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Gaming Earbuds vs. Gaming Headset: What’s The Difference?

Gaming headsets are an essential part of every gamer’s setup. They are more than just regular headsets with RGB lighting, they allow you to fully immerse yourself in the games you play and can even give you a competitive edge.

Gaming Earbuds vs Gaming Headset: What’s The Difference?

Gaming headsets are better for gaming than gaming earbuds. Due to their larger size, gaming headsets give you higher audio quality, better 3D sound, and more immersion. Gaming earbuds are lightweight, portable, and cause less fatigue during long gaming sessions.

Gaming earbuds and gaming headsets differ in several aspects. Here are some of them:

  • Noise isolation/Noise Canceling
  • Microphone
  • Sound quality
  • Comfort
  • Price
  • Size/Form Factor

Noise Isolation/Noise Canceling

Blocking outside noise helps you stay focused, which is especially important for competitive gamers.

Nearly all gaming headsets and earbuds have some form of noise isolation. Noise isolation refers to physical materials made to reduce background noise while you are wearing the headset or earbuds.

For example, my gaming headset has thick foam that surrounds my ears, this is a form of noise isolation. Earbuds usually have silicon caps which fit snuggly into your ear canal to drown out background noise; this is another form of noise isolation.

Unlike noise isolation, noise cancellation is an active digital technology, not a passive one. Noise-canceling headsets or earbuds work by recording the noise around you, and then playing it back in your ear canal with the sound waves specifically distorted to cancel out the background noise.

In the past, it was rare for earbuds to have active noise cancelling technology in them. The required electronics were simply too big to cram into a pair of small earbuds.

Recently, however, earbuds with noise-canceling technology have become somewhat popular. High-end earbuds such as the Apple AirPods Pro feature noise cancelation capabilities. Gaming earbuds such as the Razer Hammerhead 2nd-gen Earbuds have noise canceling technology.

Noise cancelation is more common in headsets, and you’ll find this tech in many of the most popular models.

Keep in mind that open-back headsets won’t have any noise-canceling properties. Open-back headphones are designed to let the sound flow in and out of the earcups, which allows them to create a better soundstage. You’ll have to decide which feature is more valuable to you.

The bottom line: Both gaming headsets and gaming earbuds use some form of noise isolation. Headsets are more likely to have noise cancelation, but this tech is available in high-end earbuds, as well.

Microphone Quality

When it comes to gaming, you’ll want to have a good microphone. Nothing is more annoying than teammates complaining you’re “too quiet”, or it “sounds like you’re sitting in front of a fan”.

Generally, gaming headsets have better microphones than gaming earbuds. Most gaming headsets have microphones that protrude from one side of the headset and place the microphone directly in front of your mouth.

This allows the headset to capture your voice clearly and avoid excess background noise.

In contrast, gaming earbuds with built-in microphones usually rely on algorithms to isolate your voice from the other noise picked up by the microphone. Since the earbuds are in your ears, nowhere near your mouth, they aren’t as precise at isolating your voice.

The bottom line: If having clear microphone quality is important to you, then you should opt for gaming headsets. Since gaming headsets place a microphone directly in front of your mouth, they are better-equipped to clearly capture your voice.

Sound Quality

Both earbuds and headsets offer great sound quality after a certain price point. Nonetheless, headphones usually have an edge over earbuds when it comes to how they sound.

Drivers in headphones are larger, which allows them to produce stronger and more precise low frequencies. This is what lets you “feel” the bass. Because of their smaller size, earbuds are limited in this regard.

For the same reason, headphones have a better soundstage. The soundstage of any sound system refers to how well it recreates the sensation of sounds coming from different directions and at different distances.

Besides making your music sound better, a good soundstage will help you locate sounds in a 3D space with precision. For example, you might be able to figure out where another player is in CS:GO by paying attention to their footsteps.

While you’ll hardly find earbuds with great soundstage, they can still have great stereo imaging. Imaging refers gives direction to sounds by mixing the left and right channels. Imaging is sometimes confused with soundstage, but both terms refer to different effects.

Think of soundstage as the distance between you and a specific sound, while stereo imaging is limited to the direction of that sound. As you can imagine, both features are important in competitive gaming.

The bottom line: Headphones usually give you better sound quality than earbuds of the same price.

Comfort

High-quality gaming earbuds should be comfortable, even when worn for several hours. Since they are lightweight, they won’t hurt your head or weigh down on the tops of your ears. However, some users can find them irritating, especially if the in-ear caps are too large. 

Most people find headsets to be more comfortable than earbuds. They have soft padding and rest on top of your ears rather than press against them. However, they are also much heavier than earbuds.

I may have a sensitive head, but I’ve found that the sensation of my headset pressing down on the top of my head really hurts after a couple hours. Even expensive headsets with nice padding tend to hurt my head (ouchie). For this reason, I find earbuds more comfortable than headsets.

If you live in a warm area, wearing closed-back headphones for a long gaming session may make your ears sweaty and cause discomfort. If this is a problem for you, earbuds could be the solution, but you can also opt for open-back headsets. Open-back headphones let air flow in and out of their earcups, which should help keep your ears cool.

The bottom line: For most people, headsets are more comfortable than earbuds. However, closed-back headsets can make your ears sweaty during long gaming sessions and might hurt the top of your head.

Price

If you’re on a tight budget, you may get a better bang for your buck with a headset. Gaming earbuds with noise-cancelling technology and decent microphones tend to be very expensive and frequently cost over $100.

