Types of Headphones

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There are many different styles of headphones, each with their own advantages and drawbacks, thus there is no a ‘best’ type, just one that is most suitable for its intended usage.

The designs tend to fall into the following categories:

Headphone types

For circum-aural and supra-aural, the back of the cup may be open (ie allows sound to travel through) or closed. The advantages/disadvantageous of this are as follows:

  • Open back: more ‘natural’ sounding and allows more ambient sound in.
  • Closed back: tends to offer more bass plus better sound isolation, which is ideal for listening in noisy environments (eg public transport)

The design offered on this website is circum-aural, closed back, as it tends to be the most practical all-rounder, offering good sound plus good noise isolation.

Some examples of each type are as follows:

Circum-aural (Over-Ear) Headphones

In circum-aural headphones, the cushions completely surround your ear. They can be in open or closed back formats, each with their own advantages and drawbacks.

Compared to other types, they tend to be the most bulky and heavy, but are generally quite comfortable.

Circum-aural Open Back

Circum-aural (over ear) open back headphones tend to offer great comfort and the best sound, with the drawback that they allow plenty of ambient noise in, so are only really suitable for quiet listening environments. Many of the best headphones money can buy are this style, for example the Audeze LCD series.

An example of this style is the HiFiman HE400:

HiFiman HE400

Circum-aural Closed Back

This style of headphone offers plenty of noise isolation and good sound, generally with plenty of bass. Compared to open back headphones of the same type, the rear enclosure can add some ‘colouration’ to the sound and make them sound less natural.

In the opinion of the author, this format is the best all-rounder, with good sound, comfort and noise isolation that makes them practical for everyday use. Therefore this is the format we have chosen for the Homebrew Headphones.

An example of this is our Homebrew Headphone build with wooden covers:

3D printed and wood headphones

Supra-aural (On Ear) Headphones

Supra-aural headphones 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 tend to be compact and light, and often (but not always) cheap.

The sound you hear can be very dependant on how they are sitting on your ear. I find some very hard to get in the right position on my ear, and when they do, tend to not feel secure and subsequently move into a non-optimum position. Therefore I personally dislike this format.

An example of this type is the Bowers and Wilkins P3 (shown below). Notice how the interface to the ear is a flat pad.

Bowers and Wilkins P3 Headphoens

In-ear And Ear Buds

These are beyond the scope of this DIY focused website, but range from cheap and nasty intra-concha earbuds through to super high-end in ear monitors.

Next: What Makes Great Headphones Great

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