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Types of Headphones (Know the 9 Most Popular Headphone Categories)

Many types of headphones are now available in the market. Some are big, bulky, and high priced. Some are so tiny they can easily hide within your fist. All these audio devices come with different technologies and deliver different audio experience. Which headphone you should buy depends on your requirements and budgets.

Before you can do that, you need to know what types of headphones are there. So, to help you choose a headphone set that’s perfect for you, let us take you through the list of popular headphone categories. Find out what makes these audio devices special.

We hope our list will help you make an informed purchase.

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types of headphones - popular headphone categories

Types of headphones – Popular Headphone Categories

circumaural headphones, supra-aural headphones, over-ear headphones, on-ear headphones
Image from TechnoTreats

Circumaural Headphones

Circumaural headphones are also called over-ear headphones or full-size headphones. They have adjustable headbands to rest on your head while their cups surround your ears. As the headphone cups fully cover your ears, they deliver an isolated sound experience. They can also provide superb noise cancellation to deliver superior audio listening experience with excellent bass and treble. Good quality circumaural headphones can deliver even the minor sound details clearly. They prevent the outside noise from leaking in and ensure your privacy by preventing sound leaking outside. As these are mostly over-ear devices, they rest around the ears so the pressure exerted on your ears is less compared to on-ear headphones.

These are usually bulky and can feel uncomfortable if worn for a long time. Because of their closed design, they allow very little in-and-out air circulation. This can make you sweat more. However, good quality headphones from reputed brands incorporate many features to provide comfort. They use adjustable headbands and soft ear cups’ cushions made of good quality materials. Some top brands use soft velvet or leather in the cups. They are also available in foldable design, which makes them easier to store and carry around. circumaural headphones are mostly corded devices, but some wireless models are also available.

Ideal for: These are ideal for those who want an isolated sound experience with excellent sound clarity. They are great for studio tracking and mixing.

Check out the best circumaural headphones at:

Supra-aural headphones

Supra-aural Headphones

Supra-aural headphones are also called Earpad Headphones. The cups of these models rest on the ear, without completely enclosing them like the circumaural ones.

These models don’t block the sound leakage. They allow the outside noise to enter your ears. And the sound of the audio you are listening also leaks out. These are usually lighter and smaller than the circumaural ones. While the circumaural models are mostly over-ear type, the supra-aural headphones are mostly on-ear type. That is, they sit on the listener’s ears, instead of surrounding them.

These usually don’t provide noise cancellation. The advantage of these models is that they are lighter, smaller, and cheaper compared to the circumaural ones. Because of their smaller size, they are easier to store and offer greater portability. Their more affordable price makes them suitable for casual listeners. These are available in corded, wireless, and foldable models.

Ideal for: These are ideal for casual users who desire good sound quality at an affordable price and are not keen on the isolated sound experience. These are also ideal for users who need to stay aware of the surrounding sound while listening to music.  

Check out the best supra-aural headphones at:

over-ear headphones

Over-ear Headphones

Over-ear is one of the most popular headphone categories for music enthusiasts.

There is not much difference between the circumaural and over-ear models. Both completely surround the ears and are equipped with noise-cancelling features for the isolated sound experience.

Most of these have closed back that shuts off the outside noise and prevents sound leakage. However, some open-back models of this type of headphones are also available. If these are open-backed, they allow sound to pass in and out.

These headsets surround the ear and are large and bulky. So they may make you sweat more. They are supported by a headband which is usually adjustable to ensure comfort. Good quality over-ear headphones may have ear cups decked in soft velvet or leather.

As these devices are bulky, they do take up space. However, they often have a foldable design to help in their portability. circumaural or over-ear headphones are also usually quite expensive. However, they excel in delivering sound clarity and noise cancelling. These are mostly corded devices, but some Bluetooth models are available too.

Ideal for: People who desire isolated sound experience which allows them to listen to every note clearly, without interference from outside noise. These headphones are great for studio tracking and mixing.

Check out the best over-ear headphones at:

on-ear headphones

On-Ear Headphones

The on-ear headphones are also supported by headbands. However, instead of enclosing the ears, their cups rest on the ears. They are supra-aural. They do not create a complete ‘sound isolation.’ That is, they let the sound leak in and out of their cups. So, when you use them, you would be able to hear some amount of the peripheral sound. And the people near you may hear the audio you are listening to.

These models are usually lighter and more comfortable than the over-ear ones. Yet, they do rest on your ears and put pressure on them. So they, too, can get uncomfortable if worn for too long.

The on-ear headphones come in a wide variety. From affordably priced to high-priced premium devices, you can buy them at every range. They come with different technological attributes and deliver a widely varied sound quality. Many affordably priced on-ear models are available in the market. However, if you care for sound quality and wearing comfort, you will need to buy a higher priced set from a reputed brand. These are easily available in wired and wireless models.

Ideal for: As these are supra-aural, they are more suitable for casual listeners for whom sound isolation is not a priority.

Check out the best on-ear headphones at:

closed-back headphones

Closed-back Headphones

The closed-back headphones are a great choice for people who don’t want any sound leaking in or out of their headphones. The circumaural and over-ear models usually have the closed-back design.

These headphones have sealed backs with sturdy layers. Their sealed ‘cups’ don’t let any environmental sound leaking into your ear. This ensures a clear audio experience without any disturbance from the environmental sounds.

Besides blocking out the peripheral noise, the closed-back models also minimise the sound leakage. So no matter how loudly the music is ringing in your ear, it won’t disturb the people standing around you. Don’t use that as an excuse to raise the volume too high, though. You may love listening to your music at the maximum volume, but it’s always best to be judicious.

