In Ear Monitors vs Earbuds

In Ear Monitors vs Earbuds (differences explained)

If you’re a musician or audio engineer, earbuds simply won’t be good enough. In-ear monitors (IEMS) are the only way to go, for a number of reasons, and in this in ear monitors vs earbuds comparison article, I’ll detail exactly why IEMs are superior to common earbuds.

When music or music production is your game, you always need the best to keep on top of quality, and for discerning ears high-quality headphones or IEMs are the only way to go.

Comparing Earbuds vs In Ear Monitors

Today I’ll go through the differences between in-ear monitors and earbuds, and show you exactly why only the former is the appropriate choice for you if you’re serious about high-quality sound.

Let’s start with a side-by-side comparison chart between in ear monitors and earbuds, then I’ll dig into the details.

In Ear Monitors vs Earbuds (Comparison Charts)

Sound Quality Comparison

In Ear MonitorsIn-ear monitors made for professionals in music and sound industries offer superior sound and noise cancellation, keeping out the distractions of ambient noise.
EarbudsEarbuds are meant for a consumer market, and they let in ambient noise. They are a good choice if you’re looking for personal music equipment for everyday life purposes, such as going for a walk when you want to let in the sounds of your environment.

Which Costs More?

In Ear MonitorsIn-ear monitors can be quite expensive to very expensive. If you get custom in-ear monitors, the cost will increase even more. Make sure to go to an audiologist for the proper impression and fitting procedures.
EarbudsIt’s possible to find extremely inexpensive earbuds. If you want to get higher quality ones, then obviously you will need to pay a bit more. But no matter how high quality an earbud may be, it will never come close to the cost of in-ear monitors.

What’s More Comfortable to Wear?

In Ear MonitorsIn-ear monitors in the correct size should be comfortable for you to wear, especially with the best quality tips. If you get custom in-ear monitors, they are made to be especially comfortable and provide the best in sound quality.
EarbudsEarbuds sit outside the ear canal, so you won’t have to worry if you are a person who doesn’t like having something inside of your ear canal. However, earbuds can be a bit of a hassle if you try to move around and exercise in them, as they can easily fall out. Earbuds are made in one-size-fits-all sizes, so it’s a matter of luck whether you find a pair that stay in your ears the way you want them to.

Which is Easier to Use?

In Ear MonitorsIt’s important that you follow expert recommendations and instructions when using in-ear monitors. This makes them a bit more challenging to use than earbuds. But once you know how to use them, you’ll be all set. Make sure that you clean your in-ear monitors on a regular basis, following all instructions that are provided. This is crucial, as failing to clean your in-ear monitors can lead to ear infections and other problems.
EarbudsEarbuds are always very easy to use. Just plug them into your device, position them outside your ear canal and go! Remember to clean your earbuds on a regular basis, preferably after or before every use, in order to prevent potential problems (such as ear irritation or infection).

The Difference Between In-Ear Monitors and Earbuds

Now let’s take a closer look at how people use in-ear monitors and earbuds. The differences in how they function and differ from one another are important to understand as part of any comparison.

IEMs (In Ear Monitors)

IEMs are sometimes just referred to as in-ear headphones, but there is a world of difference between a high-end in-ear monitor (IEM) for music and sound professionals, and a regular consumer-grade earphone.

IEM vs Earbuds

In Ear Montitors are like an earphone, however, an IEM is personal audio listening equipment that goes into the structure of the ear. This makes it different than ear buds, that only stay outside the ear canal. With In-Ear Monitors, you get the highest possible quality listening experience. This is why recording artists, live music performers, and studio sound engineers prefer these devices.

In-ear monitors differ from on-ear headphones or over-ear headphones because of the protrusion part that creates a seal. The part of the in-ear monitor that goes into your ear generally features silicone or foam ear tips. This is essential for comfort and are key to making the earphones stay in place. This is also an essential component of how in-ear monitors keep out external noise.


Earbuds are completely inappropriate for professionals in the music industry. While they come in a size that is similar to the in-ear monitor, they don’t actually go into the ear canal. Earbuds just stay on the ear’s outer structure. There are special kinds of earbuds that have “wings” on them. These make the earbuds a bit less likely to fall out of the ear.

Earbuds vs In Ear Monitors

With an earbud, you only get a partial seal when it comes to sound and noise. Earbuds let in the ambient noise that you need to block out when you’re a music and sound professional. Earbuds are really only a good consumer option, especially for people who want to listen to music while still being aware of the noise around them. An example might be someone who wants to listen to music while out on a walk.

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Why Custom In-Ear Monitors (CIEMs) are the Best Option

When you get custom in-ear monitors (CIEMS), the CIEM is designed specifically to fit an owner’s ear. With this kind of earphone, you won’t have to use ear tips. It also means that you will enjoy superior sound quality, as the earphone sits perfectly 9in the ear. There are also the benefits of improved noise isolation, comfort, and sound quality.

Singer Wearing In Ear Monitors

How Custom IEMs are Made

There is a special process for making custom in-ear monitors. You will have to go to a specialized professional for this.

To make your IEM castings, a special liquid that is made for this process is poured into your ear. This hardens. This is what gives the professional an impression of the inside of your ear. You’ll use these castings when making your custom in-ear monitors.

Be aware that doing this will be a financial investment. In-ear monitors are quite expensive.

Also, it’s crucial that you choose a certified audiologist to make your ear impressions. That guy on the corner with a couple of cans of epoxy resin saying he’s done it a hundred times? Yeah, he is not the guy you want.

Difference Between In Ear Monitors and Earbuds

You can order your own custom IEMs once you have the initial ear casting complete (you won’t have to do that every time).

But please, you should never consider doing your impressions by yourself. This can lead to terrible injuries, even deafness. Go to a professional once, and you can order cheap, custom IEMs any time you need them.

In Ear Monitors are a Must for Music Professionals

As we’ve seen here, earbuds are never a real option if you are a professional in music and/or sound. In-ear monitors, preferably custom in-ear monitors, are the only way to go.