Updated

Our Wireless Score and Tests
Headphones

What it is: Headphones that offer a cable-free listening experience over a wireless network, typically via Bluetooth or radio frequency.
When it matters: If you don't want to be limited by the length of an audio cable. This means having the freedom to move around in your home or office with a much greater range than an audio cable could provide, especially, if the Bluetooth source is heavy or difficult to carry.

The term Wireless describes headphones that offer a cable-free listening experience. They receive and reproduce audio over a wireless network, typically via Bluetooth but also through Radio Frequencies for home theater headphones.

Wireless headphones offer a lot of range from the audio source. This means you can listen to your music or movie while having the freedom to move around in your environment and even continue listening in another room. They also free you from the hassle of cable management, preventing the headphones from being yanked off your head, because the audio cable got hooked or tangled on something. A good wireless headphone should be easy to pair with your devices, have a decent wireless range and maintain a strong and stable connection, without much latency, even when obstructed by walls.

Our wireless test measures the direct line of sight and obstructed range that these headphones provide, as well as the type or version of the wireless connection. We also measure the latency for the default SBC Bluetooth connection as well as additional codecs like aptX and aptX (low Latency).  Lastly, we check how easy it is to pair with regular and NFC-enabled mobile devices.

When it matters

Playing audio over a wireless network allows the listener, to not be limited by the length of a cable. For example, you could leave your Bluetooth enabled phone, to charge in another room and still listen to your music or take calls, while walking about in your home or office. It's even more important for the listeners that use their headphones with a source that's difficult to move, like a PC or TV.  However, depending on your listening habits and headphone choice this might not be a significant feature for you.

Our tests

We measure the range that the wireless headphones are capable of, when in direct line of sight and when the Bluetooth source is obstructed. We also take into account, the simplicity of the pairing procedure, and the latency of the wireless transmission.

Type

What it is: The type and version of the wireless network, the headphones use to connect to the audio source. This could either be Bluetooth or radio frequency.
When it matters: The Bluetooth version will determine how compatible the headphones are with your Bluetooth enabled devices. Typically, newer Bluetooth versions are backward compatible with older ones but may lack the additional features that more recent Bluetooth protocols provide.

The type of wireless connection established between the audio source and the headphones. This is typically done via Bluetooth, but some home theater headphones have a stand that broadcast a specific radio frequency,  which the headphones are tuned to. Bluetooth versions also vary from headphone to headphone and come with a suite of features that improves the data rate of transmission, battery life or adds additional codecs to reduces lag and latency.

SBC Latency

Bluetooth Latency Test 
Set-up

What it is: The latency for the default sub-band coding of most Bluetooth headphones.
When it matters: When watching videos a high latency can cause sync issues between the images you see and the audio you hear.
Good value: 170ms or less
Noticeable difference: 15ms
SBC latency refers to the default sub-band coding that most wireless headphones use when connecting via Bluetooth. This typically occurs if the headphones do not have any additional codecs like aptX or AAC. It also happens when the codec is not supported by both Bluetooth devices.

We measure this latency using a Bluetooth 4.0 dongle that does not have aptX or AAC. The dongle is then connected to a sound card, which supports ASIO (to limit sync issues) and transmits a click-track generated by a digital audio workstation (DAW). The headphones are recorded through a mic that is fed back into the sound card, creating a loop that shows when the audio signal was sent and when it was received in the DAW software. This is done three times and then averaged, to give the final SBC latency number.

aptX Latency

What it is: An audio coding algorithm (Codec) that improves bit rate efficiency. It reduces latency and improves sound quality over Bluetooth.
When it matters: For better sound quality if your often streaming music over Bluetooth. Also it slightly improves latency when watching videos with wireless headphones.
Good value: 130ms or less
Noticeable difference: 15ms
AptX is a proprietary codec by CSR that improves audio quality and bit rate efficiency. This means headphones with aptX sound a bit better and less compressed when playing audio wirelessly. They also have a bit less latency although not as much as with the dedicated aptX(Low Latency) codec.

