Harman InternationalSales PrimerThe Headphone Guide - I Ravi Lakkundi Product Manager, India Harman International India (Pvt) Ltd Published on: 18 Oct 2012
Harman InternationalIntroductionHeadphones are a pair of small loudspeakers designed to be held close to a users ears. Originated fromear piece, for many years these were the only devices existing to listen to audio before amplifiers weredeveloped. A century ago when the first usable headphones were developed, it probably was neverimagined that headphones would take over the music world as the only audio accessory categorized forpersonal audio, obvious isn’t it!Pre-Modern headphones made their way with Walkman era, when customers used to buy walkmanswith a pair of large, awkward looking headphones or small ear piece in/on their ears. Reason of this pre-modernization was that listeners got a medium to carry their music with them, a portable medium. Backthen it was magnetic tapes, cassettes etc and now in this modern era its digital medium – iPod, iPhones,Other Smartphones, portable players, tablets etc. The need for headphones is growing ever, with thecontent residing in more on-the-move devices and being more accessible, the headphone becomes aninevitable accessory to carry for personal entertainment.Headphones being personal music accessory/devices, are also a style statement for the younggeneration. A decade ago it was seen that headphones in general audio devices, came in only Black andWhite universal acceptable colors – but now things have changed to the world of all new funky colors –One can now see all sorts of color variants in these headphones – Red, Blue, Green name it and surely itwill be there.This paper takes a deep dive into headphones as category. It provides classification of various types ofheadphones, usecase of such headphones and also serves as a buying guide for customers.Options and OpinionsGood music should be heard on good quality headphones. Current market offers plenty of options tocustomers in terms of designs, color and types of headphones. Options do not distract a focused, wellconversant customer but then if a casual listener of music wants to buy a “good” pair of headphones hegets overwhelmed by the number of options he/she sees in a retail store. They get so muchoverwhelmed that at times they walk out of the store with a confused mindset or buy something that iseither wrong for their intended use or is too much for what they will use the headphone for.When investing in a good pair of headphones or any electronics or any gadget or anything literally!! –The customer invariably looks it on internet. The process of buying starts from there, Per say forheadphones, he searches on internet as “I want to buy a good pair of headphones”, “headphones forjogging”, “good dj headphones” etc. The reviews do serve good information for customer’s thought but
Harman Internationalare not necessarily always right, the reviews at times fail to deduce the customer needs and guide themto right product.At times it also is the responsibility of knowledgeable on-ground sales staff to bring in customer delightand help him find a suitable product.The ClassificationClassifying a category so diverse is a tough task, but it’s always beneficial to do some sort of grouping.We shall try to classify headphones based on usage, technology etc. Each of these grouping could beactually a subtype of other: Over Ear wireless Gaming Headphone.Form Factor Classification: • InEar Also known as Ear canal headphones, these headphones are placed in ear canals, which actually seal the user from outside world. They are small, light weight and portable headphones. These headphones generally come with different size sleeves for a better fitting in terms of isolation. Being ultra compact and light weight, these are intended forcasual listeners, ex: who want to listen to music while travelling in a public transport (Often bundledwith Smartphones/Portable Music players), these types of headphone (entry level) are not known for
Harman Internationaltheir bass response. User preferences vary, some feel it quite comfortable and others may havediscomfort wearing such headphones.Customers if are looking for a portable headphone which could easily fit in their pockets and who arecasual listeners of music and want to keep their music to themselves and want to isolate themselvesfrom the surroundings can go for these headphones. Biggest advantage of such small headphones isthey do not interfere with your other accessories such as hair band, goggles, caps etc. One word ofadvice is while choosing this type of headphone - one should look for tangle free flat cables, whichprevent any kind of mess of cables in ones pocket or purse.These headphones come in a wide Varity of colors and also have some stylish zipper wire cable designsavailable. • Ear Bud Unlike Inear/ear canal headphone, ear buds are placed just outside the ear canal, without actually sealing the ear from outside world. They also are extremely portable, small and light weight. These are comparatively cheap than their InEar counter parts. Since these do not fit in the canal, they have a tendency to fall while being used. At times these are not so personal too, the audio being played might be heard by surrounding world, inbetter words audio leaks to outside world. At a same volume level InEars may sound more loud andclear at times as compared to Ear buds – for a particular model. These generally do not offer highdynamic range compared to InEar headphones and suffer from poor base.Customers if are looking for portable, lightweight headphones and are casual listeners of music, mightchose this as an option. These are not meant jogging or sporting use, primary reason being they oftenslip or come loose. Customers who feel discomfort wearing InEar headphones, yet have a desire to haveportable headphones, lightweight option can go for Ear Bud headphones.Biggest advantage here too is they do not interfere with your other accessories such as hair band,goggles, caps etc, but then they fall off often for some users. One word of advice is while choosing thistype of headphone one should look for tangle free flat cables, which prevent any kind of mess of cablesin ones pocket or purse.These headphones too come in a wide Varity of colors and also have some stylish zipper wire cabledesigns available.
