How to buy headphones in South Africa

There’s more to headphone shopping than fancy finishes and bling-bling branding. You don’t need every feature on our list, but this you should buy the right fit. Here’s what to look out for.

Check our Top 5 Headphones for South Africans for a round-up of well-priced cans to suit your lifestyle and your wallet.




Perhaps the only drawback of on-ears over earbuds is portability. The best on-ears do fold down into a more compact shape and come with a carry bag, but you still can’t stuff them into a trouser pocket.


If you’re using your cans with your phone you’ll appreciate inline controls on the headphone cable for taking calls, skipping tracks and controlling volume. Wireless pairs have buttons built into the cups.


Whether you’re doing the daily commute or working at the PC you can expect to be wearing your headgear for hours at a time, so make sure you’ve got enough padding, that they’re not squeezing too tightly or too loose and likely to disturb your colleagues by leaking your gangsta rap.


Resist the temptation to grab the best-looking headphones you see. You’ll need them to be a little sturdy and not just a fashion statement. Avoid hard, brittle plastic and look for metal hinges on the collapsible pairs.


Unplugging cables from the headset allow you easily collapse and transport your gear. More importantly, it means that an accidental yank on the cable won’t trash your headset. Cables covered in braided fabric are stronger and less prone to tangling. Almost all cordless headphones allow you to also connect with a cable when your batteries run down. Unfortunately, for most pairs, the ANC function only works in cordless mode.


Wireless headsets using Bluetooth are more expensive but have become more common. They bring a level of practical convenience to music listening and computer work. On the street you’re tangle free and at work you’re free to move around the office without leaving your sound cocoon. The trade-off for cordless Bluetooth convenience is degraded sound quality and even a loss of volume. How much you are affected depends on what Bluetooth standard your phone and your headphones can support. Higher is better, and Bluetooth version 5 is definitely tops.


Noise cancelling headphones “listen” to the sound levels ion your environment and then produce sub-audible sound waves to cancel out these outside sounds so that your music sounds more pure. In practice, unless you’re buying specialised headphones over R3000, noise canceling creates as much noise as it claims to prevent. While active noise cancelling is a clever technology for improving your listening, things works even better when paired with so-called passive noise cancelling: how well your earpads can block out sounds around you without producing a suffocated sound inside the cup.

HOW IT WORKS: Active noise cancelling

Microphones in the headphones listen to the ambient noise around you and then create the ‘opposite’ sound waves inside the headphones. These cancel out the interfering sound waves, so you can hear your music better. It’s not perfect and much depends on how good the mics are, and how quickly and efficiently your ANC system can respond. It’s important to understand that, while the constant drone of machinery, air conditioning or aeroplane engines can be filtered out, erratic sounds like voice conversations or clattering keyboards can’t be managed. Also, only lower frequency sound waves can be counteracted, and not high-pitched sounds.


If you see this word on one of the products you are considering, it’s not indicating a nuclear health risk – actually it’s a good thing. Headphone speakers use magnets to produce sound. The standard iron-ferrite magnets used are heavy, so now the best headphone speakers use a rare-earth metal called Neodymium which is lighter and better quality.


Unless you’re Jay Z or Beyoncé you probably won’t be blinging out with headphones made of gold. But you might find gold plating on your headphone plugs. Gold conducts electricity better than most metals and doesn’t corrode as quickly, which all contributes towards your sound quality.


Some top-end headsets allow you to summon Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri directly. This feature is not really considered seriously because, in practice, they all perform poorly and, anyway, you’ll look like a dork barking instructions in public while wearing headphones.


Check our Top 5 Headphones for South Africans for a round-up of well-priced cans to suit your lifestyle and your wallet.


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