The Difference Between Headphones vs Headsets

September 29, 2023

You're on the hunt for the perfect audio device, but you're stuck. Headsets or headphones? You ask, 'What's the difference? They're the same, right?' Don't worry, we've got you covered.

While they might seem similar at first glance, these two categories of audio gear serve distinct purposes and cater to different needs.

In this article, we will unravel the differences and similarities between headsets and headphones, shedding light on their respective designs, functionalities, use cases, and the advantages they offer. Whether you're a music enthusiast, a gamer seeking the perfect gear, a professional looking for the ideal communication tool, or simply someone curious about the intricacies of audio technology, understanding these distinctions will empower you to make informed decisions when it comes to your audio needs.

About Headphones

Headphones are a pair of loudspeaker drivers worn on or around the head over the ears, allowing individuals to listen to audio from various devices privately. They are designed to provide high-quality audio directly to the listener's ears while isolating the sound from the surrounding environment. 

Characteristics of Headphones

Regular headphones have become so ubiquitous that we tend to take them for granted. Here are some key characteristics and features of headphones:

  1. Audio output: Headphones are designed to reproduce sound for the listener. They consist of one or more speaker drivers in each ear cup, which convert electrical signals into sound waves.
  2. Listening experience: Headphones offer a more private listening experience compared to traditional speakers. They can deliver a wide range of audio frequencies, making them suitable for various types of audio content, including music, podcasts, movies, and more. High-end headphones offer an encompassing and immersive listening experience due to top-quality sound output. 
  1. Portability: Headphones are known for their portability. They are easy to carry around, making them a popular choice for people who want to enjoy music or other audio content while traveling, commuting, exercising, or simply on the go.
  2. Design and comfort: Headphones come in various designs and form factors to suit different preferences. A good pair of headphones is designed with comfort in mind, featuring adjustable headbands, cushioned ear cups, and lightweight materials for extended wear.
  3. Audio quality: The quality of sound produced by headphones can vary widely depending on factors like driver size, driver type (dynamic, planar magnetic, electrostatic, etc.), and the quality of components used. A high-end pair of headphones can offer audiophile-grade sound quality.
  4. Wired vs. wireless: Headphones can be either wired or wireless. Wired headphones connect directly to an audio source through a cable, while wireless headphones use Bluetooth or other wireless technologies for connectivity, offering more freedom of movement.

Types of Headphones

There are several types of headphones, each with its own design and use cases:

  • Over-ear headphones: These have large ear cups that completely cover the ears, providing excellent sound isolation and comfort.
  • On-ear headphones: These rest on the ears without completely enclosing them, offering a balance between sound quality and portability.
  • In-ear headphones (earphones or earbuds): These are small, lightweight devices that fit directly into the ear canal, making them highly portable and suitable for on-the-go use.
  • Wireless headphones: These connect to audio sources via Bluetooth or other wireless technologies, eliminating the need for physical cables.
  • Noise-canceling headphones: Equipped with advanced technology, these headphones actively reduce ambient noise, enhancing the listening experience, especially in noisy environments.

About Headsets

Now that you're familiar with headphones, let's switch gears to headsets. Headsets are audio devices that combine headphones and a microphone into a single integrated unit. They are designed for both audio listening and communication purposes, allowing users to hear sound and speak into a microphone without the need for separate components.

Characteristics of Headsets

Headsets have become familiar computer peripherals. Here are some key characteristics and features of headsets:

  1. Audio output: Like headphones, headsets include one or more speaker drivers in each ear cup to provide audio output. Users can listen to music, audio calls, gaming sounds, or any other audio content through the headphones part of the headset.
  2. Microphone: A distinguishing feature of headsets is the presence of a built-in microphone. This microphone allows users to speak and communicate with others during phone calls, online gaming, video conferencing, or voice recording.
  3. Communication and VoIP: Headsets are commonly used for communication purposes, including voice-over internet protocol (VoIP) calls, online gaming, teleconferencing, and customer support. The microphone enables clear and convenient two-way communication.
  4. Noise-canceling: Some headsets, especially those designed for professional use or in noisy environments, may come with noise-canceling features. Noise-canceling headsets use technology to reduce or eliminate background noise, ensuring that the user's voice is clear and easy to hear during communication.
  5. Comfort and durability: Headsets are often designed with comfort and durability in mind, as they are intended for extended use in various professional and recreational settings. They may feature padded ear cups, adjustable headbands, and high-quality materials to ensure comfort during long periods of wear.
  6. Wired and wireless options: Headsets are available in both wired and wireless configurations. Wired headsets connect directly to devices using cables, while wireless headsets use Bluetooth or other wireless technologies for connectivity, providing freedom of movement.

