IEM vs Earbud: Review and Comparison

Whether you are an audiophile or not, a good and affordable earphone is the best device for the on-the-go. Comparing IEM vs Earbud, we see that they differ in terms of design, connectivity, and performance. Some earphones are designed specifically for a purpose such as gaming, sports, or critical music listening.

Earbuds are the best choice for general listening where the audio will be mixed with external noise and can’t be used for sports or gaming. For IEMs, there are various models that vary by price and features. IEMs are widely used and are preferred by musicians to focus on music only.

Between IEM vs Earbud, the IEM are also designed to reduce ear fatigue compared to earbuds. Also, if you want to sink in into music while traveling by plane or train then IEM is the best choice. One of the most important parts of earphones is their driver type and size which determines how the sound will be produced.

IEM vs Earbuds: Differences at a Glance

The primary difference between the In-ear monitor (IEM) vs Earbud is their type. While IEM goes into the ear canal, the earbuds are placed on the outer side of the ear canal. The IEM is also known as professional-grade of earbuds.

IEM vs Earbud: Which is for what?


  • extra awareness
  • walking beside the road
  • don’t want to insert plugs into the ear canal
  • doesn’t bother to allow some noise to enter
  • jogging outdoors
  • crossing streets


  • used by professionals
  • to eliminate noise from a busy place like restaurants
  • long plane rides
  • you find it comfortable
  • you can listen to a low volume which will reduce ear fatigue

IEM vs Earbuds: Technical differences

DriversSingle or severalMostly single
Driver size7-15mm7-15mm
Types of driversDynamic Driver Unit
Planar Magnetic Drivers
Electrostatic Driver Unit
Balanced Armature Unit
Dynamic Driver Unit
Planar Magnetic Drivers
Electrostatic Driver Unit
Balanced Armature Unit
Transducerelectrostatic, dynamic, orthodynamic, and electromagnetic.electrostatic, dynamic, orthodynamic, and electromagnetic.

The heart of an earphone is its driver. IEM vs Earbuds drivers may vary in types and numbers. IEM or Earbuds may come in single or multiple drivers with one type or multiple types of driver. The Dynamic Driver unit is the least expensive and the most common to use in earphones. The earbud you are wearing may have a Dynamic Driver unit in it. The IEM is mostly made from Balanced Armature Unit but can also come with other types of drivers.

IEM vs Earbuds: Drivers

The main purpose of the earphone driver is to convert an electrical signal into an audible sound signal. How well your earbuds or IEMs will sound depend a lot on their driver size and type.

How does the driver work?

When you connect the earphone to an audio device like a smartphone or laptop, the voice coil inside it magnetizes and the voice coil in return vibrates to move the air. The vibrations move the diaphragm forward and backward and audible audio is created.

Types of drivers:

Planar Magnetic Drivers

This type of driver has a voice coil that is placed around the flat and sleek diaphragm with a magnet beside it. Unlike Dynamic drivers, instead of the coil, the magnet moves the driver. These are usually found in costly and high-end headphones. The reason that some headphones are heavier is due to the fact that heavier magnets are used to vibrate the diaphragm.


  • Accurate audio with deep bass
  • Crystal clear sound


  • Costly
  • A larger magnet produces heavier headphones

Electrostatic Driver Unit

This driver uses the principle of static electricity. The diaphragm is very lightweight and is placed between two stators. As the electric current comes, the metal plates or stators become positive and negative and thus attracts or repels the diaphragm creating a sound wave.


  • Covers broader frequency range
  • Has excellent treble in audio
  • Minimized distortion
  • Very light


  • Very costly

Balanced Armature Unit

These drivers are lightweight and small in size, around 5mm, which allows them to fit perfectly inside in-ear monitors.


  • Crystal clear sound
  • Effectively reduces external noise
  • Best for IEM


  • Several drivers needed to cover the audible frequency range

Dynamic Driver Unit

A Dynamic Driver is made of three parts: magnet, voice coil, and diaphragm. If the magnet is made of neodymium strip rather than ferrite, it will work more efficiently.  It handles all ranges of frequencies and works well in the low-frequency range.


