IEMs vs Earbuds: Why One May Fit Your Needs More




iem vs earbuds and which suits your needs for headphones


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With the advancement of technology, more advanced pieces of gadgets are being invented every day. People now have more freedom in terms of what they use for everything. As far as music is concerned, there are plenty of options, and among them, there are the two most popular gadgets nowadays; IEM and earbuds.

IEM vs. earbud is a hot topic in recent times. Both have their pros and cons, and it can be difficult for average users to know their differences and what they offer. The target users for IEMs are music enthusiasts, and earbuds are for casual users.

Both earbuds and IEMs have significant differences. However, those differences do not weigh each other to declare a clear-cut winner and trump the other. As you can understand, there’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get started.

iem vs earbuds and which suits your needs for headphones

IEM vs. Earbuds: A Detailed Comparison

As I have already stated above, both IEM and earbuds are unique with various distinctions. Here, I will discuss some critical differences in multiple aspects. Let’s go:


IEM stays closer to your ear. So, your ears are exposed to higher volume when the volume level is the same. IEM seals the ear, which means there is also little or no ambient noise.

I will talk about ambient noise in the section; let’s focus on the volume level here. If you like your songs loud and clear, the only option is to raise the volume level.

However, increasing the volume won’t work the same in IEM and earbuds. As an IEM set completely seals your ear and blocks all ambient noise, you will hear songs very clearly even if you are in a raucous environment.

On the other hand, earbuds won’t give you the same performance in terms of volume.

Sound Quality

For music lovers, sound quality is a critical issue. Any low to midrange earbuds or headphones provide more or less good quality sound. However, when you switch to more expensive products, you will feel the difference.

However, even the most expensive earbuds won’t give you the same quality sound as IEMs. It is because they are built differently. It depends on audio drivers and some other factors.

The thing is that the purpose of IEMs is to give their users the best sound quality possible. On the other hand, earbuds are for casual users.


Comfort is a highly debated topic. A very uncomfortable earbud might not affect too much if the user wears it for a lesser period.

On the other hand, a very ergonomic headphone or earbud can feel extremely confining after hours of use.

Both earbuds and IEMs are more comfortable than headsets because of their design. Earbuds are typically more comfortable because they are lightweight, and their size is pretty much the same.

Earbuds manufacturers follow the one-size-fits-all principle.

As IEMs go deep into our ear canal, sometimes it might feel uncomfortable because different people have differently shaped ear canals. Also, IEMs are heavy because they are made of metal, acrylic, etc.

But high-price IEMs come with custom solutions meaning you can buy separate ear tips that fit your ear. Ultimately, the comfort depends on a lot of factors.

There is no straightforward way to place one over the other.

Noise Cancellation

Noise cancellation is significant for audiophiles and online gamers. You can’t detect your enemy if there are loud sounds next to you.

You can’t also listen to every word of your favorite lyrics in a noisy place. You will need a listening device that gives you excellent sound quality with proper noise cancellation for both purposes.

IEMs is the winner when it comes to noise cancellation. As it sits inside your ear canal, it blocks all the outside noises.

It means you don’t hear ambient noise and more of your favorite songs. Earbuds sit on the outer ear, so they can’t correctly block ambient noises.

If you want top-notch noise cancellation, you should opt for IEMs.

You should also be aware that IEMs can’t provide complete noise cancellation if they don’t fit properly inside your ear.

There are detachable ear tips available for IEMs. You can try different shapes and sizes and use which is the best for your ear.


IEMs usually have multiple drivers. A dynamic driver handles the bass, and separate drivers handle high and low sounds. There are even IEMs that have five drivers or more.

One can easily understand the audio quality of a device with multiple drivers compared to a single one. There are many IEM models with only one driver.

Earbuds usually have a single driver and this is the main reason for the difference in audio quality.

The purpose behind using a single driver is to make earbuds more affordable to mass people. You can get a pair of earbuds for free with an intelligent device, whereas IEMs are made for enthusiasts.


After all the discussions above, you realized that IEMs are pricier than earbuds. Expensive IEMs can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, whereas you can find earbuds for a few dollars.

However, costly earbuds cost way more than affordable IEM models.

However, the lowest amount you have to spend for an IEM is significantly higher than for earbuds.

Even cheap IEMs can perform better than expensive earbuds because of how they are built. You can see it this way; the most costly bicycle won’t go faster than the cheapest motor car.

IEMs cost more, but you get more return on your investment. They sound good and also last longer. Although earbuds don’t sound bad, their longevity is questionable.

To sum it up, IEMs are more expensive, and earbuds are cheaper and affordable.

IEM vs. Earbuds: At a Glance

There are significant differences between IEMs and earbuds. It will be much easier for you to understand their differences in a tabulated form so let’s do this:

Volume LevelHighLow
Audio QualityBetterAverage
Ease of UseRelatively comfortableBetter comfort
Number of DriversMultipleOne

Which One Should You Buy?

Now onto the main topic; which one you should buy. There is no straightforward answer to it. Many factors separate these two, even beyond the ones I discussed above.

Earbuds are more popular as they are available for cheaper or sometimes even accessible. They are comfortable for prolonged use. Even if they break or malfunction, you can get another pair for $20.

IEMs are not suitable for day-to-day use, especially if you are not an audiophile. The first hindrance is the initial price you have to pay. IEMs are usually wired, which means they are less comfortable than wireless earbuds. 

However, the sheer audio quality and lifespan of IEMs are worth every penny, that is, if you have the budget for it. Even if you have the budget, IEMs might seem a waste of money if it’s not what you are looking for.

You should go for an IEM if you have the budget, plus if an IEM is what you want. Else, you should settle with a pair of earbuds.


Although IEM is superior in every aspect, earbuds are in the race with their virtues. Understanding the differences between IEM vs. earbuds can be difficult for general people or even music lovers as various technical issues are involved. 

I sincerely believe I could point out some key differences between the two to help you decide. Good luck!

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