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Earphones and earbuds have become a notable presence in our lives, but people confuse one with the other most of the time. Sometimes, these terms are even used interchangeably.
There is actually a slight difference between earphones and earbuds: earphones should be inserted inside your ear canal, while earbuds are meant to rest on your external ear.
This could change everything about your listening experience, including how comfortable the device feels and its sound quality.
That’s why, in this article, we will go through all the differences between earphones and earbuds and give you an answer as to which one is the best for you. Stick with us to learn more!
Table of Contents
Earphones vs. Earbuds: A Quick Comparison
Earphones feature ear tips that are meant to go inside your ear canal, while earbuds are smaller devices that sit on your external ear concha.
Why is it important to learn the differences between earphones and earbuds? While these terms might seem interchangeable to the average music listener, understanding the differences between the two could make or break your listening experience.
The Apple AirPods Pro is a great example of a pair of earphones since it features an ear tip and is designed to sit inside the ear canal.
What Are Earphones?
Earphones are listening devices that are meant to sit inside your ear canal. As we’ve shown in the example above, these products are easily recognizable by the presence of an ear tip that extends past the unit’s body.
This ear tip is usually made out of materials like silicone and foam, and there is a reason why manufacturers use this design.
To start off, the ear tips provide a better fit between the earphones and your ears when compared to earbuds. This means they are less likely to fall off during intense activities like working out.
The ear tip also has the benefit of creating a tight seal inside your ear canal. This has a passive noise-canceling effect, so you will hear less ambient noise.
Sound-quality-wise, the ear tip will also help with the performance of low frequencies. These frequencies travel better through physical means, so the vibrations created by the tips inside your ear canal will be greater and so, you get better audio quality.
Furthermore, most earphones these days come with sets of ear tips in varying sizes, formats, and materials. So, you get to test and choose the best fit for you. Most products are shipped with at least 3 ear tips, but some feature even 6 or more.
Advantages of Earphones
- The ear tips present on earphones provide more stability to the unit and prevent the device from falling off.
- Earphones create a passive noise-canceling effect. This is an excellent feature if you plan to use the device in noisy environments.
- Most earphones give a better performance for low frequencies. This is great if you listen to music genres with a lot of bass.
- Most earphones come with ear tips in different sizes, formats, and materials.
Disadvantages of Earphones
- Earphones can be more expensive than earbuds depending on the particular model you choose.
- Earphones must be cleaned frequently to avoid any health problems since they sit inside your ear canal.
- It might not be a pleasant experience for some as they give a “clogged” feeling because they sit inside the ear canal.
The Apple AirPods are a pair of earbuds. The design is a little different from earphones, as you can see in the image.
What Are Earbuds?
Earbuds are devices that sit outside the ear canal. These units are, most of the time, a little smaller than earphones and are meant to be one-size-fits-all.
Unlike earphones, earbuds cannot be adjusted in any way. So, based solely on design, one product might give you a more comfortable fit than the other.
These devices are usually made entirely out of plastic, so they tend to be cheaper than earphones. The standard AirPods are only a little more than half the price of the AirPods Pro, for example.
The sound quality and performance of a pair of earbuds will largely vary from model to model. The Apple AirPods, for instance, have better bass and you can also increase the bass easily, than most other devices in the same category.
As earbuds sit outside of the ear canal, they provide less of a passive noise-canceling effect when compared to earphones. This could potentially be a drawback depending on how you plan on using yours.
Still, some people find this characteristic of the earbuds advantageous because it lets you stay more aware of your surroundings and doesn’t give the “clogged” feeling that earphones do.
Advantages of Earbuds
- Earbuds are very portable and, most of the time, cheaper than earphones. Earbuds have a long battery life.
- They offer a hassle-free experience and you won’t need to worry about customizing your device to better fit your ears.
- While earbuds have less of a passive noise-canceling effect when compared to earphones, this is an advantage if you want to stay aware of your surroundings while also listening to music.
- For those who don’t like the “clogged” feeling earphones give or don’t feel comfortable with the device sitting inside the ear canal, earbuds are the best option.
Disadvantages of Earbuds
- Earbuds tend to be more fragile and have poorer construction since they are cheaper than earphones most of the time.
- They can’t be customized and so, don’t provide a fit as good as earphones.
- Earbuds don’t provide any passive noise-canceling effect.
Earphones vs. Earbuds: Which One Should You Choose?
Since we have explored the similarities and differences between earphones and earbuds, which one is the best, and which should you choose?
Well, there is no definite answer to this question. Both earphones and earbuds have their own pros and cons and will certainly cater to different audiences depending on their needs.
We recommend earphones if you are an audio enthusiast and whose needs are specific, like great sound quality, comfort, and fit, as these devices provide everything from high-quality audio drivers to customizable ear tips.
If you’re a casual music listener and would like something that is practical and affordable and, at the same time, don’t need features like passive noise cancelation, then earbuds are definitely the way to go
It is important to remember that the market is flooded with thousands of options for both earphones and earbuds, so the listening experience you get from each device will vary drastically.
We recommend that you check product reviews from other customers while shopping since you can then understand the general sentiment about a particular product.
If you have the opportunity, go to a physical store and ask if you can test different models and types of earphones and earbuds since this will be the most surefire way to find a great match for you.
Audio Reputation also has a detailed article on the Difference Between Headsets, Headphones & Earphones
Headphones are usually deemed safer than both earphones and earbuds since they sit over your ears rather than inside or near your ear canal. Regardless, every model can be used without problems if you follow the safety precautions such as keeping it clean and watching out for the volume of your media.
Neither earphones nor earbuds themselves cause earwax. What happens is that, when you use these devices for long periods of time, earwax can get trapped inside your ear canal and even damage the unit, so it is important that you maintain good hygiene and clean your earphones or earbuds frequently.
It will largely depend on the particular model. Overall, earbuds tend to have an inferior performance when compared to headphones due to their design and ergonomic pricing, but there are tons of models on the market nowadays so it cannot be a definitive answer.
Earphones and earbuds have many similarities and differences, so they are not interchangeable terms.
As we learned in the article, the main difference between the two is simple: earphones are meant to go inside your ear canal while earbuds sit on your external ear concha. This subtle distinction makes all the difference to your listening experience.
If you’re in the market for a pair of earphones or earbuds and still not sure which one to choose, we recommend that you look at other customers’ product reviews and, if you have the chance, test these devices out in a physical store.
Thank you for reading our article on the difference between earphones and earbuds. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us! And, if you liked the article, consider sharing it with a friend.
Hello, I’m Ian.
I’m a music producer, musician, and writer for the AudioReputation website. I’ve been involved with making music and the processes revolving around audio technology for longer than I can recall, so I find it amusing to share my knowledge with fellow enthusiasts worldwide when I’m not working with artists or creating new songs.
Along my path as a music maker, I discovered the ability to write informative content, and I decided to embrace it. I’ve written for a few websites about audio and music, including a digital magazine.
I’m particularly passionate about any sort of audio gear: guitar pedals, amplifiers, headphones, and even home speakers. That makes it really joyful for me to review any product related to the subject and give my honest opinion about them. I also frequently write tips and guides for consumer and professional-grade audio.