Wireless headphones vs Wired headphones: How do they compare?
Learn what each of these headphone connectivity options offers to make a more informed decision.
If you have looked for a pair of headphones then chances are you must have wondered “Should I get a wireless or wired headphone?”. People that have been in the headphone/audio scene for a while will confirm that this question is quite common and valid.
As a newbie, it can be quite daunting to pick one over the other. Worry not, as we discuss the pros and cons of both of these connectivity types and what is best for you. We do this by outlining the situations in which each of these types performs optimally.
Wireless headphones are surely the more attractive option to choose from as they are the latest tech. But they also tend to be more expensive as opposed to their wired counterpart. Price is just one of the factors that we must consider when choosing a headphone that is best suited for you. Also, check out our picks for the best in-ear, on-ear, and over-ear wireless and wired headphones.
Quick Comparison of Both types
Note: Lower latency is better.
- Quick Comparison of Both types
- Wireless Headphones
- Wired Headphones
- Wired or Wireless: Which one’s right for you?
- Which is better for Gaming? – Wired or Wireless headphone
Radio transmission technology is what allows wireless headphones to work wirelessly. This technology is responsible for the transmission of audio data from the origin to your ears. The audio data also passes through one of these three technologies:
2. Radio Frequency (RF)
3. Infrared Frequency (IF)
Bluetooth transmission occurs when the audio data is encoded with compression by an audio device. The headphones then receive this data through radio waves. This is where Bluetooth codecs come into play as they take this data, decode it, convert it into an audio signal, and then relay it to your ears. In regards to headphones and sound quality, the three main codecs are:
SBC – Found in all Bluetooth headphones.
AAC – A better alternative to SBC, with lower latency and somewhat better sound quality.
aptX – Usually found in premium devices. It achieves more efficient audio encoding compared to SBC. The aptX Low Latency and aptX HD are modified versions of this codec.
Bluetooth technology has also evolved into several versions (e.g. v4.2, v5.0, etc.). The newest version is called Bluetooth v5.2. With every update, the range increases, as is the case with the v5.2 which has a 240m range and consumes less power.
Radio Frequency or RF technology involves the use of a stereo frequency modulation system to perform audio transmissions. RF headphones use electromagnetic signals to receive audio from an audio source. It has a more powerful and more extended range compared to Bluetooth technology. Some headphones are capable of reaching a range of up to 300 ft.
Finally, Infrared Frequency or IF uses line-of-sight technology to broadcast audio signals. The should be no physical obstructions between the transmitter and the receiver. The transmitter and the receiver need to ‘see’ each other. Hence the name ‘line-of-sight’. This technology is used in headphones, FM radios, and microwaves as well.
What are the Advantages of wireless headphones?
Wireless technologies allow manufacturers to integrate comfort with convenience. Both of which are important when it comes to building a good product. As is the case today, with the rising popularity of true wireless earbuds (TWS) more and more devices are following suit. Mentioned below are some points that favour wireless headphones.
Better compatibility with modern devices
Several devices like smartphones are abandoning the 3.5mm jack. And choosing to go wireless, setting it as the new connection standard in the industry. The integration of virtual reality in the gaming scene only increases the desire for wireless headphones. Some researchers speculate that by 2026, the global demand for wireless headphones will reach $2.9 billion (online and offline sales combined).
The lack of cables equals less stuff that you need to carry. For travellers, this is great, as it turns out to be one of the hacks to travel light. The compact design of wireless headphones also contributes to this. Athletic people can take advantage of this during their workouts. The minimal weight reduces the stress in/on your head/ears while also ensuring that you stay comfortable.
No more wires
If you have used a pair of wired headphones then you most likely know how irritating untangling them can be. Add to that the unintentional unplugging of your headphones jack. Safe to say, you need to deal with them if you pick a wireless headphone. It can also save you some money from needing to replace or repair your cable or headphone jack.
If you don’t have to worry about wires then you can expect freedom of movement. You also don’t have to go through the experience of having the headphones unintentionally yanked out of your ears or the headphone jack from your device. Fewer cords or in this case, none, to carry means that the headphones become easy to store and travel with.
The wireless connectivity range of some headphones can go up to 240m today.
What are the Disadvantages of wireless headphones?
Wireless headphones have some pretty exceptional advantages to them. But they still need to be concerned about the following things and find ways to improve them.
Wireless headphones or earbuds generally cost a lot more compared to their wired counterparts. That is to be expected as the infrastructure and technology required to build them can be quite pricey and challenging to acquire.
Companies have to invest a lot in the research and testing phase of the device’s life cycle. Skipping this could lead to the device ending up defective. So you could see why they cost more. Naturally, the price also depends on the brand, its quality, and several other factors.
