Wired vs. Wireless Headphones
All You Need to Know
Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent, said Victor Hugo, and that has forever stayed ingrained in our creative minds. We’re all aware that there are multiple ways of hearing noises or even listening to music, and ultimately your personal preferences will shape the final decision on whether you choose wired-vs-wireless-headphones for your new game or gaming console.
But, the question we commonly hear and want to tackle today is about whether or not to go wireless. Naturally, both options have merits, but it will ultimately depend on how and where you intend to use your new found toy.
Having purchased and used several pairs of both wired vs. wireless headphones, we can help you make an informed purchase, outlining what you need to know and which features you should keep an eye out for.
When discussing differences in sound quality, wired and Bluetooth headphones have both evolved over time, and differences have ultimately lessened. Of course, there are those diehard audiophiles who still believe that a wired connection offers the most authentic sound, particularly when compared to a “frail” Bluetooth alternative.
But, while it’s true that Bluetooth can only handle so much information across its signal, headphones nowadays can process almost as much information as a standard wired connection. To be more precise, Bluetooth headphones typically support around a maximum of 768 kbps, all while traditional wired headphones can handle up to 2,304 kbps -of course, depending on the output ratio and the device through which the signal is being sent. This means that technically, wired headphones can indeed support a better quality sound. However, most digital audio files are solely around 256 kbps, with even the highest-quality bitrate files only around 320 to 521 kbps.
In layman’s terms, the most prominent difference in sound quality with regards to both wireless and wired headphones will come from brand and construction quality. To better put things into perspective, different headphone manufacturers design headphones using contrasting equalization, otherwise known as EQ levels. For instance, some come pre-installed with standards which are attuned for heavy bass, regardless if we’re talking about wired vs wireless headphones. Higher-end headphones also offer manual EQ-ing, again irrespective of the headphone type, meaning that you can make manual adjustments based on the kind of music you’re listening to.
So, basically, while sound quality does differ between the two types, if you’re listening to conventional digital music, chances are your ears are not going to notice the slight difference. On the other hand, if you’re a vinyl fan, there’s an entirely different story to tell.
Another meaningful aspect to consider is that the vast majority of wireless headphones using 2.4GHz Bluetooth were not initially designed for high-definition audio streaming. This means that although Bluetooth uses the exact same frequency as other devices, there are numerous household objects which can easily interfere with your Bluetooth quality -ranging from other smartphones or TV to even your microwave.
Needless to say, audio drops can be a real pain for users, and ultimately, the digital compression faced by Bluetooth devices is a major no-no for many users looking to somehow replicate the results of the wired headphones counterpart.
Discussing range, if you are purchasing a pair of wireless headphones which uses the next-generation Bluetooth instead of infrared, then you will be opting for Class 2 Bluetooth. This is significant because these pairs have a maximum range of thirty meters, which is considerably different than the mere ten meters commonly offered.
Needless to say, quality forever comes at a premium, thus expect your better signal to near a higher price. But, it’s also critical to note that there will be a multitude of other factors at work as well. More precisely, a wireless signal is not solely dependent on a good receiver but also on a suitable transmitter. This means that if you’re using an older PC or smartphone which is not up to date, then paying extra for a pair of headphones will not offer a noticeable difference.
We shouldn’t also forget about class 1 Bluetooth alternatives which have a maximum range of up to 100 meters. Notably, the technology used in these devices is significantly more powerful, since they draw in a more substantial current.
General connectivity and usability
When adding any pair of headphones to your online shopping basket, you should consider what device you wish to use your headphones in conjunction with, both in the present and the future. For example, the latest iteration of iPhones saw the giant company get rid of the standard headphone jack we had been accustomed to. Shortly after, more companies, including HTC, were following in their footsteps.
Going forward, it may be genuinely harder than ever before to find a phone which can support a 3.5mm wired connection. In other words, if you’re primarily planning on using your mobile with the new pair of headphones, then paying for a wireless option might not be the smartest move in the long run. Your decision should take into consideration if you are planning on switching phone in the near future (i.e., upgrading to a newer model), and whether the item you’ll have in the future will come with the appropriate headphone jack.
But, a 3.5mm connection isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, the only way to listen to music using a wired pair of good headphones. In fact, numerous options can be used with the 3.5 mm jack-less iPhone. For other brands such as Android-powered devices, the standard jack was dropped and forgotten a long time ago, instead replaced with a USB-C connection. Here it’s noteworthy to mention that although the USB-C or Lightening headphones are not yet as popular as other alternatives, there is a booming market which is become increasingly populated as giant industry names choosing to ditch the headphone jack.
