Wired vs Wireless EarBuds: How Bluetooth EarBuds Beat Wired?

In today’s audio world, we are spoilt for choice. From earbuds to headphones; across WiFi, Bluetooth, or Wired; from speaker to soundbar. Everyone has their own preferences, but the audiophile community has consistently claimed Bluetooth as the inferior tech. I’m here to change that.

Wired vs Wireless EarBuds

The fierce debate between Bluetooth and wired closely mirrors another - now largely extinct - a debate that audio engineers and music fanatics were having in the 90s.

Back then, the argument raged fiercely around analog vs digital audio storage. A light recap of that debate will set the foundation for a deeper dive into today’s battle of Bluetooth vs Wired.

Hold onto your best Sony Bluetooth earbuds: this is going to get technical!

Old School vs. New Cool

In the 90s, two forces were at war with each other: the old school format of analog audio on cassette tapes was slowly being outpaced by the swanky new digital storage of DVDs.

What’s the difference? Well, analog audio storage depends on reels of magnetic tape. Here, a mic pics up the nearby sound waves. This microphone is one part of a tape recorder.

Tape recorders operate under a simple physics principle: when electrical current is passed through a coil of wire, it forms an electromagnetic field.

The tape recorder takes the microphone input - that is, waves of alternating electrical current - and passes them through coils of wire. This converts the AC electrical current to electromagnetic charges on a long piece of magnetic tape.

This tape is rolled up, making for more efficient physical storage, and replayed by reversing the process. The magnetized tape creates a current when passed through the wire coil, which then travels to the electric output device.

Digital, on the other hand, encodes music into binary bits. The process most commonly used is Pulse Code Modulation (PCM).

Whereas analog creates a model of sound through different levels of electromagnetic charge, PCM models sound by taking a ‘snapshot’ of the numerical values that represent the amplitude at different points along a wave.

Eventually, digital won this debate - tape is far easier to be damaged or recorded over; digital files are far better suited to being shared and replicated.

How Do Wires Work?

As the digital debate surged in popularity, the natural choice of output was via a wired connection.

Digital audio is stored as 1s and 0s, however. In order to listen to the binary, these must first be converted back to analog data. This is achieved through a DAC converter. This analog signal is then sent via cable to an output speaker.

And wires used to be the only option.

Aux - usually referring to the 3.5mm headphone jack - is a form of audio connection that sends sound to an audio device.

Whether headphones, a speaker, or your car’s stereo system, it requires one connection point at each end.

The electrical signal pulses through this cable; the number of electrical pulses per second dictates the frequency of pitch. The voltage determines how loud the sound is.

Bluetooth Basics

The purpose of a speaker - either a loudspeaker or the smaller speaker in your earbuds - is to act as a transducer, converting digital audio into mechanical wave energy. This is the case regardless of whether the speaker is wired or wireless.

Bluetooth was first developed in 1989, though did not begin to see widespread adoption until 1999 and the early 2000s.

Instead of transporting the digital information via copper cables, Bluetooth transports them over short wavelength ultra-high frequency (UHF) radio waves.

The built-in power amplifier of the Bluetooth speaker receives this audio signal and converts it to analog.

Ease of Use

Bluetooth speakers are far more accessible and user-friendly than tangles of wires.

Wires connections depend on a physical cable, which opens itself up to large amounts of physical wear and tear. There’s nothing worse than your wired earbuds getting snagged on something.

Or when a wired connection starts to degrade and you’re left having to bend the earphone cable at 90 degrees for both buds to work.

Furthermore, your device is physically tethered to the speaker. If you’re at a party, this can be a little unsafe; leaving your phone perched next to the speaker leaves it comparatively open to be taken.

Bluetooth, on the other hand, allows you to keep your phone snugly in your hand or pocket, even when connected.

The lack of cabling makes it the far superior choice for on-the-go activities. Effortlessly avoiding snagged or tangled cables - by removing the cables altogether - is a pretty smart choice.

Sound Quality

Sound quality used to be the Achilles heel of the pro-Bluetooth argument. Naysayers pointed at low-quality gaming headsets to demonstrate the audio superiority of hi-fi equipment.

This is because the industry standard for encoding digital audio into Bluetooth radio frequencies used to involves file losses. Base-standard aptX involved compression, in order to reduce latency.

Now, however, this is changing. In January 2016, audio equipment company Qualcomm released aptX HD.

This is a new standard of Bluetooth that provides true lossless, high-fidelity audio.

AptX HD has opened up the market for Bluetooth studio headphones. The recent release of the Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless, for example, shows the adaptation of Bluetooth at even the highest range of audio quality possible.

Battery

The final argument against Bluetooth devices used to be the fact that they were wholly reliant on an inbuilt battery. This threw a spanner in the engineering works, as there was always a compromise between size and battery life.

When small, tinny earphones used to demand a battery life of only a few hours, this posed a number of inconveniences to an otherwise highly convenient form of audio.

There’s nothing worse than your earbuds running out mid-jam.

However, battery technology has advanced significantly in the last few years.

Now, it’s not uncommon to see commercial headphones with 24 hours of playback time. Most Sony headphones have a battery life of roughly 30 hours, and fast charging means that 20 minutes of charge can provide about an hour of playback time in a pinch.

As wireless charging becomes the norm for Bluetooth headsets, expect even greater advances in convenient, high-quality audio experiences. Bluetooth has already overtaken the wired headset - whether for running laps or analyzing music in a studio - and will continue to stride ahead in the upcoming decade.

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TechGlobeX: Wired vs Wireless EarBuds: How Bluetooth EarBuds Beat Wired?
Wired vs Wireless EarBuds: How Bluetooth EarBuds Beat Wired?
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