Truly wireless headphones - why so difficult?

Truly wireless headphones - why so difficult?

A pair of QCY Bluetooth wireless earbuds and their case on a wooden surface.

For years now, I'we carried a small case with a pair of Ultimate Ears in-ear earbuds in my pocket. Every now and then when I commute or walk, I take them out, plug them into my phone and listen to music.

When Apple said they would remove the headphone jack on the iPhone I was not impressed. Apple has been a forerunner when it comes to rid tech of legacy - such as the disk drive - and in hindsight they have been right so I accepted the death of the headphone jack.

I have been using Bluetooth since the very first Ericsson and Nokia phones where launched with Bluetooth support. And throughout the years I have cursed at the cumbersome and poorly functional pairing process.

Apple's AirPods is so far the only truly wireless headphones that works without problems. They are Bluetooth headphones but Apple added hardware and software support for a better pairing experience that is not part of the Bluetooth standard. Apple also managed to build proper antennas and hardware that supports a reliable Bluetooth connection. While the AirPods will work with Android devices, the seamless pairing process will not.

Why hasn't anyone else managed to do this yet? For every alternative earbuds I find - JBL, Sony, Jabra, B&O, Google - I find numerous reviews saying the pairing process is complicated and the Bluetooth connection unreliable with frequent connection drops.

It seems Bluetooth 5 will bring power and transfer speed improvement that will make it easier to build truly wireless earbuds with a solid and reliable connection. So far I have seen no such products on the market but I did find two about to enter the market: Zolo Liberty+ and Touch Wireless Earbuds.

While waiting for those, I spent €20 and bought a pair of QCY Q29 truly wireless earbuds from Aliexpress. They actually work pretty well and sounds surprisingly good. But yeah; the pairing process was complicated and the Bluetooth connection keeps failing every now and then and causing dropouts while listening to music.

Update 1 (January 2018):

The Touch Wireless Earbuds seem to have failed and backers have been offered partial refunds. Zolo Liberty+ has shipped their earbuds but the comments section on their Kickstarter page is filled with unhappy backers reporting all kinds of problems. I still tried to buy them from Amazon.de but they will not ship outside of Germany.

Update 2 (February 2018):

I bought a pair of Jabra Elite 65t truly headphones - the first mainstream earbuds with Bluetooth 5. I returned them after two days. They did not fit my ears at all and became painful to use. And the connection was not rock solid, I kept having glitches.

Having read about Bluetooth 2.4GHz RF and antenna design I now realise why Apple is the only one with a good connection in their Airpods. Bluetooth requires at least a 31mm long antenna - this is 1/4 of the radio wavelength. This is the shortest antenna you can have without making significant compromises regarding connectivity.

If you look at Apples Airpods you will notice that white "stick" coming out of them. It is there for several purposes but one is that it holds the antenna. Other manufacturers do not have this and try to use shorter antennas and that is one reason why they have poor connectivity.