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With less clutter and more convenience, wireless products (wireless charging What You Need to Know About Wireless Charging What You Need to Know About Wireless Charging Until our devices offer week-long battery life, charging on the go will remain a reality for us all. Read More and wireless networking Wireless Networking Simplified: The Terms You Should Know Wireless Networking Simplified: The Terms You Should Know Read More to name a couple) are proving more and more popular in comparison to their older, wired alternatives.

Yet when it comes to headphones, cutting the cord is not always so straightforward. Headphones powered by Bluetooth How Bluetooth 4.0 Is Shaping the Future of Mobile Connectivity How Bluetooth 4.0 Is Shaping the Future of Mobile Connectivity Bluetooth is the forgotten star on the device specifications sheet. Read More , especially, often get a bad rap.

They still offer benefits, however, once you know all the issues involved. In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the most important things you need to know about wireless headphones.

1. Types of Wireless

There are three main types of wireless headphones, which can be split into two categories — those that require a separate transmitter, and those that don’t.

In the first category are infra-red and radio frequency headphones.

sennhesier ir

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Infra-red is little used now, but headphones that use it are still manufactured by companies such as Sennheiser (the Sennheiser IS410 pictured above). Infra-red is best used for TV, but it requires an unobstructed line of sight between the headphones and transmitter, meaning there are limits on both the distance and angle you can use them.

Sony MDR-RF865

Radio frequency is more powerful. Wireless headphones that use radio frequency (like the Sony MDRRF985RK pictured above) can work at ranges of up to 150 feet, and the signal can pass through walls, so is usable with a home stereo as well as a TV. Interference is an issue: it increases with distance, and other wireless devices that use the same frequency range (typically 800-900MHz) can also cause it. RF also isn’t secure in the way that Bluetooth is.

Sony MDR-RF985RK - headphones (Circumaural, Head-band, 3.5 mm (1/8"), Black, 10 - 22000 Hz, Dynamic) Sony MDR-RF985RK - headphones (Circumaural, Head-band, 3.5 mm (1/8"), Black, 10 - 22000 Hz, Dynamic) Wireless 900Mhz FM headphones for cord-free listening Buy Now At Amazon £138.86

Bluetooth is your option if you want headphones without a transmitter, and are your best bet for general use. These require Bluetooth technology to be incorporated into the source device; phones, laptops, games consoles and many modern TVs will all have this. Bluetooth has a range of about 32 feet (10 meters).

2. Bluetooth and Sound Quality

The biggest argument against using Bluetooth headphones used to be that they offered poor sound quality. This was because Bluetooth was not originally intended for streaming high-quality music.

Compression

Early versions of Bluetooth compressed audio very heavily, producing a harsh, digital sound. With growing demand, greater focus was placed on making improvements in this area in subsequent versions.

sony bluetooth headphones

This began with the introduction of the advanced audio distribution profile (A2DP) to enable streaming of high-quality stereo audio via the SBC codec.

In 2014 a report by SoundExpert, an audio quality testing site, concluded that at its highest possible bitrate of 372kbps SBC was comparable to an AAC file encoded at 192kpbs, and that “most artifacts it produces are beyond human perception”.

Further improvements have been made in Bluetooth 3.0 and 4.0, as well as through the introduction of the aptX codec. aptX promises CD-like performance The Evolution of Music Consumption: How We Got Here The Evolution of Music Consumption: How We Got Here The rise of the iPod, the music-playing mobile phone, and a number of streaming media platforms all point toward a single, simple idea: music is important. But how did we get here? Read More , and is appearing in a growing number of products.

To benefit from it, you’ll need both your headphones and audio player to support it. Samsung, LG, Motorola and HTC are among the smartphone manufacturers that support aptX; Apple currently does not.

It’s also important to remember that, while Bluetooth tends to get the blame for poor performance in Bluetooth headphones, there are a large range of other factors at play, including the quality of the headphones themselves and the audio device being used.

Latency

Another issue with Bluetooth headphones is latency. This is the short delay between an audio signal entering the headphones and when you can hear it. You won’t notice this lag if you’re listening to music, but if you’re watching a video the sound may be marginally out of sync.