  • Accurate bass response
  • Widely used due to its low cost
  • Can effectively handle a wide range of frequency
  • Requires only lightweight and compact enclosure


  • Can’t produce audio with minute details
  • Losses quality when the volume is increased

IEM vs Earbud: Features in detail

TypeInside earOutside ear canal
Noise cancellationYesNo
Prevents ear fatigueYesNo
Designed forProfessionals like musiciansRegular users
Required volumeLowHigh
Sound qualityHighPoor with external noise

What is an earbud?

You will often get confused because different names are used to mean earbud interchangeably. The basic way to recognize is that the earbuds will sit on the outside part of the ear canal. Earbuds are also known as intra-aural headphones. The intra-aural headphones can be divided into two parts: earbuds can lie on the outer part of the ear canal and earphones or in-ear monitors can lie inside the ear canal.

What is an IEM?

IEM is an In-ear monitor that you push inside your ear canal. IEM is used for critical listening where you want to eliminate the outside noise.

Type of IEM:

Universal IEMs: this IEM has silicon, rubber, or foam which is comfortable to use and will seal the ear canal completely. They come in some sizes: from two to twelve different sizes.

Custom IEMs: these are specially designed for an individual’s ear. For that, you should visit an audiologist for a mold of your ear-shaped and make your own IEM. Comparing custom IEM vs Active noise canceling, while both provide cancellation of outside noise, the CIEM is better in noise cancellation in general and you can use it for long hours.

The ANC headphones are also better and some people find them more comfortable to use while traveling. For instance, if you are in-plane, it will effectively reduce the surrounding noise.

Comparing IEM vs Over-Ear, we see that over-ear or open-back headphones are great if you don’t want to insert anything in your ears and the quality is excellent compared to the price you pay. You can use the IEM for sports or outdoor uses because they will not fall off the ear and for listening when you are in the house you can choose Over-Ear headphones.

Other than IEM and Earbuds, another popular device for listening to music is a headphone. Comparing IEM vs Earbuds vs Headphones, the headphone comes with headbands, is much heavier and the sound is more spacious and consistent. While they aren’t quite portable, they are very comfortable to use especially indoors.

IEM vs Earbud: Model by model Comparison

IEM vs Apple-style earbuds

The reason to choose Apple earbuds is that you are already within the Apple ecosystem or because you love Apple products. the differences between IEM vs Apple-style earbuds are price, audio performance, and quality.

Apple maintains decent sound performance but in addition to external noise. The sound is not harsh but has poor details. IEMs have different models from being cheap to high-end ones. Most people find them comfortable as they fit into the ears.

Apple Earpod vs Xiaomi Airdots TWSEJ04LS

Apple EarpodXiaomi Airdots TWSEJ04LS
Impedance23 ohms16 ohms
Sensitivity109dB106 ± 3dB
Frequency range5-21000Hz20-20000Hz
Sweat resistanceNoYes
Passive noise reductionNoYes

If you want some budget-friendly earbuds or IEMs the Apple Earpod and Xiaomi Airdots are great choices. Comparing Apple Earpod vs IEM Xiaomi Airdots, we see that, it comes with the major differences we see between IEM vs Earbuds.  The Apple Earpod is a wired earbud that comes with a lighting connector. It has a ‘one-size-fits-all design’ so that it will fit all ear shapes. It is heavy compared to Xiaomi.

Xiaomi IEMs are made of ABS and silicone material that will seal the ear completely and is perfect for those who don’t want the hassle of wires. These wireless in ear earphones have DSP digital noise reduction that ensures the audio quality is for the audiophile. It has a true wireless stereo so you will hear accurate sound in both earbuds. It has deep bass and the sound is better than Apple Earpods.

