Thanks to the convenience it provides, wireless technology has become a common feature for many types of devices. Gamers are very familiar with wireless technology such as gamepads and mice. People in stage plays or conferences are familiar with wireless mics and remotely controlled displays. In fact, there’s a good chance that you use several devices that rely on wireless technology on a regular basis.
It’s natural to assume that this rule also applies to audio devices, but choosing a good wireless headset isn’t as straightforward as most people might think. There are hundreds of wireless headsets available today, but how exactly are they different from each other? What’s stopping you from just getting the first headset you find? Here is a guide outlining the things you should know before you get your first wireless headset.
Contrary to popular device reviews and top ten lists, there’s no such thing as the absolute best headset. You can head to the store and pick the most highly-rated headset they offer, but there is still a chance that it won’t be the best headset for you. For example, if you want a wireless headset to use while you’re outdoors, you’ll need something compact and lightweight that you can wear comfortably while engaging in outdoor activities. That same wireless headset may not be the best option if you’re into gaming. For this purpose, you’ll need a dedicated wireless headset with noise cancelling features, large ear cups and a built-in mic.
It’s very important to decide on the main purpose of your headset since that is what will dictate which features you should prioritize. Depending on your headset needs, you may be set with just a basic model without a built-in mic or you may have to look for something with many features to work properly for its intended purpose. The main purpose of your headset also has a big effect on the second point, which is…
Not all headsets are made the same. Even the most basic wireless headsets can have a huge price difference because of the different materials used for manufacturing them. Features are an obvious price-changer; the more features a headset has, the more expensive it will be compared to other similar models. Even cosmetic details can affect the price of your headset: something with stylish LED decorations, engravings, and other stylish features will cost more than another headset, even if they have similar specs.
Budget can also be used to gauge the quality of a headset. For example, the most expensive gaming headsets have more features and better audio quality compared to the cheapest ones in the market. You need to be able to find a comfortable balance between affordability and the amount of features you will need to get the most value out of your headset.
Type of Wireless Tech
Wireless headsets use transmitters (on the device) and receivers (in the headset) to relay sound without the use of a physical connection. There are three types of wireless tech used for headsets: infrared, radio, and Bluetooth. However, infrared headsets are no longer popular because they tend to lose their connection if there is no direct line of sight between the transmitter and receiver. This leaves us with radio and Bluetooth headsets to narrow down the list.
As its name indicates, a radio wireless headset uses radio frequencies to transmit audio from the transmitter to the receiver (the headset). Radio wireless headsets have excellent range and the signal can easily pass through walls. However, they still require a dedicated transmitter connected to the media device to properly work.
Bluetooth wireless headsets do not require transmitters, making them the only option for devices that do not have any ports for a transmitter. If the source device has Bluetooth, it will be compatible with a Bluetooth headset. At first, Bluetooth headsets were considered bad because of poor sound quality. After years of improving Bluetooth technology, you can now get wireless headsets that function just as well as a fully-wired high-end headsets.
Latency and Noise
Sending the audio data from the transmitter to the headset through wireless connection takes time, causing a delay or latency. While this delay is shorter than half a second, it’s easy to notice, especially if you use your headset for listening to game audio where feedback should be instantaneous. Radio wireless headsets had a clear advantage over earlier versions of Bluetooth headsets with the delay rarely exceeding 50 milliseconds, which is barely discernable to the average user. However, headsets using the latest iteration of Bluetooth now have significantly lower latencies that they can now be used for gaming.
Noise or outside interference can be a problem when it comes to creating a high-quality listening experience. This is especially true for radio wireless headsets: radio frequencies from other devices can interfere with the audio signal received by the headset, creating crackling noises and ruining the quality of audio (especially for devices that use 800-900 mHz frequencies). Since Bluetooth technology essentially sorts out signals by identifying which devices are connected, Bluetooth wireless headsets do not have this problem.
Perhaps one of the main reasons why people would still want to stick to wired headsets is their reliability. Since wired headsets get their power from the device they are connected to, you can expect them to work every time as long as the wire is intact. On the other hand, wireless headsets need batteries to stay functional.
Some wireless headsets are designed to be compatible with standard batteries, while others have their own built-in batteries. Most people prefer headsets with built-in batteries, which usually come with their own charger. Wireless headsets can provide about 8-12 hours of nonstop listening on average before you need to recharge them. For best results, most wireless headsets use lithium-ion batteries which are more compact and almost immune to “capacity loss” over time. Since producing louder sounds and performing other functions requires more energy, you can extend a wireless headset’s battery life simply by turning down the volume, not using the mic, or disabling surround sound capabilities when the battery is running low.
Weight and Size
Wireless headsets can come in a variety of different styles, but they all have to be designed to achieve a balance between performance and portability. After all, what’s the use of a portable wireless headset if it’s too cumbersome to use? Wireless headsets with extra features such as virtual surround sound must have the necessary hardware somewhere in them, so they are built bigger than other headsets. There’s also the battery compartment, which can add a lot of weight and bulk to the device.
Fortunately, advances in manufacturing electronics have paved the way for more efficient headset designs. Sure, you can still expect a wireless headset to be a tad bigger and heavier than a wired one with similar specs, but the advantages of having wireless capabilities still justify the minimal increase in bulk. Size also plays a big factor even if you’re not using the headset. Some models are partially collapsible to allow quick and easy storage, while others may require their own stand or dock.
Try Before You Buy
It’s easy to look up certain headset models online and find user reviews. Normally, sticking to the most well-recommended options works best. However, wireless headsets are a completely different matter because using one is a personal experience. The headset must suit your own specific needs whether it’s style, number of features, or fit. You have to find a way to try out the headset you’re planning to buy before you shell out some cash.
It’s easy to try out headsets in gadget stores because most have samples consumers can try on. In some cases, they even let you hook up the headset to an audio device, so you can check out how well it plays sounds. If you can’t find a sample headset, you can ask your friends if any of them owns a model of the headset that you want to buy. If they do, you may even ask to borrow the unit for several hours to get a good feel of how well the headset works. If there’s really no way you can test your preferred headset before buying, you should at least check online forums or reviews for feedback regarding specific models. That way, you can set your expectations and avoid regretting your purchase later.
While the list of the best headsets is still dominated by wired headsets, it’s just a matter of time before wireless technology evolves and takes over the general market. This means looking for the best option can get even more difficult because there will be more to choose from. On the bright side, continuous developments in manufacturing wireless headsets means the hardware can only get better and the bar for standard features will be set higher.