How do I Choose the Best Earbud Headphones?

Lori Spencer

Choosing the right pair of headphones is essentially a matter of individual taste and preferences. Your decision should be based on how you plan to use your headphones, what type of music you'll be listening to, and your own ideas of what is comfortable. Earbud headphones — also known as in-ear phones — are the most portable, lightweight and compact of all headsets. The small earpieces may be designed to insert into the ear, or they may securely clip on to the outer ear.

Golfer using a cellphone while on a golf course.
Golfer using a cellphone while on a golf course.

Earbuds are sometimes included free with the purchase of a cell phone or portable music player, but these types of in-ear headphones are often of low quality. To get the most out of your music, you may need to upgrade your earbud headphones. Some higher-end models provide outstanding sonic range and isolation from external noise. Many companies that make speakers and closed-ear headphones produce earbud headphones as well.

A close up of earbud headphones and headphone jack.
A close up of earbud headphones and headphone jack.

The primary considerations when choosing a pair of earbud headphones are design, features, performance, and price. Spending a little extra on a high-quality pair of earbud headphones may be well worth it if you plan to use them for listening while traveling or in louder environments. Earbuds are a compact listening solution for portable MP3 and CD players, and laptops. Many come with a small travel storage case, some cleaning tools and attachments, and a limited warranty.

Handheld MP3 player with earbud headphones.
Handheld MP3 player with earbud headphones.

When testing a pair of earbud headphones, it’s a good idea to bring along some of your favorite CDs and run the headphones through their paces: how well do they filter out external noise during soft passages of music; and how much bass response do they deliver without low-end distortion in the loud passages? Every ear is different, so wearing the earbud headphones for a while can reveal whether they will stay comfortable and if they are likely to fall out. Ultimately, the earpieces that fit snugly but cause little to no discomfort in or around the ear are a good shape for you.

The downside of earbud headphones is that their overall frequency range, volume, sound isolation, and bass response still cannot compare with a pair of high-quality closed-ear headphones. If you're always on the move, however, earbuds are a convenient choice that for many, provides more-than-adequate fidelity for general listening purposes.

Individuals whose exercises require significant movement should invest in a pair of headphones that can be clipped into place.
Individuals whose exercises require significant movement should invest in a pair of headphones that can be clipped into place.

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