Uses of Headphones & Earphones

Immersion, isolation, transcription and monitoring are the forte of headphones and earphones whether it's your choice for a speaker alternative, or the method best-suited to a particular device. Use often suggests what type of headphone or earphone is best, but comfort and personal preference play a big role too.

Man on sofa with headphones and digital tablet
A man on a sofa wearing headphones plugged into a tablet computer
credit: PIKSEL/iStock/Getty Images

Lost in Sound

Immersing yourself in music or an audio book offers relaxation and "me" time. To accentuate the effect, headphones of open-back design frequently create a feeling of open, three-dimensional sound, while ear buds deliver a similar effect by nature of lightweight design. Comfort is key when losing yourself in audio, and generally, supra-aural headphone designs -- those that rest on your ears -- are easiest to forget while enjoying your sound. Circumaural headphones and in-ear phones that fill the ear canal intrude a bit more by surrounding your entire ear or giving a plugged feeling.

Splendid Isolation

Closed-back circumaural headphones block the most outside noise, allowing you to focus on the audio material free of your surroundings. For some listeners, this technology may enhance the immersive experience as well. Similarly, earphones that isolate the ear canal reduce the effects of extraneous noise, though due to the design of the ear, low-frequency noise may still get through. Wireless headphones and earphones improve mobility when listening to devices in fixed locations. The isolating features of these designs enhances critical listening uses and improves comprehension of sound in noisy environments, while those around you remain undisturbed by your audio.

Take a Letter Maria

Dictaphones and other transcription devices frequently employ only a single earphone, so that an administrative assistant has an ear free to answer phones or serve customers while typing correspondence. Similarly, dedicated headphones with microphones connect with business phone systems for hands-free operation. While single earpiece devices are most common, two-ear models are easy to find in both open and isolating designs. Smartphones may use ear buds with mics built into the cable for both music and phone use, and wireless earpiece/mic combos using Bluetooth technology also allow hands-free calling.

Listen to the Music

Studio monitoring applications are usually dedicated to headphones. No design style has an advantage in the control room, but the recording room may be another matter. Closed-back, circumaural headphones keep sound from leaking into the room where it may be picked up by open microphones. Monitoring isn't limited to recording music. Military bone-conduction headphones allow soldiers to maintain contact without anything blocking the ear canal, vital when assessing conflict threats in the field.