Earbuds vs. Headphones: Which Is Better?


You’re at the electronics store and you are looking for the best options to listen to music. Your old headphones finally gave up on you and now you need to go and replace them. You are looking at the headphones and wonder if you should probably switch to using earbuds. 

Earbuds vs. headphones: Which is better? In most cases, with a couple of exceptions, headphones are better than earbuds. Headphones usually will offer better sound quality and bass without the need to turn up the volume. They also don’t need to be fitted within the ear canal like earbuds.

When it comes to deciding whether headphones or earbuds are better than one another, you are going to have to look at features such as their fit, comfortability, sound quality, and durability. Here we are going to assess all of those factors to come to an ultimate conclusion to help you decide what is best for you.

First, What Is The Difference Between Earbuds And Headphones?

This difference between earbuds and headphones, regardless of what the marketing company says, comes down to this one thing: earbuds rest in the ear canal while headphones rest on the outside of the ear canal.

Comfort of Earbuds

Unlike headphones, earbuds do not usually come equipped with ear cushions even though sometimes they can depending on what set you eventually decide to purchase. 

As mentioned before. they rest within the ear canal. They typically do not come in multiple sizes and usually are designed with a one size fits all approach, which may not be the most comfortable of options.

However, as an attempt to counteract this, earbuds are normally equipped with multiple ear tip options to help provide the user with a secure fit. This does not always work though, as the shape of your ear ridges may affect the fit, and they may fall out during activities like while you’re exercising. Some may have a type or ring lock or ridges, like IRONMAN headphones to stay in place when exercising.

Earbuds and Outside Noise

Earbuds also allow in a fair amount of outside noise as well, allowing you to hear what is going on around you. Sometimes this can be a little agitating – even more so if you’re one of those individuals who put on headphones to shut out everything else like I do because I need music to focus on work.

On the opposite end of this, in regard to letting in ambient noise, this can also be a plus. It is a good built-in safety feature when you are walking or exercising in public so that you can still be aware of your surroundings while you are listening to music.

Cost and Performance of Earbuds

Earbuds historically tend to be greatly outperformed by headphones in terms of durability and sound quality with earbuds sounding kind of “tinny” when listening to them. They also do not produce any bass like most high-end headphones either, which is something most people enjoy when listening to music. 

When deciding to invest in a pair of earbuds or headphones, these are important considerations. If any of them is very important to you, you may not be happy with earbuds. 

However, earbuds tend to be much less expensive than headphones. For about $8, you can purchase a pair of Gummy earbuds from Walmart, and something like this is perfect for kids and teenagers who frequently break their earbuds. 

Their low cost is also great if you want to get a pair of back-up earbuds that you don’t actually care about and won’t mind if you step on them in the gym.

Wait. I’ve Heard About In-Ear Headphones. What Are Those!?

In-ear headphones or earphones are a bit of a cross between earbuds and headphones. They tend to cost a bit more than earbuds, but that is to be expected since you are getting a better-quality product. They usually have different features included in their design to provide a better and more comfortable fit than their earbud relative.

The comfort of In-Ear Headphones

They may come equipped with cushions made up of either memory foam, rubber, or even silicon. Just like with earbuds, you may run into the issue of not getting a perfect fit. 

Oftentimes, in-ear headphones are either too loose fitting and falling out of your ear or too tight and uncomfortable to wear in your ears. There can be a lock that is designed to fit into the concha of your ear, but it can lead to sacrificing some comfort.

Custom-made In-Ear Headphones

There is some very good news about comfort for those looking into these earbud/headphone hybrid options, though. Some high-end earphones, they can come with ear cushions that are custom-molded by an audiologist. 

A custom-fit allows you to have the most comfortable option there is since it is molded to your particular ears. The downside though is that these earphones can be a bit expensive for some people.

When it comes to the wires of the earphones, they can be designed to be hanging straight down, over the ear, or even come with a swivel configuration to allow for either option you may want or need depending on your activities.

In-Ear Headphones and Outside Noise

Because they fit more snugly into the ear, in-ear headphones block out the noise better than earbuds, if they are properly inserted and fit well. Not all in-ear earphones fit well enough to do a great job of blocking outside sounds.

Cost and Performance of In-Ear Headphones

Earphones can get pretty expensive, rivaling their headphone counterparts despite the smaller size. When it comes to high-end earphones, they tend to have excellent performance and sound quality and can even produce bass, unlike earbuds.

Okay, Tell Me About Headphones.

