Wireless Headphone Buying Guide

Wireless Headphone Buying Guide

So, you are looking to buy a new pair of headphones and have decided to go with the wireless option. However, you have no idea what to consider before purchasing a new wireless headphone, and if it would be a good idea. Fret not as this guide would help you with the things that you need to consider before buying a headphone, along with its advantages and disadvantages. It would also answer some of the common questions related to wireless headphones that might pop up in your mind when buying them.

Different Kinds of Headphones

One can divide headphones into two categories, wired and wireless. As the name suggests, the wired headphones are supposed to work only when they are connected to the audio device such as phone, computer, music player through a wired connection like a 3.5mm jack or USB. On the other hand, wireless headphones work without any wires connected to the sound system. They mostly involve a Bluetooth connection. As you have already narrowed down your choice to the wireless variant, we will talk about them.

Wireless Headphones

When we talk about headphones, we only consider that these headphones are connected to the sound system without using any wires. However, one can further classify these headphones into different categories based on the designs. Let us see what these categories are and what are the advantages of each kind.

In-Ear Headphones

The in-ear headphones, which people also call earbuds, are the smallest Bluetooth headsets that are available commercially. These look quite like the earphones that come with a phone but without the wires. One of the main reasons that people go with the in-ear Bluetooth headset is that they are the most portable category. Another advantage of in-ear headphones is that they offer the best noise isolation, i.e., external noise won’t interfere with the music being played on the earphones. The in-ear headphones are placed directly inside the ear. This placement helps them create a seal that blocks most of the external noise and helps you hear the music being played clearly. These headphones, due to their size, are great if you want to listen to some music while working out. They are light-weight, portable, and most importantly, most of them are sweat-resistant. Thus, they are ideal for working out.

However, there are some downsides to getting a pair of wireless in-ear headphones. The primary reason which puts most audiophiles away from these devices is the sound quality. The focus on portability comes at the cost of sound quality as the drivers whose size is somewhat related to the sound quality are often quite small. At the budget end, the sound quality is often low, but there as you go for more premium options, the sound quality improves. Another thing that might put you off when getting wireless in-ear headphones is wires. Yes, wires! Most of the wireless in-ear headphones have a wire connecting the right earpiece to the left earpiece, and where there are headphone wires, there are tangles. Overall, these are a decent option if you are looking for portability and can compromise on the sound quality.

On-Ear Headphones

The next type of wireless headphones is on-ear headphones. As the name suggests, these headphones sit on your ears instead of completely covering them. The left earpiece and the right earpiece are connected with a solid band that can either go over your head or around your neck. These offer the middle ground between sound quality and portability. Therefore, we place them in between in-ear headphones and over the ear headphones, which we will talk about later in this guide. One of the major advantages of on-ear wireless headphones over in-ear headphones is the bigger batteries. Due to their larger size, they can accommodate larger batteries. Thus, you need to charge them less often than in-ear headphones.

Larger physical size also means that the sound quality of the headphones should improve as well. The reason behind this improvement in sound quality is that engineers could fit bigger drivers in on-ear headphones than the in-ear options. So, most of the time, you would find an inexpensive on-ear headphone offers sound quality equivalent to that of a premium in-ear headphone.

Just like, in-ear headphones, the on-ear headphones have a few issues. The most prominent one is that their larger size makes them a bit difficult to carry when compared to the in-ear headphones, but they are more portable than over-the-ear headphones. One of the biggest issues with on-ear headphones is that they seldom offer noise cancellation. As they sit over your ears, they don’t block outside noise from entering your ears. Thus, your experience might not be good if there is significant noise outside. In the end, if you are looking for portability and decent sound quality and don’t care about having the best noise cancellation, then go with the on-ear headphones.

Over-The-Ear Headphones

These are the bulkiest type of Bluetooth headphones but offer the best sound quality, battery backup, and excellent noise cancellation. Thus, making them an ideal choice for an audiophile. The biggest advantage of using over-the-ear headphones is sound quality, which is the best amongst the three categories of Bluetooth headphones. Some of them don’t care about the bulkiness and have the largest drivers in them to offer the top-quality sound.

