Which type of Wireless Headphones is right for you? A buying guide
Like it or not, more and more smartphone makers are ditching headphone jacks to make their devices ever thinner. Whether you listen to music while running, working out in the gym, traveling on train or just walking or resting at home, here’s how to know if wireless is best for you and which headphones to buy.
Bluetooth audio has come a long way
Years ago wireless audio was synonymous with horrible sound. Most wireless headphones use Bluetooth, the same short-range technology that allows the phone to talk to the car, for example, or the wireless mouse to the laptop. Bluetooth audio sounded awful, because it was meant for short range and not designed to exchange large amounts of information, and it had to be heavily stressed to work. But that was then, and wireless headphones sound much better today: Bluetooth is no longer a huge audio compromise.
The latest versions of wireless headphones, including the new Bluetooth 5.0, promise faster transfer speeds for more data, which results in better audio quality and a richer sound.
Currently Bluetooth headphones and earphones are available in multiple price ranges. There are also models that promise superior audio quality if you’re willing to pay more.
Isolation or Active Noise Cancellation?
In the latter case, you are more likely to need headphones that allow you to get an idea of what’s going on around you, but still block out some outside noise. This is called “isolation” (the audio term for “blocking out unwanted or external noise”), and is ideal if you plan to wear wireless headphones in noisy public places.
You also need to connect easily to your phone and stay connected without forcing you to stop listening to reconnect. You may also be concerned about battery life, especially if you use them while running, or on the train or in the car as a passenger. Keep all this in mind when you get ready to buy them.
Alternatively, let’s say you want wireless office headphones. You may need a pair with more attention to audio quality, since you’ll likely be using them while sitting at your desk working. You may also want something to block the noise of your office, but not enough to be surprised if a colleague comes over to talk to you. You may want to consider something with “active noise cancellation“, i.e. headphones with their own microphone, to hear the sounds around you and create an opposite sound wave that cancels them.
Isolation is generally less expensive, as it does not require the technology (or battery power) for active noise cancellation. However, noise canceling headphones are the best for blocking out sound, and allowing you to focus on the music. The audio quality, however, is not always excellent in some cheaper models of headphones with active noise cancellation.
Bottom line, when buying, you need to be aware of whether you want to use your wireless headphones in public – where you need situational awareness around you – or privately, where you want a more intimate listening experience. Also consider your audio quality needs in light of the above.
Some final suggestions
Headphones are hard to buy because you can’t really try them out before you buy a pair. Sure, it’s easy to give specific suggestions if you’re looking for the best wireless headphones for exercise, full-on Bluetooth over-ear headphones (perhaps more ideal for office listening than portability), or the best portable wireless earphones for those who want it all: audio quality, the ability to answer calls, portability and moderate isolation… and the new Bluetooth 5 is now a reality, which means that there will be a rush from headphone manufacturers to try and get audio fans to upgrade.
To try to simplify things, we have chosen below the best 10 Bluetooth wireless headphones currently available, trying to put together a collection of models varied enough to be able to satisfy the needs of everyone, from the convinced audiophile, to the runner, to the occasional user.