Things You Need to Know Before Buying Headphones

Buying headphones can be daunting. Here are some of the commonly used terms you should know.

Whether it’s the cheap plastic pair that comes bundled with your smartphone or the big expensive cans with a giant ‘b’ on the side, we’ve all used headphones at some point of time. Getting the sound right can make all the difference between a boring bus ride and an emotional journey. But there’s more to headphones than what you see.There’s a lot of science and engineering that goes into making a pair of headphones sound a particular way. The sound can be tuned in an infinite number of ways, and enjoying the audio experience is more about matching a pair of headphones to the music you’re used to listening to, rather than simply picking by brand or looks.

Our guide will help you get a better understanding of what to look for in headphones, and how to make an informed choice when you’re actually shopping for a pair. In case you’re confused by any of the terms used, jump down to check out our jargon buster. And in the following weeks, we will even help you pick a pair depending upon how much you are looking to spend.

headphones101_main_cc0.jpgTypes of headphones

Also known as IEMs (In-Ear Monitors), in-ear headphones are the smallest and most portable of all the different kinds. Each earbud fits into your ear canal and is powered by small drivers (see below), usually 8-10mm in size. It can be quickly and easily wrapped and stored, which makes it ideal for use when commuting and traveling.

rock_jaw_kommand_filters_headphones101_ndtv.jpgPros: Thanks to the small size and light weight, these in-ears are usually comfortable to wear for hours on end.

Cons: Many users do not like the invasive nature of the fit and prefer to use larger on-ear or over-ear headphones.

Also known as supra-aural headphones, on-ears literally sit on your ears, and are therefore much bigger than in-ears. This style of headphones uses larger driver casings, along with a headband that keeps the ear cups in place securely on your ears. Typically, on-ears headsets use 30-40mm drivers.

vmoda_xs_folded_headphones101_ndtv.jpgPros: Typically more comfortable than in-ears for short periods use, can usually be folded up to pack away when not in use.

Cons: Not as portable as in-ears. Since the ear cups sit atop your ears, may not be too comfortable over long hours of use.

Also known as around-ears and circum-aural headphones, over-ears are the largest and often the most comfortable kind of headphones. Like on-ears, over-ears have large driver casings and a headband, but the ear cups wrap completely around your ears, rather than resting on them. Because of the large size of the casing, the drivers can be much larger at 45mm and above, which allows for a louder and more detailed sound signature.

audio-technica_ath-m50x_headphones101_ndtv.jpgPros: Usually louder and having a more detailed sound signature. It’s also the most comfortable kind of headphones, and even offers passive sound-isolation by completely enveloping your ears.

Cons: Usually the least portable, over-ears are more suited for home or office use.

Specialised Headphones

Noise Cancelling
These headphones work on active noise cancelling technology, where certain sounds are drowned out to offer peace and quiet to the listener. Active noise cancelling headphones use small microphones that pick up on outside noise, and produce noise in the opposite frequency, to cancel out the outside sound. The technology does not work with sounds that vary too much, as the microphone cannot quickly pick up and adjust to different frequencies. Instead, noise cancelling headphones are useful in drowning out regular droning sounds, such as airplane engines, factory machinery, air-conditioner hum and other such uniform frequency sounds.

bose_qc25_headphones101.jpgPros: Good for some peace and quiet in factories, airplanes and noisy environments.

Cons: Noise cancelling requires additional power, so charging/batteries will be needed. Additionally, noise-cancelling technology only works with certain kinds of sounds and cannot block out all sound entirely.

Gaming headphones are designed to be used when playing video games computers, consoles or portable devices, to enhance the in-game audio experience. Some, such as the Steelseries Siberia Elite Prism, are designed to provide a virtual surround sound experience, while others like the Razer Tiamatprovide a true 7.1 channel surround experience. This helps gamers identify the direction of the audio. For example, in first person shooters, a good headset will let you identify which direction the enemy is firing at you from. These headphones are usually tuned to enhance dialogue and sound effects, and also have powerful microphones for multiplayer voice chat.

steelseries_siberia_elite_prism_headphones101_ndtv.jpgPros: Gaming headphones provide for an excellent surround sound effect, and are tuned for picking up direction and detail in the sound.

