Earphones vs headphones: Which is better?
Which of these 2 commonplace pieces of audio equipment is the right choice for you?
The concept of only being able to listen to your favourite music in a select few locations is unfathomable to consumers below a certain age. You can now pump your tunes just about anywhere thanks to headphones and earphones, also known as earbuds.
They're utterly ubiquitous in society, and may seem interchangeable, but there are plenty of meaningful differences between the 2.
Here's our guide to earphones vs headphones, assessing audio quality, price, health outcomes and more. For more information, check out our guides to the best headphones and the best earphones in Australia.
Earphones vs headphones: Design
The major differences between earphones and headphones are pretty obvious. Earphones are compact devices, each with an individual audio driver, that sit inside your ear. Headphones, meanwhile, consist of 2 small loudspeakers, connected by a band.
Both earphones and headphones can be wired or wireless. In the world of earphones, "wireless" refers to buds that connect to an audio source wirelessly, but are themselves connected. "True wireless" means the buds are also disconnected from each other. Additionally, you'll notice another difference between various types of earphones. Standard earphones sit outside the ear, while in-ear monitors (IEMs) sit inside the ear canal.
As far as headphones go, they most commonly fit over your ear, encompassing the entire organ. There are also on-ear headphones that sit, well, on your ear. You'll also need to choose between closed-back headphones, with a solid outer shell, and open-back headphones, which are more breathable.
There's so much variety in both earphone and headphone design that it's impossible to make a definitive judgement as to which is better in this regard. You're more likely to run into issues with uncomfortable earphones than headphones. On the other hand, earphones are also far more compact than headphones. You can easily throw your earphones in your pocket and walk around all day, whereas taking headphones out of the house is a bit more cumbersome.
All in all, when it comes to design, the earphone vs headphone debate all boils down to personal preference, and personal usage. While earphones are more convenient for activities like commuting and working out, many consumers may prefer the comfortable feeling of padded headphones.
Earphones vs headphones: Audio
The question of audio is far more objective. It's very easy to find a pair of headphones that beats out a pair of earphones at the same price point. The reason why isn't exactly rocket science: Headphones are so much larger than earphones, there's way more room to fit in juicy audio equipment to improve sound.
In particular, over-ear headphones can use larger drivers and envelop your eyes with a full audio experience. Headphones are also better equipped to pull off elite noise cancellation, which can have a huge impact on your listening experience.
This certainly isn't true in all cases, and there are earphones that absolutely knock it out of the park compared to lesser headphones (we recently loved the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3s). But if you're a fanatical audiophile, the choice is pretty simple. Headphones beat out earphones here.
Earphones vs headphones: Ear health
The question of what our listening habits are doing to our ears has increasingly interested scientists in recent years. The bottom line is this: Exposing your ears to loud noise for extended periods of time is bad news, no matter the source. But generally speaking, if you want to factor this question into your purchase, headphones are the way to go. Especially when you compare them to IEMs.
Since IEMs sit directly in the ear canal, many experts believe they're likely to cause more severe long-term damage when used improperly, including hearing loss and tinnitus. Also, since headphones generally deliver better bass and better noise cancellation, there's less temptation to crank up the volume.
When it comes to children, headphones are generally advised over earbuds, due to the fragility of a child's inner ear.
Earphones vs headphones: Price
Earphones and headphones are both available in high-end and low-end models. If you're on an extremely tight budget, you can grab a pair of Sony earphones for just $8 on Amazon. But in most price ranges, there's a wide variety of choice between earphones and headphones, and you'll have to consider the other factors on this list when making a decision.
So which is better? The boring answer is that the headphones vs earphones debate has no clear-cut solution. But this article should be a good guide as to which of the 2 best suits you and your lifestyle. Take all of these factors into consideration, and you'll be well-equipped to make an informed decision.
Best deals on earphones
Are earphones the right piece of audio equipment for you? Then take a peek at some of the exceptional deals below.
You can enjoy much of the functionality of the Sennheiser Momentum 3 earbuds on the cheap with the True Wireless 2 earbuds
Buy now for $248 (was $499.95)
Amazon is slashing the price of these earphones, featuring active noise cancellation and a compact charging case which affords an extra 25 hours of battery life.
Buy now for $178 (was $299)
Best deals on headphones
Prefer the superior audio and comfort of headphones? Take advantage of these great prices.
$250.95 off Sennheiser PXC 550-II Wireless
These headphones allow you to use the Voice Assistant button to seamlessly connect to all major virtual assistants.
$140.95 off Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless
On top of advanced audio technology, the Momentum 3s feature intuitive controls and active noise cancellation.
If you're after some premium headphones, this offering from Bose is a great choice, with 11 levels of noise cancellation and 20 hours of wireless battery life.
Buy now for $445 (was $599)
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