Oct 10, 2023

Are wireless or wired headphones better? We asked four techsperts

By Grace Jennings-Edquist

Wireless headphones were first invented in the 1960s, with bulky "radio headphones" that had an in-built radio and speakers. The Bluetooth wireless headphones most of us are more familiar with have been around since 2017 and are now fairly ubiquitous.

But, all of a sudden, wired headphones have been making a comeback — with the likes of Bella Hadid and Zoe Kravitz embracing the good old-fashioned corded version.

So, are wireless headphones actually any better than the wired types? Or should we all revert back to plugging our headphones into the audio jack?

I asked four tech-lovers these questions, and their opinions were fairly split.

Here, each explains their preference.

Denis Gallagher is head of Digital Home at consumer advocacy site CHOICE. Sydney-based Mr Gallagher prefers wired headphones, which he says tend to offer better (and more consistent) audio quality.

With wireless headphones, he says, variables like internet connectivity can impact the audio quality.

Wired headphones also start at a lower price point. Mr Gallagher says you can pick up a decent set for about $30. Wireless headphones, on the other hand, will cost at least $60 for "something fairly listenable", he says.

And wired headphones are easier to repair, because generally it's only the cables that need fixing.

"Whereas with a set of wireless headphones, the cost of repair is usually too high to justify the process of repairing them," he explains.

Preferences aside, Mr Gallagher acknowledges that most people will need a mix of wireless and wired headphones to suit their lifestyle and various devices.

He admits to switching between headphone types himself depending on the occasion.

"At the table in front of me, I've got two sets of wireless earbuds that use Bluetooth; I've got adapters that I use for my wired headphones with my iPhone; and I've got some higher quality wireless headphones to use for Zoom calls — there's the whole gamut."

And he admits there's one benefit to wireless headphones: portability.

"Wireless headphone users are [often] moving around the room during remote video catch-ups," he says.

"I actually like doing that, and my set of wireless headphones are for that very purpose."

Melbourne-based Dhayana, aka MissDeusGeek, is a gaming influencer, as well as the founder and editor of Attack on Geek and Women of Xbox.

She says she "used to swear by wired headphones" — but is now a wireless convert because she loves not having cables everywhere.

"It also means that I'm not limited to my desk or have to sit close to the TV in order to play games. I can easily sit on the couch with my headphones on without needing extension cables and the like," she says.

"It's a convenience thing."

"[But the] old school way of just plug and play definitely has its perks," she admits.

Fiddling around with Bluetooth connectivity can get annoying, and she sometimes misses "the ease of connecting a cable to a port".

Selen Türkay is a Brisbane-based computer science lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology.

She prefers wired headphones when gaming or video conferencing for work.

"Wired headphones often provide a more consistent connection, eliminating the chance of audio dropouts or interference that can sometimes occur with wireless connections," she says.

Additionally, there's no need to worry about battery life with wired headphones.

Dr Türkay does use wireless earbuds when listening to music on her phone: "I keep misplacing those though."

What would convert her to team wireless?

"If the battery life on wireless headphones became so impressive that I only needed to charge them once a week or even less frequently," she says.

But the audio quality of wireless headphones would also have to improve for her to seriously consider making the switch.

Meredith Castles is a science communicator, lecturer and researcher in Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Tasmania. Hobart-based Dr Castles also runs a Twitch channel, and says she prefers wireless headphones for gaming.

She uses a more expensive wireless gaming headset for streaming and gaming because it has no lag in audio, and also offers great sound quality.

"[Wireless headphones] also offer a better freedom of movement, which is important for those times when streaming a horror game and I want to get away from stressful situations on screen quickly," Dr Castles says.

She also says cables are "very annoying" when playing games using VR, which she does frequently.

"It can sometimes be a deal-breaker."

But she can't advocate for all wireless headphones equally. She wouldn't use a set that has an audio lag, for example.

"Being wired is certainly better than being killed before you even hear the danger coming your way!"

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