IEMs Vs. Headphones: Which Is Better?

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Well, my first thought before starting to write this article was to go basic, and by basic, I mean to start with basic definitions of headphones and then basic definitions of IEMs and then to move on with types of both categories and in them and hope to reach a verdict on which one would be a better choice for you.

I mean you all think that you know what headphones are, but do you? There are many definitions and having a variety of one thing sometimes might get confusing, so let me set it clear once and for all, for you!

Definition of Headphones

Headphones are a pair of tiny loudspeaker drivers worn over the user’s ears, on or around the head. They’re electroacoustic transducers, which translate an electrical signal into sound. In contrast to a loudspeaker, which emits sound into the open air for everyone around to hear, headphones allow a single user to listen to an audio source secretly. Headphones are also referred to as earspeakers, earphones, or cans.

I know that your mind is stuck on the bold sentence, but yes, you need to know that not only the items with ear pads or ear cups and a headband can be called headphones. Your earbuds, earphones, or earspeakers are a type of headphones, so if you are wearing earbuds at the moment, you can freely say that you own headphones. You won’t be wrong!

Types of Headphones

In this part of the article, I’m not going to write only the types of headphones, cause that would be plain by my side! I’m also going to go over the biggest difference between each headphone style and then I’ll dive in into why each one is a must-have for any serious music lover.

In-Ear Headphones

Sometimes called earbuds and sometimes earphones, these in-ear headphones are perhaps the most common type of headphones today. Due to their small size, in-ear headphones rate the highest when it comes to portability. Most in-ear headphones fit just inside the opening of your ear canal which creates one of the best ceiling conditions you can get. Others are held on with a small piece of strap that wraps around the back of your ears.

To some in-ear headphones are extremely comfortable, whereas for many others they can be a little annoying and sometimes even painful, therefore they come in different sizes, but in-ear headphones are not ideal for listening for hours, they have the smallest drivers and they can not produce the highs and lows that on-ear or over-ear headphones can present. And these types of headphones are less open-sounding than other types of headphones because the sound goes straight to your ear drum.

IEMs are incredibly effective in blocking out external noise because of their design.

On-Ear headphones are up next.

On-Ear Headphones

This type of headphones sits directly against or on top of your ears. Even though they don’t have any unique advantages over in-ear or over-ear headphones, they are more about bouncing your needs and finding a happy you between portability and high quality sound.

The ear cups are smaller than those of the over-ear headphones and many even fold up for easy transport, and some of these will also come with a nice case that protects them when you throw them in your bag.

On-ear headphones typically won’t get as hot as the over-ear headphones because air circulates through them easier, however, this can be a downside when considering their lack of ambient noise isolation. The sound isolation on a pair of headphones that go directly into the ear canal will always be better.

While Over-Ear headphones are typically regarded as the most comfortable option, on ear styles will be a big improvement over the in-ear style, and they will also let you listen for a longer period, without your ears getting sore. On-ear headphones also have larger drivers than in-ear, meaning that when you are comparing any of these in the same price range, they can typically reproduce a wider range of frequency and also present a wider sound stage.

Over-Ear Headphones

If you ask any audiophile about his or her favorite type of headphones, their answer will likely be over-ear headphones. This style is meant to be worn mostly at home or work, not on the go as much, but they are the best sounding and the most comfortable type of headphones.

Portability is not the strongest suit of over-ear headphones even though they sometimes can be folded up and some also come with a travel case that offers you easier transportation.

The large size of these types of headphones allows them to present the best sound quality possible. The large drivers of this type of headphones can produce the widest range of frequency, from silky smooth highs to tight deep bass.

And now that we have an overall perception of headphones, their definition, and types, we can move on with IEMs

In-ear monitors (IEMs)

Musicians, audio engineers, and audiophiles use in-ear monitors (IEMs) to listen to music or hear a personal mix of voices and stage instrumentation for live performance or recording studio mixing. Television presenters also utilize them to get oral directions, information, and breaking news announcements from a producer that are only heard by the presenter. They are frequently custom-fit for a person’s ears to give comfort and a high level of noise reduction from the environment.

So, IEM stands for in-ear monitor and they’re built of high-quality materials including acrylic, metal, and resin, as well as plastic. They are hidden into your ear canal and allow audio monitoring in a professional studio to mix and master recordings, hear music with incredible clarity, and more. Their system consists of three components: the transmitter, the receiver, and a pair of earphones.

IEMs Vs. Headphones

Sound Quality and Performance

The sound quality of IEMs and headphones is influenced by several factors. While there are better-sounding IEMs on the market, when it comes to headphone sound, the sound associated with earbuds is typically regarded as inferior.

The nicest thing about IEMs is that they can completely seal your ears, which is essential when working in a noisy environment. In this circumstance, you’ll do even better. IEMs are characterized by their low-consistency lightweight drivers. They can’t handle the highs and lows that most models can: headphones worn on and off the neck.


Talking about relaxation with In-Ear Monitors is a bit of a grey area. Hanging the ear canal is quite uncomfortable for many people who wear IEMs. Even if the focus does not directly enter the ear canal, those who use them regularly experience numbness and discomfort after a short length of time.

Bulky headphones, on the other hand, give you the ideal luxury you so richly deserve. They fit your ears perfectly and completely conceal you from outside noise. They entirely protect your ears from the discomfort that in-ear monitoring systems might cause.


Athletics, exercise, cycling, and other physical activities can all benefit from IEMs. They are extremely portable due to their small size. Pockets, packs, and bags have a lower volume than over-ear headphones when folded.

Headphones are far too heavy to be compared to the small, compact in-ear monitors, which are the most popular in both categories. The ideal approach to make the headphones wearable is to put them on and rest on the sofa, safe in the knowledge that they will be flown to your desired location.


I am well aware that I have to conclude since I’ve come to the end of this article but once again I’ll say something that you won’t like much. It depends totally on you who will be the winner of these fights, headphones or IEMs. It depends on your purpose for buying them, it depends on how long you will be wearing them, it depends on what you will be using them, it depends and it continues to depend all on you.

Think about it and go over everything I have written in this article. I’m pretty sure you will make the best decision for yourself, and I have never doubted that part. And besides, even if you are not considering buying any of these items, headphones or IEMs, I would be more than happy if this article will serve you as a proper resource of information, so when you come to the point when you will want to buy one of these audio items, you feel prepared to make a decision right away.

Look, I’ll just say one more thing and I’ll stop writing cause I don’t want things to get more complicated than they already are. Both items have their pros and cons. Headphones have their strong suits but so do IEMs, and also headphones have their downsides but so do IEMs, so whichever you choose, you will be sacrificing, so go ahead and listen to your gut feeling.

Believe me, gut feelings never fail you, and you almost never regret the decision made relying on your gut feeling.

Okay now, I’ll stop writing and I’ll just say that I hope you find this article helpful. I just did my best to make a proper chronology so you can understand things easier. You are welcome!

Further Reading

Headphones are always topics to be considered, and here I would like to mention that there are some great headphones for recording vocals, as well as AptX Low Latency headphones to look for, or in case you have piercings, you might want to find the best headphones for tragus piercing.

Also, considering IEMS, there are some KZ earbuds to consider.

Melissa Peterkin
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