What are Bluetooth&Reg; Headphones?

R. Kayne

Bluetooth® headphones are cordless stereo or surround sound headphones designed to work with Bluetooth®-enabled devices and equipment. Bluetooth® is a wireless networking technology that connects electronics by creating a Personal Area Network (PAN) in which the devices can interoperate without being physically attached to one another.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

Some applications used with Bluetooth® headphones include gaming stations, computers, mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), iPhones®, iPods®, digital music or multimedia players, portable stereos, home entertainment receivers, televisions, and vehicle radios or entertainment centers. The only requirement of the connected device is that it is Bluetooth® capable, either internally or via a Bluetooth® adapter, and that it supports a compatible version of Bluetooth®.

Bluetooth® RF waves can travel around and through objects, including clothing, purses, laptop bags and backpacks. This makes Bluetooth® headphones a good choice for connecting to cell phones, digital music players and other devices that might ride along in tow. Bluetooth® headphones are also used in vehicles equipped with entertainment centers so that the kids can wirelessly game or listen to movies without worry that the signal might be blocked by dipping behind a seat, ducking behind a headrest, or from others who might temporarily block a clear line of sight between the headphones and player.

Bluetooth® headphones designed for use with personal devices use radio frequency (RF) waves intended for operation in fairly close quarters of up to about 30 feet (~10 meters). The range is somewhat limited because this flavor of Bluetooth®, designated Class 2, is conservative in its power consumption to make it compatible with battery-driven electronics. Using less power, its signal is weaker and travels a shorter distance.

Class 1 Bluetooth® headphones are designed primarily for connecting to equipment powered by electricity, including home entertainment centers or gaming stations. This flavor of Bluetooth® uses a more powerful transmitter that extends the range up to 300 feet (~100 meters), competing with standard RF headphones. If you don't require more than a 30-foot (~10m) range, however, Class 2 headphones might meet all of your Bluetooth® needs.

Note that if you have a Class 2 Bluetooth® device, buying a Class 1 device will not extend the range of the Class 2 device. To get the full range of Class 1, Class 1 devices are required at both ends of the connection. Class 3 Bluetooth® has a range of about three feet (1m) and is much less common.

Increasingly the term “Bluetooth® headset” is used interchangeably with “Bluetooth® headphones,” though many people differentiate a headset as being a mono-aural device that fits into one ear, fitted with a microphone for hands-free cell phone operation. Full sized gaming headphones might also feature a detachable microphone for in-game communication.

Many different types of Bluetooth® headphones are available, from full sized cups with an overhead band, to sports or active models that use in-ear speakers connected by a neckband. Some models come with an optional cable to be used universally by any device with a headphone jack, allowing the wireless headphones to double as standard headphones.

If the Bluetooth® headphones you are interested in support a special audio processing technology, the connecting Bluetooth® device must also support the technology to make use of it. Proprietary car entertainment centers might require a specific brand and model of Bluetooth® headphones, so check documentation before shopping. Bluetooth® headphones range in price starting at about $40 US Dollars (USD) or less, and are available everywhere personal electronics are sold.

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