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Step-by-Step: How to Wear Headphones and Earbuds Comfortably

Last updated: 1 year ago
11 min read

Wearing headphones is straightforward. But if you’re feeling discomfort, you might be wearing them incorrectly.

Here are all the tips and tricks to properly wear your headphones and avoid sore ears.

Confused man wearing headphones

We’ve tested hundreds of different types of headphones. Some can be quite uncomfortable. So, here are the things we learned that will help you improve your comfort.

CONTENTS (click to show more)

    How to Wear Earbuds & In-Ear Headphones

    Wearing earbuds sounds easy enough; you hang classic earphones in front of the ear canal and gently push inside the ear canal.

    However, there are many ways you can do it wrong. It all comes down to inserting earbuds with the wrong angle.

    The way you insert your ear buds depends on their type and ear tips. Let’s start with types first.

    How to wear earbuds (that don’t go in the ear) the right way

    Classic earphones sit in front of your ear canal (without ear tips).

    Most of them come naked like the Apple AirPods 3 or SoundPEATS Air3 Deluxe or have a silicone edge (older Apple EarPods) or a foam cover like VE Monks to help them stabilize in your ears.

    This is how you wear earphones:

    1. Hang them in front of your ear canal, so they rest in your pinna.
    2. Tilt the stem slightly upfront so that the nozzle is facing upwards.

    Here’s a video on how to put in classic earphones:


    That way, you get a comfortable and secure fit (although earphones aren’t known for their stability). And tilting the nozzle directs the sound towards the ear canal, making it less muffled.

    How to wear in-ear earbuds with ear tips

    In-ear true wireless earbuds and wired in-ear monitors are a bit different.

    With true wireless earbuds, you must be particularly careful how you insert them since some might require a different technique (you can find instructions in a manual).

    But in general, here’s how you insert them:

    1. Push the earbuds into your ear canal by slightly twisting up and down, so that ear tips slide in more easily.
    2. When you feel the tips inside, slightly twist the earbuds upward. Don’t twist them too far, and find a comfortable position.

    See the video tutorial on how to put in in-ear earbuds:


    This will ensure optimal stability since true wireless earbuds rely on their design and a proper fit to keep them in your ears.

    It’s a similar story with in-ear monitors (IEMs). Most have nozzles facing upwards and longer stems.

    1. You push IEMs inside your ear canal, and slightly twist the tips to slide in more easily.
    2. Make sure to twist the nozzle upwards and to ensure the stem is slightly tilted upfront.

    Earbuds with foam ear tips:

    They require slightly more work to insert correctly, as you want the foam to expand inside your ear canal and adapt to the inside shape.

    If you’re inserting the earbuds in your right ear, take the right earbud with your right arm and squeeze the foam ear tip with your left arm.

    1. Grab the upper part of the earlobe of your right ear with your left arm and pull it up.
    2. Insert the still-squeezed foam tip into your ear canal (remember it is facing upwards).
    3. By releasing the earlobe, your ear will grab onto the ear tip. Wait for a few seconds for the foam to expand.

    See the video on how to put in earbuds with foam ear tips:


    You can wear wired earbuds 2 ways

    In the past, most wired earbuds were worn with a cable going straight down. However, nowadays, over-the-ear in-ear monitors have become more widely spread.

    This is how you wear both types.

    Straight down

    We already described how you insert earbuds with a cable straight down in the previous in-ear earbuds category. But to recap:

    • You put the earbuds in your ears and ensure the stem faces slightly upfront.

    A video on how to put in wired earbuds with the cable straight down:


    Of course, try readjusting the fit if you find it uncomfortable or notice the sound getting muffled.


    Most in-ear monitors, from cheap to expensive ones, are designed to channel the cable around your earlobes. This design has its benefits.

    Wiring the cable on top of your ear better distributes the weight so IEMs don’t feel heavy. That’s why manufacturers can make them heavier by packing in more drivers.

    Furthermore, it helps improve stability during physical activities and minimizes cable noise.