These headphones cover the ear and thus offer noise isolation and even offer noise cancellation, a feature that totally blocks any external noise. Another advantage of these headphones is that they have the biggest batteries and will last longer than any other kind of Bluetooth headphone. Now, let us look at their disadvantages with the most significant issue related to over-the-ear headphones being portability. These headphones are the bulkiest and most challenging to carry. Another issue that might dissuade some people from going for wireless over-the-ear headphones is their price. They are quite expensive when compared to other types of wireless headphones. In the end, if you want to experience the best sound quality without any outside interference, then go with the over-the-ear headphones.

Things to Consider While Buying Bluetooth Headphones

Based on your preference between portability, sound quality, and comfort, you could have narrowed down the headphone type that suits your needs. Now, it is time to look at some of the technical aspects of Bluetooth headphones to make a better decision while buying them.

Frequency Response

It tells us about the frequency range of sound that a headphone could produce. A healthy young person is capable of hearing sounds ranging between 20 and 20000 Hz. Most headphones keep their frequency response within this range. However, some might even go as low as 15 Hz and as high as 25000 Hz. Theoretically speaking, these ranges won’t make these headphones better than the other ones because we don’t hear sounds that are not within the 20 to 20000 Hz range. However, some people claim that headphones with the ability to produce music with a higher frequency range sound a tad bit better.

Noise Cancellation

Most headphones offer two kinds of noise cancellation features, namely, active-noise cancellation and noise isolation. Now, both the options perform the same task, keeping outside noise away from your ears so you can hear the music clearly. But they employ a different approach to achieve this goal. Noise isolation headphones just block the outside noise from entering your ear physically. They either cover the ears (over-the-ear headphones) or make a seal within the ear canal (in-ear headphones) Active Noise Cancellation headphones physically block the external noise, but they go a step further to ensure a better performance. These headphones have tiny microphones located on the outside whose job is to pick external noise. The headphones understand the frequency of the external noise and make a noise at the opposite frequency to that of the external noise alongside the music. This process cancels out the external noise, and the music is all that the wearer hears.

Open Back or Closed Back

Closed Back headphones are the most common types of wireless headphones. These headphones completely cover the drivers. So, they don’t leak any sound and thus nobody, but you can hear the sound. On the other hand, open-back headphones have covered drivers, and the music being played on the headphones could be heard by the ones near the user.

Microphone

If you are going to use your wireless headphones with your phone, then it would be an excellent choice to go with a product that comes with a built-in microphone. The good news is that most wireless headphones not only come with a microphone but also with an ability to access Google Assistant or Siri.

Portability

If you are a frequent traveler, then you would want wireless headphones that are easy to carry. Ideally, you should opt for on-the-ear headphones or in-ear headphones, but keep in mind that some over-the-ear headphones offer collapsible ear-cups that make them more portable. So, don’t rule out over-the-ear headphones if you are looking for portability.

Battery Life

Battery life is something that you would be looking at before anything else. So, if you are a frequent traveler then, it would be a good idea to choose Bluetooth headphones with good battery life as nobody wants to spend a trip with music getting shut off in the middle because the headphone batteries died.

Water and Sweat Resistance

If you are going to use headphones while exercising, then opting for sweat-resistant headphones is a must. This would ensure that your headphones don’t get damaged due to sweat or water entering the earpieces and causing short-circuits.

Price

In the end, it all boils down to the money you are willing to spend on the headphones. Wireless headphones could come for prices that are as low as 1000 Rupees and could also go up to one lakh rupees. It is true that the more you are willing to pay, the better the experience would be, but it doesn’t mean that you get the most expensive pair.

