Bluetooth headphones are popular, but science confirms: mostly terrible

Look, we get it: Bluetooth headphones are convenient. Popular models like Apple’s AirPods are for all intents and purposes the K-cup coffee machines of audio. Just like those liquid sadness brewers, Bluetooth offers a disappointing, expensive facsimile of the real deal — but many enjoy it all the same.

Testing done for our sister site SoundGuys confirmed it’ll get you 90 percent of the way there — but not everybody is willing to accept the excuses behind ditching the headphone jack. Since USB Type-C headphones aren’t where they need to be, we have to examine the consumer audio technology’s performance in a world where the headphone jack is disappearing.

A photo of the Bluetooth toggle on the Android dropdown menu.

Bluetooth is extremely convenient, but at a cost.

The findings

A more in-depth description of the testing process and findings can be found here, but here are the broad strokes:

  1. Every single Bluetooth codec has measurable quality issues, though not all significant.
  2. Not a single codec or set of Bluetooth headphones available can meet wired signal quality.

Bluetooth audio has come a long way since its noisy beginnings, but it’s still not ready to replace the headphone jack. However, most people won’t be able to hear the difference if they’re older than 24, have some form of noise-induced hearing loss, or are in the presence of outside noise. For this reason, Bluetooth headphones are best for those commuting, or in noisy situations. If you’re listening primarily at home — or in a quiet area — get a set of wired headphones.

Also read: AAC has limited bandwidth, AirPods not ideal on Android

By using an aggressive psychoacoustic model of compression like MP3 compression, AAC seeks to cut data where you wouldn’t normally be able to hear it anyway, but it’s sometimes a little too aggressive.

Pictured: The Apple AirPods in the hand.

AirPods may be trendy, but they have significant sound quality problems.

AAC has some advantages when it comes to latency, but we recommend avoiding this on Android phones if you care about audio quality. SoundGuys found high levels of noise, and lower than average frequency cutoffs — both unacceptable to audiophiles and younger listeners. Though the sound isn’t as bad as some may say, the shortcomings are noticeable to the human ear at normal listening volumes. In this light, wireless earbuds using AAC like the Apple AirPods aren’t ideal for Android phone use.

Pay close attention to what codec your true wireless earbuds use, as well.

AAC Bluetooth Noise Floor when playing back from an AAC source file, showing high noise in the audible range. This is why Apple AirPods are a bad pair with Android devices.

The noise for Android devices near 100Hz will audibly affect voice sounds, music.

Unlike with other codecs, AAC test signals from Android phones like the Huawei P20 Pro, LG V30, and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 all vary wildly. Though we can’t definitively say why each Android device seems to handle AAC encoding differently, we suspect some of the power saving features baked into the Android ecosystem’s varying hardware affect audio playback. Nowhere is this more apparent than Huawei’s power-sipping P20 Pro, which seems to cut out at around 14.25kHz. Our best guess is Android phones differ in how they handle task scheduling in the CPU, which has consequences for battery life and also fixes audio skipping problems with Bluetooth. AAC doesn’t hit the maximum range of audibility in any of the phones tested.

Related reading: Lossless audio only exists with LDAC 990kbps, but only sorta

LDAC is the only codec that truly attempts the hi-res thing, but it has perplexing issues with common phones. The bitrate defaults differ wildly from model to model. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and LG V30 both default to 660kbps, and the Google Pixel 3 defaults to the lesser 330kbps. However, you can change this in developer settings.

A photo of the Sony WH-1000XM3 sitting on a stone wall.

The new Sony WH-1000XM3 uses LDAC as its main Bluetooth codec, but you might not be getting the best they have to offer.

Despite big promises from Bluetooth’s only Hi-res codec, the standard doesn’t really deliver, and it falls short with its basic 330kbps setting. Both the 660kbps and 990kbps connections offer decent quality, but the 330kbps setting has a lot of noise, and a comparatively poor frequency response with higher-def content — you probably won’t hear it, though. We recommend using 660kbps as a good middle ground between quality and connection quality.

