The unexpected downside of wireless earbuds has made me stop worrying and love wires

Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro
(Image credit: Anker)

As human society marches ever onward towards what is presumably a future untainted by corded electronics, it can seem like everything is becoming wireless. From our headphones to our actual phones, our kettles to our keyboards, technology these days is dominated by wireless connectivity. 

Wired earbuds, in particular, have almost become a relic of a bygone era – outside of the professional IEM space, anyway. After all, why have wires attached to those tiny little buds that go straight into your ears when it isn’t absolutely necessary?

Well, actually, there are reasons to do this. The thing is that with each generation of music technology, there’s a lot we gain but also things we lose on the way. Like the mixtape days of the Walkman era or the thrill of finding a rare bootleg of your favourite artist that almost nobody else has ever heard before the days of streaming, we’ve lost something – something very important – with wired earbuds: we can’t sing along with our music anymore.

You might think to yourself you can sing along with your wireless buds, but you can’t, not really, and that all comes down to the unexpected downsides of wireless earbuds… 

Why, like Icarus, earbuds should be tethered to the ground

Icaurs lost his AirPods 3

(Image credit: Public Domain)

OK, it's not my only issue, but it is something that bothers me - so let's tackle it first. If you’re like me, you’ll recognise that almost compulsive drive to sing at seemingly random times in possibly strange places. You’ll get some kind of odd satisfaction from testing yourself to see if you remember all the lyrics to that one song by singing it on your way to the supermarket. You’ll probably have little to no singing ability and you probably won’t let that stop you from being fun at karaoke, either.

The problem is that wireless earbuds don’t make this kind of lifestyle easy. I use an iPhone and received some AirPods as a Christmas present, so sometimes I pull them out when my now-ancient Apple wired earbuds are looking like too much hassle to untangle. And sometimes, when I’m strolling down the street outside my apartment, I get the urge to sing along with whatever I’ve got playing, so I pluck an earbud out from my ear and deposit it into my pocket.

Doing this with AirPods (and many other true wireless pairs) is a big mistake because that’ll then go ahead and pause whatever you’re listening to, which is usually a lovely feature but not very helpful when I’m out there trying to one-bud it like a champ. You can go into your settings and turn Automatic Ear Detection off, but you’ll probably want that on most of the time, so now you’ve got this fun settings dance you have to do before and after you ever want to listen to something with just one bud.

And that’s just the start of it. See, AirPods, like most wireless earbuds, are traditionally small and light and fall-out-of-your-pocketable. So, it’s not just that I’m dropping the bud into my pocket and carrying on with my life after changing my settings, I’m instead perpetually paranoid that I’m going to lose this tiny piece of plastic and have to shell out for another one. This does not make for a particularly fun, carefree experience.

Then, while touch-sensitive buttons on wireless earbuds work okay most of the time, they don’t always – especially if you’re particularly fat-fingered like I am and semi-regularly press too hard or too soft or in the wrong place or what have you. Plus, you’re definitely amping up what I like to call the weirdness factor with wireless earbuds.

If somebody sees you with a sleek, stylish cord running up to your ear and you’re currently in the process of very confidently missing the high note on Take On Me, you may seem a bit strange but you’re clearly just singing along. If somebody sees you doing that and you’ve got some low-profile, easy-to-miss buds in, they can think you’re quite a bit more strange. Trust me.

The unexpected upsides of wired earbuds

With a wire, transport is easy: everything’s connected. Plus, you’ve got infinitely reliable control over whatever you’re listening to with your built-in buttons, and you don’t have to charge anything, ever. 

And what’s more, nobody can mistake you for ignoring them (even if you actually are) when you’ve got wired buds in: you’re just listening to something, of course. Perhaps most importantly, you can confidently and effortlessly traverse the land with but one bud in your ears while also giving yourself a toy you can swing around whenever you want. It would also be rude not to mention that the best pair of wired earbuds is probably still going to sound better than the best pair of similarly priced wireless earbuds.

Yes, wireless earbuds are very convenient. And, yes, they’re well-suited to places like the gym or just during more involved activities in general where a cord can get in the way. The wireless revolution isn’t here for no reason, after all. However, there are definitely scenarios where wireless earbuds make life less enjoyable (the sound of wireless earbuds cutting out is my nails on the chalkboard), and at the end of the day, whether it’s hi-fi gear that costs about as much as the down payment on a nice house or just a pair of everyday earbuds, listening to music is about appreciating the art and enjoying the experience.

I wouldn’t have anybody set their wireless earbuds to sea, but maybe don’t toss that old pair of wired earbuds you have laying around. You might want to use them sometime, because you can’t do everything wirelessly. At least not yet, try as tech companies might.


Our pick of the best wired headphones

Or the best true wireless earbuds

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Ruben Circelli

Ruben is a long-time freelance consumer technology and gaming journalist, and was previously a Staff Writer at What Hi-Fi?. Since 2014, Ruben has written news, reviews, features, guides, and everything in-between at a huge variety of outlets that include Lifewire, PCGamesN, GamesRadar+, TheGamer, Twinfinite, and many more. Ruben's a dedicated gamer, tech nerd, and the kind of person who misses physical media. In his spare time, you can find Ruben cooking something delicious or, more likely, lying in bed consuming content.

  • manicm
    I'm asking this very seriously - was the author on drugs at the time of writing this piece?
  • adamdavid
    manicm said:
    I'm asking this very seriously - was the author on drugs at the time of writing this piece?

    Agreed. Also, I don't understand why you would remove one earbud in order to sing along.