Way back in 1910, Nathaniel Baldwin, a Mormon and engineer from small town Utah invented the world’s first pair of audio headphones, which were bought by the U.S. Navy and put to use during World War I. Before Baldwin, telephone operators in the 1880s were using a type of headphone at work, one that had a single earpiece, rested on your shoulder, and weighed almost 10 pounds! Today, headphones are a quintessential component of your everyday carry, letting you jam out to tunes or listen to podcasts on the go. But with the advent of some cellphone companies dropping the audio jack in their products, we felt it was a good time to revisit the question of wired versus wireless headphones.
The Lay of the Land – Types of Wireless and Wired Headphones
Headphones types can be divided into a number of categories. First and foremost, you have the now commonplace earbuds, also called in-ear monitors or IEMs. Generally these are affordable headphones that are placed within the ear canal via a foam or rubber tip.
You can also buy what are called over-ear headphones, which use ear-enclosing cushions on either side of an over-the-head band to deliver sound and reduce ambient noise levels. This model type is where you’d normally find high-end noise-cancelling headphones.
Third, there are on-ear headphones, which have become less popular during the last few years, although they were quite abundant in the 1990s and early 2000s. Instead of your ears being enclosed, on-ear headphones place a padded speaker directly onto your ear. Of the three, these provide the least noise reduction capability.
Headphones of the three varieties above come in a whole host of different formats, with numerous combinations of features. They can be noise cancelling, sound isolating, surround sound capable, or volume limiting. They can use bone conduction, bypassing the ear all together and using you cheekbones to deliver sound directly into the inner ear, or biometric, measuring your heart rate when you’re active. Some include ear clips to avoid falling off, especially important for runners or bikers, and most come with a built in microphone. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Resting position is also different depending on your make and model of headphone. Some sit over the ear, for additional stability. Others are designed for over the head. Many earbuds wrap around the neck, either by plastic band or cable.
The breadth and depth of earphone typology is truly remarkable. But are there substantial differences between wired and wireless varieties?
Benefits of Using Wired Headphones
There are a few reasons why wired headphones might still be the right choice for you, despite the proliferation of their wireless cousins. It used to be that wireless headphones were not the best choice because of sound quality: having the signal travel over Bluetooth technology ultimately meant degradation. And while that debate may now be over at a macro level, with wireless technology finally catching up to the quality of wired sound, it still matters when it comes to purchasing decisions. High-end wireless headphones needed to match sound quality are expensive, and will likely remain so for some time. If you’re not looking to spend a considerable sum, cheap, wired headphones remain a preferred choice.
Wired headphones also have the advantages in terms of compatibility and battery life. On the latter, most wired headphones do not require a battery at all, save for a few that have additional noise cancelling features. Wireless headphones, on the other hand, will almost inevitably need charging. In addition, armed with a 3.5mm audio cable, wired headphone users won’t have to worry about software compatibility issues of their wireless counterparts.
Drawbacks of Using Wired Headphones
The primary and most prominent disadvantage of wired headphones is that you’re always tethered to your device. We’ve all been there – you’re minding your own business when all of a sudden your earbuds are yanked away because the cable has attached itself to something in your vicinity. That cable also means you have limited range when straying from your device, and while you can certainly buy longer cables, these become cumbersome and a hassle.
As well, there is the inevitable headphone bird’s nest. The bane of our technological existence. Trying to untie the loops and knots of a mess of headphone cords feels draining on the soul. While some companies talk a big game of having developed a tangle-proof headphone cord, the chance that these will work as advertised seems suspicious.
Benefits of Using Wireless Headphones
Looking at wireless headphones, the first and most important advantage they have is convenience. Bluetooth, especially in its latest version, allows up to 33ft of distance between device and headphones before signal can become degraded. This gives you an innate sense of freedom, when you discover you can put your phone down on a table and walk around your home or office listening to music without a physical, cabled connection. Wireless headphones are incredibly portable, comfortable, and lightweight, the latter especially true for earbuds. If you find yourself spending time at the gym, or running on the open road, there are no more cables to get tangled up in weight machines or to flop around as you burn calories.
Above, we mentioned compatibility as a core reason why wired headsets still hold a strong position in this debate. In actual fact, this is also a checkmark for the wireless version. With companies increasingly building smart TVs, computers, and other technology with built-in Bluetooth capability, your wireless headphones are well equipped for pairing and listening at any time!
Drawbacks of Using Wireless Headphones
Despite solving the sound quality challenge, there remain a number of drawbacks with using wireless headphones.
First and foremost, wireless headphones are still more expensive than the wired variety.
Second is the charging requirement – because power can’t be transmitted through a cable, your wireless earbuds and headphones will need a fresh power boost every day.
Third, if you’re not particularly technologically savvy, the pairing of a device via Bluetooth can be daunting, especially when the alternative is simple plug and play.
Fourth, and as with the trend in cellphone technology to sacrifice ruggedness for removing just a few more millimeters from overall size, wireless headphones can be fragile, making them less resistant to drops or shocks.
Finally, signal disruption between headphones and device has the potential to cause sound to delay or drop out.
There’s no right answer when it comes to wired versus wireless headphones. Ultimately, it might come down to personal preference. Tell us in the comments below why you prefer one to the other!