At one point or another, you’ll be shopping around for the right product to satisfy your audio needs.

That said, you’ll likely come across headphones and earbuds.

While it’s true that they serve the same purpose, earbuds vs headphones differ in so many ways.

Let’s look at their differences and similarities and compare each type based on portability, fit, sound quality, and other important metrics.

Hopefully, after reading this guide, you’ll be able to decide which is better for you.

What Are Earbuds?

Earbuds are tiny speakers worn inside the ears.

Modern earbuds were inspired by Walkman, the very first portable cassette player that was released in 1979.

Today, earbuds come in so many forms, from wired to clip-on and wireless units.

How Do Earbuds Work?

Earbuds are pretty fascinating.

How can something so small make so much sound? Well, the magic lies inside those tiny buds.

There, you’ve got a coil, magnet, and cone that work together to process and transmit sound waves into an audible format.

As you know, traditional earbuds have cables that you plug into your audio source.

While most manufacturers still make them, more and more people choose wireless earbuds that operate using Bluetooth technology.

Without a wire to get in the way when you move, walk, or run, wireless earbuds are all the rage right now.

That’s not surprising, given their extreme portability and simplicity.

Speaking of wireless earbuds, these come in different styles, shapes, and sizes to accommodate different users.

For example, neckband-style wireless earbuds are for active users who often lose a bud unaware.

These earbuds come with a cable worn around the back of the neck for added security.

Some earbuds come with anchors or ear hooks made with flexible materials like silicone.

They keep the pressure off your ear canal while anchoring the buds securely to your ear so that you can move without restrictions.

Lastly, you will also find waterproof earbuds you can take to your outdoor adventures, no matter the weather.

What Are Headphones?

Headphones have been around way before earphones.

The very first pair was invented in 1910 by American Engineer Nathaniel Baldwin.

His headset looked very similar to today’s headphones, proving that there are no other way headphones can look better.

Nonetheless, headphones have evolved so much in terms of functionality.

Modern models are equipped with varying features to provide a much better listening experience.

Whether you are using headphones to watch movies, play games, listen to music, or work, you’re likely to find the right product for your needs.

How Do Headphones Work?

In principle, headphones work the same way speakers and earbuds do.

Once connected to the audio source, electrical signals make their way through the wires and into your headphones until they reach the driver unit.

The driver unit processes the signals and converts them into an audible format.

Like earbuds, headphones also come in different styles.

The four most common types are:

  • Over-Ear Headphones
  • On-Ear Headphones
  • Closed-Backs
  • Open-Backs

Each of them has unique features and characteristics and is intended for specific types of users.

Headphones are connected to an audio source either through wires or Bluetooth connection.

Newer models make use of wireless connections as they offer more portability and flexibility.

With wireless headphones, you won’t be worried about twisting or breaking the wires or wrecking the audio jack of your phone or laptop.

earbuds vs headphones facts

Earbuds vs Headphones: Head-to-Head Comparison

If you notice, the science behind earbuds and headphones is virtually the same.

However, when it comes to applications and performance, you’ll see a big difference.

We’ve already discussed their difference in terms of appearance and structure.

So, let’s go ahead and compare the two in some more important criteria, such as portability, fit, noise isolation, sound quality, cost, and comfort.

Portability

We live in a hectic world, so portability is often a major deciding factor when buying electronics.

If you plan to carry your audio device to the gym or wear it while running, cycling, or traveling, they need to be small, lightweight, and easy to carry.

Note that you can use headphones and earbuds on the go.

However, because earbuds are generally much lighter and smaller than headphones, they are considered more portable.

Looking at their size alone, you’ll know that earbuds take the lead.

In general, an earbud has a dimension of less than one inch.

Since each pair comes in a tiny case that serves as the charging station in some models, storing or carrying earbuds is a breeze.

Just be extra mindful because, like all tiny things, they can get easily lost or misplaced.

Fit

Both earbuds and headphones feature a plain and simple design. However, they are worn differently.

To wear earbuds, you simply insert each unit into your ear.

If you’re using wired earbuds, you may have to roll the wire around your ear to secure the device.

