How To Review Headphones! — The Complete Guide to My Headphone Detail Obsession, Part One.
Here’s a basic, no-frills look at how I review headphones, step-by-step.
If you follow this guide, in no time you can produce rambling headphone reviews just like the mine!
The first thing I do is take the headphones out of the box. I don’t do any kind of video component for this, and I don’t usually take pictures. I don’t normally comment on the packaging in my reviews.
Most headphone packaging is surprisingly nice and similar these days, and I think it’s because Beats raised the bar. Everyone now mimicks them. Everyone has an outer sleeve covering an inner box. Inside the inner box is a tray that presents the headphones to you, then there’s always a lower area or another smaller box that has the accessories. If the headphone comes with a hard case, it’s sitting here in this little tray area.
Before putting the headphones on, I feel them for a while. I check the strength of the headband. I check the adjustment mechanisms. I look for any obvious defects or design missteps.
Headphones make their first impression on you when you touch them in this moment, before you’ve ever put them on and heard them. A good design and build enhances the rest of your experience, because it’s the first thing you encounter when buying a new headphone.
This is the moment where I worry for a second that the new pair might not fit on my stupidly large head. I usually begin by extending the adjusters all the way, and then putting them on. If the fit is loose, then that’s a good sign right away for comfort.
I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find the right/best fit for a headphone. That’s something that can continue all throughout the review process, sometimes. The best headphones will fit right away, or within the first few tries. The worst ones never seem comfy on my head. Fit affects both your long-term comfort and the sound quality.
I try and achieve good comfort before I even listen to anything. Z Reviews also does this, and I love him for it.
Most headphones show their true colors comfort-wise within about 30 mins to an hour. If no irriations have shown up after an hour, they’re probably going to be excellent for long sessions. Some headphones get uncomfortable much faster than that thanks in part to my big head and my glasses.
Comfort is just as important as sound quality. Fashion is not worth sacrificing comfort.
You can have all three.
Initial Sound Test-Avril Lavigne on My Phone
“Wait. Avril Lavigne on your phone?”
Avril Lavigne on my phone!
I plug the headphones into my iPhone 6 Plus, and fire up Avril Lavigne’s hit song Sk8er Boi. Don’t laugh! It’s a song I’m stupidly familiar with from using it all the time, and it’s perfect for my tests. This initial listening session teaches me a number of things about the headphones:
- If my phone can power them to a decent level, then no special amp will be required. Almost every major consumer headphone these days is deftly powered by portable devices, leaving high-end amps and DACs for those that really want that extra control over their sound. That’s as it should be, honestly.
- Sk8er Boi has these deep rumbling sub-bass hits near the beginning of the song that I never heard before I got decent headphones. I can tell a lot about the bass quality of a pair of headphones by how it renders these bass notes.
- Sk8er Boi also has a lot of grimy treble. Distortion, messy cymbals, high vocals…it’s kind of a nightmare. But it’s a nightmare that’s supposed to sound a very specific way. And it’s hard to reproduce well.
So, just from listening to Sk8er Boi on my phone I’ve already got a good idea about the drivability of the headphone, and its bass and treble rendering quality.
Following Sk8er Boi, I listen to a whole host of other music I’m very familiar with in a variety of genres. I also compare the headphones to my standard for neutrality if I need to, the Sennheiser HD598SE. I give myself plenty of time with the headphone so that my brain can adjust to it. This process happens a lot faster than it used to when I started out doing this, because I’m better at listening for certain things.
It’s important to listen to music you’re familiar with, so you can quickly pick out places where it sounds different or wrong. It’s also important to listen to well-recorded and poorly-recorded material. A surprising amount of popular music has tiny moments of distortion or weird mixing. The same goes for film and game soundtracks.
I throw the headphones into my bag and take them to my local coffee shop. This allows me to test how easy they are to use portably. I also get to check their isolation, because the coffee shop can be a noisy place. It has speakers for music, people talking, and a weird constant low hum from the ventilation system. It also has coffee machine noises.
It’s the perfect isolation testing zone.
I perform my final listening tests in the coffee shop, which represents a real-world use case that I think is pretty common. Headphones don’t always handle louder environments as well as quiet ones. As just one example, bass ports can be great in the comfort of your home, but in a louder place they might let in too much outside audio to the point where you won’t notice their benefit.
I take a Selfie of myself wearing the headphones in the coffee shop. Here’s a random old one from my computer.
Write the Review!
I write the review in the coffee shop while wearing, and listening to, the headphones I’m reviewing. I try and include any information I think stood out during my experiences. I take no notes of any kind while testing the headphones, because I am a crazy person.
And that’s it! That’s how I do this thing! The whole process usually takes a couple of days.
Congrats! You got to the end! Click here for part two of this article! IMPORTANT EDIT: Okay, it’s about a year later here, in February of 2018 and I’ve just rediscovered this article of mine.
I have so many questions for past Alex.
Mostly…why is this labeled as a two-parter? Was it some ill-conceived joke? The link that’s supposed to take you to part two just takes you back to part one again. Did I think that was funny? Did I put that there thinking that I had written a part two and then just link back to the original article again?
I have no idea. None whatsoever. Here are some links to my other stuff that I’ve now edited in to replace the text imploring you to click the heart button that no longer exists.