/ Technology

Are your wireless headphones running out of juice?

Not many wireless headphones make it easy to change the battery. Are you finding yours are lasting far less time than when you first purchased them?

I owned a great pair of wireless headphones back when commuting used to be part of my daily life. Very portable, great sound quality, and the eight hours of battery life would get me to and from work on a single charge. Or, at least until they hit 30% charge.

30% was a cliff edge after which my batteries would freefall into oblivion in the span of 10 minutes.

It began to get worse, with 40% becoming the new 30%, and then 50%. Eventually, when I saw my headphones losing 10% charge with each passing station, I switched back to my wired ones.

Impossible to repair?

Through regular usage (charging and discharging), wireless headphone batteries inevitably grow weaker over time. What seems an easy solution though – replacing the batteries – proves to be anything but.

Headphones are very difficult to take apart and put back together. Many parts are glued together or require special tools to access. Apple’s Airpods are a good example, with repair advocates iFixit giving the AirPod Pro a zero for repairability.

(Important note: we do not recommend taking your headphones apart. This could invalidate your warranty, and you could put yourself at risk of injury in doing so).

While some manufacturers will enable you to send your phone away for a battery replacement, it’s a very patchy picture that varies by manufacturer. The price some charge for repairs can also put-off many.

For example, Apple charges £45 to replace all the batteries in its popular AirPods, plus an additional £45 to replace those in the charging case.

If you needed to replace both for £90, that’s not too far off getting a brand new pair, with prices starting around £130.

Tell us your stories

As you know, we’re not fans of not being able to change the battery on products. We’d like to hear your experiences where your headphone batteries are letting you down. 

Tell us about your experience with your wireless headphones – when you bought them and for how much, and whether you’re still satisfied with the battery life.

Have you had headphones you’ve had to retire early due to battery failure or poor performance?  

Have you attempted to replace the batteries in your headphones, either by yourself or through the manufacturer or retailer?  If so, what was the experience like? 

What other devices have you had let you down due to poor battery performance?

We’ll be writing about this in a future edition of Which? Magazine and are keen to include your stories.

Comments

I have avoided using wireless earphones for exactly this reason. It’s enough to charge an iPhone and an Apple Watch every day, let alone earphones as well. I just make do with the supplied wired earphones, which always work and don’t suffer from battery degradation.

However, rumour has it that, with effect from the iPhone 12 and later, Apple will no longer supply any earphones with new iPhones. Therefore more people are likely to choose wireless earphones over wired earphones.

I have also not adopted wireless headphones.

I only buy smartphones that come with headphone sockets, so I can use any of my favourite wired headsets.

Flying, what’s that? Is it something that used to be practiced pre-covid?

Derek – Flying is the short activity that fills the space between arriving at an airport to idle away hours of time in pointless grazing, browsing, queuing and having your personal life x-rayed for the amusement of low-life at one end of the day, and being tipped out at the other end in the wind and rain to cram onto a noisy bus driven by a berserk maniac on steroids in order to hang around watching other people’s luggage go round and round. By that point you’ve forgotten about the fabulous holiday you’ve just had and can’t wait to get home again. Yes, . . . flying, I remember it well: occasionally comfortable, refreshments avoidable, rarely enjoyable.

I have not tried the earphones that came with my iPhone but in the past I have found that earphones fall out. I guess my ears do not conform to the required specification. I live alone, so there is no-one to annoy, and I don’t play music etc. when travelling on trains.

Earphones and headphones should have user-replaceable rechargeable batteries under forthcoming ‘right to repair’ rules. We may need to fight the manufacturers who will want to limit availability of spares and information to their appointed agents.

If you don’t use earphones, what do you do for phone calls then? Always on speaker? Holding it next to your ear, particularly for long calls, is uncomfortable, has potential health consequences and prevents you from accessing any data on the phone during the call.

Always on speaker – for all the reasons you have given. If I have visitors or am out and about I will hold the phone to my ear, but these calls are short.

I do the same as wavechange. If someone is calling for a chat, they are soon cut short and I call them back later when I am home and everyone else doesn’t have to listen to me.

Only two people have my mobile number so I am rarely faced with this dilemma.

Only our immediate family have ours. And we live where there’s no mobile signal, anyway.

Recently, I needed new sound for my desktop PC as my old speakers with quite big subwoofer needed replacing. I wasn’t looking for surround sound, but just personal sound for me when at my computer preferably with a subwoofer.

I had been using old but excellent quality headphones that are too big for my head so fall below my ears unless I stuff something in the top and so heavy they easily fall off if I don’t keep my head straight.

I looked at headphones including wireless but couldn’t bring myself to buy any as no head sizes are ever given. Many headphone adverts show men and women wearing them, but the women nearly always have a lot of hair on top that maybe hiding something to raise them so they appear to fit. I was surprised at how little time a charge lasted on some wireless.

I dismissed ear phones as the ones we bought for air travel some years ago kept falling out and they were uncomfortable. They have probably improved since then, but I didn’t really want them anyway.

This is probably slightly off-topic but I think still relevant for anyone looking for personal sound.

