The term “headphones” refers to a wide range of audio-to-sound converters. The difference between earbuds and regular headphones is significant.
Before we get started, it’s important to understand that “headphones” is a broad term. However, headphones are commonly referred to as ear-covering headphones, whereas earbuds are referred to as ear-inserted headphones.
Earbuds are widely used in the consumer, medical, and professional in-ear monitor markets.
Headphones are widely used in the consumer market, as well as in the professional audio, film, and broadcasting industries.
What Is The Difference Between Earbuds And Headphones?
The most noticeable distinction is the size: earbuds are small and designed to fit inside the ear, whereas regular headphones are larger and designed to sit on top of the ear. We hear these types in a variety of ways. Each of these “types” of headphones is further subdivided into “sub-types.”
So the terminology is a little off to begin with, but we’ll clear that up in this article. We’ll go over the various types of headphones and how they differ.
What Are Headphones and How Do You Use Them?
Any sound transducers that you wear on your head are referred to as headphones. Earphones and headsets are included in this definition. When comparing headphones to earphones, however, they can have a more defined meaning.
A pair of transducers worn on the head with cups that press on or around the ears is a more specific (but still broad) definition of headphones.
Visual aids are always beneficial to explanations. Here’s a diagram with the various parts of a pair of headphones labeled:
The headband is worn over the head, and the ear cups are placed around the ears, as can be seen. Closed-back circumaural (over-ear) headphones, such as the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro, are an example.
Let’s take a quick look at the various components:
The headband is a type of headphone. The device’s headband is a near-essential component. It physically connects the ear cups and aids in keeping the ear cups in place around the ears.
Ear cups: The headphones’ electronics and drivers are housed in the ear cups. To produce their “anti-noise” signals, active noise-cancelling headphones have microphones in the interior or exterior of their earcups, as well as active circuitry within the earcups. Cups can have open or closed backs, which prevent or allow air to enter or exit the cups, respectively.
Cushions: Cushions are primarily for ergonomics, but they also aid in tuning and dampening the headphones, as well as providing ear sealing in many circumaural (over-ear) headphones.
In headphones, the drivers are the transducer elements. They are necessary for converting audio to sound. Moving-coil dynamic, planar magnetic, and electrostatic headphones all have different types of drivers.
Cables are used to carry audio signals from the audio source to the drivers in wired headphones. A wireless receiver (or receivers) built into the microphone itself, usually in the ear cup, replaces the cable in wireless headphones.
The plug, once again, is only for wired headphones and connects them to the appropriate headphone jack. It’s worth noting that many non-Bluetooth wireless headphones have external transmitters that plug into their designated headphone outputs.
Headphones come in a variety of styles (form factors). Let’s take a look at each one individually:
What Are Earphones and How Do You Use Them?
Earphones, not headphones, are worn in the ear canal. Rather than just outside the ear canals, their drivers produce sound within them. Earphones, as can be seen, are designed similarly to headphones. Both types require drivers as well as a signal path to deliver the audio signal to the drivers. Again, this could be done through a wired or wireless connection.
The housings of the design of the earphones replace the ear cups of the headphones. The “housings” are inserted into the ear canal.
The housing, like the ear cup of the headphones, may or may not allow outside noise to reach the eardrum. Custom in-ear monitors usually do a good job of sealing the ear canal of the person for whom they’re made. Earbuds, on the other hand, allow some external noise to pass through to the eardrum.
A good amount of passive noise-cancellation is achieved if a seal can be achieved. Additionally, active noise-cancelling earphones can be designed into sealing earphones.
The earphones’ sleeves/covers are analogous to the headphone cushions. These silicone or rubber covers aren’t on all earphones (earbuds often aren’t), but they are on a lot of them, so they’re worth mentioning.
Headphones vs. Earphones: What’s the Difference?
The size and the way earphones are worn are the two most noticeable differences between headphones and earphones.
The size difference is especially significant when it comes to driver sizes. While headphone drivers are typically 20mm – 50mm in diameter, earphone drivers are typically 8mm – 15mm in diameter. The diameter of the driver diaphragm is referred to as driver size.
A 50mm diaphragm in an earphone design that fits into the listener’s ear canal is physically impossible.
Although an 8mm driver could theoretically fit into a pair of headphones, the small driver size would likely be ineffective at pushing enough air to produce a powerful sound. This is especially true in the case of bass frequencies.
Try slowly pulling your earphone away from your ear to demonstrate this point. You’ll notice a quick drop-off in low-end sound. Even if your ear is cupped, this is true.
Check out my article What Is A Good Driver Size For Headphones? for more information on headphone driver sizes.
The way they’re usually worn is another obvious difference.
To connect the two earcups and keep them in place, headphones require a headband. The ear cups of the headphones cannot be inserted into the ear canal.
Some earphones come with a headband. However, most earbuds simply fit into the listener’s ear canals, so this isn’t necessary.
As a result, the size of the driver and how we wear headphones and earphones differ. What are the remaining distinctions?
The way they interact with our eardrums, on the other hand, is quite different.
Earphones, as we all know, fit into our ear canals. Apart from making it easier to keep them in place, it also seals the ear canal. This is truer of properly fitted in-ear monitors than of consumer-grade earbuds, which may allow some air in and out. Let’s pretend the ear canal is sealed for the sake of argument.
The earphone driver and the eardrum are directly coupled as a result of the seal. Any movement of the earphone diaphragm should cause the same movement in the eardrum, but in the opposite direction, in this closed system. This means that the drivers don’t need to push a lot of air to get a loud sound.
Headphones, on the other hand, are rarely, if ever, sealed.
Closed-back headphones have a sealed design that improves bass response at the expense of stereo width. However, their drivers must still push a significant amount of air to achieve “loudness.”
Because open-back and on-ear headphones allow sound to escape from their enclosures, they require more air to achieve the same bass response and volume.
Another distinction worth noting is that balanced armature drivers are only available in earphones. These are miniature dynamic drivers (based on electromagnetism) that oscillate their small diaphragms using a conductive springboard. In-ear monitors frequently use a variety of BA drivers.
Check out my article The Complete Guide To Balanced Armature IEMs/Earphones for more information on balanced armature drivers.
Earphones and headphones have a lot in common.
After we’ve gone over the differences between headphones and earphones, it’s important to remember how similar they are. There are many Bluetooth Headphones That Look Like Earplugs.
Here’s a rundown of how headphones and earphones are alike:
Audio signals (electrical energy) are converted into sound waves by transducers.
Located next to the ear.
Moving-coil dynamic, planar magnetic, and electrostatic drivers are all available.
Noise-cancelling capabilities that are both passive and active.
There are numerous differences in sound quality between models.
Both headphones and earphones are designed to convert audio signals into sound for our enjoyment. To convert audio to sound, they use many of the same driver types (transducer designs).
The moving-coil dynamic driver is the most common driver type in both headphones and earphones. Planar magnetic and electrostatic drivers, on the other hand, are used in different ways to perform the same conversion. Both headphones and earphones use planar magnetic and electrostatic drivers.
Finally, it’s important to note that neither headphones nor earphones are superior to one another. It’s extremely application-specific, as well as subjective.
To add to that, the sound and build quality of low-end earphones and high-end earphones, as well as low-end headphones and high-end headphones, differ significantly.
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