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Earphones are very small headphones that are fitted directly in the outer ear, facing but not inserted in the ear canal. Earphones are portable and convenient, but many people consider them uncomfortable. They provide hardly any acoustic isolation and leave room for ambient noise to seep in; users may turn up the volume dangerously high to compensate, at the risk of causing hearing loss. On the other hand, they let the user be better aware of their surroundings. Since the early days of the transistor radio, earphones have commonly been bundled with personal music devices. They are sold at times with foam or rubber pads for comfort. (The use of the term earbuds, which has been around since at least 1984, did not hit its peak until after 2001, with the success of Apple's MP3 player.

In-ear headphones, also known as in-ear monitors (IEMs) or canalphones, are small headphones with similar portability to earbuds that are inserted in the ear canal itself. IEMs are higher-quality in-ear headphones and are used by audio engineers and musicians as well as audiophiles.

The outer shells of in-ear headphones are made up of a variety of materials, such as plastic, aluminum, ceramic and other metal alloys. Because in-ear headphones engage the ear canal, they can be prone to sliding out, and they block out much environmental noise. Lack of sound from the environment can be a problem when sound is a necessary cue for safety or other reasons, as when walking, driving, or riding near or in vehicular traffic. Some in-ear headphones utilize built-in microphones to allow some outside sound to be heard when desired.

Generic or custom-fitting ear canal plugs are made from silicone rubber, elastomer, or foam. Such plugs in lower-end devices may be interchangeable, which increases the risk of them falling off and getting lodged in the ear canal. Custom in-ear headphones use castings of the ear canal to create custom-molded plugs that provide added comfort and noise isolation.

Some wireless earphones include a charging case.

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