Latency varies depending on the hardware and software setups you have. Bluetooth 4.0 is low latency, so will perform better than older versions, and it’s another area that is being addressed by aptX.

3. Battery Life

Wireless headphones require their own power supply. This will come in the form of either a built-in rechargeable battery Battery Technologies That Are Going to Change the World Battery Technologies That Are Going to Change the World Battery tech has been growing more slowly than other technologies, and is now the long tent pole in a staggering number of industries. What will the future of battery technology be? Read More , or standard disposable batteries.

For headphones that require a wireless transmitter, the transmitter will often double up as a charging dock.

For Bluetooth headphones, you should look for battery life of around 8-12 hours. This will give you all day playback. Some expensive pairs will fall well short of this, while others far exceed it. Sony’s DR-BTN200 promises 40 hours of listening.

Remember, though, that battery life is related to volume. The louder your music, the shorter the battery will last. Battery life quotes on manufacturers’ spec sheets tend to reflect optimum conditions rather than real-world use.

A battery will normally take around three hours to charge, and uses a standard mini or micro USB cable.

4. NFC

Bluetooth headphones are straightforward to set up. You need to pair them with your audio device — your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. This is generally done via the built-in Bluetooth software on the device.

You’ll need to enter a passcode during the setup phase. This is found in the manual for your headphones, though in almost all cases it will be 0000.

samsung nfc headphones

Some headphones also support NFC (like the Sony DRBTN200). This is another wireless technology that enables devices to communicate just by holding them in close proximity to one another. NFC is the technology that underpins many wireless payment systems Everything You Need to Know about Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay Everything You Need to Know about Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay Android Pay, Samsung Pay, Apple Pay all have their advantages and disadvantages. Let's take a look at exactly how each of them works and who can use them. Read More .

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When used in conjunction with an NFC-enabled device What Is NFC & Should You Buy a Phone That Has It? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is NFC & Should You Buy a Phone That Has It? [MakeUseOf Explains] If you’re in the market for a new phone in 2013, you’re probably going to hear about something called NFC, and how it’s apparently changing the world. Don’t be fooled by the sales talk though.... Read More — including many Android smartphones but not the iPhone — you can pair the headphones with the device simply by tapping them against it. This may cut out the need for the passcode for the initial setup, and also speeds up the process of reconnecting.

5. Remote Control

Many wired headphones sport a wired remote on the cable. This is used to start, stop and skip music tracks, as well as to take and reject calls — they often have a small microphone built in.

Wireless headphones don’t have this option. Instead almost all sets will build some basic controls, along with the microphone, into one of the earpieces.

The accessibility of these controls is something you should always test when buying, or choosing to keep, new headphones. It often seems that the button design and layout is determined more by aesthetics than practicality, resulting in controls that are difficult to find by touch alone, especially if you’re in the gym.

6. Form Factor and Size

Wireless headphones come in the three standard styles 10 Terms You Should Know to Identify the Best Headphones 10 Terms You Should Know to Identify the Best Headphones In this guide we'll cut through the jargon and show you what the key headphone specifications actually mean, and why — or if — they matter. Read More : over-ear, on-ear and in-ear. The first two look and function much the same as their wired counterparts. The latter, in-ear, differ somewhat.

samsung level u

In order to fit the Bluetooth radio and battery, in-ear Bluetooth headphones (like the JayBird BlueBuds X) either have physically larger earpieces, with the two parts connected by a cable, or are normal-sized but have a thick, rigid neckband to house the electronics.

The next generation of in-ear Bluetooth headphones is tackling this, through new manufacturers such as Bragi and FreeWavz.

bragi dash

The Dash, from Bragi, are earbuds that sit directly in the ear without any adjoining cable or neckband. They also include 4GB of storage for use without a smartphone. The FreeWavz use a slightly larger earclip design. Both also incorporate fitness features including a heart rate monitor.

Inevitably, their smaller size means that the battery life of in-ear models is shorter than the larger alternatives.

