How Do Wireless Headphones Work

how wireless headphones work

Let’s face it – in this day and age, wireless is all the rage.

Having a wire that you can damage, which will basically anchor you to a near distance from your audio source isn’t anyone’s favorite. Therefore, we’ll be discussing a bit about wireless headphones, how they work, and which type you want.

Types of Wireless Headphones

We won’t get into the headphones themselves, but instead, we will discuss the transmission methods that a pair of wireless headphones might use. There are a few options, and each of them might be better suited for a specific type of use, but it may not be all that good for something else.

Infrared Headphones

We’ll kick things off with infrared (IR) wireless headphones. We wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t heard of them – they’re far from the most popular pick out there.

How they work is something we’ll get to in a minute, but they come with two main advantages – low interference and excellent battery life.

This is because the transmission method they use doesn’t consume a lot of battery, and you can easily get upwards of 20 hours with high-quality products.

To add to this, not many devices use infrared nowadays, which is why you’ll get little to no interference from other devices. These types of headphones are commonly used when you’re watching TV, but not in many other scenarios.

Radiofrequency Headphones

Next up, we have radiofrequency headphones. These are the more traditional type of wireless headphones, which transmit the signal via radio waves.

And around the household, these are among the most popular options, because they have excellent compatibility with a lot of devices. All you have to do is connect to your TV’s RCA output or a headphone socket, and you have wireless headphones for your TV.

When you take into consideration that most older TVs don’t have Bluetooth, these could very well be a great choice for watching TV. They’re also rather easy to set up, which is more than you can say for some of the other types of wireless headphones.

Bluetooth Headphones

Last but certainly not least, we have Bluetooth headphones. In modern times, these are pretty much the norm.

There is an incredible number of options out there, from in-ear models to over-ear headphones, and you will find a pair that suits you well.

You can also find them at various price ranges, which means there is something for everyone’s pockets.

They have some small disadvantages, but nothing big to worry about. If you ask us, these are the best type of wireless headphones for the general, everyday user, but let’s not rush to conclusions, and see how each of them works first.

How do Bluetooth Headphones work?

Since these are the most popular pick out there, let’s start with how they work, and what advantages and disadvantages you get from them. The first thing you should know about Bluetooth headphones is that you will need to have a compatible device.

The way Bluetooth works is by connecting the tiny Bluetooth module in the headphones themselves, to the tiny Bluetooth module in the source, whether that’s your smartphone, your TV, your computer, or any other audio source.

Considering that most of today’s modern devices do have a Bluetooth module built-in, this isn’t too much of a problem.

There is one big difference between Bluetooth and other wireless signals, like RF – the Bluetooth devices act as both the transmitter and the receiver of the wireless signal.

The signal itself is made up of radio waves, which are configured with a complex algorithm that ensures clear transmission and good reception.

This is why you can use your Bluetooth headphones for both listening to music and talking to others.

Using Bluetooth headphones gets you a few great advantages. First of all, with modern transmission codecs, you have little to no quality loss. Of course, this does require both the source and the headphones themselves to support such codecs, but most modern devices do.

To add to this, Bluetooth doesn’t require line of sight, so you could leave your source device in one room, and move to another one, and it will still work well unless you’re too far.

And last but not least, Bluetooth is what gets you the best compatibility as most modern devices support it. It’s the go-to solution nowadays.

However, Bluetooth is not without its disadvantages. The first one is that even after years of using Bluetooth, it’s still nitpicky when it comes to pairing, which may be a problem.

And the other one is that range isn’t too great, especially in closed areas where you have a lot of walls. Oh, and there’s usually a tiny bit of latency to the signal, too, which may be a problem.

How do Infrared Headphones Work?

Next up we’re looking at infrared headphones. IR headphones require a transmitter, which is oftentimes a part of the docking station, to be plugged into power.

This transmitter is also what plugs in your audio source, and what sends the audio signal to your headphones. The two stereo channels, which are the left and right ones, are then converted into discrete carrier differences by that transmitter.

Once ready, they’re compressed, multiplexed, and sent to your headphones as an IR lightwave.

The headphones have a receiver that takes this multiplexed signal, converts it back to the left and right channels, decompresses, and sends it to the left and right driver of your headphones. The battery found inside the headphones helps this process and amplifies the signal, too.

