Comparing Headphones, Earphones, & Earbuds

In the age of Bluetooth, everything electronic is wireless, isn’t it? Well, not exactly, but with every passing year, wireless technology becomes more efficient, more reliable, and more affordable.

The day may come when connection wires are a thing of the past, but for now, Bluetooth is a cutting edge sector of the headphones industry but not the whole industry. Therefore, you need to be a wise, informed shopper when you decide between headphones and wired/wireless earphones or earbuds.

Headphones or Earphones/Earbuds?
You may well want both a pair of headphones and a pair of earphones or earbuds because the two products complement each other as to strengths and weaknesses. But if you’re going to go the either-or route, keep these factors in mind when comparing the two:

– Both headphones and earphones/buds can be had with top of industry noise cancellation. The only real difference is that, with users of earphones and earbuds, this tends to be one of their top concerns. (Check out this helpful bluetooth earbud buying guide to get the run down on noise cancellation and more for comparison shopping.)

– Most headphones offer higher sound quality than the alternative, but that’s only “most.” This new release by Aedle, for example, competes quite well. But those who prefer headphones often do so because of sound quality.

– Earphones and earbuds are lighter, less visible, and more “conveniently portable.” Some top end headphones are fully collapsible, which helps close the gap, but still – the smaller, lighter earphones or buds are far easier to carry around.

– Headphones and earbuds do not actually sit inside the ear canal, like earphones do. Some say that long term use of earphones poses a risk of developing later hearing problems. As earbuds wrap around the outer ear, while headphones cover the whole ear, they do not raise as much concern on this count.

– Earbuds and earphones are much easier to wear while walking, jogging, running, or even exercising. Headphones would quickly get covered in sweat if used in that way.

– Earphones won’t get in the way of your hair or earrings, which is possible with earbuds or headphones.

– In general, headphones are a superior choice when listening at home, while earbuds or earphones are the superior “travel device.”

A further word needs to be said about “earbuds” versus “earphones.” Note that companies don’t always use the same definitions of these terms. We have classified earbuds as wrapping around or otherwise attaching to the outer ear (typically on the concha ridge), whereas earphones are placed into the ear canal. Be aware, however, that products may not always be labeled in accord with this definition.

Earbuds VS Earphones
Going with our previously established definitions, let’s now delve more in depth into comparing earbuds with earphones.

As to a comfortable and secure fit, both have the same basic status: they either hang on your concha ridge (buds) or fit into the concha cavity (phones), but a poor fit can cause problems.

Too tight a fit can be uncomfortable, while too loose a fit creates a bigger problem – the possibility of the unit falling out. And that’s why you need to carefully choose a pair that perfectly fit your ear or, as some companies offer, get a pair custom-fit through a mold done by an audiologist. Plus, some units have special notches or wings and the like to help prevent a “fall-out” incident.

Earphones (in-ear headphones) make up for potential discomfort by adding cushioning materials like memory foam, rubber, or silicone. Earbuds usually don’t offer that, but then again, they really don’t need it.

With earbuds, you will be able to hear more of what’s going on around you since more ambient noise is let in through the open ear canal. With earphones, you get less noise but are more “sealed off” into your own little musical world. Which is better depends on your situation and your preferences in this case.

Finally, earbuds are generally more affordable than earphones. And this is clearly one of the biggest reasons why they’ve been gaining in popularity in recent years.

Wireless VS Wired Headphones
Using “headphones” now in the generic sense, you can find models in all three types of headphone classes that are wired or that are wireless. Which is best?

The obvious advantage of not having wires running up and over your ears or dangling in a loop around your neck is a positive for wireless, but wired is cheaper. So it’s all about what your priorities are with headphones and how much you are willing to pay for wireless convenience.

Here are some other factors to consider when comparing wireless to wired headphones:

– Wireless versions of earbuds and earphones are often a bit bulkier, since they have to include special controls and Bluetooth mechanisms to qualify as “smart headphones” and appeal to consumers.

– Wireless headphones also need to be recharged every so many hours, while wired ones have no batteries to worry about keeping charged. When shopping for Bluetooth units, be sure to check the specs on battery life, and be sure the unit has both a wall and USB charger with it.

– Wired units don’t have batteries, but they do have cables. And unless they are detachable cables, there is risk of their getting stretched or even broken. So consider cable thickness and toughness if buying wired headphones.

– You have to check for compatibility with any headphone. But you’ll want to be extra careful with wireless – be sure you have the right version of Bluetooth for the headphones and with other devices you want to connect them to.

– As to sound quality, wired units are usually (not always) superior, but as to special functions and features, like play, skip, pause, and call management should a phone call interrupt your music – wireless has a big edge.

– But to contradict the sentiment of #5 a bit, MP3 formatted music shows little to no difference in sound quality between wired and wireless. Wired gets a distinct advantage only with other formats like WAV, ALAC, & FLAC.

In conclusion, let it be said that there is no right or wrong choice when it comes to shopping for headphones. Over-ear headphones, earphones, and earbuds all fill a need and do something better than their rivals. And both wired and wireless have a few distinct advantages. It’s all about assessing your needs based on how you’re planning to use your headphones and then balancing performance with affordability.

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