Earphone vs Headphone: What Are the Differences?

Can’t choose between earphone vs headphone? In a nutshell, the main difference between these two audio devices is that earphones are extremely portable but have limited functionality. In contrast, headphones tend to offer more advanced features but at the expense of portability. Here’s a closer look at the differences between earphones and headphones.



Photo showing the size difference between earphones vs headphones

The greatest advantage of earphones — and the reason that most people generally buy them — is their small, unobtrusive size. Whereas headphones tend to be large, bulky, and tight around the head, earphones can fit snugly on the outside of your ear. For the average consumer, this convenience and portability is more important than sound quality and advanced features. 

For a certain type of hardcore music head, however, the right pair of high-quality headphones can make or break the audio experience. Size may be less of a concern for them.


Photo showing the design and build difference between earphones and headphones

Headphones consist of different components, including the headband, connecting joints, large dynamic drivers, and ear cups. 

Earphones, on the other hand, consist of just a single part: the earpiece, which is covered by foam ear cushions. Unlike in-ear monitors (IEMs) and earbuds with protruding ear-tips covered by either silicone or memory foams, earphones have a flat surface.  

So, which one is better? The quality of the build depends on the materials used in the design, ranging anywhere from cheap plastic to high-quality metal or wood. 


Photo showing different types of headphones

The choice of earphone vs headphone often comes down to the various types available. If you opt for earphones, there are two types to choose from – the simple clip-on earphone that bends around the contours of your outer ear and the classic design that sits just outside the ear canal without any additional support. 

If you opt for headphones instead, you have open-back, closed-back, on-ear, and over-ear headphones. 

Open-back headphones deliver a more natural and open sound by enabling air to pass through the back of the cups. However, they perform poorly at isolating audio, which can pass in and out of the headphones with ease. 

On the other hand, open-back headphones block more noise, which may prove useful in offices, gyms, and public spaces. For over-ear and on-ear headphones, the difference is the position of the earcups on your ears – on-ear means that cups rest on top of your ears, while over-ear headphones surround your ears. 

Both audio devices also have wireless versions. 

Battery Life

Photo showing of a person holding a pair of wireless earphones and a charging case.

Wireless earphones and headphones offer more convenience and freedom at the expense of higher up-front costs and the hassle of constantly charging your device. But keep in mind that the longevity of the charge always depends on the battery’s capacity. This is where headphones tend to have a distinct advantage. A good pair of headphones has a long battery life, often lasting more than a day on a single charge. 

By contrast, the Apple AirPods (an earphone) supports up to 4.5 hours of listening time and up to 3.5 hours of talk time on a single charge. It has a charging case, which extends the earphones’ usability, especially when you are on the go. 

Sound Quality

Close up picture of open-back headphones

Any consumer who prioritizes immersive high-fidelity audio above all else should generally opt for a nice pair of headphones. A premium pair will have a lightweight neodymium magnet that can deliver high-quality audio and a wide range of sounds. 

By contrast, earphones rarely compete on the sound quality front. Since earphones favor a compact and portable size, this means they have smaller drivers, which are limited in delivering excellent audio quality.  

For the average consumer who wants a functional and reasonably priced pair of earphones, this may not matter much. But true audiophiles are more likely to notice the differences in audio quality. 


Picture of a woman listening to music

Comfort often comes down to a matter of personal preference. Some people find the sensation of a band pressing tightly against their heads unappealing, while others hate how headphones trap heat and sweat. On the other hand, earphones tend to be less noticeable, but some people may not like it pressing against the ear nonetheless. 

No matter which one you choose, however, you will generally have to pay extra money for better comfort. 


Photo showing the portability difference between earphone vs headphone.

The choice between an earphone vs headphone often comes down to portability. No matter what you buy, earphones will fit comfortably in almost any storage space, including pockets, purses, and backpacks. They’re especially convenient during workout sessions when the small, compact size matters. 

Headphones are harder to carry around due to their large and bulky size. If not stored in the right condition, a pair of headphones can become scratched or broken. If you plan to take your headphones outside of the home, then you might want to invest in a sturdy case to keep them safe. Some earphones already come with a case or charging station right out of the box, ensuring an extra degree of protection. 

Noise Isolation

A photo of a person wearing headphones

Closed-back headphones generally deliver better noise cancellation. They cover the entire breadth of the ear and provide ample insulation from outside noises. However, almost any premium pair of headphones, like the AirPods Max, will come standard with active noise-canceling technology. ANC works by tracking outside sounds with a microphone and nullifying them. This leaves you to bask alone in the audio experience. 

Depending on the quality of the material and the size of the device, earphones can also sometimes block out unwanted noises. Some models like the truefree O1 come standard with noise canceling technology out of the box. 

But in general, the inherent design of the earphone, which covers only part of the ear, makes it more difficult to seal your eardrums from outside noise. If you prioritize the most immersive audio experience that blocks out the ambient sound around you, then headphones are a good choice.


In terms of price point, cost-conscious consumers tend to opt for the cheaper earphones over the more expensive headphones. Their smaller size, combined with their minimalistic features and technology, translates to lower costs.

While it might be possible to find a functional pair of headphones for less than $50, a good pair will often cost more than $100. A premium pair with a full suite of features and excellent sound quality, such as the Bowers & Wilkins PX8, can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. A few premium earphones are available for over $100, but in general, you can buy a pair for as little as $20.

Earphone vs Headphone: Which One Should You Get?

The choice between an earphone vs headphone can be challenging to make. If you’re seeking a high-quality audio experience, you should get headphones because, generally, they offer a better listening experience. But if you lean towards the benefits of minimalistic form and function, then earphones might be the right choice for you. 

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