Headphones are different than earbuds and earphones in that they rest on the outer ear as opposed to being placed within the concha. They tend to come in different models as well such as supra-aural models which will cover the surface of the entire ear, but it doesn’t seal the entire ear when listening to music.

The Comfort of Headphones

Because they rest on the outer ear, most often with a nice, soft cushion, headphones are very comfortable. They may bulkier than earbuds or in-ear headphones, but there are many lightweight options that feel very comfortable.

Headphones and Outside Noise

Over the ear models or circumoral, will cover and seal the entire ear. Their design is similar to those noise reduction headphones you see workers wearing on airstrips and on construction sites. 

These headphones will allow you to listen to music with very little outside noise if any at all with the noise cancellation technology that is available today in the high-end models.

Cost and Performance of Headphones

One of the main selling points of this type of headphone is that they produce excellent sound quality and are excellent in their ability to capture bass tones, which is an area where earbuds come up lacking. 

This is a factor in pricing as well since brands like Sennheiser, Sony, and Beats by Dre tend to be more costly due to their amplified sound quality, advanced speaker designs, and noise cancellation abilities.

Because of their superior sound quality and more advanced design and abilities, headphones tend to be the most expensive of the listening options.

Do Headphones Come With Any Downsides?

Despite providing a superior quality of sound, and being of an overall better design, headphones do have their shortcomings. One shortcoming, for example, is that they are a bit bulky and are not very transportable.

The unwieldy bulkiness is why people who ride bikes and run for exercise don’t wear them when they are engaged in their activities. Headphones will also get hot and sweaty if used for an extended amount of time. They will also leave your hair matted after a while. Also, if you wear glasses or earrings, it may cause some interference or discomfort as well.

Which Should You Choose – Earbuds or Headphones?

When it comes to deciding on earbuds vs. headphones, you should look at what is most important to you.

Are you looking to listen casually to music with good sound quality?
If your main goal is hearing music at its best, then you are probably going to want to go with headphones as an option. As mentioned earlier, headphones provide the best quality of sound and are a lot more durable than earbuds.

Do you want to listen to music while you do another activity?
If you’re going to the gym or taking a run, you probably want earbuds or in-ear headphones. In these cases, sound quality isn’t the main objective. The music is there as a soundtrack to another activity. 

How much are you willing to spend?
Are you just looking for something to make it easy to listen to music and doesn’t cost a lot of money? Will you listen primarily at home or another place where you can carefully store expensive headphones, or are you tossing them into a gym bag?

Don’t Forget About Noise Cancellation

Noise cancellation is something you should consider when it comes to deciding whether or not you want to choose headphones or earbuds. Remember, headphones – especially the high-end ones – have superior noise cancellation capabilities as opposed to earbuds, which do not. This can lead to another issue as well for earbud users.

Since earbuds don’t offer noise cancellation capabilities, users of the device tend to crank the music as loud as they can in an attempt to drown out outside noise. This is going to cause serious damage to your ears in the long run. If noise cancellation is important, then you need to go with headphones.

What Are Some Good Earbuds I Can Buy?

For those of you who are looking to purchase earbuds for your gym or running experience, here we are going to go into an overview of some of the best earbuds that you can get that provide the quality that you are going to want, especially if you want to keep them for a while. Take a look below to see some of the best earphones you can get:

Quad Driver In-Ear 

When it comes to getting the best earbuds you can get, very few rival the Quad Driver in-ear. It is built with an all-metal casing to help ensure durability and the cable is made of Kevlar (the same material used to create bullet-resistant vests) and is a great selection if you don’t want to spend too much money while getting the best value for your buck.

These earbuds have an Android and iOS compatible ergonomic control module, and the sound quality provides some improved bass production which is uncommon in earbuds. However, they are earbuds, so stereotypically, they don’t provide the best in sound quality, but they still provide a fun and enjoyable listening experience.

They are capable of producing a particularly loud sound when playing, so keeping the volume down will help prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

Pros

  • Metal housing for internal circuitry
  • Kevlar coated earbud cable
  • Android and iOS compatible control module
  • Not too expensive

Cons

  • Sound quality is on the low end as with most earbuds

Master & Dynamite ME05

This is a slightly heavier set of earbuds that are of a brass construction which helps with its durability and is built with a sleek design. If you have noticed a lot of wind instruments in an orchestra are made of brass, and they provide a very particular, high-quality sound. This is the concept with the ME05 earbuds.

