What is a Headphone? Uses, Types, Pros, Cons & More

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What is a Headphone

What is a Headphone?

A headphone refers to a pair of small speakers worn on, in, or around the ear over the head of the user.

From a technical point of view, this is a small loudspeaker driver or an electroacoustic transducer which converts an electrical signal into sound energy.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • A headphone is a device that allows the user to listen to audio without disturbing others.
  • It is a hardware device that produces sound by converting electrical energy by the means of transducers.
  • A headphone can be plugged into a wide range of devices, such as a desktop or laptop computer, smartphone, tablet, MP3 player, and more.
  • These are usually plug-and-play devices and do not need additional hardware or to go through any kind of installation process before use.
  • Available in different types, a headphone, depending on its design, is also called earbuds and can be used on-ear or over the ear as well.

Understanding Headphone

What is a Headphone

A headphone is a device that allows listening to audio from a computer or any other device in private.

These are actually a pair of small speakers, but they have the same functionality, albeit on a much smaller scale in comparison to a traditional external speaker system.

A headphone can be connected to the audio source in different ways. It can be connected directly to the source by using a cord and a jack, or by using wireless technology such as:

Typically, the electrical signals are converted into audio signals to produce sound waves by using transducers. However, these signals can be either analog or digital. For example:

  • A headphone that is connected to an analog audio port, such as the 3.5 mm audio jack, will typically produce analog audio signals,
  • A headphone that is connected to a digital port, on the other hand, such as a Lighting port or Universal Serial Bus (USB) port, will typically produce digital audio signals.

However, in a digital headphone there is also a Digital to Analog Converter, or DAC, which converts the signals and produces the eventual analog output.

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Nevertheless, the audio output of the headphones is much different from that of the standalone speakers, being limited to a much smaller frequency range.

This is mainly because it needs to send the sound waves only a few millimeters away from the ear drum, in comparison to a traditional speaker system that has to send them a long way, needing a higher amplitude.

It is for the same reason that the components of the headphones are much smaller in comparison to the components of the conventional external speaker systems.

However, the headphones are more precise and produce very loud sound due to their close proximity to the ears than the standalone speaker systems.

Uses of Headphones

The main purpose of using a headphone is to let a single user listen to the audio privately.

A headphone can be used with different audio signal sources, such as:

  • A computer
  • An audio amplifier
  • A CD player
  • A radio
  • A mobile phone
  • A portable media player
  • An electrical musical instrument
  • A video game console

People from different professions also use a headphone, such as:

  • The audio engineers for sound recording
  • The engineers mixing sound in a live concert
  • The Disc Jockeys or DJs for cueing up the next song without other people hearing it

The call center employees and the aircraft pilots also use headphones, usually with a microphone integrated in them.

Types of Headphones

There are different types of headphones available on the market and they are categorized based on their designs. For example, you will get circumaural headphones, supra aural headphones, in-ear headphones, on-ear headphones, and others.

Each type of headphone comes with different features, as explained hereunder:

  • Earphones – Sometimes, headphones are also called earphones, referred to as cans or earpieces as well.
  • Circum-aural – These headphones are worn around the ear and are also referred to as over-ear or around-ear headphones. They come in open and closed versions. The open versions let the outside noise in but the closed versions restrict it.
  • Supra-aural – These headphones are worn over the ear along with a band over the top of the head which holds the speakers in place. Resting on the ears without encompassing the whole of them, these headphones isolate external sounds.
  • Earbuds – These are much smaller headphone units that are typically plugged snuggly into the ear canals of the users. There are rubber ends that ensure a snug fit.
  • Bone Conduction – These types of headphones usually wrap around the front of the ear canal as well as the back of the head. However, these pieces leave the ear canal open.
  • Noise Cancelling – These headphones are available in different form factors and are just right for use in extra-quiet settings to listen to an audio file. It cancels outside sounds with the help of a microphone in it that detects and emits external sounds in the opposite waveform to the ears to cancel them.
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How Do Headphones Work?

In general, the working process of the headphones is pretty much the same as that of the speakers and just the opposite of microphones.

In simple words, magnets are used in the headphones to vibrate the air inside and turn the electrical energy into sound energy.

Usually, the process involves a few stages, such as:

  • Storing digital audio in the form of 1s and 0s
  • Sending the data through a Digital to Analog Converter or DAC to convert them into electrical signals
  • Sending these signals through the wires to the headphones
  • The signals then reach the dynamic, planar magnetic, or the electrostatic driver unit

In the driver unit, rapid switching of polarity takes place, which creates a vibration and the eventual sound.

If you are using in-ear headphones or earbuds, the working process is exactly the same as the regular and wireless headphones, but on a much smaller scale. This is why the ear buds cannot produce the same kind of frequencies as traditional headphones.

On the other hand, if you are using a Bluetooth-enabled headphone, the process is almost the same. The only difference is that the 1s and 0s are sent directly through the Bluetooth radio instead of through the DAC in the computer system to the chip in the headphone and then sent to the DAC within the headphone.

What Material is Used on Headphones?

The most commonly used materials used on a headphone are silicone, PVC or Polyvinyl Chloride, and thermoplastic polyurethane, whether it is an on-ear or around-the-ear headphone.

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There is also a soft material in the in-ear headphones used, made up of silicone or rubber.

However, based on the type of the headphone, here are a few other types of materials that are also used in the construction.

For the on-ear headphones, the manufacturers may use the following materials:

  • Foam
  • Leather-effect
  • Polycarbonate
  • Polyester ear cup
  • Rubber ear hook

For the around-the-ear headphones, the manufacturers may use the following materials:

  • Foam-filled artificial leather
  • Textiles such as velvet, velour, and plush
  • Leather

Advantages

  • It offers superior sound quality and listening pleasure.
  • It usually comes with useful features like noise-canceling to offer an immersive audio experience.
  • It is convenient to use with most having Bluetooth connectivity.
  • It provides optimal comfort during use.
  • Most headphones allow you to set audio levels to minimize ear damage.
  • These are quite durable being sweat and water resistant.
  • It allows privacy without disturbing other people in common places.

Disadvantages

  • It may cause temporary or permanent ear damage and even deafness, if used at high volume for a prolonged period of time.
  • It does not produce exceptional stereo effects due to the phase difference.
  • It may produce hard panned sounds in one ear.
  • The bass is not much because they use and vibrate less air.

What are the Parts of a Headphone?

Typically, a regular headphone is made up of a set of speakers, a headphone jack, a long piece of cable, the headphone cushions and a headband.

What are the Main Features of Headphones?

Some of the most important features of the headphones include noise cancellation, bone conduction, microphone or remote usage, and even wireless capability.

Conclusion

Headphones are designed to be worn over the ears and allow listening audio alone. They come with useful features that produce high-quality sound, cutting the surrounding noise.

As you can see from this article, a headphone offers a lot of benefits with a few downsides as well, but that does not lower their utility.

About Taylor

AvatarTaylor S. Irwin is a freelance technology writer with in-depth knowledge about computers. She has an understanding of hardware and technology gained through over 10 years of experience.

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