How We Test Headphones & Earbuds

Headphone Insight is a group of editors providing you with the information you need to choose the perfect audio product fulfills all your needs. In an effort to demystify the world of music, we routinely publish informational reviews and our list or recommendations for various headphones categories. 

We conduct standardized tests on all headphones that come our way. To ensure that no one is unaware of the significance of our reporting, we would like to spend a moment discussing each of our evaluations.

Assessing Product’s Packaging;

Products that are well-packaged can make a difference in building up the positive impression and expectation of the product. A company investing in responsible packaging, using only recyclable materials is always a plus for us. Most businesses succeed in this regard by the year 2023. Companies who still continue to use foam and other non-biodegradable packaging will be facing a backlash from many disappointed customers this year, with the global warming on the rise. 

Testing Headphones Design:

The design of a product, at least in terms of its visual appeal, might be debated from person to person. So instead of dwelling over the headphone’s aesthetics, we’re more inclined to discuss its building components, their durability and the construction. We’ll see how sturdy the design is, if there is any hinges that allow the earcups to move freely, or whether the design allows the headband to be adjusted according to the user’s head.

While assessing the headphones for design, we test the level of comfort the headphone offers. To ensure the headphones are truly comfortable, we use it for extended hours to test for any feeling of fatigueness or whether the earcups and headband presses against the skull after wearing it for a while. Wireless earbuds, on the other hand, where the fit directly impacts comfort and sound quality, this is an especially crucial consideration.

Lastly, under design we test the controls available on the wired headphones or earbuds. We put every feature through various paces to check their suitability. We will test the controls while stationary, walking, running, workouts and even under water if the manufacturer claims the set to be waterproof. The headphones with intuitive touch controls would be sensitive to touch, but not too sensitive, the control buttons won’t require much force, and the command would be activated in the first go. 

Testing Features and Connectivity;

Active noise cancellation (ANC) is a feature found in some headphones and earbuds that uses in-built microphones to analyze ambient noise and generate an opposite signal to drown it out. If a set of headphones claims to offer active noise cancellation (ANC), we test them to see how

effectively it works and how much it affects the listening experience. We also verify that the headphones may be used passively and without power, or if they are useless once the battery dies.

If the headphones have a separate microphone in one of the earcups, on a boom that extends from one of the earcups, or in a small module on the headphone cord, then they can serve as a headset as well. We test how well the microphone isolates voice from background noise and how effective the noise cancellation is.

The standard for wired headphones is a 3.5mm jack, whereas Bluetooth is the connection of choice for wireless models. Each type of headphone connection is analyzed, including wired choices for wireless headphones. In addition to assessing for functionality, we also consider the controls’ usability.

We test the Bluetooth headphones for their pairing ease and connection stability with a variety of mobile devices. If they’re compatible, we assess the app’s usefulness. We really value EQ that can be tweaked by the user. We also check for the availability of different Bluetooth codecs, which can make a significant impact depending on the phone and music streaming service you use.

We also think about how long a set of wireless headphones can go without needing a recharge, as well as how much more juice a set of truly wireless earbuds might have in their charging case.

Testing Audio Quality

It’s possible that you don’t want a pair of headphones or earbuds designed with phone calls in mind, but it’s still important to know if they won’t facilitate phone conversations. We perform two kinds of call quality tests. A few test calls are made to see how the other party sounds, but even the worst products tend to work fine for this purpose. Therefore, we also use the in-built microphones to record audio. We make the recordings wherever you might make or take a call, whether that’s a busy street or a peaceful park.

The quality of the product can be evaluated independently of the quality of our cell connection (or the quality of the callers’ connection) thanks to the recordings. That is to say, if a pair of wireless earbuds already sounds bad when recorded, they will sound significantly worse while using a poor quality cellular connection.

Testing Sound Quality:

This is the most crucial and subjective aspect of the review. In order to provide an accurate frequency response curve, several review sites employ precision instruments. Although these graphs can be instructive for those who are well-versed in their use, we want to communicate our auditory experiences in terms that anyone can understand.

A brief, superficial listen is given to every product we test. We’re listening closely for obvious flaws in the sound, such as excessive distortion, a lackluster bottom end, or stifling compression. We may decide not to write a review of the headphones at that moment unless they are from a well-known company. If they make it past this first round of scrutiny, however, we move on to more in-depth listening.

The initial section provides a summary of the general equilibrium. Does the volume of low-frequency sounds (bass) increase when using the headphones? Is it like the other items the brand sells if so? Example: Beats headphones are known for their deep bass, but the company’s newest offerings feature a more well-rounded sound. This is important information to have at your disposal when seeking the signature “Beats sound.” We will also let you know whether a product has been purposefully adjusted to provide a “neutral” or “flat” result. A flat response is highly regarded by individuals in the recording industry and by some audiophiles, but to the majority of listeners, it simply sounds flat and lifeless.

After that, we evaluate the sound quality. Having headphones with a powerful bass is one thing. However, the experience loses its appeal if the bass is murky, distorted, or inflated. Similarly, we take careful note of any detrimental effects that bass may have on the frequencies immediately surrounding it. Do the singers sound good to you? Exactly how specific and explicit are they? Is there any sibilance (the hissing or rasping sound made by ess-sounds) to be heard? Do transitory noises, such as a drum hit, get processed rapidly or do they linger and smear?

The accuracy of the location is almost as crucial as the accuracy of the frequency. Is the soundstage small, large, or about right? Is the feeling of space actually there? Can you close your eyes and picture the band with the guitarist on your left, the pianist on your right, and the lead singer in the middle?

Our exam playlist features a wide range of musical styles, including pop, rock, hip-hop, rap, jazz, and classical, and we’ve listened to each song numerous times in order to memorize the answers. Knowing how they can sound when played through high-end equipment in a perfect listening environment allows us to better discern subtle nuances while listening in less than ideal conditions. Again, you can count on comparisons to guide your decision; how do they compare sonically to similar items, and how near do they come to the greatest models now available?

We’ll let you know if we were able to significantly alter the factory tuning using the product’s accompanying app’s EQ adjustments (or onboard EQ modes), which could help you decide if you’re willing to settle for a pair of headphones that doesn’t have the exact sound signature you want but might be within your budget.