Do you want to buy new Bluetooth Earphones, either ‘earphones’ or ‘earbuds’? Then you have a choice of thousands of products. To make this choice easier, you can search for certain properties.
On this page, you will find all the important features that you can pay attention to when making your choice, including all physical properties, functional properties and performance (sound quality).
10 Tips on How to Buy Your First Bluetooth Headphones
Type of Earbuds: Wired or Wireless (Bluetooth)?
The first feature to think about is whether you want to buy wired earbuds, fully wireless earbuds, or Bluetooth rear-threaded earbuds. All three options have their own pros and cons.
Wired earbuds will require you to connect to an audio output of your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or another device with wired. The vast majority of wired earbuds have a 3.5 mm jack connection.
Because some smartphones no longer have a 3.5 mm audio output, there are now wired earbuds with a USB-C connection and earbuds with a lightning connection. You can connect it to the same input as the charger of your smartphone. The disadvantage of these connections is that this way, you cannot charge your smartphone simultaneously and listen to music.
The main disadvantage of wired earbuds is that the wire can get in the way. Especially with mobile use, such as when exercising, a wire can be irritating. This way, it will always move with you, and it can get stuck behind something, causing the earbuds to fall out of your ear. As a result, the wearing comfort of wired earphones is low.
Another disadvantage of wired earbuds is that the wire itself is vulnerable. The thread of many earbuds will stop working after a few months due to wire breakage. Therefore, some high-end earbuds have a loose wire to disconnect so that you can replace a damaged wire.
If the earbuds fall out of your ear, you do have the advantage that you don’t lose them immediately. Because of the wire, they are still attached and to your device. The advantage of the wire is that you are less likely to lose them than Bluetooth earbuds.
Wired earbuds also have the advantage of not being dependent on a battery. As long as your smartphone, tablet, or laptop has enough battery, you can play music. Therefore, it cannot happen that your earbuds are empty, and you do not have to charge them all the time.
Another advantage of wired earbuds is that this connection makes it possible to send high-quality sound files(without compression). For example, the audio signal from the source can be sent to the earbuds in full form. The advantage of this is that earbuds with excellent sound quality can also convert all this information into a very detailed sound. This difference will only be noticeable with perfect (and expensive) earbuds if you listen concentrated.
What is a clearly noticeable advantage is the better sound quality of the microphone. With wired earbuds, this does not suffer from compression. That is why the microphone sound on wired earbuds is often considerably better than with wireless variants.
It is not (yet) possible to send a full sound signal of high quality over Bluetooth. It is first made smaller (compression), where some detail is lost. That’s why the best-wired earbuds have a more detailed sound than Bluetooth earbuds.
Fully wireless Bluetooth earbuds
Bluetooth is used to send music from a device to your earphones wirelessly. The lack of wire provides the main advantages. There is no wire in the way with wireless use, and therefore the earphones will fall out of your ear less often. This also saves the thread of wired earphones from being un but to the knot.
If a Bluetooth earbud falls out of your ear, the chance of losing it is higher. Since it does not stick to a wire, it is immediately on the ground. Also, due to the small size, it will sometimes be difficult to find.
Because you are no longer attached to the source device due to the lack of a wire, you also have more freedom of movement. Most Bluetooth earplugs have a range of at least 10 meters. This way, you don’t have to keep your smartphone with you all the time.
This is also very useful when exercising. For example, in the gym, you no longer have a smartphone or MP3 player in your pocket when performing your exercises.
A disadvantage of Bluetooth earphones is that they are more expensive. To work wirelessly, they need a Bluetooth chip, which makes them more expensive to make.
Another disadvantage is that the Bluetooth earphones can drain the battery. When the battery is dead, you simply can’t listen to music anymore. Although the battery life of Bluetooth earphones is getting better and better, it is still very annoying once it is empty.
Usually, these earphones come with a charging case. This one has an internal battery. By placing the earphones here, they will recharge between listening sessions. There is a USB connection on this charging case to recharge it.
