Headsets vs. Headphones: Which One Should You Get?

If you ever had to suffer through a virtual meeting with your lackluster audio system, you might be considering getting a headphone or a headset.

Let’s face it, with the world coming to a bizarre standstill when phone calls and virtual meetings are now your new reality; it is understandable that you will want the best devices to amp your new home office routine.

But when it comes to buying headphones or headsets, most people just can’t get over the dilemma of headsets vs. headphones.

Headsets vs. Headphones

And yes, despite the common notion that headphones and headsets are the same, they are different and designed for a specific function. If you don’t know what sets them apart, you are going to buy the wrong one and wreck your virtual conference or even spoil your gaming experience.

So if you want to upgrade your mediocre listening device to something that will make you more efficient in work and enhance the quality of your gaming or entertainment, you better learn the difference between headsets and headphones.

In this article, we will walk you through what is a headphone, headsets, what makes them different and will also share some pointers on how to determine which one is right for you.


What Is Headphone?

A headphone is a pair of speakers that cover your ear and stay attached with a band that goes around your head. As the speakers are designed to stay right over your ear, you get a personalized, enhanced sound quality. You can catch even the slightest of sound frequency through the speakers. They are excellent for listening to music, audiobooks, or even just for noise cancellation.

While a headphone follows the same mechanism as a traditional speaker, the listening experience is vastly different. While they both use magnets to make the air vibrate and create sound, a traditional loudspeaker needs to vibrate all the air in a room to create the thumping effect.

But for a headphone, it only needs to vibrate the little amount of air inside your ear. In a way, you can say headphones are the miniature versions of loudspeakers, albeit the vibration is scaled-down and tailored to your ears.


Regular Headphones and Studio Headphones

Headphones can be broadly categorized into two types- one is for regular use- for listening to music or audiobook or some low-key gaming sessions. The other one is for studio use and they are mostly used by professionals who work with sound engineering or music production. 

Regular Headphones

Regular headphones are designed for casual use. They are produced with these things in mind- comfort, portability, and a little bit of aesthetic. You can get one around your neck, hop on a bus and enjoy your commute listening to your favorite audiobook.

The price and performance of these headphones depend on the manufacturer. However, they can offer you a decent audio experience without being high maintenance.

Studio Headphones

Studio headphones are whole other ballgame in terms of acoustical performance. Generally, gaming headphones or even regular ones are a bit bass-heavy, which is a big NO when it comes to professional sound engineers. The amplified bass will distort the sound.

Studio headphones are built to offer acoustics at their bare basics, in a neutral manner with no added exaggeration. However, don’t think using a high-end studio headphone will ensure a better gaming experience for you, it will be quite the opposite. They are built for a specific purpose and you can’t swap one for the other.


What Is a Headset?

To put it in Layman’s terms, a headset is a two-in-one device that can tackle both listening and speaking, albeit with subpar quality. They are usually headphones coupled with microphones. The microphone can be a removable one or an attached one. As the microphone stays attached in the same position it provides consistency to your voice.

Headsets are used especially for telecommunication when you need to send our audio signal as well as receive it.  From military personnel, pilots, naval crews to even a customer support agent, everyone uses headsets for telecommunication.

And now with the post-pandemic work from home culture, a headset is a must to cater to all of our telecommunication needs. Besides, when you a playing an online game with other virtual players you definitely need a headset.


What Sets Apart a Headset from a Headphone?

Even if most of us use them interchangeably, headphones and headsets are quite different. Externally, they may look the same apart from the appendage of a microphone. But when it comes to their performances or sound quality they are miles apart.

Microphone

It might sound like a no-brainer, but the presence of a microphone is the key difference between headset and headphones. Headsets can have a boom microphone attached to them, providing you a hands-free telecommunication experience.

However, having a microphone also has its downsides. While it will allow you to speak through the device, some headset microphones are terrible when it comes to canceling the slight yet annoying noise of keyboard tapping. So, they can pick up that noise from the other end and carry it over to you, putting your concentration in haywire. 

Sound Quality and Performance

As headphones are designed to relay good quality sound to your ear, they provide greater sound output. On the contrary, headsets are geared for receiving your sound signal, so it is obvious that their delivered sound quality won’t rival that of headphones.

In terms of noise canceling and surrounding sound a headphone fares way better than a headphone.  The sound quality of the same priced headphone and a headset will always differ.

As you are getting the added service of a microphone the manufacturer has to make some trade-off with the sound quality of a headset. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t get your money’s worth when you take your budget higher and buy a high-end headset.

Comfort and Convenience

In terms of comfort and convenience, headsets will definitely win the headphone vs. headsets debate. As you are getting two different services within a single device, it just adds to the appeal.

Besides, if you don’t need dedicated acoustical performance, only need it to perform regular calls or listening to music, a headset might be your best bet.  And for those who like to keep things minimal, there’s no point having two different devices – a mic and a headphone when you can get them both in one.


Headphones vs. Headsets for Gaming

This is a common dilemma in the gaming world, one that you might have had to face too-headsets vs. headphones for gaming. Truth be told, both headphone and headset have their perks and drawbacks in gaming.

For instance, if you are a solo gamer and enjoy being immersed in the surreal world and acoustics of your game, then you might need something that will be able to offer you that heightened experience. 

A good quality gaming headphone will definitely do a stellar job of cutting out external noise and isolating you from your surroundings. A headset with a microphone attached might just break your concentration with either your own noise or the noise coming from other gamers.