Closed-back headphones are available in the over-ear and on-ear styles. They are worn over the head and are usually bulky. However, if you don’t mind their size and weight, they can give you excellent sound quality that can meet the requirements of professional musicians, sound artists, as well as common users.

Ideal for: The prime benefit of these models is that they enhance the sound quality by minimising sound leakage and peripheral sound interference. This makes them very useful in studio environments. They are also ideal for people who don’t want their music’s sound leaking out and disturbing the people near them.

Find the best closed-back headphones at:

Sennheiser HD 800 S open back-headphones

Open-Back Headphones

You may have guessed by the name that the cups of this type of headphones aren’t sealed at the back. They are open and allow the sound to seep in and out. While the closed-back models give you an isolated sound experience, the open-back ones do not block off the ambient sounds. And if someone is sitting or standing close to you, they may be able to hear what you are listening to.

The benefit of open-back headphones is that the sound feels more airy and open. They deliver a flat sound, which is closer to the sound experience intended by the artist. Compared to the closed-back variants, the open-back headphones are lighter and more comfortable to wear. They come in the over-ear/on-ear styles, wired/wireless, and foldable designs.

Ideal for: These are ideal for professionals engaged in mixing and mastering audio in a recording studio, music studio, etc. The closed-back models may lead to the build-up of lower frequencies. The open-back headphones have less risk of these and are better able to deliver the flat sound. The flat sound means the sound that is not altered by the device you are using. That is why many Sound Engineers prefer using these when they need to listen to the ‘flat’ or ‘unaltered’ sound.

Find the best open-back headphones at:

in-ear headphones

In-Ear Headphones

The In-ear headphones are commonly known as Earphones. Most smartphone brands provide these with their phones. They are small and lightweight, yet capable of delivering excellent sound quality, sound isolation, and accuracy.

The in-ear headphones are also called ‘Canalphones.’ That is because they sit inside your ear canals. Even though the earphones are tiny compared to the headphone varieties mentioned above, they can deliver exceptional audio experience. The more expensive models may also have premium features, including noise cancellation and sound isolation.

The in-ear models usually have a soft silicone tip to provide better protection and comfort. Another advantage of these ear tips is that they fill the ear canal, directing the sound directly into your ear canals. They also help in preventing the ambient noise from leaking in. Because of this, the audio experience delivered by the in-ear models is comparable to the closed-back ones.

These headsets are portable and available for every budget. They are also very comfortable. Because of all these reasons, these earphones are very popular among casual users. The wired earphones are more common, but the Bluetooth earphones with neckbands are also getting popular now.

Ideal for: These are ideal for use while commuting and travelling. They are also a great option for people who desire good sound quality in comfortable, lightweight, and budget-friendly earphones.

Check out the best in-ear headphones (earphones) at:



Earbuds are much like earphones, but they are less intrusive. Unlike the in-ear models, the earbuds sit on the outer ridge of ears instead of going into the ear canal. To give you an example, AirPods by Apple are earbuds.

As these headphones rest on the outer ear, they allow sound leakage. When you use them, the outer noise can enter your ears. And the sound of the audio you are listening to can also reach the people near you. As with the on-ear headphones, these provide a flat sound. Most earbuds don’t provide noise cancelling.

If you don’t like the intrusiveness of the in-ear models, then earbuds are better for you. Wireless earbuds are gaining quick popularity, as they are the smallest, lightest, and most portable devices. Premium earbuds by reputed brands deliver exceptional sound quality with delightful bass and treble. The more expensive ones, such as AirPods Pro, can even deliver Active Noise Cancellation.

The best thing about earbuds is their tiny size and portability. And as they are still relatively new types of headphones, they can still evoke the feeling of using cutting-edge technology.

However, although wireless earbuds are very comfortable and lightweight, they may not be an ideal choice while travelling and exercising. They do not rest as snuggly in your ears as the in-ear models, so they may fall out of your ears and become lost. Also, most earbuds are available in one-size-fits-all models. But the size that feels perfect to one person may not be so for another person.

Ideal for: People who are looking for the cutting-edge, compact, and portable earphones

Check out the best earbuds at:

voice-cancelling headphones

Noise Cancelling Headphones

Any of the headphone categories mentioned above can come with noise cancelling technology. The noise cancelling headphones don’t necessarily need to be close-backed or circumaural. Even open-back earphones can be noise cancelling.

These have microphones on their cups. These microphones emit sound waves that can block the surrounding noise without disturbing the audio experience. These devices measure the lower frequencies of the outside noise, and then their microphone emits the equal and opposite sound frequency to cancel out the ambient noise before it even hits the ear pads. For stopping the higher frequency noise, most noise cancellation headphones use soundproofing. Thanks to the combination of these technologies, you can hear clear audio even if your surrounding is full of noise. However, even the best of these devices may not be able to banish 100% of ambient noise.

Active Noise Control (ANC) headphones are usually more expensive than ordinary headphones or earphones. Many in-ear and earbud models come with the noise cancellation feature. But this technology gives better results in over-ear and closed-back models.

Ideal for: People who want a clear sound experience despite their noisy surroundings. These are ideal for use while on a flight, train, or bus.

Check out the best noise cancelling headphones at:

Which are your favourite types of Headphones?

We hope our article helped you understand the difference between the popular headphone categories mentioned in this article. The distinction among different types of headphones is based upon their design and the technologies they use. Many models may belong to more than one category. For example, your on-ear headset will also be either open-back or closed-back. They may or may not be noise cancelling. All these headphone categories are available in wired as well as wireless models. While the earbuds are mostly wireless or ‘true wireless,’ the bulkier over-ear or on-ear ones are mostly corded.

Whenever you purchase a new pair of headphones in India or anywhere else, you must consider your requirements, comfort, and budget. I hope our description of the various headphone types will help you find the best headphones for you.

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