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By Tim Brookes
Sound quality is the number one criteria you should look at when considering a new pair of headphones. However, comfort and convenience follow close behind. What you intend to use your headphones for should also influence your decision.
There are three “types” of headphones that we’ll be looking at today:
- in-ear (also known as earphones)
- on-ear (which sit directly on your cartilage)
- over-ear (which surround your whole ear)
There are pros and cons to each style of headphones, so let’s help you decide which is best for you.
In-ear headphones, more commonly known as earphones, are probably the most popular way of listening to personal audio on the move. They’re cheap and cheerful, and your smartphone probably came with a pair. Plus, generally speaking, they tend to be the least durable of the three.
There are two sub-types of earphones: fitted deeper in-ear types that create a tight seal, and loose hard plastic types that sit just inside your ears. Sealed varieties generally have good passive noise isolation, which means they block ambient noise just as well as sticking your fingers in your ears.
Finding a good fit is important, particularly when it comes to comfort. For this reason, the majority of earphones now use a fitted design. You can still get the older style of loose-fitting earphones, with Apple’s AirPods ($159) being one of the more recent takes on the old idea.
In-ear headphones are small, lightweight, easy to tuck under a shirt, and easy to carry with the aid of a carry case. Most of them are built with a purpose in mind, and many include remotes and microphones for use with a smartphone. You can get sports earphones that clip to your ears, waterproof earphones for swimmers, and even noise cancelling models if you look hard enough.
That’s not to say you can’t also get high-end in-ear headphones built with accurate sound reproduction in mind. Try something like the pricey Shure SE425 studio monitors ($269) if that’s what you’re looking for.
On-ear headphones offer a trade-off between the size of larger home listening headphones and portable in-ear options. If you simply can’t stand in-ear headphones, these are your next best choice. As the name suggests, these varieties are characterised by the way the headphones sit on your ears.
Larger drivers often result in a better quality sound, but this comes at the cost of size. On-ear headphones simply aren’t as easy to travel with as the smaller variety. Some models are foldable, while others sit comfortably around your neck when not in use. Their larger size also puts them at risk of breaking in your bag, so many come with hard carrying cases too.
You can get fairly small on-ear headphones like the Sennheiser PX100 ($79/£44) or much chunkier models like the Beats Solo3 ($299). The characteristic “on-ear” design means that the cups sit flush with your ears, and noise isolation can be a mixed bag. In my experience, the tighter the headphones, the better the sound isolation, and the less comfortable they are.
If, like me, you wear glasses, it’s definitely worth trying out on-ear headphones before buying. I find prolonged sessions with some designs can get sweaty, depending on what the cups are made from.
If you’re going for larger headphones you should be a little more picky in terms of sound quality. You’re already sacrificing the convenience of smaller in-ear models. For a truly “flat” response, look at something from Grado (like the $200/£194 SR225e) but don’t expect wireless audio or fancy extra features.
Over-ear headphones, as the name suggests, cover your whole ear. They sit against your head, which makes them the most comfortable option. There’s no stretching of your ear canals or crushing of your ear, and though not every pair is guaranteed to be comfortable, they’re generally the best option for extended listening sessions.
Headphone amplifiers are another thing to consider, as they’re often required to power high-end headphones. The need for one depends on the impedance rating on your chosen headphones, measured in Ohms. To quote from our article about headphone amps and whether you need one:
“You will probably benefit from a headphone amp if your headphones are rated beyond 32 Ohms, but you likely don’t need an amp unless you use a set rated at 100 Ohms or greater.”
Simply put, remember why you are buying your headphones. If you’re going to be using a smartphone as your main listening platform, you many also need to invest in a headphone amp to get the most out of them. If you don’t, your music will sound oddly quiet and you’re better off spending the money on superior in-ear or over-ear headphones instead.
The sheer size of over-ear headphones makes them undesirable for use on the street, they’re rarely foldable, and most don’t come with a carrying case either. The sky’s the limit when it comes to what you want to spend here, but you don’t have to break the bank. The Status Audio CB1 ($89/£63) studio monitors that I reviewed last year delivered excellent performance on the cheap, with build quality (not sound quality) being the biggest issue.
Sound quality, comfort, convenience, and purpose are all important when deciding on new headphones. There are a few other things to keep in mind, however, like whether or not to go wireless. Wireless audio has improved immeasurably over the last decade, but wired audio still delivers the best signal with the lowest latency.
You may also want headphones for other reasons. Gaming headsets can provide immersive sound in a design that’s built for comfort, with a microphone for chatting to your online buddies.
- In-ear headphones are portable, cheap, and convenient at the cost of comfort and sound quality.
- On-ear headphones straddle the line between portability and convenience, offering larger designs with better sound quality at the cost of portability.
- Over-ear headphones frequently offer the best sound and most comfortable designs, but their large size generally makes them unsuitable for use outside of the house.
Did you spend a lot of money on your headphones? Did our advice help you make a decision? Which style of headphones do you consider to be the best? Please let us know what style, make, and model you bought in the comments below!
By Saikat Basu
Sometimes you might remember a book you read by its jacket, and sometimes by the actions of an obscure character. However, rather frustratingly, you often cannot remember the author or the title.
I am sure you are thinking back to the moments when you wracked your brain trying to remember that book or cite a quote you had loved. Book amnesia has thwarted us all at some time or another.
If you are a book lover of any kind, expect to see (or ask) a question of this type one day:
“Do you remember a mystery book that had something about a puppet master as a murderer?”
As a book lover, it’s your duty to jump in and save someone from his or her failing memory.