Wrap-up

Almost all manufacturers now offer a full range of Bluetooth headphones, at all quality and price points How To Make Sure You Buy The Best Headphones For Your Budget How To Make Sure You Buy The Best Headphones For Your Budget How do you determine the "best" pair of headphones then? Here are some things to keep in mind before you commit to a purchase. Read More , alongside they’re traditional wired range.

bose headphones with ipad

While audiophiles might want to stick with the latter for the foreseeable future, for many users — listening to compressed digital music on a phone — wireless is a perfectly viable option.

Improvements are being made all the time in sound quality, battery life and form factor, and their convenience makes them ideal for use on the go.

What brand of wireless headphones do you use? Or if you haven’t gone wireless yet, what’s holding you back? We want to hear all your thoughts, so leave a comment below.

  1. bill
    November 9, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    "Latency varies depending on the hardware and software setups you have. Bluetooth 4.0 is low latency, so will perform better than older versions, and it’s another area that is being addressed by aptX."
    aptX is a codec. aptX low latency is another codec. aptX latency is about 140ms, aptX low latency is about 40ms. BLUETOOTH anything is NOT low latency unless it has aptX low latency codec. A device (headphone, transmitter, or receiver) is not aptX low latency unless it incorporates the aptX low latency codec. A spec of aptX does not imply low latency.

  2. venkat
    October 15, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    My son gifted a not very costly Bluetooth headphone which I am using for my cell phone. But I also need a headphone for my TV. As I am not western music buff the "compression" and "sound quality" are not important. But I am toying with the idea of getting a new RF headphones (something like senheisser RS120) or use the gifted BT headphone buying only a BT transmitter for TV. The distance is not a problem as this is a small apartment. any advice?

  3. Sean Griffin
    October 9, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    I love using Wireless headphones I have a pair of around the neck wireless headphones and I seen another pair of wireless headphones on sale for 29.99 at Best Buy

  4. Tennessee Anderson
    August 5, 2016 at 2:12 am

    I have a pair of wire headphones that have a foldable design made from Sony. I have had them for 18 months and the audio is starting to go bad. For some reason I think its the wires because once I move to adjust myself the wire moves with me and the sound starts fading so I have to move the jack and cord then the sound returns to normal (whereever my volume was originally).

    I have been searching for replacement headphones and I am interested on going bluetooth meaning wireless. I own a Samsung Tab 2 10.2 tablet and I am getting an HP Intel Windows 10 laptop my tablet is bluetooth and I surely know my new HP laptop with be bluetooth.

    What would you recommend for bluetooth wireless headphones for me to find and purchase? The Beats by dr. Drea I hear are very good but a lot of views on them have been not so great with android products and other devies though with apple they work just find. I have been interested in the Beats, headphone by Sony, Bose, and others. But I dont now what wuld be the best to order.

    Please help me

  5. STARK - 13050
    June 24, 2016 at 6:29 am

    I have skullcandy hesh 2 wireless headphones , a couple of days before the wireless functionality stopped providing me good sound but using the wired connection is providing good sound. Does the phone have an issue / headphones have?
    Plz tell me fast . else I need to claim warranty!!

  6. Voice of Reason
    December 30, 2015 at 12:31 am

    The only thing holding me back from using wireless headphones is the fact that i'd need to keep them charged OR buy more batteries than I do currently (what a drag)
    They should get Nikola Tesla to design some that charge over-air. Haaa!
    In reality these 'wireless' devices are still dependent on a wire to work. Bummer.

    • Joao
      April 1, 2016 at 12:13 am

      there is a way to pass any electricity through the air , but only a minimal distance like 10 cm perhaps with the innovation of technology is possible

      Google tradutor

  7. likefun butnot
    August 31, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Commenting gives me something to do while I'm stuck on phone calls.

  8. likefun butnot
    August 31, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    I do actually use Jaybird Bluebuds X Sport. I can tell a difference in audio quality versus high quality wired headphones or audiophile grade speakers, particularly in choral or brass-heavy music. They definitely aren't perfect, but they're my every day headphones and are really only removed from around my neck when I bathe or sleep.

    • Mihir Patkar
      August 31, 2015 at 7:24 pm

      Given your commenting frequency, I find it hard to believe that you sleep. Robot.

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