Wired vs wireless headset: the buyer guide
Do you know the difference between wired and wireless headsets? (No prizes for saying, "only one has a wire!") When you go beyond the obvious, you'll have many things to consider when choosing the best headset. And so, it's little surprise that the wired vs. wireless headset is a topic of hot debate.
As the world shifts toward slick, innovative new technology, there’s a groundswell of support for wireless headsets. The global wireless headset market was worth $2.29 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $3.41 billion by 2027. That being said, wired headsets still have a lot to offer in terms of quality and reliability.
It’s time to get to the bottom of this once and for all. Read on as we compare nine key aspects of wireless and wired headsets, making it easier for you to buy the right headset.
What is the main difference between wired and wireless headsets?
Okay, okay, you know it’s the wire. But do you know how wireless and wired headsets work?
Wired headsets work like large stereo speakers. Essentially, your headset is a pair of miniature speakers for personal audio. When you plug your headset into a device—like a laptop, tablet, or smartphone—the wire (or ‘cable’ if you’re fancy) transmits sound from the device to the headset.
By comparison, wireless headphones use radio transmission technology to transmit audio data from the source to the headset. This particular type of voodoo magic is the result of one of the following technologies:
- Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology that transmits audio data via radio waves. The headset device decodes the data before converting it into an audio signal.
- Radiofrequency (RF) technology uses electromagnetic signals to receive audio data from an audio device. This audio transmission process is typically for wireless headphones explicitly made for TV.
- Infrared Frequency (IF), also known as line-of-sight technology, transmits audio signals with the same technology that FM radios and microwaves use. There must be no interference or blockages between the device and headset.
Now that we’ve covered the nitty-gritty of how wireless and wired headsets work, it’s time to find out which one is best.
9 key considerations when deciding which headset to buy
When you want to choose the best headset for yourself or your business, the first mission is to compare wired vs. wireless headsets. There are nine aspects you should consider before pulling out your credit card (or cash if you're a retro kinda guy):
- Sound quality
- Compatibility and Connectivity
Okay, got your coffee? We’re ready.
Wireless technology isn't cheap. While it may be relatively easy to use, manufacturing wireless headsets is tricky, with high research, testing, and development expenses.
Of course, when you compare wired vs wireless headsets, costs will vary depending on the brand and additional features. You might find some excellent quality wireless headsets that are cheaper than comparable wired headsets. But generally speaking, wireless headsets are more expensive.
Wired vs. wireless headset: Wired headsets win (1-0).
2. Sound Quality
Putting price aside, audio quality is the be-all and the end-all. It doesn’t matter how much of a bargain you got from Billy at the flea market if your flash-looking headset offers an earful of fuzzy feedback.
Wired headsets use analog signals, which can handle more data than digital signals—like Bluetooth. As a result, these headsets don’t have to compress audio data, meaning they transmit sound in full resolution. Although wireless headset technology has made big leaps in recent years, it still isn’t as crisp and clear as its wired counterpart.
Wired vs. wireless headset: Wired headsets win. (2-0).
Have you ever dealt with a wired headset that stopped working correctly because of damage to the cable? It happens easily. With just a few accidental tugs, these frail wires may succumb to internal damage. Before you know it, you're getting static feedback or patchy transmission.
Luckily, for wireless headset owners, you won't have to worry about this happening. Software glitches are possible, but wireless technology is often the better choice when you go for a quality brand.
Wired vs. wireless headset: Wireless headsets win. (2-1).
Now, there's a caveat to that last point. Just when you thought wireless headsets were mounting a comeback, we've got some bad news. If the software malfunctions in a wireless headset, it can be a real headache to troubleshoot—some might even say it's impossible. You don't need to be Tony Stark, but it's not an easy fix.
As for wired headsets, you can order replacement cables or parts and might even be able to repair the issue yourself just by watching a YouTube video.
Wired vs. wireless headset: Wired headsets win. (3-1).
Imagine you're off on holiday to Mexico. As you take your seat on the plane, you spot a baby to your left. With a smug smile to yourself, you whip out your noise-canceling Bluetooth headset—and then you freeze in horror. The light is blinking. Somehow, they've switched on inside your bag. Tentatively, you hold them to your ear, and your heart sinks as a tiny robotic voice confirms your fears: “Low battery.”
As the baby begins her symphony, you realize your charger is the checked baggage. The headset goes dead, and the flight attendant closes the door, locking you into audio hell.
This situation would never happen if you had a wired headset. If it’s plugged in, you have unlimited playtime. Battery life is on the rise for wireless headsets, but it’s still an Achilles heel you can’t ignore.
Wired vs. wireless headset: Wired headsets win. (4-1).
6. Compatibility and Connectivity
As technology evolves, many devices are ditching the 3.5 mm headphone jack. For many years, this stalwart was the universal standard for audio devices. But as Bluetooth improves, wireless headsets are a more attractive option than they were a decade ago.
Wired headsets rely on your cable being compatible with the device port. If they’re not a fit, you have to buy adaptors. On the other hand, wireless headsets can use Bluetooth to connect to almost any modern device, be it a smartphone, computer, or TV.
