What Is The Difference Between Wireless and Bluetooth Headphones?

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Updated June 27, 2022

Investing in a pair of headphones isn’t as simple as just grabbing a pair off the rack. The best headphones are often wireless, but they’re not necessarily Bluetooth, and the differences can be significant. So, if you’re wondering “what is the difference between wireless and Bluetooth headphones,” you’re not alone.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Bluetooth headphones are easy to use and compatible with most Bluetooth-enabled devices
  • Unlike NFC headphones, truly wireless headphones have a superior range compared to Bluetooth but are generally only compatible with same-brand devices.
  • Bluetooth uses radio waves to transmit data, while wireless headphones use both radio and infrared for superior transfer speeds and range.

While learning about this, you may also want to look into what monitor headphones are. You may also be interested in learning about headphone amps and when you may need one.

Insider Tip

Bluetooth headphones have a much shorter range than wireless headphones but much higher compatibility across devices.

Comparing Wireless and Bluetooth Headphones

It’s a common mistake for consumers to assume that Bluetooth and wireless are the same things when it comes to audio devices. However, this isn’t the case. While Bluetooth devices are indeed wireless, wireless devices aren’t necessarily Bluetooth devices.

What Is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is a proprietary technology that allows data to be transferred short distances (up to 30 feet) between two devices using radio waves. For it to work, both devices need to have Bluetooth hardware and software built into them. Sometimes such devices are called “Bluetooth-enabled,” However, if a device uses Bluetooth or has it as an option, it will always be mentioned in any product description.

Bluetooth is common and excellent for short-distance use like in headphones or speakers, but it’s only one kind of wireless technology. Bluetooth devices are generally not described by manufacturers as “wireless” if the only wireless tech the device uses is Bluetooth.

What Does “Wireless” Mean?

“Wireless” technology in headphones refers to hardware and firmware in a device that uses both radio waves and infrared to transmit audio signals. While Bluetooth headphones have a range of about 30 feet, wireless headphones combine radio and infrared transmission to give a range of up to 300 feet.

Additionally, while Bluetooth and wireless headphones have lower audio quality than wired headphones, the audio quality of wireless headphones is usually somewhat superior to that of Bluetooth headphones since their increased signal strength allows for streaming of more data faster.

Price & Ease of Use

Bluetooth headphones usually come at a lower price point than wireless models, owing to their significantly shorter range and slightly lower audio quality. However, they’re also generally “plug ‘n play” and very easy to use, with wide compatibility across devices. However, sometimes Bluetooth headphones can have repetitive beeping problems and connectivity issues.

Wireless devices have ten times the range and better sound quality and thus are generally more expensive. While they’re usually not especially difficult to get up and running, their use of two different signal types means they can sometimes be a little more complicated, with less compatibility across devices.

Warning

Compared to wired models, you will notice a loss in audio quality in both Bluetooth and wireless headphones because of data compression.

F.A.Q.S

Which are more compatible with most devices, wireless or Bluetooth headphones?

When it comes to compatibility and connectivity, Bluetooth headphones tend to have a bit of an edge over wireless headphones. Most Bluetooth headphones will be compatible and have “plug ‘n play” functionality with most Bluetooth-enabled devices, while most wireless headphones will only be compatible with devices from the same brand or the same complimentary model.


Is there a sound difference between wireless and Bluetooth headphones?

While there is generally a technical difference in sound quality between wireless and Bluetooth models, it’s not a difference most people will notice. However, audiophiles may be able to hear it, and as the technology improves, the difference will likely become more noticeable even to casual consumers.


Is there a difference in battery life between wireless and Bluetooth headphones?

Because Bluetooth uses only one signal type (radio), it requires smaller hardware to function. It also uses less power to operate, meaning battery or per-charge usage is generally better than “true” wireless headphones. Again, however, technology is improving, with some pricier wireless models capable of up to 10 hours of use per charge.


STAT: Bluetooth 5.0 has been shown to be as much as 2.6 times faster at streaming data than older Bluetooth versions. (source)