Yes, your headphones or earbuds do matter!
We're often asked if headphone or earbud quality really matters. In short, the answer is - YES!
The ability of your headphones to replicate Immersions 2™ sound will define the quality of your audio experience. The great news is quality headphones are relatively inexpensive - but ones you already own may deliver surprisingly great results too. With a few simple insights, making a great headphone choice is pretty simple - we've even specified preferred models below for you if you want to skip the nerdish stuff!
Generally speaking, the proper headphones sound better and clearer than earbuds and have a greater cognitive impact as well. How you listen should determine your preferred listening device.
Headphones provide a wide variety of sound and dynamic properties. Here are a few important headphone selection tips:
- Never use noise-cancelling headphones. If you already have them, make sure you can cancel the noise-cancelling function.
- Always use noise-isolating headphones.
- Headphone pads should fit over the ear; not sit on the ear in most cases.
- Use quality headphones with a broad dynamic range of at least 20Hz - 20,000Hz. Cheap headphones don’t offer this capability and do not reproduce sound accurately.
- Get headphones with a minimum of 40mm drivers when possible. The bigger the driver, the better the sound quality in most headphones.
- The best experience comes from headphones that do not “color” the sound. The best choices are known as “reference” or “flat” headphones. These are always used in professional sound studios because they don't emphasize bass, mid range or treble tones - otherwise known as "coloring" the sound.
- Great headphones don’t cost a fortune! You can purchase quality headphones for under $100, however spending from $125-$200 is often well worth your investment in terms of sound quality, durability, and comfort. If you will be using Immersions 2™ experiences for sleep, we recommend using high quality Bluetooth® (not RF, or Radio Frequency technology) headphones with high dynamic ranges and on-ear design that will easily fall off if you happen to fall asleep with your headphones on. (We never recommend falling asleep with listening devices in place.)
CAVEAT: The proof is in the pudding! If you can get to a store and have your Immersions 2™ subscription, try several on and see how they sound for yourself!
Our Top Recommendations...
Click on the links below to explore the products on Amazon.
We master to the Beyerdynamic DT880 standards. These open-back headphones provide the best and most realistic reproduction of our experiences. For most applications, we recommend the Beyerdynamic DT 880 32 Ohm version. For applications where you have a headphone amplifier, the 250 ohm and the 600 ohm versions provide the ultimate in realism and reproduction.
We also highly recommend Audio Technica® ATH-M50x headphones. We test master our audio experiences using Audio Technica ATH-m50x headphones to ensure the most accurate acoustic performance. They can be purchased online and run about $125-$150.
Other makes and models
Most of the ATH series offers excellent value and performance, excellent reproduction and minimal sound coloring. We prefer the ATH-M50x model with a sound quality of 92 out of 100, but here are all AT models we recommend.
Corded Audio-Technica® models… (Click on links below to see current prices.)
Sony has a wide variety of headphones. Some are excellent; others are poor performers. The best consumer models are older designs that have withstood the test of time with sound quality ratings of 84-89 out of 100. Here are a few we recommend.
Sony MDRZX330BT/B Bluetooth Stereo Headset – On ear, but a solid choice for wireless BlueTooth® headphones. Those that might fall asleep while reclining or prefer on-ear designs will find these good choices. What we loved about this set was the weight - or absence thereof. These are super-light and can be worn all day with no worries. Combined with pretty good sound and a decent price, these are solid choices for wireless headphones!
HD280 PRO - Industry standard for a great price! We prefer the 380’s because of their flatter response and greater comfort - if you can find them. These headphones received sound quality ratings of 78-83 out of 100. Not bad at all!
Sennheiser PXC550 – Expensive but pretty good if you turn off the noise cancelling function. These have a sound quality of about 78. Extremely good for Bluetooth® headphones!
AKG® - Not tested.
Beats® - Not recommended.
Beyerdynamic - Most are very good! We use the DT 880 Premium Edition in the studio. Most will want the 32 ohm version of the 880's. The 250 and 600 ohm versions require headphone amplifiers.
The DT 990 PRO is another good choice. Most will want the 80 ohm version of the 990's as the 250-ohm version requires a headphone amplifier.
Be aware these headphones are open backed meaning that sounds you hear can also be heard by others - but they also allow you to hear your surroundings as well. We like the 250 ohm versions if you have a headphone amp, but those require more power than mobile devices can muster.
Bose® - Not recommended. Too much sound color in the models we tested. Please remember to disable noise cancellation if you use this product.
So, what about earbuds?
Earbuds offer convenience at the cost of sound quality. Even the best earbuds deliver less than 20% of the performance of over the ear noise-isolating headphones. It's simply a physics thing. Apple's standard earbuds that came with iPhone devices have a sound quality score of 16 out of 100 possible points. Not great. Because you hear sound differently that anyone else, your best bet is to try several different options before purchasing and determine which models sound the best in your ears.
Shure SE215 Professional Sound Isolating Earphones with Single Dynamic MicroDriver
These Shure wired ear buds delivered an impressive 54% of what our choice over-the-ear headphones do for about $99.00 as of May, 2021.
We have tested Apple AirPods® PRO with Life Environments experiences. They are among the better performers for Immersions 2™ experiences, but far from the best.
Apple also makes AirPods® for active lifestyles.
Your device matters too!
Now that you have the perfect headphones and earbuds, it's important to understand that your device also influences your audio experience. For most, a mobile phone or iPad will drive their listening experiences. Others might listen through their work computer or another device as well. It's important to remember that each device receives the exact same signal from our servers. What is different is how those devices replicate those sounds.
For Apple® IOS users, go to your Music option in your Settings menu and select the EQ option and choose which preset mix sounds best to you. Unfortunately, we have found no other equalizer apps that allow you to adjust your sound effectively. Android® users, on the other hand, have access to many equalizers that enable tweaking sound to perfection.
If you are an IOS user (iPad, iPhone, Apple, Mac, etc.), you will need to use the internal equalizer application to adjust Life Environments to your taste. This is found in the Settings - Music - EQ menu. For earbuds, we suggest you use the SPOKEN WORD option. For headphones, many prefer the LATIN option.
Because Life Environments experiences are streamed from a server over your browser (because additional processing is required), you cannot simply add them to iTunes or other environments or download them. This means you are limited to their default sound options when it comes to mobile devices.