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Headphones or earphones—what is the difference between these two?

If you love music and movies the way we do and are up for a way to watch and listen privately, especially while on the go or in transit, then you might be thinking about purchasing a new pair of headphones. Or were you thinking of earphones instead?

Headphones or earphones? The choice between the two isn’t always clear-cut and simple, but we can definitely help you make that selection, depending on your needs and particular situation.

By earphones, also known as earbuds, we refer to those small, sleek little buds that you insert into your ear canal, whereas when we refer to headphones we talk about the much larger devices that sit on your outer ears and may even fully cover them. Both earphones and headphones come in wired and wireless versions to suit your preference (as well as your music sources, since an increasing number of devices nowadays don’t come with the headphone jacks that wired earphones and headphones need to be plugged into to operate).

In terms of comfort and convenience, for most people, earphones easily trump headphones. Headphones, even the smallest units, can be bulky, making them less than ideal for use during exercise, for instance. They can also mess up hair, be hard to use with caps, hats or bonnets, and be quite uncomfortable if you wear eyeglasses or earrings. Some people, however, find inserting and keeping earphones in their ear canals painful, and thus go for headphones. Others find that they need to bump up the volume on earphones when using them outside, which can risk damaging hearing.

Storage-wise, earphones are undeniably superior to headphones. If like most people you prefer to carry as small and light a bag as possible, then earphones will probably be your pick of the two. Earphones are smaller and lighter than headphones could ever be, and even the corded versions can rapidly and quickly be stowed in a far smaller bag or case than the smallest headphones require. (We’ve seen people store headphones on the outside of their messenger bags or backpacks while on the go—we can’t recommend doing this, especially if you live or travel in areas where the risk of snatching or theft is high.) And of course it goes without saying that wireless or Bluetooth earphones are the most convenient of all, because they’re so tiny that they can fit practically anywhere (making them a little easier to lose, as a matter of fact).

Alright, which of the two would be a better pick in terms of sound quality? Our answer is—it depends. In general, headphones deliver better sound quality than earphones because, given their physical setup, they block out ambient noise or the noise from your surroundings, and also have larger components which allow them to blast out deeper bass more consistently.

But this isn’t always a cut-and-dried victory for headphones; thanks to technology such as active noise cancellation, quite a few earphone models do deliver really excellent sound (yes, bass tunes included) that can be equal or superior to what many headphones can boast. Check out individual reviews of units you’re interested in to see how they sound, or try them out for yourself in the stores.

Lastly, what about in terms of price? The rule of thumb is that earphones can and most often do cost less than headphones (you can find really inexpensive headphones for a song nowadays). But once again this is far from a blanket statement, as some relatively expensive (sometimes very expensive) earphones are available if you look for them. Commensurate with the price are the features each model offers; you may of course need to pay extra for active noise cancellation, for example, and wireless models nearly always cost more than their wired equivalents. It depends on how much you’re willing to fork out and what features are most important to you.

So there you have it—a quick comparison of earphones and headphones in terms of comfort and convenience, sound quality, and price. Pick the solutions that best suit your circumstances, needs and budget! And, hey, if you’re undecided between earphones and headphones, you might actually prefer to invest in both; you might use earphones while running or at the gym, for instance, and wear headphones while at home or in the office.

You can also check out our top 5 gadgets for audiophiles like you.



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