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  • Inside Headphones Comparison - How do Headphones Work?

Inside headphones

Inside Headphones

Since their invention in the early 1900s, headphones have had a crucial impact on the way we listen and communicate with others. Nowadays, the reality of tinny sounds from small speakers is long gone; new technology means people with even lower budgets can have access to ever-improving features and functions, whether that's plenty of bass, noise-cancelling features or even advances such as wireless functionality.

However, with the ubiquity of headphones comes a concerning issue. There is the possibility that new generations could be exposing themselves to hearing damage by using headphones at a high volume, or overuse. We're taking a hands-on approach to see how headphones work.

Amplifon has deconstructed a pair of high-end Beats by Dr Dre Solo HD headphones (RRP £169.95), comparing and contrasting them with a pair of entry-level JVC Lightweight headphones (RRP £7.99), to see how these pieces of seemingly essential kit compare and contrast.

beats_teardownjvc_teardown


Headband

In regards to user comfort, the headband is arguably the most important part of a set of headphones. Cushioned or not, it's going to make a difference if you're thinking about longevity of wear.

The Beats Solo HDs have a pretty smooth frame with a cushion, whereas the JVC Flats Lightweight (HA-S160-B-E) has a thinner, stainless steel one - both of which are lightweight. The Beats also feature a strip of metal inside the headband, improving its stability over a longer usage time.


Inner section

The inner section of each headphone includes the driver - the part responsible for transmitting sound. The inner parts of this - the magnet and coil - make the driver vibrate, as the sounds travel to your ear.


drivers


The driver

Within each speaker of the Beats Solo HDs is a titanium-coated driver, compared to the 30mm drivers with a neodymium magnet in the JVC pair. The design of the Beats is supposed to recreate the sound with high fidelity. This means you should be able to hear each element of the sound much more clearly. The neodymium magnet in the JVC pair, however, is generally considered to be fairly strong, considering how light it is.



Frequency, treble and bass

Interestingly, the higher-end frequency of the JVC headphones goes up to 24,000Hz, even though frequencies over 20,000Hz are not heard by the human ear. The first measurement, 12Hz, refers to the bass you'll hear through them. The JVC's range is wider than what would be considered standard, as bass frequencies below 20Hz tend to be the ones you can only feel, but not hear.

Different types of music are weighted differently in terms of the frequency content.

For example, music with a heavy bass will be heard well with lower frequencies, whereas the treble will be more easily identifiable across higher frequencies. This means that if you listen to a lot of bass-heavy music, you'll need headphones with a lower frequency level to hear it more clearly. The opposite applies to music with more of a treble (e.g. vocals). The Beats Solo HDs have a narrower frequency range than the JVC pair, but are designed to provide more of a balance between all three frequencies: high (treble), mid and low (bass).



Impedance

The Beats Solo HDs have a higher ohm level than the JVC pair. This determines the level of power the headphones need in order to work properly. The 32 ohms of the JVC pair is considered low, meaning they'll work well with

most portable music players. The 42 ohms of the Beats Solo HDs means they'll be compatible with a wider range of audio players, and are slightly less susceptible to being overloaded than the JVC pair.



Sensitivity

While the sensitivity of the Beats Solo HDs is somewhat unknown, the JVC pair has a sensitivity of 103dB. Although this is a maximum, listening to noise for an extended period of time at 80dB and over can damage your hearing. That's where having a clearer sound can help. With a sound that's more detailed, you're less likely to need a higher volume to hear it properly.

Noise cancellation can also play a part in this, as the less interference from outside noises, the lower the necessary volume. Being exposed to sounds at a level of 80dB for a long period of time can cause damage to your hearing. Depending on the level of exposure, this can be permanent damage, such as hearing loss or tinnitus. You can find more information about Tinnitus here.

To find out more about hearing loss, you can read about the effects it can have in our interactive guide to hearing loss.

cushionCushion

While making the headphones more comfortable to wear, the cushion can assist with blocking out any background noise too. With the Beats Solo HDs, the larger, leather finish creates a softer feel and covers more of the ear, while the JVC pair feature a smaller but firmer cushion.


Noise cancelling

Both sets of headphones feature a closed back. This helps to block out any surrounding noise, as well as stop sound from your headphones escaping and reducing the quality of what you hear. The Beats Solo HDs cover a larger area than the JVC pair, featuring a larger cushion. This means that compared to earphones, headphones with a closed back are better for protecting your hearing, as you're more likely to have a higher volume with earphones that don't block out background noise - which can cause hearing damage. With headphones, you can enjoy your music at a quieter volume, without any background sounds interfering.

In the interest of protecting hearing, headphones with better noise-cancelling capabilities and the ability to produce a clearer sound appear to be better. Having a better quality of sound, be that through frequency, materials used or the quality of the drivers, means you don't need as much volume in order to fully hear what you're listening to. This of course depends on the type of sound you're going to use the headphones for.

To find out more about hearing loss, you can read about the effects it can have in Marion's story here.

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