Buying headphones is a lot more complicated than it seems, because of the sheer volume of options spread across various price ranges. Headphones also come in different shapes, sizes and fits, which makes it important to decide exactly what kind of headphones you want based on how you intend to use them. Follow our guide to make it a bit easier.
How much should I spend?
This entirely depends on how much you're willing to budget yourself for your headphones. Good options exist from as little as Rs. 150 to as high as Rs. 36,00,000, so you're spoiled for choice. This also depends on your enthusiasm for good sound, as you will typically have to pay more for better sound. However, as a basic indication, it's possible to get excellent headphones for about Rs. 10,000 - Rs. 12,000. The cost of quality increases exponentially after that, giving you only incremental improvements despite a large increase in the price. If you're reading this post, you're probably still starting your collection of audio gear, so it's best to keep the budget within this limit for now.
What to look for when buying headphones
The first thing you need to decide before buying headphones is the kind of fit you want. This is based on how you primarily intend to use the headphones, as well as how you plan to keep them. In-ear headphones are the smallest and easier to store, and can be worn in practically any scenario, whether you're commuting or at home. However, many people don't like the intrusive fit of in-ear headphones, and will prefer on-ears or over-ears instead.
If you intend to use your headphones at home or in the office, you may find that going with over-ear headphones will be beneficial thanks to improved comfort and ease when wearing and removing them. However, these headphones are large and occupy more space, so it might be inconvenient to use these on the go. On-ear headphones offer a good mix of the benefits of over-ears, along with easier portability and storage.
Once you're decided on the fit, you should then consider the features you want in your headphones. The most affordable options will have nothing more than basic wired listening, but as you go up the range, you can get more feature-filled headphones. This includes headphones with microphones for hands-free calling, wireless headsets that use Bluetooth, noise-cancellation headsets, and headphones with built-in amplification and digital-analogue converters.
All of these extra features come at an extra cost - you're going to have to decide which ones matter to you. Do you plan to use the headphones while commuting? Having a hands-free call option could help if you're driving. Bluetooth means tangle-free comfort, but you're going to be charging the batteries often, so think about whether you actually need it. Noise cancellation is a great feature to have if you fly a lot, but otherwise, it's a pretty expensive feature you don't really need. Keep all of this in mind when picking the features that you need.
Headphones also come with different driver technologies. The most common and affordable technology is dynamic drivers, which exists on the vast majority of headsets available. As you go up the price range, you can also get balanced armature drivers, planar magnetic drivers, electrostatic drivers or hybrids, which make use of two different kinds of drivers in the same headset. There are pros and cons to all these technologies discussed in more detail in this earlier article you can read.
The most important thing to look out for is the sound. Headphones are usually engineered to have a specific kind of sound, which can be bass-oriented such as the V-Moda Crossfade M-100, treble-oriented, such as the RHA T10i or neutral, such as the Audio Technica ATH-M50X. This means that the headphones will sound better with certain kinds of music and not-so-great with others. The best way to figure out how a pair of headphones will sound is to audition it yourself before you buy it. Make sure you have your favourite tracks with you, so you get a proper idea of how the headphones will be for you. And remember, with audio, there's no such thing as "best" - you want to buy headphones that suit your personal tastes.