- The top earbud innovation cited was volume-limiting technology, possible due to noise
cancellation as it makes it easier to hear audio without maxing the volume
- Loose-fit earbuds are more comfortable for extended wear
- Tight-fit earbuds stay more secure during exercise, but can hurt the ears
- Battery life of earbuds and charging case are important features
- Users in USA currently prefer tight-fit earbuds (25%) for their better fit/staying in place (59%) especially during exercise (53%), but they can hurt when worn all day (29%).
ams (SIX: AMS), a leading worldwide supplier of high-performance sensor solutions, shares the results of its ‘Comfortable, Smart, High-performing Earbuds Survey’ conducted in spring 2020 with 2000-plus consumers around the world on their audio earbud uses, habits and preferences. The survey was conducted in Austria, China, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, UK, and USA. It found that consumers are demanding greater comfort and hearing safety without compromising on sound quality – or their long-term hearing. This becomes more important given the trend to wear earbuds all day. In fact, customers are asking for innovations like reducing background noise without losing awareness of one’s surroundings, volume-limiting features, 3D/special sound, and long battery life. This is especially true in China where consumers seem to be particularly well informed and more selective on earbud innovations.
Are your earbuds now part of your daily routine?
Listening to music was cited as the primary use of headphones across all regions (80%), followed by sports/exercise (61%), voice calls (51%) and gaming (45%). In fact, the survey showed earbuds are an integral part of daily life for many consumers. Users in USA and some European countries reported that they tend to wear earbuds all day – while making calls, listening to music, or exercising.
"Until now, real data on consumer needs, wants, and uses for earbuds was hard to find. By talking directly with a statistically relevant sample of earbud users, we have learned, that users want a say in earbud innovation. They want comfort, safety, and usability: such as a comfortable yet secure fit; innovations, that will protect their ears and hearing; and long battery life in both the earbuds and charging case regardless of the usage scenario. ams strives to deliver innovation to meet these needs. Examples include: digital active noise cancellation for loose-fit earbuds to address comfort and hearing safety; features that help reduce the symptoms of Tinnitus for safety; and proximity sensors to help increase battery life. They want these features regardless of their activity – traveling, working, relaxing, or doing sport activities such as running or biking," said Wim Renirie,
Vice President and General Manager for Accessory & Wearable Solutions Business Line at ams.
Users do not want to compromise: Active Noise Cancellation in a comfortable form factor and long battery life
Loose and tight fit: Around 45% revealed they use tight-fitting, in-ear earbuds because they are perceived to stay in place (67%) and feel more secure when exercising (51%). However, consumers noted tight-fitting earbuds are not comfortable for extended periods or they do not fit correctly (44% across all regions surveyed). Respondents also reported that tight-fitting earbuds can make them feel less aware of their surroundings (21%) and that they hear their own footfalls when wearing them – particularly during exercise (11%). Those problems are remedied with the loose-fit earbuds which have ANC. In addition to being more comfortable than tight-fit earbuds (26%), the ability to hear what you want to hear with augmented hearing allows users to hear necessary surrounding noise and activity (20%).
Augmented hearing through Active Noise Cancellation technology provides important usability factors in earbuds through reducing the distraction of ambient noise. This helps to keep volume levels lower, important for ear health. Moreover, ams has Augmented Hearing technology specially designed for loose-fit earbuds increasing comfort for users. The survey results showed that volume-limiting technology to prevent hearing loss or damage was important across the world with 56% requesting this feature. While half the respondents in China (49%) use active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones to reduce the distraction of ambient noise, just 17% in the US and 16% in Europe have ANC headphones. However, about 21% of respondents said they hear too much background noise with loose-fit earbuds. Until now, ANC has not been available in loose-fit earbuds. Thanks to ams developed digital ANC features for loose-fit earbuds, users can now have this feature in a very comfortable form factor. However, the same percentage also noted they did not know active noise cancelling technology was available in loose-fit earbuds. Consumers in China were savvier with just 14% unaware that ANC technology is available for more comfortable loose-fit earbud designs.
ams audio sensing technologies, such as Digital Augmented Hearing for high-performing noise cancellation for all types of headphones and earbuds, is used by manufactures around the world to give customers these kinds of audio benefits. Real time adaptation enables ANC on loose-fit earbuds, allows use of a smaller speaker on closed-fit designs, and always delivers the best performance on over-ear designs – even if you wear eyeglasses or prefer a loose fit.
Battery life continues to matter: ams proximity sensors are key to helping manage battery life in earbuds, as the buds only turn on when they register that they are in the ear. Nearly 49% across all regions agreed acceptable battery life must be at least 5 hours. However, 32% of respondents said they prefer battery life of over 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Just 11% said less than 5 hours of battery life was acceptable.
Emerging earbud innovations
Users are looking for new technologies such as 3D or spatial sound had high interest in China (at 48%) but less so in the US (24%) and Europe (20%). High volume without distortion (mostly for gaming) was important to consumers in China (50%) but less so in the US (31%) and Europe (19%).
Survey Methodology: Who participated and what type of earbuds they use
In spring 2020, ams surveyed over 2,150 consumers around the world (USA, Europe, and China). Respondents were almost evenly split between men (49%) and women (51%) between the ages of 18-29 (41%), 30-44 (32%), and 45-60 (18%). In pre-qualification questions, 24% of respondents said they use tight-fitting, in-ear, wired earbuds, 22% used tight-fitting, in-ear wireless earbuds; 10% use loose-fitting, wired earbuds; 6% use loose-fitting, wireless earbuds; 23% said they use both; and 15% said they do not use earbuds. The survey was conducted through SurveyMonkey.
For more information on the survey and more detailed results, please
A consumer-focused Earbud Reviewers Guide is also available for media use.
Visit the ams website to see all available earbud technologies: