IEM Vs Earbuds: Which Is Better And Why?

IEM Vs Earbuds Which Is Better And Why
  • Anthony

The debate between IEM Vs Earbuds has been going on for decades. While both offer the same functionality, they have their pros and cons.

Professional musicians often favor in-ear monitors due to how well they isolate sound from the outside environment. Still, earbuds can be a better choice for people who need to maintain awareness of what is happening around them.

For more information about this topic, please read our blog post!


Earbuds can be distinguished from headphones visually because they don’t have a headband. They are placed directly in the ear, not on or over the ear. Earbuds are held in place and block out external noise thanks to the silicone or foam ear-tips.

These eartips come in various shapes and sizes and can be supplied with wires or wings that either go over the top or into the contours of the ear.

Tip: You don’t have to use the same ear tip for each ear as your ear canal might not allow. Earbuds can be connected to your audio listening device in various ways depending on their type once they are in your ears.

 Types Of Earbuds

There are three types of earbuds available. There are three types of earbuds: wired, which means that the cord is plugged into the 3.5mm headphone socket (think lost iPhone earbuds or irreversibly tangled in your pockets).


Wireless earbuds connect the earbuds to the phone but not to the other. True wireless earbuds have no cables, such as the ubiquitous Apple AirPods or any other feature-packed option.

What Is The Cost Of Earbuds?

Earbuds range from less than $25 to well above $1,000, according to our research. This can be especially true if you choose to go with a custom company that produces very finely crafted items in small batches. Earbuds tend to be more affordable than they are for most people.

Which Earbuds Are Best?

The best earbuds can be used for music, exercise, gaming, and other activities. The Sony WF-1000XM4 noise-canceling earbuds are the best choice if you like to be productive at work and enjoy listening to music at night.

For athletes, the Jaybird Vista 2 may be a good choice. If you are part of Team iPhone, you may want to check out the standard-setting Apple AirPods Pro.


In-Ear Monitors (IEMs for short) are also called in-ear headphones, earphones. While they look similar, in-ear monitors or IEMs are different from earbuds. Although they are often confused, there are some fundamental differences between IEMs and earbuds.

These include where they fit in your ears and how they transmit sound to your ears and protect your hearing. Some IEMs have device controls and cables, but the average listener to music or call taker will not use IEMs.

IEMs are a better choice than earbuds because they can be placed deeper into the ear and your ear canal. Earbuds don’t have the best hearing protection and can be detrimental to your hearing.

However, IEMs offer superior noise isolation, which musicians and live performers use to hear what they need clearly. IEMs can cut approximately 26 dB of outside noise on average.

However, this number can vary depending on how deep the insertion is made, the type of seal, and the quality of the seal. This is important for the performance as well as to prevent any damage caused by professional lifestyles.

How Well Do IEMs Fit?

While an IEM can be precise and comfortable, it may require some decisions. Two types of IEMs can be filled into your ear canal. One is custom-molded. This involves an audiologist taking a mold and making an IEM that fits precisely.

The other is universal. Universal IEMs use eartips to ensure a secure fit. Your customized set will be returned to you after being custom-molded. This involves having your ears pumped and sending the results back.

Although universal IEMs can be purchased from many places, boutiques, and consumers alike, not all will fit your ears.

However, they can be resold, unlike custom-molded IEMs. There is a substantial secondary market for eartips. Some of them are very effective triple-flange designs and can take some getting used to. This is not something you’ll find in earbuds.

IEMs ( in ear monitors)

Why bother? IEMs can contain multiple drivers depending on their size and purpose. This allows for better audio quality than earbuds which might have one driver but rely on one dynamic driver.

This is a smaller version of the headphone cone and a balanced armature initially designed for hearing aids. The sound produced by dynamic drivers, which push more air, is more extensive and more prosperous with a visceral bass.

Balanced armatures produce a more precise frequency spectrum but have a slower, less tangible feel. Hybrids combine both of these types of the speaker.

Although there are exceptional single-driver IEMs, some of the most popular in-ear monitors feature between five and twelve speakers per ear. Earphones tend to be more popular with people who play acoustic instruments. IEMs are a better option than earbuds and headphones if you’re used to only using headphones or earbuds.

How Much Will You Pay For IEMs?

You can spend anywhere between two and four figures on the best IEMs. The average price of an IEM seems to be in the middle-to-low three figures.

Which Are The Most Effective IEMs?

If you don’t mind paying a lot, you can browse the in-ear monitor designers at JH Audio to find a suitable model for your needs. Jerry Harvey of JH Audio has previously worked with major in-ear monitor makers like Universal Ears.

He created the first custom multi-driver in-ear monitor for Van Halen drummer. This was to be used live to have that rock star feel and high level of performance.

While IEMs vs. earbuds are still a standard part of gigging musician life, they are now more accessible than ever.

While custom-molded options are expensive, universal-fit options are off the shelf, starting at $100 like the Sennheiser IE 100.  Audiophiles are also in the sector and can find powerful, expensive innovations such as the Sennheiser IE 900.

What is the Difference: IEM Vs Earbuds?

Noise Isolation

Earbuds are typically made of all-plastic materials. They are made with a one-size-(hopefully)-fits-all design. They function in the same way as speakers placed right next to your ears. These two factors, the all-plastic design of the ear and the outer ear fit don’t do well in terms of sound isolation.

IEMs can provide a greater level of noise isolation because they are placed directly in the ear canal. IEMs can also be fitted with removable (and replaceable) ear tips in various sizes and shapes.