We measure aptX with a similar set up as that of the SBC sub-band coding latency. However, in this case, we use a Bluetooth 4.0 dongle with aptX support and measure the feedback delay. This means we measure when the headphones receive the input signal and compare it to when the signal was sent. This test is also done three times and average to get the final aptX latency number.

aptX(LL) Latency

What it is: Low latency variation of aptX that significantly reduces sync issues between video and sound when using Bluetooth headphones.
When it matters: When watching videos or gaming latency is a lot more noticeable than just listening to music.
Good value: 50ms or less
Noticeable difference: 5ms
AptX Low Latency is the fastest of the aptX codecs designed to reduce sync issues when watching videos or gaming. This codec usually performs much better than the standard aptX codec in terms of latency but does not improve sound quality.

Like the SBC and aptX latency test, a click track/input signal is sent to the headphones wirelessly, which is then recorded to determine the delay. For this test we use a Bluetooth 4.1 dongle with aptX and aptX(LL) support and measure the latency with the DAW software three times to get the final aptX (LL) Latency number.

Obstructed Range

What it is: The range that the wireless headphones can reach before dropping any audio when the Bluetooth source was placed in another room.
When it matters: If you can't or prefer not to carry your Bluetooth source on you, while listening to your audio in an indoor environment. Although, the obstructed wireless range will slightly depend on your home or office layout.
Good value: >35ft
Noticeable difference: 5ft

This is the headphones' range when the Bluetooth source is obstructed by walls and has been placed in another room. We test for this by connecting the headphones to a Bluetooth 4.2 enabled phone and place the phone in the furthest of the four rooms we currently have in our office. We then evaluate the distance with a measuring wheel, going from room to room, until the wireless connection is too weak to reliably, transmit audio without any drops.

This measurement is done three times and then averaged to obtain the obstructed range. However, although the results are consistent in our office it may vary depending on how many walls or obstructions the Bluetooth source will have to go through, in your home or office layout.

Line Of Sight Range

What it is: The range that the wireless headphones can reach before dropping any audio when in direct line of sight of the Bluetooth device.
When it matters: If you can't or prefer not to carry your Bluetooth source on you, while listening to your audio in a large and open environment.
Good value: 170ft or more
Noticeable difference: 10ft

This is the headphones' range when in direct line of sight with the Bluetooth source. We test for this by connecting the headphones to the same Bluetooth 4.2 enabled phone in a large open area. We then evaluate the distance, with the measuring wheel, until the wireless connection is too weak, to reliably, transmit audio without any drops.

This distance is also measured three times and then averaged to obtain the line of sight range. However, unless you are often in a large and open environment, this range won't be as relevant for you and is therefore attributed a much lower percentage of the wireless score.

NFC (Near Field Communication)

What it is: Near Field Communication technology that allows you to quickly, pair your headphones with your Bluetooth and NFC-enabled device.
When it matters: This makes pairing with an NFC-enabled device a lot easier than the typical and often tedious hold-to-pair procedure that most wireless headphones have.

NFC is used to quickly transmit data wirelessly. This technology is often used to efficiently transmit pairing protocols and connect an NFC-enabled device to your headphones without too much hassle.

However, most headphones still use the typical hold-to-pair procedure that can get a little tedious when often switching between Bluetooth devices. We, therefore, attribute a small percentage to the headphones that use the much simpler NFC technology over the typical procedure.

What is not included

A few elements that you could care about are not included in the score:

  • Codec Specifications

If you feel there is an item missing that should be included, please let us know in the Q&A section.

Conclusion

Our Wireless test measures the range and reliability of a headphones' wireless connection. These headphones typically transmit data via Bluetooth or radio frequencies and provide a cable-free listening experience that gives listeners more freedom and mobility. This means you can listen to your music, movies or podcasts without needing to move the audio source or be in the same room. We test the wireless range when in direct line of sight and when the Bluetooth source is obstructed. We also evaluate how easy the headphones are to pair with mobile devices and the latency and type of the wireless connection used. However, depending on your listening habits and headphone choice this may not be a significant feature for you.

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