Graph of Bluetooth codec signal strength vs dropped seconds of audio

Pocket-to-ear signal strength hovers around -45dB, but can vary when your arms or other objects get in the way.

See also: Most of Bluetooth’s issues are inaudible to older listeners

If you’re over the age of 24, Bluetooth headphones are more than likely good enough for you. Most people older than that cannot hear the audible effects of Bluetooth — outside of AAC’s shortcomings, and a certain level of noise.

LDAC 990kbps Bluetooth vs LG V30 Wired audio

Blue: LDAC 990kbps. Yellow: LG V30+ Hi-Res output. Data collected by Robert Triggs.

Every single Bluetooth codec out there exhibits a higher level of noise than wired audio, though only AAC, SBC, and LDAC 330kbps exhibit audible noise. Where wired audio can handle CD audio and 24-bit music, Bluetooth headphones simply can’t, though 24-bit is dramatic overkill anyways. If you like your music loud, Bluetooth will be noisier than wired listening, depending on how high you crank it.

More: aptX and aptX HD get close to CD-quality, but not quite as advertised

Of the tested codecs we met, aptX and aptX HD fared the best out of all our candidates. While that may seem strange to say, on the whole their results were right where they needed to stand in for a wire for commuters and listeners over 40. You’ll really only run into issues at high volumes (more than 90dB), so while aptX can’t quite keep up with CD quality, aptX HD gets extremely close to the mark with a little processing creativity. Both codecs fall short in the highest frequencies a human could potentially hear, but the vast majority of people can’t hear sounds over 18kHz anyway.

A photo of a phone supporting aptX and aptX HD playing music.

Audio connoisseurs will probably gravitate towards aptX and aptX HD, as it provides almost CD-quality dynamic range.

However, that software processing can’t fix noise issues in high notes. For best results you should listen at volumes below 90dB. Any higher and you’ll hear noise above 1kHz.

Before you ask: no, that’s not very quiet.

Good enough for most people, but not for everyone

Bluetooth headphones and earphones like the Apple AirPods may be good enough for most people, but it’s not good enough for everyone, and that’s a problem. While the benefits of high-bitrate music are largely academic, some flaws with Bluetooth audio prevent it from replacing the 3.5mm TRRS plug in all contexts. It’s a more expensive, less effective solution.

If you’re looking for commuting headphones, they’re great. Music lovers listening in a quiet environment will want something with a wire. Not only will it be cheaper, but it’ll work better too.

Pop quiz: Are you as tech-savvy as you think?

google pixel 3 vs samsung galaxy s9 display software

This week, we’ll test out just how tech-savvy you really are. The 10 questions in this quiz revolve around topics like Bluetooth, VoLTE, display resolution, and much more.

Do you think you know more about smartphone-related technology than the average Joe? Prove it by taking the quiz below — and don’t forget to share your result on social media at the end.

Note: There is a widget embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s widget.


This is the 14th quiz in our regular weekly series. You can take the other 13 via the links below:

Let us know which questions you thought were the hardest and share your result with others in the comment section.

Pop quiz: Is this an Android or iOS feature?

Pop quiz - iPhone XS Max and Google Pixel 3 XL

The 10 questions in this quiz revolve around popular smartphone features, and your job is to figure out whether they are available on Android, iOS, or both operating systems. To be more specific, we’re talking exclusively about stock Android and iOS running on iPhones, which makes the quiz a lot more challenging.

Do you think you know enough about the two operating systems to get a good score? Find out by pressing the Start button below — and don’t forget to share your result on social media at the end.

Note: There is a widget embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s widget.


This is the 13th quiz in our regular weekly series. You can take the other 12 via the links below:

Let us know which questions you thought were the hardest and share your result with others in the comment section.

MIUI info hub: Everything you should know about Xiaomi’s Android skin

MIUI on Mi Mix 2s.

Whether you just got a Xiaomi phone for the first time or are die-hard Mi fan, you’ll have interacted with MIUI.

