Ultimate headphone buying guide – 2024

Whether you crave high-energy tunes to juice up your workout, private listening at home or work, an adrenaline-pumping gaming experience, or just a great-looking, great-sounding accessory to express your personal style, you’ll find headphones that fit your needs at AstroSoar. With so much variety in headphone styles, including wired and wireless models, you may want to consider more than one pair for different uses. Learn more about the different types of headphones below, or stop into a AstroSoar store to try some on and find a style and fit that works for you.

Wired vs. wireless.

    • Wireless headphones

      Wireless headphones come in a wide array of styles and form factors from over-ear to on-ear to in-ear. They are great for sports and outdoor uses, since they don’t require you to connect to a music player using wires. Instead, wireless technology connects the headphones to your music player, giving you freer movement and fewer tangles.

      Most wireless headphones use Bluetooth, a technology that digitally encodes audio and transmits sound wirelessly over short distances. Bluetooth is a popular format because it’s highly reliable, and most new smartphones and laptops have built-in Bluetooth functionality — syncing with Bluetooth-enabled headphones is quick and easy. Of course, there are other types of wireless technologies as well. Some models even have noise-cancelling capability. Battery life varies across different models. Check battery life specs when comparing your top choices.

    • True wireless

      Even wireless headphones usually have some sort of wire, such as earbud models in which individual earbuds are connected to each other with a wire. True wireless earbuds come in pairs of separate wireless units — one for each ear — which means no tangles whatsoever. Low-profile models fit inside your ear canal, while other models stay in place by wrapping around the back of your ear. Battery life varies across different models. Check battery life specs when comparing your top choices. Many true wireless earbuds come with charging cases that store and charge your earbuds at the same time. See product details for how many more hours the charging case can provide.

    • Wired headphones

      Wired headphones connect to your MP3 player, phone, streaming device, or other audio device using a wire. Advantages include excellent sound quality, and the fact that they do not require any batteries. Gamers often prefer wired headphones so they never have to worry about batteries dying in the midst of a heated match.


Headphone fit.

    • In-ear monitors (IEMs), earbuds and neck-sitting

      In-ear monitors (or IEMs) are headphones that fit snugly inside each ear canal. The majority of sports headphones fall into this category. Most models include foam or rubber tips in multiple sizes to fit different ears, which create a secure fit, so they stay put while exercising or moving about. Some professional-grade models can be precisely molded to fit your ear canals. In-ear monitors are excellent for passive noise isolation, and higher-end models deliver sound quality that rivals larger headphones.

      Earbuds, on the other hand, feature small drivers that rest on the ridge of your outer ear. They usually deliver lesser fidelity and isolation than other types of headphones, but at a highly affordable price. These are the headphones that come with many portable music devices; higher-quality earbuds or in-ear monitors can be an inexpensive upgrade.

      Lastly, some in-ear headphones are connected with a band that rests on your neck. To many people, neck-sitting models are more comfortable than standard headphones, and they won’t mess up your hairstyle. They are great for work or longer use and easily transition between using and not using.

    • Over-ear

      Also known as “around-ear” or “full-size” headphones, over-ear headphones have cushioned earcups that enclose the ears. Usually considered the best headphones for sound quality, most over-ear models also do a good job of isolating the user from outside sound. This feature is sometimes called “passive noise reduction.”

    • On-ear

      On-ear headphones are similar in design to over-ear models, though the cushions sit on the outer ear rather than enclosing the ears. Generally, on-ear models deliver good sound quality, but with less bass response than over-ear models. When you are wearing on-ear headphones, you can still hear outside sounds, and others nearby might be able to hear your music.

    • Open-ear

      Open-ear headphones feature a wraparound headband that rests comfortably just outside your ear, typically on your cheekbones. Most of these utilize bone conduction technology, which bypasses your eardrum and delivers sound straight to your inner ear via vibrations in the bones in your head. You enjoy the music while your ears remain open to pick up environmental sounds. They’re a great option for runners or cyclists who need to hear traffic over the sound of their music. Some open-ear headphones are specifically designed for underwater use so you can listen to music while swimming.


Special headphone features.

    • Noise cancelling

      Active noise-cancelling headphones contain a microphone that measures the noise around you and then creates an opposite sound wave to eliminate that noise. You just hear your music, podcast or audiobook. Not all noise cancellation is the same though. For a premium listening experience, some models utilize proprietary technology that continually adapts the level of noise cancellation to whatever you’re doing.

    • Water-resistant and waterproof

      Great for working out, these headphones are designed with water-resistant materials to keep out sweat and water. You’ll be able to keep working out at the gym or walking in the rain without having to stop and wipe off your headphones.