    Now you know what makes this design special, here’s how you wear it:

    1. Put the IEM in a position ready to put it into your ears. The cable should face upwards and then fall down, creating an arch.
    2. If the cable is loose, drag it around your earlobe, so it rests on it.
    3. If the cable has a thicker plastic that forms it into an ear hook, help yourself with the other arm to grab the back of the cable to put it around your earlobe (second video below).
    4. Push the IEM into your ear canal, slightly twisting it, so the ear tip slides in more easily.
    5. Gently tug the cable behind the ear to stretch the wire.

    See how to put in wired earbuds with a soft cable around the ear:


    See how to put in wired earbuds with a memory cable around the ear:


    How to wear earbuds with ear hooks and ear wings

    Earbuds with ear hooks are very similar to the ones with the cable going around your ears. However, hooks are much stiffer and require extra steps to put in correctly.

    1. Grab the earbud in a position ready for insertion in your ear.
    2. If the ear hooks are moldable, widen them a little, so they’ll fit around your ears easily (first video below).
    3. If the ear hooks are only bendable but not moldable, follow the next step (second video below).
    4. Tuck the end of the hook at the back of your ears and push the earbuds down so that the hook grabs your ear lobes.
    5. Start pushing the earbud into your ear canal by twisting the ear tip and facing the nozzle slightly upwards.
    6. If the hook is moldable, push the top and bottom parts together, so it truly grabs your ear.
    7. Wiggle your earbud a little to ensure they have a proper seal and to avoid ear hook gripping too tightly.

    See how to put in earbuds with moldable ear hooks:


    Here’s how to put in earbuds with stiff ear hooks:


    On the other hand, earbuds with ear wings work similarly to regular in-ear monitors and true wireless earbuds. You just have to make sure that the wing latches to your pinna.

    1. Place the earbud into your ear canal and slightly twist the ear tip, so it goes in more easily.
    2. Make sure that the ear wing/fin latches between the cartilage ridge in your pinna to ensure a stable fit.
    Wing tips earbuds
    This is how you latch ear wings inside your ears.

    How to Wear Headphones: Over-Ear and On-Ear

    With bigger headphones is all about how they sit on your ears. To get the best comfort and sound, follow the guidelines below.

    Specific headphones are so sensitive they change the sound when you move the earpads by millimeters. Therefore, their position on your ears is crucial for the listening experience.

    How to wear over-ear headphones correctly

    The name “over-ear headphones” says it all. These headphones have big ear cups that go around and enclose a human ear.

    Popular models like the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Apple AirPods Max have a somewhat tighter fit, but their earpads should go around your ears with careful positioning.

    In contrast, some over-ears go with a much larger ear cup size (Sennheiser HD 6xx) and aim for the largest ears. Consequently, they’re more comfortable but also clumsy.

    Here’s how you wear over-ear headphones properly:

    1. Find the left/right indicators and make sure they’re on the correct side. Some over-ear cups are slightly angled, so using the right side is crucial.
    2. Slightly extend the headband and put ear pads over your ears. Make sure that the headband is somewhat in the middle of your head.
    3. Wiggle the earcups a little until you feel your ears inside entirely. When you let go of the cups, earpads shouldn’t press against your ears. 
    4. If the headband isn’t touching your head, or you can feel the entire weight of your headphones on your ears, shorten the headband. You can do that with your fingers, or take the headphones off, readjust the headband, and put them back on your head.

    Here’s how to put on over-ear headphones:


    And if your headphone earpads are old and worn out, here’s how you replace them.

    Make sure that the headband is extended equally on both sides.

    In case the earpads aren’t big enough, and they pinch your earlobes a little, try to find a comfortable spot where the pinching won’t bother you.

    That’s usually in the earlobe’s lower part, which is also the softest (try not to wear earrings and piercings when you use headphones).

    When wearing over-ear headphones with a headband, some people struggle with:

    How to wear on-ear headphones correctly

    Unlike over-ear headphones, on-ears are noticeably smaller and have ear cups that sit on top of your ears.