Tracking down that long-lost book is like embarking a treasure hunt. In the old days, you could have asked the friendly seer called “the librarian”. Whereas, in this, the digital age, the internet is the informational entity that has even your local librarian beat.
Here are some tips to help you find a book without knowing its title or author. And, unlike the librarian, the internet is always ready to help.
Let’s Start with an Everyday Search Engine
When you can’t (or even if you can) remember the name of book, author, or the characters in it, the search engine should be your first port of call. What is true for any generic search is true when trying to find a book without knowing the name and the author too… it’s all about the keywords.
In case of a forgotten title or author, you have to remember anything you can use from the book. It could be the name of a character, a line of dialog, or even basic plot points. The more specific the phrase, the better the result. All rules of a normal search apply (for instance, for exact searches put it in quotes).
Now Try Google Book Search
The difference is that the reference page displayed for your search result also contains extra information like various covers, table of content, common terms and phrases, and popular passages from the book. You can view sample pages and check if this is the book you were searching for. Also, you can search within a book.
Use the Advanced Google Search Page with filters like subject, publisher, language, publication date, ISBN and ISSN numbers (you aren’t going to remember these two!).
Experiment with keywords and wildcard operators to grab a clue. Even if you do not find the book, you might come across a reference which could then lead you to the answer.
Other Catalogs You Can Use for Your Book Search
There are some search engines which are more specialized.
BookFinder is an advanced search engine (Click on Show more options) which taps into the inventories of over 100,000 booksellers worldwide. Try a keyword search or, if you can recall it, restrict your query by the publication year.
WorldCat is the world’s largest network of library content and services. You can search the worldwide database of 72,000 libraries in 170 countries. Search for a book and then locate it at a nearby library. Membership of the library allows you to check out the item online. Try the Advanced Search with unique filters like Audience and Languages.
Peek into WorldCat Genres (or Fictional Finder) which helps you browse through fiction genres for hundreds of titles, authors, subjects, characters, locations, and more, ranked by popularity in the world’s libraries.
The Library of Congress (LOC) is the world’s largest library and today it also hosts a huge digital collection. An online book search through its catalog of 17 million records on books, serials, manuscripts, maps, music, recordings, images, and electronic resources shouldn’t take too long. And to top it all, the LOC has a friendly Ask A Librarian form for queries.
Also, check out the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) search tool which is another Library of Congress utility.
Wade Through an Amazon Search
Amazon started life as an online book store. It remains the leading category by sales with millions of titles in stock at any one time. If Amazon doesn’t sell the book you are looking for, then it’s probably no longer available (or a figment of your imagination!) The basic search bar can get you close to the book with a keyword. But the real spadework can be done by Amazon’s Advanced Book Search.
Amazon does not have an official list of advanced search operators. But it does display a few search tips on the above page. The API documentation also lists a few power searches you can try out for your book. Go through the documentation by clicking on Next. For instance, experimenting with the [title-begins] keyword could return close hits.
And if all fails, then do a site search with Google. You might just get lucky.
E.g. “Rachel Childs”+journalist site:amazon.com
Search Inside the Book
Amazon not only matches your keywords to titles and authors, but also on every word inside a book. You can discover if this is the exact book you are looking for by clicking the Look Inside link and going through the preview pages. Use the Search Inside This Book field to look for sentences, key phrases, and even citations.
Ask for Help from an Online Community
Goodreads is an Amazon subsidiary. As such, you can expect the knowledge base to be just as vast. This social network for book nerds has discussion boards on a variety of topics.
You can go to any genre-specific group and ask for help. But it might be worth trying these two first:
Barnes and Noble is a well-known bookseller. This group was created with the express purpose of helping readers hunt down their favorite books. It isn’t as busy like Goodreads but could be worth a visit.
The appropriately named BookSleuth is another good hunting ground for forgotten titles. Use the community forum that is organized by genre, and provide as many details as you can for the members to help you out.
Last But Not Least: Social Networks
By now, you should have got either the book or your memory back. If not, your search has probably reached a frustrating hurdle because the book-loving masses haven’t been able to rescue you yet. It’s time to broaden your scope with an SOS on your social network of choice.
The social network isn’t only for finding long lost friends. You can also call upon the wisdom of the crowd to help you find that elusive book. Your own social circle might be too limited, so broaden your search using book clubs.
Mark Zuckerberg started A Year of Books, and now it has close to 800,000 followers. Even smaller public groups like Books are worth a try. You just have to shout above the noise.
The Q&A site could be the largest gathering of “experts” outside Facebook and Twitter. The best thing about Quora is that you can expect a quality response. Take the answer below for example:
A potpourri of 168 Q&A communities makes up Stack Exchange. Stack Overflow might be the most popular with programmers but there are niche communities for Ebooks and Literature. Then, you can also go into a genre specific community and drop a question. Sci-Fi and Fantasy is popular.
You couldn’t have thought of a better name for a subreddit on books than Tip of My Tongue. Just scan your eyes down the solved answers with the green tag to understand the power of collective memory. Also, try other subreddits like What’s That Book, Books, and printSF when you can only remember the cover.
It’s Time to Find That Long-Lost Book!
The web relies on the kindness of strangers. The good thing is that book lovers are everywhere and the fraternity is amazingly co-operative. We can always find them closeted together in some group or community.
So, the next time you have a memory blackout try to recall any vague detail of the book.
Go back in time to remember any physical feature or illustration. Try to bring up some associated memories – what were you doing when you were reading that book? How old were you? Was it a gift or did you borrow it?
Are you still looking for a long-lost book? Did this article help your search in any way? When you’re searching for a book from your childhood who do you ask first – your librarian or the collective power of the internet? Please let us know in the comments below!
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