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One of the questions that we get asked virtually a dozen times every day is about - Wired vs Wireless headphones - which one to choose? Can Wireless headphones sound as good as wired headphones? Can they be convenient and portable, and easy to carry around in today's day and age of wireless convenience? Do we still need wired headphones? So we thought to do this post comparing Wired vs Wireless headphones and presenting the pros and cons of going with both and helping you pick the right one for you.
Wireless and Wired Headphones
What you really get
So we want to try and maybe offer a little bit of perspective to everybody comparing wired and wireless headphones. When you buy a wireless headphone, for example, the Sony WH-1000XM4, which is for ₹ 25,000, you're not just paying for the headphone.
You're paying for a smart gadget that does a bunch of things. You're paying for a nice sounding pair of speakers which are inside the ear cups, you're paying for a digital to analogue converter which is translating the zeros and ones that it's receiving from your phone into an analogue signal, you're paying for an amplifier that powers it up, you're paying for the batteries which are inside this device, you're paying for the Bluetooth chipset and the receiver, you're paying for the active noise cancellation and the touch controls.
So you're paying for quite a few different things, so the speakers and the drivers themselves are probably a fraction of the price of the overall headphone.
Now when you buy a wired headphone like the HiFiMan Sundara, the same price as the Sony’s, what you get is just a pair of drivers that sound good being held together with a headband and ear pads, nothing else. So all things equal, it is very likely that the wired headphone comes with a pair of speakers that's going to sound several times better than a wireless headphone.
Convenience or Great Sound
What you should consider
Now wireless headphones, give you an incredible amount of convenience. You'll find that you can use it with all your smart devices like your laptop and smartphone, all while receiving calls and listening to music. Wireless headphones and earphones lend themselves as an extension of your digital life in every way, and if that's what you're going for, then the most convenient headphone out there in the world, at least in our opinion, is a pair of Apple AirPods.
If you're in the Apple ecosystem, you pop open the hood and the AirPods pair with your phone almost seamlessly. They work with your iPhone, iPad and Mac, allowing you to take calls and listen to music, and it's just in your ear all day long. There isn't a more convenient way of using a hearable every day. However, the problem is quite simple, the AirPods, don't sound very good. They present an ordinary sound.
If you haven't heard a good sounding headphone, you might believe that this is what a good sounding headphone (in this case an in-ear) sounds like, but once you've heard a great sounding headphone or an earphone, you're going to realise that the AirPods are inadequate in offering you an immersive listening experience.
That is where wired headphones come in, and for the price of an AirPods or a wireless headphone, you can get stunning sounding wired IEMs or wired headphones that can bring a music concert to life, right in front of you. It quite literally feels like every element of the music, every part of the song, is coming right in front as if being performed in the same room.
So with wired headphones, you're getting much better sound for the money that you're spending, and with wireless headphones, you're getting a lot of convenience for the money you're spending. So the thing that we tell a lot of people is that you can either get yourself a headphone that sounds good or a convenient headphone, but very rarely can you get both.
The Nitty Gritty of Wireless and Wired headphones
Something to keep in mind
One aspect common in every wireless headphone or phone in the world is that it features a Lithium ION battery, which is most likely going to have a life of about 24 months or two years. After this, the lithium-ion battery, the way on your laptop or your smartphone, is going to lose its capacity, eventually not going to work very well anymore, or its battery life gets degraded to nearly zero.
It happens with all electronic gadgets and is also the case for wireless headphones. One thing to keep in mind is that any wireless headphone is going to last you as long as the battery lasts you, and they don’t feature replaceable batteries, meaning they go down the trash as soon as the batteries have degraded.
On the contrary, a pair of wired headphones do not have any electrical components embedded. They are just a pair of speakers and cables inside a housing. When taken care of well and maintained, wired headphones should last you a lifetime. You'll find that there are people who have used a pair of headphones their entire lives and have gifted it to their children to use for many years, and they sound stunning throughout, without any change in them.
So the thing we believe is that when you are buying a wireless headphone, you should keep in mind that it offers a reasonable short period of usability, after which it is of virtually no use, on the contrary, a set of wired headphones is an asset for a lifetime.
So what's the downside with wired headphones, well there's a simple one, none of our smartphones these days have a 3.5 mm jack to plug wired headphones. But here's the good news, if you're pursuing good sound, the 3.5 mm jack on your phone or your laptop is not good enough to be able to give your headphones the juice, power and the information it needs to create an immersive listening experience.
To solve this, you're going to need a dongle DAC or a digital to analogue converter that you can plug into your smartphone or your laptop and your headphones. This DAC is going to bring about a thoroughly transformative change in the way you listen to music, but there's a certain level of inconvenience that you're going to have to deal.
It's not just the wires that are around, you're going to have to figure out what DAC works for you, is compatible with your iOS or your android device and works well. You will find that this is an additional cost sometimes as digital to analogue converters can be as inexpensive as two or three thousand rupees and it can even cost even five to six lakhs, and it's a question of figuring out what's the right one for you, for your headphone and one that gives you the kind of sound that you're looking for, but that's a topic for another post.
The other issue is that good wired headphones need a certain amount of power to perform optimally. The magnets that help the drivers need to be powered optimally, and these magnets are powerful and sometimes can need that extra power to work well. So you may sometimes need an amplifier too that can be portable and can be combined along with the DAC. But usually, the desktop amplifiers like the ones that we have in our experience studio can be heavy and inconvenient, restricting your movement.
Making the final decision
So the advice that we at Headphone Zone, give people is that if you're looking for the pursuit of good sound, the inconvenience of the wires of the DAC of the amplifier should be a cost that you're willing to pay. To be able to listen to music, not all of them are hefty bulky devices that you need on your desktop. Some of them are the size of a pen drive that's connected to your smartphone seamlessly.
But if you're looking for a device that you can use with you, carry everywhere and the convenience of absolutely no wires around, then a wireless earbud, a truly wireless earphone or a pair of wireless headphones certainly gives you a lot of conveniences.