The company’s take on Android is now on its tenth iteration, delivering a host of features and tweaks over the years. From updates and guides to new features and more, this is our one-stop shop for everything MIUI.

What is MIUI?

Simply put, MIUI is the theme Xiaomi has slapped on top of Android, adding a new visual style and more features to pure Android.

MIUI was actually Xiaomi’s first product, launching back in 2010 before the brand had any phones to go with it. The Android skin now has tens of millions of users, and while it hasn’t quite shed the iOS-inspired aesthetics, it offers plenty of features.

Which phones come with MIUI?

MIUI is largely designed with Xiaomi’s products in mind, with each of its phones running the software — except for the Android One-toting Mi A1 and Mi A2. The Pocophone F1, made by Xiaomi sub-brand Pocophone (or Poco in India), uses a version of MIUI that takes a few cues from stock Android.

The company and its community have also encouraged MIUI on other smartphones in the early years, but Xiaomi keeps a tight hold on its Android skin these days.

Keen to buy a MIUI-equipped phone? Then you can check out our recent Xiaomi reviews below:

Major features through the years

The Xiaomi Mi 4S.

MIUI has made tons of headway since launching roughly eight years ago, and it now has a rather comprehensive list of features.

Xiaomi is one of the first brands to come up with the idea of a phone management app (back in MIUI 5), serving as one place for functions like antivirus scanning, storage management, and battery saving features. Now, we see the likes of Samsung adopting this phone hub idea.

Editor’s Pick

Another noteworthy feature popularized by the brand (and Huawei) is the ability to download themes from a dedicated store. This is a feature stock Android still technically lacks, as you can download icon/font packs but there isn’t an entire theme store.

The early years of MIUI also introduced a few more solid features, such as a built-in data saver (MIUI 7), one-handed mode for big phones (MIUI 6), and a permission manager (MIUI 5/6). The last few years have also seen plenty of improvements.

MIUI 8

The arrival of MIUI 8 arguably heralded the biggest change for Xiaomi’s platform yet. Prominent features include scrolling screenshot support, a quick ball navigation setting for accessibility, and the second space feature to create a second profile on the phone.

We also saw the dual apps feature (allowing users to run two messaging accounts on one phone), a power-saving mode, an overhauled gallery app, a more vibrant visual design, and new fonts.

MIUI 9

We saw this update first hit phones in late 2017, delivering swipe gestures for navigation. These aped Apple’s iPhone X, as you swipe up from the bottom to go home and swipe laterally to go back.

Other than these gestures, MIUI 9 also brought “dynamic resource allocation” for better system performance, a smart assistant, and an improved notification shade.

MIUI 10

The most recent version is MIUI 10, which launched a few weeks ago. Some of the more prominent features include a redesigned recents menu and portrait mode for phones with single cameras.

MIUI tips and tricks

Xiaomi’s Android skin is pretty easy to understand, but it certainly holds more its fair share of secrets. We show you how to master the platform — check out our guides below.

If you have any MIUI questions, comments, or recommendations, sound off in the comments!

Pop quiz: Can you name an app just by looking at its logo?

Vivo V11 review - apps

This quiz will reveal just how familiar you are with some of the most popular apps out there. Your job is to look at the app icon in each of the 10 images and figure out the name of the app. There are four choices available for each question, only one of which is correct.

Are you up for the challenge? Press the Start Quiz button to get started — and don’t forget to share your result on social media at the end.


This is the 12th quiz in our regular weekly series. You can take the other 11 via the links below:

Let us know which questions you thought were the hardest and share your result with others in the comment section.

Opera Mini for Android updated with some major bug fixes

Opera has now officially updated it’s Opera Mini browser on Android. Opera Mini for Android is getting updated with app version 35.3.2254.129226 in the Google Play Store. The update weighs around 7.75 MB in the Google Play Store for our test device running Android Oreo 8.1. If we talk about the changes that come with…

The post Opera Mini for Android updated with some major bug fixes appeared first on Nokiapoweruser.