Connectivity problems and pairing issues
Wireless headphones need a stable connection to deliver the audio correctly and consistently. What really makes this difficult is the stuff lying around us that interfere with the audio signal. The factors mentioned below affect the stability of the wireless audio connection:
Audio codecs: We discussed earlier what audio codecs are and how they affect the sound quality. They are unique codes that convert audio data into sound signals. Different wireless headphones use different audio codecs. SBC is the most commonly used codec. These codecs alter the bandwidth, latency, and sample rate of the wireless frequencies. The loss of audio data during this process causes the sound quality to degrade.
You can get a better idea of latency by watching the video below.
You’ll realise that at lower latencies (0 to 100 ms) there is little to no lag, it is barely noticeable. Above 100ms, SBC comes in at 200ms, this effect is somewhat more pronounced but still passable. Anything above that starts to become annoying. This is why headphones with 100ms+ latency are not ideal for gaming use but can be fine for casual music listening.
Bluetooth versions: Since Bluetooth first made its entrance there have been many versions, each version more efficient and better than the last. The latest version currently is v5.2. Devices that use Bluetooth v3.0 have noticeably higher latency as opposed to the devices that use modern versions like v5.0, v5.1 or v5.2.
Interferences: If there are several wireless devices in a small space then it could interfere with the wireless transmissions. Especially if they use the same frequencies. Devices such as microwaves, radios, WiFi routers are some examples. The radio frequencies released by these devices could affect sound quality and audio transmission negatively.
Harder to repair
Wired headphones are usually easier to repair. And the problems also tend to be easier to spot, improving their chances of being fixed. But when it comes to wireless headphones, this is not the case. It could be a software or hardware problem but still pose some challenges for your local electrician to fix. In most cases, the best thing to do is to go to a service centre and get it fixed. So, in the case of wired vs. wireless headphones, wired headphones clearly win in regards to repairability.
Running out of battery requiring you to charge
The biggest challenge of owning a pair of wireless headphones is that you have to charge them once in a while. Some need to be charged daily. But have you been in a situation when you forgot to do so and only realise this when you can’t charge them? Unsurprisingly, we all have.
Wireless headphones need to be charged. And if your device doesn’t have a large enough battery to last you an entire day or several days, then you’d better have an adapter and power supply handy. Also, you use the audio device’s battery. It’s a double-edged sword.
The Lypertek Tevi are TWS earbuds that boast a battery life of 70 hours, storing most of it in its case. Not a lot of headphones or earbuds are capable of doing that. A similar TWS earbud is the Mpow M30 Plus that claims to have a battery backup of 95 hours. It is also competitively priced.
You can think of wired headphones as being small speakers. They use headphone jacks to carry sound from the audio source to the headphones. The 3.5mm, USB and several variations of the TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) plugs are the most common types of connectors.
What are the Advantages of wired headphones?
You may be surprised to know that the majority of the population still prefers wired headphones over wireless headphones. Despite the popularity of wireless headphones as it is the newer technology. Some of the reasons why they’re still prevailing are outlined below.
Better audio quality
Despite the significant improvements in wireless headphone technology, it has yet to overtake wired headphones in audio delivery performance. As wired headphones don’t need wireless technology, the substantial resources that would’ve been spent on them are saved. This means that manufacturers can use these resources to improve the sound and build quality of their wired devices.
Wired headphones operate using analog signals to provide sound. This method is capable of handling more audio data than digital signals like Bluetooth. As the amount of processing they have to go through is minimal, the audio quality is delivered to you in all its glory.
With wired headphones, you needn’t worry about running out of battery as they don’t have or need one. The passive speakers within most conventional wired headphones are capable of producing line-level audio signals. The audio signals hold sufficient power to keep the headphones running. Hence, the absence of batteries or chargers.
Just plug your headphones into your audio device and you’re good to go. Active noise-cancelling headphones do require a power source. This is why you’ll usually find ANC headphones to be wireless.
Easy to use
To use wired headphones, you simply have to plug them into your audio source. And you can listen to any audio content. You don’t have to deal with the annoying pairing issues that wireless headphones have. This is what makes them more user-friendly than wireless headphones.
Repairs are easy and less expensive
Wired headphones are priced lower than wireless headphones. As it requires more resources to develop and manufacture wireless technology than wired headphones. Furthermore, wired headphones can be fixed quite cheaply. Most physical damages can be fixed by your local electrician.
Additionally, it is more affordable and easier to find replacement parts for wired headphones. However, just like wireless headphones, the price greatly depends on the brand, quality, and other similar factors. You may come across wireless headphones that are cheaper than wired headphones.
What are the Disadvantages of wired headphones?
Since we covered the advantages of wired headphones, it is now time to look at some of their disadvantages.
