State of Wireless Earbuds


*UPDATE below*

With the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack in the iPhone 7, it has resurged the interest in wireless headphones. I have been using many kinds of wireless headphones since 2007, perhaps I can offer some insight on what worked and what has not. I will focus on lightweight earbuds as the needs differ so vastly from full size headphones.

Monitoring audio with my portable setup on a shoot in a rural Belize.

Monitoring audio with my portable setup on a shoot in rural Belize.

Background

wirevo-transmitterAs a videographer, I always have my headphones tethered to my camera to monitor sounds. After many encounters of almost dragging my entire setup down every time I step away from the camera, I decided to venture into wireless headphones. Long story short: nothing matches the reliability and quality of wired headphones. However, if convenience is your top priority then read on.

I started with the Logitech FreePulse and over the years went through the WiRevo S300, Motorola S7HD and S305, and various not-so-memorable models. The forementioned performed admirably until their batteries eventually gave out. None were truly wireless, all had a cable connecting the two ear pieces and you were basically trading the headphone cable for USB charging cable(s) in order to enjoy your music for 6-8 hours at a time.

Enter Truly Wireless Earbuds

First Bragi introduce the Dash earbuds/activity tracker on Kickstarter follow by a slew of others. They usually featured two individual ear pieces and a case for charging. They range from $50 for the generic low end to $300 for full feature earbuds. The concern with most of these are the battery life, which usually tops out at about three hours. They compensate this by including a charging case, but that is one extra thing to carry. In the truly wireless category, the ones that stand out are the Rowkin Bit for its charging case which doubles as a power bank for your phone (albeit small one at 2100 mAh) and the Bragi Dash as the only one designed with water sports in mind. By that I mean not only does it have a waterproof rating of IPX7, it also has 4GB of internal memory because Bluetooth will not maintain its connection under water.

More on Waterproofiness

Many headphones are advertised these days as waterproof, defined as fully submersible, when they are actually water resistant, as in raindrops falling on your head. That is why you need at least a rating of IPX7 or higher. As previously mentioned, internal memory is also crucial if you want tunes under water. If truly wireless is not a requirement, then there are a few models equipped with both bluetooth and internal memory: Sony NWZ-WS613, XXY H20, Megafeis E350, and Kuai. The latter also includes fitness tracker.

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wo waterproof headphones/MP3 players: XXY H20 and Megafeis E350.

Microphone Quality

They are all dismal but it is not the headphone manufacturers’ fault. Blame it on Bluetooth with their low bit rate mono transmission. If call quality is of the utmost importance, I would recommend sticking with wired headphones for calls and adding a Bluetooth receiver for other occasions. There are some earbuds with detachable cables so you can swap Bluetooth for wired when necessary. SmartOmi offers a Bluetooth earbuds with an additional wired attachment which seems to offer the best of both worlds but I have yet to test it myself.

Universal Language Translator

The prospects of a headphone acting as a translator is as intriguing as it is skeptical. Waverly Lab’s Pilot, Human Sound and Mymanu are all crowd funded projects hoping to turn Trekkie Sci-Fi into reality. As a frequent traveler and resident in the heart of the melting pot that is the San Francisco Bay Area, I am cautiously optimistic about this. The big question is will this requires both a parties to be equipped with a translator? Or will it have a loud enough speaker to translate for both parties? I have used translator apps on my phone with mixed success. At the moment it is not ready for real time conversation but I am looking forward on what’s to come.

Current Setup

mocreo-sony-q68wlFor a few years now I have been using a Mocreo Bluetooth Transmitter either with my compact retractable cable Sony MDR-Q68LW headphones or professional Koss Pro DJ-200 with detachable cable. It gives me the best of both worlds. I can have wireless when I want and wired when I need, like when the battery dies or air travel. It is far from perfect but it is good enough for the time being.

Keep checking back here as I will update when my current setup changes or if I review any of the suggested earbuds. Have a suggestion for another solution, I would like to hear it. Please leave a comment below.

*UPDATE*

I have since switched to using the Bragi Dash. In short, it has came a long way since the Kickstarter launch. While the technology is still lacking in some aspects, namely Bluetooth, I found some mod and tip to make it work for me. Link to the full review below:

How I Got the Bragi Dash to Work for Me

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