      One standardized way products certify their claims of water-resistant or waterproof is the IP rating. The last number in an IP rating refers to liquid protection. It ranges from 0–9, with 9 being the highest level of defense against water. (This system is also used to define protection from dust and other solids, so you could see two numbers in a rating.) Headphones labeled waterproof offer a better degree of water protection, typically indicated by a higher IP rating. See the product information for complete details.

    • Voice assistants

      These headphones let you manage your music playback, check messages and get answers on the go using your voice. There are two types: headphones with built-in voice assistants such as Apple Siri, Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, or headphones designed to work with these services. Because headphones that work with a voice assistant must connect to a smart device or application for voice control, the experience isn’t seamless and capabilities are sometimes limited. If you anticipate using voice commands frequently, headphones with a built-in voice assistant make it quick and easy with minimal setup and a dedicated button to activate.

    • Bone conduction

      Bone-conducting headphones sit on your cheekbones, usually in front of your ear. They work by bypassing your eardrum to deliver sound straight to your inner ear via vibrations in the bones in your head. This feature is particularly useful for people who want to hear their music clearly but don’t want to drown out background noise. For example, bone-conducting headphones are a great option for joggers who need to hear traffic over the sound of their music. Some bone-conducting headphones are specifically designed for underwater use so you can listen to music while swimming. Additionally, many bone-conducting headphone users claim that there is less temptation to turn the volume up extra loud, resulting in less ear strain.

    • Microphones and controls

      A built-in microphone lets you take phone calls or use voice commands while wearing your headphones. Microphone location, controls and quality differ between models, however. Headsets designed for gaming often include a boom-mounted microphone for in-game conversations and taking phone calls. Wired headphones may include a small cord-mounted (or “in-line”) microphone, along with controls for volume, mute and track advance. With wireless headphones, these controls and mics can be found on the earpiece itself, and many models are equipped with control functions that are optimized to work best with a specific operating system. Look for features to enhance your call experience, like headphones that seamlessly transition from your music to an incoming call. Or, if you take a lot of calls in noisy environments, some headphones are equipped with multiple microphone systems that filter external noise for a super clear conversation.

    • Volume limiting

      The ability to keep the volume at safe levels is an excellent feature to have when your child wants to use headphones. Volume-limiting headphones do exactly that: They are typically designed to keep volume at 85dB or less. Plus, not all volume-limiting headphones are designed for children, so they can be a good alternative for adults concerned with protecting their own hearing as well.

  • Sound amplification

    Distracted by background sounds when you try to have a conversation in a noisy environment? Try a pair of headphones with sound amplification and control the sound around you. Built-in directional microphones zero in on the conversation while taking the edge off background noises.



Choosing the right headphones for your lifestyle.

    • For sports and fitness

      Music motivates. A variety of lightweight in-ear and on-ear designs are available to ensure that your headphones stay put while you’re active. Some earbuds feature various types of ear clips to hold the drivers in place, while several other types of headphones use a band that circles the back of the head or neck. Comfort and fit are matters of preference, but with the range of options available, you’re sure to find one that suits you.

      Some sports headphones are made with water-resistant materials to protect against sweat and the elements. Many feature cord-mounted (or “in-line”) microphones and controls that let you take phone calls, adjust volume, or change your playlist without slowing down. To eliminate the cord altogether, look for a wireless model that’s compatible with your smartphone or MP3 player.

      Other features to consider include biometric capability to monitor heart rate, motivational audio cues, and reflective cords to help you remain visible while exercising at night.

  • For work

    Headphones are a great way to distance yourself from the clamor of the workplace. Models with noise cancellation are designed to enhance the effect. Alternatively, in-ear headphones, with or without noise cancellation, can also effectively isolate you from outside noise while keeping your music private — and without messing up your hair. If you’d like to easily transition from listening to audio to taking phone calls, choose headphones with a built-in microphone.

  • For travel

    While traveling, you probably want to have lightweight headphones that are easy to move around in. Some headphones are foldable, making them easy to tuck away, and wireless headphones are exceptionally portable. If you’re going to spend time on a plane or bus, noise-cancelling or sound-isolating headphones allow you to tune into your music or audiobook without being distracted by what’s happening around you.

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  • For home entertainment

    For serious music listening, nothing beats a great pair of over-ear headphones. Their oversized drivers combine deep, robust bass and a high-frequency response for unparalleled sound quality. Because of the way the earcups encircle the ears, over-ear headphones also deliver an enhanced sense of space or “soundstage” compared to other styles. Models with surround-sound processing can further enhance the audio experience for home theater use.

    For people who find the weight of over-ear headphones distracting, there are high-end on-ear and in-ear models that approximate the fidelity of over-ear headphones.