Unfortunately, a major downside of earbuds is that they fall off easily.

You have to make sure that they fit your ears perfectly.

Even so, there’s still a chance that they will fall off, especially when you’re running or jumping.

What’s more, everyone’s ears and ear canals have different sizes and shapes.

That said, even if most earbuds have one-size-fits-all designs, they aren’t going to fit every person perfectly.

Now, even though it’s true that we also vary in head sizes, getting a nice fit is easier with headphones.

The fact that you can wear them over your head means they’re not going to fall off easily.

Also, aside from the headband, headphones have large earpads that “cup” your ears for a secure fit, along with sliders for adjustability.

With all those things considered, we highly recommend headphones if you prefer an audio device that offers a nicer fit.

If you’ve tried so many different earbuds but haven’t had the luck of getting a perfect fit, you might be better off with a pair of headphones.

Noise Isolation

Noise isolation refers to your device’s ability to block external sound.

Indeed, you don’t want to hear unnecessary sounds when you’re listening to music or attending a virtual meeting, for example.

When it comes to noise isolation, headphones do so much better than earbuds.

That’s because the large earpads create a seal around your ears, blocking external noise.

Of course, not all headphones dampen ambient sound.

If you’re after noise isolation, you should look for headphones with a closed-back design.

Sound Quality

One of the most important factors to consider when shopping for audio devices is sound quality.

Still, it can be challenging to compare earbuds and headphones in this aspect, as it is primarily dependent on the model.

In general, and considering that they are both within the same price range, headphones can deliver a richer sound experience than earphones.

The reason is that headphones benefit from much larger drivers, usually ranging from 40mm to 50mm.

In comparison, earbuds have drivers ranging from 7mm to 15mm.

Another advantage of headphones is they create a room for your music and ears to breathe.

With them, you can better appreciate the width and soundstage of a musical mix.

Furthermore, your music won’t sound as if it’s trapped inside your ears.

This is not to say that earbuds don’t produce quality sound at all, though most of them do, especially if you choose a perfectly fitting unit.

Ensure you purchase a good quality pair, as they offer better sound quality than cheaper models.

Cost

Earbuds are usually less expensive than headphones because of their size and the smaller number of materials used to make them.

However, under each type, you’re likely to find models on the opposite ends of the price spectrum.

For example, premium earbud models like the Sony WF-1000XM3 can cost you around $230.

This isn’t far from SENNHEISER HD 599, which is also considered premium headphones.

Comfort

Over-the-ear headphones are usually more comfortable than earbuds as they cause less pressure to your ears.

That’s because they rest on or around your ears rather than inside them.

Additionally, most headphones have well-padded earcups, which make them more comfortable to use.

Still, note that comfort is subjective.

We all have different perceptions of comfort.

Some people swear by earbuds and could wear them for days without experiencing any discomfort or pain.

We suggest you try wearing each type before you make a purchase.

Earbuds or Headphones? Which Should You Buy?

To further help you decide, here the best uses and applications of earbuds and headphones.

Get a pair of good-quality earbuds if:

  • You use your device primarily for working out, running, sports, and other physical activities.
  • You like tuning in to music during your daily commute.

Headphones are also great for the commute, but most people prefer earbuds as they are compact and lightweight.

  • You want something portable and subtle, as much as possible.
  • You want a good mix of affordability and performance.

You should get headphones if:

  • You use them for audio production, gaming, online classes, or other tasks that require the best possible sound quality.
  • You get easily distracted by ambient sound.
  • You’re a fan of bass music. In this case, choose a closed-back design for a better listening experience.
  • You use your audio device for extended periods.
  • You hate charging every after a few hours.

Conclusion

In a choice between earbuds vs headphones, which is better for you?

There are many factors to consider, such as your lifestyle, personal preference, and listening needs.

Whatever you choose, getting the best from your device boils down to the quality of earbuds or headphones you buy.

Take time comparing each model to ensure you’re getting the best bang for your buck.

About the Author

I am the head author of ForTheSound. I want to bring you the best in-depth reviews of Headphones and earbuds.

Frank

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