If you’re into music, there is a chance you have already come across the speakers vs. headphones controversy about which one is better in terms of durability, sound quality, and more.
Before we go further, it’s best to understand that both headphones and speakers have their own unique pros and cons to consider. There are a few factors you need to keep in mind, including which provides the best stereo imaging, cancels out on ambient noise, and offers better sound quality. If you are new to the market for a new set of headphones or speakers, you are probably wondering which one you should consider purchasing first.
Read on as we compare headphones vs speakers.
Headphones vs. speakers- what’s the primary difference?
If you are a music enthusiast, you are likely to enjoy both headphones and speakers. But it’s essential to know the difference between the two and why you might choose one or the other.
Speakers and headphones are quite different and used in different ways. The most apparent difference between the two is while you are listening to speakers, you hear both channels with both ears at once. However, with headphones, the right channel is made only for the right ear, and the left channel works only for the left ear.
Which are better, headphones or speakers?
So what’s better, headphones or speakers? We get this question a lot. In a nutshell, both speakers and headphones have the same working principle. The primary difference lies in the output purpose. Let’s take a deeper look at this.
Benefits of headphones
Headphones are designed to cancel out ambient noise and allow you to solely focus on the music in your ears without the interference of outside sound. Because of this, headphones are often considered to be more accurate at recreating the original record you’re listening to.
Of course, the difference between budget-friendly and high-quality headphones can be a factor, but in general, a pair of good headphones will give a more accurate listening experience than a pair of speakers equivalently priced speakers.
Outside of audio quality, headphones provide a valuable utility that makes them more convenient. You can take them along to your favorite coffee shop. If you are always juggling between work and home, a great pair of headphones match your on-the-go lifestyle. The best part about them is that your headphones take the variables of room acoustics out of the picture.
Drawbacks of headphones
While headphones sound ideal, there’s still a reason why so many people prefer speakers still.
Firstly, listening to headphones is a highly individualistic activity. You can’t play music in the room for everyone to hear.
While using even the best headphones, you lose an engaging element of music: the live aspect. Speakers give you the sense of being present during the live recordings while you listen to music. You can feel the bass through a speaker’s drivers and subwoofer. Headphones have a hard time replicating the elements that are less heard and more felt.
Another factor is volume. If you like listening to loud music, you should be careful while listening to headphones for longer periods of time. High volume can affect your hearing capability and may damage your ear canal, or even worse, you can lose your hearing ability altogether. Sources say that people listing to music 25-50% louder on headphones than on speakers, leading to hearing damage.
Lastly, headphones – especially earbuds – can begin to hurt your ears after prolonged periods of use.
A quick look at the pros and cons of headphones
- More accurate
- Reduce the room’s acoustics and ambient noise
- Portable and compact
- Produce less dynamic sound
- Don’t allow for group listening
- Can cause hearing damage
- Can irritate the ear
Benefits of speakers
Speakers are great for a dedicated listening setup or room; whether that’s paired with a turntable or home theater, speakers are going to give a live and realistic feel to the music or movie you’re hearing.
A loudspeaker system allows you to listen to sound at higher volumes without worrying about damaging your hearing. Additionally, stereo speakers are often able to produce a wider range of frequencies than headphones. From deep bass to high details, speakers are made to deliver an immersive experience to listeners.
Lastly, speakers come in many different form factors. From bookshelf speakers to floor speakers, there’s a style and size for everyone. Speakers sound differently depending on their cabinet design, drivers, and amplification, so this allows you to really dial in your sound to fill the entire room.
Drawbacks of speakers
The main drawback of speakers is the lack of portability and the fact that they do take up significantly more space than headphones.
Speakers also often require the use of speaker stands and other accessories to get things up and operational.
Additionally, it takes some time and research to set up your room for the best audio quality. For further information on arranging speakers for the best sound, check out our speaker placement guide.
A quick look at the pros and cons of headphones
- They make for a great home soundstage
- Provide a better stereo image
- Come in various shapes and sizes such as bookshelf speakers or floor speakers
- Allow for higher volumes at safe listening levels.
- Not easily moved
- Require other accessories
- Takes some additional learning to set up a stereo system
Factors to consider before buying headphones vs. speakers
Now that you have made up your mind to either invest in headphones or a speaker there are a few factors that you need to keep in mind. Let’s take a look at them.
#1. Type and Model
Before investing in headphones or a speaker, always read about the model and type it is. When it comes to headphones, there are two types, including in-ear and over-ear. Moreover, headphones are either wired or wireless, so choose accordingly. When it comes to speakers, check if the speaker has Bluetooth connectivity. If the speaker has a remote control that’s a plus point as well!
#2. Sensitivity and Frequency Response
Much of perceived sound quality relates back to frequency response. This is the range of frequencies a speaker or headphone set can produce and are often included on the packaging or website of the speaker or headphone manufacturers. A larger frequency response range is better and means your speaker or headphone set can produce a wider range of audio.
When selecting the right speakers, look for how much power the speaker or headphone set can produce. The higher the watts, generally the better the device.
Last but not the least, finalize your budget and shortlist accordingly. Of course, as speakers get bigger and use more components, the price becomes higher than headphones. That’s not to say that headphones are always cheaper, but something to consider.
What is better for your ears: earbuds or headphones?
Headphones are better for your ears than earbuds because earbuds sit directly inside your ear canals and headphones do not. Because of this, earbuds tend to be 9 dB louder than headphones due to being closer to the eardrum. However, both headphones and earbuds do present the risk of hearing damage if listened to at high volumes for prolonged periods of time.
When it comes to choosing a safe option between earbuds and headphones, volume plays a vital role. When using headphones or earbuds, people tend to listen 25-50% louder on headphones than they would on speakers. It means headphones can be quite damaging to the ears.
Headphones and earbuds don’t give you any physical feeling of sound like speakers do, so it’s hard to tell when your listening level is too high. It’s generally recommended to listen at volumes levels 85 dB and lower. This roughly translates to 60% of the max volume.
The bottom line is whether you’re investing in headphones or speakers, you need to weigh the pros and cons of each before making the decision. Both headphones and speakers can be an ideal choice with the right application – it depends on your requirements and needs.
In short, headphones are great because of their convenience and compactness. Be it, wired or wireless headphones, both can be an excellent purchase for an on-the-go lifestyle.
On the other hand, speakers can be great at a party or paired with a home entertainment system. Additionally, for home audiophiles, speakers are great at producing loud and dynamic audio with tons of detail.
It all comes down to your budget, needs, and current setup. Thanks for reading, we hope you find this guide helpful!
Lead Editor / Owner
After beginning his career in the video and audio recording industry, Andrew started HiFi Hippo to share his knowledge and passion for vinyl and vintage audio with other readers.