Buying a good wireless headset is a pain. Yes, I know: many customers go to a store and take the first thing they find. Or click on the typical link with more than four stars and keep your fingers crossed. It is exhausting to compare and even more to know when they are telling you the truth and when it is… how to say it, a commercial deformation..
Both the sales data collected by Statista and that of the NPD group of analysts agree that slightly more Bluetooth headsets are sold than wired ones. The wireless is winning the battle thanks to the decrease in the final price, but that does not mean they have conquered all.
That the 3.5mm jack connector is dying, especially in smartphones, does not serve a manufacturer's whim, but rather has the goal of increasing and redistributing that space for the battery and, incidentally, making life a little more comfortable for the user. Precisely for this reason, mobiles are one of the main nuclei for listening to music. But what does a Bluetooth headset need to keep up? How do we know, without even using them, that we are going to find a great model?
Among acronyms of Bluetooth is the game
Bluetooth headsets - and wireless, by extension - have undergone a major transformation. If at first the connection protocol was the happy radio frequency, today we can use protocols such as NFC (near field communication) and even find models with WiFi..
The key is in the codecs . The headset we are looking for must be compatible with the A2DP profile (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile). It is a Bluetooth profile that was initially used as an intermediate transceiver.
Before moving on, let's do a brief review of common Bluetooth profiles in stereo headphones:
- HSP (Headset Profile): profile of basic functions for communication between the smartphone and the headset, with monophonic coding .
- HFP (Hands free Profile): expanded profile but of identical poor quality to the previous one, with a greater access range, designed to control the mobile from a hands-free unit.
- A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile): profile that allows transmission of stereo audio signals, with stereo encoding .
- AVRCP (Audio / Video Remote Control Profile): Profile used to send commands — fast forward, pause, play — from the controller to your target device. It is the usual standard for using Bluetooth headsets from a remote PC .
Regarding encoding profiles, SBC (Low Complexity Subband Coding) is the encoding system used by default, although 'aptX' is more popular, especially in its low latency Losless modes (aptX 6 and 7) thanks to its ability to encode in high quality —96KHz and 24 bits—. But some manufacturers opt for their own alternatives, such as Dolby, or the popular LDAC, an HD encoding system rises from 328 Kbps of the conventional transfer rate to 990 Kbps ..
If we talk about compression algorithms, although the most popular are MP3, Ogg, WMA and M4A, the one that represents the best quality in terms of compression and performance is the AAC. Don't worry about so many acronyms, any current headset is compatible with them.
Doesn't anyone think about the DAC?
The DAC is the core, the hardware in charge of transforming digital information into analog, in converting all those zeros and ones into a real and audible signal through our helmets.
Usually a DAC will not improve the received signal, perhaps it will amplify it, but its general function is the opposite: that it is a 1: 1 translation of the original file, without losses. As with computer audio cards, the DAC can be internal - attached to the motherboard - or external.
It's okay. Let's stop acronyms, tech jargon, protocols and focus on the headset itself.
By brands it will not be: Beats, Bose, Skullcandy ... the most popular you will find them anywhere. And it will not be for specific models: AKG N60, B&O Beoplay H5, Bose QuietComfort 35, Denon Globe Cruiser, Earin (a very attractive toy), iT7x2 Foldable, the Jabra Move and Jabra Sport Pulse, Noontec Zoro II, Jaybird X2, Lindy BNX -60, Marley Liberate XLBT, JBL Everest 300 or Sennheiser MM 400-X (although the Momentum improves a lot in build quality)… and we would be citing just a few of the many existing models .
To know which headset to buy, you first have to decide category:
- Sports: for outdoor activities, with high tolerance to rain and sweat , with cable covered to avoid friction or sun exposure. Waterproof models and with an IP rating as high as possible.
- Domestic: designed for short transits, without leaving the home or office. That they always go in their case, ideal for playing, streaming or listening to music while lying in bed. You can bet on lower quality cable but in return we need higher quality in the pavilions. Roomy drivers, comfortable ear muffs, and a well-padded , lightweight headband .
- HiFi: headphones for demanding ears. The best drivers, DAC in HD, to listen to uncompressed music sources and in noise-free environments. It is ideal to go for partially open headphones - no button or earphones - so that the ear is not exhausted during long listening.
The keys to the best model
Once we know which family to join and the type of hearing aid that best suits us according to the use that we are going to give it, we have to take into account four main factors:
- Autonomy: never less than 5 hours . The greater the battery, the greater the weight, but also more robust construction and quality guarantee.
- Construction: it is easy to find models for under 30 euros with protected cable, spare parts for buttons and protections. Regardless of the model - neck, clip, with elastic band - comfort is key . If you can try them in store, so much the better.
- Functionalities: a good headset must be up-to-date with technologies . Close pairing, codec support (Bluetooth 4.0 a must), multi-play. Just as important is its exterior build quality as the interior hardware.
- Range: never less than 6 meters . It is true that the greater the distance, the more problems in reproduction. For this reason, it is advisable to keep an eye on those that exceed 10-12 meters in distance, because they guarantee superior qualities.
Don't get carried away with the classic "total noise cancellation" phrases. A headphone can leak some noise and be very well built.
The strengths are in the aptX low-latency coding, in the quality of the Drivers - ideal to look for 40mm if you like headphones on the ear -, the performance of the microphone if we are going to use it for gaming - that collects and amplifies clear voice , not compressed on a separate channel — and in mid-audio performance.
Many headphones boost the bass to give a false sense of packaging. But when listening at higher volumes, they can cause distortion and artifacts that blur the audio signal . If the mids are clean and warm and the highs do not shine excessively, we will know that we will be facing a great model.