Also, only compressed audio can be sent over Bluetooth. This means that some detail may be lost compared to uncompressed audio. This difference is only noticeable compared to high-quality wired earbuds if you listen to concentrated.
However, the microphone’s sound quality in wireless earbuds due to compression is often a lot less good.
Partially Wireless Earbuds (Bluetooth)
There’s a third type of earbuds. These are Bluetooth earbuds, where the two earbuds are connected with a wire, but not to your device. You wear the thread between these earbuds behind your neck.
As a result, these earphones do offer a few important advantages of wireless earbuds. For example, you don’t have to have your smartphone in your pocket to listen to music. However, the thread on your neck will still reduce wearing comfort compared to fully wireless earplugs.
However, there are several advantages. Because the two earphones are connected with a wire, you are less likely to lose them. There is also a ‘console’ on the wire, with several buttons on it. This often allows you to control these earphones for more functions of fully wireless earbuds. This often makes it possible to adjust the volume.
There is also often room for a large battery in this console. Therefore, the battery life of these earphones is often higher than that of fully wireless earbuds.
Unlike fully wireless earphones, these earphones do not have a charging case. Usually, there is a USB port for charging on the console on the wire. The disadvantage of this is that you can’t recharge these earphones in between.
On-ear (earbuds) vs in-ear vs bone-conduction?
Both wired and wireless earphones are available in three different versions: on-ear, in-ear, and bone-conduction.
On-ear earbuds, or earbuds, place in your auricle, against the ear canal. The main advantage of these earphones is better wearing comfort. However, because the earphones do not close, you will hear more ambient noise with on-ear earphones. They are also often less secure and are more likely to fall out of your ear.
Due to these disadvantages, there are few on-ear Bluetooth earbuds. Yet it is precisely the most popular Bluetooth earbuds worldwide, the Airpods, on-ear earbuds.
In-ear earbuds have a silicone cap, which allows you to clamp them into your ear canal. This has multiple advantages. Because these earphones clamp so tight, they’re better stuck. That’s why they’re less likely to fall out of your ear. Also, this ensures a good closure. This blocks more ambient noise. As a result, you have less noise, and you hear the music better.
The main disadvantage is the wearing comfort. Because you have to clamp these earphones in your ear canal, it is clear to feel that you are wearing them. However, over time you will get used to this feeling.
Bone-conduction earbuds are earbuds that transmit vibrations to a piece of bone near your ear. The inner ear also perceives these vibrations as sound. The advantage of bone-conduction is that it keeps your ear canal free so that you can still hear all the ambient noise well.
Because you are so better informed about your surroundings, this makes these earbuds safer than on-ear and in-ear earbuds, especially with activities such as cycling and running or other ways of participating in traffic.
The main disadvantage of bone conduction is that the sound quality is not nearly as good as traditional earbuds. Mainly bass sound is less likely to pass through on the inner ear due to bone conduction.
However, bone-conduction earbuds can be a good outcome for people with hearing damage to the middle ear. By vibrating the bone, the sound is transferred to the inner ear, bypassing the middle ear.
Wearing comfort and design
The wearing comfort depends largely on the aforementioned properties. For example, wireless earphones have the best wearing comfort, followed by wireless earphones with a back wire and then by wired earbuds.
Because on-ear earphones simply rest on the auricle, they better wear comfort than in-ear earphones, which clamp into your ear canal.
But in addition to these properties, there are other differences. For example, lighter weight and a smaller size ensure that the earphones are less noticeable and better-wearing comfort.
In terms of design, there are two ways in which the earphones are better kept in place. Many Bluetooth earphones will stay in place when walking and cycling. But earbuds that also need to stay seated when running will have to be even better stuck.
For example, some earbuds, sometimes optional, have silicone hooks that allow them to clamp better in the auricle, and therefore stay in place better. For example, the JBL Reflect Flow.
There are also Bluetooth earbuds with a plastic hook, which you place behind your auricle. This way, the earbud continues to clamp well. An example of earbuds with that design is the Beats Powerbeats Pro.
