Gaming earbuds have been out for long enough that it was just a matter of time before they would be compared to full-fledged, over-the-ear headsets.

It’s hard to argue with the newer competition, as they’re smaller and nearly as robust feature-wise as headsets always were.

Gaming earbuds are more compact and look cleaner compared to headsets but are they actually better overall?

Are Gaming Earbuds Better Than Headsets?

A pro gamer wearing a headset

There are a lot of factors that go into answering this question but if it were boiled down to its essence the tiebreaker would be the level of comfort for long-term gaming. Headsets sit gently over the ear and are simply more comfortable. Earbuds are essentially jammed into the ear canal and that is rarely comfortable over extended periods.

In terms of what both of these devices can do, earbuds have closed the gap with traditional headsets and, in many ways, surpassed them in terms of quality audio, noise cancellation, and a host of other factors that are important to gamers, including the mic.

Earbuds usually offer better sound isolation without as much need for noise-canceling, which can cause discomfort over time.

Better sound isolation means better concentration.

Do Gaming Earbuds Provide Better Sound than Headsets?

Not every earbud is created equal and, for that matter, neither are headsets. For what it’s worth, in terms of audio quality, earbuds have equaled or surpassed gaming headsets in audio quality only very recently.

Take the Sony WF-1000XM4 as an example. The noise-canceling technology with this pair of earbuds is so exquisitely excellent that the sound becomes a truly immersive experience.

It has an integrated V1 Processor that only has one, primary job and that is to ensure that no ambient noise interrupts your listening experience. 

You can find similar technology in headsets, however, it’s difficult to surpass the kind of technology that’s being thrown into earbuds nowadays.

The Sony WF earbuds include 6mm drivers that are accommodated by the V1 processor.

Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos are almost afterthoughts to earbuds on this level.

The Razer Blackshark V2 is an example of why comparing headsets and earbuds is so difficult. It has all of the features that the Sony earbuds do, with 50mm drivers which are quite a bit larger than the 6mm. 

The primary difference here is the fact that the earbuds are located much closer to the eardrum with a level of seal that headsets can’t match.

So when it comes down to the idea of comparing driver sizes and overall sound quality, it’s a wash.

Are Gaming Earbuds More Comfortable than Headsets?

This is where earbuds fail miserably. There’s just no way on earth that something jammed into the ear canal, slowly strangulating the blood flow in a small surface area, can compete with the giant, cushioned softness of over-the-ear gaming headsets.

In the short term, this isn’t going to matter too much. Over the course of a few hours, it’s going to matter a lot and there’s nothing more distracting than the overwhelming need to adjust your earbuds because the inside of your ear canal is really starting to hurt. 

With earbuds, you have a few options in terms of long-term comfort.

  • Different size, silicone tips
  • Ear support hooks
  • Ergonomic design shapes on specific earbuds
  • Hard plastic that stays back from the ear canal
  • Inner ear hook supports

You don’t see this many design features with a gaming headset because you simply can’t beat nice, foamy cushions that sit on the outside of your ears.

All these different types exist for earbuds because it’s necessary and competitors are trying to find ways to bring more comfort to consumers. 

Gaming headsets win this match by a mile.

Is There a Difference in Latency Between Gaming Earbuds and Headsets?

For the top brands in the industry, on both sides of the aisle in this little competition, latency is similar.

With wired headsets and wired earbuds, latency is going to be similar all of the time. 

With wireless headsets and wireless earbuds, latency is all over the place depending on a few factors.

If this were a head-to-head competition between wired options and wireless options, the wired alternatives would win by a long shot. 

Fortunately, Bluetooth 5.0 has reduced latency in wireless headsets and earbuds to the point where it is in the low range of 50ms. 

That’s more than tolerable for even a hardcore gamer.

For professional gamers, you’ll often see them sticking with the wired versions and more professional gamers go with wired earbuds over wired headsets. 

In terms of which one does it better, gaming headsets or gaming earbuds, it’s a virtual tie, with both types embracing the same technology wired and wireless.

Related Article: Is A Heavy Or Light Mouse Better For Gaming? (Explained)

Do Gaming Earbuds Last Longer Than Headsets?

Gaming headsets can last up to 7 years but that’s assuming they have had a whole lot of tender loving care and preventative maintenance.

The average lifespan of a gaming headset sits at around 3 and a half years. 

Gaming earbuds don’t enjoy that luxury and the highest quality earbuds you own will probably get a good 2 years out of them.

They may push three if you don’t listen to them all of the time and take good care of them. 

