Written by Asha Kalsi 

Headphones have become indispensable in our daily lives – from powering through the daily commute to breaking a sweat at the gym to drifting off at the end of the day. Yet, with all of the options available, finding the perfect pair can feel like a daunting task. While factors like price and comfort are relatively straightforward, but looking for the best-sounding pair can be tricky if we don’t know what to look for. So, what exactly should you know to make informed decisions about the best sound for your budget? 

Understanding Audio Quality 

At the core of it, audio quality refers to how faithfully the sounds of your music or media are reproduced by an audio output, such as speakers or headphones. It encompasses how close the audio is to the original sound, the clarity of individual elements, and the balance between loud and soft elements. But how do we gauge the level of accuracy? 

Decoding the Key Terms 

“Audio quality” acts as an umbrella term to encapsulate a variety of factors that affect the sound your headphones produce. When we discuss audio quality, it can often feel like navigating through a maze of technical terminology. Amongst all the specialist language, there are several key terms you're bound to encounter when delving into the realm of audio quality. 

Fidelity: Often the first thing emphasised in discussions about audio quality, fidelity denotes how faithfully headphones reproduce the original sound without distortion or alteration. It refers to the degree to which the headphone audio matches the original recording. Simply put, the higher the fidelity, the truer the sound. 

Frequency Response: The span of frequencies an audio device can produce from bass to treble is called the frequency range (or response). A wider frequency response indicates a broader range of accurately reproduced pitches; most headphones offer a frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz, covering the range of human hearing. Many headphones are designed to typically emphasize lower frequencies for bass notes like deep guitar tones and kick drums, ensuring they sound clear and rich. Additionally, they reduce the higher frequencies, which represent the treble, such as crisp cymbals and sharp vocals, ensuring a balanced listening experience. Some headphones also offer EQ features so you can customise these levels yourself to suit your listening preferences. 

Impedance: The measure of resistance to electrical current in headphones is called impedance. Matching headphone impedance with the audio source allows for seamless performance and quality. It’s measured in ohms, with anything under 25 ohms considered low impedance—these work great as long as they have sufficient power, making them ideal for home use. On the other hand, high-impedance headphones (anything above 25 ohms) are designed for professional audio setups, where they can provide clearer and more detailed sound reproduction, especially when paired with dedicated headphone amplifiers. 

Sensitivity: The term 'sensitivity' describes how loudly headphones can output sound relative to their power. It measures how many decibels the device can produce per 1mW of power. For a healthy balance between powerful sound that’s still gentle enough on your hearing, the ideal sensitivity range for headphones is 90dB and 120dB per 1mW. Designing headphones for optimal sensitivity ensures a balance between truly feeling your tunes and ensuring you're not overdoing it. 

Resonance: The tendency of materials or components to vibrate with certain frequencies is referred to as resonance. Well-managed resonance can really enhance your listening experience by harmonising with the audio signal, but too much can distort and muddy your sound. Controlling the resonance in the overall design and materials is a key facet of headphone design. 

Drivers: These are the components inside your headphones that convert the electrical signals from your audio device into sound waves. There are different driver types such as dynamic, planar magnetic, and electrostatic, but in essence, drivers use tiny magnets which respond to the electrical current in order to accurately reproduce the vibrations of the audio signal into your sound. Although the fundamentals are similar, each type operates through different means, which we've explored in more detail alongside the other components inside your headphones in our blog post 'Amateur to Audiophile: How do Headphones Work?' 

Soundstage: The spatial relationship of each component in a piece of music is referred to as the soundstage. Headphones can be crafted for you to lose yourself in an experience where each instrument and voice feels positioned around you, just like a live performance. Models with a wider soundstage not only enhance this sensation but also introduce depth and spaciousness to your listening experience. They're engineered to extend the music beyond the confines of your headphones, delivering an immersive sensation. 

Additional Factors Influencing Your Headphones’ Audio Quality 

Noise cancelling/isolation: Passive Noise Isolation and Active Noise Cancellation: Both features work to reduce background noise, enhancing audio clarity and focus. Passive Noise Isolation utilizes sound-proof materials to create a seal around your ears, diminishing background noise and fostering a quieter, more focused listening experience. Active Noise Cancelling takes this a step further by employing microphones to detect external noise. These microphones capture external sounds, allowing the system to produce sound waves that counteract and neutralize noise before it reaches your ears. This ensures there are no distractions, enabling you to hear the nuances of your audio more clearly.  

Wired vs Wireless vs True Wireless Connectivity: The type of connection is a factor that can influence your headphones’ audio quality. Wired headphones offer the highest fidelity since they’re directly connected to the audio source, minimising latency and interference. However, this high fidelity comes at a cost; wired headphones can be cumbersome and prone to tangling meaning they’re not the strongest choice for daily on-the-go use. Conversely, wireless headphones that use Bluetooth connectivity tend to lead to a slight loss in fidelity and detail, leading to occasional latency issues while gaming or video streaming. True wireless headphones, though similar to their wireless counterparts, can further compromise the audio quality due to requiring smaller drivers to account for the components responsible for wirelessly connecting each earpiece in addition to the fidelity lost connecting to the device. While the convenience and comfort of true wireless headphones make them suitable for everyday use, they may not meet the demands of professionals such as audio engineers who require uncompromising sound quality. 

Water/Sweat Resistance: The level of water/sweat resistance is indicated in the IP rating of your headphones. IP ratings range from IPX0, which refers to headphones that are not resistant to water in any capacity, to IPX9, which describes headphones that are designed to safely withstand steam cleaning and high-pressure washing. For consumer headphones, the standard IPX4 rating refers to their ability to withstand light splashes but not complete submersion, providing a level of protection against a light workout or getting caught in the rain. Choosing the right level of water resistance for your needs is important not only for preventing damage to the delicate internal components but also for preserving your headphones’ audio quality over time. 

Now that you’re armed with the essential knowledge on how we measure audio quality, why not check out our amazing range at MixxTake a look and find the pair that will bring out the best in your music!