Although like other earbuds, the Apple Earpods can’t eliminate noise, the sound performance is very smooth and precise.  While the bass is not perfect, you can use it to listen for long hours. However, between Apple Earbud vs Xiaomi IEM, the IEMs are more comfortable to use while the Earpods might hurt your ear. The Apple Earbud wire has a skip, call/music, and volume buttons. On Xiaomi, the controls lie on the backside of the IEM.

Another difference between the Apple Earbud vs IEM of Xiaomi is that the IEM comes with a battery that can deliver 12 hours of battery life. The Apple Earpod works with Siri whereas the Xiaomi IEM works with Siri, Xiaomi, and Google Assistant. If you love Apple products and don’t bother to listen to music with surrounding noise, then the Earpod is affordable. If you want an IEM of which you can control sound, then you can look into Bose Quietcontrol 30.

If you want an Apple IEM then you can see the Beats Powerbeats Pro they are expensive but the audio quality is better than Airpods. it comes with four different sizes of silicone pad, has the Apple H1 chip, and supports Bluetooth 5.

The earphones have volume and mic control in it. Unlike AirPods, it doesn’t allow wireless charging and has better battery life. The sound quality is precise with tight bass and has reduced distortion. The IEM has wings to stay put into the ear, it is also sweat and waterproof which makes it the best earphones for working out.

Bose vs JBL

Bose QuietComfort 20 vs JBL Tune 225TWS

JBL Tune 225TWSBose QuietComfort20
Impedance32 ohmsNot specified
Frequency response20Hz-20kHzNot specified
Sensitivity105dBNot specified
Battery lifeUp to 25 hours16 hours

The JBL wireless headphone or earbuds, model name Tune 225TWS is an excellent choice if you don’t like sticking earphones inside your ear. The renowned JBL brand doesn’t compromise sound quality making it the best sounding earbuds under 100. The audio is prominent with deep bass and decent soundstage. While the mids and highs aren’t perfect, overall, the sound has a ‘balanced gain’.

Comparing the JBL Earbuds vs Bose IEMs, the Earbuds support Bluetooth and have controls on the side of the wireless earbuds. The earbud quality is good and it also supports Google Assistant. JBL earbuds deal with maximum and minimum volume accurately without distortion.

Bose makes the best noise-canceling headphones. The Bose QC 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling feature completely cancels the outside noise. You can also press a button and get the ‘Aware’ mode where you can hear outside sounds. Between JBL vs Bose earphones, the Bose QC 20 IEM will be more comfortable to wear for long hours due to its StayHear+ tips.

The audio quality of Bose in-ear earbuds is excellent with Active-EQ and TriPort technology that focuses on bass and crystal-clear sound. The sturdy quality and performance make the Bose IEM one of the best high-end earphones. They are best for commute or traveling and in gym. It has 16 hours of battery life and you can charge it with a Micro-USB cable.

Samsung vs Shozy

Samsung Galaxy Buds vs SHOZY BK

Galaxy BudsSHOZY BK
Frequency responseNot specified10 – 20,000 Hz
ImpedanceNot specified16 Ω
SensitivityNot specified105 dB
Sweat and waterproofYesNo

Comparing Samsung Galaxy Buds Earbuds vs Shozy BK IEMs we see that the Shozy BK is a wired earbud whereas the Galaxy Bud IEM is wireless and supports Bluetooth. The Shozy BK Earbud has a classic design that comes with soft foam and a ‘Hi-Fi audiophile’ wire. The wire is made of eight cores wrapped together.  The cable and headphones are quite sturdy.

The audio delivers a wide soundstage with deep bass but the instrumental separate isn’t quite accurate. It is best for regular use but audiophiles may find it way too ordinary. The Galaxy Bud has a sleek style that has a rubber tip. The outer side uses a ‘pearlescent material’ which reflects light. It comes with a charging case where an LED on the case indicates battery.

The sound has enough clarity and has good bass. The audio sounds natural and has warmth in it. You can use Ambient Aware control to adjust how much external noise you want to be aware of. It comes with 13 hours of battery life.

