What’s the Difference Between Earphones and Earbuds?
The terms earbuds and earphones might seem interchangeable but they usually indicate an important distinction. For our purposes, earbuds don’t enter your ear canal and instead sit just outside of it. This design fits more loosely and can cause problems when it comes to accurate stereo imaging (in which both ears get the same amount of audio) and bass response.
In-ear earphones, meanwhile, have silicone or foam tips that fit in the ear canal and form a seal inside your ear, blocking outside noise while piping sound directly into your ears. These often come with eartips in different sizes that help ensure the best possible seal. Others ship with additional flexible fins that provide even more fit security.
All that said, the term earbuds has become synonymous with earphones and in-ear headphones, so the difference is ultimately academic. Whatever you call them and whatever they say on the box, you should look for earphones that form a good seal inside your ear with silicone or foam eartips. They sound much better than models with plastic-covered drivers that rest loosely against your ear canal.
Should You Choose Wired or Wire-Free Earphones?
At this point, true wireless earbuds have become so prevalent that you won’t come across many wired earphones (or even Bluetooth earphones with a wire connecting them) unless you seek them out. True wireless earphones consist of two individual earpieces that connect to your phone and each other over Bluetooth, so you don’t have to deal with a cable at all. They’re convenient and refined enough that you can find a pair to fit almost any need or budget (there are plenty available for under $50, for instance).
This doesn’t mean that wired earphones are no longer worth considering. You can still get a pair of earphones that connect to your phone via a 3.5mm headphone jack or even a Lightning or USB-C connector. You don’t need to charge them like wireless earphones and many pricier pairs offer better fidelity for audiophiles.
What Are the Best Earphones for Exercise?
Earphones might not be as eye-catching as headphones, but they can be much more convenient. Besides their size and weight, earphones are often more resilient than headphones when it comes to moisture. Their IP rating indicates how much dust and water exposure they can handle. This is an important factor to consider if you want to listen to music at the gym. Sweat can soak and wear out earpads over time, so most full-on headphones aren’t likely to stand up to the constant friction that comes with working out. Our story on the best true wireless earbuds for running has more details.
Not all earphones are workout-friendly, though; don’t assume your earphones can handle everything you throw at them unless they explicitly list an IP rating (ideally IPX5 or higher). Really pricey earphones can be as fragile as really pricey headphones and you don’t want to accidentally ruin a $200 pair with ear sweat.
How to Care for Your Earphones
If you get wired earphones, make sure to use any included pouch or carrying case as often as possible to preserve their longevity. Balling them up, shoving them into a pocket, and then untangling them each time you want to listen does more to wear them out prematurely than just about anything else. Of course, this isn’t a factor for true wireless earphones which stow away inside a charging case. Just don’t assume that the case has the same IP rating as the earphones; they often aren’t nearly as durable. For more details, check out five easy tips to extend the life of your headphones and eight ways you’re using your headphones wrong.
And if you’re shopping on a budget, scan our picks for the best cheap true wireless earbuds.