Open Ear vs. In-Ear Headphones: What’s the Difference?

Posted on

Headphones are ubiquitous in our lives - whether it is to listen to music or podcasts, participate in a video conference, talk on the phone, or listen to the audio track of a movie in privacy. It’s estimated that by 2028 over one billion headphones of all types will have been sold! (Global Market Insights Jan 2022)

The three main types of headphones available are over the ear (cans), in ear (earbuds) and the latest iteration - open ear.

Within these three there’s a wide range of features and price points including wired, Bluetooth Wireless (both tethered and truly wireless), noise canceling, and much more. In other words, there’s a headphone out there for everyone no matter what their budget or desired features.

For this blog, we’ll focus on in ear and open ear.


Earbuds have tiny “tips” that fit into your ears. In theory, they provide a solid seal of your ear canal minimizing sound leakage and maximizing bass response. Unfortunately, unless you get custom molded ear tips, it is difficult to optimize that seal with the few universal tips that are included in the box. The downside of an optimized seal is the greater likelihood of discomfort aka “earbud fatigue”, the introduction of bacteria into the ear canal, and the buildup of earwax. The earwax buildup also inhibits the sound performance of the ear bud if not cleaned regularly. Further, a poor fit can mean loss of a truly wireless earbud which can be costly. Since your ear canal is “closed”, you are isolated from the outside world which can lead to safety concerns if using for outdoor sports like running, walking or cycling.

Pros & Cons of Earbuds


  • Better overall sound quality and bass response
  • Minimal sound leakage
  • Extensive selection of prices and features from a broad base of brands


  • Difficult to get a good fit
  • Safety when used outdoors
  • Ear health concerns

Open Ear

Open-ear headphones do not cover or shield your ears, allowing you to hear your music and your surroundings. Open-ear wireless headphones use bone conduction or directional audio technology to bypass the eardrums and transmit sound directly to the ear. Bone conduction through vibration on your cheek bone and directional audio that utilize special transducers (speakers) to direct the sound to your ears but no one else’s. I compared the two technologies in my last blog. Since there’s nothing going in your ear, comfort is maximized. They are safer since you can hear the world around you - especially important for outdoor sports. Also healthier with no concerns with bacteria or ear wax build up. The downside is with your ears open bass response suffers and, while technology has improved to minimize sound leakage, it is not as isolating as with ear buds.

Pros & Cons of Open-Ear


  • Comfort
  • Safety
  • Health


  • Bass response is lacking
  • Sound leakage
  • Less choices of prices and features compared to ear buds  


To conclude, every buyer has different interests and budget concerns. That’s why it's important to do your research to see what’s current in the market. There is no single type of headphone which is immune from drawbacks. So, ensure you read all the descriptions of open ear vs. in ear before making any decision. It’s becoming much more common to have more than one headphone and tailor that to what you’ll be using them for.


← Older Post Newer Post →