IEM vs Earbud: Design

Earbuds are usually made of high-quality plastic that comes with foam. It will provide semi-seal to your ear as they will lie on the outside area of the ear canal. Comparing IEM vs Earbud design, the IEM is often made of silicone and is inserted into the ear canal that provides a complete seal of the ear.

While you can’t alter the shape of the earbud as per your ear shape, you can do so with IEM and these are known as Custom IEM. Both these earphones have a design of portability and will be easy-to-carry.

IEM vs Earbud: Sound quality

Comparing IEM vs Earbud audio quality, the pivot tilts towards IEM easily. IEM is used by professionals mostly because they have excellent audio quality. The sound has details, precise treble, and deep bass. Along with that, the outside noise is completely eliminated so you can enjoy your music fully.

Earbud sound quality is moderately good and is perfect for you if you want to listen to music for general listening purpose and doesn’t bother the addition of outside noise. The earbuds lack back and minute details of sound. Another reason for IEM to deliver the best audio is, some of them consist of 8 drivers where each driver handles a different frequency range.


The reason why IEMs are more comfortable than earbuds is that they come in different sizes so you can choose the one that fits perfectly on your ear. On the other hand, earbuds have a one-for-all design that is made to fit more or less all ear shapes.

How easy and well-fitted the earphone is, usually varies from person to person. If you want to use the earphone for long hours, then earbuds may cause pain in your ear. Some people find it very uncomfortable to insert the IEM into their ear and thus avoids it.

IEM vs Earbud: Noise cancellation

One of the major dissimilarities between IEM vs Earbud is their noise cancellation feature. The silicon foam IEM is used which completely blocks the ear canal and eliminates any outside noise. That is why it is often chosen over Earbuds.

The Earbuds are designed in such a way that it will allow some noise to enter the ear. Some people find it annoying as the surrounding noise like people talking, car horns, or dog barks will mix with the music you are listening to.

Whereas others prefer it because they want to be aware of the surrounding. For instance, if you are walking through a busy road or jogging on the roadside, then it is important for you.

 IEM vs Earbud: Volume

What volume you listen to your music is a crucial factor for your well-being. If you listen to 70% or 85dB volume, then chances are that you will eventually face hearing loss. IEMs are the best choice if you want to handle your ear with care.

Since the IEM has a noise cancellation feature, you can turn your volume to low and listen to music but you can’t do this to your earbuds. With earbuds, you have to turn the volume up so that you can listen to the audio by overcoming the external noise.

IEM vs Earbud: Ear fatigue

Since you can use IEM with very low volume and the silicon pad is easy to wear, the IEM will save your ear and cause less fatigue. Comparing IEM vs Earbud ear fatigue, the Earbud might cause harm as you will listen to it at high volume.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t usable. You can set the volume to medium and listen to them for long hours.

Find out perfect classic earbuds for you

Parting words:

This article elaborates the differences between IEM vs Earbud and makes a model by model comparison. Earphones are an essential accessory we need in our everyday life. The wise way to search for an earphone is to choose it based on your use case.

If you go by the beach or aim to do workouts then you need an IEM that is water and sweat-proof and will sit tightly in your ear. Some people find Earbuds more comfortable to wear compared to IEMs and prefer to listen to them for long hours.

We prefer noise-canceling IEM with a noise-adjusting feature. This is because in that way the audio we listen to is more precise and accurate. Between Earbud vs IEM, the Earbud is preferable for general listening and not for heavy workouts or jogging. Both IEM and Earbud are portable and some of the famous brands manufacture them like JBL, Samsung, Apple, Edifier, etc.


If you have more queries about this matter, then this FAQ section is here to help! let’s find out more!

what is molded IEM?

Answer: Molded IEM or Custom IEM are IEM that you design specifically for your ear shape. The main reason to use IEM is to minimize outside noise which can be done if the ear tip seals the ear canal completely. For this reason, many people use Custom IEM or CIEM.

what is the best IEM under 100?

Answer: Some of the best IEM under 100 are:

what are some of the cheap gaming earbuds?

Answer: Some of the cheap gaming earbuds (IEM) are:

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