Most of us are tethered to our devices for at least part of every day, listening to music on the go or watching videos on a tablet, laptop, or phone. The headphones we wear have become more than merely an accessory–they are practically an extension of ourselves. The right pair will let you enjoy a late-night movie without disturbing your sleeping partner or listen to music at a crowded coffee shop.
If you’re still using the free earbuds that came with your phone or other gadget, you may want to consider an upgrade. You have many choices these days: from tiny, in-ear models that will slip into a shirt pocket to big, over-the-ear models that can help immerse you in the music and make you look (and maybe even feel!) like a DJ.
There are three technologies available for wireless headphones: infrared, radio and bluetooth. In this article, I explain the functional differences to help you choose between them and learn how wireless headphones work
* Infrared – These devices use an infrared (IR) beam to transmit the sound from the base unit to the headphone, working in much the same way as the remote control for your TV. The range is limited to about 7m, less if you’re away from the center line. Infrared is optical, so you need to have a clear line of sight between the transmitter and headphones. Headphones of this type are not really any good for wandering around the house, but they’re great when sitting in front of the TV or hifi.
* Bluetooth – In bluetooth headphones, a low-power radio signal is used to digitally transmit the sound. At the moment, Bluetooth headphones are relatively thin on the ground. MP3 player manufacturers are slowly beginning to include the technology, but Apple seems to be stubbornly refusing (third party accessories are available). The limited range puts them in the same league as infrared, but the portability of Bluetooth devices makes it much more suitable for walk-around listening. As it is a radio technology, line of sight is not required so you can listen to music on your phone without having to take them out of your pocket.
* Radio – If you want to walk around the house and garden while listening to your hifi, this is the one to have. Like Bluetooth it uses a radio signal, but it is more powerful and is FM rather than digital, so it works just like your radio, but on a different frequency. There is usually a choice of two or more channels to avoid interference from other devices or neighbours who bought the same headphones as you.
Tips on Finding the Right Pair For You
Evaluate sound quality Like speakers, headphones might emphasize different parts of the audio spectrum, and you might prefer one sound over another. If you can, try headphones before buying. If you buy online, check return policies to make sure that purchases can be returned or exchanged for another model.
Choose a design suited to your expected use Over-the-ear models are great for listening at home but could be too large to be easily stowed when you’re traveling. Smaller, more portable models might sacrifice some sound quality, but they are definitely handy. Earbuds and insert models are great for listening to music on the go. If you’ll be doing a lot of flying, consider headphones with active noise-reduction technology.
For the best sound, stick with corded models For serious music listening, we recommend one of the better-rated corded models. For less-critical music listening and for use with a TV, most corded models are fine. We found that many newer wireless headphones work well too, and some are quite good. But are still some have background hissing and/or dynamic range compression that deadens the sound to some extent.