Headphones vs Earphones: comparing Sound, Comfort, and Safety


Have you ever found yourself wondering whether to buy headphones or earbuds? Well, I have also. In this comprehensive guide, we compare headphones and earphones in terms of sound quality, portability, general features, damage to ears, and their use for working out.

Headphones are better than earphones in terms of ear safety, comfort, and sound quality. On the other hand, earphones are better in terms of portability and ease of use as a carry-on or for working out. However, the verdict depends on what you are using each one of them for.

To answer the question of which is better, we tested a number of headphones alongside a similar number of earphones and compared them in terms of features, safety, damage to ears, and working out.

Headphones or Earphones: which has better features

Here is an insight into how both gadgets, we compared from different angles and giving the better option on each comparison. But, based on our listening and testing, we conclude that headphones perform much better than most earphones.

To answer this question, we did a listening party, reviewing based on 5 different aspects and functionalities to rate them. We explored the two using sound quality, noise cancellation, comfort, portability and safety as the main functionalities, and the results are here.

1. Sound Quality – Frequency and Pitch

Ideally, both gadgets should respond equally well to the different aspects of sound. In this case, we will consider their frequency response curve and pitch, to know which are better for ears between the two.

Sounds come in different frequency ranges. Good quality headphones or earphones should be capable of differentiating and transmitting the different frequency ranges as intended, a phenomenon known as flat frequency response.

Unfortunately, distortion is common not only with these accessories but also with speakers.

However, I noticed that distortion is more common in earphones that it is in headphones.

As such, the former tend to transmit one frequency range louder than another and thus compromise the quality of sound. The same observation was made by James.

Verdict: Headphones are better than earphones with regards to frequency response curve.   

2. Noise Cancellation and Isolation

Picture yourself walking down the street – all that noise and chatter is distracting, right? One of the conveniences of listening to music through the ear music gadgets is that you can drown out outside noise from your immediate environment.

Noise isolation and cancellation are two different concepts. Both accessories have noise isolation features whereby they minimize outside noise. However, we still have to determine, headphones or earphones which are better.

Which are better in noise cancellation, headphones or earphones?

Earphones are the best at this as they are designed to fit into your ear canal and seal it off from outside sounds. Headphones, however, are incapable of isolating all outside noise as they don’t seal off your ear canal fully, so some sound will get in.

As noted by sound experts, noise cancellation, also known as Active Noice Control (ANC) is more complicated. It involves processing outside noise like the hum of an air conditioner and converting the sounds into sound waves that cancel out with whatever you are listening to.

Noise cancellation is more complicated. It involves processing outside noise like the hum of an air conditioner and converting the sounds into sound waves that cancel out with whatever you are listening to.

However, they are still vulnerable to high-pitch noise and sudden sounds and thus work best in a controlled environment with consistent background noise.

Headphones are better at sound cancellation compared to earphones as they have extra room to accommodate sophisticated noise cancellation technology.

Verdict: Earphones are better at noise isolation when compared to headphones as they are able to seal off the ear canal hen fitted in properly. On the other hand, headphones are better at noise cancellation as they can accommodate more electronics necessary for processing outside noise.  

3. Comfort

Most Headphones and most earphones are built for convenience and comfort. They make it possible to listen to music anywhere without inconveniencing those around you or putting up with the outside noise and chatter. However, there is a limit to this comfort and convenience.

The comfort of earphones largely depends on the shape of your cavum conchae, which is the opening right outside your ear canal.

Everyone has a unique shape of the cavum conchae, and some shapes are just not convenient for wearing earphones.

All in all, the concern still remains; headphones or earphones which are better for ears. By design, earphones should fit perfectly into this space.

If they do not, then they will either slip off often or press hard against your ear lobes. This is why wearing earphones results in fatigue after some time and eventually may cause mild or severe pain.

Which are comfortable between headphones and earphones?

Headphones are more comfortable compared to earphones, but this also depends on certain factors. For starters, headphones that press hard against your earlobes eventually lead to fatigue and may also cause mild pain – this is especially common in users with large earlobes.

Additionally, headphones with small cups do not fare much better than earphones.

Headphones vs Earphones hearing damage, Which is Safer

The ideal headphones, in this case, should have a flexible headband capable of distributing the weight across your head, large cups that will rest evenly on your ears, and well-padded cups that will not make your ears sweat.

Verdict: Wearing these music gadgets for prolonged periods of time always leads to discomfort and irritation. So, in terms of comfort, headphones or earphones which are better for ears?

