In the audiophile world, the question of sound quality between wired headphones and wireless ones used to be a no-brainer: the wire sounds better! And I'm sure there are audiophiles out there who will take that creed to their graves.
But true wireless is here to stay. Headphone jacks are a thing of the past, and companies like Sony and Sennheiser continue to raise the bar for true-wireless with each new release.
This is partially in thanks to the release of Bluetooth 5.0 back in 2016, which has become the new standard for wireless tech. All our best sellers in the true wireless category use 5.0, which can transmit eight times more data, at four times the distance, and twice the speed of the previous version, Bluetooth 4.2.
Bluetooth 5 vs 4.2
Eight times the data at twice the speed sounds like a massive improvement, right? Does this mean Bluetooth 5 headphones sound eight times better than Bluetooth 4.2 headphones? Should you ditch your old pair of earbuds to upgrade to Bluetooth 5.0? The truth is that for the audiophiles, the differences between Bluetooth 4.2 to 5.0 will probably be minor.
What's the difference?
Most of the improvements of Bluetooth 5.0 are intended for the emerging Internet of Things, which means things like smart cars and smart appliances. For example, the maximum range has been upped from 200 feet to 800 feet. And while that may be cool if you want to connect to a Bluetooth speaker across a yard or something, average headphone usage falls well within the old range of 200 feet. And of course, line-of-sight interference remains unchanged. Bluetooth still can't pass through walls.
This high range is used at the cost of speed, however. A Bluetooth 5 device can transmit far or fast, but not both at once. But because most people listen to their headphones with a smartphone in their pocket, we can assume low distances and high speeds for the average wireless headphone user.
So keeping that in mind, Bluetooth 5 can transmit at around 6Mbps (megabytes per second), which is roughly twice as fast as Bluetooth 4.2. You'd think that this would result in better sound, right? But it doesn't, and this is because of Bluetooth codecs.
Codecs are a rather vast and confusing topic, and I won't delve too deeply here. There are a ton of great articles out there that explain the differences between them. But here are the basics.
In layman's terms, Bluetooth codecs compress (shrink) music files to make them small enough to be sent via Bluetooth. Higher quality music = bigger files. But even with Bluetooth 5, not a whole lot of data can fit in a Bluetooth signal when compared to a wired signal. So maybe those cable die-hards were right after all?
There are several different codecs that are used, like SDC, aptX, AAC and LDAC. Some offer higher quality than others. But here's the kicker: even the highest quality Bluetooth codec will compress the file down to just 1Mbps. Most of them get the file much smaller than that. This is well within the range of what even older Bluetooth versions can handle.
So what does that mean...?
Just to recap, Bluetooth 4.2 can handle 3Mbps, version 5 can handle 6Mbps. So both Bluetooth 4.2 and 5 can handle the highest quality wireless audio available, and with plenty of room to spare. This means that unless a higher-quality codec is developed, it doesn't matter how much better or faster the Bluetooth versions get: Your music isn't going to sound any better! The current codecs keep the music files small enough that the extra bandwidth really doesn't matter.
So no, Bluetooth 5 won't make your music sound better. Bluetooth 5's audio quality isn't any better, because it uses the same codecs as older versions of Bluetooth.
Should I even bother with Bluetooth 5?
What is better with version 5 is the range and speed of connection. And speaking from the personal experience of the Audio46 staff, you can expect fewer dropouts and connection issues from Bluetooth 5 compared to 4.2.
If you are a true audiophile, you'll probably keep using a wire anyway. But if you're thinking about picking up your first pair of true wireless buds, the whole Bluetooth experience will run a little smoother with version 5. But if v4.2 works for you, there's no reason to go crazy and jump for the new version. When a new Bluetooth codec gets announced... that's when you should jump and go crazy!
If you still have questions about Bluetooth headphones, Call (212) 354-6424, chat now, email us or visit our NYC store. Our team of headphone experts will be glad to answer questions and help find the perfect headphone for your needs and budget.