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Wired vs. Wireless Bluetooth Headphones: Which Should You Get?

Last updated: 7 months ago
7 min read

Discover the benefits and disadvantages of wired and wireless headphones to see which type is better for your daily needs.

  • Are wired headphones better than wireless? (in what areas)
  • Why do people still use wired headphones?
  • Which type is more durable and long-lasting?

Learn the answers to all these questions (and many more) in the article below.

Wireless vs wired headphones

A quick comparison of wired vs. wireless:

CategoryWired
headphones
Wireless
headphones
Sound
quality
Overall (can)
sound better
Affordable ones
struggle with detail
& dynamic range
ConvenienceWires are annoying and limitingNo wires, more
freedom of movement
PortabilityCable takes up
extra space
Better due to the
lack of cables
DurabilityOften made of quality materials, but lacking water resistanceMost TWS earbuds have
and IPX rating, but not
bigger headphones
Price (value)Normally you get
better sound for
lower price
Not the best
sound for the price,
but you get many features
CONTENTS (show more)

    Why Wired Headphones Sound Better

    Wired headphones sound better than wireless…

    … because they are more carefully designed and tuned out-of-the-box and aren’t limited by lower-quality chips inside Bluetooth headphones.

    From our experience, even the best wireless headphones generally sound worse than wired headphones around $200.

    The main difference in sound quality between the two types is due to Bluetooth headphones compressing the sound. Audio compression makes faint sounds more apparent but also grandiose passages less exciting.

    It feels like we’re going through the “loudness war” all over again. When audiophiles complained that new music and remasters of old music have a worse dynamic range to sound better with cheaper headphones and in cars.

    Loud headphones for the party
    Dynamic range has nothing to do with loudness, all Bluetooth headphones are plenty loud.

    Let’s go into more detail:

    Bluetooth headphones

    When it comes to sound quality, wireless headphones still need to improve compared to similarly-priced wired counterparts.

    • Lower-quality components. For the same price, wireless headphones tend to have lower-quality drivers since they also have to cover the expense of other built-in parts. More on that later.
    • Extensive sound corrections using DSP. While every audio signal has to travel through DSP (digital signal processing), the ones in wireless headphones are particularly aggressive. They use factory settings to make your headphones sound as they should as long as you don’t crank the volume too high. If you do that, you may notice the bass losing power, parts of the song getting quieter, and lower dynamic range. That’s because DSP tries to protect the driver from damage/distortion but consequently hurts the sound quality.
    • Lower dynamic range. Generally, Bluetooth headphones don’t sound very dynamic (the ability to play quietly and loudly depending on the part of the song and instrumentation).

    Note: There’s a difference between wireless and Bluetooth headphones.

    On the other hand, not everything is terrible for wireless headphones.

    • Cheaper Bluetooth headphones sound really good. Affordable Bluetooth solutions today offer an equivalent and enjoyable listening experience to wired options. It makes zero sense to buy wired headphones under $100 if you seek audio quality. Because at this price you won’t notice any difference.

    Wired headphones

    Wired headphones lack sophisticated technology and are essentially two drivers tied together with a headband. This kind of simplicity comes with many advantages.

    • Higher-quality components. Since they don’t need numerous tech and batteries, the extra money can be spent on better drivers.
    • Better overall driver and earcup design. Instead of relying on DSP to fix the shortcomings of a poor design, wired headphones need to sound as intended using careful design (shape of the earcup) and materials (foam, padding).
    • Better dynamic range. While not universally true, wired headphones tend to have better dynamics simply because no signal processing holds them back.
    Dynamic headphone driver
    A 50mm dynamic driver.

    On the flip side, some wired headphones suffer from annoying issues like:

    • Cable noise. Many wired headphones, especially earbuds (or in-ear monitors), produce a lot of microphonics. That’s a non-issue when sitting still. But when walking around the cable noise can mask your music.

    Convenience and Portability

    Bluetooth headphones excel at convenience and portability, which is why they have become so popular.

    While wired headphones are still convenient in some areas, wireless headphones simply offer more freedom. Let’s look more closely.

    Bluetooth headphones

    Wireless headphones’ main feature is convenience.

    • No wires. People who previously used wired earbuds for outdoor use know the struggle of tucking wires into shirts, cable noise, and accidental unplugging of buds because they got stuck to your arm or a door handle. Going wireless solves all of those issues. And you can move around freely without wires limiting your range.
    • Compatibility. For almost two decades, smartphones come with Bluetooth technology, meaning they’re compatible with all Bluetooth headphones.
    • Portability. You carry around true wireless earbuds in a small charging case, which makes them pocketable and easy to manage.
    • Quality of life features. Lots of Bluetooth headphones nowadays come with features like ANC and Transparency mode, which can be useful in many situations.
    Earbuds multipoint connect multiple devices
    Headphones with Bluetooth multipoint can connect to multiple devices simultaneously.

