ams ‘Comfortable, Smart, High-performing Earbuds Survey’ highlights for OEMs what consumers want

News facts:

  • 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 

  • Consumers in China use multiple types of earbuds (36%) to listen to music (85%) several times a day (68%). They want ANC (70%) and high sound quality (64%)

  • Innovative technologies like Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) are popular, especially in China where consumers seem to be particularly well informed and more selective on ear-bud innovations

  • 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%)

  • Europe-based respondents use their earbuds several times a day (37%) so want at least 5 hours of battery time (50%) and under a third realize that ANC is available for loose-fit buds


Premstaetten, Austria (August 10, 2020) -- ams (SIX: AMS), a leading worldwide supplier of high-performance sensor solutions, shares the results of its 2,000+ earbud consumer survey showing original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that consumers using earbuds multiple times each day want comfortable devices that sound great, boast long battery life, but won’t damage their hearing.

 The ‘Comfortable, Smart, High-performing Earbuds Survey’1 polled users in China, Europe, and USA on their audio earbud uses, habits, and preferences. For OEMs, a key finding is that many users, particularly in North America, wear their earbuds all day for work and leisure, so they want comfortable earbuds that won’t completely block out their external environments. 

“Audio OEMs are in a continuous race to deliver innovative solutions, but until now, real data around consumer needs, wants and uses for earbuds was hard to find. We’ve learned from our international survey that users want a say in how earbud innovation evolves around both fit and features,” said Wim Renirie, Vice President and General Manager for Accessory & Wearable Solutions Business Line at ams. 

Consumer Use of Earbuds Today

As anticipated, listening to music was the top use of earbuds across all regions (80%), followed by sports/exercise (61%), voice calls (51%) and gaming (45%). Many users of tight-fit earbuds said they prefer them for sports and exercise, but noted they are uncomfortable for extended use or they don’t fit correctly (45% across all regions surveyed). 

Consumers clearly ‘want to hear what they want to hear,’ but without losing awareness of their surroundings. Respondents reported 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%). These problems are remedied with loose-fit earbuds which, in addition to being more comfortable than tight-fit earbuds (26%), allow users to hear some surrounding noise and activity (20%). 

Comfortable, Smart, High-performing Earbuds: Points of Differentiation for OEMs

Nearly 50% of the respondents in China said they use active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones to reduce the distraction of ambient noise. In contrast, markets are ripe for ANC in the US and Europe, where just 17% in the US and 16% in Europe have ANC headphones. The door also is open for loose-fit ANC earbuds, as 21% of respondents said they hear too much background noise with loose-fit earbuds. The same percentage did not know ANC was available in loose-fit earbuds.

While complaints around wired earbuds included tangled wires (17% across all regions), users of wireless options fear losing them (10%), perhaps as they do not fit correctly and/or fall out (20%). A ‘find me’ feature is differentiation point for earbud manufacturers, with nearly one in three respondents requesting this. Even more users considered it important for their earbuds to be water-proof (42%).

One problem OEMs can solve for tight-fit earbud users is the complete filling of the ear canal. Users of tight-fit earbuds noted they often cannot hear themselves in a natural way during voice calls (14%) and they block out too much surrounding noise, such as approaching vehicles, or where the sound is coming from (31%). 

OEMs building devices with longer battery life may fare better than competitors. Nearly 49% across all regions agreed acceptable battery life must be at least five hours and 32% of respondents said they prefer battery life of over eight hours and up to 24 hours. 

“These are all areas where ams can support audio OEMs with our industry-leading expertise to deliver differentiated sensor solutions designed to help consumers enjoy a better lifestyle,” Renirie added. “We offer premium noise cancellation performance for both tight- and loose-fit earbuds in a small form factor and with ultra-low power consumption. Our ultra-sensitive and miniaturized proximity sensors are used to detect when the earbuds are in use or not, which extends battery life between charging. With our technology and insights, ams can partner with OEMs worldwide to cost-effectively and quickly create the earbud solutions that fully address consumer needs.”

What’s Next?

Consumers participating in the survey expressed an interest in a variety of emerging earbud innovations including 3D or spatial sound, which was highly desired by consumers in China (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%). However, most important was volume-limiting technology to prevent hearing loss or damage (56%).

Hear what you want to hear – with the highest wearing comfort

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 and ear tip misfit on closed-fit designs, further it always delivers the best performance on over-ear designs – even if you wear eye-glasses or prefer a loose fit.

1 Survey Methodology: Who participated and what type of earbuds they use

In Spring 2020, ams surveyed over 2,150 consumers around the world: Austria, China, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, UK, and USA. 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 download the ams‘ Comfortable, Smart, High-performing Earbuds Survey’ eBook.  
A consumer-focused press release and Earbud Reviewer’s Guide is also available for media use.
Visit the ams website to see all available earbud technologies at