Wireless Earbuds Used to Suck, But They’re Good Now

August 7, 2017

I hate wires. For a long time I’ve wanted to exclusively use wireless earbuds, but they just haven’t been good enough. It was impossible to pair them over Bluetooth, they sounded awful, and the battery life lasted about fifteen minutes. Things, however, have changed.

Three weeks ago I bought a pair of BeatsX and I haven’t looked back since. Wireless earphones are finally good enough for the real world. Here’s why.

Bluetooth Finally Works

The biggest barrier to wireless tech has always been Bluetooth. For years, it was little more than a punchline. 60 percent of the time, it worked every time—if you were lucky. You could easily spend ten minutes trying to pair your phone and handsfree kit and still have no idea why they wouldn’t connect.

At some point over the last few years, Bluetooth got… well if not good, usable. It gradually started sucking less—pairing would take six minutes instead of never—and eventually, it generally worked when you wanted it to. There’s still the occasional hiccup but for the most part, it’s pretty seamless. It might take a bit of faffing to get everything to pair first time around, but after that you should be good to go. Dropped connections used to be a daily occurrence but now they’re a rare event. Just make sure you’re using a modern smartphone and headphones; that Jawbone earpiece from 2007 is still not going to connect no matter how hard you try.

And things are only getting better. Apple’s proprietary W1 chip, that’s in my BeatsX earphones as well as Airpods, makes connecting even more reliable. In the three weeks I’ve had the BeatsX there’s only been one time when they wouldn’t pair with my iPhone. The reason? I’d turned Bluetooth off. That’s five minutes of my life I’m not getting back.

Similarly, the Samsung Galaxy S8 has the latest Bluetooth 5.0 standard and is, according to How-To Geek’s resident Android expert, Cam Summerson, “the best Bluetooth experience [he’s] ever had.” More phones should support it soon.

They Sound Good (Enough)

Wired earbuds still sound better than Bluetooth ones in ideal circumstances, but that’s about it. The latest incarnation of Bluetooth has enough bandwidth for CD level audio quality; even higher if you’re using an Android handset and headphones that support AptX. If you’re listening to streaming music or MP3s you pirated in 2004 on a noisy bus, Bluetooth probably isn’t the weak link in your audio setup.

Similarly, a cheap pair of wired earbuds will sound way worse than a decent set of Bluetooth earbuds. Even my Beats, under Apple’s influence, don’t sound as if a child has been given control of the bass. Yes, the Bluetooth ones will cost a good bit more but, as we’ll get to in a minute, they’ll also last a lot longer, so you can afford to invest more.

If you’re looking for maximum sound quality, you’re better off getting custom fitted monitors. But, if you just need something that sounds good when you listen to Spotify at your desk or while you go for a run, Bluetooth earbuds are more than enough.

Battery Life Isn’t (Much) of an Issue

I’m not gonna lie, charging your headphones isn’t much fun. The good thing is, that batteries now last long enough that it isn’t too big an issue.

My BeatsX get eight hours of battery life. That’s enough for a day of heavy use, two or three days of casual use. Most other Bluetooth earbuds have a similar sort of battery life depending on how big they are. Really small ones like the AirPods last four or five hours, but come with charging cases that will give you a full 24 hours. Bigger earbuds with hard neckbands, like the Phiaton BT 100 NC, get about 12 hours.

Whatever way you look at it, you should be able to find a set of Bluetooth earbuds that has enough juice to get you through a full day. Then they just become another gadget you have to plug in at night. Even better, because they have such small batteries they charge really quickly. Five minutes charging is enough to get my BeatsX to 25%; 45 minutes is all it takes for them to fully charge.

They’re a Lot Harder to Break

For the last ten years, I’ve had a pair of earbuds either dangling from my neck or in my ears pretty much every minute of every day. I’ve probably given myself permanent hearing damage. The only time I take them off is in the shower, and then only under protest.

I’ve gone through a lot of earbuds. At a guess, about three pairs a year…so, around 30 pairs total in the last decade. I’ve tried cheap pairs, $200 pairs and everything in between. They all fail the exact same way: the wire breaks. It doesn’t matter whether they’ve got regular cables, flat cables, braided cables, nylon cables, kevlar cables, or anything else, they just can’t stand up to more than a few months of (ab)use. If I used them less, I’m sure they’d last longer, but the point still stands: the weakest part of earbuds is the wire.

And wireless earbuds don’t have wires.

It all goes back to the Boots Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness. As long as you can afford to, it’s better to spend $150 on a pair of Bluetooth earphones that will last you three years, than $30 three times a year on a wired pair that will just break.

They’re So Much Nicer to Use

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that, while Bluetooth earbuds might not be perfect, they’re now good enough for daily use. They’ve got one final trump card: they’re so much nicer to use than wired earbuds.

Since switching to the BeatsX, I haven’t had to untangle my earbuds once, I haven’t caught them on door handles as I walked by, and they haven’t attempted to strangle me while I have a nap. Whether I’m out for a run, driving somewhere, just wandering around the city, or in the gym they’re unnoticeable. They just work.

Wireless earbuds are finally ready for the big time. You will pay a premium but, to me at least, it’s worth it. With the iPhone 7 already audio-jack free and Google’s latest Pixel likely to ditch it too, soon, you might not have a choice.

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