Cons: Usually not good enough to listen to music, gaming headphones are too specific with regards to their usability.

These headphones are free of cords and cables, and can be used comfortably without worrying about cable length and tangling. Wireless headphones usually work on one of three major transmission technologies: radio frequency, infrared and Bluetooth. The first two require a dedicated base unit which connects to the source device and transmits the frequency to the headphones, while the third uses the popular Bluetooth technology and can be paired wirelessly with a wide range of smartphones, tablets and computers. RF headphones usually work over larger distances, while infrared headphones rely on line-of-sight, and Bluetooth has a 30m range limit in most cases.

jabra_sport_pulse_headphones101_ndtv.jpgPros: Better portability and more suitable for outdoor use. Also useful for home use when the source device is placed at a large distance, such as when watching TV or listening to music in the living room.

Cons: Sound quality is usually not as good as wired headphones. Range issues and battery life can also create problems in the sound and listening experience.

These are the main types of headphones you’ll be looking at in the market, but if you’re confused by some of the jargon you come across in the shops, don’t worry. There are a few basic terms you should know about, and you can probably ignore the rest. You’ll find most of these mentioned on e-commerce websites, or on the box of the set you’re buying.

Headphone Jargon

The core components of any headphones, the drivers are used to convert the electrical signal fed to the headphones into an audible sound signal that can be perceived by the human ear. There are various types of drivers used in headphones, including the most commonly used moving coil (dynamic) drivers, balanced armature drivers, planar magnetic drivers and electrostatic drivers, among others. They use different technologies to power the sound, with some technologies offering better, more powerful sound than others. Dynamic drivers are used in all kinds of headphones, balanced armature drivers are general used in in-ear headphones due to the small size, while planar magnetic and electrostatic drivers are the largest and are usually used in built-for-home over-ear headphones.

audeze_lcd_lcd3plugs_headphones101_ndtv.jpgSome headphones, known as hybrids, use a combination of two drivers (most commonly a combination of dynamic and balanced armature drivers). Generally speaking, bigger drivers don’t necessarily mean better as there are other factors as well, but they are a contributing factor, particularly for bass. However, it’s best to audition headphones before buying, or read reviews to make sure the product is suited to you. Typically, earphones like the ones bundled with your phone will be around 15mm, while over-ear sets will be around 30-50mm.

Closed- and open-back
Headphones can be either closed or open at the back of the driver enclosure. Since a driver fires both into and away from your ear, an open-back headset will allow the sound to escape outside, while a closed-back headset will block the exit of the outward sound. There are pros and cons to both.

Closed-back headphones prevent others from listening to what you’re listening to and are therefore more suited for public places as opposed to open-back headphones which leak sound and are perceived as inconsiderate to use in public. However, open-back headphones (like the ones pictured below) have a much more open sound, giving a more comfortable and realistic listening experience, while closed-back headphones sound more ‘in-your-head’. Suitability depends on the purpose for which you need the headphones, and auditioning or reading reviews is recommended.

audeze_lcd_both_headphones101_ndtv.jpgFrequency response
The frequency response range of headphones denotes the full range of sonic frequencies that a pair of headphones can achieve. The human ear can only hear frequencies ranging from 20-20,000Hz, so most headphones try to stick to this range. However, some headphones extend the range at both ends in order provide deeper responses. Although these can’t be heard, they can be felt to a small extent along with the audible range, and a wider range often allows for better tone, responses and handling in the midrange, lows and highs. Check the frequency range on the box for an indication of how those particular cans will handle frequencies.

Soundstaging and imaging
These terms represent the ability of headphones to create an accurate sonic stage and image within your mind. Good soundstaging and imaging will create the impression of a live performance, where individual elements of the sound are distinct and feel like they are originating from specific locations on the virtual stage. Separation of sonic elements is also a function of imaging, where better separation represents a more realistic, true-to-life sound. This is best judged by listening and keeping your ears open for separation and clarity, so you won’t find it on the specifications of the headphones, but you’ll often see it mentioned in reviews.

