Earphones Vs. Earbuds: What's The Difference?

Learn which is better for comfort, sound, and durability

Although companies like to stretch definitions to fit their marketing needs, the difference between earphones and earbuds essentially boils down to one thing: Earphones (also called in-ear headphones or in-ears) are inserted into the ear canal, and earbuds rest outside the ear canal. We've compiled a comparison guide to help you decide which type of headphones is the best fit for you.

Earbuds

  • Easier to clean.

  • Sub-par sound performance.

  • Less secure fit.

Earphones

  • Superior audio quality.

  • Snugger fit.

  • Less durable.

Earbuds Pros and Cons

Advantages

  • Generally less expensive.

  • Doesn't completely cancel noise.

Disadvantages

  • Weaker volume and bass.

  • More likely to fall out while exercising.

Earbuds usually do not have cushions, but some do. Rather than sitting inside the ear canal, they are meant to be held in place by the concha ridge at the center of your outer ear. They are often one-size-fits-all, which may not be comfortable to wear. Depending on the shape of your ear ridges, they may not fit securely and may fall out frequently. This shortcoming is annoying, especially if you are wearing them for sports and exercise. Some have wings or loops to tuck under the ridges of the ear to help keep them in place.

Man wearing ear buds
Tara Moore/Getty Images

Earbuds allow in ambient noise so that you can hear what is going on around you. That way, you don't feel sealed off from your environment, which provides a small measure of safety for outdoor exercise such as running or walking while wearing earbuds.

If you're buying earbuds, the good news is they are often less expensive than earphones and in-ear headphones. If you want something for the gym that you don't mind banging up, or if you need the umpteenth pair for your teenager, earbuds are your friends.

Earphones Pros and Cons

Advantages

  • Stronger volume and base.

  • Noise canceling options.

  • Different cushion sizes.

Disadvantages

  • High-end earphones are expensive.

  • Less comfortable.

Earphones, or in-ear headphones, 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. Some are shaped to lock into the concha and have a protrusion that extends further into the ear canal. You can even get high-end earphones that are custom-fitted to your ear with an ear mold done by an audiologist.

As with earbuds, you may find that they fall out if the fit is not snug enough, and they may not be comfortable if the fit is too tight. The kind that is designed to lock into your concha may be more secure, but you may also be trading off some comfort. The wires may extend straight down, or they may be designed to go up and over the ear, or swivel for either configuration.

Despite their small size, earphones can get into the extremely high end of the price and performance spectrum. Many models have noise-canceling features too.

Wireless Earbuds and Earphones

Wireless versions of earbuds and in-ear headphones, as well as smart earbuds, often have a larger earpiece to accommodate the Bluetooth mechanism and controls for the headphones. Some models come with a thicker behind-the-neck cord. These features add additional bulk and weight, and they have batteries that you need to recharge after a few hours of use.

After Apple eliminated the audio jack port upon the release of the iPhone 7, many more designs have entered the marketplace for wireless earbuds and earphones. Apple itself released AirPods, which are lightweight and have a long battery life. Samsung got into the game with Galaxy Buds, followed by Amazon, which introduced their Echo Buds The latter works with Alexa, Amazon's virtual assistant.

Final Verdict

All earphones and earbuds are not created equally, so you should experiment with different types before you rule out either option. If audio quality is your top priority, then you'll want to invest in some heavy-duty earphones.

No matter whether you choose headphones, earphones, or earbuds, they need to be cleaned periodically to remove the buildup of oils, earwax, and dirt that can accumulate. Regular cleaning will extend the life of your listening devices and reduce the chance of irritation.