IEMs vs. Earbuds: What’s The Difference?

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The whole experience with sounds changes a lot, that’s why there are tons of earbuds for specific purposes. According to your preference, the models are released for working out, listening to music, gaming, and playing sports.

Because the market is broad and offers us unlimited choices, we are left confused about what type of earphones to get. If you’re in the middle of deciding to get either IEMs or earbuds, read the article to find out which one to get.

IEM stands for In Ear Monitor, which means it sticks inside your ear canal with changeable silicone ear tips. The material helps the sound infiltrate more noise and block the background.


Earbuds are similar, it’s intended to stand on the outer part of ear. The sound experience in earbuds is not too deep compared to IEMs. They also come with silicone ear tips.


Both earbuds and IEMs look pretty much the same. They are compact and used for the same purpose. Let’s see what they offer us

Earbuds vs. IEMs: Which One to Choose?

In the table below, you will find major differences: Earbuds vs. IEMs.

Choose IEMs if you want high audio quality even in the deepest notes. The noise cancellation is exceptional because they are built to insert inside your ear canal. IEMs are made of great build quality that is going to take for a lifetime.

Choose Earbuds for more casual use. They are very light and feels like you have nothing in your ear. If comfortability is above all for you and the full isolation disturbs you, then Earbuds are the perfect choice.





Go deep in the ear (silicone, foam, or rubber ear tips)

Stay on the outer space of the ear (silicone ear tips)

Built Quality

Premium Materials (acrylic, metal, resin and sturdy plastic)

Low-cost Materials (polycarbonate and polyester)

Comfort Less Comfortable Super Comfortable
Volume Level Louder  Not Loud Enough
Noise Cancellation Isolates the Voice Completely Isolates the Voice to Some Point
Sound Quality High Sound Quality  Basic Sound Quality
Usage Professional Non-professional

Design & Built Quality

IEMs locate the whole ear and goes deeper inside, that is why they are longer in shape. They stick better in your ears even in harsh movements and you won’t have trouble falling while moving.

Earbuds on the other side, have a standard shape. The ear tips aren’t the best fit and can fall easily from the ear. They are way too comfortable to keep in the ear for a long time without getting annoyed.

Both wired and wireless models are available on IEMs and Earbuds. If you choose the wired form of IEMs, you will get between 6-10 feet of cable and an independent control system. This system can have switches, buttons, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a USB connector. Earbuds are simpler. The wired form is usually shorter and you can connect to your phone, laptop, or TV.

Built Quality

No doubt in ear monitors have premium built quality. Because they are picked more for professional use, most of them are made out of acrylic, metal, resin, and sturdy plastic materials.

Earbuds are used more for everyday joy and for the basic needs of users. They usually are built from less premium quality materials which are sturdy plastic, polycarbonate, and polyester material.


Due to their built type and used materials, Earbuds are a thousand times more comfortable than IEMs. Earbuds are intended for everyday use. When you use any item every day, it should be light and comfortable.

The sturdy plastic materials don’t go deep inside your ear and this provides more comfort than IEMs which tend to go inside your ear canal. The maintenance of IEMs is another trouble to consider.

Volume Level

It is a fact that IEMs provide excellent high pitches and low pitches. They support more volume, I’m not talking about listening to music loudly to get rid of unnecessary voices, I’m just saying you don’t need too much volume with IEMs because they’re tucked in your ear and everything sounds amazing with less noise. No more harming your ears.

Earbuds also offer a great volume level. However, some music genres at some point are not offering the same quality. Only those high-end ones do.

Sound Isolation & Ambient Noise

In brief, if you want absolute noise isolation, then in ear monitors are going to provide you with that. IEMs go to your ear canal and knocks every sound out, instead of staying on the outer ear.

Earbuds are mostly designed “one size fits all type” and won’t provide the same noise isolation because one size is impossible to fit all, earbuds sit in your outer ear that’s all.

Sound Isolation is quite crucial when it comes to monitoring sounds. You want to completely eliminate ambient noise so you can focus on your listening and find the flaws.

So yeah every professional seeks as much sound isolation as possible, to block that ambient noise.

IEMs typically reduce external noise by about 26 dB, but they can reduce it by as much as 40 dB, depending on the quality of the In ear headphones.

So with that being said, we conclude that in ear monitors have superior noise isolation.

Sound Quality

Now that we know who have the better noise isolation between iems vs earbuds, it’s time to move to the important part.

How they sound depends on what type of brand you use. The high-end ones tend to have better sound quality. Usually, the in ear monitors have outstanding high quality sound significantly in lower pitches which most Earbuds have a hard time recognizing.

There is a possibility that Earbuds have better audio if the IEMs you use are cheap in price and built quality.

Usage: Who Can Use Earbuds vs. IEMs?

In-Ear Monitors (IEMs) provide the exact voice and are suitable for most users who prefer to tuck everything in. However, they are preferred more by audio engineers, gamers, music composers, and singers for live performances.

You get exceptional crisp and clear noises, that is the top reason why professionals tend to choose it more.

IEMs are built-in with quality materials like acrylic, metal, resin, and plastic, and usually, come in different sizes of ear tips.

Earbuds are constructed for general public use. Their shapes are no different than IEMs and don’t offer different sizes. Many people get uncomfortable when their ear canal is closed, and the earbuds here come to the rescue to eliminate this physical discomfort.

Earbuds are lighter and everyone can use them for a personal audio experience. Most of them are made out of plastic material, so they can be as lightweight as possible.

Final Thoughts

A vast range of people thinks that Earbuds and IEMs are the same things. They do look alike but certainly not the same.

They differ in many features like sound, comfort, volume, built quality, and other minor features. They both do an amazing job and fit the customers’ expectations. The question is which type fits yours.

Further Reading

You can continue reading about headphones burn in phenomenon, and also about 4 ways how to listen to music without headphones. 

And find out if Dolby Atmos in headphones worth it.



Whether you’re looking for information on audio equipment, looking to learn more about how things work in the music field, or looking for reviews of products, we got you covered!



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