In simple terms, headphone impedance represents the amount of power needed to drive a pair of headphones. Low-impedance headphones require less power to drive, and can therefore easily be used with source devices with weaker amplification, such as smartphones, media players, and other portable devices. They are also more susceptible to blowouts, if too much amplification is delivered to them.

High-impedance headphones require dedicated amplifiers or increased amplification to drive, and deliver a more powerful, driven performance as a result. They are less susceptible to blow-outs, as they are designed to handle more amplification. When choosing headphones, it’s important to note the impedance and buy according to the source device you intend to use. Look out for the impedance figure on the box, and choose as per your source devices. Impedance of 15Ohms and under is low and easy to drive, while impedance 50Ohms and above may require some amplification for best results. However, most smartphones and media players are designed to be able to drive headphones with impedance as high as 80Ohms, so higher-side impedance may not be a serious issue.

headphones101_main4_cc0.jpgThese are the main “specifications” that manufacturers tout, and all of them have a different impact on the audio you’re listening to, as we explain above. When you’re buying a headset, apart from the design types, these specifications are some of the important things you should know about.

What are the features that you normally look for in your headsets? Is there any jargon you’ve come across that doesn’t make sense? Let us know via the comments.

Windows 10 Home Users Can Now Disable Automatic App Updates

A cumulative update Microsoft rolled out last week to Windows 10 fixes one of the most annoying issues in the new desktop operating system. With the patch, Microsoft is finally giving Windows 10 Home edition users the ability to disable or delay automatic app updates through the Windows Store.

The new addition went largely unnoticed, because as you may remember, the company has stoppeddetailing the new changes in most of its Windows updates. Once installed, Windows 10 Home users will see an option in the upper-right corner of the Windows Store application to disable the automatic update.

If you’re having trouble finding it, click on the personal icon, then choose Settings. Up at the top you would see an option for App Updates. You will now see an option to configure Update Apps Automatically either On or Off.

Microsoft was thrown under the bus for not giving Windows 10 Home users many options to disable or delay automatic updates. The company had originally noted that automatic updates are in the user’s best interest as they help the latest security security vulnerabilities.

While it may not seem like a major change, many would appreciate having full control over which app updates they want, and when they app want it. Do note that the new update only allows Windows 10 Home users to stop automatic app updates, and won’t help them with delaying or disabling Windows 10 updates. If you need assistance with the latter, here’s a guide to help you out.

Internet Firms Discuss Free Wi-Fi Facility With Delhi Government

Several leading Internet and telecom sector companies have held discussions with the Arvind Kejriwal led-Delhi government regarding its ambitious city-wide free Wi-Fi project.

“Several international firms including Google, Facebook and Ericsson along with some domestic firms consulted with us and showed interest in the Wi-Fi project,” a source in the Delhi government said.

Kejriwal presided over the meeting held on Friday. “Half of the discussion has been done and the remaining will likely be done on Sunday afternoon,” the official said.

Dwarka legislator Adarsh Shastri, who is looking after the planning and consultation process of the project, confirmed about the interest shown by the companies.

“Several companies have contacted us in this connection. We will finalise the tender process in next few days,” Shastri told IANS.

“A draft of the request for proposal (RFP) in this connection has been prepared and will soon be put before the chief minister for approval,” he added.

The ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had promised during assembly polls to make the national capital a free Wi-Fi zone.

Asked about the development, a Facebook spokesperson said, “Connecting the world and delivering Internet access through a variety of ways is core to our connectivity mission. We are committed to working with various government agencies to help make Digital India a reality.”

US Considering Sanctions Over Chinese Cyber Theft: Report

The White House is considering applying sanctions against companies and individuals in China it believes have benefited from Chinese hacking of US trade secrets, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.

The newspaper, citing several unidentified Obama administration officials, said a final determination on whether to issue the sanctions was expected soon, possibly as early as the next two weeks.

Suspicions that Chinese hackers were behind a series of data breaches in the United States have been an irritant in relations between the world’s two largest economies as President Xi Jinping prepares to make his first visit to the United States next month.

Obama administration officials have said China is the top suspect in the massive hacking of a US government agency that compromised the personnel records of at least 4.2 million current and former government workers. China has denied involvement.

