Headphones vs. Headsets: What Are the Differences?

Are you wondering what the difference between headphones and headsets is? Many are confused between these two audio devices. In this article, we will discuss the differences between these types of headphones, from audio quality to noise isolation, helping you decide which is better suited for your personal preference and needs. 


Woman using a headset

You might have heard that only headsets have microphones. A more accurate statement would be that only headsets have quality microphones.

You can find certain styles of headphones with built-in microphones, including smartphone earbuds. They have what are called “in-line mics” that are built into their cables. However, these mics leave much to be desired regarding sound quality. Not only are they poor at external noise cancellation, but they’re only designed to be strong enough for things like phone calls and voice-activated commands.

By contrast, headsets, like gaming headsets or ones used in office or call center settings, come with an attached boom microphone. This results in a richer level of sound in terms of output. If you’re looking to receive and transmit excellent audio levels, you will need a headset.

Build Quality

The build quality of a headset or a pair of headphones refers to how it’s made. What materials does it use? How durable is it? How do all of its functions and features come together?

This is a category where results can differ depending on the model you buy, so it’s hard to declare a winner. For example, over-headphone earcups can be made with leather or pleather, while its headband uses memory foam. On the other hand, in-ear tips can be made with foam, silicone, or other soft materials of varying quality. 

Headsets can have cheap, flimsy, or high-end mics with many control settings. The overall longevity of your tech can also depend on its settings: For example, headphones with an active noise cancellation (ANC) feature will eat through your battery life twice as quickly.

Generally speaking, since headsets are cheaper, they’re usually made with lower-quality materials. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but it’s a general principle. If you’re looking for high-quality craftsmanship that can last for years, a pair of top-tier headphones or headsets are the way to go.

Sound Quality

Despite having lower-quality microphones, headphones offer better sound quality and listening experience. This is especially true if you’re investing in professional-level headphones. Depending on your model, a good pair of headphones can come with everything from active noise cancellation to adjustable sound controls for things like bass and treble.

Headphones are also available in multiple styles: open-back, closed-back, and on-ear. You can pretty much customize your level of sound isolation just based on engineering alone.  For instance, a pair of closed-back, over-ear headphones will create a seal that blocks out ambient noise better than any other kind.

On the other hand, headsets tend to be focused more on microphone quality. Again, this is most obvious at the professional level. While you might not notice a difference between a $20 headset and a $20 pair of headsets, the changes will be much more apparent when they’re $100 or more. Namely, a top-performing headset will only deliver the quality of a mid-range level of headphones. If you’re a “nothing but the best” kind of shopper, headphones are the ones for you.


Headphones and headsets are both available at a wide range of prices. You can find cheap ones for short-term usage and premium, top-of-the-line models for serious audiophiles.

Pound for pound, however, headsets tend to be more affordable than headphones. You might think their added microphone would make them more expensive, but their diminished sound quality usually offsets this expense.

Since headphones prioritize good audio, their electronic drivers are more robust, and their price is higher. Headphones can also skyrocket in price when they start adding special or premium-level features for serious audio enthusiasts.


Which is more comfortable, headphone or headset?

The reigning champ is usually headphones. You can choose exactly how they rest on your head since they’re available in multiple styles, such as over-ear and on-ear. The most luxurious will also be thickly padded to cradle your ears from their clamp force.

Headsets aren’t uncomfortable, but they have an attached microphone that can make them bulkier and heavier. However, it is possible to find lightweight, less unwieldy headsets than heavyweight, high-end headphones.


Headphones and smartphone on a desk.

The convenience of your audio equipment will depend a lot on its intended purpose. An office worker using a headset for VoIP will have different needs than a “Call of Duty” player using a headset for his Xbox or other console.

Take portability, for example. You can buy headsets with mics and other parts that disassemble, and you can buy noise-canceling headphones with foldable earcups that fit within a compact carrying case. These on-the-go features might be great for travelers, but they’ll be unnecessary expenses for a sound mixer who only uses their studio equipment.

Before buying your next piece of tech, ask yourself what you need from it. What will make your life easier when you use the product?

Headphones vs Headsets?

At the end of the day, there’s no clear winner between headphones and headsets. Headphones tend to deliver higher input sound quality, but their microphones could be better. Meanwhile, headsets have great microphone quality but lack the sound quality needed by serious audiophiles. Ultimately, deciding which audio-listening device suits your needs will be up to you.

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