Wireless headsets and earbuds are a little closer together but only because you’re moving from component quality to a simple matter of how many charging cycles can a battery endure and the cycles are similar in both gaming headsets and gaming headphones. 

So, if you’re looking for longevity and want an audio choice that is going to last a while with your gaming habits, a good gaming headset is the way to go. Of course, if you aim for cheap, generic brands, you never know what you’re going to get as this is a clear case of “getting what you pay for.” 

When it comes to longevity, gaming headsets have the edge.

Are Gaming Earbuds More Expensive than Headsets?

Earbuds are far more expensive than gaming headsets. Most blogs and articles on the matter will tell you otherwise, with the premise being that there are fewer materials that go into the manufacturing process for earbuds. 

In a logical world, that would be absolutely true. Fewer materials equal less expense. Quicker production equals less expense. An overall lower production cost should amount to less expense when the item reaches the retail shelves and eventually, the customer. 

As it turns out, however, none of the above is true.

Take the following for example: 

  • QDC Blue Dragon: The most expensive earbuds in the world with a retail cost of around $12,000
  • Obravo EAMT-1-c: An amazing pair of earbuds that blows the rest of the industry away in terms of speed and sound quality. Retails at approximately $4,100
  • 64 Audio Tia Forte: Known for providing the widest soundstage out of all of the other earbuds in the world. Retails at roughly $3,700
  • MMR Thummim: A truly bizarre aesthetic simply cannot define the underlying technology of this beast. This is a sincerely world-class pair of earbuds that retail for $4,500.

Now have a look at the gaming headsets that are considered to be the most expensive gaming headsets in the world:

  • Bang; Olufsen Beoplay Portal: Probably the best of the best in gaming headset design and audio capability. Frequently the number 1 on most lists. Retails at around $500.
  • SteelSeries Arctis Pro: Best audio frequency range in its class and you can get one of your very own for about $330.
  • Beyerdynamic MMX 300: Close to the same audio frequency capabilities of the SteelSeries Arctis Pro and it has one of the best microphones in its class. Retails for around $250

The most expensive set of earbuds in the world is 24 times more costly than the most expensive gaming headset in the world.

It’s enough to make your head spin around and around after you’re finished scratching it. 

What’s worse, is you can work your way down the number of superb earbud products and still not find one that‘s well within the range of most people.

When it comes to gaming headsets sure, some of them are expensive, but reasonably priced and in the range of most people. 

Most importantly, however, where this comparison is concerned, even your more reasonable earbuds are going to be more expensive than gaming headsets so headsets win the category.

Other Considerations Before Making Your Choice

The most important thing that you need to consider is what is right for you.

Are you going to be on the go and need something that is a little more portable?

Do you game for long periods of time and require something that’s not going to cut off your ear canal’s blood supply?

How long would you like your device to last?

Is it aesthetics that you’re looking for or something that you can reliably communicate with?

There are so many factors that go into the decision-making process and it makes the ultimate decision a matter of what’s best for you in your given situation.

Do Gaming Earbuds Have A Longer Battery Life Than Headsets?

When it comes to the battery life in earbuds and headsets, a bigger size usually means a bigger, longer-lasting battery.

Headsets are bigger and can fit in larger batteries that last longer.

The small size of earbuds makes them convenient to wear when on the go, but that means the battery has to be small so it can compete with audio hardware components for space within the earbuds.

You’ll usually average around 5 to 8 hours from wireless earbuds on a full charge, while most good gaming headsets can keep going for over a day.

Do Pro Gamers Use Earbuds Or Headsets?

Funnily enough, when playing in tournaments, pro gamers can often be seen wearing both earbuds and headphones simultaneously.

Players use the earbuds to listen to the in-game sounds and they use the headset over the earbuds to cancel out noise or to play white noise to drown out sounds from the audience and game casters.

Some pro gamers even wear a third headset around their neck with a mic for communicating with other players.

The third headset is also often sponsored by a specific gaming brand.

So I guess it’s not a case of what pro gamers prefer and more a case of the setup required to game in a competitive environment. 

Pro gamers probably use a similar setup when they practice at home so that when they do go to compete, they don’t find themselves too far out of their comfort zone.

All Things Considered

In a head-to-head match-up, gaming headsets squeak out a win.

However, that’s not necessarily because they are technologically better, because they’re not, or, at least they don’t offer anything you can’t find in earbuds.

The fact is, gaming headsets are just more comfortable, easier on the wallet, and last a bit longer than wired or wireless earbuds.