Wireless headphones have come a long way in the past decade. What used to be a mediocre listening experience is now comparable to some of the best wired headphones out there. Thanks to innovations in Bluetooth technology that support higher bandwidth, wireless headphones no longer have to compromise on sound and instead deliver high-quality audio without crackle and lag.
What’s more, battery power has also improved significantly, with some of the higher-end full-form headphones reaching 30 hours before you need to plug them in. However, with all the different form factors and hardware specifications that modern wireless headphones have to offer, it can be quite challenging to choose one that is right for you.
Let’s look at some of the essential things you need to consider before making that switch to wireless audio.
The first thing you need to consider is what type of wireless headphones you want. Are you a fan of discreet IEMs that barely stick out of your ears, or do you prefer old-school over-the-ear headphones that sit on your head?
Wireless headphones come in three major form factors:
- In-ear monitors (IEMS)
Over-the-ear headphones represent the more traditional look of headphones. These headphones are bigger, which means they can incorporate larger drivers that produce a deeper and more accurate sound.
They are also generally more comfortable because the earpads cover the entire ears instead of sitting on them like on-ear headphones. You can use them for longer due to the greater comfort and the bigger battery due to the size.
As a reference, the Sony WH-1000XM4, considered by many as the best wireless over-the-ear headphones on the market, provides 30 hours of playback.
- Greater comfort
- Longer battery life
- Large drivers
- Not suitable for working out
- Difficult to carry around
IEMs or in-ear headphones are also known as truly wireless earbuds in the mobile audio world. These earphones sit snugly in your ear canals and only slightly protrude out. Some of the models are so tiny that unless someone were looking right at your ears, they wouldn’t be able to make them out.
IEMs offer the most portability when it comes to carrying them around. They come in their own nifty case, which has a battery to charge them when they are not in use. These types of wireless headphones make for the perfect workout companion due to their tiny size. Once you put them in, you won’t even notice them.
Moreover, the silicon tips sit deep in your ear canals, offering greater noise isolation as compared to other types of headphones. However, the biggest drawback of these sorts of headphones is the limited battery life. Due to their small size, they can only fit a battery that provides 3 to 5 hours of playback time.
Once they run out of charge, you have to put them back into their case to charge them. The portable case can carry an additional charge of up to 18 hours, depending on the make and model.
- Perfect for the gym
- Easy to carry around
- Improved noise isolation
- Shorter battery life
- Easier to misplace
- Smaller control keys
On-ear wireless headphones are the smaller version of over-the-ear headphones. They aren’t truly wireless, nor do their earpads cover the entire ear. Instead, the earpads sit right on your ears. This type of headphone provides a happy medium between the extreme portability of IEMs and the bulky build of over-the-ear headphones.
Sure they are not as pocketable as IEMs, but they are built so that the earpads can be collapsed, making them easier to fit inside a bag. They can also be used in the gym due to their lighter weight, and the battery life is vastly better than IEMs, with some models reaching the 20-hour mark.
The only drawbacks of on-ear headphones are poor noise isolation and ear fatigue. Since they don’t cover your ears like over-the-ear headphones, you can expect ambient noise to slip in. Moreover, the constant force exerted by the earpads on your ears can cause fatigue, making it challenging to use them for long listening sessions.
- Suitable for the gym
- Easier to carry around than over-the-ear headphones
- Longer battery
- Can cause discomfort
- Poor noise isolation
- Not suitable for long listening sessions
Active Noise Canceling
Active noise canceling is a clever little feature that can completely transform your listening experience. The way it works is that the headphones feature multiple microphones placed in different locations around the headphones.
These microphones listen for outside noise, and the headphones play back an inverse signal canceling out the unwanted noise. This technology has improved so much over the years that some of the latest models can create a vacuum-like effect.
If you enjoy near-complete silence or travel a lot in planes, this technology can be a lifesaver. The only problem is that it doesn’t come cheap. Headphones that have good ANC can easily cost upwards of $200. Also, keep in mind that while high-end IEMs have ANC, it usually isn’t as effective as it is on over-the-ear headphones. IEMs only have so much real estate to fit in all that tech.
If you are going to use your wireless headphones for working out, you need to make sure they are sweat-resistant. Unfortunately, not all headphones are sweat-resistant, especially cheaper models. Look for a water resistance rating of at least IPX4 if you will use them in the gym. Otherwise, the sweat will gradually seep into the headphones, causing problems.
There are even some headphones that are IPX7 rated, which can be used underwater. If you want to swim with or surf with your headphones, look for something like the Jabra Elite Active 75t.
Battery life can either make or break your listening experience. A few years ago, the biggest obstacle to wireless audio was the limited battery life offered by most headphones. Today, however, thanks to improvements in battery technology and efficient chips, this isn’t a concern for most.
That being said, you still need to make a decision whether you want portability or a longer battery. Sadly, you cannot have both just yet. IEMs offer the greatest portability, but the battery isn’t something to write home about. Even the top-shelf products can do 6 hours at best. On the other hand, over-the-ear and on-ear headphones offer up to 30 hours of battery but aren’t the most convenient to carry around.
Hence, consider your use-case scenario and see which type of wireless headphones are the best for you.
Wireless audio has seen significant improvements over the years, and the technology has matured to the point where it can compete with wired headphones. Depending on your use, you have three major types of wireless headphones to choose from. The over-the-ear headphones offer greater battery life but aren’t as easy to carry around. IEMs are the most pocketable but compromise on battery, whereas on-ear provides a nice balance between the two.
If you are looking to buy headphones for the gym, you need to make sure they are sweat-resistant. In addition, those who travel a lot or work in noisy environments would love active noise cancellation. However, battery life remains the biggest concern for many, which is why you need to consider the form factor of the headphones.