Headphones Comfort and Fit Guide: What Size Should You Buy?

what size headphones should I buy large

You’ll often hear that a certain model of headphones can produce deep bass with its sound drivers, and others that bring out the clarity in music.

Sound is an important factor when buying a pair of headphones, but if they are bought solely for sound quality alone, they still might not fit properly.

How great is buying a new pair of headphones that produce brain-melting sounds, but require constant readjustment and frequent breaks away from your ears? It becomes a limitation fast.

Here are some key fitment tips to look for while you are shopping for your next comfortable pair of headphones:

  • Noise Cancellation
  • Headband Adjustment
  • Clamping/Pushing Force
  • Ear Cup Tilt and Rotation
  • Headband Support
  • Ear Cup Cavity and Width
  • Ear Cup and Headband Cushioning
  • Demo A Pair

You should be able to find a pair that fits you so comfortably that it can last through a long flight or road trip, without any breaks or adjustments.

Our faces come in unique shapes and sizes, so what might fit well and be comfortable for someone else may not be the same perfect feel in your case. Follow the tips in more detail below to help find the pair that works best for you.

Noise Cancellation

It’s odd that this article is about headphone comfort and fitment, but starts with a topic that is arguably in the sound category.

This is also true. However, if you have ever turned on the noise cancellation feature in a new pair of headphones, you will notice that there is a change in comfort compared to when the feature was powered off.

Today’s noise cancellation uses a technology that calculates information from microphones on the outside of the headphones, and pipes in an interfering sound wave inside the ear cup so that the frequencies essentially cancel each other out.

Some headphones the noise cancellation feels like your ear is resting against a soft, thick pillow. This is the ideal comfort for when this feature is on.

When the noise cancellation is turned on for other headphones models, it can almost feel like your ears have filled with water and they are plugged. Sometimes, it is to the point that your head feels a light pounding.

Another noise cancellation comfort factor to consider is how it feels over bumps or shakes, such as airplane turbulence or dirt roads.

You may notice that a few models can withstand these disturbances just fine, with little to no vibration against the ear, while others you can feel a noticeable stop/start pounding.

Manufacturers across the board have improved these two potential comfort drawbacks quite a bit thanks to ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) technology.

ANC contains an additional processor in the headphone that determines what kind of noise is in the environment and how loud it is (think, pinging jackhammer vs. a low airplane hum).

Then, the headphones automatically its noise cancellation level so that only the minimum amount that’s needed to effectively cancel that noise is produced inside the ear cup.

To ensure that your next pair of headphones are comfortable sounding, pick one that features this newer ANC technology, and chances are your ears will not feel like they are plugged with water.

Headband Adjustment

Everyone’s heads come in different sizes vertically. Not only that, the distance between our ears and the top of our heads also differ as well.

Because of this variation, we need a certain level of adjustment that the headband provides on headphones.

On some pairs the adjustment between longer and shorter are very small, allowing you to dial in the optimal level of height between the top of the headband and ear cups so that they rest perfectly over your ears.

Other have bigger adjustments, which can make fitting over the ears a difficult task.

You will notice if the headband adjustment isn’t quite right because you might feel pinching either on the top end or bottom end of your ears.

This will signify that the headband is too long or too short. So if you find yourself constantly adjusting this fitment feature, it might mean that the headband length is not minute enough to match your specific ear-to-cranium distance.

Newer pairs, like the Beats Solo Pro (Amazon aff. link), have a fully customizable headband adjustment with no notches so that you can dial in the perfect length around your head to match your ears perfectly.

Read More: 7 Tips For Choosing the Best Noise Cancelling Headphones

Clamping/Pushing Force

Headphones are designed to rest on top of your head so that they don’t fall down, but they also need to have some kind of clamping force so that they don’t fall off either.

Depending on where the headphone “clamps” determines where a certain point of your ear or head is receiving the pressure.

You may be able to tell from pictures where a headphones might apply its clamping force in order to stay on your head, but the best inspection is to try them on feel where it is applying the pressure.

You don’t want a pair of headphones that feel like they are squeezing too tight, otherwise this could lead to worse problems like a headache or excess heat.

Headphones that clamp too loosely around the head can require constant adjustment, usually around the headband area, in fear that they will fall off.

Make sure that the pair of headphones you are buying applies pressure securely yet comfortably in the right places. If it’s just right, they should feel like they aren’t on your head at all.

If you are buying in-ear headphones or earbuds, you want to make sure that the bud doesn’t push too much around the ear cartilage where they rest.

Earbuds that are aimed towards an active audience will probably include various sized silicone tips for different ear sizes, while others, like the first-gen AirPods, have a plastic housing that’s one-size-fits-all.

Ear Cup Tilt and Rotation

When headphones first came out they came in one ear cup angle and stayed there stiff as a board.

Thankfully, today headphone manufacturers have realized that we have different shaped ears and have designed headphones with ear cups that tilt side-to-side, as well as upwards and downwards.

