In-Ear Monitors vs Earbuds vs Headphones

In-Ear Monitors vs Earbuds vs Headphones

There have never been more options from sound signature, application, and style in the audio equipment world than there are right now. For the casual consumer, this is great news but for the music industry professional or audiophile, trying to find the right product that is reliable and delivers what you need among all that noise can be a nightmare. Different manufacturers use different language to try and sell you the same technology and unless you're intimately familiar with the reputation of those manufacturers, it can be difficult to deem what is trustworthy information. To that end, we've put together this little introduction to personal audio equipment to help lift the veil and assist you in making the decision that's best for your needs.

In-Ear Monitors vs Earbuds vs Headphones

We get asked all the time how our products differ from more mainstream options. It's a question we're happy to answer - who doesn't love talking about themselves, after all - but it’s a question that stems from a basic lack of understanding. So, here we will breakdown the different types of personal listening equipment. It can be difficult to keep track of as each different user segment has its own slang and jargon for these products. Comprehending the differences between them is key to understanding what product is perfect for you. The best of one category is never going to be right if you should be using a separate type of product. Naturally, the best factor in deciding which product is a good fit for you is trying them. You can demo our line-up at our dealers' locations or at our Atlanta headquarters, and we strongly urge you to compare our products to our competitors for the clearest possible understanding of how far we can go to ensure our customers’ satisfaction. 

In-Ear Monitors

Empire Ears custom In ear monitorsAlso known as "earphones", in-ear monitors are a piece of personal listening equipment that sits within the structure of the ear and is sealed against the walls of the ear canal. The result is a heavily isolated experience and, depending on the quality of earphones, a pristine, pure sound. All sound being produced is directed into the ear canal which means you are able to hear more detail and minute elements of your source material will stand out. This, combined with the intense isolation provided by the ear canal seal, is one of the biggest strengths of the in-ear monitor or earphone: running quiet. Blocking out the majority of ambient noise means you can listen at much lower volumes than other types of personal listening equipment. This may not sound very exciting, but it protects your hearing in the long run, and in the short run, prevents ear fatigue allowing you to listen more comfortably. If you use your ears professionally, this is a huge benefit as it keeps your ears fresh and ready to work. You can read more HERE about how using in-ear monitors can protect your hearing.


Earbuds are often cheaply made and offer inferior soundEarbuds are similar to in-ear monitors in they sit in the structure of the outer ear, but instead of being sealed against the in-ear canal, they are of an open construction. This lets in more ambient noise which can be useful to stay alert in busy environments but degrades the quality of sound significantly. This is exacerbated by the fact that most earbuds are cheaply manufactured and intended to be used for casual listening, usually containing only one driver. There are exceptions to this rule, just as there are with every rule, but we recommend demoing any expensive earbud prior to purchase. This is an important step for any personal listening equipment, but in our experience, it is even more important with earbuds.


HeadphonesEssentially speakers mounted to a headband and by far the most ubiquitous of personal listening equipment, headphones are available from nearly every electronics manufacturer on the planet. Also called “cans”, headphones are available in a broad range of quality from inexpensive, poorly made budget options all the way to thousands of dollars worth of high fidelity sound and construction. They come in two main varieties: open back and closed back. Closed headphones create a soft seal around or on the outer ear, blocking out much of the ambient noise, while open backed headphones create no seal allowing for greater comfort at the loss of isolation. Their size can be cumbersome, making them less applicable for physical tasks but also allows them to contain larger drivers than earbuds or earphones. Flexibility with driver size means that, historically, headphones tend to have better bass response than earbuds or earphones, but our Weapon IX dynamic driver has addressed and has overcome this obstacle. Read more about our Weapon IX Subwoofers HERE. Headphones can also be very uncomfortable to wear if you have glasses, wear earrings, or wear your long hair down.

What's right for you?

There are many important factors to consider when picking your new personal listening equipment that go beyond the type and quality of product. You also need to consider customer support, reliability of construction, place of construction, who manufactures the components, and more depending on your personal preferences. We pride ourselves on our customer service, offer an industry leading 1-2 year driver warranty, hand make everything in Atlanta, GA and use industry giants Knowles and Sonion for our proprietary drivers. We stand by our product and our methodologies and you should pick a company for your personal listening equipment that does the same.

Ultimately, only you can pick what's right for you. Hopefully the information above will serve as a starting point for you to go out and demo different types of products. Our universal products are always available to demo at our dealers' locations and at our Atlanta headquarters. We encourage you to demo thoroughly trying all kinds and makes of personal listening equipment. We know where our products fall and we're confident you will hear the difference.