I have been a lifelong audiophile and an even longer music lover. I have had my fair share of headphones and earphones, but there are still so many to choose from!
In this article, I will review the common types of headphones: wired, wireless, over-ear, on-ear, in-ear, open-ear, IEMs, and bone conduction.
I will also discuss some ideal situations where they can come in handy by looking at their pros and cons.
|Types of |
*All parameters are rated out of 10, where 10 is the highest.
- 0/10 = Very poor
- 3/10 = Bad
- 5/10 = Not up to standards
- 7/10 = Good
- 10/10 = Excellent
- ~ = Varies
Wired and Wireless Headphones
Headphones and earphones can be widely classified as wired and wireless. Each has its own wired and wireless counterparts.
Wired headphones have a wire connecting to playback devices like a music player, CD player, laptop, etc., and they do not need batteries to operate.
These headphones are very common, offer good sound quality, and have less interference or latency than wireless headphones.
They provide a better sound quality because they can process bitrates of up to 2,300 kbps.
Bitrate in audio measures the amount of data sent in a second. The higher the bitrate, the higher the quality of sound.
Note that even high-quality lossless audio formats like 16-bit WAV only have a bitrate of 1,411 kbps which wired headphones can easily transmit almost in real-time.
- Best audio quality
- Plug-and-play design
- Less or no interference
- Realtime listening (very low latency)
- Compatible with most devices
- Comparatively Inexpensive
- Tangled wires
- Wire tripping
- Uncomfortable to wear
Wireless headphones operate without being connected to a source device by a cable.
You can use them to listen to the audio from many devices, including computers, smartphones, tablets, and digital audio players.
Wireless headphones are battery-powered, making them mobile. They use radio frequency (RF), infrared (IR), or Bluetooth technology to communicate with your device.
Since they operate wirelessly, they are largely prone to interferences, delays, and reduced audio quality.
Note that even the most advanced wireless headphones and earphones can only offer a bitrate under 768 kbps which is far below what wired headphones offer.
- Comfortable to use
- Hands-free operation
- Reduced audio quality
- Not plug and play
- Not compatible with all devices
- Comparatively expensive
- High interference and latency
- Battery-dependent (power intensive)
Headphones and Headsets
Though the words headphones and headsets are used interchangeably, they both have one difference.
Unlike headphones, headsets have a microphone extended to the user’s mouth using a microphone boom. This helps headsets competently capture the user’s voice.
Read more about them at >>> Headphones vs Headsets
An over-ear headphone, also known as circumaural headphones, is a type of headphone that covers the entire ear.
Their ear cups are large enough to enclose your ears fully, and they usually have a headband that goes over the head to help hold them in place.
The size of an over-ear headphone is much larger than on-ear and in-ear headphones.
Over-ear headphones are often used by people who listen to music or watch movies for long periods since they provide better sound isolation and comfort than other types of headphones.
Open-back and closed-back are the two popular configurations of over-ear headphones. Open-back is most effective in over-ear headphones.
Comparatively, open-back headphones are much better as they can emulate Hi-Fi audio output, but most people use closed-back headphones because of their sound isolation feature.
Advantages of Over-ear Headphones
If you use headphones a lot, meaning long continuous hours of use, an over-ear headphone will be the best bet for your comfort.
These headphones won’t put much pressure on your ear, and you won’t feel any pain on or around your ear after long hours of use.
Note that the headphone padding, too, is a factor to consider. If it has smooth and flexible padding, you’ll feel more comfortable.
Because of their sealing over the ear, these headphones are also very good at noise cancellation.
Over-ear headphones will be a good option:
- If you sit and make music for long hours
- If your work requires you to make calls continuously
- if you are into editing audio
- if you watch videos for long hours
- if you play games for long hours
Disadvantages of Over-ear Headphones
Some may experience sweating around the ear while using over-ear headphones. This is because of the sealing it provides and the resulting heat generated around your ear.
You will experience high levels of sweating if you live in a hot place, so this may not be the right choice.
Also, over-ear headphones are bulky and won’t be a good option if you want something mobile.
An on-ear headphone is a type of headphone that rests on the ear as opposed to over the ear. They are also called supra-aural headphones.
The design of an on-ear headphone is such that it does not enclose your ears but instead rests atop them. This gives the wearer a sense of openness and allows them to hear ambient noise.
On-ear headphones are best suited for use in public places and listening to music while performing other tasks requiring spatial awareness.
Advantages of on-ear headphones
There are many advantages to using on-ear headphones, some of which include:
- Lower weight
- Better sound quality
- More comfortable for long periods
- No need to carry a cord around your neck or worry about tangles
- Greater durability
Disadvantages of on-ear headphones
On-ear headphones are becoming increasingly popular as they are much cheaper than over-ear headphones.
However, they have some disadvantages that you should consider before buying them.
Firstly, on-ear headphones don’t provide the same level of sound isolation as over-ear ones.
This means that you can hear what is happening around you, which can be a problem if you’re in a busy environment and want to focus on your music or podcast without being disturbed.
Secondly, the quality of sound provided by on-ear headphones is often not as good because the speakers are not positioned directly in front of your ears.
In-ear Headphones (Earphones)
An in-ear headphone is a type of headphone that fits inside the ear, as opposed to over the ear or on the ear. These are also known as earphones or earpods.