Since they are constructed using brass, not only is their durability increased but so is the quality of the sound produced. Their design is a very attractive one with there also being 8mm titanium coating added to the construction to ensure its sleek look.

Pros

  • Very attractive design
  • Excellent sound quality for earbuds
  • Even with a brass construction, the earbuds are much lighter than expected
  • Earbuds are constructed to have astonishing durability

Cons

  • While unique, the sleek design may not appeal to everyone

Etymotic ER4SR

These earbuds are for individuals to like to mix it up in the studio or the DJ booth. This pair of in-ear earbuds provide the flat response that mixers and DJs alike need in their professional music setting. If accuracy in sound quality is a necessity, then these are the earbuds you will need.

They are built with a smooth and thin aluminum housing with triple flange ear tips to eliminate the worry of them falling out of your ear. Once they’re in, they’re in.

The design, however, is minimalist and doesn’t provide the playback controls that most people would want from their headphones. However, these earbuds are designed especially for professionals who work with audio on a daily basis. They are also great for people who don’t like to have an emphasis or focus on certain areas of the range of frequencies.

Pros

  • Provides a very accurate and flat sound
  • The cable is able to be detached from the earbuds
  • Multiple ear tip options to ensure the best fit

Cons

  • The sound range provided will not appease everyone who listens
  • They are designed for audio professionals, not the general music listener
  • They are nowhere near cheap or affordable

What Are Some Good Headphones I Can Buy?

When it comes to headphones, there are especially some great brands that focus on what you are looking for in comfort, sound quality, and noise cancellation. With heavy-hitting brands like Sony, Bose, and Sennheiser, you can guarantee that you are going to find a pair of headphones that will provide the features that you are looking for.

Sony WH-1000XM3

These headphones are currently putting Sony on top of the throne in noise cancellation ahead of the once reigning ruler, Bose. The Sony WH-1000XM3 carries 20% less weight than the previous generation released and is also more comfortable. While the previous model already offered superb noise cancellation, this iteration of the Sony WH-1000 series offers a slight improvement.

The headphones can also function as a headset for making calls as well which is great for professionals who work from home or those who don’t want to take a phone to their ear when they’re listening to music. The battery life is also long-lasting as well to get you through those longer traveling commutes.

Pros

  • 20% lighter than the previous model
  • Slightly improved noise cancellation
  • Extremely long-lasting battery life

Cons

  • Ears can get a bit hot in headphones

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

These headphones are a close second behind the Sony WH-1000XM3 and are extremely comfortable to wear. They still have the great noise cancellation technology that Bose has been known for since 1980 and they function great as a headset for the telephone professional.

They actually have better sound than their acclaimed Quiet Comfort II headphones and even have a ton of features included in the headphones like a hands-free Alexa option and Bose AR. The noise cancellation levels can be adjusted even if there is no power to the headphones as well.

Pros

  • Excellent noise cancellation
  • Hands-free Alexa option and Bose AR
  • Adjustable noise cancellation even with no power
  • USB-C Charging Capable
  • Has a transparency mode

Cons

  • Can cost $50-100 more than their competitors
  • The previous generation QC35 II is slightly more comfortable to wear than this model
  • The mobile app that comes with the headphones needs work

Jabra Elite Active 65t

This pair of wireless earphones needed to be mentioned. Anyone who has ever worn Apple’s AirPods knows that they do not provide as good sound quality as they should. They are fully sweat-resistant and will fit into your ear securely while being comfortable to wear.

The Jabra Elite Active 65t provides excellent sound quality and provides reliable performance and can also be used to make calls like the previous entries in the headphones list. The battery life is pretty decent at 5 hours and comes with a charging case that can provide you with two extra charges when you need them.

Pros

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Secure, comfortable fit
  • 5-hour battery life
  • Included charging case that provides 2 extra charges
  • Quick-charge feature to get 1.5 hours of music on a 15-minute charge

Cons

  • The tight fit may not be what some people are looking for
  • Has a built-in motion sensor that doesn’t provide any real purpose

Final Thoughts

When it comes to choosing whether you need to purchase earbuds, headphones, or maybe a combination of the two, it will be determined by what you are looking for and what you need. If the choice was solely based on sound quality, it would be a no brainer, but both have their pros and cons. 

When you take some time to think about what you want out of your headphones, you’ll be able to get a good idea of which style is right for you.

Rune Bearson

As you can see, I love my headphones! I use them every day when commuting, watching YouTube videos, playing guitar/piano and doing chores. I'm a podcast addict and I like all kinds of music from metal to chillout ambient.

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