Headphones and earphones have become a ubiquitous part of our every day carry gadgets. But there are so many of them and all of them claim to be the best, use the highest quality materials, have the best-tuned drivers and more. So how do we know which one is actually the best for us?

Image Credit: Malte Wingen on Unsplash

Be practical and honest

Everyone has a smartphone. Not all of us use them for the same things. Some use it purely as a communication tool, some are social media junkies and others may even use it to play games, watch videos and video call friends and family. One thing that most of us do regardless of how we use our device, is to listen to music on our smartphones and as such, portable music players have gone the way of the dodo. But don’t be that annoying prat who blasts their music on the bus and train. For the love of all that is holy please use earphones or headphones. I don’t care how awesome you think your music is, don’t be that guy.

Ask yourself if you really need that expensive pair of earphones or headphones. Why do you need it? look past the marketing buzzwords and fancy advertisements to what the headphones legitimately offer. An invaluable resource you can refer to is a website called Head-Fi. They are the worlds largest community of audiophiles who give detailed and objective reviews of nearly every pair of earphones and headphones on the market. So this is the short answer really. Educate yourself and see what the audiophiles think. Obviously what they like won’t necessarily be what you like.

Find out what kind of sound signature you prefer. Do you prefer ones with heavier bass? Do you dislike heavy bass and want more clarity instead? Are you all about that treble instead? Or does any of that not matter at all and you just want something that can block out the world on your way to work while on the train?

Wired or Wireless?

So first obvious distinction is whether or not you should use a pair that is wired or wireless. Most phones these days forego a headphone jack and as a person who owns wired headphones and earphones, this is a major annoyance and I stick to phones that have a headphone jack. Purists will insist that a wired connection will always be better than a wireless connection. Yet, wireless seems to be in fashion now with Apple offering wireless AirPods with new iPhones and only Samsung and LG still offering a headphone jack.

For all but the most demanding of audiophiles, wireless or wired won’t make a difference in audio fidelity. For some, the simple hassle of tangled wires is all the reason they need. But for those who already own wired headphones, you can use an ungainly dongle to connect through the lightning port or micro USB port.

For others, the annoyance of having to charge yet another device outweighs the benefits of being wireless. So it still comes back to what your personal preference is.

But if you aren’t too concerned about audio quality, then wireless is probably the way to go. Bluetooth audio fidelity has improved a lot and even playing your FLAC files from your phone to Bluetooth headphones would likely get you better results than say listening to Spotify or YouTube on wired headphones.

The obvious caveat to this is if you have a phone with superior audio hardware such as the LG V30 or the HTC 10 then and only then would a wired pair make a clear difference.

The codex to codecs

Since most phones these days don’t use wired connections, then audio quality comes down to what codec your phone supports and uses. A quick explanation of a codec is that it is the software and hardware used to encode, compress and decode audio. Some are better than others and the main types that can be found in smartphones are as follows.

AAC: Found primarily on Apple devices, ensuring that you are using AAC when using your AirPods means you are getting the best audio quality. This codec is not found on Android phones.

aptX: Found on devices that utilize Qualcomm CPUs, this is what users with modern Android phones will likely be able to use. There are three “grades” of aptX, regular, low latency and HD and when paired with a pair of wireless headphones that support it, it makes a clear difference in audio quality. I personally use a pair of V-Moda crossfade IIs with my Note 9 that supports aptX HD and it is wonderful.

LDAC: Is a basic feature found on all Android devices with 8.0 and above installed. It is a great codec and some tout it to be as good as a wired setup

This can seem like an arcane mystery but finding out what codec your device has is usually an easy process that you can find out from the internet or your device manual.

So do you really need it?

How much do you enjoy music? if you are someone like me who turns down the lights closes his eyes and loses himself to your favourite band, sure look into getting a pair. If you don’t care about any of that, the earphones that come with your phone are good enough. If you are curious and want to learn more, then start out with resources like head-fi and test listen to some headphones and make a choice from there.