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Understanding Earphone and Headphone Terms and Specifications

Understanding Earphone and Headphone Terms and Specifications

Whether you’re buying your first set of earphones or simply looking to upgrade, it’s vital that you know and understand the unique differences between each by being familiar with basic earphone and headphone terms and specifications before setting your decision in stone and making a purchase. At a glance, listed specifications on products can be confusing at first but taking a moment of time to understand these terms will help you to pick out the perfect earphones or headphones for your personalized needs that will pay you back tenfold. These terms and specifications were created to help you know what you’re getting, how well it will suite your needs and whether or not it will pair well with your devices. Choosing the right headphones can overall make a huge difference in your audio experience or music industry success. Here are some basic earphone and headphone terms and specifications all audiophiles and tech newbies should know before testing the waters of modern earphone and headphone technology:

Frequency Range

A frequency range specifies the overall audio range of the earphones or headphones, from the highest frequency to the lowest. So frequency range is the span, or range, of sound frequencies the earphones or headphones are capable of producing.

Frequency Response

Not to be confused with frequency range (because it often is), frequency response is the frequency range compared to amplitude. Frequency range is written numerically with two numbers while the frequency response is drawn out on a graph so you can visually see how the headphones or earphones respond to different sound frequencies. This graph is perfect for a quick efficient way of identifying if the headphones have more or less bass, mid or treble.

Maximum Input

The maximum input number is shown in watts. The maximum input is commonly 1 Watt on headphones and earphones while some headphone amplifiers can put out as much as 3 Watts. The maximum input power number is a guide that lets you know if you go above that maximum input in Watt(s), you could potentially cause damage to your product. Maximum input power is a good indicator of if your earphones or headphones will work well with, or be a good match for, the product you’ll be using them with and if the watts being supplied by that product will be sufficient enough for your headphones or not.


Sensitivity describes the sound pressure level that’s produced when a certain voltage is applied. This means a headphone with a higher sensitivity is certainly an advantage if you have an amplifier that has particularly low voltage because e it will pull more current from the amplifier and with much more ease than a headphone with less sensitivity.


Impedance is a term that can be pretty confusing to even those ever fairly familiar with technology. Impedance is the resistance of an electric circuit. You will want the impedance of your earphones or headphone to have a relatively higher impedance than the output amplifier you’ll be using them with.

Driver Type

There are three different main types of headphone drivers: Standard dynamic, Planar magnetic and Electrostatic. Dynamic driver, also known as the moving coil driver, is the most common type of driver and for a good reason. This tried and true style of driver works by sending a signal through a thin coil that then creates a magnetic field that reacts with the other magnet and causes fast movements in the air that produce the sound waves. Planar magnetic is a unique driver style that is far less common but is very efficient and growing in popularity with audiophiles. This design is much like the dynamic driver because the sound waves are created by two magnetic fields, however with a planar magnetic driver the sound is spread across the whole headphone diaphragm instead of just moving through the voice coil. This is why planar driver headphone designs are generally more heavy duty. Electrostatic driver style headphones are rare but have proven to create some great headphone designs in existence. While the other two drivers use magnets and other sources to move the driver diaphragm, the diaphragm moves itself in the electrostatic drive design by using only thin sheets of electronically charged material.

Modern Speakers
Modern Speakers