While there are many different types of headphones, this website covers the design of three of the more popular and easy to build over-ear styles. While in-ear headphones are popular due to their often great sound and convenience, they are tricky to build so not covered here (yet!).
It is important to note that there is not necessarily a ‘best’ type – each has its pros and cons and is suited to different circumstances. Therefore before starting your build it is important to think through which will suit your needs best.
On Ear Headphones
Otherwise know as Supra-Aural Headphones. Examples include Master and Dynamic MH30 and Beats Solo.
These sit over the top of your ear rather than forming a seal around it, so will allow a degree of the surrounding noise in. They also tend to offer less bass than some other designs and can be uncomfortable if worn for extended periods. Their advantage is that they are compact and light weight.
On ear headphones tend to be a closed back design, meaning that the cavity behind the driver (or speaker) is sealed.
Open Back Over-Ear Headphones
As the name suggests, in open back headphones the cavity behind the driver is open rather than sealed. These are the simplest type of headphones to build and offer fantastic sound. An example of a commercially available design is the Grado SR225i (they are awesome by the way!).
Open back headphones produce a very natural sound, with plenty of bass and an awesome sound stage (that is you can locate where each instrument is coming from on the ‘stage’).
The main drawback with open back designs is that to offer poor isolation of background noise and people around you will be able to hear what you are listening to.
Open back designs arguably offer the best sound, but have the noise isolation drawback, so are only really suitable for use in quiet environments, such as at home (maybe!).
Closed Back Over-Ear Headphones
As the name suggests, closed back headphones have a sealed cavity behind the driver. They also tend to use leather ear pads that also seal the cavity between the ear and driver. An example of this design is the Master and Dynamic MH40.
The sound produced by this design is generally excellent, with plenty of bass. They tend to sound more ‘boxed in’ and have bass that is less crisp compared to open back designs. The also have the advantage of blocking out surrounding noise, and sealing the music in, so are perfect for noisy environments and those where you don’t want to disturb others with your listening.
Closed back designs tend to be quite heavy and bulky compared to other designs.
Closed back headphones are perfect for where size/weight doesn’t matter too much and you are listening in a noisy environment, such as public transport, an office or airplane.