US government officials and cyber analysts say Chinese hackers are using high-tech tactics to build massive databases that could be used for traditional espionage, such as recruiting spies or gaining access to secure data on other networks.

A White House official had no immediate comment on the report. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A senior administration official said in reply to a Reuters query that President Barack Obama noted when he signed an executive order earlier this year enabling the use of economic sanctions against cyber hackers that the administration “is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to confront such actors.”

“That strategy includes diplomatic engagement, trade policy tools, law enforcement mechanisms, and imposing sanctions on individuals or entities that engage in certain significant, malicious cyber-enabled activities,” the official said.

“We are assessing all of our options to respond to these threats in a manner and time frame of our choosing,” the official added.

The Post quoted an administration official as saying the possible sanctions move “sends a signal to Beijing that the administration is going to start fighting back on economic espionage, and it sends a signal to the private sector that we’re on your team. It tells China, enough is enough.”

The newspaper said the sanctions would not be imposed as retaliation for the suspected hacking of the US government personnel records, as they were deemed to have been carried out for intelligence reasons rather than to benefit Chinese industry.

Reliance Jio Launches 4G Wi-Fi Internet Service in Bhubaneswar

As a part of the Odisha government’s initiative to convert Bhubaneswar into a ‘Smart City’, Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL) has launched 4G high speed Wi-Fi Internet services at four locations in the capital city, it was announced here on Saturday.

Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (RJIL), a subsidiary of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), has rolled out its ‘Jionet’ High Speed Wi-Fi Internet service at four locations – Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT) campus, Gopabandhu Chowk, Governor House Road and Surya Nagar – covering popular areas like Reliance Fresh Retail outlet, Gopabandhu market complex and ICICI Bank, a company statement said.

Visitors to these locations will be able to experience and reap the benefits of high speed wireless connectivity on handheld devices (smartphones/tablets) through the Wi-Fi network the statement said.

Initially, the service will be offered at no cost subject to fair usage, for individual customers till the time of commercial launch, it added.

Speaking on the initiative, a Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd spokesperson said: “High speed data connectivity is one of the foundations on which future prosperity of cities and nations will be built. We are proud to be associated with the government’s Smart City initiative. By deploying Jionet’ Wi-Fi services at select locations in Bhubaneswar, we want people to sample the digital ecosystem we are building consisting of high speed data networks, specially designed apps and rich content and understand how it can enrich their lives.”

Twenty-seven access points have been installed across locations, and 1,000 concurrent users can connect to the service at a time, said the release.

The users’ feedback on the overall experience and network will be used to improve the services further as Jio gets ready for its formal launch. Once 4G LTE service commences, Wi-Fi and LTE networks will operate seamlessly with each other, the statement said.

Nasa Starts Year-Long Mission to Simulate Life on Mars

Six Nasa recruits have shut themselves inside a dome in Hawaii to begin a year-long isolation programme that will simulate life on Mars to help the US space agency prepare for the pioneering mission to the red planet.

The group began the isolation experiment on August 28, and now face 365 days without fresh air, food or privacy.

The group consists of a French astrobiologist, a German physicist and four Americans; a pilot, an architect, a doctor/journalist and a soil scientist.

They are living in a self-contained solar-powered dome, which measures only 11 metres in diameter and is six metres tall.

It is estimated that the first human mission to Red Planet could last between one to three years.

The participants will each have a small sleeping cot and a desk inside their rooms and will be eating food such as powdered cheese and canned tuna, ‘’ reported.

The group has limited access to the internet, and must wear a spacesuit if they want to venture outside.

Scientist and journalist Sheyna Gifford, who is taking part in the experiment, described the team as “six people who want to change the world by making it possible for people to leave it at will” in a post on her blog.

She also posted a photo of her first meal on Mars. “First dinner in simulated space: the cheese & turkey quesadilla & all the veggies were all dehydrated 30 min ago.”

“The longer each mission becomes, the better we can understand the risks of space travel,” the project’s principle investigator, University of Hawaii professor Kim Binstead was quoted as saying.

“We hope that this mission will build on our current understanding of the social and psychological factors involved in long-duration space exploration and give Nasa solid data on how best to select and support a flight crew that will work cohesively as a team while in space,” Binstead said.

