Headphones and Headsets: What’s the Difference?

Headphones and headsets are not interchangeable; they do mean different things. And the difference between headphones and headsets can actually make a difference in the work that you do, or the work that can be done. Knowing the difference between the two and their advantages can give you a better idea of what type you will need, whether you’re working in a classroom or in a call center.


Headphones are essentially audio listening speakers that fit in, on, or around your ear, allowing you to listen to audio files. Headsets do the same thing, but with an added microphone, allowing you to respond to a conversation or record your own voice while listening to audio. Both headphones and headsets can sit on-ear, over-ear, and in-ear. And with headsets, some microphones move flexibly on a built-in boom (such as the child-friendly Califone 2800-RDT Stereo Headset) or rest as an in-line microphone (such as the Hamilton TRRS Headset). Avid Education SM-25 headphones or the Califone 3068-AV headphones are other great choices. Overall, headphones and headsets can look very similar and come in various models, but the microphone makes them different.

Headphones Versus Headsets: Which One Should You Get?

The main reason to pick headphones or headsets is ultimately dependent on whether or not you anticipate recording or responding as an individual. But there are other reasons to consider as well.

There are many advantages to buying just headphones: for some environments, just being able to provide listening tools for multiple individuals separately is important. Classrooms, libraries, and audio labs frequently need listening tools for individuals, allowing for privacy or working at a listener’s own pace. And in instances where recordings or communications are needed, many classrooms might only need a microphone for group settings or Skype calls for the entire classroom. A separate microphone, therefore, is a better suited for conference or video calls, rather than a headset. Buying disposable or more durable headphones is also cheaper in the long run, and with many laptops, tablets, and smartphones already having a built-in microphone, it can be more affordable and easier to just use the built-in microphones when necessary.

In addition, many headphone audio specs fare better in quality than comparable headsets. For an improved listening experience, buying a quality set of headphones will give you more for your budget than buying a headset that’s not made for nuanced listening.

You are also more likely to find a variety of cheap, disposable headphones than headsets. Disposable headphones are great for environments that need them for sanitary purposes, or in situations where headphones can easily be lost, misplaced, or broken (like airlines, hospitals, and libraries). Headsets, however, run a higher price tag, even if you find a cheap model made for disposable or short-term use.

Headsets, however, can be an essential tool for those who frequently communicate or record audio, and need a quality microphone. Call service centers, marketers, communications centers, emergency response centers, operators, and other places that rely on communication as the sole task would be able to provide their services better with a quality headset. In addition, some classrooms or testing centers might require occasional recordings for exams or assignments from individuals, which makes headsets a more viable option than relying on a computer microphone. With the microphone built-in to be placed in front of a speaker’s mouth, the recording audio will be clearer than some standard built-in microphones on various devices. The headset microphone also allows for private conversations, which can be integral to a space.

Overall, ask yourself these questions when picking between headphones and headsets: What is the main need or purpose for your audio equipment? How important is it for a user to listen and record simultaneously? Will most instances requiring a microphone involve individuals or groups? How does an existing microphone compare (for better or worse) to a microphone on a headset? Will listening quality improve or decrease with a particular headphone or headset model? Keeping these types of questions in mind will help you find the right model for your needs. For more help finding what you need, contact us.