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As more and more smartphones are going jack-less, as well as our demand for portability increases daily, having a pair of durable wireless headphones becomes a necessity. On average, a pair of decent wireless headphones should last four to five years. However, most of us only get to enjoy them for a few months or up to a year. They always somehow die for no reason or get damaged by us.
Wireless headphones don’t have the problem of broken or snapped wires, but they have their own innate weaknesses. Without wires, these headphones drop more easily. As they get smaller and more compact, we accidentally sit on them, step on them, or break them in our bags. Wireless headphones also tend to stop working sooner because they have built-in batteries. These batteries get weaker over time and are more prone to malfunction. No matter the reason, it is frustrating when your headphone dies when you need them the most. Oops! Your 8-hour flight just took off and your only set of headphones stopped working.
In general, wireless headphones cost a bit more than their wired counterparts. As more fancy features such as active noise-cancellation are becoming a trend, wireless headphones can get pricey. It is heart-breaking to see the product you bought with your hard-earned money go bad and becomes a piece of useless metal.
This guide is for those who are looking to invest their money in a pair of good-quality wireless headphones that can last for a long time. We first walk you through the criteria and factors to consider when evaluating durable wireless headphones. Followed by it are our recommendations based on our tests and researches. Our recommendations include both over-ear headphones and in-ear headphones (or earbuds).
What to Consider When Buying Durable Wireless Headphones
The Material of the Body and Earpads
The very first headphones were hand-made with materials such as rubber, leather, copper, and ceramics. Nowadays, most headphones are mass-produced with new materials such as vinyl, advanced plastic, foam, silicone, artificial leather, etc. Durable plastic on the body makes the headphone more lightweight and offers better protection from physical damage. The material on the earpads affects the comfort level and sound quality.
Design of the Hinges
The majority of the over-ear headphones have hinges. The presence of hinges makes the headphones more flexible. Well-designed hinges offer stronger hold yet enough flexibility to turn the direction of the earpads. Some hinges also offer better portability for the headphones to be folded into a small case.
The driver is the element inside the headphone that converts the electrical signal into sound. It is the most critical part of the headphone in terms of sound quality. A driver is made of a magnet, voice coil, and a diaphragm. You can picture it as a mini loudspeaker. There are dynamic drivers, balanced armature drivers, planar magnetic drivers, electrostatic drivers, and hybrid drivers. The dynamic driver is the most common type. Compared to other types, it uses larger diaphragms, has more powerful bass, and offers the right amount of sound pressure.
The key benefit of wireless headphones is the freedom of going cord-less. Over-ear headphones have the best battery life, they generally have around 20 to 30 hours. Most in-ear headphones have a battery life of 6 to 8 hours. With the active noise cancellation feature becomes a must, be sure to compare the battery life with the noise cancellation both on and off.
If you are looking for headphones to be frequently used during vigorous workouts such as bike riding or HIIT (High-intensity interval training) classes, sweat-proof is the way to go. There are also swim-friendly earbuds that are designed to seal out water from your ears, as well as withstand the pressure from water submersion. Due to the fact that water submersion interferes with the Bluetooth connectivity, many headphones that are designed for underwater use comes with built-in storage for audio files.
The key factors that determine a headphone’s audio performance are the frequency response, dynamic range, sensitivity and impedance.
- Frequency response is the range of bass, mids, and treble at which the headphone drivers can produce. It typically ranges from 20 to 20,000 Hz. The first number represents the deepest bass frequency and the second refers to the highest frequency the headphone is capable of producing.
- Dynamic range represents the ratio between the loudest signal and the quietest signal you can hear. It indicates the isolation the headphone offers when you are in a noisy environment. The wider the range, the better isolation the headphone provides.
- Sensitivity measures how effective it is the headphone converts the electrical signal to an acoustical sound. A higher sensitivity means the headphone produces louder sound at a given power level. In general, the headphone sensitivity ranges from 80 to 110 dB.
- High-impedance headphones are designed for a studio-like environment where multiple devices are connected. Low-impedance headphones are designed for regular home use where sound can be generated from a lower-level input signal. Though high-impedance headphones can be a little more durable, for most of us who are not audio professionals, low-impedance headphones are just as good, and they don’t require a higher input signal level.
The wireless range represents the distance between the headphones and the audio input source. The industrial standard is 33 feet or 10 meters. However, some headphones, such as the Plantronics Wireless Backbeat Pro 2, offer an extremely long range of 330 feet or 100 meters.
The Bluetooth codec determines how the Bluetooth is transmitted from the audio source to the headphones. The codec is responsible for encoding and decoding digital audio data. The most common ones nowadays are Sub Band Codec (SBC), Sony’s LDAC, aptX, and AAC. SBC is the basic coding standard for most Bluetooth devices and is present in almost every device by default. However, you wouldn’t find high-quality audio fidelity in SBC. LDAC is currently the highest codec available, but not all devices are LDAC compatible. AptX is owned by Qualcomm and is one of the most popular codecs. AAC is the default audio compression codec used by Apple devices.
At WIC, we evaluated 38 different over-ear headphones and in-ear earbuds and focused our evaluation on durability. We tested the durability by dropping the headphones from 7 feet of height multiple times, placing 80 lbs of weight on the headphones, continuously playing audio files for 72 hours, and spraying water mists. Considering all the factors laid out above, we have listed the four best ones based on our evaluation.
Waterproof with ergonomic design
SUMMARY: V-MODA Crossfade 2 is the toughest and most-foldable over-ear headphones we have tested. It is made of vegan leather cover, steel frame, and high-strength plastic headbands. Though made with durable material, it is fairly lightweight. It weighs only 1 lb. V-MODA is not water resistant, but it is irrelevant since this type of headphones are not intended to use during vigorous sports or underwater.
WHERE IT STANDS OUT:
- Resistant to high and low temperature, humidity, salt spray and UV exposure.
- Military-level MIL-STD-810G test standards durability. Headband can bend 10 more times flat.
- Can be used wirelessly or with a wire
Earth proof and made with military standard
SUMMARY: All things considered, Jaybird Vista is the obvious winner for ear-buds. It withstood all our headphone-destroying tests without compromising the physical quality and sound performance. It is built with tough material to last for years of usage.
WHERE IT STANDS OUT:
- Earth proof. Dirt, sand and dust resistant, can withstand most workout type and weather conditions.
- Waterproof and sweatproof. Meets the U.S. military MIL-STD 810G rugged compliant standards.
- Comes with three different sizes of interchangeable ear gels and a compact charging case.
Rich features with easy control
SUMMARY: Sony WH1000XM3 is one of the most well-received noise cancelling headphones. It has an amazing 30 hours of playtime. Besides the touch controls, it offers a quick attention mode to easily turn down the music.
WHERE IT STANDS OUT:
- Quick attention mode that allows you to cover the right ear cup to turn down the music for instant easy conversation.
- Industry leading active noise cancellation
- Foldable, comes with a carry case, can be used with and without a wire.
Designed for vigorous workouts
SUMMARY: Powerbeats Pro by Beats wireless earbuds are built for athletes. The adjustable and secure-fit ear hooks prevents the earbuds from dropping.
WHERE IT STANDS OUT:
- Reinforced design for water and sweat resistance
- Each earbud has full volume and track control, therefore, you can use it one at a time while the other is being charged in the case.
- Up to 9 hours of listening time