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 (opens in new tab), 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 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 (opens in new tab) or Bose's superlative QC30's (opens in new tab). And they're not trying to — they're going up against the Ankers (opens in new tab) and Plantronics' (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab) (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 (opens in new tab) 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.
Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central.
Did you ever go running with them? I'm curious how well they stayed in your ear.
I've been running a couple of times with the Bullets Wireless and they're fine. It took me a few tries to find the right combination of tip size and in-ear placement, but once I figured that out it wasn't a problem. The neck hardware has just enough weight not to fly up and down as I stride, but too much weight as to be distracting or painful.
You're mistaking "Best" for "Favorite". There's a big difference, and the favorite in this case is simply something you find convenient. I'll be the first to admit that my favorite headphones are not the ones that are outstandingly "best" in a specific category, except perhaps for one of them. I actually have four favorites that I use most frequently, and one of them doesn't even sound good (Apple earpods), but I keep them in my bag because if I'm eating lunch or have a painfully long conference call, they are comfortable enough to compensate for the meh audio quality. It's all just a matter of what we are willing to compromise for the sake of our priorities. Most of the time, audio quality matters the most to me, but for watching Youtube which munching a sandwich, earpods are acceptable. If I'm intentionally listening to music, the earpods are my last choice, and if they are my only choice, I'll just not listen. The lowest bar I'll drop to is Ghostek soDrop 2's over Bluetooth, and I'll only do that if I can't use them wired, like when washing dishes. Plugged in with the optional wire makes the Ghostek's my second best sounding headphones, but Bluetooth knocks the quality down a couple notches. Yes, quality is still better with wires, even over AptX or whatever other lossless protocols may come along. The problem is not in the transmission from your device to the headphones, the downgrade happens after that because the DAC in the headphones is not as good as the DAC for your phone... unless the DAC for your phone is mediocre to begin with. And speaking of DAC's, guess which current smartphone with a headphone jack has better quality than all dongles? The answer is zero. If you want to top the external 24 bit hi-res DAC contained in some of today's dongles, you need to go back a few years to the HTC M8, which still has not been surpassed for passive headphone quality, even by LG. With USB C, there are legitimate concerns about wearing out a single port. Need to charge while listening? I get that. Don't like keeping track of another part? Understood. But if your reason for preferring a built-in 3.5 jack is for audio quality, you are barking up the wrong tree. There is one set of headphones I've come across that is both a favorite and a best. Standing in multi-million dollar recording studios where platinum records are created by legendary engineers is something I'm used to, and the only headphones that come close to that experience is USonic. Requires special hardware and software? Yep. Proprietary? Yep. Mind blowing when compared to passive headphones? Absolutely.
Hope it felt better to type it all out buddy.
Writing is easy... you should have seen it before I cut it down!
No. When it comes to matters that are completely subjective like sound gear Daniel's right here, the best is your favorite. This isn't a topic that can be empirically proven out and measured or quantified.
I'm not mistaking "best" for "favorite". My favorite headphones are my best headphones — that's the whole point of the article. :D
I understand your perspective Daniel, I guess I'm just stuck on not calling something the best when, technically, it's not. Yeah, my favorites are the 'best", for me, in that situation, so I can see where you are coming from. I have one small venue I do live sound in that's on a budget, and the headphones they always have plugged in are a pair of beat up Sony's with the pleather worn off the pads and a broken headband. In that situation, they are the best because they are the only ones there, lol.
Well, I have to disagree with the DAC part. One M8 is not (by any standards) the best sounding phone, even HTC 10 is better. Trust me when I say LG's Quad DAC (+AMP) provides far better tonality and power to audiophile-grade headphones. try to use something like Audeze's LCD-X or Hifiman'e Edition X (both designed with low impedance and high sensitivity) with HTC One M8 and LG's V30 or V20.
The HTC 10 has audio profile capability which lets you shape the sound to your preferences. However for raw quality, it still comes in just under the M8. The actual specs are below:
Device / Noise / Dynamic range / THD / IMD + Noise / Stereo crosstalk
HTC M8 / -94.9 /93.9 / 0.0014 / 0.018 / -79.7
LG V30 / -93.2 / 93.2 / 0.0067 / 0.020 / -56.3
HTC 10 / -92.8 / 93 / 0.014 / 0.141 / -77.9 The LG provides more power (measurements above were taken with the quad DAC active), but falls short in all the basics except loudness. Tonality is a function of equalization and not quality, although good equalization sounds better with good quality ;)
But, it's all good, and having a combo that you really enjoy is what counts.
Plus, you spelt 'favourite' wrong 😉
I currently have 2 sets of BT headphones, Bose QC35 and Anker Slimbuds. My Bose QC35 are phenomenal headphones but are so expensive id never take them anywhere near a gym which is where my £16 Slimbuds fit into my tech arsenal. I couldnt buy the Oneplus headphones as in a gym i couldnt lie on a bench or squat wearing them as this design just doesnt work in that scenario. Also at that price point i wouldnt wear them in an environment they are likely to get damaged. Slimbuds just work, 7hrs battery and only a thin wire that can be worn to the front or rear. They also dont come out when im running or cycling
I thought so too! I was enjoying my Sennheiser HD215 and Razer's Hammerhead until I heard better headphoens. Now I'm rocking Hifiman's Edition X V2 + iFi iDSD micro BL / A&K AK300 + Shure SE846
Of course you don't have to pay that much but try something like Audeze Sine or Campfire Audio's comet and you will never go back to mainstream gear!
I agree with Daniel, the "best" are the ones that work for you or your situation. I actually have several different Bluetooth audio output devices, for different situations. Plantronics Voyager Legend - can't be beat for phone calls, IMO
Zolo Liberty+ (now by Anker) - used for walking/exercising
Bluedio Turbine T2+ - for the price, they are actually pretty good, though probably not fantastic to an audiophile. They isolate sound well, I've used them on planes, and the battery life is phenomenal.
I have anker soundbud slims and they are my only BT headphone. They are OK for casual use with either my iphone or android. But unfortunately BT in general is not reliable / consistent enough for me to use in critical applications, where I need a 100% fast, accurate and repeatable connection. For that I strongly prefer wired headphones. Critical applications for me are conference calls 2-3-4 hours / day. I work with a bunch of stressed out jerks that will whine and complain to my manager if I drop out of meetings too often.
Audiophiles BTFO how will they ever recover
JVC Marshmallows. They are cheap and sound good and are small enough I can wear them when I go to bed and they don't bother my ears. Did I mention they are cheap and sound good?
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