Here, we found that headphones are more comfortable than earphones, but the level of comfort depends on a variety of factors such as design, size, and even the shape of your ears.

4. Portability

Either of the two is designed to enable you to listen to music anywhere, whether walking down the street or flying on a plane. To this end, portability is a key factor to take into consideration.

That is why I created a guide on this, especially when you are considering buying headphones for Working Out. As noted there, the headphones of earphones for working should be easy to conceal and carry.

Earphones take the prize when it comes to portability. They are small and slender enough to put in your pocket.

They are also subtle enough to carry on your person without catching others’ attention. This is why most people who prefer avoiding attention prefer one over the other.

Headphones are not as small or as subtle as earphones. Their large earcups make them more difficult to conceal or carry openly. You may need a backpack or handbag to carry them when not in use.

However, some people find that the convenience outweighs the trouble and do not mind carrying them around their necks all day.

Verdict: Earphones are more portable compared to headphones as they are small and slender.

5.Safety

To learn more, I did a guide on the safe use of headphones to avoid ear damages. It would be worth the time to check which tips you need to use. Let us discuss the safety comparison in detail.

Which is Safer? Earphones or Headphones

Headphones are relatively safer than earphones because they do not go inside the ear and have a lesser risk of infections. Unlike earphones, headphones are not invasive to the ear and spread the sound over a larger surface. However, both are safe when used in the right manner.

Listening to any audio at high volumes – through any medium – can lead to a variety of hearing impairments.

At the very least it can reduce your ears’ sensitivity to sound so that you cannot hear properly.

It can also cause tinnitus, which is a condition whereby you experience a constant ringing or buzz in your ears. In extreme cases it can cause hearing loss, essentially leaving you deaf.

Verdict: Unfortunately, neither headphones nor earphones fair better than each other when it comes to safety. It all depends on the volume, but other factors such as sound regulation also have a role to play. So, between the two, none is better in terms of safety as of this test.

The truth is that both earphones and headphones are safe provided you use them in the right manner. This is especially the modern versions which are designed in a way that safety is enhanced.

So, it will depend on your preferences and how you intend to use the headphones or earphones. However, it is important to know which are safer between the two options.

You will just listen to music in a convenient manner using the headphones. But while using earphones you will have to insert them into your ears.

Therefore, compared to headphones, Earphones can cause more hearing damage.

This is because they can pose health risks if they are not clean since they are inserted in the ear. It is especially risky if you are sharing the earphones with someone else.

Headphones vs Earphones hearing damage

Because of the health risks posed by earphones, it is always paramount to always ensure that your earphones are clean.

You should wipe them properly before using them to make sure that there is no dirt or dust on the earphones. This is a simple process that you can complete in a few seconds.

Earphones are especially risky because they direct the sound to the internal parts of your ear as explained in the Basics of Sound, the Ear, and Hearing – Hearing Loss.

But this depends on the earphones you are using. These are some earphones that are designed in a way that they cannot affect your ears regardless of the volume.

Some of these earphones are affordable where you can get them without having to spend a lot of money.

Reducing the headsets’ hearing damage

To reduce the earphones hearing damage, you just need to use a clean piece of cloth to gently wipe the outer part of the earphones.

It is also advisable to avoid sharing your earphones with other people. This is because the dirt from other people’s ears can be transferred to your ears.

In case you will have to share your earphones with someone else you should clean them properly before using them.

In addition, using the right volume levels is important in reducing Headphones or earphones hearing damage. in fact, the CDC observes that loud noise causes hearing loss.

Headphones and earphones can also pose health risks if you do not use them the way they are supposed to be used.

If the volume of either earphones or headphones is too high you will be putting the health of your ears at risk.

The modern earphones and headphones have features that allow you to control the volume levels. You should ensure that you use moderate volume at all times to enhance the health of your ears.

The risk from Long Hours of Listening

Besides the volume levels, using earphones or headphones for long hours can affect the health of your ears. This is because your eardrum and other elements of your ears will become fatigued from prolonged use.

It is advisable to take breaks or listening to music at a safe headphone volume for Android or iPhone. If you need to use headphones or earphones for long hours it is important to create time for your ears to relax.

This will reduce the chances of your ears being affected negatively by the sound.

Headphones are also considered safer when being used in certain places such as when playing games or watching movies.

This is especially the Bluetooth wireless headphones that do not require any cord. Such headphones will protect your ears while producing top-quality sound.

They will also give you freedom of movement where you can move around easily provided you are within the working range of the headphones.