Use Case

There are a lot of things to choose from, but a headphone that suits the need of one person might become unsuitable for another. Take an example of a person who wants to use wireless headphones while jogging for thirty minutes. The ideal choice would be in-ear headphones that need not be expensive. On the other hand, a music enthusiast who frequently travels would opt for an over-the-ear headphone for excellent sound quality and long battery life.

Wireless Headphone Buying FAQs

What Are the Different Kinds of Bluetooth Headphones?

Bluetooth headphones can be classified into three categories depending on size. In-ear headphones, which are the smallest, on-ear headphones which are medium-sized, and over-the-ear headphones which are the largest and generally, the most expensive.

Are Bluetooth Headphones as Good as Wired Headphones?

A decade ago, or so, Bluetooth headphones were nowhere near wired ones in terms of quality. However, with the newer powerful hardware and better codecs, the quality of Bluetooth headphones is at par with the wired ones, if not better.

How Long Do Wireless Headphones Last?

The in-ear wireless headphones could last anywhere around 5-7 hours, whereas the on-ear headphones could go up to 12 hours on a single charge. In the case of over-the-ear headphones, this duration could go up to 20 hours.

How Long Do Wireless Headphones Take to Charge?

The charging time depends on the battery size. So, it takes around 2 hours to charge an in-ear headphone and up to 8 hours to charge an over-the-ear headphone.

What Should I Consider While Buying A Wireless Headphone?

You should look at the use case, the budget, the microphone, and the battery life. Other things that you need to keep in mind are noise cancellation, sweat & water resistance, and the portability of the headset.

What Is Noise Cancellation?

What Is Noise Cancellation?

Active noise cancellation is a technology that prevents external noise from hampering your music listening experience. However, the technology requires complex components which make it somewhat costly to implement. Recently, we have seen a surge in the headphones using this technology, and there has also been a reduction in the price of headphones using noise cancellation. So, what exactly are noise cancellation headphones? To put it in simple terms, noise cancellation headphones improve your experience while listening to music by blocking any external noise. But it is quite difficult to make headphones that manage to mute all the external noise. In the end, these headphones manage to significantly reduce the external sound and enhance your overall experience.

Active Noise Cancellation Vs. Passive Noise Cancellation

Active noise cancellation, as the name says, uses an active component to reduce the interference caused by external noise. On the other hand, passive noise cancellation relies on layers of padding to reduce the external noise from entering the users’ ears. Overall, passive noise cancellation is a lot easier and cost-effective to implement than the active noise cancellation. However, an active noise cancellation system requires a passive system to work most effectively. Even though both the systems work to reduce the disturbance caused by external noise, but they achieve this goal quite differently. An active noise cancellation system listens to the outside noise, picks out the most dominant frequency, and produces a sound with the reverse frequency to cancel the original noise. On the other hand, the passive noise cancellation systems work by blocking out the sound using layers of padding. The result is the same; we get significantly less disturbance than not using any noise cancellation technique at all.

What Is Active Noise Cancellation?

Active noise cancellation is a technology that aims to reduce ambient noise. The important thing in this method is that unlike normal noise cancellation, the technique doesn’t work by simply blocking any external sound. These headphones are equipped with small microphones that detect the outside sound and, in turn, produce a sound pattern that cancels out the outside noise and thus reduces the external noise to a great extent. By the looks of it, active noise cancellation seems to be something new and recent. However, this technology existed since the 1950s, as evident from the patents filed by Lawrence Fogel, who is the one who invented this technology.

Initially, active noise cancellation was used in headsets used by helicopter and airplane pilots who found it difficult to communicate due to the engine sound. Recently, this technology has been introduced in vehicles too, Ford Endeavour in India is equipped with active noise cancellation system to make the cabin quieter. Even though active noise cancellation began to make communication easier for aviators, but it is the people who listen to music are ones who are using it the most.

How Active Noise Cancellation Works?

A headphone using active noise cancellation has microphones embedded on the outside. These microphones listen to the ambient noise around the wearer and isolate the steadiest frequency from it. This specific frequency could be anything ranging from the humming of an air conditioner to the noise generated by a turbine engine. The headphone then creates a noise which has the negative frequency, i.e., a sound having the same amplitude but inverted in phase. This sound combines with the actual noise, and a phenomenon known as destructive interference occurs and cancels out the external sound.

