standard testing methodology for headphone frequency response.
This means that the best way to decide whether you'll be happy with the sound quality is to try them out. Headphones with the best quality will have a good balance between treble (upper), midrange and bass (lower) frequencies. They should have rich, full sound without sacrificing detail.
Smaller headphones can have difficulty delivering a good bass response because of the especially small drivers (speakers). This means that, even if you can hear the low frequencies, you probably won't be able to feel that punch. A vendor trick, though, is to emphasise certain bass and upper-bass frequencies. However, while this might impress you the first time you try them out in-store, they can be tiring to listen to for long periods of time, and can mean inaccurate audio reproduction.
Headphone buying advice: other handy features
In addition to the all-important type and sound quality decisions, there are other things to consider when purchasing a new pair of headphones.
Most headphones now come with a remote control and microphone on the cable (assuming they're wired, that is). We find this feature immensely useful, as it means you don't need to take your phone out of your pocket when a song you're not so keen on starts playing, for example. It also means you can answer calls from your device for hands-free use.
Perhaps, if you're planning on using the headphones with your iPad or Mac, the in-line remote and mic won't be as useful for you, but for iPod and iPhone users it's a worthwhile feature to have.
Headphone buying advice: best place to buy headphones
In an ideal scenario, you'll want to have a listen to the headphones before you cough up your cash. Retail stores such as HMV, PC World and Curry's usually have headphones on display for you to try before you buy.
If you're ordering online, though, it doesn't mean you have to buy without knowing whether the headphones will be any good. Check out reviews on Macworld.co.uk and from elsewhere on the web such as Amazon before making your decision about a particular model.
Once you've decided the type of headphones you want to buy, you can take a look at our top 18 headphones of 2013.
Additional reporting: Dan Frakes, Macworld.com