Buying Cordless Headphones

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Buying Cordless Headphones

The grandfather of today’s cordless headphones (also referred to as wireless headphones) was developed in 1910, by Nathaniel Baldwin. He experimented with sound amplification using compressed air and fashioned sound receivers into the first pair of modern headphones. These were sold to the United States Navy, but Baldwin did not pursue a patent, because he thought his invention was trivial in its application. Other inventors took Baldwin’s creation and continued work on the application to develop radio headphones from moving iron drivers, as well as headphones used for telephone and telegraph work.

Fast forward to the 2000s, and headphones are everywhere. They are used with fixed audio equipment, such as CD and DVD players, personal computers, and home theatre systems. They are very common with popular portable devices as well, such as MP3 players and cell phones. Cordless headphones are a new adaptation of wired headphones, relying on a powered receiver system, where the headphone is only one component. This type is not connected via a wire and receives either a radio or infrared signal, encoded using a transmission link.

Why Choose Cordless Headphones?

The prime market for cordless headphones are those who are listeners of on-the-go music and users of at-home theatre technology, as they are more interested with convenience than audio quality. If the headphones sound okay and are comparable in price to ‘old-fashioned’ wired headphones, then they are an attractive substitute for those who need portability or whose distance from the emitter is too great for wired headsets. All cordless headphones use a transmitter and built-in headphone receiver to send and receive audio signals.

Types of Cordless Headphones

There are three main types of cordless headphones: radio frequency (RF), infrared light waves (IR), and Bluetooth. Each type of headphone offers ease of use without cords impeding movement, but has their own strengths and weaknesses. Familiarity with their advantages and disadvantages is helpful when purchasing. Generally speaking, all wireless technologies are prone to interference; therefore if audio levels and quality are high priorities, their wired counterparts may prove a superior option.


Transmission Distance

Subject to Obstruction

Level of Interference

Radio Frequency

Up to 100m


Moderate to High


~ 10m




Up to 100m*



*varies by class

Radio Frequency (RF)

Radio frequency headphones are powered by a transmitter that itself needs to remain plugged in to a main power supply. These are more suited for watching television or home cinema, where the user, while distant, remains essentially stationary, because they must remain within range of their power supply. They utilise radio frequencies to carry out the operations of the signals and do not require a direct line of sight to the transmitter, however. Radio frequencies can be received from several different angles and positions, because the frequencies are less directional than light frequencies.

One disadvantage to using radio frequency cordless headphones is that they will interfere with signals sent to other cordless devices in the same area. Once the antennae pick up the frequency, the current from the frequencies is transferred to drivers present in both right and left headphones. These drivers are responsible for removing any disturbance from the frequency, after which the frequency is sent to the speakers. The electromagnets, found in the speakers, generate vibrations on the membrane covering the speaker and are sent to the ear as sound.

Infrared Light Wave (IR)

Infrared light wave cordless headphones use a different type of technology than RF cordless headphones. Rather than broadcasting radio waves, the transmitter uses light-emitting diodes to shoot a beam of infrared light to the receiver, very similar to the way a remote control works. The beam of light acts as an on/off signal that translate into audible sound waves.

It is best to use IR cordless headphones within a single room, at close range, because, unlike radio frequency cordless headphones, there must be a clear line of sight between the IR transmitter and receiver, without any type of obstruction.

What makes them superior to radio frequency cordless headphones is that IR cordless headphones occupy a different area of the electromagnetic spectrum than radio waves; therefore, they do not pick up interference caused by radio waves, equipment, or appliances.

Infrared light waves are longer than visible light waves, but shorter than radio waves. The longest type of light waves visible to the human eye is found at the red end of the spectrum, hence the red colour seen when pointing an infrared beam against a white wall. There are many types of frequency bands used within the infrared spectrum, for purposes ranging from night-vision goggles to thermal imaging. The section of the IR spectrum set aside for wireless communication, is utilised by IR cordless headphones.


Bluetooth cordless headphones are headphones that were originally manufactured for use with mobile personal electronics. Bluetooth connects with networked devices through radio wave communication, but is less robust than its radio wave counterpart. While this saves power, which is instrumental to battery-operated devices; it also creates a shorter effective range similar to the IR range without obstruction restrictions. An interesting fact to note about Bluetooth technology is that it operates on an unlicensed band at 2.4 to 2.485 GHz, using a spread spectrum, frequency-hopping signal. The adaptive frequency-hopping capability associated with this technology was designed to reduce interference with other wireless technologies sharing the same 2.4 GHZ spectrum, which includes cell phones, wireless video transmitters, and wireless routers.

Range of Bluetooth Cordless Headphones

There are three classes of Bluetooth devices, based upon operating range.




up to 100 metres


up to 10 metres


up to one metre

Bluetooth cordless headphones receive music from portable devices while remaining completely separate and portable themselves. Bluetooth technology requires that the headphone bond with the transmitter built into the companion device, creating a high level of security and little risk of anyone listening in.

Useful Cordless Headphone Tips

Cordless headphones should be cared for in the same fashion as other small electronic devices. Regular recharging is recommended for maximum convenience. Bluetooth headphones tend to have an average listening time of around eight hours, while RF and IR headphones have a shorter lifespan.

Cordless headphones are, by nature of their built in electronic circuitry, somewhat fragile and susceptible to damage when dropped or impacted. Bluetooth technology was developed for use with cell phones, so they will allow a user to make hands-free phone calls. Recent advances in technology have brought about the development of wireless gaming headsets and computer headsets with simulated surround-sound capabilities.

Purchasing Cordless Headphones on eBay

When purchasing headphones from eBay for use with a particular device, a quick look through the owner’s manual for that device can yield a wealth of important compatibility information, such as the specific type of headphones for maximum performance and other information specific to the make and model of device being used. Once you know the type of headphones to be purchased, enter that search term into the search area. Due to the vast array of headphones available on eBay, it is advisable to include the search keywords ‘wireless headphones’ or ‘cordless headphones’ in order to exclude wired headsets from your search results.

Another factor to consider when purchasing a pair of cordless headphones from eBay is whether the headphones come along with the transmitter and other associated hardware. A set of used headphones may not contain all parts needed for your particular use, a fact that should ideally be reflected in the price and description.

When purchasing previously used headphones, it bears mentioning that headphone models that contain a piece that fits inside the user’s ear should be avoided for health reasons. Even after a good scrubbing, ear pieces contain fungi and bacteria that cannot be removed, and thereby present a risk of infection for the new user. If buying used, stick to models that are exclusively external.


Cordless headphones are associated with today’s modern wizardry of MP3 players and mobile devices. They allow the user to listen privately to audio and home cinema without the bulky wires and impedance of movement.

Cordless headphones are an excellent option for any small piece of electronics, as long as the correct compatible type of headphone is purchased. Radio frequency, infrared light wave, and Bluetooth, are three main types of cordless headphones available for purchase at most major retailers. Each type of cordless headphone uses its own unique type of technology.

Just to recap, radio frequency cordless headphones rely on radio waves to move sound into the ear, while infrared light wave cordless headphones use a band in the infrared spectrum to shoot a beam of light that is translated into an audible sound wave. Bluetooth technology utilises radio waves in an adaptive, frequency-hopping capability unique to this type of apparatus.

All three types of headphone is perfect for use with electronics ranging from home cinema to cell phones. Check the user manual for any device when purchasing headphones separately for the type of headphones recommended to ensure suitability.

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