Apple Redefine Bluetooth Headphones

Bluetooth headphones have improved a lot over the years, to the point that the traditional complaint over sound quality is no longer applicable. But it’s still been a bit of a hassle to use them regularly. You have to keep them charged up, and when you want to switch devices, you have to disconnect the first, and then connect with the other. It always takes a bit of juggling around.

With the new technology being introduced in the new AirPods as well as several new Beats models, Apple are changing all that. Instant connection and switching between devices, excellent battery life and an elegant storage / charging solution raise the bar.

Whether the AirPods are as practical as they are stylish remains to be seen. For me, I wouldn’t be comfortable walking around with them because they are likely to fall out of my ears. And if they do, there’s no tether to stop them falling straight to the ground. But for use in sedentary situations, they should be ideal.

The other great benefit of these devices is the rapid charging facility. 5 minutes of charging for 3 hours of listening almost entirely eliminates the penalty of forgetting to charge them the night before.

One issue may be the fact that Apple appear to be going even further down the proprietary rabbit hole, firstly by introducing lightning for wired headphones, and then also introducing a Bluetooth quick connection protocol which uses iCloud as an integral part.

The lightning issue sounds bad, but when you consider that many headphones now come with completely user replaceable cables, we could just see manufacturers selling headphones with whichever cable you wish to use, whether that be lightning, USB-C or an old school 3.5mm jack. And then if you want to buy additional cables for other devices, you could. It’s not ideal, but we already have a similar situation when it comes to different inline remotes for android and iOS devices. Bose for example does this.

As far as the quick connection method, Apple should work with others to enable these products to function in a similar way across all devices. At a bare minimum, we should see the bulk of the smart features as possible transfer over when paired with android devices. It would be a disappointment if they just acted like current Bluetooth headphones.

Proprietary systems are fine for the most part, but in some things, you need to have open standards. Wireless headphone technology is one of these areas. Just like Electric Car Charging, which I’ll get into in another post.

One thing we can definitively say following the Apple Event, is that the 3.5mm Jack is done and dusted, and the stage is now set for Bluetooth headphones to dominate the market in the years to come.


Becoming a Headphones Connoisseur

Up until recently I’ve basically had no headphones apart from the standard issue Apple ones which fall apart for me after a while. They do fit to an extent, but they can fall out often and aren’t exactly comfortable to wear.

The only other pair I’ve owned for a long time are a pair of Sony “cans” which are really big, but are extremely comfortable and great for using with a computer, or for that matter, with any device at home. I had totally forgotten I had them after many years of them being hidden away, so when I found them it was like getting a present. For going out they’re not so great because of their size and they can also drain the power of the device more than other types, or so I’ve read. I’m yet to come to that conclusion myself but battery life is important so it’s probably wise to do what you can to not waste it.

After my Apple ear buds literally fell to pieces, I had to get a new pair of smaller headphones / ear buds to replace them. Similarly to the large over the head model I had, I discovered that I had another pair of in-ear clip on headphones, also made by Sony. I’d also had these for many years and forgotten about them. These are decent for quiet places and jogging / running because they are extremely unlikely to come off by accident. If you run in a place where you’re going to have to deal with background noise, for example, by a road then these will not be very suitable.

When running it can be tough to keep concentrating on music or a podcast that’s playing as you go even in a quiet place, but because of the fact that the earphones didn’t point directly towards my ear canal, they had to be turned up louder than I would like. When you add in the fact that they don’t block out much sound at all, they are awful when used near traffic. Just one or two cars going past near you is enough for you to miss what’s being said in a podcast at that moment. You could turn up the volume, but that isn’t advisable, especially with this particular type as you can risk damaging your hearing and it’s not worth the risk.

I then turned my attention to another type altogether, in-ear headphones. These are similar to ear-buds in design. However, instead of simply sitting in the groves of your outer ear, they actually plug directly into your ear canal. This is to provide 3 main benefits: better noise cancellation, the ability to use lower volumes and a better fit with less chance of falling out of the ear.

I opted for the Ultimate-Ears Metro-Fi 170 model. They are at the lower end of the Ultimate-Ears line of products by Logitech, but they should be capable of much more than the standard Apple ones. My issues with these particular ones were mainly regarding the fit of them. I tried all 3 sized ear plugs that they provide. The medium ones were the only ones that fit well. While they do block out sound well, I couldn’t seem to get them to stay put for long enough where I would want to take them out myself. It was really frustrating to be able to feel them slowly loosening as I was moving around.

I should also mention that when I first used the headphones, the idea of putting them into my ear canals wasn’t that enticing, but I wanted to try it to see how it felt. The first couple of times did feel uncomfortable and I felt like I had made a mistake, but I later realised that I was putting them in at the wrong angle which was why it hurt more than it should have done. After that, and getting used to having them deeper in my ear, it actually feels very comfortable and you even forget you have them in after a while.

At this point you would be forgiven for thinking I had enough headphones now, and that I couldn’t possibly make use of more. I thought so too until I saw a special combo deal on Skullcandy headphones. The pack comprises of a pair of Lowriders which are their on-ear models, and also a pair of Ink’d in-ear ones for a very good price.

The on-ear lowriders remind me of the type of headphones you used to get bundled with cassette and portable CD players before ear-buds caught on in popularity. These though are an evolution of those dated designs and are very comfortable and practical for walking as they are more compact than the larger over-ear styles. They have great sound and are pretty comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. They are quite fragile looking though so care should be taken when handling them when they’re not being worn.

The Ink’d are very similar to the Ultimate-Ears. They sound similar to me and have similar noise cancellation properties too. However, the I’nk’d ones seem to fit better to me. I’m not sure if it’s because of the shape of the silicone inserts, the material of them or a combination of both, but they certainly don’t fall out as much. I can go for an hour long walk and not even think about them falling out for the entire time. They’re fantastic and I highly recommend them. They were cheap too, as they really only came as a pack-in with the lowriders, which I also am a big fan of.

Skullcandy are doing a great job at not only making old-school style headphones cool again with their designs and extreme sports links, but also they back up their looks with their great sound and build quality at a really affordable price.

All of the headphones I’ve mentioned are great in different ways. It depends where you are and how active you’re being in a lot of cases. It also depends a lot on your ears. I personally prefer the Ink’d headphones over the Metro-Fi 170 ones but people with different shaped ears may have different results. In the end, you’re going to have to try a bunch of different brands and styles out in order to find the perfect ones for you, or you could get lucky on the first try.