On the other hand, if you prefer gaming with others, exchanging chit-chats, or even engaging in some swearing contest while gaming, you just need a headset. A good quality headset can give an easy, affordable, all-in-one experience that a headphone alone can not.

Besides, gaming headsets are designed for comfort and long-term use. So you won’t end up with a weird sensation in your ears if you use them for several hours at a stretch.


Headset vs. Headphones and Mic

While headphones and headsets are often the prime contestants among the gamers or regular users, some people just go completely another way- they prefer to use a headphone and a standalone mic. Now you might be wondering why you need to bother with two devices when you can have a built-in microphone with a headset and be done with using a single device.

Well, as it has been mentioned earlier, being a jack of all trades yet a master of none, a headset just reduces the sound quality to accommodate the microphone feature. And that’s where the concept of using a headphone with a mic comes into the equation.  When you need only the best from both worlds you might as well create a combo that offers the best.

Besides, while gaming headsets come in with tricky features and cool specs, it often results in a tread-off with the sound quality. There’s no point in paying extra when you can easily replicate those features in your less than stellar headphone just by tweaking some settings or software.

For instance, many gaming headsets boast of having a multi-channel surround- which is fairly manageable even in your headphone if you have the right software to couple it with. And there’s another perk of using a headphone with a mic rather than using a headset.

Let’s say, you prefer to listen to music in your commute and also like gaming in a group. In that case, a headphone with a mic will be the most suitable option for you. That way, you won’t have to be caught in the public wearing a headset like a weirdo!


Which One Should You Get- a Headphone or a Headset?

There is no resounding answer to the question of whether are headphones better than headsets. Headphones and headsets both have specialized use and they are built for that purpose only. Whether you should get a headset or a headphone depends on what purpose you are going to use it.

If you don’t particularly have any special use but want to enjoy some good quality music when the mood sets in or want to get a smooth virtual communication when you are in a meeting, you might get something that fits both criteria. That way you will get to enjoy both worlds, without having to sacrifice anything.

However, if you are an avid gamer or into music production or just an audiophile who simply wants the best experience when you tune into your favorite Hans Zimmer music, a mediocre headphone or a headset might not going to cut it.

For the best performance, we suggest you go for the specialized one- a headset for the task that is speaking oriented and a headphone for the tasks that require you to just listen. So prioritize what you are going to use them for before you buy one.


Things to Keep in Mind When You Buy a Headphone or a Headset

If you have come to a conclusion for your headsets vs. headphones dilemma, let’s discuss what you need to consider when you are buying one.

Purpose

Decide whether you need superior sound quality or something that will allow you to communicate with others. If you want both of these, you might as well think about getting a headphone and a standalone mic. If you want it for gaming, go for a device that will amp up the bass.

Style

Headphones can be of varied style- over-ear headphones, on-ear headphones, closed-back headphones, or open-back headphones. Each style offers different utility and convenience.

  • Over-ear headphones– These are the bulkiest of headphones and provide the best sound quality.
  • On-ear headphones– On ears are less bulky but the drivers might push against your ears, creating slight discomfort when you use them for long period.
  • Closed-back headphones– Closed-back headphones prevent any external sound from sneaking in as well as preventing sound leakage from your headphones. This is a handy feature to have if you use your headphone out in public and don’t want to annoy people with the noise coming out from your headphone.

However, there’s just one downside of it- as the sound can get out the kind of reverberate around your air canal, which can be a bit nuisance of its own.

  • Open-back headphones- Open-back headphones allow leakage of sound as well as the invasion of external sound. Hence, there are not suitable for use in public places. However, they will provide a great service if you only use it somewhere quiet or just at your home.

Comfort

Headphones and headsets come in a myriad of different styles and designs. But that doesn’t mean all of these models follow the proper ergonomics or they will be comfortable to wear. As headphones or headsets are generally bulky devices often used for long hours, the style should be comfortable to wear.

We have seen enough cases of developing sore points around the ear after using poorly fitting headphones. If the problem gets worse, they can even partially deform your ears.

That’s why you need to buy one that is ergonomically correct and fits well with the unique shape of your head. Besides, the sound signal should be compatible with your audio sensitivity.

Wired or Wireless

Once you get over the dilemma of headsets vs headphones, there comes another- whether to get a wired one or a wireless one. And let’s not forget about the Bluetooth headsets too. For those who get irked by the sight of tangling wires and cables, wireless is hands down the best option.

You can either get a radio frequency, infrared or Bluetooth one to avoid the mess of cables. From these three, Bluetooth provides wider convenience as you can connect it to all of your smart devices.

The difference between Bluetooth headset and headphones that are wired is that the Bluetooth one tends to discount the sound quality to accommodate its compact design. So if you are not one to trade off sound quality for convenience, you should get a wired one.

And make sure you are getting one that has a detachable cable. That way, if the cable gets damaged you won’t have to get an entirely new unit.

Apart from these facts, you might also want to do some research and learn some technical jargons like drivers, frequency response, and impedance. The more you know about their effects, the more it will help you to decide.


The Bottom Line

Headsets vs. headphones- this debate can go on for much longer. But the fact is, it is completely subjective which one you need. Much like a pair of scissors and a knife they can serve the same purpose yet be so different in how they work. So understand your need before you get one.

And one last word of advice, don’t fall for the advertising gimmicks that promise you the latest of technology or cool new specs. What we buyers naively forget is, no matter how trendy features it boasts what matters the most for a gadget is whether it is up for the job it was designed for.

Chances are, you might not even need the hundreds of features it has to offer. So don’t get your judgment skewed by the cool specs or a dope design. Just get the one that is up for the job and you won’t regret.

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