Types of Headsets

Some of the most common types of headsets include:

  • Gaming headsets: Optimized for gaming, these headsets often feature immersive audio, a high-quality microphone, and ergonomic designs for extended gaming sessions. Gamers use headsets to communicate and create strategies with fellow gamers, greatly enhancing gaming experience.
  • Business headsets: Designed for professional use in office settings, customer service, or remote work, these headsets prioritize clear communication and comfort.
  • Aviation headsets: Used by pilots and air traffic controllers, these headsets are designed for use in noisy aircraft environments, with features like noise reduction and durability.
  • Call center headsets: Tailored for call center operators, these headsets emphasize comfort during prolonged use and noise-canceling for better call quality.
  • Bluetooth headsets: These wireless headsets connect to devices via Bluetooth technology, offering hands-free communication for activities like driving or multitasking

The Difference Between a Headset vs Headphone

What's the difference between headphones and headsets? At first glance, there's none save for a built-in microphone in the latter. Well, let's dive a little deeper regarding the difference between headphones vs headsets.

Design Differences

The design differences between headphones and headsets primarily revolve around the integration of a microphone and the overall purpose of the device. 


Headphones are primarily designed for audio listening. They prioritize delivering high-quality sound output to the wearer. A pair of headphones typically consists of one or more speaker drivers in each ear cup to produce sound. These drivers are optimized for reproducing audio content such as music, podcasts, or movies.

The design of headphones tends to be more minimalist. They usually lack a built-in microphone, making them simpler in appearance and functionality.

Many headphone models focus on comfort during extended use. They may feature padded ear cushions, adjustable headbands, and lightweight materials to ensure comfort during long listening sessions.

Headphones come in various form factors, including over-ear, on-ear, and in-ear designs. These designs make them portable and suitable for a wide range of scenarios, from commuting to studio recording.


On the other hand, headsets are designed for both audio listening and communication. They incorporate a microphone to enable two-way communication, making them ideal for activities like gaming, video conferencing, communications, or phone calls.  This microphone can be a boom microphone that extends from one of the ear cups or an integrated microphone located discreetly on the headset. Yes, they're literally headphones with a built-in microphone.

Headsets often include features like noise cancellation or noise isolation in the microphone to ensure clear communication.

Depending on their intended use, headsets may have design elements tailored to their purpose. For example, gaming headsets may have RGB lighting, customizable buttons, and bold aesthetics, while business headsets prioritize a professional appearance and comfort for office use.

Given that headsets are often used for professional or gaming purposes, they may be built to withstand wear and tear. This includes robust construction and materials to ensure longevity.

Both headsets and headphones may be wired or wireless.

Use Cases

Due to their distinct designs and functionalities, headphones and headsets serve different purposes. 

Use Cases for Headphones

  1. Music listening: Headphones are primarily used for listening to music. They deliver high-quality audio directly to the listener's ears, making them an ideal choice for music enthusiasts who want an immersive and private listening experience.
  2. Listening to podcasts and audiobooks: Many people use headphones to enjoy podcasts, audiobooks, and other spoken-word content, especially while on the go or during leisure activities.
  3. Watching movies and videos: Headphones enhance the audio experience when watching movies, TV shows, and online videos, providing clear and detailed sound effects and dialogue while maintaining a private viewing and listening experience.
  4. Gaming (with separate microphone): Gamers who prefer dedicated microphones often use headphones for immersive gaming audio and pair them with standalone microphones for communication.
  5. Audio editing: Audio professionals and content creators use headphones for precise audio monitoring and editing, ensuring accuracy in sound production.
  6. Portability: Due to their compact and lightweight design, headphones are popular for on-the-go use, including commuting, exercising, and traveling.

Use Cases for Headsets

  1. Gaming: Gaming headsets are designed for immersive gaming experiences. They provide both audio output and a built-in microphone for in-game communication with teammates or opponents.
  2. Video conferencing: Headsets are commonly used for video conferencing, telecommuting, and remote work. They ensure clear and reliable communication during online meetings and virtual collaboration.
  3. Customer support and call centers: Call center operators and customer support representatives rely on headsets for handling phone calls efficiently and comfortably.
  4. Aviation and air traffic control: Aviation headsets are essential for pilots and air traffic controllers, enabling effective communication in noisy aircraft environments.
  5. Dictation and voice recording: Professionals who need to transcribe voice recordings or dictate documents often use headsets with high-quality microphones for accurate voice capture.
  6. Hands-free mobile communication: Bluetooth headsets provide a hands-free solution for mobile phone calls while driving or multitasking.
  7. Professional audio work: Musicians, sound engineers, and broadcasters may use headsets with high-fidelity audio and microphones for live performances, recording, and broadcasting.


While some headsets are designed with portability in mind, such as lightweight business headsets for professionals on the move, headphones are generally more versatile and compact. Here's why:


Headphones come in various form factors, including on-ear, over-ear, and in-ear designs. In-ear headphones (earphones or earbuds) are especially compact and can easily fit into small carrying cases or pockets. Most headphones are designed to be lightweight, making them convenient for travel and on-the-go use.

Headphones typically have a minimalist design without the added bulk of a built-in microphone. This simplicity contributes to their portability.