This is a rather simple method and works pretty well. There is little to no quality loss, which is great, and the signal gets from the transmitter to the headphones pretty much instantly.

To add to this, the infrared transmission is also pretty conservative in terms of power transmission, which is why battery life tends to be great with these headphones.

On the flip side, though, there is one major disadvantage with IR headphones – they require a line of sight between the headset and the transmitter for them to work.

In some situations, this may be a problem, so keep that in mind if you’re considering getting a pair. For watching TV it may not be too much of an issue, but for other situations, it is.

How do RF Headphones work?

Last but not least, we have RF headphones. Even though they’re being replaced by Bluetooth as the go-to solution, these have been a great choice for quite some time now. They use a stereo frequency modulation system to transmit sound to your headphones, which works anywhere between 3 kHz to 300 GHz.

However, most of the RF headphones you’ll come across use the 2.4 GHz signal. Not only is it reliable and works great, but it also has an astonishing signal range of up to 300 feet. This is impressive, to say the least.

To add to this, these headphones are pretty simple to use and set up. They come with an RF transmitter, which is often placed in the docking station. You’ll need a cable to connect them to your TV, but aside from that, you’re pretty much set to go.

They act like you have a mini radio station that’s only for you, and the headphones are the only thing that picks up the audio. Delays are minimized, and there’s no quality loss from the audio transmission.

However, one major downside is that a lot of devices nowadays use the 2.4 GHz signal, which means you could be dealing with some interference. To add to this, the battery life isn’t all that great all the time, so you may need to swap it out more often than you’d like.

Are RF Headphones Safe?

At the mention of radio frequencies, some people will instantly associate them with electromagnetic radiation, which in some cases can be dangerous. However, that’s not the case with RF headphones. The key is making the difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.

Radiofrequency waves fall under the non-ionizing radiation category – so do the infrared waves we spoke about earlier.

They’re pretty low on the spectrum, which means they aren’t capable of causing any damage. Ionizing radiation, on the other hand, carries a lot of energy that could be problematic, but you won’t find any of that here.

There are also no conclusive, long-term studies that exposing yourself to radio frequencies that could be problematic. There are a lot of people that use these kinds of headphones daily, with no issues whatsoever.

Of course, considering you will probably be wearing these for hours at a time, and they’re right on your head, we couldn’t blame you for exercising caution in this regard.

It is your well being we’re talking about, and ionizing radiation can be dangerous.

There’s also one more thing worth noting – it’s not just RF headphones that emit nonionizing radiation.

That same radiation can be found with cell phones, Bluetooth headphones, Wi-Fi, and a host of other devices that use some kind of wireless transmission to work. These are all devices that we’ve been using for years, with no side effects that are harmful to people, and it’s the same thing with RF headphones, too.

Which Wireless Technology is best for you?

At this point, you can see that most wireless technologies come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages.

This means that there isn’t one single solution that works best for everyone. Instead, it’s a matter of taking a look at what you need, and which technology offers it best. With that in mind, let’s see what wireless technology is best for you, depending on what you’re going to use the headphones for.

To begin with, we have infrared headphones. These are oftentimes the cheapest of the bunch, which makes them the first choice for users who don’t want to spend too much.

And while the line of sight thing is probably a deal-breaker for some, to others it won’t be too much of an issue. If you’ll only be using them to watch TV and not much else, and don’t mind being forced to stay within the line of sight, they could be a good option.

RF headphones are a bit more expensive, but they come with two notable advantages over infrared – range, and no need for a line of sight. This means that you can comfortably go to the kitchen while you’re watching your favorite movie and not lose signal at all.

The audio quality will be decent, but nothing to write home about, and you’ll still need to use the transmitter that comes with them – you can’t just connect them without it, but for many, these compromises aren’t too much of a problem.

And last but not least we have Bluetooth. If your source device has Bluetooth,  this is probably your best option. You may not get the range of RF headphones, but you’ll get excellent audio quality, good battery life, and overall great experience.

Pair this with the optional things that some headphones have, like active noise canceling, and you’ve got a great choice.

Oh, and since Bluetooth works two-ways, you can also use your headphones for communication, something you can’t get with the other two options. If you have Bluetooth on your source device, by all means, go for Bluetooth. You won’t be wrong.  

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