Types Of In-Ear Headphones | Earphones | Earbuds Explained

Many of our readers have mentioned the confusion between the different types of headphones, most of this confusion is caused by the terms that are used and many times interchanged by people referring to different types of devices.

In-ear headphones are also known as earphones or interaural headphones. Considering the design of housings, there are 2 kinds of in-ear headphones: earbuds and canal phones. Each type fits differently into your ears.

Earbuds and In ear Canalphones
Budget in-ear headphones: Sennheiser MX 365 and Panasonic RPHJE120K

Canalphones refer to in-ear monitors (IEMs), in-ear canal phones, ear canal phones, or they are sometimes even called ear canal headphones. These in-ear headphones feature eartips with universal sizes that are directly inserted in the ear canal. As a result, the noise isolating performance is better than earbuds. Deep or shallow insertion will decide whether you have a comfortable fit. Canalphones are called IEMs when they are used by artists, audiophiles or audio engineers in a professional setting. 

Earbuds, also known as headphones, are the same as canal phones in terms of design. The main difference is that earbuds don’t feature eartips and/or nozzles, so they don’t enter ear canals and don’t isolate noise as well as canal phones. While the tight seal plays a crucial role on how the bass comes across, earbuds will never have better bass than canalphones.


Two types of in-ear headphones: earbuds and canal phones.

Sennheiser MX585 Power In-Ear Headphones
Earbuds Do Not Insert Into The Ear Canal
Sony XBA-300AP Headphones
Canalphones Insert Into The Ear Canal

Earbuds and canalphones are quite distinct from one another, but there are also some headphones that are a hybrid of both the earbud and canalphone.

You’re Wrong About Earbuds

The word “earbud” is used to refer to in-ear headphones, which are the most portable choice for all audiophiles or casual listeners. Some people also like to use the word “earbud” to refer to all types of in-ear headphones. Wearing a pair of earbuds is not the same as putting on over-the-ear headphones or on-ear headphones. Earbuds are placed slightly outside the ear canals. Check out our top picks for cheap bluetooth earbuds here.

Try putting your little finger in your ear – that is what it is like to wear earbuds. According to CNET and Head-Fi, the term earbuds can be used interchangeably with earphones, and it is also searched on Google more than 40,000 times per month.

Nowadays it is quite rare to see earbuds on the market unless they are Apple, Sennheiser or Amazon earbuds. The rest are usually canalphones that have adopted an earbud style housing. However, there has been a lot of confusion with these terms, and so today it is generally acceptable to refer to earbuds as canalphones and vice-versa.

Apple Apple EarPods with Lightning Connector
Apple EarPods

For what it’s worth, most people who know the exact differences between earbuds and other types of earphones might not be interested in reading this article. For purposes of simplicity, I have taken the liberty of using the term “earbuds” to refer to in-ear headphones, earphones, canalphones, and IEMs within this article, as well as our entire website. This will help avoid confusion with all the different terms being used.

Based on connectivity:

we can break earbuds/in-ear headphones into 2 catagories: wired and wireless.

Bluetooth earbuds will connect wirelessly with your device. There are 2 types of Bluetooth earbuds: totally wireless earbuds and Bluetooth earbuds with a short cable. The latter has been on market for years, beginning with they Jaybirds BlueX. Although these are not completely wireless because there is a short cord attached to 2 earbuds, they were a groundbreaking set of earbuds.

Today Bluetooth earbuds don’t stand out from the competition in terms of music and calls, but they are built with extra features for fitness like tracking heart rate, oxygen consumption, distance and more. These earbuds are often called wearables or smart earbuds. Big companies like Samsung (Gear IconX) and Apple (AirPods) have developed excellent products in this category.

With the improvement of Bluetooth audio and the non-headphone jack in the iPhone 7, expect to see a boost in sales of Bluetooth earbuds.

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