Headphones, headsets, earphones: These terms are freely tossed around the internet with little regard for accuracy.
What exactly do they mean, anyway?
First the bad news: There is little (if any) consensus as to precise meanings for these terms.
Generally speaking, headphones emphasize quality stereo sound for listening to music, movies, or games. Headphones have evolved quite a bit from the head-cramping cans of the seventies and eighties, although the types favored by audiophiles retain their sound-isolating, around-the-ear design.
For the purposes of the AudioLinks website, headsets are ear-worn speakers (or a single speaker) coupled with a microphone for interactive use with telecom systems, intercoms, or computers. But keep in mind that the term “headset” is often used to denote head-worn audio devices of all three types.
Earphones are often a catch-all term for speakers that rest over or inside the ear, or fit directly into the ear canal. For the purpose of the AudioLinks site, earphones specifically refer to the variety that hang over the ear. Earphones (and form-fitting earbuds and canalphones) owe their popularity to personal media players and mobile devices. Because of their portability and convenience, earphones are an ideal choice for travel or exercise.
What do you think about these definitions? How would you define the difference between headphones, headsets and earphones?
A headset is essentially a set of headphones equipped with a microphone. The headset microphone may be a boom microphone, whereby the microphone is attached to a boom which can be moved at will and positioned as desired. Alternatively it may feature an in-line microphone. This type of microphone is attached to the cord which connects the headset to the computer or other device.
Headsets are ideal for a wide range of uses. They are the natural choice for voice over IP communications with services such as Skype, as well as interfacing with a phone system. Headsets are also perfect for playing online games with voice communications. With a headset, listeners are immersed within their listening experience.
Headphones are, in a sense, the forebearer of everything else on this list. In their simplest form, a pair of headphones is two simple speakers attached to a band. This then goes across the top of the user’s head. This means the speakers are positioned directly over the ears. This provides a personal, immersive listening experience where the sound source delivers its brilliant sonic payload directly into the ears. The experience of listening to headphones is somewhat unique in comparison to traditional speakers, which vibrate large segments of air within a room to recreate sounds.
In contrast, headphones only move a relatively small amount of air around the listeners ear. This helps create a more confined and personalised sound stage. Headphones usually also offer better noise cancellation. They act as a sort of auditory insulation, keeping the noise produced by the headphones within the phones muffs while blocking intrusive noises from outside.
Earphones, such as the BackBeat GO 2 are the spiritual successor the headphones. Dispensing with the large design of “cans” or padded ear muffs which nestle the headphones speakers in, the earphone is effectively an in-ear speaker. Inserted into the ear canal, earphones provide an even more direct connection to the sound source. They move even less air than headphones. This is because they only need to vibrate the small amount of air within the listeners auditory canal.
Ear phones definitely cut down on the bulk of traditional headphones. That makes them the ideal choice for people on the go. They are therefore the typical choice for athletes, runners and gym-goers rocking their MP3 players while getting some exercise. However, the design of the earphone has a knock-on effect on noise cancelling. What’s more, some people find them uncomfortable to wear since they sit within the ear canal. For those who like or even prefer the ear phone experience, however, the reduced bulk and ergonomic contours can be quite comfortable.
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