The ultimate guide: How do wireless earbuds work?

Young man listening to music, using the touch controls of the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds while playing soccer

If you owned a pair of headphones in the ‘90s or early 2000s, chances are they had to be connected to your phone or computer via an auxiliary wire. Wired headphones were the norm back then, but they were far from convenient — the wires were prone to tangling and could easily become bent or disconnected with frequent use.

Today, wireless earbuds are the norm, as they provide an unlimited range of movement and stay wonderfully tangle-free. How do wireless earbuds work, though? Wireless technology has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, and the audio quality of today’s best wireless headphones is just as good as that of most wired headphones. If you’ve ever wondered how these headphones create such a reliable wire-free connection, keep reading for an explanation of the technology and how it impacts your audio experience.

How do wireless earbuds work?

The majority of wireless earbuds available today, including Bose products, operate using Bluetooth® — chances are you’ve heard of it before, as it’s commonly used in wireless speakers, smartphones, computers, smart home devices, and more. There are some headphones that use other wireless technologies, such as infrared radio waves, but Bluetooth is by far the most common protocol thanks to its widespread adoption and overall convenience.

What is Bluetooth, exactly? It’s a wireless technology standard that uses radio waves to pass data over short distances, effectively sharing files between devices. This makes it possible to send music or podcasts from your phone to your earbuds without physically connecting the two devices. However, you must first pair the source and headphones together, which creates a connection, allowing them to communicate. Because Bluetooth is a universal standard, there are set requirements electronics must meet to use the technology, ensuring they always work properly with other Bluetooth devices.

One of the key things to understand about Bluetooth is that it’s a short-range technology. Because its radio waves only pass over a short distance, it minimizes the risk of interference from other signals. Average Bluetooth range is around 30 feet, and if you move too far away from the source device, your audio will begin to cut out, as the radio waves aren’t able to reach your headphones. However, as long as you stay close enough to the audio source, Bluetooth provides a consistent and reliable connection, even while running or moving through busy areas.

Wireless vs. true wireless earbuds

You may have heard the term "true wireless earbuds," which simply means that the two earpieces aren’t connected to each other by a wire. Standard wire-free earbuds aren’t connected to the audio source, but they do have a wire that connects the two earpieces behind your head. True wireless products, such as the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, don’t have any wires at all.

How does this work? Typically, one of the earbuds serves as a “primary” and acts as an intermediary between the audio source and the secondary earbud. This primary earbud calculates how long it will take to relay information to the secondary earbud and adjusts its playback accordingly, so you can listen to music in sync between both your ears.

The sound quality of wireless earbuds

When comparing wired and wireless headphones, you may wonder whether sound quality is better over a wired connection. This might have been the case at one point: When Bluetooth technology first came out, audio files had to be compressed before they were transferred to your headphones, which often resulted in decreased sound clarity.

However, improvements in technology have made it possible to transfer much larger files via Bluetooth. Today, the difference in audio quality between wired and wire-free earbuds is negligible. A pair of high-quality Bluetooth earbuds will deliver comparable audio to wired earbuds.

Embrace the freedom to move

If you’re still tethered by wired earbuds, it’s time to upgrade to a wireless pair, like the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds. Not only do they offer best-in-class audio, but you’ll be able to move freely without worrying about dislodging your earpieces. And with OpenAudio technology, you can hear your surroundings, yet no one can hear your music or phone call. So go ahead: Hit the gym, walk through the city, or head to the market — your wireless earbuds can keep up.

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Bose Ultra Open Earbuds tdt
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$299.00
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Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds tdt
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds
$249.00 $299.00
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