Wired vs. wireless headphones

Wired vs. wireless headphones - this debate sure generates a lot of noise.

With hundreds of models to choose from it can be overwhelming to feel educated as a consumer. Plus, the global earphones and headphones market is expected to expand to a staggering $15 billion by 2024. With this projected growth, you can be assured that the big players, and new players, too, will be focused on engineering new, state-of-the-art headphones, creating even more noise in this crowded space. The question is, will the new releases be mainly wired, wireless, or a combination of both? And, as a consumer in the marketplace, which model is right for you?

The Sweetflow knows first-hand that choosing the perfect pair of headphones can be difficult. There are many features and options to consider, and there are a lot of exceptional models out there (many not-so-exceptional ones, too). When it comes to choosing a wired vs. wireless pair of cans, the biggest factor in your decision may come down to your lifestyle.

Some questions to ask yourself?

  • Do you stay in one place all day long ( i.e. desk jockey) or do you live a fairly ambulatory lifestyle (i.e. athlete, road warrior, break dancer)?
  • Do you hate untangling cords or do you not mind being “plugged in” or tethered to a device?
  • Do you own an iPhone 7?
  • Are you an audiophile who scoffs in the face of wireless technology?
  • Have you embraced the 21st century or do you still prefer to listen to vinyl with your longtime love the Koss Porta Pro?

Where to start? Now even if your answers to the above questions were mixed, and both wireless and wired options are looking promising, we are going to make a case that it's time to embrace the wireless lifestyle. Now is the time to buy wireless headphones.

Maybe you have been hesitant to cut the cord. There are plenty of horror stories out there involving awful sound quality and unrealistic battery life, but wireless headphones are not just for people living in thin walled homes anymore. Anyone who lives a fairly ambulatory life could benefit from a pair of wireless headphones.

Wireless headphones are exploding in popularity, and as quality and competitive pricing improves, they are actually taking over the headphone market. According to the NPD, Bluetooth headphone sales surpassed non-wireless headphone sales for the first time in the summer of 2016.

Part of this is due to advances in technology and a competitive market. Right now there is a pair of wireless headphones that sound great, look great, and will match your lifestyle and budget.

Another serious reason to consider wireless headphones is that there is a new trend of phones launching without a headphone jack - such as the iPhone 7, HTC U Ultra and Moto Z. So our estimation is that in a few short years, the wireless piece of pie will continue to grow and grow and grow.

Perhaps you are still not sold on the wireless revolution - and that’s OK. Let’s take an in depth look at both wired and wireless headphones to help you make the best decision for you.

The Biggest Debate - Sound Quality

The wireless headphone market has seen some great advancements in recent years in terms of great sounding models. For example, the uber-popular Beats brand has been criticized in recent years as being super bass-heavy with inferior sound. However, newer models like the Solo3 Wireless - the Sweetflow’s pick for Best Bluetooth Headphone - has sound quality that can compete with other members in its class, including some wired models.

Bluetooth is no stranger to audio criticisms - and some are definitely legitimate. The digital compression which Bluetooth uses cannot replicate its wired counterpart - the amount of audible information that can transmit through traditional Bluetooth is smaller, meaning lower-resolution. So, if you listen to your favorite song side-by-side on your Bluetooth headphones compared to a wired system, there will be a noticeable, to slightly noticeable, drop in quality.

But, to be fair to Bluetooth, yes, you may notice a difference on a orchestral track at a high-end audio store, but the amount of audiophiles listening daily on top-tier audio headphones and equipment is a fairly small share of the market.

Newer Bluetooth variants, like the aptX can allow more data to pass through, providing CD-quality sound, and some new Bluetooth headphones sound almost identical in audio performance between wireless and wired modes. Nonetheless, the decision between wired and wireless goes far beyond the purity of sound. The shift to Bluetooth is in direct relation to music’s expanding convenience. We can now get our music anywhere and modern lifestyles reflect those who spend their days doing a variety of activities - many on the go. The days of listening to records solely in your basement are over (for most).

So if you are still torn between wireless and wired headphones, due to sound quality and purity, consider the types of places where wireless headphones would be a better fit - like at the gym, a crowded street, on the train - the high levels of ambient noise and the mix of movement make it so that a higher sound resolution might not even register.

Aside from the debate over sound quality, consider the other factors that make wireless headphones a solid choice for your listening needs.