On the other hand, a nice gaming headset with a decent mic and comfortable padding isn’t too hard to find. There are lots of budget options available and you can get something nice for under $60.

The bottom line: Your money will go a lot further by investing in a gaming headset. Gaming headsets are more common than gaming earbuds and there are lots of budget options available on the market.

Size/Form Factor

When it comes to form factor, earbuds really stand out from gaming headsets. Gaming earbuds are incredibly small, often just the size of a quarter. By comparison, gaming headsets are very bulky and don’t fit comfortably in a backpack or laptop case.

When I game from home, I typically use a gaming headset. When I game outside my house, at Starbucks for example, I always use earbuds.

The reason is that earbuds are infinitely more portable than headsets. Not only do they fit in my laptop bag, but they also don’t draw attention while I am wearing them in public.

By contrast, gaming headsets tend to draw a lot of attention in public. They are large and the conspicuous microphone gives the impression to everyone around you that, well, you are gaming in the middle of a Starbucks.

The bottom line: Earbuds are far more portable and inconspicuous than headsets. If you plan on using your device on the subway, bus, or in a cafe, earbuds will draw less attention and fit easily in your bag.

Which Is Better For Gaming: Earbuds Or A Headset?

Headsets are better for gaming. They have a better soundstage, higher sound quality, better microphone options, and are more comfortable for long gaming sessions. Earbuds weigh less, but they can become uncomfortable during extended use.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t use earbuds for gaming. If you already have a good pair of earbuds, you don’t need to go out of your way to get a headset. But if you’re thinking of buying a headset or earbuds for the sole purpose of gaming, headsets are definitely the better choice.

At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference. If you find headsets to be uncomfortable after gaming with them for hours, then you might want to give earbuds a try.

Why Do Gamers Wear Earbuds And Headphones?

Gamers in eSports competitions wear earbuds and headphones to block as much noise as possible from the crowd and casters. The headphones are usually noise-canceling and take care of blocking outside noise, while the earbuds take care of in-game sounds.

This setup is ideal for competitive gamers who need to perform at their best in noisy, high-pressure environments. However, it’s not necessarily ideal for streamers, and much less for normal gaming.

Using earbuds and headphones together doesn’t make much sense unless you’re at an eSports competition. If you need to block out noise, a pair of noise-canceling headphones alone will be more than enough.

Can You Use AirPods For Gaming?

You can use AirPods for gaming. AirPods have good sound quality, decent noise isolation, and a built-in microphone, which lets you communicate with other players.

AirPods don’t offer as much noise isolation as a pair of closed-back headphones, and their sound quality probably won’t be as good as a pair of headphones of the same price range. However, they’re still better than most cheaper headsets.

If you prefer to use earbuds for gaming, then AirPods are an excellent choice.

Why Do Streamers Use Earbuds Instead Of Headphones?

Some streamers use earbuds instead of headphones because they find them to be more comfortable to use during long streaming sessions. Earbuds also give them more freedom to move around the room.

Earlier, I talked about how headphones are usually more comfortable than earbuds. I believe this is the case for most people, but if you’ll be playing a game for more than 8 hours, you might get tired of having earcups pressing against your skull—especially if your wear glasses.

Many streamers prefer to use good-quality open-back headphones for long gaming sessions, while some would rather deal with earbuds. There is no right or wrong answer: it’s about what is more comfortable for you. For example, if you’re a streamer who’s constantly moving around the room, wireless earbuds will definitely be more comfortable than wired headphones.

There’s another practical reason many streamers use earbuds: they’re cheaper than headsets. If you’re only starting to stream, the cost of buying a separate microphone and a pair of headphones might not be worth it. Most people have wireless earbuds at hand, and these usually already have a microphone.

Best Gaming Earbuds

So, you’ve decided you want the portability and light-weight comfort of earbuds, or perhaps you don’t want to spend all your money on a gaming headset. Whatever the reason, you’ll be facing an overwhelming amount of options. Here’s a list to help you narrow things down:

TOZO G1 Wireless Earbuds

These earbuds are designed for gaming. They have a low latency of only 45 milliseconds and a high-performance battery life of between four and six hours.

However, the one-size-fits-all earbud cover doesn’t block much ambient noise and may be uncomfortable for some users.

HyperX Cloud Earbuds

Not all gaming happens on the PC, and not all gamers have identically-sized ear canals. For those gaming on a Nintendo Switch, there’s the HyperX Cloud.

While these might not block much outside noise, they are extremely comfortable thanks to their included selection of small, medium, and large earpieces.

Raycon The Gaming Wireless Earbuds

Those willing to splurge on wireless gaming earbuds might want to look at Raycons. They offer a relatively low latency of 55 milliseconds with up to seven hours of non-stop use, making them a fantastic choice for multi-hour gaming sessions.

These earbuds are some of the most advertised gaming earphones on YouTube, making them a novel status symbol within the gaming/streaming community. Owning a pair could add a little flair to your Twitch stream or YouTube video!

Final Thoughts

Gaming headphones usually have better sound quality and noise isolation than gaming earbuds. Nonetheless, if you want something lightweight and budget-friendly, a good pair of gaming earbuds won’t let you down.

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👋 Hey There, I'm Eric!

Since 2018, I've been making streams come true.

I like gaming, streaming and watching other people stream. I created this website to help streamers and viewers of streams answer some of the questions they may have regarding live streaming. I am a Twitch affiliate and currently stream on Twitch 3 days a week. I hope you find my content helpful. Feel free to stop by one of my streams to say hi.