Other external properties of earbuds can also differ considerably. This mainly concerns personal preference.
Controls: buttons, touch, voice assistant?
How to control the sound of the earbuds is also an important feature. The audio that comes out of the earbuds can be controlled at the sound source, such as your smartphone; below information about the possible (additional) options to operate earbuds.
Many cheap, wired earbuds have no built-in control at all. To adjust the audio, you can only use the connected device. The disadvantage of this is that, for example, you will have to take your smartphone out of your pocket every time.
There are also earbuds with a console with buttons on the wire. This occurs with wired earbuds and with Bluetooth earbuds with rear thread. Usually, on this console, there is at least a pause/play button and volume buttons. The advantage of this is that you don’t have to take your smartphone out of your pocket to control the audio. There is also a disadvantage; the console with the buttons can reduce wearing comfort. For example, if you use these earphones when running, this console with buttons will always tap against your body at every step.
Many wireless earbuds have pushbuttons on the earphones themselves. This also makes the operation easier. In this case, you don’t even have to be near your smartphone to control the audio. However, there is a disadvantage of these pushbuttons. With in-ear earphones, you will also push the earpiece further into the ear canal when pressing the button. This is uncomfortable and changes the connection of the earpiece to the ear canal.
Therefore, touch control on the earphones is the best option. With a light touch on the earpiece, you can operate it. This way, you will not push these further into the ear canal. It is often also possible to adjust the function of different touches on the touch sensor with an accompanying app. Also, Bluetooth earphones with touch control allow you to control the music without being near your smartphone or tablet.
The last control option is the voice assistant. With the voice assistant, you can control the music with voice commands. To make this possible, the earphones will need to have a built-in microphone. The two most widely used voice assistants are Google Assistant and Siri (from Apple). For example, you can use the voice assistant to pause the music or adjust the volume. But the big advantage of a voice assistant is that you can also use features that you could never put under a button. For example, you can ask to play a certain song. With the voice assistant on Bluetooth earphones, you don’t have to be near your smartphone, and you also keep your hands free.
The voice assistant is usually combined with another operation form, such as pushbuttons on the earphones or touch control.
Battery or battery: battery life and charging time
Bluetooth earbuds need a battery to play sound. Therefore, the battery life of the earbuds is also an important feature.
Currently, the average battery life of fully wireless Bluetooth earphones is about 3-4 hours. Because many Bluetooth earbuds are made as small and light as possible, there are currently few Bluetooth earbuds with considerably longer battery life. A large battery will make the earphones bigger and heavier, and therefore hurt the wearing comfort.
Do you use earphones while exercising or on the go? Then a battery life of 3-4 hours is probably long enough. Fully wireless earbuds usually come with a charging case, which immediately recharges the earphones when you put them in there.
These charging cases usually have a built-in battery. With this battery, the earphones can often be recharged for about 10 to 30 hours of extra listening time.
Bluetooth earbuds with a rear wire often have a longer battery life, usually from about 6-8 hours. The disadvantage of these earbuds is that they do not have a charging case and cannot be recharged in between.
Do you want to use your earbuds often or for a long time? Then good battery life is an important feature. A fast charging time of the earphones themselves and the charging case is also important.
Often the battery life and charging time are specified by the manufacturer. The actual charging time may differ from this. This may be, for example, because of the volume with which you listen to music. Want to get a good idea of the actual battery life and charging time? Check-in reviews of Bluetooth earbuds if this has been tested.
Microphone function and quality
Many earbuds include a built-in microphone. Connect your earbuds to a smartphone with a built-in microphone, making it possible to make hands-free calls. The built-in microphone of the earphones is then used when making calls.
The sound quality of the microphones is also important. When you call, you want the best possible sound quality to be understood well and clearly.
Wired earbuds often have better microphone quality. Because wireless earbuds apply compression, the sound quality becomes less good.
The built-in microphone also allows a voice assistant to be supported for voice control (see earlier).