Some have a dual or triple-pronged design that reaches further into the ear canal to provide superior noise isolation.

 iems vs earbuds: Noise Isolation

There is fine print here. You can’t get the excellent sound isolation you want if your ears don’t seal properly. It would help if you choose the right ear tip to achieve this. This article will help you determine which ear tips you should use.

Once you have found the perfect fit, the volume benefit of IEMs is obvious. IEMs can be louder but not necessarily expose your ears to higher decibels.


Your hearing is more susceptible to being damaged if the source of the sound (or driver) is closer to your ear.

You won’t hear this if you don’t listen to music at loud volumes. But the truth is that the reason we raise the volume so often has nothing to do with the music. We are often forced to increase the volume to drown the external noise.

Earplugs can be used as in-ear monitors to create a good seal. This dramatically reduces external noises. Earbuds are placed on the outer ear and do not seal the ear canal. This allows for a lot more ambient noise to enter.

If you are using your earbuds in noisy environments, it is best to turn up the volume. You won’t be capable of eliminating all ambient noise even if you do.

You can also listen to IEMs at lower volumes but still hear the music well because the ambient noise isn’t as distracting. IEMs are an essential part of any gym-goer’s toolkit. They fit in your ear, so you can hear your music and block out background music.

It can be done both ways. Sometimes, you need to be aware of your surroundings. Earbuds are often the best option in this situation, but there are also high-end IEMs that have ambient modes, which allow you to be more aware of your surroundings.

Sound Quality

You might also raise the volume if you have trouble hearing the details of the music. You might need to turn the volume up to 11 to hear the bass on a track. Again, the problem is not the volume. The problem is the sound quality of the device.

You will hear all you need and want at much lower volumes if you have a device with better sound quality.

It turns out that everything is fine.

Many people assume that earbuds can be mistaken for low-quality IEMs. This assumption is not unfounded.

Earbuds are usually included with your portable electronics (smartphones or MP3/4 players) and come as a gift. You can buy them separately, but your options are limited to low-budget solutions. There may be some exceptions to the rule. However, they should be considered exceptions.

Sound Quality

Earbuds don’t provide a high-quality audio experience listening. They can’t, especially when the majority of models are less than $20. Listeners will often attempt to compensate for poor sound quality by increasing the volume. This can prove dangerous.

IEMs can cost hundreds to hundreds of dollars. You can still find IEMs that are cheaper or better than regular earbuds. However, IEMs can be purchased in any price range and can appeal to everyone – from audiophiles on a tight budget to severe audiophiles.

Driver Composition

IEMs can also have multiple drivers. A dynamic driver handles the bass, but mids and highs are often provided with their balanced drivers. Sometimes, there are even several.

IEMs can boast up to five drivers. You can see that the five drivers are more precise and clear than the ones found in most earbuds.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that IEMs don’t have a single driver. IEMs come in a wide price range. They can be budget-friendly or high-end models that are audiophile-grade, professional or both.

We don’t use driver composition or better sound quality to determine what earbuds or IEMs are.


Earbuds are generally considered to be the most comfortable because they use the same one-size-fits-all approach. This makes sense in theory, but earbuds can be tricky to use because they are all plastic.

Rubberized ear wings and other fitting mechanisms are great options. However, most earbuds that come with other devices are not comfortable.

IEMs can also be highly comfortable. However, this, along with the noise isolation, depends on the use of the correct ear tip and the formation of a good seal. You can choose from a variety of high-quality IEMs, or order custom-fitted eartips.

This puts us in an apples to oranges situation, where we compare high-end IEMs with all these options with lower-budget IEMs (because they are the only type of earbuds).

We all have unique ear canals. IEMs can be difficult to use for some people, regardless of how good the ear tips are. It’s best to try these items yourself.

Other Definitions

We’ve already stated at the beginning that the differences between IEMs & earbuds are challenging to determine. How is it possible that we have summarized the main differences in one sentence?

Here’s the problem: Not everyone agrees.

Some claim that the difference lies in the sound quality or the number and type of drivers. Some argue that Professional musicians can only use iEMs.

Professional-grade IEMs often have replaceable cables, so you don’t need to throw out your expensive equipment if the cable is damaged.

The IEMs musicians use custom-made to fit their ears. This ensures the highest level of comfort. These IEMs may also be called CIEMs (custom in-ear monitors).

Although it is true that musicians and audio engineers only use IEMs when performing or in the studios, it may be easier to label them as custom in-ear monitors.

Regular IEMs and Custom IEMs only need to differ in audio quality (and maybe the custom-fitted headphones). It is difficult to determine where IEMs and CIEMs end, just as drawing a line between mid-range and high-end products can be subjective.

Other Definitions

We’ve already explained that none of these definitions is foolproof because they don’t account for a lot of low-quality IEMs, a few high-quality IEMs, and high-end IEMs that don’t have detachable cables and similar features.

The way the device fits in your ears is the most important thing to consider when shopping for the right audio listening device. This will determine how it handles other factors such as noise isolation, sound quality, comfort, etc.

You should also be aware that IEMs are often covered by manufacturers using the term earbuds. If something has replaceable tips, it is an IEM. On the other hand, earbuds don’t have eartips because they aren’t inserted into your ear canal.



A few of the main factors to consider when comparing these two types of headphones are how they fit in your ear, durability, and sound quality. The most significant difference between these two styles is the effect on the user’s ear.

Earbuds can be worn for an extended period, while in-ear monitors are used more specifically by musicians for this reason. Other factors include sound quality and ease of use.

There is no clear winner when it comes to these two styles, and ultimately it will be up to the individual to decide which they prefer: earbuds or earphones.

Thanks for reading our article! Hooke Audio would appreciate any comments or suggestions for improvements to this guide.

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