In-earphones and earbuds are two terms that are often used interchangeably but despite their similar design there is one key difference: in-earphones are small speakers that sit inside the ear canal and earbuds sit outside it in the part of the ear called the concha ridge.
Yeah, we weren’t familiar with that either until we saw a picture. Take a look at Apple’s EarPods to see what we mean. For the interests of clarity, we’ll use the broad term ‘earphone’ when we’re talking generally and use in-earphone or earbud when we want to be specific.
Earphones? Earbuds? In-earphones?
There are advantages to both styles: they’re discreet, portable, lightweight and available at a wide range of price points. Slip them into your gym bag and you’re good-to-go. Sounds ideal. But should earphones be your go-to gym accessory?
When we listed our top-5 top-rated gym headphones we didn’t include a single pair of earphones, why not?
Earphones fall out and they’re uncomfortable to wear
Have you ever noticed that you unwrap your new earphones and then just slip them into your ears — no real set-up or adjustment other than choosing between a set of small and large silicone ear tips. The truth is that one-size doesn’t fit all. Everyone’s ear canals are different. Brian Fligor, the chief audiologist for 3-D ear-scanning company Lanton Technologies, told Slate that ears “are as unique to you as your fingerprints”.
So it’s no wonder then many people find in-earphones and earbuds uncomfortable. Worse still is how easily they can fall out during a workout. Nobody wants to be mid-rep and having to tap their ear like a television reporter doing a breaking news segment to the camera. You’re an athlete and anything that takes your focus away from what you’re doing is undermining your workout.
And whilst in-earphones aren’t bad at isolating noise, earbuds often leak outside sounds onto your playlist making it more likely that you’ll turn up your volume which leads us to our second point...
Listening to music too loudly through your earphones can lead to hearing loss
This is probably the most important thing to remember when using in-earphones as they deliver music directly into the ear. When you have the volume ramped up (and why wouldn’t you on public transport or aeroplanes or by busy roads?) you could be damaging your hearing permanently without realising it.
"Most MP3 players today can produce sounds up to 120 decibels, equivalent to a sound level at a rock concert. At that level, hearing loss can occur after only about an hour and 15 minutes," warns Dr. Foy on osteopathic.org
This article in The Guardian reports something similar, too:
"What we do know is that personal music players can reach between 95 and 105 decibels (dB). Just over 105dB is equivalent to holding a chainsaw at arm's length. The Dangerous Decibels campaign from the Oregon Health and Science University says that based on this evidence you'd expect to damage your hearing within 15 minutes if you used ordinary headphones with your iPod at maximum volume."
Headphones do come with the same risk but with a couple of advantages that might protect your hearing for longer. Firstly, they make pretty good noise isolators as a pair will sit either over or on the earlobe. Secondly, if hearing damage through music devices does concern you then invest in a pair of headphones with noise-cancelling technology like Bose or Sennheiser. By cutting out ambient noise, you won’t have to turn the volume up in noisy situations which will help protect your hearing.
Can earbuds cause ear infections?
The science behind this isn’t super clear but one study has shown that earphones create up to eleven times the amount of bacteria normally found in the ear canal. One of the biggest problems with earphones is what we do with them when they’re not in our ears: we put them on table tops, on car seats or throw them into our gym bags. We press them into our pockets, drop them onto the floor and even (please God, say you don’t do this), share them with other people. Germs attach themselves to the earphones and then you slip them into your ear without thinking. Most of us would probably benefit from better hygiene practice with our earphones and it’s the sticky, moist wax on the silicone bud that the bacteria attaches to most easily. Yuck.
Poor Bass Response
We’ve already mentioned that we didn’t include in-earphones or earbuds on our top-5 gym headphones and that’s because they don’t match up to headphones on sound quality.
Drivers convert electric signals into sounds and headphones have bigger drivers giving a smoother, deeper and clearer bass response. Earphones are more portable, certainly, but the downside to that is that you’ll lose out on sound quality.
Whether you use earphones or headphones is a personal choice. It would be a pretty dull world if we all approached fitness in the same way. What’s important to you isn’t always important to the next person. But if earphones have always been your default gym accessory, then maybe it’s time to try something different.
And if you sweat excessively during exercise, then you’ve probably always switched headphones for earphones because why would you risk an expensive pair of cans with sweat damage, right?
But if music is important to you, if improving your focus and cutting out distractions is important, if mindset is vital or if your gym plays tunes over the loudspeaker that make you want to throw up your protein shake, then we’ve got one word for you: EarHugz.
These sweat-resistant, antibacterial headphone covers let you workout hard in almost any brand of headphone from Beats to Bose’s without worrying about moisture damage. They’re washable, too, which means they’re hygienic and they work on both wired and wireless sets.
What are your go-to ‘phones in the gym? We’d love to hear what you’re all wearing. :)