A headphone is only as good as its parts.
Put another way, if you want to buy a quality headphone, the price tag is only one indicator of its quality. In addition, you need to know how headphones are made, whether they are premium quality, which of them are replaceable, and so forth.
Won't reading about such a topic be boring, you might say?
Nope; as this article will show you.
Components of Headphones and Earbuds
How do headphones work? What' s inside them? This section will answer every question you may have about the working of headphones.
Considered as the most crucial part of headphones, drivers form the mechanism from which the sound comes. You can think of them as a tiny loudspeaker – which converts an electrical signal into sound – inside your headphone.
The driver, in turn, consists of a magnet, a diaphragm, and voice coils. The bigger the driver unit your headphone has, the larger will be its speaker, and the more powerful will be its output. That doesn' t translate, however, to better output.
Instead, the quality of the driver depends on the thickness of its diaphragm. The thinner the diaphragm, the better the output it will provide. Still, there' s a limit to the thickness of the diaphragm, as proved by Sennheiser in their latest headphones.
☛ Related reading: Headphones tech: Dynamic VS Planar Magnetic Drivers
No part of a headphone isn' t as bad treated – or as maligned – as its cable. Most of us know that it is the length of the cable which restricts our movement. What we don' t know, however, is the role cable plays in the working of a headphone.
Cable connects the speakers of your headphone to its jack. A set of wires coated with a nonconductive or rubber coating, it forms a bridge to transfer an electrical signal from your smartphone (or any other device) to your headphone' s speakers.
Due to its long length and flexibility, cable is prone to twisting and bending. Consequently, when that happens, the inner cable wires tend to fray and weaken. That, in turn, makes it difficult for the electrical signal to reach the headphone from the connective device. The result is poor or no sound.
Ever wondered what that small hard piece at the end of the cable is? Well, that' s the jack, and it completes the electrical circuit of your device by plugging into it. Since it is relatively sturdy, headphone jacks generally withstand the test of times.
However, that doesn' t mean that the jack is break-proof. Instead, the part where the cable meets the jack is especially sensitive. If you prone or twist it, it can fray the wires, with the result that there would be no sound in the speaker.
No other part of a headphone plays as important a part in its comfort as its headband. That' s because it sits right atop your head, where even the minor discomfort can feel like pure agony. They come in various materials, namely pure foam, leather, velour, and pleather.
As you might guess, the material of a headband plays a crucial role in the level of comfort it provides. However, what you might miss is the importance of the headband' s structure. For, it is as important in determining whether the headband is comfortable – or not – as its material.
Therefore, if you want a comfortable headband, making sure that it has padding won' t be enough. In addition, you' ll have to make sure that the headband is adjustable. Also, the arc structure of the headband – which sits atop your head – should have visible padding.
At the start of this section, we talked about drivers and how they convert electrical energy into sound. It is to be noted that drivers aren' t the main component of a headphone. Instead, they form only one – though the most crucial – part of speakers. Without the speakers, any headphone won't be able to receive and convert electrical energy into sound.
Speakers come in various types; with noise-canceling speakers currently the most famous of the lot. What they do is to listen outside noises and play back their inverted version to cancel them out. Consequently, you don' t hear anything from outside.
Just like everything else in a headphone, speakers are also prone to going awry. Unlike anything else, however, they show clear signs in advance that something is wrong. For instance, when a speaker has gone rogue, you' ll hear a buzzing sound while listening to music at loud volumes.
Made from memory foam and containing a soft protein leather coating, headphone cushions cover the outside of speakers. They provide comfort to the user by forming a buffer between the speakers and your ears. Consequently, your ears are protected from getting into direct contact with hard speakers.
Another notable advantage of headphone cushions is the solid grip they provide. As a result of this grip, the headphones don' t fall to the wayside. Similarly, even if your headphones don' t have noise-canceling speakers, the thickness of headphone cushions helps it block out outside noises.
After extended usage or abuse, the headphone cushions start to wear out. You can recognize that by noticing some subtle features. For instance, when they begin to wear down, headphone cushions generally become smelly, cracked or uncomfortable.
While we use terms such as “headset” and “headphones” interchangeably, there' s a notable difference between the two. Headsets, in stark contrast to headphones, have a built-in microphone. That means you can use headsets to both listen and speak. It is for this reason that audiophiles consider mics as a headphone accessory.
Talking about microphones, they come in two types: omnidirectional and unidirectional. While the former picks up noise from all directions, unidirectional mics pick-up sound from one direction only. Unidirectional mics are best for those who don' t want any external noise in their communication.
Now that you've gone through this article, you' ll never look at part of headphones and earbuds in the same way. More importantly, you now have the knowledge on what differentiates a quality headphone from the riffraff. What' s more, we have also given you some warning signs regarding each component of a headphone. Provided you notice any of them, you'll know what to do next.