Harman International • OnEar These headphones rest on outer ear. These headphones are very comfortable and often have some kind of foldable mechanism for flat bag storage useful for travel. They are not categorized as portable but can certainly be used as travel headphones. These headphones come in two types – Open-back headphones and Closed-back headphones. Open-back headphones: These have the back of ear cups open. This essentially leaks sound, but sounds more natural and spacious.Closed-back headphones: These have the back ear cups closed or sealed. They block the ambient soundbut may not have a natural sound. These headphones give user a perception that the sound is comingfrom within their heads. Reason being the closed back headphones reflect the sound back to the ear.These headphones are also called Supra-aural headphones and are a very popular type. Lot of usercommunities uses these headphones, meaning from audiophiles to casual listeners.Customers looking for a ‘little’ audiophile quality sound and who want their music to be clear with goodbass can chose this type of headphone. These headphones range anywhere from $50 to $500, an advicehere is that chose the right one based on wearing comfort and audio preference. While choosing playyour favorite track which you have listened to many times – so that you know what the headphonemisses in terms of sound (Bass, Mid range or highs)These headphones certainly mess up with your newly done hairstyle! At times these can be tight, so becareful with the headbands flexibility, if tight it may pain your ears and will be very uncomfortable.Foldable earcups, memory foams/cushions would be a nice feature as well as a detachable cable wouldbe preferred feature to look for. Ah, not to forget flat tangle-free cables!• Over Ear Also known as full sized headphones or Circumaural headphones, these headphones cover the ear entirely. These headphones are big and also heavy at times. They are not categorized as portable headphones, but certainly are urban style wears. To reduce any discomfort of wearing there has been lot of research on headbands that gets used in OnEar headphones. Current generation headbands are extremely comfortable.
Harman InternationalWord of caution: At times these headphones can make your ears sweat! Since they lack aerationThese styles of headphones are often used in reference quality/audiophile headphones. These arebetter suited for homes/studios etc and not as travel or portable use – reason being their size andweight. These have excellent isolation from outside world.Customers looking for audiophile quality headphones or who are audiophiles themselves can go withthese headphones, chances are there that customers demanding these types of headphones areknowledgeable and may not need any guidance from the sales staff!Connectivity ClassificationIn terms of connectivity the headphones can be broadly classified as Wired and Wireless headphones• Wired Headphones – These will generally have a male 3.5mm input pin for connection to portable devices/laptops/computers etc. Some manufactures do give their proprietary connections but this fashion is slowly getting phased out. Few of the desirable features of wired headphones are gold plated 3.5mm input pin (especially audiophile quality headphones), flat cables (for tangle free) and detachable cables from other side (saves lots of money if the cables wears off – user just has to replace the wire).• Wireless Headphones – These are generally Bluetooth based solutions, needless to say battery operable. They support mostly all A2DP and AVRCP profile. These headphones are generally in On- Ear form factor. One of the key desirable features apart from longer battery life is a cable. In case of battery being drained out user should still be able to use the headphone as a wired headphone. Customers need to make sure while buying a wireless headphone that it supports the latest available Bluetooth profile and the best streaming technology in terms of audio quality. Headphones vs Headset – A headphone is referred to as a headset when it has a microphone attached with it, either the microphone protrudes out or is built-inUsage ClassificationClassification based on the usecase is important to know. A short list of this classification is given here• Gaming These headsets provide an immersive sound experience while in gaming mode. They give the gamer an ability to speak to teammates allowing them to coordinates their actions and next move.• DJ These headphones/headsets reproduce precise sound coming from the mixing board and isolate the DJ from the dance floor noise. These generally are audiophile headphones and are Over the Ear headphones. A desirable feature in this category is twistable earcups.
Harman International• Sports Headphones which are meant for ones workouts at gym, for athletes, runners, joggers, cyclers etc, these are soft and comfortable and do not fall out from the activity. These headphones are shaped as InEar neckband headphones many times having wireless functinality• Travel Travel headphones have some special technological features – Noise cancellation These are also In Ear sealed headphones. Noise cancellation headphones cancel the unwanted ambient noise outside. Noise cancellation makes it possible to enjoy music without raising the volume excessively. These headphones are often used by travelers – On Air, public transport etc. These headphones use a built-in microphone to generate some kind of anti-noise to cancel ambient noise and keep ones ears noise free and rich of music ! A short note on noise cancellation is probably injustice to this type of headphones but customers wanting this type of headphones are often travelers and want the best in class headphones.• Reference/Studio High quality HiFi headphones used by sound engineers in studios for mixing and other recording/sound processing/measurement applications are tagged as reference headphones. These audiophile quality and the customers know what they are buying! These are Over Ear form headphones Surround Headphones – A surround headphone has some kind of digital signal processor embedded in it which processes the sound for surround effect, meaning user experiences the sound as though he was seated in a movie theater surrounded by speakers. These headphones come generally in On Ear or Over Ear form type and are generally costlier. At times smartphones/portable devices host a software solution of the surround technology and user may use a normal headphone to experience surround effet.
Harman InternationalConclusionA brief introduction of different types of headphones is given in this paper. The classification ofheadphones is a very difficult proposition since this particular product category is very spread out.Customer intending to buy headphones need to be careful on their needs and frequent usecase, a buymust be made keeping most important use cases in mind. Music is personal and so is the headphoneone will be using, so be careful when investing your dollars – and refer to this guide when in doubt! (Aword for salesmen too !)ReferencesSome of the definitions and materials have been inspired from the reference links provided. For theones who wish to read more here are some reference World Wide Web links www.harman.com www.jbl.com http://www.hifiheadphones.co.uk/headphone-buying-guide-by-type.html http://www.overstock.com/guides/Types-of-Headphones-Explained http://reviews.cnet.com/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headphones http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/peripherals/2010/01/03/the-best-gaming-headset/1