In-ear headphones are often used with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers because they do not have large drivers and are portable.
So you can use it while performing physical activities like running, cycling, etc.
In-ear headphones come with various types of earpieces, including foam tips, silicone tips, and hooks that go over the top of the ear.
Advantages of In-ear Headphones (Earphones)
- Highly portable
- Traps the sound and provides good sound isolation with less or no audio leakage
- Easy to handle
- Takes less space
Disadvantages of In-ear Headphones (Earphones)
- Not the best sound
- Can’t listen to what’s going around you
- Too much use can cause ear pain
- Since in-ear headphones go into your ear canal, they can cause infections.
In-Ear Monitors (IEMs)
In-ear monitors are a type of earphone that is inserted into the ear canal. They are used by musicians and sound engineers for professional-level monitoring and mixing of sound.
It provides musicians with a greater sense of freedom and mobility. They allow them to hear themselves and their instrument better than speakers alone would.
In-ear monitors also help reduce stage volume, which can be an issue for musicians who play loud instruments.
They are also widely used by audio engineers to monitor the audio signal being recorded or played back, as they allow for accurate sound production without any interference from external noises.
The sound quality of IEMs is generally better than that of regular earphones because you can often customize them to match the unique shape of each individual’s ear canal.
Advantages of In-ear Monitors
- They provide a better quality of sound than other types of earphones.
- They are more comfortable to wear for long periods.
- The sound is better isolated from outside noise than other types of earphones, which can reduce fatigue on the set or stage when recording or performing live music.
Disadvantages of In-ear Monitors
- They can be expensive, and not everyone is comfortable wearing them.
- They do not allow you to hear surrounding sounds, which can be a problem in certain situations.
Open-ear headphones are a type of headphones that allow ambient sounds to be heard.
They differ from traditional closed-ear headphones as they do not fully enclose the ear and offer less sound isolation.
Open-ear headphones also tend to be lighter and more comfortable than their closed counterparts, which can be a huge bonus for those who wear them for long hours.
Advantages of Open-ear Headphones
Open-ear headphones are beneficial for people engaging in multiple outside activities where they have to be aware of their surroundings.
These headphones/earphones allow you to listen to the playback and make you aware of external sounds.
If you are going for a run on a busy road or working in your backyard and want to know if someone is calling you, open-ear headphones will be a good choice.
Disadvantages of Open-ear Headphones
Open-ear headphones will sound like a small speaker playing next to your ear. Their sound quality is comparatively worse than other headphones except for bone conduction.
Bone Conduction Headphones
Bone conduction technology is a novel way of listening to sound without blocking out the world around you. It sends vibrations through the bone in your head that reach your inner ear.
With them, you can listen to your favorite tunes while still hearing what’s happening around you, such as traffic and other people’s conversations.
The technology is especially useful for those who need to be aware of their surroundings, such as cyclists and runners.
Lately, bone-conduction-integrated headphones and helmets are being used by special forces that carry out tactical on-location missions in the military.
Bone conduction allows these soldiers to communicate with their command centers and teams without compromising situational awareness.
Even Google Glasses, released as early as 2013, had a Bone Conduction Transducer (BCT) integrated into them.
Advantages of Bone Conduction Technology
The first advantage is that it does not require earphones. So they can keep both ears free to listen to other sounds.
Another advantage of bone conduction sound technology is that it can be used by people who can’t hear well, as it vibrates bones for transmitting sound waves instead of airwaves.
Disadvantages of Bone Conduction Technology
Bone conduction technology is not the best option for everyone.
It has its own set of disadvantages, such as the lack of quality in the sound you hear and the fact that it requires a custom fit, which can be expensive.
I own all types of headphones and earphones mentioned in this article except bone conduction headphones, and I use them for different purposes.
I use wireless ones when traveling, going for a run or walk, and for long calls where I may need to walk around to get some work done. They are comfortable and, most importantly, very mobile.
Wired ones are used when I sit and work on my computer. I use wired versions of in-ear, on-ear, and over-ear headphones.
On-ears are used for small works where I won’t be spending a lot of time, and I often use them as a reference to check how my music sounds in different driver sizes.
I use my over-ear headphones (AKG K271 MKII) when I compose, mix, or play games. It is more comfortable and won’t give me ear pain even if I use it for a long time (3-4 hours).
For me, in-ear or earphones come in handy when I’m going outside or when I randomly watch a couple of YouTube videos. I use them almost 50% of the time.
In short, each headphone and earphone has its own advantages and comes in handy for different situations.
I hope this article has helped you gain insight into different types of headphones for your next purchase!
To know more about what to look for in a headphone, check out the headphone selection guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are earbuds a type of headphones?
Yes, earbuds are headphones that come under the classification “in-ear headphones.” Earbuds are typically small and lightweight. They can be used for listening to music, podcasts, or anything that you would listen to with headphones.
Which type of headphones is good for the ears?
Over-ear headphones are good for the ears. They cover your whole ear, so your ears are inside the speaker cushion, providing more comfort. They’re usually more expensive than in-ear models, but they offer better sound quality and comfort because they don’t put pressure on your ears as smaller models do. They also tend to block out a lot of external noise.