Although this customization has entered the headphone market, you want to be aware of how much freedom the ear cup tilt and rotation is in the headphone you are looking at.

Especially regarding smaller on-ear headphones, to preserve portability in tight, little cases the ear cups are designed with minimal tilt and rotational movement.

Over-ear headphones are less geared towards portability, and more for ultimate performance, comfort, and fitment. Therefore, these style of headphones will usually have a wider range ear cup tilt and rotation.

Having a wider range of tilt and rotation for the ear cup is beneficial because it limits any undue pressure on a certain point on your ear.

Rather, the perfect tilt and rotation that specific to you will end up with a clamping force that is spread out softly and securely over the entire surface of your ears.

Headband Support

Have you ever noticed that while wearing a pair of headphones over a long period of time that you felt a pinpoint headache that started from the top of your head? It’s probably because of the headband support.

Headband support is required to keep heavier ear cans on your head securely, and to prevent them from fall down or off completely.

Since the headband has to support so much weight, it is easy for the band to place downward pressure on the wrong part of your head.

Therefore, when you are wearing your finalist pair of headphones, feel how the pressure is applied along the top of your head.

A perfect fitting pair should feel like the pressure is spread throughout the entire headband, or even better, feel as if there is no headband at all.

Like clamping force, you may be able to tell from pictures how comfortable a pair of headphones might be when they rest on your head, particularly by looking at the level of cushioning that’s around the headband area.

But I recommend that you try them on for a decent period of time so that you know if they are comfortable enough for your specific head shape.

Ear Cup Cavity And Width

Ear cups come in nearly an infinite span of shapes, depths, and sizes.

A certain pair might look really cool when viewed from the outside, but might tell a different story when it comes to the comfort on the inside.

On-ear headphones have smaller sized ear cups that are generally more shallow in depth so that they rest on top of the ears.

If you are someone that has smaller ears, like I do, on-ear headphones can almost feel like a larger pair of headphones since they encompass most of the outer ear cartilage as well.

If you have larger ears, you may not prefer the on-ear setup since it might not have enough cushion to insulate a large enough portion of your outer ear cartilage.

In that case you should look for an over-ear configuration. These headphones have larger and deeper openings in the ear cup so that your entire ear is encapsulated by the cup.

Whether it is on-ear or over-ear, the size of the cushioning can also be different as well, spanning from pencil-round thin to plush-donut thick.

Each style of plushness will also impact how much of the ear is covered by the ear cup.

For over-ears, you want your ears to be covered completely with some space to spare. On-ear headphones you should look for a plush pair that cover most of the ear yet insulates the canal for good sound.

Earcup and Headband Cushioning

A stealth-looking pair of headphones can appear to be slick and awesome from the outside, but may not be the same when it compromises on the inner comforts.

Especially if you travel on long haul flights, trains or road trips, you should look for a pair of headphones that has ample cushioning around the ear cup and the entire headband.

Some brands have cushioning only on one part of the headband. This might look cool, but narrows the downward pressure of the headband support down to that one part that is resting on your head.

Other brands feature cushioning that is real shallow so that even the biggest pair of their headphones make your head look aerodynamic.

Again, this looks really cool, but over a long period of listening time this can produce undue pressure on specific places along your ear cartilage, making it extremely uncomfortable after only a short time, and an immediate need for re-adjustment.

When considering ear cup cushioning, you want to look for a pair that is soft and breathable, yet insulates the ear well from the outside, even without noise-cancellation or ANC.

Don’t gamble on a pair of headphones with tough, stiff ear cushions to soften up to your comfort level over time. Most likely they will resist to do so, even over extremely long periods of wear.

Demo A Pair

The best advice I can give over all of these tips is to grab the number one pair of headphones that are on your list and wear them on your own head and ears.

Many electronics stores like Apple and Best Buy have tons of headphones displayed that you can demo side-by-side to compare how comfortable they are next to each other.

Another benefit of trying them on at the store is that you can feel right away how the fit and comfort of the headphones are after they have been used for some time as a floor model.

As headphones wear, the cushioning around the ear cup and headband wear down as well, altering the pressure points that surround them. This can impact the overall feel of them versus when they were brand new.

If you are pretty sure that you’re set on a pair, you can also buy them online, such as through Amazon Prime, and try them on for 30 days. If you are still not happy with the comfort and fit of the headphones by then, they have a generous return policy that’s stress and hassle free.

So there’s no need to worry about moving on to your next favorite pair in case a certain one didn’t feel the way you exactly thought.

John Hammer

Hi i'm John Hammer, Founder and Author of Gizbuyer Guide. Ever since the original Xbox, PlayStation, and iPhone I've purchased and worked on all kinds of consumer tech products, gaming gadgets and operating system softwares. To this day my curiosity has never left, and my aim is to guide and share my knowledge on technology as I continue to experience the latest of the consumer electronics industry.

Recent Posts