The one potential issue for wireless headsets is the matter of connectivity. Audio codecs are special algorithms that encode, compress, and decode audio data—an integral aspect of wireless transmissions. Without the correct codecs, you can lose audio data, and the audio quality will suffer.
Similarly, any interference caused by devices like FM radios, microwaves, or Wi-Fi routers can cause audio lags or dropouts. Thankfully, Bluetooth is getting better. As of July 2021, the latest version, Bluetooth 5.2, has a range of 240m or 40m indoors.
Beat that, wired headsets. (Hilarious as it might be, we strongly advise you don't hook up a 240-meter wired headset in your home or neighborhood.)
Wired vs. wireless headset: Wireless headsets win. (4-2).
If you're as clumsy as us, you'll know the frustration of tripping over cables at the office. Worse still is the moment you try to leave your desk, forgetting that you're still wearing your wired headset, only for it to wrench you back with a clatter—a smooth move to pull in front of your office crush.
Despite all the plus points, wired headsets can be a nuisance at times. It’s hard to avoid tugs and trips all the time, as you remain tethered to your device. Longer cables provide some added mobility but can end up tangled, which risks damage in the long run.
If you want the freedom to move around with your headset, there’s only one winner here, and with Bluetooth’s impressive range nowadays, it’s easy to see why wireless headset adoption is on the rise.
Wired vs. wireless headset: Wireless headsets win. (4-3).
With no more tangled wires or embarrassing trips to worry about, you might think wireless headsets are the more convenient option. But think about just how easy it is to use wired headsets—you just plug and play. As long as it is compatible, there’s no worrying about pairing issues or interference.
On the flip side, the compact design of wireless headsets makes them lighter and more portable. You can fold them up and pack them into your bag when commuting or traveling. Wired headsets come with extra cables and components, which can be a hassle when you’re moving from place to place.
This one is a close call, but we’re going to give it to wireless.
Wired vs. wireless headset: Wireless headsets win. (4-4).
Last but not least, what’s the difference between wired and wireless headsets when it comes to comfort? You can get soft, cushioned earpads and flexible headbands on both types. And, when you spend on reputable brands, it’s easy to find a headset that you’ll love wearing for hours.
But, no matter how much you spend on a wired headset, there’s no escaping the “tug and trip threat” or the need for extra components. Wireless headsets are often lighter, causing less stress on your head when you have them on for a long time.
And with that said, the comeback is complete!
Wired vs. wireless headset: Wireless headsets win. (5-4).
Wired vs wireless headset: which is best for you?
It’s clear this is no easy choice. Even after considering the key factors, you might still be on the fence. Let’s make it a little easier for you.
Who should buy wired headsets?
Here are five types of people that wired headsets are best for:
- Office workers: If you’re in telesales or customer service, you need wired headsets because they provide reliable sound quality and unlimited battery life.
- Gamers: If you make a living from gaming, there’s no room for latency—especially during a heated battle. A minor sound delay could be fatal (in the game). Therefore, quality wired headsets are a must.
- Musicians and audiophiles: If you obsess over how music should be heard, from the beat of the bass to the pitch of the percussion, you need a wired headset.
- People who prefer plug-and-play: Whether you’re lazy, impatient, or just keen to get started, you can avoid the extra steps of pairing a wireless device by buying a wired headset.
- People on a budget: If you don’t have a lot to splurge on good wireless technology, there’s no point buying substandard just because you want wireless. It’s much smarter to buy a quality wired headset.
Who are wireless headsets for?
Here are four types of people that wireless headsets are best for:
- People with an active lifestyle: Think about all those images you've seen of someone with a headset while working out. Now, how many of those headsets have cables? We'd bet our bottom dollar the answer is close to zero. The lightweight nature and unrestricted mobility make wireless headsets perfect for athletes or anyone who does a lot of sports, physical training, or manual outdoor work. If you want to get the best wireless audio device for training, it's worth checking out earbuds.
- People who spend a lot of time in noisy environments: If you work in an industrial plant, it's good to have a noise-canceling wireless headset. Not only will this protect your ears, but you won't have to worry about wires catching in dangerous machinery.
- People who travel a lot: As mentioned, wireless headsets are light and easy to pack in your bag, making them perfect for long journeys. Just make sure you charge them up the day before your trip!
- People who like to move around: An obvious advantage for anyone who is always on the go.
And there you have it—a full exploration of the dilemma between wireless and wired headsets with no stone left unturned. The perfect choice will vary from one person to the next. Ultimately, what’s best for you will depend on your lifestyle and how you intend to use your headset.
When you're trying to decide which is best between wired vs. wireless headsets, you should carefully consider the difference between wired and wireless in each of the nine areas above. By taking the time to weigh up the pros and cons of each option, you can confidently make the right choice.
We’re here when you need us
If you'd like to chat with a Headset Advisor who will help you evaluate your options, call 1-800-HEADSETS (432-3738) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.