Cables are easily damaged
Those that have used wired headphones know how easily the cables can be damaged. If you notice that only one earpiece produces sound, then you most likely have damaged your headphone’s cable. Headphone wires are pretty thin, to begin with.
Accidentally pulling on them damages their internal wires. Other issues include static sounds, etc. This damage can be fixed easily and for very little money. You can also get headphones with replaceable cables.
The most common connector for wired headphones is the 3.5 mm headphone jack. Which is also the universal standard. Some devices like Apple’s iPhone (recent models) use their lightning USB charging port instead of the 3.5mm port.
You can get a headphone plug adapter if your connector and port are incompatible. PCs usually have two 3.5mm ports, one for the mic and the other for the audio. Fortunately, you also get a headphone jack splitter as a work-around for this issue.
Limited freedom of movement
Tangled cables are frustrating to deal with. But another restriction of having wired headphones is the limited range of motion that you have with cables. Since you need to keep the audio device and headphones connected, you can’t move freely. Unless you carry both devices with you to wherever you want to go.
Some users (especially gamers) invest in a headphone extension cable to gain more mobility. Such cables are available in various lengths.
Wired or Wireless: Which one’s right for you?
By now you might’ve realised that one is not better than the other. It still depends on what your needs are and what you’ll be using the headphones for. You’ll need different characteristics for different activities. Continue reading to find out which type of headphone connectivity type is more suited for your lifestyle.
Who are wired headphones for?
Gamers – Gamers want to hear the in-game sound the instant it happens, meaning that they’d rather not deal with latency issues. Here is where wired headphones win, as wireless headphones experience high latency. Accuracy is quite important while gaming. Since most gamers game close to their gaming setup, the length of the cable isn’t an issue.
Check out our Gaming lists.
Audiophiles and Music producers – To judge the quality of the sounds in an audio track the producer must be able to hear them accurately. And this listener must be able to appreciate them. For people like them, music must be heard the way it was intended. The details within a track are important to them.
Wired headphones are better at delivering good quality audio. And that is why they are preferred over wireless headphones.
Office employees– People that have customer service jobs or any position that requires you to wear a headset, you’ll need a simple headphone that easy to use. The wired headphones’ plug-and-play system lets you do just that. It also delivers good sound quality. And most of them come with a decent quality microphone. They also don’t need to be charged. There isn’t a more convenient option out there.
People who are on a budget – Wired headphones are pretty affordable. So it is usually the first choice of people that are working within a set budget. That doesn’t mean that wired headphones are cheap. They aren’t by any stretch of the imagination. You can find several high-end wired headphones. With better quality build than budget models.
People who favour the plug-and-play setup – The plug-and-play setup of wired headphones is preferred by people that want simplicity and convenience. Without having to worry about the pairing issues that wireless headphones have.
Who are wireless headphones for?
Athletic people – Whether you’re going for a run or getting a pump in the gym, the last you want is to be distracted by the device meant to help you focus. Wired headphones have cables and you surely wouldn’t want them to get in your way while you’re exercising. This is where wireless headphones come into play.
They are great for situations like these since they provide you with unrestricted mobility and are lightweight too. True wireless earbuds are the best for such events.
Travellers and Commuters – Wireless headphones have two traits that are extremely convenient for on-the-go travellers and commuters. They are compact and lightweight. These two features are what makes them especially handy for frequent travellers. They are pretty portable and take up less space in your luggage. Headphones with active noise cancellation make them an even more attractive choice.
People that want ultimate mobility – It is no surprise that wireless headphones allow more freedom of movement as opposed to wired headphones. Wireless headphones use Bluetooth technology that gives them must high range than cables. It is, after all, one of the best things about owning a wireless headset.
Which is better for Gaming? – Wired or Wireless headphone
When it comes to gaming, wired headphones prove to be better overall. Especially for people that prefer gaming at their desks. On the contrary, people who connect their PCs to the TV and console users will appreciate the flexibility of wireless headphones.
The difference between wireless and wired audio quality is barely noticeable. And is usually due to the inferior drivers used in cheap wireless headphones or earbuds.
There has been a massive shift in favour of wireless technology. Manufacturers are getting rid of ports and cables and adopting the wireless method. This is also seen in gaming headsets. Despite all the advancements in wireless technology, we’d still recommend that you stick with wired headsets/headphones.
Find out what are the Best JBL Wireless headphones.
Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. For office employees, audiophiles, and musicians, wired headphones are the better choice. On the other hand, wireless headphones favour those who want unrestricted mobility, commuters, travellers, and people that perform athletic activities.
You don’t have to feel pressured to pick a wired or wireless headphones simply because you don’t or do fall into one of the categories. Knowing what you want to get out of a pair of headphones will help you make the right choice. Either way, both connectivity options deliver enjoyable audio quality.