Whether it’s for music, podcasts, audiobooks or even just for some peace and quiet, headphones and earbuds have been helping people enjoy audio, as well as the absence of noise, for years. Through advancements and developments in technology, a wealth of different earbud and headphone designs have come into the market with each model offering unique fits and features. For those looking for improved sound quality to the ones seeking a more ergonomic fit, the field of audio-listening devices covers a vast range of conditions that many audio lovers are looking to meet. Here are all of the different types of form factors to consider the next time you decide to purchase a set of earbuds or headphones.
Wireless vs. Wired
The very first factor to consider when deciding on a pair of headphones is whether you want a wireless or wired set of headphones. While wired sets consist of the typical cable plug-in, wireless can actually come in two different form factors.
Wired headphones and earbuds use the standard wire to connect to any audio device, such as your phone, MP3 player or laptop computer. The benefit of having wired listening devices is the fact that you will not require batteries or any other external power source to keep your earbuds running. Wired headphones won’t require any charging as well.
Most wireless listening devices will typically work through Bluetooth technology, which digitally encodes and transmits audio over a small distance, like from the phone in your pocket to your earbuds. Bluetooth is a very reliable and commonly used technology. Syncing with any bluetooth-enable earbuds and headphones is very straightforward, with most phones and notebooks having built-in Bluetooth compatibility. This technology can even be used for noise cancellation as well.
While wireless earbuds or headphones may not require a plug-in cable, most wireless listening devices will still have a wire running between both buds or headphones. For a true wireless experience, there are models that provide separate, individual units for each ear which aren’t connected by a cable. Wireless headphones will require batteries or a separate power source in order stay powered, and wireless earbuds will usually come with charging cases. Some different products offer charging cases that can be charged themselves to hold power which can then be transferred to the earbuds.
Types of Fits
People’s ears and heads come in all different shapes and sizes and so do headphones and earbuds. To accommodate different ergonomic and sound quality requirements, both models come in several different designs forms. Certain models are focused on providing better audio quality while others are more concerned with overall fit and comfort.
When it comes to headphones, there are three basic form factors to consider when purchasing a set.
Compared to other designs that envelop the ears, on-ear headphones consist of cushions that rest on top of the outer ear. This form of headphones can deliver sufficiently good sound quality but slightly less bass due to a lower bass response than other models. Because the headphone cushions are resting on top of the ears without excessive pressure, you will still be able to hear the sounds around you. This can also lead to other people inadvertently hearing the audio that you hear. Because of this, on ear headphones aren’t usually recommended for noise cancelling.
Here's an example of popular on-ear head phones:
Similar to the on-ear headphones in design, over-ear headphones, as the name suggests, have cushioned cups that go over the entire ear. This type of headphones can also be called “full-size” or “around-ear” headphones. Since over-ear headphones wrap the entire ear in cushioned earcups, the sound quality and noise reduction tends to be much better. This type of headphones has better noise cancelling capabilities as well.
Here's an example of popular over-ear head phones:
Open-ear headphones are significantly different from the other forms in terms of design. These kinds of headphones, essentially, don’t cover the ears at all and, instead, uses a special form of technology known as bone conduction technology. The headphone will bypass the eardrum by delivering the vibrations through the bone and into the inner ear.
Here's the best selling over-ear head phones on Amazon for an example:
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Earbud Headphone Fits
Earbuds are much smaller forms of headphones and come in several varieties as well. When it comes to wearing earbuds, most will rest in the outer ear while others fit directly into the ear canal. Some common designs for earbuds consist of a band that sits up and behind the ear or around the neck.
Probably the most common form being used today, earbuds consist of small drivers that are placed at the opening of the ear canal. This type of earbud rests on the ridge of the outer ear. Compared to in-ear buds, standard earbuds will produce slightly less noise isolation and reliability, but typically come in at a very affordable price point.
Here's the most popular earbuds in 2022:
In-ear headphones, or in-ear monitors (IEMs) are similar to standard earbuds but can provide better sound quality and noise isolation. These headphones are designed to fit into the ear canal which creates a better seal for improved audio and noise reduction. These models will usually be outfitted with soft foam or rubber tips for more comfort. Higher-end, professional-grade in-ear headphones can actually be molded to precisely fit your ears for an even more comfortable wear.
Here's the most popular in-ear headphones by Bose:
Noise Cancelling Headphones
If you’re looking for a way to escape the noises of the world around you or to catch some sleep on the long-flight, noise-cancelling headphones can be helpful. Certain earbuds and headphones come with a noise-cancelling feature which induces an opposite sound wave to counter the noise of the outside world. Because of their enveloping design, over-ear headphones, more often than not, offer much better noise isolation and reduction than in-ear or standard earbuds do.
Here are the best selling noise cancelling ear buds on the market: