Is Bluetooth audio really worse than wired?

Is bluetooth audio really worse than wired?

Is it time to rid ourselves of the 21st century myth of inadequate Bluetooth audio?

On the 7th of September 2016, technology giant Apple® announced the iPhone 7, and along with it something seemingly inconceivable to music lovers and tech-heads alike: the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack.

In a move that stunned the internet, people’s reactions to the news ranged from puzzled through to suspicious, and in some cases, just plain angry. For many music lovers, a world of great-sounding wireless Bluetooth audio seemed unimaginable.

Of course there are still plenty of wired options for your music, but today the real question remains: is Bluetooth audio as good as its wired counterpart?

Yes, it absolutely is – but certain factors need to be taken into account.

A matter of time

The first ever stereo Bluetooth headphones were released in 2004, and in a landscape dominated by Apple’s cool-affirming white wired earbuds, people may have dismissed the design, their eyebrows sceptically raised at the cans’ reliability and audio quality.

When it was first introduced, Bluetooth streamed music from your headphones to your device at 328kb/s – a rate that sits just under mp3 quality sound, and well below the standards of audio enthusiasts.

To enable this data to pass from one device to another, Bluetooth relies on SBC (low complexity subband coding) compression to ‘fit’ your music through the technology’s imaginary ‘thin pipes’ – once again, resulting in less detail heard in your music. This doesn’t sound great for true music lovers.

But as time progressed, so did Bluetooth.

In 2009, a technology called Qualcomm® aptX™ Bluetooth was introduced to consumer electronics. Using a different kind of compression, it allowed higher quality audio through the narrow Bluetooth bandwidth. aptX allows CD quality (16-bit/44.1kHz) audio streaming, a bitrate that fits more in line with the standards of us audio enthusiasts and music lovers.

However, numbers are just numbers. How do they ultimately convert to a meaningful listening experience?

The test

is wireless audio better than wired?

With the help of drum and bass duo Sigma, British TV journalist and technology expert Jon Bentley decided to compare the difference between wired connectivity, conventional Bluetooth and aptX.

Both Sigma members had differing conclusions: Joe preferred aptX audio but Cameron preferred standard Bluetooth over aptX or wired.

Inconclusive perhaps, but what can be deciphered from these results is that all three sounded very similar to each other, meaning Bluetooth doesn’t degrade sound quality as much as you think – and that most people wouldn’t actually know the difference.

For stern believers of wired audio, the result of this test is reaffirming: the luxury of a breathtaking home listening experience, often facilitated through a wired connection via a headphone amplifier, is objectively hard to beat.

But here’s where it gets interesting.

Recently, an alternative ground-breaking audio codec has surfaced. It allows much higher streaming capabilities, bridges the gap between wireless and wired audio quality, while eradicating the need for wires and supplementary devices to improve sound quality.

Is the love affair between audio enthusiasts and wires about to be derailed?

The game changer

Featured in Bowers & Wilkins PX aptX HD enables 24-bit/48kHz resolution wireless sound that is indistinguishable from wired high resolution audio.

In a test comparing aptX HD audio to a pricey headphone amplifier, the new wireless technology was called a ‘revelation’ and ‘Bluetooth like you’ve never heard before’.

In addition to this discovery, Jon Bentley believes that the quality of the internal electronics of headphones are also to blame for the many years’ worth of poor perception of Bluetooth audio – not the wireless signal itself.

For it’s the combination of cutting edge components, such as the DSP chip and the digital-to-analogue converter, which elevate the quality of your music, not to mention the hours of research and fine tuning of the drivers – all of which we’ve built into PX.

As the Bowers & Wilkins founder John Bowers once said “The best speaker isn’t the one that adds the most, it’s the one that takes away the least.” and combining aptX HD audio and innovative engineering, this philosophy is embodied in PX.

To find out more about how PX enhances your listening experience, click here.

12 Comments

  • Neil Bailey says:

    A shame you don’t mention Bowers & Wilkins’ support of AAC. I find that my B&W headphones and T7 speaker’s connectivity with Apple’s preferred AAC codec results in the music from my iPhone and iPad’s iTunes/Apple Music libraries sounds fabulous, even better than Apt-X from my laptop.
    (Also, it’s confusing that this Blog post talks initially about the iPhone 7 but then neglects to mention that Apple iOS devices do not support either Apt-X or Apt-X HD.)

  • Antony Woolley says:

    Initially I was a little disappointed with the sound from my new PX’s but after a suitable “running in” period I am astonished at the vast improvement gained. I also have a pair of P7’s which have always been my favourite headphones, although perhaps a tad bass heavy, but I now find the PX’s to be a better all round balance and certainly very comfortable to wear for long periods. I would recommend these headphones unreservedly.

  • JHeemstra says:

    Thanks for the article, i used my PX in combination with a LG V30.and I ame realy satified.The sound is wireless great..

    I love my PX aptX HD..

    Grts Jan

  • David says:

    I have been a headphone user for years, never really liked or cared for the Apple ear buds. I have tried all the brands and that includes Sennheiser, Dennon, Sony in the recording studio and at home. I thought I found Nirvana with B&W P5 headphones. I used the P5 until the PX came out. Now the only headphone I use is the PX. It is about the most comfortable headphone to wear, and that level of comfort augments the pleasure of listening using the PX.

    I use no other headphone but the PX now!

  • Gio says:

    I am still skeptical about the BT audio. I agree the sound quality improved dramatically over the recent years but I still get periodic interruptions due to wireless issues. I get occasional “hiccups” or “hangs” as I listen them as I walk. At first, I thought it was streaming audio issue so I downloaded the musics, but still exists. Maybe it is iPhone’s issue but I don’t have same experience when listening to wired earphones.

  • Paul Kennis says:

    I bought a P7 Wireless about a year ago for use with my iPhone 7 and though I am very satisfied with the (wired) sound quality it offers, I am not satisfied with the wireless sound. Several rather complex music ( I give as examples the last album from Bon Iver and “Drones” from Muze) give hissing and clicking sounds when played wireless from my iPhone 7. Though they sound just fine when wired. I think Bluetooth is not there yet; I just hope it’s not the P7 that is at fault.

  • Erwin H says:

    I agree with Neil Bailey.

    That said, I do love my PX headphones in combination with my iPhone 7.

  • Michael says:

    I received a pair of PX cans for Christmas and it’s been an amazing musical experience. I love my PX headphones can’t go back to any other pair thanks Bowers&Wilkins..

  • Philip Boxell says:

    Please compare PX over iPhone X Qualcomm version (is this any different) with Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal. To my brain the PX are excellent and best with Tidal. But Spotify and Apple Music have better catalogues. Is that correct. Wish Hyperion would stream.

  • Johnny Spurlock says:

    Ohhhhh. (big grin)….I always enjoy being impressed. I hate for people or products that try to impress me, “Let me be impressed”….And that I am!

    I never thought that I would ever have the quality in sound via bluetooth, but my PX is nothing but pure quality! I applaud the engineers that have made these headphones possible, and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to enjoy such a wonderful product. I am blessed!!!

  • Harry Steedman says:

    I always enjoy music on bus travel and used noise isolating in-ears but decided to stop putting anything into my ears and went on a mission to find the best over-ear headphones with regard to sound and noise cancelling quality.
    I checked out internet reviews and my local Edinburgh audio shops to compare the top brands, Sony, Sennheiser, Bose and Bowers and Wilkins. I use quality openback headphones for home listening so apart from good noise cancelling, sound quality was paramount in my search.
    I had tried the Sony’s in a department store and liked them but needed to hear the Sennheisers and Bowers which I thought might edge out the Sony’s in terms of sound quality (I had ignored Bose for this very reason).
    I finally visited a hi-fi shop at the top of Leith Walk, Edinburgh and was able to hear first hand the Sennheiser Momentum (with noiseguard), Sennheiser PXC550 and the Bowers and Wilkins PX. The knowledgeable shop assistant had stated the one I would like as he had sold 50 pairs in as many months.
    He was right – the Bowers and Wilkins sound quality just totally blew the others away and noise cancelling was really effective. I made the purchase and at home downloaded the app to set up the headphones which now only get better in my estimation and can play my music on bus journeys (even with the air conditioning blasting away) in quiet solitude. Absolute quality headphones.

  • Mark Pope says:

    I’m another happy PX owner. Quite a few colleagues at work have been mightily impressed with the sound quality using the PXs with a Pioneer XDP-100R playing Society of Sound hi-res recordings. San Jacinto from the Peter Gabriel Live in Athens album has been a real favourite!

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