Headphone 101


Get out your headphone scalpels! We’re going to slice ‘em open and give you a chance to learn about the typical anatomy inside a pair of headphones and how to select the headphone best for your particular needs.

Headphones generally have several defining characteristics.

Perhaps the major difference between headphones is whether they are designed to provide an isolating seal from the outside world or not. In other words, the biggest choice is between open-back or closed-back (aka "sealed') headphones.

If you are commuting or working in a loud environment, sealed/closed headphones are an easy way to minimize the outside world and regain your personal space. By the same token, sealed headphones will prevent sound from leaking out when listening in quiet environments like offices or libraries so you won't disturb others with your music.

In-ear headphones that fit much like earplugs into the ear are also technically a sealed design in most instances and can sound just as good or better than big headphones at the same price. 

The part of any headphone that creates the sound is called the driver. The driver is a transducer that converts the electrical signal into sound waves audible to the human ear. There are several different transducer types that have been historically used in headphones including dynamic, planar magnetic and electrostatic, among others.

The headphone part that holds the driver up to your ear called the earpiece. The job of the earpiece is to structure the acoustic relationship distance between the driver and the ear canal. Some earpieces are full-sized earcups that completely cover your earlobes - like in big over ear headphones - and some are earbuds that sit within your ear like with an in-ear headphone. Which earpiece type works best for your particular listening needs is a good thing to think about when choosing a new headphone. 


Headphones are so widely effective for a variety of uses and listening applications due to the specially tailored designs now available to specific categories of listeners.

There are Bluetooth wireless headphones, active battery-powered noise-canceling headphones for travel, TV-oriented headphones, pro recording studio headphones, exercise and running headphones and even killer high-end audiophile headphones modified for tweaked-out balanced-drive home audio systems. So many great choices, so little time to hear them all!

In our expanded Headphone 101 series linked below, we'll delve deeper into the various types, features and use applications of open and closed headphone designs. Hope to catch you there!

  1. Open vs. Closed Headphones
  2. Headphone Fit Types
  3. Headphone Features
  4. Headphone Applications