    Most on-ear headphones are below $100, with some premium models already discontinued (Bowers & Wilkins PX5, Beats Solo Pro).

    The key to wearing on-ears comfortably is to find your sweet spot. Here is how you put them on your head:

    1. Check the side indicator to ensure the right ear cup goes on the right ear.
    2. Slightly extend the headband and put headphones on your ears. Try to find a comfortable position, but ensure the drivers shoot directly into your ears. Don’t place them too far behind or in the front.
    3. Compress the headband extension by grabbing the band with 2 fingers and an ear cup with the remaining ones. Headband shouldn’t press too hard on your head but still support some of your headphone’s weight.
    4. Make sure headband extensions are equal on both sides.

    Here’s a video on how to put on on-ear headphones:


    Once you adjust the position, move the headphones around to find the sweet spot where they won’t get as uncomfortable.

    Avoid using earrings or glasses with thick frames that would press against your earlobe.

    How to wear bone conduction headphones correctly

    Bone conduction headphones transfer sound directly into your middle ear by vibrating your cheekbones. Read more about how bone conduction technology works.

    However, different technology also requires a different wearing style. They’re a mix of ear hook and neckband headphones. This is how you wear them:

    1. Grab the headphones by the ear hooks.
    2. Raise them around your head and put each ear hook around your ears.
    3. By letting them go, headphones will automatically tilt and fall into the intended position.
    4. Ensure the drivers (or transducers) touch the skin in front of your ears. Don’t put the drivers inside your ears.

    See the video on how to put on bone-conduction headphones:


    Transducers might not produce the best bass response if you have a long beard.

    Why Should You Wear Headphones the Right Way

    Wearing headphones correctly is important because it impacts audio quality, stability, and comfort. The sound quality is fuller, stability is better, and the listening experience is comfier with a proper fit.

    Sound quality

    Wearing headphones incorrectly can affect the sound in 2 ways.

    • Poorly positioned headphones won’t ensure a proper fit or seal. This results in a worse bass response, especially in sub-bass, which controls music and games rumble.
    • Drivers won’t fire the sound directly in your ear canal. You end up with a slightly muffled sound and even a different sound signature. Some headphones can range from piercing to balanced-sounding just by moving the earpads.

    Stable fit or stability

    Improperly wearing headphones (especially in-ear) can suffer from poor stability. As a result, they struggle to stay on your head and constantly fall off.

    By ensuring they sit correctly, they do much better in resisting gravity, rapid shakes during workouts, and head banging during a good song.

    TrueFree F1 on a person's head
    You don’t want headphones to fall down when enjoying your music.


    Lastly, earbuds that are pushed in your ear canal incorrectly, or headphones that pinch your earlobes, eventually cause pain.

    Is that often a problem for you? Check this guide on how to prevent pain from headphones and earbuds.

    By wearing headphones correctly, you prevent or at least reduce the chance of creating pressure points that start hurting. And forcing you to take a break.

    How to Reduce Discomfort When Wearing Headphones

    Your options to reduce discomfort are limited when wearing headphones that are uncomfortable by design.

    Therefore, before buying your next pair, follow these tips;

    Get the right type of headphones

    While no type of headphones is universally perfect, some will eventually cause discomfort.

    Types that might get uncomfortable over time:

    • On-ear headphones: their earpads squeeze your ears, and despite being lightweight, they inevitably cause pain
    • Ear hook earbuds: while some are worse than others, most make your ears ache after an hour or so
    • Neckband earbuds: they aren’t as uncomfortable as they’re annoying to wear, from constant cable pulling to terrible microphonics
    • Bone conduction headphones: they’re lightweight and relatively comfy for short periods, but they can cause some stress on your ears while tickling your cheeks due to vibrations from the transducer
    Bone conduction headphones like Orange O Bones can be a bit of a mixed bag for comfort.