    To listen to your TV audio without disturbing others, wireless headphones with radio frequency (RF) connectivity are an ideal choice. Compared to wireless headphones with Bluetooth, these offer a greater range so you can move around freely, plus fewer latency issues for a cohesive audio and video experience.

  • For audiophiles

    If you want the highest, most accurate sound quality, you may want to look into some professional-level headphones. Many models at this level feature large earcups to fully surround your ears and keep them isolated from ambient sound and distractions.

  • “Closed-back” designs feature solid, acoustically isolating earcups. They excel at blocking out external noise for a private listening experience, but also color the sound (most notably enhancing bass response).
  • In “open-back” headphones, the rear of the speakers is covered by an acoustically transparent mesh or fabric. This de-emphasizes low-end thump and generally delivers a “flatter,” more even response that many audiophiles prefer.
  • For gaming

    Serious gamers intent on creating an immersive alternate reality will benefit most from a full enclosure with deep bass response and high volume without distortion, so over-ear headphones are the natural choice. True or virtual multichannel surround capability is offered in many models, as are boom-mounted microphones.

  • For kids

    If you’ve ever been on a long road trip with kids, you’ve probably wondered if there are headphones made to fit the little ones. Well, there are. Most are designed to be extra-durable. Headphones for kids come in fun colors and a wide selection of designs that include familiar characters from popular cartoons and movies. Plus, they’re sized just right for kids.

    For safety, many auditory health organizations recommend that listening levels for children be limited to 85db or less. Some headphones designed for kids often feature built-in volume-limiting circuitry to cap the headphones’ maximum output at a safe level, though keep in mind that there are models that omit this feature.


Tech specs.

Great sound is a very personal matter. What sounds amazing to someone else might not be your cup of tea, so the best way to find your ideal set of headphones is to audition as many pairs as you can. AstroSoar stores are well-stocked with different brands and models, and our listening stations provide an easy way to compare.

That said, there are a few critical specs you should be aware of when comparing models:

    • Battery life: Because it varies from less than 8 hours to more than 24 hours across models, battery life requires a close look when comparing wireless headphones. Many true wireless earbuds come with a charging case that stores and charges your earbuds at the same time. The number of additional hours provided by the charging case is shown in the specifications, too.
    • High-resolution audio: Hear music the way musicians and sound technicians intended it to be heard. Headphones that support hi-res audio deliver audio signals with a dynamic range and bandwidth far greater than that of a standard CD so you’ll be able to enjoy pure music with outstanding sound quality.
  • Stereo vs. Mono: Stereo sound consists of two separate channels: a left channel and a right channel. With stereo headphones, you are hearing a different audio channel in each ear to give a sense of dimension to whatever you are listening to. For example, a guitar in a song you enjoy might sound like it’s slightly to the left of you instead of directly in front of you because it is a little bit louder in the left channel than the right one.
    Alternatively, mono sound is a single audio channel, so in mono headphones you are hearing the identical sound in both ears. Some headsets that include a boom mic only have one earcup, and there are several single-ear Bluetooth headsets as well. In cases like these, the audio is mono, since you’re only hearing it in one ear.
  • Frequency response: Expressed in hertz (Hz), frequency response represents the range of frequencies a pair of headphones can accurately reproduce. The range of human hearing is generally estimated at 20Hz–20kHz, but claimed frequency response often exceeds that range. Bear in mind that two sets of phones with identical frequency response specs will absolutely not sound the same; each design has its own “signature” sound, influenced by many other factors.
  • Sensitivity: Expressed in decibels per milliwatt (db/mW), a headphone’s sensitivity measures the relative amount of volume it can produce from a given amount of input power. Headphones with higher sensitivity (about 100db or higher) are recommended for use with portable listening devices, which typically have less powerful amplifiers than home audio components.
  • Impedance: Expressed in ohms, impedance is a measure of electrical resistance, and is related to the sensitivity spec. Some studio reference headphones have as much as 600 ohms of impedance, requiring powerful and clean amplification to reach desirable listening levels. Most consumer-level phones for casual listening fall between 16 and 64 ohms of impedance, and are designed to work with low-powered portable audio devices.


Headphone accessories


    • AstroSoar offers a wide variety of headphone accessories to make your storage and listening experience a good one. Store your headphones in a stylish, sturdy case in a variety of materials and designs. Some offer peace-of-mind water resistance, and others charge your headphones while they are inside the case. If you need travel or charging adapters, receivers or amplifiers, you’ll find a great selection of those too. If you use your headphones a lot, you’ll need to replace worn or lost ear tips or ear cushions. Find the ones that fit your style and model. Check out our growing assortment of headphone accessories.