Look, ma, wires! TWS headphones have improved, but wires still rule the soundstage


Remember when Apple pulled the headphone jack from the iPhone, and people lost their minds? Well, it wasn’t long after that Android makers followed suit. Even Samsung, who made fun of Apple for pulling the headphone jack, eventually followed suit. That left millions of users of wired headphones more than upset over the move.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Sure, for a few years, Apple and Android smartphones that removed the headphone jack provided a dongle to use the Lightning or USB-C port with wired headphones, but the path forward was clear now. Wireless and truly wireless headphones were where manufactures were heading.

To be transparent, I never really thought losing the headphone jack was a big deal; I have always supported the idea of a wireless user experience. Some years ago, I would have argued that Bluetooth sound is just as good as wired, so what’s the big deal?

But my opinion has changed. I’ve been reviewing headphones over the past eight years, so I’ve reviewed plenty of wired and wireless headsets. I still think that Bluetooth sound is excellent; it has even improved by leaps and bounds in just the past few years. But I’ve also been reviewing wired headphones that have helped me hear the difference between wired and wireless. I’ve also been testing both wired and wireless headphones using a DAC, which is a helpful tool to enhance headphones’ sound.

Campfire Audio Mammoth headphones
Wired headphones like the Mammoth deliver better sound than the wireless competition.

I think TWS headphones have their place, no doubt about it. My favorites are the Apple AirPods Pro, and they are excellent in comfort, ANC, and sound. Wireless over-ears are also popular, and my favorites are currently the Apple Air Pods Max. These wireless offerings sound amazing, and the sound is further enhanced if you use a DAC like the FiiO BTR5.

Still, if you sit down to compare a pair of wired earbuds like the Campfire Audio Mammoth vs. the Apple Air Pods Pro, you can hear the difference. The clarity, power, and balance of wired headphones are evident if you’re seriously listening with intent.

The convenience of wireless or TWS headphones skewed my previous opinion of sound vs. wired. I was basing my position on the fact that I felt the user experience of not dealing with wires gave the wireless headphone the advantage.

Of course, I think it’s OK to choose convenience over functionality and superior sound if that’s what you want. At this point, I don’t think most people put that much emphasis on high-quality sound; they want some noise to come from their headphones.

That said, having now been able to test and use wired headphones and compare them to TWS and wireless ones. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that wired is the way to go if you’re after the absolute best sound you can get.

The bottom line is this. If you want convenience and portability, then you should go with TWS. If you want the absolute best sound you can muster, wired is the way to go. Sadly, most people will never have the opportunity to test both methods side by side as I have, and that’s what one needs to do to make a discerning choice.

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