So, the noise created by the AC or the engine is completely blocked out. If the active noise cancellation is combined with good physical noise cancellation, then you won’t hear any external noise. However, this method only works with a steady external noise. So, the headphones would work amazingly against a roaring engine, but if a person is hitting something with a hammer at the irregular interval, then that sound would still get through if the physical noise cancellation is absent. So, if you are in a traffic jam or a place where people are talking loudly, active noise cancellation will fail.

This the main reason why noise cancellation is not the same as soundproofing, which blocks almost any kind of noise from entering the desired area. A system that is utilizing active noise cancellation technology requires batteries to power the components. So, the devices need to be big enough to accommodate not only the noise cancellation components but also the battery packs. Thus, a headphone using active noise cancellation is quite bulky as compared to the normal headphones. There are certain earphones that provide active noise cancellation, but they are not as effective as the full-sized headsets due to their small size. As mentioned earlier, active noise cancellation also requires an efficient passive noise cancellation to work effectively.

Active Noise Cancellation: Pros and Cons

Proper noise isolation requires the use of over-the-ear headphones to work most efficiently, but some on-ear headphones and even earphones come with this feature. However, the in-ear monitors provide decent noise isolation by making a tight seal inside the ear canal. The most significant advantage of using noise cancellation headphones is that user music listening experience is significantly better due to the reduction in external noise. People also say that they can hear sound a lot better while watching videos or when listening to music.

The best use of active noise cancellation is in the places where there is a constant external source of noise, such as an airplane engine or a jackhammer. You can also find noise cancellation headphones useful in your daily commute or in your office or even a library. However, there are some downsides of active noise cancellation as well. The first of these disadvantages is the significantly higher cost. The systems utilizing active noise cancellation need to fit additional components such as microphones and batteries, which cost additional money. Overall, a headphone with active noise cancellation is significantly more expensive than a similar headphone without this feature. Some people also complain that the sound quality of active noise cancellation headphones is slightly reduced as they need to produce two different sounds at the same time. Additionally, these active noise cancellation headphones are bulkier than the ones that don’t utilize this feature and, thereby, less portable.

Should You Buy A Noise Cancellation Headphone?

The main reason why people search for the meaning of the term “Noise Cancellation” is that they are confused about whether they should buy normal headphones or noise cancellation ones. Basically, the choice of headphones depends on their use. So, if you are going to use your headphones in a noisy environment, then getting noise cancellation headphones makes sense. In case you are mostly going to use headphones indoors or in noise-free areas such as a park, then going with normal headphones is a much better and cost-effective option. Some people who find it difficult to sleep could also benefit from the use of noise cancellation headphones.

Noise Cancellation FAQs

What Is Noise Cancellation?

Noise cancellation is a feature in audio devices that reduce the external noise from interfering with your music listening experience.

Difference Between Active and Passive Noise Cancellation

Passive noise cancellation uses multi-layered padding to physically block the external noise, whereas active noise cancellation relies on the use of microphones to capture the frequency of dominant external sound and create a sound at the opposite frequency to cancel it out.

Which Noise Cancellation Technique Is Better?

Even though you need both Active and passive noise cancellation to reduce the outside interference, but if the external source is producing noise consistently, then active noise cancellation would be more effective.

Should I Buy A Pair of Noise Cancellation Headphones or Not?

The answer depends on the use case. So, a person who uses headphones indoors or in a quiet place, then they don’t require noise cancellation headphones. On the other hand, if you commute daily or spend lots of time outside while using headphones, then go with the noise cancellation variants.

What Kind of Headsets Are Available with Noise Cancellation Technologies?

Generally, over the ear headphones are most effective in providing noise cancellation, but there are some on the ear headphones and even earphones that provide excellent noise cancellation.