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Choosing the right headphones

With the wealth of options available for headphones, it can be hard to select the right ones for your lifestyle ands activity level. Here's how to choose.

By Tom BarlowGuest blogger / March 23, 2013

Water resistant earbuds from Pioneer.

Business Wire/File

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Want to get in shape? Do it while listening to your favorite workout mix and you might find exercising fun! Even mundane chores like mowing the lawn and swimming can be enhanced by listening to some favorite tunes. Thankfully we live in the age of the MP3 player and the smartphone, so we're able to tote along all our music easily. The only other piece of equipment we need for a portable concert is the proper headphones.

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However, the portable audio market is packed with different types of headphones, many of which are designed for specific purposes. So before you buy, here are some guidelines to help you pick the perfect pair of headphones for an active lifestyle.

Despite the amusing photo above, you're not going to want a pair of headphones that cover your ears like earmuffs, or ones the size of Oreos that rest on your ear while working out. These kinds of 'phones are made for stationary listening where sweat is not an issue. Instead, you'll want small earbuds or in-ear headphones.

Wired or Wireless

For an active lifestyle, consider the options of a wireless set of headphones. Wireless headphones work off Bluetooth that many smartphones have built-in. The downside: wireless headphones require batteries. If you prefer traditional corded headphones, opt for a pair with a strong cord reinforced with something like Kevlar. The Jabra SPORT Corded Stereo Headset ($45.99 with free shipping, a low by $3) is sturdy set that will stay in place, too.

Battery Life

The amount of electricity it takes to power your wireless headphones is also important. The more energy required, the shorter the battery life. You won't be happy with a pair of earphones that drains your battery before you can complete your workout, so favor those with a low "impedance," or the measurement (in ohms) of electricity used. Aim for a set of headphones that uses 24 ohms or less.

Range

The frequency range of human hearing is 20Hz to 20kHz, so there's no need for headphones that exceed this range. If you're a jazz or classical fan, opt for headphones rated strong in the midrange and high end. If you're a fan of pop, rap, dance, or hip-hop, select a pair of headphones that are strong in the bass end of the spectrum. The Sony MDR-EX36V In-Ear Headphones ($18.99 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $6), however, have you covered from 6Hz to 23kHz.

And whatever you do, don't ruin your hearing by over-cranking your tunes. Users have a bad habit of drowning out ambient noise by increasing the volume of their headphones, which can result in hearing loss. A lawnmower produces around 90 decibels of noise; if you're playing your music at that level of loudness, you're in danger of losing some hearing. If you're in a very noisy environment and can safely block the noise out, try an in-ear model with a good seal against outside noise.

Smartphone Compatibility

People who use their iPhone or Android phone as their music source might also consider buying headphones that have a built-in microphone and device-compatible controls. This will make the transition from music listening to hands-free telephoning much easier.

Sweat Resistance

It's worth investing in a pair of headphones that will tolerate the sweat of a good workout, and be sure they also fit securely on your head so they don't slip. This Philips Sports Neckband Headset ($32 with free shipping, a low by $5) is not only sweat-resistant and washable, but also hooks over your ears for a solid fit.

Surroundings Awareness

There are only a handful of times when you can afford to block out all noise with relative safety, like at the gym. For these times, in-ear headphones are a good bet. However, for those activities during which you absolutely must remain cognizant of your surroundings, (i.e. jogging on a road or path), you'll want earbuds that permit some ambient noise to pass through.

It is illegal in many places to wear headphones while engaging in some on-road activities such as bicycling. Even where legal, the wise cyclist would pass on wearing headphones in order to stay aware of surrounding traffic. However, single-ear headphones are a safer option because they only transmit sound to one ear.

Accessories

Especially for in-ear headphones, replacement gels earpieces should be included in the original kit, as is the case with these Skullcandy Riot Earbud Headphones ($13.99 with free shipping, a low by $2). You'll need to clean this type of headphone regularly, as it can accumulate ear wax.

So, given the above factors, there are headphones that are specifically suited for almost every active endeavor you can think of. We've rounded up five examples of headphones that are perfect for particular activities.

Mowing the Lawn

The Audio-Technica ATH ANC23 QuietPoint Headphones ($54.95 in-cart with free shipping, a low by $3) will not only create a seal in your ear and thus assist in blocking out that pesky mower, but also feature active noise-cancelling technologies that can erase up to 90% of ambient noise.

At the Gym

When at the gym, you're likely hitting it hard, and sweating it out, which makes these Sennheiser MX 680 Earfin Sports Earbuds ($24.45 with $3.99 s&h, a low by $2) an excellent choice. They're sweat- and water-resistant, and the in-ear style blocks other noise around you. Plus the Kevlar-reinforced cable will stand up to abuse.

Swimming

Swimming while listening to music may seem counter intuitive, but by simply put your iPod in a waterproof case, you can hit the pool. There are a variety of inexpensive options for waterproofing. Meritline, for example, offers a Waterproof Case with Headphone Jack for iPhone or iPod ($7.99 with free shipping, a low by $2) for under $10. If you're hesitant about inexpensive options, consider products from brands that can be easily researched online. For example, the  Pelican i1010 Waterproof Case for iPod ($8.95 with $4.99 s&h, a low by $12) has received excellent reviews, for both this model and the maker. Regardless of what you choose, make sure the waterproof case you select has a headphone jack.

You can then pair your case with the Speedo Aquabeat Replacement Earphones ($26.95 with free shipping, a low by $3). Its in-ear design with over-ear supports will help your headphones stay in place as you swim about.

Leisurely Running, Rollerblading, or Skateboarding

The Polk Audio UltraFit 1000 Headphones ($55.95 with free shipping, a low by $4) feature a 3-button remote control and microphone that will allow you to use your smartphone on the fly. This model is designed to take the punishment of a good run, is sweat-resistant, has cables for waist- or arm-mounted players, and boasts a Kevlar-enhanced cable.

Running or Cycling on the Road

The One Good Earbud Noise Isolating Earbud for Right  or Left Ears ($19.95 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $3) mixes both stereo channels into one ear bud, leaving the other ear uncovered to maximize your awareness of your surroundings.

 Match the right headphone with your favorite activity, and you'll find that some Adele, U2, Radiohead, or Stravinsky can inspire you to perform at levels you've never before achieved. Rock on!

Tom Barlow is a contributor to Deal News, where this article first appeared.

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