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Headphone 101: Why You Need To Upgrade Your Stock Earbuds

Your Stock Earbuds, And What's Wrong With Them

You might be asking yourself why you need something better than the little white earbuds that came with your iPod.  Sure, they are getting better, those little white buds have made some progress in the last few years.  But, you should still upgrade for this simple reason: headphones are kind of like shoes. Everyone has different tastes, preferences, and activities while wearing them, so you should have the style and type best for you.  In fact, it's so important to get the right headphones for the right activity, many people own several pairs of headphones for various applications.  But besides that, here are some more reasons why you should upgrade:

  • They wear out.  Customers often call us in frustration after breaking their 2nd or 3rd pair of stock earbuds.  Many of the brands HeadRoom carries feature a 2 year or even Lifetime warranty.
  • It's difficult to achieve a proper fit.  The Earbud style might work okay for some, but for many people they constantly fall out or can be very uncomfortable.
  • Most of the time, you should have more ear protection. Earbuds do not block enough sound to use for loud activities, and the user is surely turning up their music TOO loud to drown out the ambient noise!  (We cringe when we see folks riding on planes or mowing the lawn with those white 'buds; they are probably damaging their ears.)
  • If you're going to wear headphones, they should sound GOOD!  Perhaps most importantly, better sound quality can be had along with the right mix of features and styles that best suit your lifestyle.

Okay, so now how do you know which headphones are right for you?  This depends on what you're going to be doing with your iPod.  Below are some of our top recommendations and most commonly-used types of headphones used with an iPod.

In-ear Headphones.  In-ear headphones offer excellent sound quality and more isolation (typically 25-35 dB) than a closed or noise-cancelling headphone, and are more compact and travel-friendly.  There are many models, price ranges, and features available.

Best for:

  • traveling or commuting on planes, trains, buses
  • use with noisy activities when you want to block out a lot of noise
  • if you're looking for very good sound quality in a small and compact headphone

On-ear & Over-ear headphones.  On ear and over-ear headphones can range in size, but feature a traditional headband with an ear cup that either rests gently on the outer ear or surrounds the outer ear.  Many fold for convenient transport and/or come with carrying cases.  While some on-ear headphones and many over-ear headphones require a headphone amp, there are many options that do not require a headphone amp and are designed for travel and portable use.  These same models will also work well with directly with a computer, laptop, or pad. We recommend most folks look at closed headphones, meaning that they block some outside noise and do not leak your music out; an important factor in social situations.

Best for:

  • Listeners that like the comfort and convenience of a traditional headband style headphone
  • One who may be searching for an “all-purpose” headphone to use on the commute, at the office, and at home
  • Listeners who do not want to carry a headphone amp

Other Headphones, including noise-cancelling, ear-clips, and Exercise Use

If you're looking for a headphone for exercise and workouts, visit our Exercise Buying Guide.  All of the headphones listed there will work well with an iPod.  If you're looking for a noise-cancelling headphone, please see our top recommendations for noise cancelling headphones[link], since noise cancelling phones have an internal headphone amp, they too will all work just fine with an iPod. Finally, here are a few more models that we have found to be popular for iPods:

Using a Headphone Amp with an iPod

If you're looking for high-fidelity listening experience, then it's time to consider a headphone amp and line-out adaptor.  A line out adaptor allows output the audio signal directly from the bottom 30-pin connector of the iPod rather than the headphone jack.  This analog signal can then be fed to a headphone amp, typically via mini jack to a headphone's amp's input.  Most of the headphone amps listed below are portable.

What About Using a DAC with my iPod?

You may have heard about DACs and are wondering about using one with your iPod, but this is not an option.  DACs are digital to analog convertors (you can read more about them here) – meaning a DAC must start with a digital signal that it then converts to an analog signal.  You cannot get a digital signal out of the iPod except with very select equipment (such as the Wadia iPod dock).  The iPod has an internal DAC which converts digital music to an analog signal that is then fed to headphone jack or line-out.  Even when using the bottom line-out connector, this is still NOT a digital signal.  So, you do not need a DAC with an iPod, but do not fret, this is not a huge consideration compared to using high quality headphones, a good headphone amp, and high-bit rate recordings.  Only when you have all 24/96 files (higher than CD quality) and headphones over several hundred dollars should this become a factor.


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