Thanks to Apple (again) and the AirPods, truly wireless earbuds have become those shiny new toys in smartphone school that everyone wants to get their hands on first, and on their ears later. Unlike wired or even conventional wireless earphones that come with strings of wire that connect earbuds with each other and to our phones (in case of wired ones), these (mostly) tiny audio plugs free you from the hassle of having any kind of wire. Add to that the “cool factor” of being a new trend and its hardly surprising that we are seeing brands in a race against each other to release not just one but multiple pairs of truly wireless earbuds.
Today, a person tempted by the thought of not having to deal with tangled wires, and having free, unshackled buds and devices, has a number of options to choose from. What however should not be forgotten is that while truly wireless earbuds are growing popular, they are still far from perfect and come with their own challenges, especially when compared with other existing earphone options.
So, if you are looking to invest in a pair of true wireless earbuds, do go ahead, but just remember to keep six factors in mind:
1. Audio quality: That Sound of That Music might not always be… top-notch
You buy a pair of earbuds to listen to the audio. And it is audio which is at the center of any earphones’ existence. Sadly, it is audio that gets compromised when a bud decides to go wireless. Cutting out the physical connection between the bud and the device these earbuds get connected to takes a notable toll on the audio quality of the true wireless earphones. The fact that these also have to be incredibly small (as compared to other earphones) also restricts their ability to deliver very good sound.
We are not saying that the audio quality on all these earbuds is poor. Indeed, Sennheiser, Bose and Apple’s truly wireless earphones offer superb sound. What we are pointing out though is that at the time of writing, more often than not, the audio on these earphones fails to deliver the kind of output wired or even Bluetooth ones at the same price or sometimes even at much lower prices can deliver. So if you are an audio freak, either stick to the premium offerings or else perhaps just reconsider going truly wireless.
2. Design: Neat and compact…and always falling out
The biggest USP of true wireless earbuds is that they are TRULY wireless. The two tiny buds are independent of any wires and like to stay individually in our ears. While this may make them irresistible to some, there is a little thing called gravity which is not really the best friend of these buds. No matter which earbuds you invest in, no matter how many different sized tips come along with them, or how deep into your ear canal they fit in, almost truly wireless earbuds fall out. Yes, you heard it right. They do fall out. Some less than others but dropping out is only as natural with these buds as tangling is with wired ones.
What’s worse, because there is no wire connecting the buds with each other or with the device, once they fall there is no saving them. There is no chance that they will end up around your neck as often happens with their wired cousins. No, once these fall out, all you can do is pick them up from the ground and pray that they are okay.
The absence of wires also means the probability of losing either one or both buds goes up exponentially. If you are any bit as clumsy or careless as us (we are!), you would end up losing or misplacing one of the two buds sooner rather than later. And once you lose one of the buds, the other one practically becomes useless, especially if your earbuds are based on a master-slave relationship mode (where one connects to the other rather than directly to the audio source). Some brands do offer replacements but it often costs a lot of money. And while you can keep using the single bud in times of dire need, losing one of the earbuds often marks the end of the wireless audio journey for that pair.
3. UI: Fiddle, touch, swipe…mostly ugh
Back in the wired days, earphones/headphones used to be simple. They came with a few controls like play/pause, volume up or down on a small unit connected to the wires of the earphones and that is about it. Most of these worked in the same way. There was no steep learning curve. Freedom from wires will cost you that simplicity. Different true wireless earbuds come with different UI designs and functions. And most of them can be complicated from the getgo – even Apple’s AirPods Pro’s take some getting used to.
Some have capacitive panels for different functions, but thanks to their small size, most have extremely small buttons, and we have often found ourselves struggling to carry out even the most basic functions. It takes some time to get used to the button arrangement and the different combinations in which they have to be used. And no, gesture and touch controls are iffy as well – we often end up wondering if the earbud has identified a single or double tap (and sometimes they do not recognize either!).
In some cases, even something as simple as pushing the earbuds into your ears can accidentally trigger commands. Small wonder we often end up doing even something as basic as controlling volume from our smartphones when we are in truly wireless mode.
4. Battery life: Count those hours, friend, there aren’t many
Simpler, wired times, also meant you did not have to charge your earphones. You do need to charge Bluetooth ones, but in the case of Bluetooth earbuds connected to each other through a cable, battery life is comfortably into double digits and sometimes even goes beyond twenty hours. That changes with truly wireless earbuds. Not only do you have to charge your truly wireless earbuds but the battery life of the buds themselves does not really make a great case for them (pun intended).
Most buds offer a life of two to five hours on a single charge which makes them not-so-great for binge-watching. The case which not only acts as a home to these earbuds but also as a charger helps in this regard and can give you a few recharges. But at the end of the day, you would have to pull the plugs out and give them a rest so they can recharge and can be used again. You cannot use them while they are charging (we know that is not recommended, but imagine running out of charge while on an important call, eh?). And that takes us to the next case in point. Pun intended.
5. Case: You have to take this case, Sherlock, you have no choice
Truly wireless earbuds are often like puppies without a home when left on their own without a case. When not in use, the case is their safe space, otherwise, they are as good as lost on their own. The not-so-great battery life also makes it extremely essential for the buds to be accompanied by their case because more often than not these cases double up as a charger for these earbuds.
Yes, it looks snazzy to carry your earphones in a tiny (ish) case, but you know what? This also means the case is another thing that you always HAVE to carry while taking the earbuds along. Yes, the cases are often small enough to fit in your denims but it comes to another thing that you really cannot afford to lose. Once again as in the case of losing a single bud, if you lose the case, your earbuds are not just wireless but close to useless as well. That’s something you do not have to worry about with other earphones, which you often can just throw ones into your bag or pocket. Yes, those have cases too but those are not necessities!
6. Expensive: Relatively speaking, less bang for more buck
Today, you can get truly wireless earphones across a wide spectrum of prices. From some really affordable ones (as little as Rs 1500) to ones that are premium to their very core (Rs 20,000 and above), you will find a truly wireless earbud pair that fits your budget.
So what’s the catch? Well, the simple fact that most of these earbuds are much more expensive as compared to their wired or Bluetooth wired counterparts. And as we pointed out earlier, they often lose out to them in departments like sound quality, interface and battery life.
What you are really paying for is the absence of wires and the convenience that comes with them – let’s face it, they are really tiny and easy to carry. If you do not value that convenience, true wireless earbuds are not yet really value for money. You will get similar or in some cases even better audio quality and feature in wired or Bluetooth and wired earphones at the same price.
Got all that? Now go ahead, and lose them wires.
At the end of the day, it is always YOUR call.