Earphones: The Cheap, the Neat & the Visionary

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Earphones are one of those rare categories where you can find both products representing the most mundane of devices, as well as the most bleeding-edge jewels of technology. As a result, it is easy to get lost between the umpteen models lined up between the inexpensive Philips SHE series that cost Rs. 150, and a pair of Bose QC 20’s billed at Rs. 25,000.

What to look out for when buying earphones?

As a guide to help you pick out the best pair of earphones, explained below are the top five elements that you must factor into your purchase decision.

Sound reproduction

It is obviously going to get tough to deliver great sound when earphones come with drivers the size of a fingernail.

Frequency: To get a good idea of the sound quality that can be expected from a pair, check the frequency range shown on the package. It may show a range from 15hz to 20khz – the lower the starting number, the better the bass. There is not really much point to get earphones above 20khz because your ear cannot detect anything above that.

Impedance: You also need to check the impedance of your earphones, the higher the impedance (measured in ohms), the clearer the music you hear. If you are going to use your earphone without an amplifier (via a smartphone for example), go for 32 ohms or lower.

Noise isolation

How important is music for you over the surroundings? The answer to the question will decide how much noise isolation you would be looking for in your earphones. Of course, there are people who use noise cancellation earphones to get some peace at work instead of whiling away time with music. Normal earphones that hang right outside your ear canal have very little noise cancelation, while the in-ear phones are good fitting enough to enable them to enjoy some natural noise isolation. There is also the other end of the spectrum – people who want to hear ambient sounds around them with greater clarity along with their music. These are the ones who would go for either a practical Bose QC20, or a Bragi Dash for superhuman hearing abilities.

Value for money

There is no such thing as a free lunch,” goes the saying. If the product is insanely cheap, then the manufacturer has found a way to cut some corners. The question is whether you are prepared to deal with the consequences or lack of features on inexpensive earphones.

It is really a matter of how much certain features are worth to you. For instance, in-ear phones retailing at Rs. 800 offer better noise-isolation than standard earphones. However, if you travel a lot around the world but simply cannot stand the drone of airplane engines then an active noise-cancelling earphone costing Rs. 15,000 might not seem like a hefty sum anymore. The same goes for other value-add features like magnified ambient sounds and Bluetooth connectivity.

Ergonomics

Considering that most earphone users have them plugged in for the better part of the day, the importance of ergonomics has gone to a whole new level for consumer electronics. Depending on the kind of usage you have planned for your earphone, you may need to get ones that offer better ergonomics. If your run, hit the gym, or battle your way through hordes at the Delhi Metro on a daily basis with earphones on, you will need ones that do not fall of at the slightest jerk. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to judge which earphone fits you best unless you try it. Some of the better earphones in the market do come with multiple-sized earbuds so those are worth a try too. In fact, ergonomics is such a big issue that firms such as Revols have come out with earphones that have tips that mould to the unique shape of your ears in 60 seconds for a truly custom fit.

Durability

Do you remember the classic Samsung and Apple comparison from a few years back, where plastic Samsung phones were touted as better than the metal clad phones from Apple. It was all the rage until Samsung themselves flipped the switch and started selling metal phones (and their devices got more expensive too). In the world of earphones, small electronic devices dangling for their lives from your ears, durability can be the one element that decides whether your purchase serves you for the years to come or disappears abruptly from your life. Cheaply built earphones come with hissing noises, crackle when adjusted, and take just a few hits before they crumble.

Top Picks

Let us take a look at the top picks of earphones for different categories.

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