Headphones vs Headset – What’s the difference?

Headphones or HeadsetsNot all things in life are created equal and the same can be said for headphones.  Any Google search on headphones is likely going to return a bunch of sites and pages that use the term interchangably with headsets or even earbuds, which you really can’t/shouldn’t do.  If you were to walk into any audio visual store and ask the clerk for a set of headphones, they’d know exactly what you’re looking for.  However, if you were to walk into any big-box store and ask the same question, you might be surprised with the result.


Headphones traditionally fit overtop of your ears with an adjustable band that rests on the top of your head.  Recently headphones have been developed that cover the ears and have an adjustable band, or in some cases just a wire, that runs behind the head, along the back of the neck.

Headphones can also come in either wired or wireless formats, with the wireless option using either bluetooth or a wireless receiver (e.g. a USB or RCA wireless adapter).  Some examples of popular brands would be Beats by Dr. Dre, Sennheiser, or Bose.

The cheaper end of the sprectrum, but still considered a headphone, has an adjustable band that covers the head, usually made of very cheap plastic, and then has cheap foam covers for the ears.  These foam covers sit on-top of the ears, but don’t encase the ears like more quality headphones.  These were famous in the 80’s with the old Sony Walkman devices, but lost their flavour to ebuds in the 90’s and 2000’s.  That said – you can still pick up a pair, usually for only a few dollars.


Headsets are nearly the same thing as a headset, however they will contain a microphone (mic) which allows for two-way communication.  Headsets are typically used for Gaming or in business.  It’s important to specify the differences between Gaming headsets and Business headsets.

Gaming headsets will have your traditional adjustable band and mic, however they’ll integrate other features such as LEDs and the ability to change the color or lighting of your headset.  Additionally, some will also offer buttons on the ear pieces to adjust the volume, mute, adjust the equilizer to a specfic audio profile you like, turn on/off surround sound, or even come with macro buttons or buttons which you can configure to do a variety of different things such as opening a folder or web browser on your computer.

Business headsets have different needs and features – the most important is voice and sound quality for most headsets used in business are used to replace telephones. A typical use of a headset in a business environment might be in a call center where a technician needs to be able to talk to a client and interact on their keyboard to log a ticket or go through a help file.


Earbuds revolutionized the world in the early 2000’s with the release of the Apple iPod.  Apple became famous and virtually overnight turned the music industry on its head with digital music and earbuds.

Earbuds operate the same way as headphones, except that instead of being bulking and fitting overtop of the ears, they fit directly into the ear canals.  Due to varying sizes of people’s ear canals, most manufacturers ship their earbuds with a type of flexible cushion, traditionally made out of silicon or a thin rubber.  Interestingly enough, the earbuds that ship with your Apple device (iPhone, iPad, etc.) don’t come with any flexible material and rely entirely on being held in place by the concha ridge and tragus of the outer ear.  For this reason, Apple earbuds tend to fall out of the ears frequently and get broken and users typically pick up earbuds made from different manufacturers that have that cushioning material.

Additionally, many earbuds now ship with a mic or volume control built into the wires, which allow the user to carry on a conversation.

Use Cases

So now we know the difference between Headphones, Headsets and Earbuds, but it still doesn’t answer the question as to what’s right for you.

Scenario 1 – You like to come home after a hard day at work and listen to music on your stereo.  Sound quality is extremely important to you and you don’t want to hear the noises outside of the big city.  In this case, headphones are what you really want and ideally you’d be looking at noise cancelling headphones.

Scenario 2 – You play online games and listen to music, but you don’t interact (talk) with people online.  You only need to keep the sound to yourself.  In this case, normally you would go with a gaming headset, but you have no need to two-way communication, so you could get away with either headphones, a headset, or even earbuds.  I know – strange right?  I would tend to lean more towards headphones or a headset in this situation though, as they traditionally ship with a much longer cord.

Scenario 3 – You’re an avid gamer and need to not only keep your noises to yourself, but you need to talk to the people you’re playing with.  This is a clear cut case for the use of a gaming headset.

Scenario 4 – Your mobile and take your music with you everywhere you go.  You’re proud of your digital music library and take it with you everywhere.  You go for walks with it and you take it to the gym.  Now most people will argue that you can use headphones or earbuds in this scenario, but because you want to go to the gym, I highly recommend the cheaper alternative of earbuds, due to all the machinery and equipment that your device can get hung up on and ruined.  Best to break a $10 pair of earbuds than a $300 pair of headphones.


Hopefully you can now see there’s significant differences between headphones, headsets and earbuds and this post will help you narrow down your choice to what you really need.  Keep in mind that with all devices there are other characteristics that might influence your decisions, such as noise cancelling, heat or “hot ears”, etc.

Leave Your Thoughts Below…

4 thoughts on “Headphones vs Headset – What’s the difference?

  • May 2, 2018 at 6:53 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Personally i think that i prefer headphones…. mainly because i HATE sticking things in my ears… I’ve yet to find the right one and a budget that i’m comfy with.

  • May 3, 2018 at 10:23 am

    Thanks! You’re right that budget is a big factor and one many people put to the top of their list. Discount sites like Groupon and others will discount audio devices all the time, but people need to read the fine-print on what they’re actually getting. I plan to talk about that shortly and it might just blow the feathers off some of the deals out there, as they’re not an actual bargain after all. Stay tuned for that article as it’ll be an eye-opener for sure.

    I use all three – headphones for listening to music, earbuds when I’m at the gym or out running, and a headset when I’m online gaming.

  • May 14, 2018 at 10:04 am

    Wow, what a thorough review! If I were in the market for headsets, headphones or ear buds this would definitely be my “go to” site. This is a fantastic niche because just about everybody is in the market for one of them sooner or later. I’m in a meditation program {Holosync} which utilizes daily listening of binaural beats to create the delta brain-wave (deep meditation) state. For this to work, headphones are essential.The phones I use now I purchased from the Centerpointe Holosync company themselves but I’ve had them for 7 years now, so they’re quite worn with daily use. Maybe you could also target the “meditation crowd” with your articles!
    The audio at the beginning was awesome and the video was informative and entertaining. Thanks for sharing!

  • May 18, 2018 at 10:04 pm

    dhfgHeadphones are definitely my preferred choice, I have a pair of AKG K712 PRO and it’s the best sound I ever heard. I think when buying headphones or any other listening device, it’s important to pay good money and get a great product that will last for years, rather than going cheap and replacing them every few months because they start distorting or the cables break inside. This always used to happen to me but since I forked out some real money and bought the beasts I’ve never had a problem since.


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