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There are a few great bluetooth headphones out there. AirPods Pro, Sony WF-1000XM4, and Jabra Elite Active 75t dominate the earphone market, while the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose noise canceling headphones 700 are among the best of the over-the-ear variant. As good as all of these headphones sound in a myriad of situations, they’ll never sound as good as wired headphones. Here’s why.
Streaming services have recently made the game better in terms of audio quality. Tidal was one of the first providers to offer FLAC-based lossless streaming in CD quality at an additional cost, but only last year did other services such as Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Spotify (soon to be released) offer similar, high-lossless services Bitrate, all for the same cost as you had before.
What is audio quality really?
If these keywords don’t mean anything to you, here is a deeper explanation: Like all digital products, digital music consists of digital information (1s and 0s). The more information you can put in a file, the better your audio will sound. Ideally, you want as much information as possible so that you can enjoy the full experience of this particular route.
However, information takes up space; The more information a file contains, the more space it takes up and the more demanding the streaming becomes. To solve this problem, streaming services compress files or remove information. It’s strategic; Remove enough information to reduce the file size, but keep enough so that most people don’t notice the deterioration in the quality of their music.
This is what we are referring to when we talk about bit rate; it’s just the amount of data that can be transferred with a given file. When a file is at a higher bit rate, it can carry more information, which often results in better quality. If it is at a lower bitrate, it will transmit less, resulting in poorer quality.
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Lossless streaming avoids most of this compression to give you a listening experience that is as close as possible to the original recording material. And now that almost every popular streaming service has this lossless listening experience, you should be able to enjoy it with any headphones you have, right?
Why wireless can’t keep up with wired headphones
That’s the deal; Bluetooth, the technology that connects wireless headphones to your hearing aid, has a limited bit rate that it can handle. It doesn’t matter if you set your streaming service like Apple Music to play losslessly as these files will be compressed to suit the capabilities of this bluetooth device.
That’s not to say your music will sound bad, quite the contrary. For example, Apple Music uses the AAC Bluetooth codec to play music through Bluetooth headphones, which can be reached at 256 kbps. Spotify has a maximum bit rate of 320 kbps. These bit rates will sound great on your bluetooth headphones.
Even Sony’s crown jewel, the WF-1000XM4, has a maximum bit rate of 990 kbps. While that’s roughly three times the bit rate of traditional Bluetooth audio, it’s still not enough for lossless.
Wired headphones, on the other hand, do not have this compression problem. They can handle the full signal from your listening device, and in some cases it’s the listening device that your headphones can’t handle. Some headphones require extra power to fully appreciate their quality.
This is where a device like a DAC comes in that provides extra power to support both the quality of the file and the quality of the headphones. You need a DAC, for example, to be able to enjoy the highest bit rates from Apple Music losslessly, regardless of the type of wired headphones you have.
Not all wired headphones are created equal
To be fair, there are a variety of wired headphones out there. Just because a cable is plugged into a pair of headphones doesn’t mean it instantly sounds better than your AirPods.
Many wireless earbuds and headphones have technology that makes them sound amazing. A cheap pair of non-functional wired headphones may be able to pick up the lossless signals your streaming service is sending out, but it’s likely that your AirPods will sound much better in their compressed format. It’s not just the bit rate, it’s the way these headphones produce the sound.
Perhaps one day wireless technology will reach the point where we can send lossless signals straight into our ears. But for now, this technology will be relegated to wired headphones.