Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Understanding headphones vs headset vs earbuds, on-ear vs over-ear vs in-ear, wired vs wireless vs true wireless, closed-back vs open-back

It seems that there are quite a lot of earphones related terms nowadays.

It is imperative for you to understand what the terms meant, so that, from their product description, you can understand the nature of the earphones you are aiming for. This will help you ensure that you won't buy the wrong type of earphones that is different from your real preference.

Headphones vs headset vs earbuds

  • Headphones - the sound device with 2 drivers, connected by a headband, to be worn over your head and covering your ears with its ear cups.
In terms of audio playback channel, they can be of:
    • Mono - single-channel audio. Both left and right drivers playing the same audio.
    • Stereo - dual-channel audio. The sound is divided into left channel and right channel. This enables the headphones to produce wider sound width, and the ability to create sound directionality, perspective, as well as simulation of real space.
The ear cups can be of type:

    • Foldable - more easier to carry in flatter pouch.
    • Non-foldable - more suitable to be used at fixed location.
The headphones can be of type:
    • Without noise-canceling treatment - you can still hear the external noise, mixing together with the voice coming from the headphones itself.
    • Passive noise-canceling - able to isolate external noise with the headphones structure and material used. This can minimize the disturbance and annoyance of ambient noise when you are listening through your headphones.
    • Active noise-canceling (ANC) - able to eliminate external ambient noise by producing sound waves with frequency that cancel out the ambient noise frequency. This can create a quiet listening environment for you to focus on the sound coming from your headphones only.
The headphones can be of type:
    • On-ear - the ear cups are put right on your ears. This type of headphones usually has smaller ear cups. Some of the disadvantages of on-ear headphones including:
      • Poorer ambient noise isolation.
      • More tendency of voice leakage - people near you can hear what you are listening to.
      • Need to clamp tightly onto your ears, will cause ears pain when use for long time.
    • Over-ear - the ear cups are larger and sit on your outer ears. This type of headphones are usually more comfortable to wear, has better ambient noise isolation, can prevent voice leakage. They usually have a more expansive sound stage. Depends on the material used, when use for long time, you might feel heat building up at your ears due to poor air ventilation.
The headphones can be of type:
    • Closed-back - the ear cups are fully covering your ears.
    • Open-back - there is a gap at the back of the headphones, so that you are still able to listen to your own voice more clearly when you speak. It also provides better ventilation to have less heat building up after long use.

  • Headset - is a kind of headphones with built-in microphone to capture voice input. This ability enables the headset to provide functions such as making/answering phone calls, voice recording/streaming, using voice commands to "talk" with A.I. virtual assistants such as Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa (a.k.a. Echo), Apple Siri, Alibaba Genie, Xiaomi Xiao Ai, Huawei Celia, Tencent Xiaowei, Samsung Bixby, Microsoft Cortana, etc.
The microphone can be:
    • Internal - inside the ear cups. Less external parts. Voice quality might not be as good as the one with external microphone, because the mic(s) are located further away from the mouth.
    • External - normally in a form of boom mic which can be positioned right in front of your mouth. The external microphone can be of type detachable or non-detachable from the headset.
Better type of microphone has echo-canceling feature to prevent echoing the sound coming from the sound output device.

Better type of microphone also has noise-canceling feature to filter out ambient noise such as the noise from wind, motor, fan, air-cond, moving vehicle, TV, etc.

  • Earbuds - are without headbands, small in size, fits directly into your ears. They are very portable, but usually have shorter battery life, and could drop off from your ear when you jump or move vigorously. They are also more intrusive in nature, and some people find uncomfortable wearing them.
The earbuds can be of type:
    • On-ear - less intrusive in nature.
    • In-ear - to be put into your ear canal. This can provide better passive noise cancellation.

Wired vs wireless vs true wireless

  • Wired earphones, regardless they are headphones, headset or earbuds, has audio wire connecting them to the sound-producing device, which can be a handphone, computer, MP3, musical instrument, etc.
The wire can be of one-way type, sending sound signal from the source device to the earphones. On the other hand, two-ways wire can also send sound signal from microphone of headset to the connected device.

Signal sending in the wire can be of analog type or digital type.

For digital type of audio, the coding format can be of:
    • aptX (Qualcomm)
    • LDAC (Sony)
    • AAC
    • SBC
    • FLAC
    • ...
but more importantly for the quality of audio is its bitrate in kilobits per second (kbps). The higher the better.

  • Wireless earphones communicate with the attached device using wireless communication, which can be of proprietary protocol, Bluetooth, or even WiFi. 
Bluetooth is commonly used, because it is easier to do pairing, consumes less electric power, but it is also limited by relatively short reaching distance.

Certain wired earphones can work without any battery, powered by the electric current in their own wire. But all wireless earphones need to have their own power supply, usually in the form of built-in rechargeable battery.

  • True wireless earbuds refer to earbuds without any wire. This is to distinguish from certain wireless earbuds that are still connecting the right earbud and left earbud to each other with a wire or a band.
Certain true wireless earbuds have internal microphone too, mainly for handling phone calls.

Certain wired earbuds consist of additional components such as:
    • Microphone that attached to the wire.
    • Control dial to control the sound volume easily.


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