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What are in-Ear Earphones?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne

In-ear earphones, more commonly called earbuds, are miniature headphones reduced to two tiny speakers with wires connecting them in a Y configuration to a mini stereo 3.5mm jack at the end of the single tail. The tiny speakers are encased in pods small enough to sit inside the outer ear, giving in-ear earphones their name. In-ear earphones are commonly used with portable audio devices such as MP3 players, cell phones and personal digital managers to provide stereophonic sound.

Earbuds are uniquely designed to be able to be worn for extended periods of time, unlike standard headphones which can cause tension and even headaches after prolonged use. It can be difficult to find a pair of full sized headphones that are comfortable to wear more than a couple of hours at a time, but in-ear earphones are light and comfortable. This doesn’t mean one size fits all, though most earbuds are sold just that way.

In-ear earphones.
In-ear earphones.

The fit of in-ear earphones is essential to getting the best possible sound, as the speakers are necessarily diminutive. The compensating factor is having the speakers just inches from the eardrums, blocking the ear canals so that the signals being delivered are heard loud and clear even at relatively low outputs. If the buds are too large for the listener’s ear, they won’t fit snug, falling away. A loose fit is not only annoying but results in loss of bass and volume.

In-ear earphones are commonly used with MP3 players.
In-ear earphones are commonly used with MP3 players.

In-ear earphones that have bowl-shaped buds will accommodate fewer listener’s ears correctly than those with cone-shaped buds. The cone allows for flexibility, a more comfortable fit, and because of the snug-factor, delivers consistent sound quality. In some cases, foam cone adapters can be purchased to fit over bowl-shaped buds, making them more adaptable. Commonly, the least expensive in-ear earphones are also the least accommodating, but that doesn’t mean an individual can’t find an inexpensive pair of bowl buds that happen to fit perfectly and sound great.

Special types of earbuds are available for use during vigorous exercise and sports. These in-ear-earphones are designed with a flexible arm that fits over the top of the ear, called an ear clip. The front side of the ear clip is attached to the speaker, keeping it in place even when skateboarding, bicycling, exercising or playing sports. Neckband ear buds are another style, featuring a wrap-behind band to avoid going over the top of the head. Sports buds are less convenient to take on and off than standard buds, but will keep your in-ear earphones from falling out when you’re doing more than walking or jogging. They can even be handy when cleaning house, waxing the car or doing yard work — anything that requires frequent bending over.

In-ear earphones are available at department stores and everywhere electronics are sold. They range in price from less than $8 US Dollars (USD) to over $100 USD. All but the most dedicated audiophiles will likely be happy with earbuds in the $20 - $40 USD range, with others finding their perfect buds for less. With both value and portability, there's no longer a reason to leave your music behind, no matter what your day brings.

Discussion Comments


Showing my age here, but I remember the *huge* earphones of the 70s, and then how hip we thought we were when the Walkman style earphones came on the scene in the late 70s and early 80s, and then how chic earbuds looked. Now, there are big headphones back on the market because they have a better sound. Everything old is new again, I suppose.

I like earbuds just for the convenience angle. I can keep a pair in my desk and they don't take up space. I think I like the kind that have a piece that curls around my ear best, though. They stay in place better.

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    • In-ear earphones.
      In-ear earphones.
    • In-ear earphones are commonly used with MP3 players.
      By: lionel VALENTI
      In-ear earphones are commonly used with MP3 players.