Home > News > Faq

what is the difference between in-ear headphones and earbuds


Although most of companies like to stretch these definitions to fit their marketing needs, the difference between earphones and earbuds essentially boils down to this: Earphones (also called in-ear headphones) are inserted into the ear canal. Earbuds rest outside the ear canal.

Earphones often feature different sizes and types of ear cushions to achieve the most comfortable fit possible. Examples of cushions include memory foam, rubber and silicone.

There are many different terms used to describe all the various types of in-ear listening devices. You’ve probably heard several terms such as earbuds, earphones, in-ear headphones. However, you may not be sure what the differences are between all of them. Let’s take an in-depth look at each of these terms and see how they differ.


earbuds This is the term that is most commonly used. Technically, “earbuds” are the types of listening devices that sit at the entrance of the ear canal but do not actually go inside. Rather, they have a flat or slightly convex surface where the sound comes out so the bud can rest up against the entrance to the ear canal. The original iPod earbuds are a good example of this style (pictured on right).

Because earbuds do not actually go inside the ear canal to form an air-tight seal, they do not really offer much noise blockage or sound isolation. However, it should be noted that not all earbuds have a completely flat listening surface. Some models are designed to protrude slightly into the entrance of the ear canal without actually going in and forming a seal. Bose’s IE2’sand Apple’s more recent Earpods are both good examples of this design. This style of earbud has a slight advantage over the flat-surfaced models because it allows the sound to seem slightly closer and provides a small amount of sound isolation.

Earbuds are usually found on the cheaper end of the spectrum of personal listening devices. There are some higher quality and more expensive earbuds out there, but for true high-quality audio you’ll want to look into a good pair of in-ear headphones.

In-Ear Headphones/Earphones:

in-ear headphones,earphones “In-ear headphones” and “earphones” are basically the same thing. These are the types of listening devices that actually get inserted into the ear canal. A complete seal must be formed around the tip of the earphone to isolate the sound and block out noise.

The true sound quality of the earphones will not be able to come through if they are not sealed off from the outside. Therefore, these types of listening devices usually comes with different sized tips made out of silicon, rubber, or foam to help create a comfortable yet complete seal within the ear canal. The Monster Turbines are a popular example of this style (pictured on right).

In-ear headphones are best suited for listening situations where sound quality and noise blockage are important factors. Because they form a seal within the ear canal, they are much better at blocking out noise than regular earbuds. They are also able to provide much better sound quality because they create their own closed-off sound environment within the ear.

There are several manufacturers who produce cheap in-ear headphones that are just as affordable as earbuds, but a high quality pair of in-ear headphones will usually be significantly more expensive than even the best earbuds that are available. This is because earbuds generally can’t provide the level of sound quality, noise blockage, and stability that in-ear headphones are capable of.

If you want to go one step above in-ear headphones and move up to the highest quality that is available, consider purchasing a pair of professional in-ear monitors.


As you can see, there are several different names used to describe a variety of similar products. However, the term “earbuds” is generally used as an umbrella term to cover to any of these particular devices. On this website for example, the word “earbud” is often used as a general term in reference to a product that may technically be an earphone, in-ear monitor, or something else. Generic terms like this are useful for simplifying communication. But, now that you know the differences and the proper terminology, you will be better able to identify which specific product type you’re looking for that will best suit your needs.

Don't let their small sizes fool you - earphones can get into the extremely high end of the price and performance spectrum. For example, the IE 80 in-ear headphones from Sennheisercost around $450 (as of November 2012).

Ear buds usually do not have cushions (although they can), and they are often less expensive than earphones and in-ear headphones. If you want something for the gym that you don't care if you step on them on the treadmill, or if you need the thirty-umpth pair for your teenager, ear buds are your friends.

Keywords:earphones,earbuds,in-ear headphones,headphones