In September 2016, Apple announced it would be omitting the traditional headphone jack in the iPhone 7. They also released the all wireless AirPods, new Solo3 Wireless, and the BeatsX, which are all powered by Bluetooth technology that is boosted by the proprietary W1 chip. Apple fans have seemingly embraced this progressive change without hesitation, as Bluetooth headphone sales overtook non-Bluetooth for the first time.

So, was Apple right to remove the ubiquitous audio jack? Well, what happened is that removal of the 50-years-old-plus 3.5mm audio jack made room for other things, such as a second speaker. According to Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller,"Maintaining an ancient, single-purpose, analogue, big connector doesn't make sense because that space is at a premium."

As the market indicates, there are going to be new launches of wireless headphones and the technology will evolve much faster to deliver better quality over wireless connection. And prices will drop too. In fact, we’ve already seen models in the last year that are pound-for-pound great contenders in the headphone market in terms of sound quality, features, and price.

Some stellar examples:

Bose QuietComfort 35 - The best noise cancelling wireless headphone on the market that can also be wired - best of both worlds

BeatsX - A top-seed that works well for a wide array of lifestyles

Plantronics Voyager Focus UC - Sweet sounding, comfortable and a solid choice for the connected executive or flex worker

Wireless sales are up for various reasons, including lower prices, longer battery life, improved design and extended range. Customers are loving all the wonderful options for purchase and some are even buying multiple pairs of headphones to accommodate different uses. There are options for working out and also great options for traveling on a long flight, or cancelling out noise in the office, even if you have to be able to move around. Their lack of a shackle (a.k.a - cord), definitely gives wireless headphones the upper hand in our book.

Comparison

Now, it wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t really break down the ups and downs of both wired and wireless models. Again, the reason why you want to buy a pair of headphones (lifestyle) is a supreme decision making factor and no one likes to waste his or her money.

Wired Headphones

Wired headphones are offered in a variety of styles, sizes, and prices. They can be a good option for individuals who are searching for basic headphones at affordable prices - some very modest, get the-job-done models, start well below $20. Also, many critics in the audio world stand fast that wired technology is currently superior to its wireless competitor.

  • Audiophiles: If you demand pure sound quality - and nothing less - then wired headphones are right for you.
  • No batteries required on some basic models, but some models have certain features (like active noise cancellation) that still require batteries.
  • Simple to use - just plug and play.
  • Durable - can last years and won’t become as easily obsolete as technology advances. Example - the Koss Porta Pro was first introduced in 1984 and they have been so popular that the design hasn’t changed in over 30 years.

Wireless Headphones

If you’re finally over that tangled up cord, embrace progressive technology, and have read this article, then you might agree that wireless headphones are probably for you.

  • No cables. Enough said. Except most models also offer the option to plug in. So win-win!!
  • Mobility and Flexibility: Are you an athlete, a traveler, or a gamer? Do you stay at home or work from home, but like to move around the house with your headphones on? Are you a road warrior who needs to always be connected but still active? One of the obvious benefits from wireless headphones is that they offer flexibility and mobility. There is no cord to tether you to a device.
  • Range: Wired models usually have a cable that is 4-6 feet in length. Newer wireless models, like the BeatsX, have a range up to 300 feet!
  • Bluetooth Compatibility: You can quickly and easily connect your headphones to a Bluetooth enabled devices. Many wireless models also come with a cord so you can still plug in.
  • Battery Life: Most wireless headphones have rechargeable batteries and all of our Top Picks have enough battery life to get your through the day, ranging from 8-40 hours!

To sum it up - now is the time to buy wireless headphones.

The “wired headphones sound better” argument is excessively inflated and actually not so true anymore. Plus, most people are still walking around with the earbuds that came in their smart phone box, and anything is an upgrade from those. We can almost bet you have a tangled up pair of wired headphones somewhere in your coat pocket, gym bag, or junk drawer.

If you’re a fastidious audiophile, then we can agree that wireless headphones might not be your top pick for listening to music or movies – however, we would like to see you working out and lifting weights in your Sennheiser HD 700s. For most people, the convenience and adaptability of wireless headphones is simply awesome. The ability to fold laundry while on a conference call feels like freedom. There are no tangles in your pocket, and you long longer have to worry about accidentally ripping your earbuds out of your ears while running on the treadmill. These reasons, along with the many more mentioned above, makes the wired vs. wireless headphone debate something of a no-brainer.

Ready to cut the cord? Check out the Sweetflow Wireless Headphone Buying Guide and our Top Bluetooth Headphone Picks.

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