Suppose you are considering purchasing a new pair of headphones. In that case, you’ve probably pinned down a few must-have features, whether that’s an over-ear fit, active noise cancellation, above-average battery life, or one of the many styles and specs that distinguish headphones these days. A look at a few headphone buying guides and reading some reviews will no doubt narrow your choice down to a few pairs.
But if you’ve settled on the popular wireless over-ear headphone style, there’s one feature that rarely makes it to spec sheets and accompanying buying guides and is therefore easily overlooked, but in fact, if you’re like me, a deal breaker for you. And that’s whether wired listening requires battery life or not.
If you’ve opted for wireless headphones, chances are you plan on listening to them wirelessly. Naturally. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always liked knowing the wire is there when my battery runs out, when I forget to charge them, or when I’m on a long-haul flight or weekend trip where I don’t want or can’t bother take to squeeze them. Battery endurance is better than ever these days (at least 30 hours for many couples today), but you can still get caught out, especially if you tend to listen to music loudly as the battery drains, like me. The efficiency of these types of built-in rechargeable batteries also decreases over time, making a battery-free listening option even more relevant if you’re not one to replace your headphones every few years.
The thing is, while wireless headphones have historically typically been bundled with an aux cable to connect to the earcup’s audio jack for passive listening on such occasions, an increasing number of wireless over-ear designs today require power ( and therefore battery life) to listen. even wired.
Examples include the Apple AirPods Max, Focal Bathy, and Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2, which feature in our best noise-canceling headphones and best wireless headphone buying guides for their excellent sound quality. In these cases, instead of wired control, the electronic stages (the Bluetooth receiver, DAC (digital-to-analog conversion), DSP (digital signal processing) and amplifier) required to make the headphones work wirelessly are bypassed – something would see them work in a passive way like wired only headphones – the headphones drivers need power to work whether or not the headphones are used wirelessly or wired. So if the battery runs out, the headphones are essentially useless. Hmm.
In this way, engineers can design the headphones to take advantage of their own digital processing and amplification, rather than that of the audio source the headphones are connected to. Remember that a wireless pair that also has active noise canceling requires a huge amount of digital processing to block out external noise and make the sound reproduction the best it can be combined with it. It makes sense and is often why headphones perform wirelessly can sounds better than its wired (passive) performance when the choice is available. Digital boosts and tuning can result in a clearer, more bass-accented presentation, even if subtlety isn’t always abundant.
Manufacturers with such designs would argue that their decision to keep wired playback in the digital domain ensures consistent, better sound quality. But it goes against that battery-dependent practicality that I personally find important and has been a music-saving feature for me over the years. If you feel the same way, you should include that in your research since, as I said, it’s not always marked primarily as a main spec or feature.
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