3. Headphones or Earbuds, which is better for Working Out

The fact that there are no cords on these headphones means that you cannot be tripped by the cord. You will also have to be more organized because there are no wires from the headphones.

These attributes make the headphones safer than earphones when you are playing games, watching movies, or just listening to music indoors.

Working out and listening to music are two simultaneous processes. This is because almost everyone in the current days owns a pair of headphones or earphones.

Through either headphones or earphones, you get the freedom to listen to what you want the way you want.

Headphones and earphones have been upgraded where you can use them in different ways.

Which is Safer when Working Out

When working out it, it is safer to use earphones compared to headphones. This is because earphones are lighter and easier to use in the gym.

If you have the modern earphones which are Bluetooth enabled you will be able to exercise conveniently.

With the modern earphones, you will even be able to access your phone without having to disrupt your workout session. You will just need to use Bluetooth to connect your phone with the earphones.

It is notable that earphones are very light gives you the freedom to exercise without having any additional weight.

Here, the debate of headphones vs earphones hearing damage circles around freedom of movement while working out.

The earphones will fit perfectly on your ears and you will be able to exercise in a comfortable manner. You just need to ensure that you select the right earphones that have the features that you desire. You should read reviews and compare several earphones before selecting the ones you prefer.

Control Options to reduce possible hearing damage

When considering the control options, headphones are safer. This is because you can be able to control headphones more effectively.

Most of the modern headphones are relatively big and as a result, they have more space where more control options can be placed.

You will find that you can control the volume and other features on your headphones.

This is helpful because it helps in determining the quality of sound you will be getting from the headphones.

 The only thing you will need is to ensure that you choose the right headphones that have the necessary control options.

This way, you will enjoy music and reduce the risk of headphones or earphones hearing damage. By doing a comparison and reading reviews you will be able to identify the right headphones for you.

If you select the right headphones you will be able to enhance the safety and health of your ears.

Do Headphones Cause Hearing Loss?

Like many other loud voices, headphones can also damage your ears. This is referred to as hearing loss by noise-induction as audiologists call it. 

Over time, sounds coming from your headphones normally cause the hair cells in your cochlea to arch down too severely or too much. If they don’t obtain time to recuperate, the damage will be permanent.

According to a study published in 2011, the use of headphones has contributed to the hearing loss prevalence increase in young adults and adolescents.

However, you can stay safe from the damage caused by headphones to your hearing by reducing the volume on your device- the main danger of using headphones is volume.

The fact that headphones produce levels of loud sounds close to the ear is dangerous for your ears since loud noises generally damage ears.

When waves of the sound reach to the ears, the eardrum vibrates. The vibration is then conveyed through small bones to your inner ear then reaches the cochlea.

The cochlea is the fluid-filled room in the ear that contains thousands of many small hairs. When sound vibrations get to the cochlea, the fluid that is in the cochlea vibrates and causes movement of the hairs.

The louder the sounds, the stronger the vibrations, that cause more movement of the hairs.

As you listen to loud sounds for too long, the hair cells sensitivity to vibration is lost. Too many loud noises make the cells to fold over or bend. This is what results in temporary hearing loss.

Hair cells take much time to recuperate from vibrations generated by a loud noise.

In the event the cells never recuperate, they could be too impaired to function normally anymore. This leads to permanent hearing loss.

Noise-induced hearing impairment is not possible to recover from hence: there is no cure for the damaged inner ear.

Considerations when buying headphones or earbuds

Well, it all boils down to quality. There are numerous makes and designs of the two gadgets, and manufacturers are making significant strides in sound technology.

To this end, some earphones are far better in all aspects, including sound and comfort, compared to certain headphones. On that note, some headphones are good enough to rival Hi-Fi sound systems.

There are some factors to take into consideration when shopping for a quality pair of either.

The most important factor to consider would be sound specifications. You will find all these details in the product description. They should include:

1. Frequency Response

As mentioned earlier, different hearing accessories respond differently to varying frequencies. Go for earphones or headphones that have a flat or sweetened frequency response as they have better sound output quality.

2. Drivers

Drivers are responsible for turning electrical signals to sound signals. They determine the overall sound quality in a variety of aspects including bass, treble, and mid.

Large drivers are better than small ones as they produce better sound quality.  

3. Sensitivity

The factor of sensitivity is directly tied to your safety as it determines just how loud your headsets can get. It is measured in Sound Pressure Level (SPL).

