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Headphones vs. Headsets – Earpiece Speaker, Speaker Configuration & Connectivity

3 Major Differences between Headsets and Headphones

I can remember a time when headphones fulfilled a very specific purpose in my life – being able to play my favorite music as loud as I wanted without disturbing anyone else around me.

My presently diminished hearing is testament to the fact that I liked my music VERY loud and that headphones of that day were heavy-duty mini isolation booths. No one ever told me to "turn that music down!" when I had those beauties wrapped around my ears. Of course after two album sides, those monsters had to come off or else serious ear cramping would occur. But as far back as I can remember, "headsets" were skimpy, delicate looking units reserved for telephone operators, air traffic controllers and NASA flight directors – generally not among the "Stairway to Heaven" crowd.

Now, headphones have largely gone the way of the rotary phone. In today’s world, headset varieties vastly outnumber headphones in both style and functionality. However, there are still specific applications for which traditional headphone technology is more suitable, e.g. DJs, audio professionals, aviators, aerospace engineers and factory workers.

Let’s see if I can dispel some of the confusion by going over the three major differences between headsets and headphones:

1. The main divergence between headphones and headsets is in the earpiece speaker itself.

  • Headphones are typically of the circumaural type, with a speaker style that covers the entire ear, blocking out outside sounds.
  • Headsets are mainly of the supraural type, with a speaker style that rests on the outside of the ear, allowing monitoring of surrounding sound.

2. The second major difference between headphones and headsets is speaker configuration, specifically single or dual ear speaker styles.

  • Single ear types (monaural) are more useful for those who need to be aware of their environment and can be of the over-the-head or around-the-neck variety.
  • Dual ear models (binaural) allow a higher degree of concentration, despite outside distractions.

3. The third difference between headphones and headsets is connectivity to an external device like a computer or telephone. Headsets have become highly specialized and usually a separate type is needed for a variety of current applications, among them:

  • corded or wired telephones
  • cordless or wireless telephones
  • cellular or mobile phones
  • USB (Universal Serial Bus) type connector (for connecting many users at once)
  • computer (PC or Mac) type connector

By the way, there is a technological advance currently in its infancy known as "BlueTooth" which is working towards unifying all of these platforms by use of one universal connection. However, at this stage that world is still largely one of the future.

When deciding which headset is right for you, it is most important to consider the environment in which it will be used, the equipment you will be connecting to and, of course, your budget.

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