Infosys to Generate 27,000 Jobs With 3 New Campuses in Bengaluru

Karnataka government has cleared three major IT projects planned by Infosys to set up more campuses in Bengaluru at an investment of Rs. 1,918 crore that would generate 27,000 jobs.

“The IT major Infosys is going to invest $290 million (Rs. 1,918 crore) on three campuses. One will be built at Electronic City and other two at Konappana Agrahara of Bengaluru South taluk,” Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said in a statement in Bengaluru.

The projects were yesterday cleared by the State High Level Clearance Committee (SHLCC) in its meeting chaired by Siddaramaiah.

Infosys claims to create 27,000 new jobs from these three projects, he said.

The company would invest Rs. 625 crore on its 10.4 acre campus at Konappana Agrahara-Dodda Tongur area, and promises to create 8,500 jobs, Siddaramaiah said.

In the same area, the IT giant plans a Software Technology Park with an estimated cost of Rs. 1,079 crore, he said.

“At this project, the number of direct employment would be a whopping 15,000,” Siddaramaiah said.

The chief minister also said Rs. 216 crore will be invested at the Electronic City project, creating job opportunities for 3,500 techies and alike.

BlackBerry ‘Venice’ Android Slider Smartphone Leaked in Live Images

BlackBerry’s much-rumoured ‘Venice’ Android smartphone has once been leaked in a series of images purportedly showing the design of the handset.

Taiwanese site, Tinhte, has published a flurry of images purportedly of the yet-to-be-announcedBlackBerry smartphone that indicates the new device will indeed be a slider phone. In the new leaked live images, the BlackBerry ‘Venice’ is seen featuring a sliding Qwerty keyboard just beneath the display. The leaked image of the home screen shows the regular dialler, contacts, mails, Chrome, Camera, Calendar, and Play Store apps alongside a folder placed on the home screen including popular Google apps such as Gmail, Maps, and Google Search. The WhatsApp icon is also seen on the home screen.

In one of the leaked live images, the handset’s top panel is seen housing the SIM card and microSD card slots. The right panel is seen including home and volume rocker keys. The rear panel of the ‘Venice’ smartphone is seen sporting a textured pattern alongside an 18-megapixel rear camera with OIS and dual-LED flash. In line with previous leaked images, the BlackBerry ‘Venice’ smartphone is seen sporting a speaker grille at the bottom of the front panel.

Additionally, PhoneArena has also obtained an image of the BlackBerry ‘Venice’ from a tipster showing the on-screen keyboard of the smartphone. It has also reported some of the features of the handset, including a QHD (1440×2560 pixel) display and 3GB of RAM. The exact battery capacity has not been leaked; though a tipster claims it to be above or around 3000mAh battery. The tipster adds that the BlackBerry ‘Venice’ is an “amazing device” and claims that “security is second to none.”

Based on earlier leaks and rumours, the BlackBerry ‘Venice’ slider smartphone is said to feature a 5.4-inch QHD (1440×2560 pixels) display, a 1.8GHz hexa-core 64-bit Snapdragon 808 SoC, 3GB of RAM, an 18-megapixel rear camera, and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. The handset is said to arrive on all four US carriers namely AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobiles, and Sprint starting November.

The Canadian company is also said to be working on an Android Lollipop version of the BlackBerry Passport Silver Edition.

Europe Fails on Electronics Recycling Goals: Study

Only a third of Europe’s electronic waste is properly recycled, with vast numbers of cellphones, computers and televisions illegally traded or dumped, a study led by the United Nations and Interpol said on Sunday.

Sweden and Norway were close to European targets of collecting and recycling 85 percent of all electrical and electronic waste, at the top of a ranking in which Romania, Spain and Cyprus were bottom with less than 20 percent, it said.

European rules demand recycling of “e-waste”, products with a plug or a battery, to recover metals such as gold or silver and avoid release of toxins such as lead or mercury.

Overall, 35 percent of the continent’s e-waste was properly recycled in 2012, it said. The report dismissed past suggestions that most gets illegally shipped to African nations, such as Nigeria and Ghana, and repaired to get a new lease of life.