    There are disadvantages to wireless headphones as well:

    • (Possible) wireless connection issues. Bluetooth interference is possible, even though the technology is pretty robust. Problems manifest in audio stutters, cut-offs, and popping sounds, even if you have your smartphone in your pocket.
    • Battery charging. Wireless headphones are yet another device that requires regular charging, depending on how often you use them. All is fine until you realize you forgot to charge them in the middle of your commute, and you end up with no music and active noise cancellation.

    Wired headphones

    Here are the positives regarding wired headphone portability.

    • Plug & play design. You simply plug the connector of wired headphones into a jack and immediately start listening—no pairing process is required. Furthermore, since they draw electricity from a source device, you don’t have to charge them.
    • Zero audio latency. Sending audio signals to your wireless headphones to process it takes time. While measured in milliseconds, it can be noticeable and annoying during gaming and watching videos. Wired headphones don’t have this problem, so if you want a lag-free experience, they’re the way to go.
    Antlion Y-adapter
    You just plug your headphones into the jack and they work, simple as that.

    However, this is where the advantages of wired headphones stop.

    • Annoying wires. Wires get stuck onto stuff and limit your freedom of movement. This fact alone is annoying enough that people don’t want to use wires anymore.

    Wired Headphones are More Durable Than Wireless

    Wired headphones’ greatest strength when it comes to durability is their simplicity. 

    Electronics

    Extra technology might be helpful in some cases, but the more components something has, the bigger the chance of malfunctioning.

    Wired headphones lack complicated electronics, which could suddenly stop working in wireless headphones.

    Quality of materials

    Only Apple AirPods Max and a few other wireless headphones boast a luxurious build quality. They can be good, but are often plasticky.

    Apple AirPods Max white background
    AirPods Max feel quality made, down from all-aluminum earcups, steel headband, and soft magnetic earpads.

    Bluetooth headphones are designed for commuting, so manufacturers have to trim their weight as much as possible. Therefore, using lots of plastic instead of metal or wood is an obvious choice.

    Nothing wrong with that, but plastic tends to crack more quickly, especially at the hinges.

    Batteries

    That is by far the biggest offender when it comes to poor longevity of wireless headphones and ensuring a constant flow of e-waste.

    Sure, headphone manufacturers are taking safety precautions to minimize battery degradation. With proper care, you could stretch their lifetime to around 3-4 years.

    However, in general, wireless headphones are expendable consumer products designed to be refreshed every 2 years, just like your smartphone.

    On the other hand, wired headphones can be an investment that lasts for decades. The best example is the Sennheiser HD series.

    Many people use the same wired headphones for over 10 years. LINKZ-link to headphone lifespan article

    Wires

    The biggest offender on the wired side is non-removable wires. If you break the cable or damage the connector, there’s nothing you can do but throw your headphones away.

    Sure, you might DIY them and fix them yourself, but only a few are willing to do that.

    Sony MDR-ZX110 attached cables
    Once the cables get damaged, they’re difficult to repair without proper knowledge and equipment.

    Price: Wired or Wireless Headphones

    Theoretically, you get better quality with wired than wireless headphones for the same price. That is a logical conclusion after seeing how much stuff goes into which type of headphones.

    In wired headphones, most of the expense goes into:

    1. Drivers
    2. Materials
    3. Design

    On the other hand, the expense for average wireless headphones, even the most basic ones, goes to:

    1. Drivers
    2. Materials
    3. Design
    4. Bluetooth antenna
    5. Microphone (at least one)
    6. DAC
    7. DSP
    8. Amplifier
    9. Battery

    And if you plan to buy more feature-packed headphones (that typically cost significantly more), you also have to pay for things like:

    1. Microphone (more of them)
    2. ANC chip
    3. Wearing sensor
    4. Support for non-standard Bluetooth audio codecs (aptX, LDAC)
    TOZO Golden X1 Knowles Hi-Res
    LDAC codec can transfer larger amounts of audio data over Bluetooth, ensuring high-quality audio playback.

    As you can see, wireless headphones are stuffed with many more components than wired. And to stay within the price that customers are still willing to pay, they must take shortcuts.

    However, this doesn’t mean wired headphones are de facto always better. Manufacturers can still cheap out on wired headphones to make a profit, so the key is to compare, read reviews, and watch measurements before making a final decision.

    From our experience, the advice is that if you’re buying headphones below $100, you’re better off with wireless ones. They offer good sound quality on top of extra features you might find handy.

    Why Wired Headphones Aren’t Compatible with Modern Smartphones

    Wired headphones aren’t compatible with modern smartphones because the latter no longer have a 3.5mm headphone jack.

    The first smartphone manufacturer to remove the jack was Apple in 2016. Others soon followed.

    The official reason for the removal was:

    • That digital ports (like Lightning and USB-C) offer better audio quality
    • To free up space inside a phone for a bigger battery or other tech. But that explanation is highly debatable.
    USB & Lightning dongles
    Now, if you want to your wired headphones with smartphones, you have to deal with audio dongles.

