Does Earcup Size Matter?

7th in a series of articles about headphones and headsets

When buying a car or making a large purchase, most of us go through a series of mental check offs to consider which features we’d like such as: four doors to accommodate family or friends or a two-door, does the warranty cover the type of driving you do, aesthetics, does it offer the safety features you want, or how affordable is it? Similarly, when purchasing for entire district or a single school, many of the same types of questions should also be asked when the subject comes to classroom headphones or headsets.

Some of the most widely asked questions have been addressed earlier in this series, but another seemingly quirky, but important one which might come up regards the size of the earcups – do they matter and how important could it be? Returning to the car example for a moment, your decision will be probably driven by the values you hold to be most important. Since we’re talking about headphones and headsets used by students, safety features and how they help students learn will most likely be considered more important when making the final decision, and earcup size can play an important role in how they absorb information.

First a quick overview of the available choices. There are three general earcup sizes,  beginning with the smallest one, the ear bud style which fits into the ear canal. The middling size is the”on-ear” where the earcup rests on the ear, while the largest is the “over-ear” style and fits around the ear.

Earcup Sizes

The “on-ear” style (left) of the 3060 series headphones, and two sizes of “over-ear” headphones: Listening First for smaller children (center) and the 3066AV headset (right) which is commonly used for language and reading programs.

We’ll begin by considering the safety aspects. Teachers and parents should help students establish safe listening practices in order to protect their hearing from an early age. In addition to the guidelines suggested within the “Listen To Your Buds” campaign by ASHA, upgrading to a headphone that has ambient noise-reducing earcups can go a long way to protecting sensitive young ears.

The smallest, or ear bud style of headphone blocks very little outside noise, and is the reason why Califone does not make any headphones in this style. (While improving technology is beginning to make active noise cancellation available in this style, it’s not economically feasible when purchasing for large numbers of students.) The next larger on-ear style blocks significantly more ambient noise than do ear buds. The over-ear style blocks the highest amount of ambient noise. This is doubly important since students do not need to turn up the volume to compensate for the outside noise. Since less ambient noise means fewer distractions, on-task behavior and retention of information can be pleasant side benefits.

Another factor to consider is the actual cost of the headphones. Since on-ear headphones use less material than the over-ear style, they typically cost less (but the trade off is the aren’t as durable and so their warranty period is typically shorter.) The over-ear style is considered to be the most rugged since it uses more material (to include slotted earcup baffles for instance) and longest lasting and usually has a warranty reflecting this too.

The following are the on-ear headphones available from Califone: CA-23060AV, 3064AV headset. and the Lightweight Personal Multimedia headset (3065AV).

The following are the over-ear headphones available from Califone: 2924AVG, 2924AV, 2924AVPS,  Listening First series of headphones (2800, 2810), 2985PG, 34IR, 35IRCLS7XX, NC500TFC, SA-740, 3068AV, 2964AV, 4100-USB, and 3066AV headsets.  The Explorer and 610 series also have over-ear earcups as do the Discovery and Odyssey series, which have the deepest cavities of any headphones/headsets in the industry.

So the size of the earcup should be a factor to consider when buying headphones or headsets. Read more about other specs to consider in the series of articles about headphones and headsets.





All of the Explorer, Discovery, 610, and Odyssey series employ


Helping teachers and students with educationally appropriate classroom AV equipment since 1947.