Earbuds vs IEM

Beth Huston Profile image

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Updated October 3, 2022

Having the best headphones available means looking into some style comparisons. If you’re looking for the finest wireless earbuds, comparing high-end IEMs vs. earbuds will be essential. These two styles are both wildly popular, but for very different reasons. Keep reading to learn more about how the two measure up to each other.


  • The biggest difference between IEMs and earbuds is their sound quality. This is due to various factors related to their design, but the biggest is the tight seal IEMs offer.
  • Another place where the two models differ is their noise isolation capabilities. IEMs tend to have a much easier time isolating noise compared to earbuds.
  • When it comes to blocking noise out, you’ll always want to choose IEMs. Their placement in your ear canal offers a tighter seal and more direct sound transference.

Comparing In-Ear Monitors and Earbuds

When you’re comparing the best wireless earbuds and IEMs, you should know a few things. The differences between them will allow you to decide which fits your lifestyle better. While these two might seem like very similar devices, a few differences between them make a world of difference in the eyes of audiophiles. If you want to learn about other audio devices, try comparing earpods vs. earbuds.

Insider Tip

Custom IEMs will always be better than a standard earbud model due to differences in their design.

Overall Sound Quality

Audio quality is a huge factor for most people when it comes to audio equipment. When comparing IEMs and earbuds, this is naturally a big category. Earbuds are generally lower-quality than IEMs. This is because of their usually cheaper design, especially those with lower prices. This means IEMs win this round. Those who want the best sound quality possible would benefit from comparing headphones vs. speakers.

Noise Isolation Capabilities

When using earbuds, you usually pump up the volume to drown out ambient noise. However, the superior noise isolation capabilities of IEMs mean you don’t have to worry about doing that. IEMs form a better seal in your ear and essentially act as ear plugs. On the other hand, earbuds sit on your outer ear and rarely create a proper suction with your ear. This makes IEMs a winner in this category.


Level of performance in audio devices largely depends on their price range, so keep in mind that you get what you pay for.

Blocking External Noise

Finally, we’re going to talk about their capabilities regarding ambient noise cancellation. IEMs have a design that fits directly into your ear canal and generally offers a tighter seal in your ear as a result. This helps provide you with a more immersive audio experience. On the other hand, earbuds tend to have a weaker seal and sit in the outer ear. Because of this, IEMs are the best bet for noisy environments. For more great options, look into the best headphones for TV.

STAT: As of the first quarter of 2020, Apple held the highest market share in the smart personal audio device or wireless earbuds market, accounting for 24 percent. (source)


Do over-ear headphones have better dynamic drivers?

Because of their size, full-size headphones will always have better dynamic drivers. They simply have more space to host larger drivers that deliver better sound.

What pair of earbuds offers the best listening experience?

This is mostly a matter of personal preference. Models at higher price points have benefits like custom-fit ear tips, high-quality sound, and blocking out external sounds, making them better than regular earbuds.

What are the pros of having a pair of earbuds?

There are a few different benefits to having earbuds. One of them is an immersive listening experience. This is because of their placement inside your ear, which delivers noise more directly to your ear drum.

Are low-quality IEMs better than outer earbuds?

Generally speaking, yes. Even low-quality IEM models will outperform outer earbuds on most tests. This is because of the design differences between the two styles of headphones.
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