There are also wireless headphones. Many modern headphones are available in wireless versions (Bluetooth headphones), which eliminate the need for tangled wires and make them even more portable.

Finally, some over-ear and on-ear headphones feature a foldable design, allowing them to be collapsed into a more compact form for easy storage and transport.


Headsets are designed with a built-in microphone, which adds to their bulk compared to headphones. The microphone boom or integrated mic typically extends from one of the ear cups, making them less compact.

Depending on the headset model, there may be additional controls, buttons, or features related to communication, which can contribute to a slightly bulkier design.

Lastly, headsets designed for gaming or professional use may have features like RGB lighting, customizable buttons, or specialized components that can make them bulkier or less portable.

Sound Quality

The sound quality in headphones and headsets can vary widely depending on various factors, including the specific model, brand, and intended use. In general, if you're looking for high-quality audio for music and entertainment, you may find headphones that are tailored to your preferences. If you need a device for communication, gaming, or professional use, you can find headsets designed to excel in those areas.

High-end headphones, especially those designed for audiophiles and studio professionals, can offer exceptional sound fidelity. They often feature larger drivers, advanced audio technologies, and precise tuning for a balanced and immersive listening experience. Headphones are also primarily designed for music listening and entertainment purposes. As a result, they may prioritize audio quality and clarity, making them a popular choice among music enthusiasts.

Headsets, on the other hand, are designed with an emphasis on communication. This means that the sound quality of the microphone for voice transmission is a critical consideration. The audio quality of the headset's microphone can vary, and high-end headsets often feature noise-canceling microphones for clear communication.


Comfort is another factor you'll want to consider when choosing between these two options. You don't want your ears aching after an hour of use, do you? Most headphones and headsets are designed with comfort in mind. 

Comfort in both headphones and headsets can vary widely depending on the specific model, brand, and design. Neither headphones nor headsets inherently offer superior comfort, as it largely depends on individual preferences and the product's intended use. 


In terms of convenience, you'll find that having both a microphone and speakers in one package can be quite beneficial, especially for tasks like gaming or multi-tasking. You don't have to bother with the hassle of setting up separate devices, nor worry about tangled wires. Plus, a headset allows you to keep your hands free for other tasks.

But from a more encompassing perspective, the convenience of headphones or headsets depends on factors such as the brand and quality of the product, your specific needs, and activities. Headphones are versatile and portable, making them convenient for general audio consumption and entertainment. Headsets, on the other hand, excel in communication and specialized tasks, offering integrated microphones and features tailored to gaming, professional use, and voice communication. 


Now, let's talk about something that matters to us all---price. The cost of both headphones and headsets can vary widely depending on factors such as brand, model, features, and overall quality. Neither headphones nor headsets are inherently more expensive than the other. The price largely depends on what you're looking for in terms of audio quality, design, features, and functionality. 

Headphones come in a wide price range---from budget-friendly options to high-end models that can be quite expensive. You can find headphones for as low as $20 or invest several hundred dollars in premium audiophile-grade headphones.

Headsets also come in a wide range of prices. Basic gaming headsets or office headsets can be relatively affordable, often ranging from $30 to $100. However, premium gaming headsets with advanced features can approach or exceed $200.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I choose between a headset and headphones?

Consider your needs. For gaming or calls, a headset's mic feature is handy. But if it's the sound quality you're after, headphones, while pricier, deliver superior audio.

Can I connect headphones or headsets to any device?

Standard headphones and headsets can be connected to most devices. Just ensure they've got compatible connectors. In case the connectors are not compatible, you can use adapters to ensure compatibility.

Are wireless headphones or headsets better than wired ones?

It's subjective; it all depends on your needs and preferences. Wireless offers freedom of movement, while wired can deliver superior sound. It's about what suits you best.

What are the health implications of using headphones or headsets for a prolonged period?

You're likely to experience some hearing loss if you're constantly using headphones or headsets at high volume for long periods. It's important to give your ears a break and keep volume levels safe to protect your hearing health.

How do I maintain and clean my headphones or headset?

Keep them clean by gently wiping them with a soft, dry cloth. Don't use liquids or sprays. For earbuds, remove the covers and clean them with a toothbrush. Simple, yet effective!


So, what's the verdict?

If you're a gamer, work in a call center, or need the convenience of an integrated mic, a headset's your best bet.

But if you're an audiophile, musician, YouTuber, or someone who values top-notch sound quality, stick with headphones.

It's all about choosing what fits your needs best. Whether it's headsets or headphones, make sure it enhances your listening experience.

Your ears will thank you!

Chris Greiner, a Mechanical Keyboard specialist, boasts a solid educational background with dual bachelor's degrees in Computer Science and Business Management from Lewis University. His additional certification in Mechanical Keyboard Design showcases his dedication to staying on the forefront of keyboard technology. Chris primarily writes for keyboard enthusiasts and has been featured on platforms like Jestik, solidifying his reputation as a thought leader in the mechanical keyboard community.
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