At a first glance, you may mistake IEMs and Earbuds for the same thing. But they’re actually quite different than they might appear. The major difference lies in their fitting.
IEMs fit deeper inside your ear canal whereas Earbuds simply sit in your ear. Based on this major difference, the other dissimilarities arise.
But before we get into that, let us know:
What are IEMs or In-Ear Monitors?
Some people may not know about IEM. They are very similar to Earbuds except they fit deeper inside your ear canal (as already mentioned), thus, providing greater audio quality. Audiophiles, performers, musicians, singers, composers, and music producers use IEM for their exceptional audio quality.
What are Earbuds?
Earbuds are the most common type of headphones used by the mass. It is the type of headphone without headband-like support. Earbuds are placed at the opening of the ear canal.
IEMs vs Earbuds: What is the difference?
1. IEMs vs Earbuds: Material and Design
IEMs are made of high-quality materials like metal, acrylic, and resin. Whereas Earbuds are not made of such high-quality materials (they’re mostly made of plastic).
IEMs are designed to fit deep inside your ear canal, thus, blocking out all ambient noise. Since they have to fit in deep, they attach to a small piece of plastic that keeps them in place. They also connect to a battery-powered amplifier device which is secured around the user’s waist.
Earbuds simply sit in your ear, or more specifically, at the opening of your ear so they do not cancel out as much noise as IEMs do.
2. IEMs vs Earbuds: Audio Quality
In-Ear Monitors or IEMs sound better than Earbuds.
IEMs fit deeper inside your ear, thus, offering greater passive noise-isolation than Earbuds (on average, they can block out 26dB approx. of external noise). They have detachable ear tips that come in different shapes and sizes to completely seal the monitors in and block out all ambient noise.
In the event of a live performance, there is too much noise coming from the audience so the performer needs a device like an IEM to block out all the loud noise so they can focus on the music.
Moreover, IEMs use balanced armature drivers to reproduce the exact sound of the music with clarity, detail, depth, and definition. Hence, it’s preferred by the music producers.
On the other hand, Earbuds don’t have such an amazing noise-isolating feature. Also, Earbuds do not reproduce the exact sound, for example, some may add more bass to the music than it originally has.
But there are Earbuds that have high-quality noise-isolation features but they ain’t as great as IEMs.
3. IEMs vs Earbuds: Volume
You can enjoy a pleasant listening experience at a lower volume with IEMs as compared to Earbuds.
With IEMs, you can happily enjoy the music even in a crowded place without having to increase the volume due to their exceptional noise-isolation and balanced armature drivers. The same cannot be said for Earbuds.
Earbuds mostly use dynamic drivers which are not as great as the drivers used in IEMs (at higher volume, the sound gets distorted). Also, the noise-isolation system is not as good in Earbuds as compared to the IEMs. So, in a crowded place, Earbuds can be risky for your ears as you may have to increase the volume beyond the “healthy level”.
However, IEMs, in general, sound louder than Earbuds as they’re closer to your ears, so they are more likely to cause damage to your ears.
4. IEMs vs Earbuds: Convenience and Comfort
Earbuds are more comfortable to wear than IEMs.
The reason is quite obvious- Earbuds don’t go as deep into your ear canal, they simply sit at the opening. So they do not cause any pain or irritation. On the other hand, IEMs are not quite as comfortable not only ‘cause they sit deep inside, but also because they may have a piece of plastic hugging them that feels uncomfortable.
In terms of convenience, Earbuds fall out easily but you can get a pair that fits you perfectly so they won’t fall out. Or, you can use Earphones instead of Earbuds which stay secured.
IEMs are designed to not fall out no matter what.
Who are they designed for?
IEMs are designed for specific groups of people like live performers, composers, musicians, singers, and audiophiles who want to block out all the external noise and have a pair that won’t fall out no matter what.
Earbuds are made for people like you and me who only want to listen to some music or other audio and won’t mind if the buds fall out a couple of times.
The intrusive design of the IEMs does not appeal to the mass. They don’t care for noise isolation although there are noise-canceling Earbuds available on the market. Moreover, IEMs are more expensive than Earbuds (you can expect to spend three to four figures on the best IEMs). Instead, you can get a high-quality pair of Earbuds that perfectly fits you at a cheaper price.
For music producers and live performers, IEMs are more like an investment so they don’t mind the high price.
Which one to get?
The answer to the question really depends on the user’s needs.
IEMs and Earbuds, despite their similar appearance, are different in certain key aspects.
If you need a pair that blocks out all noise, will not fall out whatever you do and you do not mind the pressure of the buds in your ears, IEMs are the superior choice.
Here are some suggestions: 64Audio Tia Fourte, Rock-it Sounds R-50, Fiio FD1, Audeze Euclid
But if you just want a pleasant music listening experience with a comfortable pair of buds and do not mind some external noise, Earbuds are the better choice (or, you can also get Earphones or Headphones)
Here are our top picks: Beats Fit Pro, Sony LinkBuds S, Sennheiser Momentum 2 Wireless, Bose QuietComfort Earbuds.
Are IEMs and Earbuds interchangeable?
The terms are often used interchangeably because of their akin appearance but they are quite different in certain key aspects.
Do IEMs damage your ears?
IEMs sound louder not because they are exposing your ears to more decibels but ’cause they are closer to your ears, hence, making them more susceptible to damage.
What are comfortable alternatives to Earbuds and IEMs?
The headband-like Headphones are more comfortable to wear as the ear cups sit around your ears, unlike Earbuds or IEMs that jam inside your ears.
We hope you got your answer to the question “What is the difference between IEMs and Earbuds?”
To know more about headphones, read this article: Can Headphones make you deaf?