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Top Questions About Wireless Headphones from T.H.E. Headphonium 2023

The wireless headphones on display at the eCoustics booth in T.H.E. Headphonium at T.H.E. Show

The high-end wireless headphone category has made a lot of progress over the past 24 months; our table at T.H.E. Headphonium offered the opportunity to experience almost every high-end model currently available and attendees took advantage of that.

What stood out to us was the confusion on the part of potential customers; people really don’t understand what differentiates all of the various products from one another.

Do you really think wireless headphones can compete with wired models?   

The answer isn’t a simple yes or no as it very much depends on the use-case.   Wireless headphones like the Focal Bathys and Bowers & Wilkins Px8 are great choices for everyday use in office environments, and average homes that may have the kids yelling and the TV blaring in the background.
No, neither will compete with the the Audeze LCD-5 for absolute fidelity, but if we are honest with ourselves, most of our listening isn’t done in pristine environments where we can hear every nuance anyway.
For critical listening, Bluetooth headphones are not there yet for everyday use. However, Bluetooth headphones do offer a mix of convenience and sound quality that makes them a compelling option.

Lynn Miller and William Jennings at eCoustics booth at T.H.E. Headphonium in T.H.E. Show 2023
L. Miller and W. Jennings at eCoustics booth at T.H.E. Headphonium in T.H.E. Show 2023

What is the Best Wireless Headphone?   

Again, it depends on how they are being used. For pure sound quality, I lean toward the Focal Bathys with the Bowers & Wilkins Px8, and Mark Levinson No. 5909 also in that same class; especially when it comes to sound and price ($700-$1000).

Fellow, eCoustics headphone writer Lynn Miller, prefers the Px8 over the Bathys so any one of the three can take the top spot depending on signature preference.     

Stepping back a bit in price, the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 and Master & Dynamic MW75 both deserve an audition if shopping in the $500-600 price bracket.

For travelers and those looking for the best ANC performance, it is universally accepted that the Sony WH-1000XM5 is the top model with the Bose NC700 and QC45 models offering a strong alternative; the Shure Aonic 50 would be our suggestion for those looking for a good option that is affordable.

DAP or Dongle?

The selling points for DAPs include not using your phone’s battery when listening, higher-end components than phones for audio related functions, more storage and expandable storage, and broader use-cases than dongles (Streamer, Bluetooth DAC, Bluetooth transmitter, USB source).

The argument for dongle DACs is that DAPs duplicate many of the features that consumers paid for when they bought their phone. Dongles add a dedicated audio subsystem to a phone and are capable of providing DAP level performance from a standard Android or iOS device.

They do drain the battery of your smartphone and do not have their own storage capacity which means that you will be relying on music streaming platforms for most of your listening.

Related Video: DAPs, DACs and DAC-AMPs: Best for Portable Audio (YouTube)

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Do I need to upgrade my DAP?  If so to what?

If you listen predominantly to files and don’t stream, I would argue that an older DAP is still likely the most cost-effective option. Few would argue that models like the original Sony WM1Z or A&K 320 were not top quality DAPs for sound quality, and both can now be had for a fraction of newer models that support streaming. When looking at a DAP purchase, make a list first of the functions you frequently use and rate their importance to you, then find a DAP that matches that list of priorities. Also remember that last year’s top model can also be had on the used market at a substantial discount.  You’ll spend less and have more money left in your pocket for headphones or music to use with your new purchase.

How does the sound differ between using Bluetooth and the included 3.5mm cable provided with many wireless headphones? 

Depending on the headphone, the signature may be different when used as a wired headphone if the 3.5mm jack bypasses the electronics and goes to the drivers directly. On most, the 3.5mm jack instead connects to the electronics so the signal is still processed by the internal circuitry and often sounds the same as wireless as a result.

Tip: Bluetooth Audio Is Not Lossless

What was the most popular model we demonstrated?

People were consistently surprised at how good the sound quality was on the Sony WH-1000XM5 compared to the models that cost more than double the $299 sale price of the Sony. We had several visitors that started out comparing the Bathys and Px8 only to come to the conclusion that the Sony was their preference.

Attendees at the eCoustics booth in T.H.E. Headphonium at T.H.E. Show 2023

What stood out to you about the visitors to the booth?

Several things stood out.

There is still a large segment of people who think wireless headphones are inferior; primarily because they haven’t tried recent models or just because they want to compare them to their LCD-5 or Utopia instead of making more realistic price comparisons.

Most were surprised at just how good several of the models we had on display really are.

It was obvious that there was no consensus on which of the models was the best overall as some had strong feelings about a particular model; whilst others liked several and some didn’t care for any of them. There were even one or two that were completely ambivalent. 

ANC trumped sound quality as the most important feature for most of our listeners and models with more proficient ANC (Sony, Bose) were used more frequently than those with the best listening quality.

Find more coverage of T.H.E. Show 2023 here.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. ORT

    July 2, 2023 at 3:53 pm

    Excellente’!

    In the manner of the late Walter Cronkite and “You Are There” – I was there but I could not find where you guys were for the headphone stuff.

    Profe positive that I am as Bugs would say, a Maroon. I still have, use and enjoy music via my Bose QC45s and Sennheiser Momentum 3s. And several other off brands that I do not feel guilty a about passing out while wearing them after PT. 😉

    You are correct about quality differences betwen tethered and wireless ‘phones. For years, one of my brothers has totally distained BlooToof for being inferior or as he once put it, “To Mediocrity and Below!”. Well this past year he bought is wife a pair of Senneiser Momentum 4s and in what I can only term as a moment of plebeian empathy he tried them out.

    He ordered himself a pair of Mom 4s in white for his wife and he kept the original black pair he had bought her. He uses them quite frequently now. Personally I prefer the Mom 3s for their looks but so long as he no longer chides me for using BlooToof I care not.

    The Bathys have been on sale for a while now and I so desire to own a pair as I do so enjoy the Elegia I got for my self (after buying a pair for my son as a Christmas present!). The Bathys look gorgeous and I trust the headphone judgement of all of you lads without hesitation, trepidation and with only my usual dose of mild fiscal reticence. Their currently being on sale brings them ever closer to my Monetary Comfort Zone.

    Thank you Sir William of Minion!

    D’ORTagnan

  2. Lynn Miller

    July 2, 2023 at 9:40 pm

    Ort,

    While I may prefer the Px8 overall (when all factors are considered), if the Bathys is on sale; that becomes a near/no-brainer to me. Especially if the sale outstrips or equilibriates the price difference with which to begin between the two.

  3. ORT

    July 3, 2023 at 1:49 am

    Hi Lynn! They are currently at $699 and were around $589 or so. I was close at the lower price but then I was female dog slapped by the reality that I need to pay for some doctor ordered exercise equipment for my Physical Therapy at home. But if after that I can afford them, I shall give reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally serious thought to it as my days are primarily spent listening to music and watching TCM and Criterion Collection films. And I am doing PT stuff with headphones on!

    I do like the Px7/8s a LOT too (and the James Bond versions because…well…It is 007!!!!

    Thanks, brother! Please be assured your words are very much appreciated!

    ORT

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