Finding the right pair of headphones for your specific needs and wants can seem like an overwhelming endeavor. Here is a headphone buying guide that will help. It can seem that way unless you know what style, brand, and price range would fit your plans for listening.

There is a wide range of options that mostly revolve around what you plan on listening to. Where you plan on using them is also a super important area to pay close attention to.  If you want a pair exclusively for gaming, watching movies on a laptop, streaming wireless media from your TV, or trying to make your music sound as close to the live experience as possible – there are specific models for each. 

While there are some headphones that can work for a wide range of purposes, if you want to get the most out of your entertainment, it’s best to whittle your list down to a few specific models within a certain area. Keep reading our Headphone Buying Guide to learn what features are the most important before buying a new pair of cans! 

Here are a few of the most important factors to consider that will ultimately determine whether or not you enjoy your new pair:

  • Comfort
  • Sound quality
  • Build design
  • Wireless vs. wired
  • Open back vs. closed back
  • In-ear vs. IEM
  • On-ear vs. Over-ear

There is a lot of subjectivity when it comes to which brand makes the best audio gear. Some people will tell you that the most expensive models always sound the best. Others will try to sell you on extra add-ons that really might not be necessary. Overall, there’s something for everyone to choose from. Let’s get started!

Headphone Buying Guide

What Are The Different Styles?

First, let’s take a look at circumaural (aka over/around-ear) headphones!

Circumaural Headphones – (aka Over-Ear)

Headphone Buying Guide - How To Find The Right Pair

Circumaural headphones are oftentimes the most comfortable style to wear. If you’re someone who likes listening to music (or mixing/mastering) for hours on end you’ll probably prefer this style. 

They usually feature a comfortable ear cup with plush padding. Many ‘phones of this style offer replacement ear padding, in case the included pads are too big or small. The prices for this style can range anywhere from about $20 all the way to $1000 and more. 

Best Uses For Circumaural/Over-ear:

  • Watching movies
  • Mixing/mastering music
  • Recording music
  • At-home listening
  • Wherever you want to block out noise and just hear your music/media

You’ll be able to see some of the additional benefits of using circumaural headphones after reading our review of the Beats Studio Wireless.

Supra-Aural Headphones – (aka On-Ear)

Headphone Buying Guide - How To Find The Right Pair

Supra-aural (on-ear) headphones do exactly what the name suggests. They’ll have the same comfortable ear padding, but instead of covering your ears entirely, they only partially cover your ears.

Although some supra-aural ‘phones (like the Beyerdynamic DT 1350) are as comfortable as over-ears, the pressure and weight start to take its toll after more than a few hours. I personally like to take breaks (even during marathon sessions) no matter how comfortable the headphones are. It’s healthy to let your ears breathe and rest until you punish them again with loud, beautiful-sounding music


Best Uses For Supra-aural/On-ear:

  • On-the-go listening (due to their compact size)
  • At-home listening
  • Running, lifting, other exercises at the gym

Next, let’s take a closer look at the benefits and most popular uses for closed-backa ‘phones.  

Closed Back Headphones (Can be Cirumaural or Supra-aural)

Headphone Buying Guide - How To Find The Right Pair

Closed back is the technical term for headphones that are more commonly used by the masses. The ear cups are closed and usually designed to either cancel or isolate outside noise.

Best Uses For Closed Back:

  • Anywhere you want to only hear your music
  •  Louder, more-crowded areas

Click here to see some of the best examples of closed back cans that provide above-average noise isolation. 

Open Back Headphones (Can be Cirumaural or Supra-aural)

Headphone Buying Guide - How To Find The Right Pair

Open back headphones feature an open-air design that serves a few different purposes. It’s designed this way to allow for a lighter ‘phone build as well as an airy soundscape. 

Most of the time, they’re designed to more-accurately mimic the live concert experience. A lot of audiophiles prefer this design due to its low distortion sound and driver types. Open-back headphones tend to be more expensive and appeal to a specific listener. 

Best Uses For Open Back:

  • True-to-life sonic experience
  • Accurate sound reproduction (for truly hi-res listening)

Here’s a full and in-depth explanation of the main differences between open back vs. closed back headphones.

In-Ear Headphones (aka Earbuds/Earphones)

In-ear headphones (earbuds) are the type of headphones usually included when you purchase a new smartphone. They do exactly what their name entails – fit directly inside your ear. Some people have trouble finding a pair that stays in their ear securely. 

Most pairs of in-ears will come with multiple sizes or ear sleeves for this exact reason. Not all ears were made equally so you can experiment and even use a different size for each ear. The Best Wireless Earbuds For Working Out here are a great example of the convenience that in-ear ‘phones have to offer. Since they’re way more compact than other types, they’re perfect for working out or carrying with you. 

Best Uses For In-ear/Earbuds:

  • Working out
  • Discreet listening
  • Ultra-compact on-the-go listening

In-Ear Monitors (aka IEMs)

What Is An In-Ear Monitor?

In-ear monitors (IEMs for short) are also another common choice for many audiophiles. They utilize noise-isolation due to their in-ear canal design to make sure you only hear what you’re playing from your device. 

It’s also a common choice for musicians to use on stage. Since they stay securely in place and use noise isolation, they’re a great choice for performing live while listening to a backing track or metronome.

Best Uses For In-Ear Monitors/IEMs:

  • Live performances
  • Audiophile listening
  • Clean, non-distorted music listening

Use this link to see a full description about IEMs and who they’d work best for – and why. 

Gaming Headsets

Headphone Buying Guide - How To Find The Right Pair

Gaming headsets are a popular choice for casual gamers, YouTube streamers, and people who stream games live through services like Twitch. They always include some sort of microphone that could be detachable, built-in, or retractable. 

