How to Pick Out Perfect Headphones

Tips for Buying HeadphonesThere's such a vast selection of headphones out there that picking the perfect pair can be a daunting task. Before you go shopping, here are two questions to ask yourself and our advice for answering them.

1. What type should I buy?

Earbuds, in-ears, and canalbuds: As they're similar in size and shape, I've grouped these 3 categories together. Earbuds (which come packed with mp3 players) rest on your outer ear; in-ears need to be inserted into the ear canal; canalbuds are a hybrid that rest just inside the ear canal as opposed to being wedged all the way in.

Related: 6 Listener-Friendly Headphones


  • Very compact and lightweight
  • Tight seal helps isolate external noise (especially true of in-ear headphones)
  • Little interference with hair, glasses, earrings, etc


  • Sound quality's not as good as from full-size models
  • They can be hard to get a tight and/or comfortable fit
  • Can fall out of the ear more readily

Consider for: Commuting to work or traveling.

Sport Headphones: This is a broad category for any headphone designed to stay in place during active use. These headphones come in behind the neck or clip-on styles.


  • Stay in place during active use
  • Relatively lightweight


  • Complicated to position in the ear
  • Can irritate your ears

Consider if: You're a hiker, runner, or do aerobics.

Related: MP3 Players Perfect for the Gym

Over-ear headphones: Worn over your head, these have cups that rest over your ear.


  • Comfortable to wear, especially if they have padding or ergonomic designs
  • Good at blocking exterior noise
  • Can achieve higher bass and decibel levels


  • Not very portable (although some fold up for easier transport)
  • Can get hot and make your ears sweaty
  • Can interfere with earrings, glasses, or hair, etc
  • Block exterior noise which can be a problem when you need to listen for a horn, bell, or incoming call

Consider if: You're a serious music aficionado and/or like to chill out to music in the privacy of your own home.

2. Do I need fancy features? I'm often asked if it's worth paying extra for bells and whistles. Unfortunately, I don't have an easy yes or no answer. It all depends on your situation and what's important to you.

Related: 3 Health Benefits of Your Favorite Song



  • You can move easily and freely when you're wearing them


  • May not be compatible with your radio source
  • Many require batteries

Great for: Listening to TV in bed at night when your husband wants to sleep.

Active noise-reduction/cancelling:


  • Drown out other sounds (Great on a plane or treadmill.)


  • Drown out other sounds (Dangerous if you need to be aware of your surroundings like while walking on the street)
  • Require batteries

Great for: Relaxing to music at home.

Related: Impressive Internet Radio Players

General smart tip: Check out the return policy so if you're not happy with the sound quality or the fit, you can exchange the headphones for another pair.

If you're on the market for headphones, check out the headphones reviews from the Good Housekeeping Research Institute (GHRI).

What is your go-to pair of headphones? Let me know in the comments!

- by Rachel Rothman

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