Earbuds vs Headphones – Pros & Cons

The chances are that this debate has sprouted in your mind from time to time. Earbuds and headphones, which one is the better option to satisfy your cravings for music either at home or outdoors? Well, the answer is a little more straightforward than you think.

In this article, we will be discussing critical points on the differences between an earbud and a headphone. We will also be taking a look at the advantages and disadvantages that each listening device has. By the end, you would hopefully have formed a decision as to which one suits your personal preference better.


What are Earbuds?

white earbuds

Earbuds are more compact and are designed to fit snugly into the ear canal. Earbuds are also considerably more affordable than bulkier headphones, which is one of its appeals to the general consumer.

Besides the earbud’s extremely portable and affordable aspects, it is also unobtrusive with wearers still able to put on a cap or glasses without any discomfort. The earphone offers convenience for music lovers due to its portable design. However, since it must be inserted within or at the outer ear canal, it can cause some discomfort if worn for a prolonged period.

There are also wireless earbuds that completely circumvents tangling issues prevalent with their wired counterparts. Of course, wireless earphones use rechargeable batteries, and battery life ranges from 2 hours to 8 hours, depending on the brand and price.

Most earbuds also have low passive noise cancellation capabilities, which means loud ambient noises will severely hamper your listening experience. Some earphones do come with flange type buds which should help mitigate a decent level of ambient noise.

The small design also causes particular earbuds to slip off accidentally. A significant downside for those planning on wearing earphones during any physical activity such as jogging, for example.

Due to its smaller frame, the earphone usually cannot utilize top-quality drivers that headphones can. Because of this shortcoming, earphones are rarely able to compete with headphones in terms of sound quality. Bass response is one of the earbud’s weakest aspects, and it shows even to casual listeners.

What are Headphones?

headphones over ear

Headphones are bulkier and more substantial than earphones; however, this difference in size also allows the headphone to take advantage of elements that the earbuds cannot. One of the most significant benefits of using a headphone is its larger drivers.

The average driver size found in an earphone usually stays within the 7mm to 15mm size, compare that to headphones that can incorporate 40mm to 50mm drivers. The larger drivers equate to a more consistent sound production from low to high frequencies and better bass response.

Headphone users also enjoy a naturally larger soundstage. Their size offers the ability to produce a more spacious and airy sound production. This means that, unlike with earbuds, headphones can simulate a grander musical experience that envelopes rather than feeling contained.

Headphones are also more comfortable compared to earbuds. While there are instances wherein the headphone feels as if it is squeezing your ears, a well-designed and appropriately fitted headphone is as comfortable as you can get.

Of course, the situation is not all roses. Headphones do come with downsides in regards to portability and sound leakage. The traditional headphone is usually quite large. Those that have more powerful drivers are even bulkier than average.

Sound leakage is also a common problem with headphones, especially with supra-aural types. Fortunately, there are a handful of available options available that can circumvent these issues.

Earbuds vs Headphones

Earbud Pros:

  • Extremely portable design and can easily fit in a pocket. Wireless variants offer substantially more convenience as wearers won’t need to contend with cords anymore.
  • Earbuds do excel in one aspect better than headphones, and that is with noise leakage problems. Earbuds are naturally designed to prevent this leakage from occurring. Earphones from top brands incorporate designs that completely mitigate any level of noise leakage.
  • While it cannot compare to what a high-end headphone can deliver, you can still expect earbuds to provide an excellent listening experience. Sound quality will vary depending on the earphone you use, but you can expect ones from well-known headphone brands to deliver exceptional sound quality.

Earbud Cons:

  • One of the most common complaints with earbuds revolves around their comfort. As earbuds are required to be placed inside the ear canal, it can cause slight to moderate discomfort for those who have sensitive ears. It depends on who is wearing the earbud; some find it perfectly fine while others will experience some level of discomfort when using the same earphone.
  • Earbuds also fall short in regards to noise cancellation. Standard earbud designs offer almost zero noise cancellation capability. Put, you will not be able to enjoy your music if you wear an earbud within a substantially loud environment.

Headphone Pros:

  • Due to the use of headbands, headphones offer a considerably more comfortable experience. The ear cups rest comfortably on the outside, which is a huge plus for those who feel uncomfortable in jamming an earbud into their ear canal.
  • Headphones are designed to provide passive noise cancellation. As the ear cups create a vacuum-like environment around the ears, it can reduce the amount of ambient noise to near zero. While earphones do have some level of noise cancellation, especially those that use flange-type buds, it cannot hold a candle to the headphone’s natural capability to block outside noise.
  • Sound quality is where the headphone completely overtakes the earbud. Because the headphone cans can contain larger drivers, the sound quality it can produce will far surpass what the earbuds can offer. For audiophiles, the headphone is the only viable option as it is the one that can deliver the best quality sound.

Headphone Cons:

headphones with glasses
Over-ear headphones can be uncomfortable if you wear eyeglasses compared to earbuds.
  • The headphone is bulky, and there is no going around that fact. Because of its larger size, wearing glasses can be a bit uncomfortable when using a headphone. Try the headphone out first with your glasses on to see if it puts any unwelcome pressure on the temple and temple tips.
  • The size of the cans will also lower the headphone’s overall portability. Fortunately, some headphones are collapsible, which improves their compactness. However, it will still take a significant space in your bag and will not be able to fit in your pocket as an earphone does.
  • The over-the-ear headphone type lacks any ability to prevent noise leakage. The same goes for the open-back headphone. If you prefer to listen to your music without disturbing anyone in your immediate surroundings, opt for closed-back headphones. But even with closed-back headphones, sound leakage might still be a concern.

Conclusion – Which One to Choose?

Choosing between earbuds and headphones will boil down to personal preferences. Do you prefer convenience, portability, and affordability at the expense of slightly lower sound quality? The earbuds should be enough to satisfy your musical cravings. For those who prefer something with a little more oomph, higher quality sound, and versatility – the headphone will be able to offer a wide range of choices.  

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