Apple’s recent decision to ditch the age-old 3.5mm headphone jack in their new releases going forward was certainly controversial. Many consumers were left annoyed at the prospect of either being forced to go wireless should their next purchase be an iPhone, or having to shell out the extra cash for a pair of lightning jack earphones that won’t work with anything else. An online petition to save the old headphone jack even gathered over 300,000 signatures.
With other smartphone manufactures steadily following suit (the Google Pixel 2 and the HTC U Ultra being two notable examples) the trusty 3.5mm jack seems as if it is slowly but surely becoming a thing of the past. But why do we care so much in the first place – do we truly value the freedom of being able to choose between BlueTooth or wired earphones, or are we simply clinging on to a tried and tested, yet possibly outdated tradition for the sake of familiarity?
The standard headphone jack dates back as far as the 1870s, where it was used by switchboard operators of early telephone systems to manually plug and unplug different connections. The size decreased from around 6.4mm to the standard 3.5mm part-way through the 20th century, but apart from this the style has barely changed. The fact that the jack has managed to survive for 140 years is a testament to its simple but effective design, but the time has finally come for a change.
Granted, wireless earphones can occasionally be a pain to recharge, but this aspect is offset by the practical benefits that wireless capabilities give the user in mobility for exercise and sport, and as with most relatively new technologies, battery life is likely to improve with age and further development. Still not convinced? Take a look at three of the best wireless headphones on the market right now…
Beats – Powerbeats3 Wireless
For a solid all-rounder, the Powerbeats3 Wireless earphones from Beats ($199.95) are a great place to start. A fairly high price point is made up for by an incredibly solid 12 hour battery life, further complemented by Fast Fuel charging, providing 1 hour of battery life from a 5 minute charge when you’re running low. Rather than being standalone earbuds, the Powerbeats 3 are connected via a short cable which fits around the back of your neck. Coupled with their adjustable earhooks, this makes them extremely stable and a good choice for exercise-minded listeners, but those who value sound quality above all else won’t be disappointed either.
For a slightly more affordable alternative, the BeatsX ($149.95) is the younger brother of the Powerbeats3. In favour of a more traditional design, the adjustable earhooks are gone, as is the 12 hour battery life (down to 8 hours). Luckily then, the battery life provided by a 5 minute Fast Fuel charge has been doubled to 2 hours.
Bang & Olufsen – Beoplay E8
The Beoplay E8 (£259) is the most expensive pick on this list, but the beautiful minimalist design and fantastic sound capabilities of these earphones make them worth it for those who are prepared to pay for quality. The tiny size of the E8s means they are truly wireless by definition, but this is by no means achieved via a sacrifice in sound quality – performance is excellent, as you would expect from a well-respected brand like B&O. Features include transparency mode, which allows the wearer to control how much sound from the outside world is let in, as well as a touch sensitive surface which lets the user play and pause music, control volume, take calls and more with just a couple of taps.
Perhaps the only weakness of the E8 is the 4 hour battery life, although the sleek charging case holds enough power for 2 more full charges, giving a total battery life of 12 hours if you have the case at hand. Be warned though, the E8 is in no way water or weather resistant, so if you’re after a pair of wireless headphones to exercise in, consider the other two options on this list.
Bose – SoundSport
The best option for sporty listeners (it is in the name after all), are the Bose SoundSport earphones (£149.95). Similar in construction to the Powerbeats3, a cable connects the two earpieces for increased stability. The Bose model however uses a pair of soft rubber hooks to trace the outline of the ear, making them extra secure for a run or a gym session. Most importantly, the Soundsport earphones are water and sweat resistant, meaning they probably won’t survive being fully submerged, but can capably handle the odd splash of moisture.
The 6 hour battery life isn’t stellar, but it’s more than enough to handle most workout sessions, and the dynamic, bass-heavy sound is perfect for motivating you to go that extra mile. Those who are prepared to shell out an extra £50 could also get their hands on the SoundSport Pulse (£199.95), which includes extra features such as heartbeat tracking, but for the best value our money is on the regular SoundSport model.
Apple – AirPods
Apple’s own AirPods (£159) were arguably the catalyst for the growth in wireless earphones we’re seeing today, so it’s only right that they get a mention on this list. For better or for worse, the AirPods conform rigidly to Apple’s signature bold styling, and whether you approve of their looks ultimately comes down to personal taste. However, sound quality is good, and certainly an improvement from previous generations of Apple earphones. Battery life is decent at 5 hours, although this will increase to a phenomenal 24 hours upon the release of the ultra-portable charging case, coming in 2018.
The ridiculously easy pairing of the AirPods is probably their greatest advantage – simply open the case next to your phone, then select the pairing option on the screen and you’re ready to go. A double tap on either earbud activates Siri to adjust volume, skip tracks and more, although you’ll have to rely on the traditional method of whipping out your phone to control all of these aspects if voice activation isn’t your thing.