Headphones vs Earbuds- Do We Have a Winner?

Wow! I have chosen a topic that has been dividing the entire audiophile community for nearly two decades. I have got a huge collection of both and I’m also fond of both types of devices.

With the surge of smartphones and tablets, headphones and earphones have been more important to us than ever before. It’s more than just a device that lets you listen to music on-the-go, it’s a fashion accessory too.

Wired, wireless, true wireless, this and that, the variety we have today is overwhelming. The fans of headphones would argue that it sounds better, noise isolation is more effective and the overall design of headphones are more aesthetically sound.

To counter argue, supporters of earphones would say that it is much more comfortable to wear all day, doesn’t fall off while doing sports or running and delivers decent sound even on low volume.

So which one is better? I would say none. Both are great in their own different way. Both have their fair share of disadvantages as well.

To help you decide which one to choose, I will elaborate on the difference between headphone vs earphone in the upcoming sections.

What Is a Headphone?

Monster sized portable music gears (which looked more like ear-muffs and less like headphones) came into existence in the year 1980. Although the origin of headphones dates back to 1910. The size of headphones gradually decreased with the passage of time.

Over-the-ear headphones, circumaural in shape, fully seal your ear surface. Thus, these are the most effective type of headphones for noise isolation.

On-ear or supra-aural headphones sit on the ear surface but doesn’t completely seal it. The soft cushioning on the earcups make it comfortable to wear. Teenagers love flaunting these contemporary, edgy, funky headphone designs.

Due to the large size, headphones are able to use dynamic drivers with large diaphragms. These huge cone-like diaphragms are great at producing bass-tones. That’s why the ardent admirers of headphones rave about the bass and overall sound quality. They do sound great

What Is an Earphone

Earphones are basically the miniature version of headphones. It started becoming popular from the 70’s and since then, people can’t stop loving it.
Although most earbuds are designed to rest in your ear canal, some models can sit only on your outer ear as well.

Earphones are basically the miniature version of headphones. It started becoming popular from the 70’s and since then, people can’t stop loving it. Although most earbuds are designed to rest in your ear canal, some models can sit only on your outer ear as well.

They are much more portable than headphones due to its lightweight. With the advent of wireless and TWS earbuds, you don’t even have to worry about dealing with tangled wires. Since the buds rest in your ear only, it won’t fatigue your head and neck after prolonged use.

One popular variation of in-ear phones is earplug. These are generally worn at night to cancel out ambient noise to ensure sound sleep.

Headphones vs Earphones- Key Differences


Headphones are big and cover your entire ear surface, but it doesn’t seal the auditory surface. Open-ear headphones allow external noise inside to help you stay aware of the surrounding.

If you want noise cancellation feature, you can purchase a closed-cup model. These are great for wearing in traffic, busy airports and crowded streets.

Earphones entirely seal your eardrums. Most models come with several tips. If you manage to find the right tip size for your ear canal, you will be able to comfortably wear them for hours.

Sound Quality

Nobody wants to buy a music device if it doesn’t sound amazing. Headphones houses  30-53 mm drivers, which is why they are sound dynamic. Top-end models include more than one driver in them. In practice, multiple large drivers can generate different frequency range and also increase the loudness. Hence, the audio quality of headphones is much better than earphones.

Most earphones incorporate 8-15 mm diameters. You will have to crank up the volume to max in order enjoy music to the fullest. However, if you mostly listen to soft, mellow music, earphones will serve you well.

Noise Cancellation

The large earcups of headphones active and effectively filter a good amount of background noise. The only to get a decent noise cancelation from earbuds is to increase the volume.

Comfort and Portability

This is the area where earphones shine. The toned won version of headphones, these tiny gears stick firmly to your ear canals during a rigorous workout, running and even swimming (if the buds are waterproof). If you want to listen to music in the gym, while playing sports or running, earphones are definitely the better option.

Headphones are bulky. The cushioned earcups can make your ears hot and sweaty after a few hours of use. It’s best for gaming and watching movies indoors. However, if you have really small ear canals or have some kind of ear infection, headphones will be much comfortable to wear than earphones. However, many brands manufactured specialized earphones.

Headphones or Earphones- Who Is the Winner?

Since I am a hardcore audiophile and video game enthusiast, headphones are a clear winner for me. Among earphones and headphones, the latter is better at capturing bass tones. If you are a bass lover, without a doubt, you should go for headphones.

On the other hand, if you want to enjoy music while exercising, during daily commute or at a cafe, earphones should be the obvious choice for you. These mini, lightweight devices feel like a extension of your ears.

And just because it uses small drivers, it doesn’t necessarily mean it sounds bad. Quality earbud from a well-known brand sound just as good as an expensive pair of headphones.

Vitaly Fedorov

Vitaly Fedorov is a seasoned audio technician and writer. After spending ten years in a studio team, I have decided to spread my knowledge to people in this domain. On this site, I work for headphone fixing or repair issues, that you’re thinking about fixing. Click on any article on my site and read the complete answer about that issue. I am excited to read your feedback.

Recent Posts