In-Ear Monitors (IEMs) vs. Earbuds vs. Headphones – Comparison in 2023

by Matthew David | Updated: 04/14/2023

The beauty of listening to music can never be better without comfortable headphones. The last thing you would want is a heavy headphone that would interfere with your listening experience. And that’s why it’s essential to differentiate between the In-Ear (IEM) vs Earbuds vs. Headphones.

All of them can be great in one way or another but have their drawbacks too. This post offers you a detailed review on each of them. At the end of this post, you will be able to differentiate between the two and choose the best.

Here we go.

In-Ear Monitors


IEMS or In-Ear Monitors can also be referred to as In-Ear earphones or headphones. In the consumer audio market, In-Ear headphones are the professional-grade of earbuds.

IEMs are personal audio equipment that stays within your ear’s structure to offer you excellent listening experience. They are quite different from ear-headphones or over-ear headphones, which are known to seal off your entire ear.

These monitors create a seal by an outcrop part in the earphone that spreads inside the ear canal. It is fitted with silicone on the area that spreads into the ear, which blocks external noise and keeps the earphone in place.

With these ear monitors, be sure to get a heavily isolated listening experience. All the incoming sound goes to your ear canal. This helps you get all the details in the audio clearly and elements of each minute.

The ear canal seal ensures that you get intense isolation, which is crucial in focusing on the audio. With this ear monitor, you can use the lowest voice, thanks to blocking out the outside noise.

This is a superb feature that you might not get on other personal listening equipment.

Did you know that too loud music can cause so some harm to your ears? Sometimes you might easily forget this when you crank up the decibels.

Most well-known musicians like Eric Clapton. Phil Collins and Sting suffer from hearing loss. This is because they exposed their ears to too loud music for a long time. May-be the state of their ears would have been better if they switched to ‘silent stage” before things got worse.

Recent studies also reveal that musicians are more prone to hearing loss caused by noise compared to non-musicians. In other words, listening to any device with over 85 decibels for a long time can expose you to risks of hearing damage that can’t be reversed.

In-Ear monitors could, therefore, be a great option if you need something that will protect your ears from too loud noise.

Besides too loud noise, In-Ear Monitors protect your ear from fatigue arising from listening to loud music. If you need comfort as you listen to your music, you might want to use In-Ear Monitors. You can get In-Ear monitors in different ear tip shapes and sizes. These monitors also give you the ability to get a premium fit.





Earbuds work just like in-ear monitors because they sit in the structure of your outer ear. However, there is a difference between iems vs earbuds. Earbuds are for an open construction, unlike the IEM, which are sealed against your ear.

For this reason, they allow more ambient noise in the ear, which might be great to help you stay focused on a busy environment.

While this might be great, its downside is that it might lower the sound quality. The reason could be because most earbuds have been manufactured cheaply. After all, they are intended to be used casually. Earbuds usually have only a single driver.

There are earbud models that come with wings. This offers them extra support since they are prone to falling. Earbuds allow in some noise in your ears because they create a partial seal within your ears.

If you need total concentration, they might not be the best fit for you. However, if you need extra awareness while listening to something, you might want to choose earbuds. You can use them while on activities like working out, jogging, or running while listening to your best song.

When it comes to overall comfort, earbuds tend to be better than IEM since you need to wear them outside the ear canal. If you prefer to have something jammed in your ear and find headphones to be somehow bulky, you could choose earbuds.

If you are looking for excellent sound quality, you might want to choose high-end earbuds. However, you need to note that IEM tends to offer excellent sound quality. Earbuds come in one size. You don’t have the option of choosing between many options that fit you. However, their size is moderate and fits most ears.



Read the article on the Best Earbuds Under $200. You might also like the article on the best bluetooth earbuds under $50.



Headphones are quite different from earbuds and IEM because they tend to be bulkier. However, their different size makes them have more advantages that earbuds don’t have. Headphones have a more significant driver compared to earbuds.

Due to their significant drivers, they offer more consistent sound from low to high frequencies. They also offer a fantastic bass response, which enhances your listening experience.

Most headphone users love them due to their sizable natural soundstage. Due to their size, they offer more airy and spacious sound production. For this reason, the headphone can offer an outstanding listening experience. Unlike earbuds, headphones are also comfortable.

There might be situations where you might experience some headphones squeezing your ears. In this case, you need to be more careful when buying them. Consider choosing a headphone that fits on your ear more comfortably.

Remember, headphones come with their lower sides like sound leakage, and some are not portable. You, therefore, need to choose what you feel comfortable wearing. A traditional headphone is quite large.

While some headphones may have a powerful driver, they tend to be quite bulky. Fortunately, you have a wide range of options to choose from.

If you are looking for better sound quality and don’t mind about size and portability, you might choose headphones. Headphones also have some similarities to IEM in that they have a noise-canceling severe technology. This enhances your listening experience by removing ambient sounds.

You can either rest headsets on top of ears or around your ears. This is not the case with IEMS. In other words, headphones tend to be better than earbuds in the context of bass frequency.

However, due to their size, they are less portable. Headphones can also be an issue if you wear them while wearing earrings, glasses, or when doing physical activity.

The best thing about headphones is that you can find them in almost any electronic shop. There are two main types of headphones. They can either be closed back or open back. The ones with a closed-back create a soft seal on or around your outer ear.

This makes them block most of the ambient noise. On the other hand, open headphones do not create any seal, which makes you more comfortable. Their better bass response is due to their flexible driver size. Headphones, therefore, have better bass than earbuds.



Read the following roundup review articles on Headphones

For More Headphones review, visit this link

Which one could be right for you?

We have had a look at the In-Ear Monitors (EMS) VS Earbuds vs. Headphones. Each of them has its pros and cons. You might feel a little overwhelmed while choosing one. For this reason, you need to consider certain factors before choosing one of them.

When buying listening equipment, you need to consider your needs. How long are you going to use them? If you are looking for something to use for a long time, you might opt for on-ears like headphones. This is because they are located outside your ears.

These headphones are more comfortable in times of prolonged usage. In-ear headphones or IEM, on the other hand, have fantastic sound quality. They are perfect for daily comminuting. However, you can’t use them for a log long as they will hurt your ears.

Lastly, there are over-ear headphones that offer fantastic sound quality. They are also comfortable if you are looking for something that you can use for a longer time. The only issue is that they are not very portable. They are quite big, which makes them bulky.

You should also choose listening equipment based on frequency response. This is the range of frequency that a headphone produces. The lower limit of frequency is the bass sound, while the upper limit is what we call treble.

Would you love to listen to music with bass? Many headphones have a frequency response ranging from 20Hz-2000 Hz. If you are looking for more bass, you might want to choose a device that uses a full frequency response.

In a nutshell, earbuds, IEM and headphones are quite identical and might confuse a layman. Each of them appears to be the same and might offer almost the same sound quality as to how you want to place them and comfort matters.

You can use IEM if you need something to place around your inner ear canal. So long as you are comfortable with the audio quality and feel comfortable wearing them, go for what suits you.

Earbuds might be great if you need to generally satisfy your cravings for music. However, if you are looking for a better sound quality, you can test various headphones and choose the best.