Earbuds with Active Noise Control (ANC) technology suppress ambient noise. The built-in microphones first perceive the ambient noise. After that, the earbuds send the matching anti-noise. The anti-noise will thus partially eliminate the ambient noise.
Active Noise Control works best with constant tones, such as noise. That is why this technology is often referred to in Dutch as ‘Active noise cancellation.
ANC is therefore good at suppressing, for example, the sound in an aeroplane, a fan, or an air conditioner. Spontaneous sounds without a fixed frequency cannot be filtered out properly by ANC. In the case of loose sounds, it is impossible to predict when they occur, so the correct counter-noise cannot be sent in time.
The big advantage of ANC is that it allows you to suppress disturbing ambient noise. This is also possible if you do not listen to music. So you can only use the earphones to provide more silence. If you do play music, you can hear this better in a noisy environment. The advantage is that you don’t have to increase the volume of the music either.
A disadvantage of noise cancelling is that it costs extra power. As a result, the battery of wireless noise-cancelling earbuds is drained faster. Another disadvantage is that space is needed for applying ANC. As a result, earbuds with ANC are often larger and heavier. This reduces the wearing comfort of these earphones and makes it easier for them to fall out of your ear. Earbuds with ANC are also considerably more expensive than earbuds without ANC.
You can also pay attention to the waterproofing of the earbuds. The advantage of waterproof earphones is that you can use them in the rain and continue to work if they accidentally get wet in another way.
IP codes indicate the degree of waterproofing. A higher number indicates higher waterproofing.
Latency is the delay between the source and the sound, such as your smartphone and the moment it plays. If your earphones have high latency, you will notice that the image and sound are out of sync.
Wired earbuds often have the lowest latency. With Bluetooth earbuds, there can be a lot of difference in the amount of latency. If you want a low latency with Bluetooth earphones, make sure that they support aptX. This is the most widely used audio codec that ensures low latency with Bluetooth earphones.
Some Bluetooth earbuds have an accompanying app with additional features—for example, an equalizer or the ability to adjust the earbuds’ touch control.
Sound quality according to tests and reviews
Of course, the sound quality of earbuds is essential. But that is also the most difficult trait to choose from. You will have to assume reviews and tests for sound quality. Unlike soundbars and headphones, earbuds are usually not testable and compared in a store either.
Therefore, you will mainly have to assume online test results and reviews. The sound quality can be expressed in different properties. Learn more about these properties below.
Frequency range and frequency response
Sometimes the frequency range of the earphones is specified. This is expressed in Hz. You can see which tones the earbuds can play—for example, 40 Hz – 20 kHz. A low tone, or a bass tone, has a low frequency. Earphones with a range of 20 Hz – 20 kHz can therefore achieve lower tones.
It is more important whether the earbuds also display both low, middle, and treble, all with equal volume. If not, the audio will have a different sound than intended. This property is called the frequency response. This is a trait you can test with earbuds.
Whether the earbuds make a balanced sound, you can be the easiest on a so-called frequency response graph. This graph shows the different frequencies and the deviation from the dB’s sound level. The smaller the deviation, the better and more balanced the sound sounds. You can also see if lows are completely lost and from what frequency.
With this graph, you get a lot of information about the performance of earbuds at a glance. Although there are more properties where you can express the sound quality, this is the most useful in practice.
Reviews and experiences
There are not always tests with the frequency response. You can, therefore, rely on (customer) reviews. You can find these reviews on review sites (such as waitasec. in!) and on pages of webshops.
The price of earbuds can vary considerably. For example, the cheapest earbuds cost only a few euros, and the most expensive earbuds cost a few hundred euros. Wired earbuds are, on average, the cheapest. Bluetooth earbuds with a rear thread are almost three times more expensive, but fully wireless earbuds are even more expensive.
According to Bol.com, these are the average prices:
Fully wireless earbuds with features such as touch control and ANC are even more expensive. If you have a certain budget in mind, you can use the information from this buying guide to find earbuds that fit your budget.
You can also find good earbuds in different price ranges in the article best wireless earbuds’. Some of the earbuds mentioned there had been chosen for good value for money.