Wired Headphones Quality vs. Wireless Headphones
Wired headphones have dominated the market for quite a bit of time, only to be contested by their wireless counterparts in the past several decades. The answer to “which type is better” is not exactly simple, as each is great in certain fields while lacking in others.
Some people are simply searching for a cheap set of headphones to keep handy as a replacement in case their go-to malfunctions; others want to get the loudest bang for their buck as possible, while audiophiles have a bit narrower tastes and typically search for specific models from a handful of leading brands, disregarding the price of their headphones entirely.
That being said, finding the best headphones, regardless of whether they’re wired or powered by some form of Bluetooth technology, can be quite a daunting task. There are numerous factors to consider, but for the time being, let’s focus on the notable benefits and drawbacks of wired and wireless headphones:
Pros and Cons of Wireless and Wired Headphones
As mentioned, neither wireless nor wired headphones are perfect. One type excels in the fields where the other is lacking, and vice versa. However, they also share a lot in common, so determining the criteria for evaluation is much simpler than it may seem. Let’s start off with the advantages of wireless headphones:
Advantages of Wired Headphones
The price point categories of wired and wireless headphones are drastically different. Namely, some of the cheapest Bluetooth headsets are in the range of mid-range (or even boutique) price point category of wired headphones.
However, this does not necessarily mean that wired headphones are more valuable than their wireless counterparts per se. Wireless headphones are simply outfitted with more (not necessarily better) features, most of which are designed to enable their wireless connection and make it smooth.
Speaking of which, the wireless technology by default pools a variety of expenses aside from simply manufacturing the chips, transmitters, and receivers. Namely, the patent holders for Bluetooth and similar technologies charge dearly for this tech to be used in the first place, so it’s obvious that the simpler wired headphones are much easier, and consequentially much cheaper to build.
Superior Sound Quality
One of the most heated debates among hobbyist mixers, amateur sound engineers, professionals, and audiophiles alike revolves around the sound quality of wired and wireless headphones. Some say that one type is better and argue it well, others state that it’s a matter of subjective preference. The truth is that both kinds of arguments have some merit to them.
From a subjective standpoint, it’s true that everyone perceives music in a different way. Along those lines, some people may find wireless headphones to be far superior in terms of sonic performance to wired cans; these aren’t isolated cases, as the fandom of Bluetooth buds and headsets is fairly massive.
From an objective standpoint, though, wired headphones are simply designed to process sonic data better, mainly due to the fact that they’re receiving analog signals, as opposed to wireless headphones that receive digital signals.
In simpler terms, the way wireless headphones work entails an extra step when it comes to digital-to-analog processing. It’s not just that they require a bit of extra time to execute these processes (which is measured in milliseconds, but it still results in slight, almost inaudible lag), but they also require more power, which further results in unnecessary jitter and distortion.
The actual sound quality of two headphone sets is measured in minute detail by observing their soundstage, their sonic signature, and how well they process digital information. In all of the aforementioned fields, wired headphones simply perform better.
One of the biggest advantages wired headphones have over wireless cans is connectivity. Basically, wireless models are limited to Bluetooth-compatible devices, which severely constricts their potential application.
In theory, wireless headphones can be supplied with 3.5mm inputs in order to extend their connectivity range, but then they’ll simply fall under the ‘wired’ category, regardless of all the other benefits they would otherwise bring to the table.
Wired cans are compatible with any device that features a 3.5mm port; the list of such devices is astoundingly massive, ranging from PCs and laptops, over tablets and smartphones, to guitar amplifiers, old-school Walkman models, vinyl turntables and record players, and so on.
Minimal Maintenance Required
Another major advantage of wired headphones is their sturdy construction. Most models are outfitted with thoroughly reinforced headsets, especially closed-back headphones, as well as rugged cables and similar features.
This further means that they don’t require frequent repairs, and they’re generally as easy to handle as they are easy to store. However, this doesn’t necessarily apply to wired earbuds, especially cheaper models.
Wired earbuds and in-ear headphones are much akin to wireless IEMs in the sense that they’re supplied with flimsy tips and often thin cords that rip fairly easily.
However, wired headphones do not require batteries or charging in any form, while wireless headphones do. This means that you can freely use any wired set of headphones indefinitely, while wireless models are limited to their battery lifespan.
Finally, most Bluetooth-operated headphones feature flimsy hardware that breaks very easily, so they need to be handled with extra care.
Advantages of Wireless Headphones
Wireless headphones are better-rounded than wired cans in the sense that they’re often customizable with various apps. Essentially, wireless headphones are considered newer pieces of technology, so most brands that manufacture them wanted to improve their functionalities with modifiable soundstages and frequency ranges, all of which can easily be done via appropriate applications.
Furthermore, most wireless headphones are outfitted with at least one active feature, with the most notable being active ambient sound suppression/cancellation. Wired headphones typically come in open or closed-back variations, which offer specific types of noise reduction in the environment. Wireless headphones fare better in this field as they bring the benefits of both to the table.
The main drawback of wired headphones is the cable. Therefore, one of the top advantages of wireless cans is the lack of it. You’ll be able to freely move, play, dance, work, and do virtually anything without having to worry about any cables getting in your way.
This makes them better suited for active people. They’re also great for various professional uses, such as for podcast hosts, interviewers, athletes, and such.
While we can perceive the fact that Wireless headphones are limited to Bluetooth-compatible devices as a flaw, it certainly has its own benefits. Namely, you can use these cans with most wireless devices, which is more important nowadays when modern smartphones and tablets are slowly starting to abandon 3.5mm inputs.
It’s not hard to imagine that in the next several years, wired headphones will not be compatible with smart devices, so in a sense, we can also say that wireless headphones are future-proof.
Disadvantages of Wired Headphones
The cord of wired headphones severely limits the mobility of the listener. Namely, you’ll always need to be close to the source devices, whether it’s your phone, your PC, or your laptop. This means that they’re less suited for jogging, exercising, and athletes in general.
That’s not the biggest issue, though. The main disadvantage of wired headphones is that there’s no way around the inconvenience of their corded design. That basically means that you’ll have to come to terms with their inferior versatility and enjoy the other fields of performance where they actually excel.
The platform is losing its Relevancy
As we mentioned a while ago, most smartphone and tablet manufacturers are gradually abandoning the 3.5mm jack port, turning their heads towards USB-powered outputs, which greatly favors wireless headphones.
Opting for a wired headphone set in these times means that you’ll not only be limited by their cord but also anchored to relatively obscure devices as well.
Disadvantages of Wireless Headphones
Wireless cans (especially True wireless models) normally cost several times more than their wired counterparts. All users of wireless headphones will have to pay dearly for the expensive Bluetooth tech that comprises every set, alongside all of the features that you may or may not find as valuable or helpful.
Frequent need of charging
While wired headphones and headsets can be used for days without any temporal limitations, wireless headphones work on batteries that require frequent charging. With a bit of proper time management, you will easily be able to pump up the bats while you’re not using your headphones (or sleeping), though, so this appears to not be as huge of a downfall.
The real problem is that most smart devices require charging too, which will put you in a situation where you will have to prioritize one over the other.
When all is said and done, it’s safe to say that both wireless and wired headphones offer tremendous value and excellent all-around performance. Though flawed, they are remarkable at what they do, so ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how are you going to use them and for what situations.
Senior editor for Ultimate-Guitar, passionate about good music and quality gear. Bassist. King Crimson fan. Travel enthusiast. Compulsive buyer of Bose headphones and old Fender amps.