Many of these headsets have a sound signature that’s dialed in specifically for hearing small details. Some of them also have noise-cancellation features for their mics. If you’re playing a game and chatting live, you don’t want the background noise to mix with your voice. 

Best Uses For Gaming Headsets:

  • More-immersive gaming (especially with live chat)
  • Streaming live on YouTube, Twitch, etc.

Here are the Top 10 Best Xbox One Headsets list that you can take a look at to see more examples. 

You’re Ready To Navigate The Sea of Options

Headphone Buying Guide - How To Find The Right Pair

Now you know what each type of headphone does and why you might need a pair of supra-aural or circumaural headphones. You’ve learned about how a specific type of headphone will help you get the best use out of them. With that in mind, you can match their purpose with your plans for listening and make a more educated decision. 

I recommend that you bookmark this page to revisit when you’re ready to make your choice. You can scroll through our headphone buying guide as many times as you need to. Once you pinpoint which style will fit your exact listening needs – you’ll know what to look for and what to avoid. 

I hope this has been helpful in assisting you along the way. The world of audio can seem overwhelming and it’s nice to have a guide that will help you find the perfect fit for you and your ears. 

Thanks for stopping by to learn about the different types of headphones! Feel free to leave a comment or ask a question below, I’m always interested in hearing your feedback. 

Sonic Elevation: Ride The Waves.

12 thoughts on “Headphone Buying Guide – How To Find The Right Pair”

  1. Hello Dom, thanks for sharing this blog with us. I have just purchase a pair of Dr. Dre Beats Solo Wireless 3, and I love them!!! They are perfect for me, and they are the only ones I like. They have a premium sound, they have Bluetooth, and they are wireless. I usually keep them in the house, and listen to my music on my spare time. I don’t really travel with them that much. Thanks again, and continue to do what you do!!!

    1. Hey Ahmad, I’m glad to hear that you found the perfect pair for you and your needs. 🙂 As you mentioned, it’s important to find a pair that works for you. Hopefully more people can benefit from this headphone buying guide as well.

      Beats headphones tend to get a bad rap but I own a pair of the Beats Studio Wireless and get a lot of enjoyment out of listening with them too.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Hi, this is an interesting guide. I use headphones regularly. I didn’t know about the In-Ear Monitors (aka IEMs).I think the next time I buy new I’ll look for these.
    Today there is hardly anyone listening to records anymore, the frequency range has gone middle more and more. Can these ear monitors perform hi-fi quality?

    1. Sounds like a great plan Stefan!

      IEMs were specifically designed to reproduce hi-res quality, yes. That’s one of the main reasons why they usually cost a lot more than a pair of regular earbuds.

      If you go through the process of getting custom-molded IEMs, they’ll sound even better. Since they take a mold of each of your ears, no two pairs will be alike.

      Although there are plenty of great earbuds out there – a custom molded fit is next to impossible to beat!

      Thanks for stopping by to check out our Headphone Buying Guide!

    1. That’s good to hear Jeff! I’m glad you found the information useful. The links in the post above should point you in the right direction for your new pair of headphones.

      Thanks for stopping by, happy listening. 🙂

  3. Dom, this was such interesting information. I had no idea how specific headphones could be to any particular need. Thank you for sharing this with us. Gives me some great ideas for gifts for my kids! Keep keeping us informed!

    1. Hey Linda, I’m happy to hear that you found this headphone buying guide helpful.

      It is pretty amazing how many different types of headphones there are! There really is something for everyone.

      I bet your kids would love a new pair of headphones (especially with all the time we spend on our phones). Don’t forget to bookmark this page if you haven’t already so you’ll know what to look for when you search for a gift!

      Thanks for stopping by Linda. 🙂

  4. I have a question that I was hoping you could help me out with, Dom.

    I am forever wearing my earbuds! Well, earbud.. I keep my left one out so I know what’s going on around me, haha. But my right one is constantly in. Now, my earbuds are always snagging on things and ripping out of my ears. It’s super frustrating & then they stop working because the wires messed up. I have tried bluetooth, but since I’m on them so much they’re always dying!

    Do you know if they make special earbuds for this? I’d love to get my boyfriend and I a few pairs.


    1. Hey Em, I would recommend a pair of true wireless earbuds. They’re specifically designed with special ear tips to keep them securely in place while you’re moving around (plus they don’t have any cords at all to get tangled up in.)

      Our Top 10 Wireless Earbud list has a few options towards the end of the list that would work perfectly for the issues you’re describing. 

      The Jabra Elite Sport (#8 on the list) are completely wireless and come with a portable charging dock/carrying case. 

      The Samsung Gear IconX (#9 on the list) are also completely wireless and come with a portable charging dock/carrying case. 

      Bose also makes a similar pair called the SoundSport Free (#10 on the list) that are a little bit more expensive but have similar features. 

      That way, you can carry your charging dock (pocket-size) with you wherever you go and give them a quick charge when they die. 

      Hope that helps, thanks for stopping by!

  5. You know headphone quality is very important. Especially for millennial babies. Beat headphones isn’t the only game in town. I never even thought about the importance of headphones until that day you are looking for that special sound on one of your favorite tracks and then one of the speakers lacks the volume or bass. I actually need to shop around for a new pair right now!!!!!!!!

    1. It’s true David,

      We can all appreciate a quality pair of headphones. 🙂 Beats definitely have their pros and cons but you’re right, there are a lot more options than just them. 

      You’d probably enjoy checking out some of our other headphone review and best of posts. Once you find your perfect setup you won’t have to worry about them not performing as well as you’d like them to!

      Thanks for stopping by and reading this headphone buying guide!

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