Headphone Vs. Headset Comparison, What Are The Differences?

Is this Sony product a headphone or a headset?  Is this Sennheiser item a headset, or is it a headphone?  Indeed, a lot of people get confused when it comes to headphone vs. headset. 

Headphone vs. Headset Comparison

But you don’t need to get headphones and headsets mixed up. While both products let you listen to music and watch a flick, there’s one big difference between them.

Headphones are mainly for listening to music, or watching TV programs and movies. With a headphone, you can get to enjoy those types of entertainment without bothering the people in your house.

Headphones are also small and compact enough to be used while running, or working out.  These are used by athletes, office workers, and just about any ordinary guy or gal wanting to listen to their favourite music without disturbing other people around them.

Headsets are basically headphones with a microphone. With a headset, you not only get to listen to music, but also take and make calls. You can also talk to someone through a computer program like Skype, or when playing a video networking game.

Headsets are often used by call centre agents and video game players as they need the microphone to be able to communicate with other people.

Headphone Buying Guide

Headphones come in various types, such as:

1. In-ear--- these are the smallest and most portable of headphones. Also known as in-ear monitors, these have earbuds that easily fit into the ear canal. It is easy to wrap and store in-ear headphones. This is the type of headphone to buy if you are regularly commuting or travelling.

2. On-ear--- these are known as supra-aural headphones. This type of headphone literally sits on your ears. They’re bigger than the in-ear type.  It is not as portable as the in-ear type, however.

3. Over-ears—also known as circum-aural headphones, this is the largest kind of headphones. It has a large driver casing and headband. The main difference of over-ears and on-ear headphones, though, is that the ear cups completely wrap around your ears. It is thus more comfortable to wear than on-ear headphones, aside from delivering louder and more detailed sound.


Headphones also have various functionalities or features that cater to specific listeners, such as:

1.  Noise cancelling-- a headphone with active noise cancelling technology is capable of drowning out external noise, thus allowing the listener to better hear the sound coming from the unit.  It’s highly useful in drowning out sound coming from air-conditioner units, airplane engines, household appliances, and factory machinery.

Noise cancelling, though, requires additional power. Headphones with this function tend to have a lower battery life, especially with noise cancelling activated most of the time.

2. Wireless technology--- headphones with wireless technology don’t have cords and cables. This frees up their users, who don’t have to be restricted in their movements. Users also don’t have to worry about cable length and tangling.

Wireless headphones usually work on any of these major transmission technologies—Bluetooth, radio frequency, and infrared.

The last two technologies require a dedicated base unit, which connects to the media source and then transmits the frequency to the headphones.

Bluetooth is very popular as it doesn’t require any base unit. It can also pair Bluetooth-enabled devices with other electronic products that are Bluetooth-capable, like smartphones, tablets, and computers.

RF headphones, though, cover larger distances. Bluetooth-capable headphones normally have a range limit of 30 meters. IR headphones, on the other hand, rely on line-of-sight meaning they should be close to the audio source.

Of course, there are also wired or corded headphones. These are cheaper than their wireless counterparts. However, corded headphones can reproduce cleaner, crisper sound.

Headset Buying Guide


Like headphones, headsets can be wired or wireless.

There are two technologies used in wireless headsets—Bluetooth and DECT.

DECT stands for “Digital European Cordless Communications.”  It is a standard that originated in Europe.

Similar to IR and RF headphones, DECT headsets require a base station to connect the headset.  It also lets users to roam around a room while still being able to listen to music or speak with another person on the other line. DECT headsets are also cheaper than Bluetooth headsets.

Bluetooth headsets practically offer the same benefits as that of Bluetooth headphones.  They’re very popular as these can be paired with smartphones and tablets.

Wired headsets can come with a USB or the traditional 2.5/3.5 mm jacks. If you are to buy wired headsets with stereo jack, you should make sure that your computer has a sound card and audio ports. You must also be sure that the sound card is working, and its drivers installed.


In terms of design, headsets can in two choices—one ear or both ear.

Monaural or one-ear headsets are ideal for office workers. This would let them listen to other people in the office, and still be able to speak to a person on the other line at the same time. It is also less invasive than both ear headsets or binaural.  However, monaural headsets tend to sacrifice some voice quality.


Headsets also have specialized features such as

1. Voice recognition—this is particularly handy for office workers who use a speech recognition software at work.  With this feature, the software will be able to get more words right.

2. Audio Adjustment

3. Sound Balance

4. Flexible Boom

5. Pivoting Ear Cushions


Headphones and headsets look very much alike; it’s not surprising that a lot of people get confused with them.

However, the main difference between a headset and a headphone is that the former has a microphone. This allows users to communicate with other people, aside from listening to music or watching TV.

If you’re the type of person who’s looking to buy an accessory that would let you listen to music while traveling, you should definitely get a headphone.

But if you need to communicate with your loved ones more often, then you should buy a headset instead of a headphone. 

About the author

Eugene Foster

My name is Eugene, and I am an avid fan of sound systems and equipment. I have more than 5 years of experience in that field and I am here to share all my knowledge!