    Comfier headphone types that ensure long-lasting comfort:

    Headphone typeComfort description
    Over-ear headphonesLarge earpads fit snugly around your ears without squishing them
    In-ear monitorsMost have an ergonomic design that provides at least a few hours of pain-free listening
    True wireless earbudsMost are designed well, but some sports models are a bit bulky and uncomfortable
    Classic earphonesTypically lightweight and non-intrusive, so you barely feel them

    Pick better materials

    By picking better materials, we mostly mean better padding quality.

    The general rule is that the plusher the ear cushions, the more clamping force pressure they absorb, reducing the stress on your ears.

    • If possible, go for thicker velour ear pads with memory foam. They will prevent your ears from sweating and ensure a snug fit, even if you wear glasses.
    Plush earpads
    Thicker earpads will greatly increase comfort.

    Take off eyeglasses and jewelry that gets in the way

    Of course, ideally, you shouldn’t wear glasses, piercings, or earrings under your headphones. They will squeeze the earlobes against your solid facial “accessories” and start hurting.

    Here’s a dedicated guide on how to wear headphones with glasses.

    But as we mentioned above, thick, plush padding might relieve any pain.

    Adjust the fit until it’s comfortable

    For full-sized headphones, always properly adjust the headband.

    1. Extend it generously and put headphones on your head.
    2. Using your fingers, slowly start compressing the headband extension until you feel it is carrying some of the weight of the headphones, yet it doesn’t press too hard on your head.

    For earbuds and in-ear monitors, selecting the correct ear tips for your ear canals is very important.

    • When inserting earbuds, you should hear a noticeable reduction in ambient noise.
    • To further test the fit, play some music and pay attention to the bass performance. Then switch the size of the ear tips and play the same song again. Based on bass performance, pick your favorite ear tip size.
    • You can do a similar test by shaking your head. The size of tips that stay in your ears the longest is the best for you.
    Different ear tips
    Different shapes of ear tips (foam, single, double, and triple-flanged silicone).

    Note that some people can have different sizes of ear canals, so it’s normal if you need different tips for each earbud.

    Take regular breaks

    While most comfortable earbuds and headphones can provide endless hours of music enjoyment, you should still take frequent breaks by taking the headphones off.

    You will let your ears breathe a little and reduce the chance of hearing loss (if you’re listening to headphones at higher volumes).

    Furthermore, a shorter walk around the office/house will benefit your health, as sitting for extended periods is unhealthy.

    Related to comfort:

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    What is the correct way to wear earbuds?

    The correct way to wear earbuds is to use the right size ear tips, twist their nozzle slightly upwards when inside the ear canal, and ensure all other accessories (hooks, wings) grip the right part of the ear.

    How do you know if earbuds fit right?

    You know if earbuds fit right after making 2 different tests. The first one involves trying different ear tip sizes and listening to the same song to see when you get the best bass response. In the second one, you try different ear tip sizes and shake your head to see which size provides better stability.

    Should earbuds be tight or loose?

    Earbuds should neither be tight nor loose. Too tight means they will start aching your ears, while too loose will make them fall out of your ears at the slightest movement. Aim for something in between; make sure you push them in your ears, but never shove them all the way in.

    What is the proper way to wear headphones?

    The proper way to wear headphones is to ensure they enclose your entire ear (over-ear) or sit facing directly into your ear canal (on-ear) and extend the headband properly.


    Hopefully, this article taught you how to wear your type of headphones and how improper fit negatively affects your listening experience.

    To summarize our findings for earbuds:

    • Always make sure to use ear tip sizes that fit you best
    • Confidently push the ear tip into your ear canal but don’t aggressively shove it too deep
    • Analise the wearing style of your earbuds and wear them accordingly

    And for headphones:

    • Don’t let the earpads rest on your earlobes, and if they have to, find the sweet spot that doesn’t hurt
    • Adjust the headband, so it doesn’t press on your head too much yet still carries some of the headphone’s weight

    You can save yourself many troubles by getting the most comfortable headphones and comfy earbuds.

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