“Most of the illegal e-waste trade is taking place next door rather than far away in Africa,” said Jaco Huisman of the United Nations University, scientific coordinator of the project that included police agency Interpol and other partners.

“Mismanagement is occurring everywhere,” he told Reuters. In Europe “there is a lot of theft, scavenging … and quite a significant amount going into the waste bin.”

A broken fridge, for instance, is valuable scrap mainly because of copper in its compressor. Often the compressor get ripped out and the rest dumped.

Such theft of valuable components means compliant processors in Europe lose up to EUR 1.7 billion (roughly Rs. 12,605 crores) a year, the report estimated.

Overall, it said 3.3 million tonnes of 9.5 million tonnes of e-waste generated in Europe in 2012 was properly discarded and recycled. Only about 1.3 million were exported, with the rest recycled in Europe outside regular programmes or dumped.

Ioana Botezatu, an environmental expert at the international police agency Interpol, said prosecutions were rare although some nations have strict penalties for environmental crimes.

The report’s recommendations include better police cooperation, more education of consumers about recycling, and a ban on cash transactions in the scrap metal trade.

One problem is making people aware of recycling centres.

“Consumers don’t know where to find them,” said Pascal Leroy, secretary-general of the Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment Forum which also contributed to the report.

Is Ola Leaking Your Data?

An Ola Cabs customer has posted a note on Facebook alleging that the company has been sending a barrage of SMS alerts, which bear the information of other users, such as their name, phone numbers, and other ride information.

NDTV Gadgets has reached out to Ola to try and verify the information, but the post claims that Ola has been sending hundreds of SMSes over several days now, despite the fact that she called the Ola customer service number to complain about this already.

We reached out to Ola on Saturday night, but haven’t received any response as yet, possibly because of the weekend. However, looking at the screenshots that the user Swapnil Midha posted at least, this looks to be genuine; the texts are sent from ‘VM-OLACAB’, and while the text appears garbled, when you look at it carefully, you see words like lat and lng, which likely mean latitude and longitude. Many of the numbers start with ’14’, or just slightly north of Chennai, not too far from where Midha lives.

Midha, a 25-year-old freelance content writer started getting these messages three weeks ago, and has gotten over 300 messages from Ola at all odd hours; the spam finally stopped on Sunday, after Midha took to Facebook and Twitter to complain. Aside from the lat and lng information in messages, Midha also sent us more messages she had received, which contained names, addresses, and phone numbers in plain text.

ola_leaked_sms.jpgOn the surface, it looks like a genuine mistake on Ola’s part – the messages look like they are part of a backup system for drivers, so that the driver app will be able to receive customer location information for pickups even when the Internet connection is down. It is possible that there is a better explanation for this, but without a comment from Ola, it does seem likely that Midha’s number was mistakenly added to a database of drivers instead of customers.

This is not the first time there has been an instance of a potential data leak at Ola. In June, Ola wasallegedly hacked, although the company denied the charge.

A hacker group had claimed that user information and credit card data was compromised. Ola eventually responded that there was no lapse, stating:

There has been no security lapse, whatsoever to any user data. The alleged hack seems to have been performed on a staging environment when exposed for one of our test runs. The staging environment is on a completely different network compared to our production environment, and only has dummy user values exclusively used for internal testing purposes. We confirm that there has been no attempt by the hackers to reach out to us in this regard. Security and privacy of customer data is paramount to us at Ola.

However, even if this is true, it meant that while no data was exposed, at least part of Ola’s infrastructure was not designed with security in mind. This latest incident highlights the same mindset, as a phone number wrongly entered into a database without a system for verification could possibly be leaking huge amounts of personal data.

This is a sensitive time for Ola; the Delhi Government rejected Ola’s license application, though, at the time of writing, it is still possible to find a few cars running on the service in Delhi. With rival Uber investing $1 billion in India, and expanding beyond metros, Ola is facing real competition.

Perhaps as a result, it has announced that its Ola Money wallet is being integrated with new partners, such as Oyo Rooms, Lenskart, and Saavn. It’s an interesting move, as it transitions Ola towards being less of a cab company, but the greater focus on payments is also going to call for a greater focus on security and privacy, and that’s something that Ola needs to demonstrate – quickly.