Prudence demands that you go for accessories with a mid-range sensitivity level as it won’t hurt your years no matter how high you crank up the volume.

Which Lasts Longer, Headphones or Earbuds

There are various factors to consider when talking about headphones and earbuds, which assist me in responding to the question: which of the two lasts longer?

The truth is the longest a pair of earbuds can last is around three years, but most of them start to get faulty within a year

Headphones can last a little longer than earbuds. They could go up to five years, thereby compelling one to always set aside a budget for new headphones or earbuds.

How Do I Make My Earphones Last Longer?

After wrecking my favorite earphones for multiple times, I acknowledged that taking proper Care of my earphones is very important.

Destroying earphones doesn’t take much; it could be a giddy visit to the laundry or an unfortunate bicycle accident.

Often we take our earphones for granted, and unfortunately, they are very delicate technology pieces, regardless of their price.

However, below is how you can maximize your earphones’ life without learning the hard way.

  • Get  a pair that is waterproof or get a waterproof carrying case to protect them from water damage, rain, and spills
  • Stop the habit of chewing on your earphones subconsciously.
  • Protect the speakers from premature failure by keeping the volume below the maximum.
  • Keep your earphones from failure at the connector by avoiding to apply much stress on this location
  • Avoid pulling earphones with cord.
  • Don’t keep them together with other dirty stuff in your tight jeans, pocket, or bag.
  • Get an earphone case and store them there when you are not using them
  • Clean them with a soft clothe
  • Remove and clean the ear cushions
  • Do not share your earphones with persons who are not as careful as you are.
  • Don’t fold the cord in a way that it gets stuck

What Are the Best Long Lasting Headphones?

Figuring out the most important points to consider when looking for long-lasting headphones can be confusing especially when you have never purchased durable headphones before. Therefore, I’m going to outline the best brands in the market. I will also include the features of each to help you make an informed choice when you are looking for long-lasting headphones.

  • Symphonized Wraith 2.0-weighs 14.4 Ounces, durable headband, connectivity is wired, affordable, and universal compatibility.
  • V-MODA Crossfade LP2- weighs 25.6 ounces, excellent fit, connectivity is wired, military-grade durability, and awesome audio quality.
  • V-MODA Crossfade2- its weight is 16 ounces, excellent wireless performance, connectivity is wired and military-grade durability

These are simple steps, but if you follow them, you will make your earphones last longer and give them a long life.

Conclusion: The Final Verdict

Music is the beat to life and there are different ways to listen to it. The debate of headphones or earphones, which are better ends with our conclusion that each is equally good.

However, our testing showed that headphones are much better than most earphones. However, whether you prefer either, the secret to getting the most out of your music is going for the best quality pair you can get.

To learn more why Headphones are regarded as better, watch this video here

YouTube video

FAQs on Headphones vs Earbuds

Why Does One Side Of My Earphones Stop Working?

There are various reasons why a pair of earphones play audio-only out of one side. The major reason is that the audio jack wires have been bent so many times back and forth that have caused wiring short.

If there is debris in the earphone, it could also cause the earphone not to work properly. Another reason could be the settings of your device. Go to settings >accessibility, then under hearing look at the mono audio checkbox, if that is checked, only one earphone will work.

Earphones use fine stranded wire vanished in a slim layer of lacquer. The wire is then soldered at both ends to the plug and earphone.

If the wire has a solder coat that is not attached directly to an anchor, it makes the wire brittle. Continuous flexing near the solder joint will make the wires individual strands to break off slowly over time.

Finally, there will be just two or one strands attached by the joint, and the resistance of that channel shall become too high, resulting in the earphones cutting out.

Why Do Earphones Break So Easily?

Every pair of earphones breaks. It is a fragile device with many intricate components, these components get jostled, and with time they wear down, leading to unpreventable malfunctions.

Here are several reasons why your earphones keep breaking.

One is rolling the cord over- cord lengths for earphones can be very long, hence the desire to roll them.

Another is letting the cord to dangle- it is a great risk to let the cord dangle from a desk edge, either while in use or when resting.

The other is forgetting the earphones are still on your head-you can sink into hours of your gaming session, and soon as its end, you get the sudden urge to rush to the restroom not remembering to take off your earphones first.

As a result, you snap the earphone, which puts tension to the internal wires together with their connection points.

The damage is cumulative as you continue with this habit and eventually, the earphones wires break.

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Michael Smart

I am an all-round technology writer with a keen focus on new ideas, gadgets, and creative solutions. I love reading, writing and sharing about tech and gadgets.

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