In defense of headphone wires

So long to wires, headphone jacks and functionality  


Flickr Creative Commons/Chris Campbell

By Edridge D'Souza, Collegian Columnist

Over this past Christmas, one of the most baffling gift trends I’ve seen is also somehow the least surprising: Apple AirPods. The $160 wireless headphones were always going to sell massive volumes regardless of their actual quality, if only because of the Apple brand name, but the idea that one of the hottest gift items of 2018 could be a pair of expensive yet mediocre headphones is still nothing short of astounding.

I’m aware that there are legitimate reasons why people would want AirPods. The lack of a wire offers an increased range of mobility, and they represent the first commercially successful “true wireless” earbuds on the market. The charging case provides convenient storage without the threat of tangled wires, and the Bluetooth functionality itself pairs seamlessly with most major smartphones.

And yet, I can’t in good conscience recommend buying them. Perhaps it’s just because I have ears that have only ever been able to accommodate in-ear headphones without them continually falling out, which is a problem that many people face. Maybe it’s because I detest how Apple can rule by fiat over the entire tech industry in declaring that the future of personal headphones doesn’t involve headphone jacks. Or, it might just be that I’m a stick in the mud who dislikes change. Either way, there is no reality in which I see the benefits of wireless headsets outweighing the drawbacks, at least in the near future.

By nature of being wireless, a wireless headset needs its own battery. The AirPod carrying case tries to solve this by providing extra charges, but even still, this is only effective for up to 24 hours. We currently live in a world where a 24-hour window can still sometimes leave us scrambling to charge our phones, and if this trend catches on, it will happen to our headphones too. Revolutionary as it may sound, there’s something that can get you an unlimited listening time: wires!

Wires also simply make more sense when it comes to how we interact with technology. Apple is essentially declaring that Bluetooth is the future of audio but doing so involves ignoring the past. Both analog and digital devices still rely on plain headphone jacks, and an increased reliance on Bluetooth only makes non-phone devices harder to use. Whether it’s the entertainment system on a flight, a mix table for a DJ or even just technological products made prior to the current year, headphone jacks are the only way to access much of the existing technology. Now, of course, Apple can possibly solve this by releasing some add-on widget that connects the Bluetooth headset to an analog jack, but just like their previous headphone jack adaptor, this seems like a solution in search of a problem. And in this case, the problem is “get more money.”

Perhaps most compelling for me is the fact that while wires limit mobility, they also perform the overlooked and underrated task of tethering a device to your person. There have been countless times that my phone has dropped or slipped out of my pocket and has only been saved from a devastating demise because it was still hanging from my ear by the wire. When I have my headphones plugged in, my phone and earbuds travel as a single unit, and I never have to worry about them getting separated and lost. It may seem like a minor advantage, but in a world where we’re already used to headphones, so does the AirPods’ increased mobility.

I understand what Apple is trying to do. By shaking up the technology landscape, they hope to untether us from the supposed shackles of the past, fulfilling Steve Jobs’ vision of Apple blurring the lines between technology and daily life. However, understanding it doesn’t change the fact that I still completely despise it. For $160, why not popularize an actual high-quality set of headphones? While the AirPods have sound quality on par with other earbuds, there is no shortage of wired headphones with excellent sound quality for even less cost. It seems to me like Apple just wants to get rid of the features we already have in order to make a not-so-quick buck.

It’s entirely possible that history will prove me wrong. Let the record show that I’ve been wildly wrong in my predictions before. And Apple has a certain knack for turning previously laughed-at ideas into the industry standard. However, for as long as I possibly can, I will still be purchasing wired headphones, and hope that the future market will still cater to traditionalists like me.

Edridge D’Souza is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]