Everybody has their own pair of headphones, but not everyone can agree whether to buy a wired or bluetooth variant. Both have their respective pros and cons.
In the past, the only debate was between earphones and headphones. Thanks to technology, there is now an entirely new category for audiophiles to argue about.
Wired Earphones: Audiophile Legacy
Earphones with wires have been with us for several decades now. You plug them to your listening device of choice: the Sony Walkman, a cassette player, a smartphone, or even a turntable.
Music producers and DJs also often use wired headphones to hear the “rawest” form of their creations. It’s actually one of the major reasons why wired is preferred by many.
- Higher quality audio
- Cheaper than Bluetooth variant
- Backwards compatible with most devices
- Compatible with DACs (Digital to Analog Converters) and amplifiers
- Can be plugged in both desktop and mobile devices
- Can also be used for most music production tools
Why most people want to go the wired route is because of the notion that only non-wireless variants support the higher bitrates. Most DACs also support 3.5mm jacks instead of catering to wireless variants.
Wired earphones can generally support an average of 2,300++ kbps output. On paper, that makes them look better than their wireless counterparts.
- Wires get tangled even inside pockets
- Tripping the wire can damage the earphones
- Might not be “future-proof”
- Quality is actually limited to the audio files
- Can be uncomfortable to wear
One of the most common complaints for earphones is that they get messy almost every time. Untangling them takes time and often frustrates the user. There are also instances where it might be connected to your laptop and you suddenly walk away, potentially dragging the computer down to the floor.
While wired headphones generally support higher bit rate, the output is still highly dependent on the audio file itself. MP3 files max around 320 kbps which is just a fraction of what earphones can pump out. Even the lossless FLAC files max out at around 1400 kbps.
Spotify’s highest quality sound files stream at 320 kbps. It’s also illegal to download FLAC files of songs you do not own just to maximize the quality.
Bluetooth Earphones: Unbridled Future
Wireless earphones have slowly taken over the market. It started with one-piece bluetooth headsets that were mainly used for phone conversations. Now, there are full-blown bluetooth over the ear headphones that are often preferred by commuters or even gymgoers.
One of the main advantages of bluetooth earphones is that you won’t have to worry about the tangled cables. You can even wear it without worrying if someone might snag it while you’re on the way to your office.
- No messy cables and wires
- Compatible with most phones
- Easier to put aside
- Gym and sports-friendly
Almost all smartphones from the last decade has bluetooth connections. This means that the wireless earphones are also backwards compatible with even older models.
You can even run or do spinning classes without thinking that the cables might get caught due to movement. With regards to quality, bluetooth earphones can still hold up well since most of the high-end ones can reach up to 700++ kbps in output. That’s almost double the quality of MP3 files.
- Needs to be charged frequently
- Cheap ones are low-quality, high-end ones are expensive
- Not compatible with analog devices (e.g. cassette players, vinyl players)
- Can’t really maximize FLACs due to bit rate limit
- AptX and AAC are confusing
Since your bluetooth headset does not use power from the smartphone itself, it uses a battery instead. You have to charge them almost once a day or even twice in 24 hours just to get the full use out of them.
Good bluetooth headphones are also often expensive. Even then, they do not really dish out the best possible quality due to the constraints of wireless data transfers.
AptX and Low Power Bluetooth
Another confusing debate point for wireless earphones is the use of AptX codecs. AptX is just another form of compression that uses even less data than MP3. They claim that it actually helps audio sound better.
The problem is that not all smartphones support AptX. There are also just a handful of bluetooth earphones that support the technology. You have to have both support AptX if you want to take advantage of the tech.
Perhaps one of bluetooth’s greatest strengths is also one of its weaknesses when it comes to audio. Most modern bluetooth devices today uses the smallest power possible. In order to use less power, you have to minimize the data you transfer hence the added compression for audio files.
A common technology found in most bluetooth headphones and smartphones is Low Complexity Subband Coding. There are also supported bit rates but it still depends on what both your headset and phone actually supports. If your phone supports the highest possible bit rate but your wireless headphones does not, you’ll only be able to use what your headset supports.
What’s The Deal Then?
It all comes down to preference. Most audiophiles will stick to wired earphones simply because they do technically sound and look better on paper. Wireless headphones, on the other hand, appeal to the larger market simply because they work.
Most people can’t also tell the difference between the sound of a FLAC and an MP3 file. That means music can pretty much sound the same between the two choices for the untrained ear.
If mobility the way to go, opt for bluetooth earphones. If you want serious listening at home or if you don’t mind wires, opt for wired headsets. Budget can also be another factor.
There are also differences with regards to equalizers bass boosts. Most of the cheaper headsets also do not have good sound quality regardless of whether they are wired or not. You’ll really need to hear for yourself.
In the end, music lovers should not be divided by which gears they use to listen to their favorite artists. Both are good choices and alternatives if you can’t really listen to live performances of your favorite bands and DJs.