I looked at soundbars but they are mostly too big for my requirements. I don’t have any personal experience of them, but they seem very overpriced for what you get. I found found one soundbar that stood on end and was seriously thinking of buying that, but as the reviews were mediocre, kept looking.

I started looking at small speakers as the sound from some of my old radios was fine but they seem to be given a wide berth these days except from the many Amazon marketplace sellers pushing made-up brands you have never heard of. The negative reviews usually confirm they shouldn’t be touched with a bargepole.

Then I found the Creative Pebble V2. At £22.99 direct from Creative, they couldn’t be any good could they? Reviews were generally very favourable and negative reviews did not put me off so I took a chance.

They are excellent and for their size and price, the sound far exceeds my expectations and are exactly what I wanted. If I could, I would give them just a touch more base, but they are not tinny in any way and they don’t take up much space sitting neatly either side of my monitor. If Which? were to include them in reviews of small speakers, they would deservedly get top marks. 🙂

These remind me of the design of the Harman Kardon speakers that were supplied with my 2002 iMac G4 computer.

Thanks Alfa

Now that I have taken part in a few Zoom link-ups, and with a number of lectures coming up from organisations to which I belong, I realised that I needed a better audio experience with my old, everyday, works-its-socks-off laptop. That will probably lead me to upgrade the speaker department of the desktop PC as well. At £23 these Pebbles seem like a very good buy [and cheaper than some of the rockery stones I have bought for my garden lockdown landscaping project!].

I also need to enhance the microphone function on the laptop. Any recommendations in that area?

The downstairs laptop is fairly new and only used for quick catch-ups so doesn’t deserve any upgrades at the moment.

Having a hands-free conversation with another hands-free user can be problematic because of feedback between speakers and microphones.

John: I use a cheap ‘n cheerful headset by Panasonic. Plugs into our landline ‘phone and enables me to natter and type, if necessary. The Mic is superb and headset is of the ‘over ear’ type.

I’ve been using a Plantronics USB headset with the PC I use for work.

It works nicely with Skype for Business and Teams, or at least it does now that I’ve given myself manual control of the microphone gain.

Before that Skype tended to automatically maximise the gain, reducing call quality.

Are you around at the moment John?

Wavechange is right when he says feedback can be a problem, and I had quite a job with my dad when I set him up for Skype many years ago as he would put the 3 items too close to each other.

I haven’t tested Skype with my pebbles and mic yet, but with the speakers at the back turned away from the desk and the mic right at the front it should work.

If you don’t want anything on your head or ears, I have a suggestion for a mic but there are only a few available at a reasonable price.

Thank you, Alfa. I have been working in the garden from early this morning before it reaches boiling point and I need to go out shortly so I shall catch up later today. My need is not urgent but during a recent Zoom meeting one of the other participants mentioned that my voice was distorted or inaudible [even after I had tweaked all the relevant settings] so I thought an independent microphone would be a good idea.

The problem with the Zoom meetings is that either everyone tries to speak at once or no one speaks and chairing the discussions is difficult. People will rest their chins on their hands, or don’t address the mic, which doesn’t help. I don’t actually know whereabouts on my laptop the mic is situated but most people seem to be able to pickup my remarks!

The mic is next to the camera at the top of the screen on our laptop, but they are probably all different.

Hi John,

I have always used a Logitech USB mic that seems to work well.

They have been discontinued now but one seller has them on ebay. This one looks like a newer model than mine but basically looks the same and has an on/off button on the base so you can just listen through speakers without having to worry about keeping silent.

This one is at least a well-known brand. The seller is established and doesn’t have a great reputation but his negative reviews are mostly for items that would not be in original packaging, so I think worth taking the chance.

Thanks Alfa – I shall check that out.

Jon wrote: “We’ll be writing about this in a future edition of Which? Magazine and are keen to include your stories.”

I look forward to reading the article. I reckon that quite a number of magazine articles could have been improved if points raised in Convos had been investigated before publication.

It would be helpful if Which? reviews stated which headphones have rechargeable batteries that can be replaced easily, without the use of tools.

I would like to see this information provided for all reviews of rechargeable products.

Do wireless headphones cause cancer?

Have there been any studies to show they’re safe?

Hi a, I think there is a reasonably balanced article here:-https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure/cellular-phones.html

It mainly covers cell phones but also discusses bluetooth devices.

See also here:-https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2019/03/16/news-digest-online-prostate-cancer-predictor-nhs-waiting-times-breast-cancer-rulebook-and-bluetooth-headphones/

Hi a – It’s not really possible to prove that something does NOT cause cancer. The usual scientific approach is to look for evidence that something IS a risk. Some people have been concerned about mobile phones but perhaps by now we would know if any of them was a significant risk.

As far as I know, wireless headphones only receive radio frequency energy, not transmit it, so this energy would come from the phone, tablet or computer rather than the headphones.

But obviously a wireless headset that includes a microphone will need to send data back to its parent phone.

Of course, but ‘a’ referred to wireless headphones. I was trying to explain that wireless headphones don’t emit radio signals – as far as I know.

