What is the difference between headsets and headphones?

Cool young woman wearing headphones

This is a relatively easy question to answer albeit with one small caveat regarding “earphones”, bluetooth headsets or buds for mobile devices we’ll talk abut below.

Headphones

In short, Headphones are for listening only, and (in most cases) don’t feature a microphone.

Headphones come in all shapes and sizes, but since they are primarilly for listening, usually they come with features to improve the sound quality for music lovers to enjoy music played back at a high quality. Large earpieces and noise cancellation are common features to look out for, whilst wired and wireless options are available.

Headsets

Headsets are described as a wearable device which can be used to not only listen to a source of audio, but to be also able to broadcast or send an audio signal to a listener on the other side of a call.

Lady in a busy office wearing a modern wired headset
Lady working in an office wearing a Jabra headset

A Headset not only has earpieces for listening, but also a microphone as well. Typically a boom style microphone is attached directly to the headset and is placed in front of the user’s mouth. 

Headsets are often refered to in the professional sense for offices, home offices and call-centres, where they are used in conjunction with telephones or computers to make and recieve calls, however, headsets are also commonly used where users need to be able to communicate hands free, such as:

  • Offices and home office workers needing to type as they talk
  • Contact centres
  • Two-Way Radio Headsets for security, site personel, construction etc
  • Gaming

There are lots of different types of headsets available for specific types of jobs and scenarios, so it is absolutely worth doing a little research and trying to find the type of headset you need for the job you have in mind.

Earphones – Apple Airpods, Google Pixel Buds and wired Mobile Phone Headphones

To blur the lines a little, many types of earphones for mobile phones have a tiny “inline microphone” attached to the wire that goes into the phone.

Lady wearing corded earphones with the inline microphone visible.

Apple Airpods, Google Pixel Buds and bluetooth headsets for mobile phones also have microphones built-in to them to allow voice communications.

We don’t class these type of earphones or “buds” as headsets in general, but it’s certainly worth noting the blurring of the lines in the terminology people commonly use. 

Do you think the difference between headsets or headphones is clear?
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