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What are Earbuds?

Earbuds are headphones that fit inside the ear.
Handheld MP3 player with earbud headphones.
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  • Written By: Jennifer M. Cogan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2014
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Earbuds are headphones, typically made out of a hard plastic material, that fit inside the ear, just outside of the ear canal. These aren’t the same thing as ear canal headphones, which have a rubber tip and seal within a listener’s ear canal.

Several portable music devices, like mp3s and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), come with earbuds when the device is purchased. Earbuds are a less expensive alternative to ear canal headphones or other listening devices. Consumers tend to purchase earbuds for their convenience, as they are easier to carry around than other headphones because of their small size.

This style of headphone also tends to be more inexpensive than other kinds, like ear canal headphones,circumaural headphones that fit outside the ears, or the supra-aural headphones that have pads that are placed on top of the ears, rather than around or inside them. Circumaural headphones are typically used in recording studios and supra-aural headphones can still be purchased at some stores, though these kinds of devices have given way to headphones that fit within the ear.

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Because of the design of earbuds, there can be a few drawbacks to owning them as opposed to owning another style of headphone. First, the rigid design of earbuds can sometimes make it difficult for them to fit comfortably inside a listener’s ear. If they’re too large or too small, they can either slip out of the ear or won’t fit inside it at all. Another problem reported by consumers is that because earbuds don’t seal the ear canal, the sound quality is muddled through other ambient noises.

Essentially, most earbuds work the same as other headphones and the set-up is relatively simple. Wires move up from the electronic device that is putting out sound, such as an mp3 player. These wires connect to a voice coil. The coil is attached to a cone, which is flexible and plastic. A magnet is attached to the back of the earbuds. When sound passes up through the wires and to the magnet, the voice coil becomes electromagnetic and moves up and down with the sound. The cone then pushes the sound out through the earbud and into the listener’s ear.

When listening to earbuds or any other type of headphones, physicians recommend to keep the volume at a reasonable level, as research had proven that prolonged exposure to high noise levels can lead to permanent hearing loss. Prolonged listening to loud noises, including music, puts unnecessary stress on the hairs in the cochlea. This causes permanent damage to the hairs and can eventually lead to hearing loss.

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