The tech world is in a headphones frenzy these days because phones are losing their headphone jacks and dividing the world into haves and have-nots. The have-nots are largely choosing to ignore the included dongles (and rightfully so) and moving to Bluetooth; the haves are doubling down with audiophile-quality wired headphones that require powerful amps and expensive DACs to extract the best sound. The audio industry is in a state of flux, and it's difficult to know where to spend your money.
The last week or so I've been using OnePlus's new Bullets Wireless headphones, and they're great — I'll say that up front. I was initially quite skeptical given their $70 price tag, but what's won me over more than the sound quality is the sheer convenience and user-friendliness of the whole package — the way they magnetically attach to one another to turn off and automatically connect to the most recent phone once they're pulled apart.
I love great-sounding headphones. But what I love more are headphones that I'm actually going to wear every day.
I appreciate that they charge via USB-C, and that, thanks to the standard's higher output, I only have to top them up for 10 minutes to get a full day's use from them. I love how comfortable they are, both in my ear and across my neck — anyone who's worn neckbuds knows the benefits of resting the hardware on one's nape or collarbone to shift the pressure from the ears themselves, and despite the Bullets' resemblance to Apple's BeatsX (or perhaps because of it), I feel entirely at ease using them for long periods of time. They're just well designed.
Their sound quality is, honestly, the lowest priority me, a stark change to my would-be wireless headphone narrative just a couple of years ago. The signature is pretty good, don't get me wrong — tight mids, strong but not overpowering bass, and smooth, sibilant-free treble — but they're not going to overshadow Sony's gorgeous-sounding WI1000X or Bose's superlative QC30's. And they're not trying to — they're going up against the Ankers and Plantronics', at $70, find a pretty nice sweet spot.
It's not without a healthy glob of irony that OnePlus announced the Bullets Wireless minutes prior to the unveiling of the OnePlus 6, a phone that makes a big show of retaining the beleaguered headphone jack. In fact, it's one of the few high-end phones offering the port these days (the Galaxy S9 and G7 are the others). That's why, after using the $80 Koss Porta Pro Wireless (pictured above), I question the fruitfulness of the "wireless-ization" of older, popular products. At least not without a good reason for doing so.
Koss has been making the Porta Pros since the 80s, and the design shows. They're light and portable and prized for their warm, articulate sound — not just at their normal $40 price point, but at any price. They sound incredible. So too do the wireless versions, but in shedding wires, Koss didn't think through what customers would be losing in the process.
The electronics and battery hang down below the wearer like a necklace, which quickly becomes distracting. Worse, a blue LED blinks the entire time it's connected to a phone or laptop. Who thought that was a good idea? At $80, they still fall into the affordable category for wireless headphones, and their sound is largely unchanged from their forebear's, which is a notch in the plus column.
But despite the Koss's better sound, I'm going to choose the Bullets Wireless's portability and convenience every time, and I have no doubt many would do the same.
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