Headphones Vs Earbuds – What You Should Know

Headphones are products that are often overlooked by the majority of consumers. Enthusiasts and professionals typically know what they are purchasing, so terminology doesn’t present an issue.

When presented with words that refer to similar products, such as earphones and headphones, there seems to be a lot of confusion as to what they refer to.

In order to remove any confusion, taking a look at both headphones and earphones and their weaknesses and strengths, should present us with a complete picture of where they excel.

Headphones vs Earphones – Similar But Different

When talking about headphones, we typically imagine two types of headphones, on-ear headphones and over-ear headphones. These headphones rest either on the ear or cover it entirely, which is what their names describe.

Earbuds, on the other hand, are small headphones, but so small that they rest on anti-tragus of the ear. They are often mistaken for in-ear headphones, which enter the ear canal.

Earbuds are much lighter than regular, namely on-ear and over-ear headphones, but they lack the driver size and often noise insulation, mostly due to their design.

Earbuds Vs Headphones – The Pros and Cons

Both earbuds and headphones have their pros and cons, some obvious at first sight, others hidden in the technical specifications of each device. Here is what you can typically expect from them.

Headphones Pros

Headphones tend to have large drivers (the parts of the headphone that transform electrical information into music) and by design, should have more bass. Headphones often provide good sound insulation, especially over-ear headphones.

Sound insulation means blocking outside noise through headphone design, which over-ear and in-ear headphones do the best. Over-ear and on-ear headphones are by far the most popular choice for audiophiles, enthusiasts and professionals, mostly open-back, as opposed to closed-back headphones.

Headphones Cons

Headphones tend to be bulky and weigh a lot, relative to the opposition, in this case, earbuds. They also cover the ear or rest on it, and insulation tends to keep heat in, as well. They are mostly not practical for everyday use, such as walking outdoors. Some headphones have a very high impedance and are very hard to drive by modern consumer equipment, namely smartphones.

Earbuds Pros

Earbuds are there for those people who prefer comfort over sound quality. There are earbuds that can sound great but when compared to their larger counterpart, or high-quality in-ear headphones, they often deliver a less complete sonic performance.

They are indeed light and while they do not insulate well, they perform amazingly outdoors, in the sense that you can hear the world around you but still listen to music or make phone calls.

Not entering the ear canal is also an important feature for many users, which adds to their overall comfort.

Earbuds Cons

Earbuds are not without flaws. They have terrible sound insulation, only resting on the anti tragus, and not entering the ear canal. Some earbuds are equipped with noise cancellation, but that can only do so much if there is little to no insulation. Even in-ear headphones with noise cancellation do a bad job of eliminating outside noise if they are not properly seated in the ear canal.

Earbuds also tend to sacrifice sound quality compared to over-ear, on-ear and in-ear headphones. However, given their target market, that is understandable and completely acceptable.

Noise Canceling Earbuds Vs Headphones – Which Are Better?

There isn’t a better pair of headphones in a vacuum. Everything depends on the use case and budget. An audio professional such as a sound engineer or a studio musician, will not want noise canceling earbuds or headphones. They would rather have an open-back over-ear or on-ear pair of headphones.

However, a casual listener of music and someone who wants to have the luxury of making phone calls outside, might want noise-canceling earbuds. Light and portable, while having modern technology such as voice enhancements and noise cancellation, they are the perfect solution for the consumer on the go.

Open-back headphones, for example, fare poorly outdoors, because they are open and thus let sound in and out. What if you are a gamer?

Earbuds Vs Headphones Gaming – Which Are Better for Gaming?

Gaming is a specific use case where one would want certain frequencies to be enhanced. Now, depending on the game and the type of gaming one does, that will vary. Professionals who play first-person shooters want high frequencies such as footsteps and bullets to be enhanced. Headphones that put a slight emphasis on those frequencies excel in this particular category.

For immersive RPGs, a balanced headphone will do a better job.

Recently, competitive gamers, especially FPS ones, have been seen using earbuds. Some have simply adapted to the earbuds and want nothing with bulky headphones or headsets which might be a nuisance after some time.

Either of the two works, but the specific type of gaming will decide which specific pair of headphones/earbuds is better.

Conclusion and Summary

Earbuds, earphones, headphones, in-ears, over-ears, you will hear these terms used loosely, especially in advertising. However, when it comes to headphones and earbuds, the difference is very obvious.

The first refers to over-ear and on-ear headphones and the second to earbuds, a type of headphone that simply rests on the ear. Both have use cases where they are better or worse, but neither should be discarded simply based on the term that refers to them.

About The Author

Milan Zagorac

Milan has always been interested in writing and technology, but managed to pick up a love for music, literature and sports along the way. Essentially a jack of all trades, his interest in all things tech as well as love for the written word, keeps him well occupied.

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