Earbuds have been a choice of headphone since portable cassette players hit the market, and they became even more popular with the introduction of the portable mp3 player. The individual earpieces of earbuds fit snugly inside the ear to deliver sound, and over the years, advancements have been made to improve the sound quality and fit of the earpieces. The cord of the earbuds runs from each earpiece to a center point where the two cables are joined into one. This cable can vary in length, and to avoid tangling, retractable earbuds were developed to pull the excess cable inward toward a central unit for storage.
Retractable earbuds enhance the convenience of traditional earbuds in several ways. Storing retractable earbuds in backpacks, purses, or pockets is more convenient since the cable is not likely to become tangled or caught on other objects. The cable is further protected from damage, as retractable earbuds pull the excess cable into a central protected casing that keeps the cable from tearing, bending unnaturally, or otherwise becoming frayed or torn. The length of the cable can be adjusted to fit a variety of applications; it can be shortened, for example, if the mp3 player is placed in a shirt pocket, or lengthened if the mp3 player is placed in a pants pocket or backpack.
The disadvantages of retractable earbuds are few, but bulkiness can be an issue if the retracting mechanism is large or wide. While storage in a pocket generally does not pose a problem, the unit will take up more space than earbuds without a retracting mechanism. Some lower quality retractable earbuds also tend to get jammed in the retracting unit, preventing the retraction from effectively occurring. Higher end units usually do not have this problem, but they also end up being more expensive.
Other issues concerning retractable earbuds are similar to issues concerning normal, non-retracting earbuds. Since each earbud is placed directly in the ear canal, the sound coming through the small speakers is amplified significantly. Playing music too loudly can damage eardrums, leading to troublesome health issues. Earbuds also tend to collect earwax, which can be a sanitary problem. People who tend to share earbuds with others are also sharing earwax and other germs that may reside on the earbuds themselves. Some lower quality earbuds also tend to break down quickly, with the rubber fittings splitting, cracking, or coming off the unit entirely.