It’s not often that a modern piece of technology can trace its lineage directly back to the Victorian age, but the 3.5mm headphone jack has been with us for almost 150 years.
In the 1870s, the fledgling telephone network adopted half-inch plugs to allow switchboard operators to make connections quickly and reliably.
Those same plugs are still used on guitar and bass amplifiers, though they’ve increasingly been supplanted by the smaller 3.5mm jack.
As well as signifying the UK’s gradual shift from imperial to metric, the 3.5mm lead could be clipped inside a quarter-inch jack plug for compatibility with older home stereo systems.
In recent decades, it became the default connection method for headphones, until Bluetooth enabled Apple to abolish the iconic circular socket on its 2016 iPhone.
Despite claiming the 3.5mm lead was obsolete, Apple really wanted customers to boost their profits by purchasing their proprietary wireless headphone buds. And many people did.
Other smartphone manufacturers followed suit, and it’s now rare to find a mid-range or high-end smartphone with a headphone jack.
However, it’s simplicity itself to purchase an adaptor, allowing you to connect 3.5mm headphones into the USB-C charging port of any Android or iOS device.
The question is, should you invest in an adaptor, or follow Apple’s lead by going wireless?
Below, we consider the various pros and cons of wireless headphones, starting by accentuating the positives…
No wires. The main advantage to wireless headphones is the absence of cables to snag on gym equipment, or end up wrapped around the ear canisters.
Many of us have experienced wired headphones being ripped off our heads as they snag on something or stray too far from the device. Wireless units offer greater freedom of movement.
No need for adaptors. The decision by technology manufacturers to drop the 3.5mm jack lead means wired connections depend on buying and using an adaptor.
That prevents the phone from being simultaneously charged unless you have a wireless charging mat. It also involves plugging two things into the phone instead of just one.
Discretion. Wireless on-ear headsets allow greater portability than a length-limited cable, but they’re still quite overt.
By contrast, wireless earbuds can be very discreet, unless you want to make a statement with gloss white products. They’re lightweight, minimalist and easy to transport.
Resilience. A stable Bluetooth connection will last forever, whereas the 3.5mm headphone socket is renowned for wearing out.
It’s not uncommon for a socket to become so loose the jack simply falls out, necessitating expensive hardware repairs and potentially being without your device for a period of time.
Limited battery life. When considering the pros and cons of wireless headphones, it’s important to note their Achilles heel – limited charge capacity.
Wired headphones draw power through their cable, whereas wireless ones need recharging. That’s frustrating if they run out of power when you can’t top them up – and a full recharge can take hours.
Power drain. While the headphones themselves have an annoying propensity to run out of power at vital moments, they also drain the connected device’s battery.
Bluetooth is a power-hungry application, even on standby. When it’s constantly sending and receiving data, it can significantly deplete a mobile device’s battery.
Easier to lose. A wireless in-ear bud could fall out in bad weather or during strenuous exercise. Lose one, and you’ve got to replace them both.
Wired buds will simply fall as far as their cable allows. That may be momentarily inconvenient, but it keeps them safe, as they’re always plugged into something.
Wireless interference. Wireless buds operate across the congested 2.4GHz frequency, which can lead to interference if other devices are operating simultaneously.
Although it’s relatively stable, Bluetooth is occasionally glitchy, and pairing a new device isn’t always as seamless as you’d wish. It sometimes takes two attempts.
Security. It’s accepted wisdom to turn off Bluetooth in public environments, preventing criminals from attempting to connect to your handset.
However, this is clearly impossible while using wireless headphones, potentially increasing your handset’s risk of being targeted by hackers or other unwelcome agents.