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Buying guide: Headphones

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Noise-Canceling Headphones: If you’re not a fan of in-ear-canal 'phones, but you want something that can filter out external noise such as airplane engines, train rumblings, or the hum of a crowd or noisy office, consider investing in a good set of noise-canceling headphones. These headphones sample outside sound and then pipe in an inverse audio signal to “cancel out” a good deal of monotonous noise. (For more on the technology and its limitations, see my review of noise-canceling models from a while back.) Although they don’t usually sound as good as comparably priced in-ear-canal headphones, noise-canceling models are easier to put on and take off, and they let you hear what’s going on around you.

Noise-canceling headphones are available in canalbud, lightweight, and full-size models, but I've found full-size models to provide the best noise isolation and audio quality. Recommendations:


Jabra's Sport

Bluetooth Stereo Headphones: If you think being tethered to your Mac, iPhone, iPad, or iPod is a drag—or, for the gym rats, an equipment-snagging hazard—consider going wireless. While there are wireless headphones on the market that use radio-frequency and infrared technology, your best bet for convenience and portability is Bluetooth. You can stream audio to stereo Bluetooth (A2DP) headphones from recent Macs; any iPad; the iPhone 3G and later; and second-generation and later iPod touch models. (You can use Bluetooth headphones with other iPod models by purchasing a dock-connector Bluetooth transmitter, offered by a number of companies.)

Most stereo Bluetooth headphones also double as headsets, letting you seamlessly switch between music and voice features. And when running iOS 4.2 or later, the iPad, iPhone 3GS and later, and third-generation and later iPod touch models let you control music playback using Play/Pause, Back, and Forward buttons on the Bluetooth headphones themselves. (The recommendations here all include such playback controls.) Recommendations:


[Dan Frakes is a Macworld senior editor. Macworld contributor R. Matthew Ward contributed to this article.]

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