AUS: 1300 630 488    NZ: 0800 1477 6287

Earbuds vs headphones: what’s the best way to listen on the go?

With various in-ear, on-ear and over-ear audio devices available on the market, we look at the options for safely and comfortably enjoying your favourite music and podcasts.

You’ve no doubt heard plenty about wired and wireless earbuds and headphones, but what are the actual differences and which type would be best for when you want to listen with privacy or on the go? Let’s find out…


Headphones are larger personal audio devices that rest either on or over your ears, using two earpads connected by a headband. On-ears are more compact and better suited to exercising, while over-ears are larger and more popular for everyday use.

Earbuds are essentially tiny, lightweight and inconspicuous headphones that don’t need a band to stay in place. Instead they use ear tips to fit inside your ear canal. (Earphones, on the other hand, hang in front of your ear canal.) True wireless earbuds come with a charging case and operate using wireless technology like Bluetooth, meaning they don’t require any wires to connect to another device, for example your smartphone, in order to listen to audio.


Needless to say sound quality is an important consideration. Regular headphones tend to trump smaller earbuds by providing a fuller, smoother and more powerful listening experience thanks to the former’s superior bass tones. That said, earbuds at the higher end of the scale can still isolate outside noise quite well and offer a very clean sound overall. For those who have slight trouble hearing their phone, for example, both wireless headphones and earbuds can prove extremely helpful.


Which type of audio accessory is the most comfortable and easy to wear? The answer in this case is, ‘it depends’. Both headphones and earbuds can provide a comfortable experience, but you need to pick the model that best suits you. For example, on-ear headphones are reasonable enough for shorter listening sessions, while truly over-ear models are designed for maximum comfort. Make sure the earpads completely enclose your ears, otherwise they could put undue pressure on your earlobes.

As for earbuds, many people find the lightweight options are barely noticeable to wear, while others struggle with bulkier hardware not fitting nicely inside the ear, creating unnecessary pressure in the pinna (the projecting portion of the external ear).

In terms of stability, especially during physical activity or any rigorous head movements, in-ear models with foam ear tips and sports models with stabilising features (like ear fins, wings or hooks) typically stay in place better than full-sized headphones, which are usually more suitable for home use.


When it comes to travelling or getting out and about on a day trip, the more portable and durable earbud options come into their own. Because they’re compact you can easily take them anywhere and keep them safe in your bag or pocket when they’re not being used. And unlike bulkier headphones that can easily break if dropped, smaller earbuds and earphones can often withstand similar impacts. Some models of true wireless earbuds are also waterproof and shockproof.

But there is a drawback – earbuds can’t necessarily compete with wireless headphones, which obviously have a significantly larger casing, for battery life on a single charge. So for longer journeys you’ll need to think about accessibility to a power source. If reliability for hours on end is your main priority, headphones are probably the way to go. 


Repeatedly listening to loud music through earbuds or headphones can present hidden risks to your hearing. These risks should be avoided as much as possible. The good news is that advanced headphones with active noise-cancelling functionality are able to reduce unwanted ambient sounds, meaning you hear much less of the outside world and won’t be as tempted to turn up the volume to potentially damaging levels without realising the danger. These headphones can also be a bonus for travellers easily disturbed by noises like traffic, snoring and other people’s conversations. 

A further consideration is that wearing certain earbuds may inadvertently push earwax deeper into your ears, causing blockages that could impact your hearing. This in turn might lead you to turn up the volume even higher.

At the end of the day, research and trial and error will help you choose the right design and model. Happy and safe listening!