Earbuds vs. Earphones: What Are the Differences?

If you are ready to shop for your next audio device, you may find yourself confused by all of your different options. For example, have you compared earbuds vs. earphones? They look the same, but both have their pros and cons. Here’s a look at the two so that you can make the right choice. 


Photo showing the design differences of earphones and earbuds.

At first glance, the design differences between earbuds and earphones aren’t that obvious. But, there is quite a bit of difference. 

Earbuds or in-ears include interchangeable rubber tips that fight right in the ear canal, providing you with a more secure fit and more isolated sound experience. 

Earphones are the opposite. They do not have rubber tips. Instead, they feature a removable foam or similar material cover designed to add a bit of a cushion. They also don’t go all the way into your ear canal; they sit on the concha or the opening before the ear canal.  

Some people prefer the old-school design of earphones because it is more comfortable to wear and allow some noise to pass through. 

Sound Quality

There is a more drastic difference between earbuds and earphones in terms of audio quality, which is partly because of how manufacturers design them. 

For instance, since earphones sit outside of your ear canal, it doesn’t provide a better seal to block outside noise. As a result, whatever music or anything else you may be listening to may feel more muted or may be harder to hear. There is also sound leakage. 

Now, if we take a look at earbuds, they isolate sound better because of their interchangeable silicone tips, which, as mentioned earlier, creates a better seal. The seal also contributes to better bass.  

In short, between the two, earbuds offer better sound quality but may be too overwhelming or immersive to some. 


Photo showing the difference of wired earphones and wireless earbuds

Many people prefer an audio device that is pocketable and easy to carry. If you are one of them, you’ll be glad to know that both earbuds and earphones are compact enough to carry inside your pocket or bag, especially when you compare them to headphones (over-ear headphones, in-ear headphones, open-back headphones, on-ear headphones, closed-back headphones, and wireless headphones).

The question now is how important portability is to you. 

Earbuds can be wired or wireless. The latter is more convenient to carry because they have a case that doubles as a charger. And since there are no wires, you don’t have to take the extra steps to tie or wrap the cables neatly.  

Most earphones come with a cable. While they are small and portable, they can become tangled more easily. Plus, if you use them while working out at the gym, the cables can get in the way. 


Photo showing the earphone foams and the earbuds' tips

When it comes to comfort, earphones reign supreme for many people because, as mentioned earlier, they just sit before your ear canal. In short, you are not jamming a pointed silicone or memory foam tip into your ear. 

However, there’s something to keep in mind: Earphones are one size fits all. There’s no workaround to make the fit better for your ears. Sure, you can replace the foam cushions, but that’s about it. 

With earbuds, replacing their ear tips can drastically improve comfort. For instance, if you find the stock rubber tips uncomfortable, you can switch to memory foam, which is softer. But again, some people say the one cons of earbuds is that they can still be painful to use when worn for an extended period of time. 

So, at the end of the day, deciding between the two in terms of comfort will depend on the shape of your ear. 

Noise Cancellation

Woman using wireless earbuds.

As mentioned previously, there’s a big difference between noise cancellation qualities in the match of earbuds vs. earphones. 

Since earbuds do snugly fit in the ear canal, there’s very little room for any sound to get through to your ears. On the other hand, earphones allow more ambient noise in because, again, of how they are designed. 

If sound isolation is the most critical factor to you, then earbuds are the clear winner.

Keep in mind that some true wireless earbuds, like the Apple AirPods Pro, come with active noise cancellation (ANC) for a more immersive listening experience. 


So, earbuds vs. earphones, which one is for you? If you find earbuds’ tips uncomfortable, then you should go for earphones. But, if you value noise isolation, you should get earbuds. 

Remember, there are positives and negatives to both, so be sure to try them in person before making a decision. 

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