IEMs vs. Headphones: Which Is Better?

Last Updated: March 28, 2022By

Black IEMs on black keyboard

A good listening experience is a must these days, regardless of what you’re doing. Whether you’re taking calls, playing games, or just listening to music, a good set of headphones may make or break your listening experience.

But with so many alternatives on the market, it may be difficult for the ordinary consumer to figure out which sort of headphones or IEMs are best for them—or whether they need it at all.


IEMs are high-quality earbuds that fit into your ear and filter out background noise. They’re generally used by performers and audio professionals during mixing, but also by audiophiles on the road. They are built of high-quality materials such as acrylic, metal, resin, and plastic.

Although they have a similar appearance when worn, in-ear monitors (or IEMs) are different from earbuds.

There are key distinctions between IEMs and earbuds, including where they fit in your ear and audio quality, and how they transfer sound and preserve your hearing.

The little gadget forms a seal within the ear, resulting in a tight fit that blocks most external sounds. The seal over the ear canal confines the music to the listener’s ear, ensuring that others around them are not disturbed.

IEMs fit more tightly than earbuds and are fashioned more like an ear, with most of what’s available on the consumer market giving a universal fit.

While some IEMs provide cords with device controls, the ordinary music listener or phone caller is unlikely to choose IEMs over earbuds.

Benefits of IEMs

What makes IEMs better than their larger counterparts?

IEMs are the best in noise isolation, making them ideal for audiophiles or musicians who need to listen to every detail in a piece of music.

Musicians also use these in concerts since IEMs drown out the surrounding noise coming from the other instruments.

IEMs are pleasant to wear even in hot weather because of their tiny size and snug fit. IEMs provide some of the greatest audio quality available.

The audio quality is excellent, and you will be able to hear every aspect of the song. Even at low levels, the bass is improved, and the sound quality remains consistent. They are generally offered to customers in a variety of pricing ranges.

IEMs used to be very rare, and only a few manufacturers ever bothered making them. But now they are widely available, and you don’t have to go through the trouble of getting a custom fit for your ear. You can just buy a universal-fit IEM and enjoy the sound.


Headphones are outfitted with miniature components like those found in speakers.

Headphones are tiny speakers worn on the exterior of the ear by users. A headband that wraps over or around the head or neck keeps them in place.

Headphones are available in both wired and wireless configurations and at a wide range of prices, and wired headphones often use a standard audio jack connector, 6.3 mm (14.4 cm) or a minijack (3.5 mm). Still, it’s always a good idea to double-check that your pair is compatible with your devices.

Benefits of Headphones

Silver Sony headphones on couch

So why choose a headphone when IEMs seem like such a good deal? Here’s why.

Almost every major audio brand is focused on making mainstream headphones, which means that there are so many styles, patterns, and price ranges available. You are certain to discover a pair that matches your own style and budget.

There is something for everyone on the market, whether you want something sleek and fashionable or a set of noise-canceling headphones. The highest sound quality may be found in a good set of headphones.

If you’re looking for a way to completely block out the outside world while listening to your favorite music, closed-back headphones are a great option. There are a large variety of headphones available, each with its own set of functions and price tag.

You won’t be dissatisfied with the performance if you spend the extra money on a high-end pair. Headphones will be more comfortable than wearing a gadget in the ear, making them a better option when you’re on a long trip.

A Third Contender – Earphones

While we have talked about headphones and IEMS, a third alternative is also viable for listeners. And that’s earphones or earbuds.

Earbuds are a cross between headphones and IEMs, in the sense that they are headphones that fit within the ear, just outside the ear canal, and are often constructed of a hard plastic substance.

These are not the same as ear canal headphones, which feature a rubber tip and seal within the listener’s ear canal.

Earbuds are popular among consumers since they are simpler to transport than other types of headphones due to their compact size.

Most earbuds function similarly to regular headphones, and the setup is straightforward.

What Is ANC? (Active Noise Cancellation)

ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) reduces unwanted ambient noise by using noise-canceling technology as the system is built on microphones. This ANC chipset creates sound waves to cancel out the external incoming sound waves, resulting in lower external noise.

Now that technology is compact and battery-efficient, wireless in-ear earbuds are available in cheaper amounts.

There are two ways to reduce noise. Active and passive.

PNC employs well-designed ear cups to keep out unwanted noise, as the name suggests. Over-the-ear headphones and in-ear earphones with earbuds that keep outside noise out are examples of this.

Which One Is Best for Me?

The answer is that it depends.

Your choice between IEMs or headphones will be based on what you use them for. You should go for IEMs if you’re a performer and want to listen clearly to your sound signature without being disturbed by any external noise.

Using IEMs is also great when you want complete and utter noise canceling. While several headphones and earphones come with ANC (active noise cancellation), they are still less efficient in blocking off external noise when compared to IEMs.

IEMs perform differently than regular headphones or earphones because they are built on a two-part system consisting of a transmitter and a receiver. The IEM picks up sounds from the receiver and amplifies them into your ear.

This, coupled with the IEM’s complete blockage of the ear canal, results in completely crisp and detailed audio. IEMs cancel out around 26-40dB of external noise, depending on the type of IEM used.

However, if you don’t want that feeling of something sticking in your ear, and you prefer listening to music for extended periods, then a pair of headphones would be the better option. We say that listening with an IEM can harm your eardrum if you keep listening for a long time.

Headphones are more comfortable for long road trips, and some of the more expensive sets also come with extremely comfy headbands, which don’t place that much of a load onto your head.

Plus, the ANC of some headphones is more than enough to keep that pesky external noise at bay without fear of harming your ears.

You should go for over-ear headphones if you want to use your headphones for professional work or gaming unless you have a unique requirement for IEM, such as noise isolation or mobility.

As a result, you may listen to music for longer periods using over-ear headphones, which are more comfortable.

Instead of many professional studio over-ear headphones, IEMs are more portable and adaptable since they come with connections that work with mobile devices and aren’t overly power demanding, especially in the case of high-end IEMs.

There are few things more annoying than having to worry about the weight of your headphones when exercising or commuting. With over-the-ear headphones, you don’t have to worry about putting pressure on your ears when exercising.


Hopefully, you understand the differences between headphones and IEMs and which one you should get. Remember to always factor in your usage when getting an audio device, and you’ll definitely get the device you need!