    Nevertheless, users moved on, and the Bluetooth headphones industry quickly improved its products (a few years after the jack’s removal, wireless headphones performance was quite bad).

    Apart from smartphones, headphone jacks are disappearing from tablets, laptops, and smart TVs.

    Interestingly, since professionals still want a reliable wired connection, the headphone jack has returned to MacBooks. Some motherboard companies even install high-quality audio components for gamers.

    If you’re among the stubborn ones and still want to use wired headphones, you can buy audio dongles, either official or third-party ones, with high-quality DACs and amps.

    Will Bluetooth Headphones Ever Be as Good as Wired?

    In the future, wireless technology will definitely improve and narrow the gap between wired headphones even further, just like computer graphics moved from blocky mess to photorealistic in 20 years.

    Here are some things that have improved but aren’t quite there, even after many years. And it’s up to manufacturers to improve them and users to demand the improvements.

    Sound quality

    You can get some great examples of excellent sound quality in Bluetooth headphones, like Apple AirPods Max and AirPods Pro 2 or Sony WF-1000XM4.

    However, all still suffer from the “typical” dynamic range limitations and detail retrieval found in wired headphones under $200.

    These limitations are caused by audio chips like DSPs and amps that can’t quite do their jobs like standard wired headphones.

    Batteries

    Lithium-ion batteries are getting better and with more safety features to extend their longevity. But you can only do so much until you hit physical limitations.

    To avoid unnecessary e-waste and more enduring battery life, the industry will hopefully start using other, more promising materials to produce batteries.

    However, after discovering large mining sites of lithium across the world (as of late, Iran and India), that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.

    Right to repair

    One of the reasons why the Sennheiser HD series of wired headphones is synonymous with longevity is the availability of replacement parts that an owner can replace.

    Sennheiser HD 6xx changing earpads
    Easily repairable headphones with all parts available for purchase.

    On the other hand, wireless headphones are all glued together and difficult to repair. To make matters worse, manufacturers can serialize different parts so that only an official repair shop can replace them.

    When to Use Wired or Wireless Headphones?

    Now that you know all advantages and disadvantages of wired and wireless headphones, you understand why both technologies still exist. It’s because they both work best in separate categories.

    When to use wireless headphones?

    The main strength of wireless headphones is their convenience, so they’re best to use when cables are annoying.

    • On daily commutes and longer trips, where ANC also reduces annoying engine sounds.
    • For outdoor use and exercise where the wire produces loud cable noise, or you accidentally pull it.
    Sony WH-1000XM4 touch controls
    Wireless headphones are best for commuting where you want ultimate freedom of movement.

    When to use wired headphones?

    In contrast, the main strength of wired headphones is the sound quality and reliable plug & play operation, so they’re best to use in scenarios when all of that matters to you.

    • For home use, behind a computer, or gaming, where you don’t want any sound delay.
    • For audiophiles who want to squeeze out as much information from music as possible and enjoy dynamic sound.
    • For professional use in studios during monitoring, mixing, and mastering.
    Person listening to headphones
    Wired headphones are best for home use where cables don’t get in the way.

    Why do people still use wired headphones?

    People still use wired headphones because they’re more reliable and offer better audio quality. People that most appreciate this are professionals and audiophiles.

    On the other hand, some casual listeners still use wired headphones because they tried wireless ones and were disappointed by their performance or unreliable connection.

    Read more:

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    Are wired or wireless headphones better?

    Whether wired or wireless headphones are better depends on the situation. For home and professional use, wired headphones are better as they sound better and are more reliable. Wireless headphones are the preferred option for casual, outdoor use and freedom of movement.

    Do wired headphones sound better than Bluetooth?

    In general, wired headphones sound better than Bluetooth ones since they have higher-quality drivers at the same price. Nonetheless, Bluetooth headphones can sound great and enjoyable, which is perfectly fine for casual, non-demanding users.

    Are wired headphones healthier?

    Wired headphones are no healthier than wireless ones. There’s no proof Bluetooth (or smartphones or Wi-Fi, which work at similar frequencies) can cause harm as the operating frequency itself isn’t harmful, and it also works at really low power.

    Do people still use wired headphones?

    Audiophiles and professionals still use wired headphones due to their reliability (plug & play operation, no charging required, no audio latency) and sound quality (better dynamics and micro detail retrieval).

    Check related:

    Conclusion

    To recap everything you’ve learned from this article:

    1. Wireless headphones are more convenient to use as they lack annoying cables, with the majority of them offering helpful features like active noise cancelling, ambient sound mode, or smart assistants.
    1. Wired headphones are more reliable in ease of use, durability, and, most importantly, have better sound quality.

    Hopefully, you can now make a more educated decision on what to purchase next time you’re searching for a new pair.

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