There are three main types of headphones on the market today: standard, USB, and Bluetooth.
On the outside, it doesn’t seem like there are any differences between them. But once you take a close look into these different technologies, you’ll see certain benefits and drawbacks to each.
But which is the best? Let’s compare USB, standard, and Bluetooth headphones—so you can make the best buying decision.
What Are Standard Headphones?
Standard headphones are those you see that usually you usually connect to a device with a wire and a headphone jack.
In order for the user to hear audio with standard headphones, the digital signal needs to be converted into an analog signal. This is done with a chip called the digital to audio converter (DAC).
After it passes the DAC, it’s a raw electrical current. This raw electrical current is then converted into audio by the speaker of the headphones.
The Benefits of Standard Headphones
One of the biggest benefits of standard headphones is ubiquity. They’ve been a standard for decades. The mass majority of portable devices still use the 3.5mm headphone jack, so it’s not hard finding devices you can use standard headphones with. Even though a number of smartphone makers have removed the headphone jack from their phones, most phones still retain it.
Standard headphones get their power from the device itself, which eliminates the need for batteries. Since standard headphones don’t use the charging port to transfer the audio, you can use them while charging your phone.
The technology in standard headphones is pretty run-of-the-mill, which means that it’s not hard to find really cheap ones at discount stores.
The Drawbacks of Standard Headphones
Standard headphones rely on the DAC that’s on the actual device. This means that if the DAC on the device is bad, then the audio you hear is going to be bad.
Higher-end headphones require more power to get a full sound. Cheaper devices can’t typically supply the kind of power needed to power the headphones, leading to an overall weaker sound.
What Are USB Headphones?
USB headphones work the same way as standard headphones. The only difference is that the signal doesn’t get converted on the device.
The Benefits of USB Headphones
One benefit of USB audio is that the DAC is on the actual headphones. This is good because if you buy headphones with a good DAC, you can hear high-quality audio—no matter what device you’re listening from.
Along with standard headphones, USB headphones don’t need any sort of batteries to operate. There are a lot of great USB headphones on the market, such as these USB-C headphones we’ve listed.
The Drawbacks of USB Headphones
Since there isn’t a dedicated port for USB headphones, they have to use the charging port on the device. People who use these types of headphones will have to choose between charging their device and listening to content, which can be frustrating.
If people want to do both at the same time, they will need to shell out money for a dongle. That’s just another piece of hardware that the user will have to keep track of.
What Are Bluetooth Headphones?
Instead of using wires, Bluetooth headphones communicate using electromagnetic waves. These waves transfer a compressed digital signal to the actual headphones. The signal gets decoded in headphones and is then converted to sound.
The Benefits of Bluetooth Headphones
The main benefit of Bluetooth headphones is the fact that they are wireless. The majority of people who buy Bluetooth headphones do so because they don’t want to deal with cords of any kind.
Much like in the case with USB headphones, the DAC is onboard, which means that the audio quality is not tied to the device. However, like in the case with standard headphones, you can listen to your content while charging the phone.
Bluetooth headphones also have more control over the content you’re listening to. Most Bluetooth headphones have the ability to play, pause, restart tracks, skip tracks, and summon digital assistants.
The Drawbacks of Bluetooth Headphones
The sound that Bluetooth headphones produce is typically lower quality than the wired headphones. More data can be sent through a physical wire per second than through the air.
Since Bluetooth headphones don’t get their power from the actual device, they require batteries. Bluetooth headphones also lack the “plug and play” aspect of wired headphones. They need to be paired with the device, which is just another step between the user and their music.
So, Which Headphones Are for Who?
When it comes to headphones, it’s not about which ones are best. It’s about which ones are best for YOU.
Let’s take a look at which ones you might want to consider buying.
Standard headphones are more popular among audiophiles. Since the 3.5mm headphone jack is a standard, it’s easier to find high-quality audio equipment to listen to high-quality audio. Audiophiles usually buy external DACs and amps to augment their listening experience. You’ll have an easier time finding equipment that uses standard headphones.
Standard headphones are also for people who like things to be simple. No pairing with devices or dongles; just plugging in and listening.
USB headphones are for people who want to guarantee that they have control over the audio that they hear, no matter what device it is. They also just want to plug in their headphones and listen to music. If you get USB headphones, you just need to come to terms with the fact that you won’t be able to charge your device and listen to music.
Bluetooth headphones are for people who aren’t really concerned with getting the highest quality sound. They’re good with sacrificing audio quality for the sake of more flexibility. They want to be able to move around without being tied down by a wire.
Bluetooth users also like the convenience of being able to have more control over their music using their headphones.
Picking the Best Headphones: There Isn’t Really a Winner
It seems like there’s not much of a difference between the different types of headphones. There are, however, certain functional and lifestyle differences that could mean the difference between a good listening experience and a bad one.
With the knowledge of what makes these technologies different, it should now be easier to choose your next pair of headphones and upgrade your listening experience.
Cut through the jargon and learn what the key headphone specifications actually mean (and why—or if—they matter).
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