Another way to use your new pair of headphones is via a PC or tablet, which can kind of tick the future proofing box on your behalf. When it comes to this option, the consensus is that the headphone jacks will possibly not disappear for a very long time, meaning that a wired connection will still be a viable option for years and years to follow. While you might be young and restless, future-proofing is essential, notably when you’re investing a substantial amount of money.
Be smart and consider that there’s no real logic in buying a new pair of headphones which you won’t be able to use straight out of the box with your existing device. Yes, while it’s true that buying a smaller pair of jeans for keeping up with your New Year’s resolutions is apparently a thing, the same shouldn’t apply to technology. The market is ever-changing, and although you can invest in an adapter for using your current device, you might soon see another product which is irresistible eye-candy, and you simply can't resist.
The Bluetooth Ear Buds Conundrum
On the lower end of Bluetooth-based devices, there is the reputation that wireless headphones make the audio sound tinny or as lacking a powerful bass, and that they have short battery life. While this can be true for a considerable number of products, you should note that not all wireless headphones are created equal.
In other words, once you climb up the price scale, you can and will come across some impresses pieces. It will, again, depend on your requirements and the unique selling points (USPs) you’re looking to tick. For some, using a cheap pair of headphones for listening to music is acceptable, whereas for professional gamers headphones lacking sound quality and definition simply won’t do.
Value for Money
Discussing money can be a tricky subject, but the question you should always have in mind is: what do I need from my pair of headphones? You may have two pairs of headphones, both with the same specifications, but the only notable difference is that one is wireless while the other one wired.
As a general rule of thumb, wireless headphones tend to be more expensive because of the inclusion of extra technology (i.e., transmitter and receiver). Plus, you’re paying for convenience, the convenience of not having wires caught in your hair, not having wires tangled in your pockets, and maybe even looking cooler. If these finer life details are essential to you than by all means be willing to pay the premium price and be granted the freedom you desire.
The Comfort Aspect
Another reason for which you might choose to go the extra mile and pay a premium is comfort or ergonomics. As briefly mentioned earlier, getting your wired headset out of your jacket pocket and finding a tangled mess is not only time consuming but also frustrating. Yes, it does only take a few seconds or minutes, but that’s precious time you could spend listening to your favorite tunes.
By contrast, wireless ear pods resolve this issue altogether, making it not only more convenient but also faster to listen to music when on-the-go. While some users have reported that wireless options are harder to operate because of the absence of cables, we don’t find it a serious concern since it’s relatively easy to change songs and get around.
The Freedom Paradigm
There is no denying that a pair of Bluetooth headphones offers a freeing sensation. After all, connecting your headphones to your tablet, phone, laptop, or PC and having the option of walking 30 to 100 feet away is damn intriguing and addictive. In fact, it does make practically every task easier –from cooking and working out to cleaning or commuting to work.
For instance, how many times have you been singing a song or dancing away and then your wired headphones accidentally get stuck on a doorknob, a table, or a chair? With that problem removed, you’re freer than ever to do as you please. Even working out at the gym can be a more pleasurable experience, or merely listening to a gaming podcast.
But, there is a drawback we can’t avoid, and that’s battery life. Soon or later, once the battery runs out, you’ll be out of luck and in no mood to play around. And yes, while a lot of wireless headphones do come with a 3.5mm cable, I can bet that you’ll at least a few times forget to take that with you.
All in all, if you are an organized person who continually remembers that Bluetooth headphones need charging, then chances are you’ll never end up running out of juice in the middle of your favorite song. But, if you’re like most people, you’ll face a whole new level of disappointment you didn’t even know existed.
A Final Word
Ever since wireless headphones became a thing, a constant war has raged between the two kinds, and there is no shying away from the truth that most people are nowadays choosing to use portable or mobile devices instead of the wired alternatives of the past. Overall, a good pair of headphones could last for years to come, provided that you put in the effort to maintain them. In other words, if you invest in the right type, you can have peace of mind that you’re making a safe and long-lasting investment.
When discussing the Bluetooth vs. wired headphones debate, it mostly does come down to personal preference. Many self-proclaimed audiophiles will tell you off when hinting that you're using wireless headphones, but don't worry. That's just because of the opinion that the wireless option is not a worthy adversary of the wired counterpart.
But, it’s all up to you. For instance, if you want a versatile piece that can work with a broader range of technologies (i.e., turntables, consoles, PCs, smartphones, etc.), then a pair of wired headphones will never leave you high and dry and offer reliable audio. Nonetheless, if the idea of freedom gives you butterflies and you can imagine a cordless life, then Bluetooth headphones might just be the right choice for you.