Actually, I think all Bluetooth devices must engage in some bidirectional communication. But older designs of wireless headphones, such as those with a separate transmitter, would only receive data.

You are right because ‘pairing’ of bluetooth devices involves bidirectional communication. I do not know whether bluetooth headphones continue to transmit radio signals after pairing.

yimi says:
12 August 2020

The battery of the headphones was always something complicated when you have good music

My biggest pet hate is when I don’t use them for a few days and they don’t hold the charge so you then have to wait, annoying in the past when you rush out the door and don’t check the night before.

I think that’s a good example of what is sometimes referred to as a ‘first world’ problem. Consumerism takes various forms!

Indeed but this is a consumer forum…

In acknowledging that this is a consumer forum, and that Which? is a consumer organisation, I would hope we could progressively move the agenda towards a more sustainable and ethical position in relation to consumption. I think Which? has gone a long way in this direction but there will continue to be a conflict between the commercial aspirations of a consumer organisation that has to appeal to the affluent and somewhat self-indulgent end of society for its funding on one hand, and concerns over the way we treat our planet on the other. If we are not careful, consumerism becomes a by-product of materialism; perhaps it already is.

Today I received details from Which? of even more luxury laptops coming onto the UK market coupled with the usual concerns over whether they looked smart, whether they were light enough in weight, whether they could go a whole day in the office on one battery charge, and whether you could fold it this way or that. Half the world would love to have these problems; a significant proportion of the population of the UK can barely contemplate them because no aspect of their lives includes the regular use of a laptop. But we are fed this constant drip, drip, drip of ‘essential’ upgrades and latest features each of which will make an infinitessimally small difference to our lives yet are presented as desirable.

How many makes and types of laptop does society need? As Alfa says, in the ethical investments Conversation, there is a legacy of precious mineral exploitation, harmful waste management, and present and future deprivation inherent in the current consumer landscape due largely to the deliberate and irresponsible built-in obsolescence of modern products. This is, of course, bolstered by the must-have philosophy promulgated by the marketing industry, fed by the competitive influence of social media, and unfortunately exercised by those who are generally educated to a standard that suggests they should know better.

We live in a world where the hardware is impressive, the software has features we never dreamed we needed, but the content is as banal as ever . . . but we must get the latest gadget or device just for our own credibility.

Status. Vanity. Are they the new marks of civilisation?

Hi John, I love my old and old fashioned wired headphones 😀

Today, I am visiting W?C using my 12 year old desktop PC, from which I have banned anything that relates to covid-lock-down home working. The ~10 year old laptop that I use for home working is now switched off and should stay so until at least Monday.

When I was a Which? subscriber, I always felt that the majority of their laptop reviews were biassed towards unduly expensive systems and I hope that I had some modest success in also persuading them to consider the needs of those with less money to spend. In their defence, Which? claimed that survey data from subscribers was used to set the price range covered by their reviews, which I suppose is fair enough.

As I love tinkering with home computers, I have not bought any brand new ones since 2011, but I do get through quite a few inexpensive secondhand ones. These typically get used as “appliances” for specific projects and applications, or they get refurbished and passed on to other family members and friends. Some even get donated to folk that we know, who need access to a PC but cannot even afford a cheap one.

Over time, laptops can either fail for a variety of reasons or can just become too old and slow to run modern software effectively. So there is an ongoing need for folk to buy replacement ones. Hence it does make sense for Which? to review such products and, also, to warn buyers about questionable practices at certain retailers.

“a consumer organisation that has to appeal to the affluent and somewhat self-indulgent end of society for its funding“. I do not think it follows that the membership, who may be more affluent, are necessarily self indulgent or do not care about the planet. There are plenty of comments that suggest they may care as much or more than some in a younger group where fashion, latest phones and laptops, are revered.

However, they do seem to focus some of their efforts on expensive toys. A “set” for the home “barista” comprises a coffee tamper, a plastic bin for used grounds and a milk frother for just… £100. And a hand-operated bean grinder for about the same. Do we really need to be made aware of these sorts of unnecessary gadgets? Would scarce time not be better spent on reporting products that are more generally needed?

I’m sure Which? are continually striving to retain their existing base of subscribers whilst also renewing it with new blood.

When I first subscribed to Which?, it was as a member of an office club and I think we all mainly used Which? for product and service reviews.

Today, there are many other sources for such reviews, including ones offering fake reviews, so I guess providing valuable quality review output is a real challenge for Which?

It follows that Which? can also add value in other areas, e.g. campaigns. However, my observation is that Which? seems to set its own agenda for campaigns, as opposed to being obviously guided by the collective thoughts of its subscribers.

Perhaps this is a discussion for the Sustainability Convo. I expect that those who think that a new laptop or phone is an extravagance are extravagant in other ways.

A benefit of wireless headphones is that the risk of accidental damage to the phone or music player is eliminated. All that is needed is for the headphones to be redesigned to allow the rechargeable batteries to be replaced by the user. The same applies with many cordless products. Let’s campaign for change.