Getting the best performance and longest life from your investment
When you get serious about audio, investing in quality listening devices may be one of the best ways to improve your listening experience. Both earbuds and headphones offer high-quality playback. With Bluetooth versions 3.0 and 4.0 sporting enhanced data rate bandwidth along with aptX codecs and A2DP (advanced audio distribution profile) which support Bluetooth as a audio streaming platform, wireless devices finally have a chance to offer serious audio playback.
It’s a get-what-you-pay-for world, so the really good buds and cans will cost you. When those $20 units continue to fail after a few months, it doesn’t take long to realize you’re wasting, not saving, money over the long term.
Still, there’s always more you can do to take care of your equipment, to extend its performance and life. In the following article we collect some of the best ways to treat and maintain your wireless listening devices. But first, let’s kill a myth.
The audio world has a fringe element of crazies who, for reasons known only to themselves, create strange and nonsensical entreaties with which to self-promote as audio gurus, belittling all in their path. Unfortunately, they’re called audiophiles. There is the legitimate audiophile, and the two species aren’t hard to tell apart. The real audiophile does concern themselves with the best possible equipment and sound, but they are distinguishable from the crazies in that they are enthusiastic and free with their experience and advice. They don’t judge people by the equipment they do or do not have.
It’s the crazies who come up with statements such as, “you MUST play 200 hours of music through new headphones” before they will sound their best.
To be sure, there is occasionally a measurable difference in response. However, it’s barely measurable. The crazies would have you believe it’s a night and day change of major significance. It’s not. Buy your headphones. Use them. Enjoy. The crazy audiophile will flip out when they find you’re using wireless anyway.
Your device may not burn in, but your ears can burn out. Learn how headphones and earbuds can potentially harm your hearing in this article.
Most of the wear problems with headphones and earbuds typically come from the cable. These get wrapped, yanked, pulled, twisted, run over and stuffed into pockets. When buds or cans stop working, most of the time it traces back to the wire.
Remove the wire and you remove wire-related issues. This is a great advantage that contributes to device life. In many cases, there’s nothing serviceable when a cable issue arises, unless you’re lucky enough to have a model with replaceable cables. Those exist, but they are fewer and farther apart than you’d think.
With wireless units, everything is inside. There’s nothing to catch, fold or otherwise malign. Already, you’re a step ahead in the care and maintenance game.
A nice trend happening as the wireless device market expands is the protective case. More models ship with something in which to store your cans or buds. These are even found with models under the $100 price point.
The best style of protective case is the zippered hardshell case. If your equipment doesn’t ship with one, consider purchasing an aftermarket case that provides a reasonable fit. When you’re not using your headphones, they’ll collect dust and invite errant elbows, landing on the floor. There’s nothing that will deteriorate your device faster than leaving it somewhere it receives direct sunlight. UV rays quickly break down the materials used to make your ‘phones. It’s better that the materials of the protective case take that abuse.
The same holds true for earbuds. As well as dedicated carry cases, due to their often small size, you may be able to improvise a solution, depending on the style. A lozenge tin, for example, could be fit with a soft cloth interior. Some wireless earbuds use lightweight bands meant to go around the head to keep the buds themselves in place. These may require a more rigid solution.
Soft pouches are better than nothing, and may be quite adequate for earbuds. These have less protection against drops and impact damage, though they do offer dust, spill and UV protection.
Simply owning the case isn’t enough. Use it. If your device uses replaceable batteries, take it out when storing. You may plan on listening tomorrow, but if extended storage happens, you don’t want a leaky battery inside your cans.
Unless the manufacturer of your brand advises differently, don’t use alcohol or other solvents on any part of your device. The microfiber cloth is indispensable. Get one (or two) to gently wipe down your headphones or buds after use. Lay the cloth over the device when you store it. Regular gentle wipes take care of most of your cleaning needs.
If you do need to clean visible dirt, slightly dampen the same cloth and remove the dirt that way, if possible.
Headphones with Call Management Features
Wireless devices meant to handle calls from a tethered smartphone likely have small holes on the ear cups, access points for microphones. Similarly, devices with noise cancelling features may have several holes. Be careful about water entering these holes. Equipment damage could result.
Leather, Real or Otherwise
Top-line headphones may use real leather for the earcups. They’ll usually brag about that fact to attract upscale consumers. Mid-range ‘phones frequently use very convincing synthetic leathers. The care and cleaning of real versus synthetics varies differently. Follow your manufacturer’s instructions. If you’re in doubt, fall back on the water-damped microfiber cloth.
If you’re in the market for wireless headphones, check out our wireless headphones buying guide.
Any device with an in-ear portion needs special care. Earbuds with silicone tips are usually designed for regular replacement, as are many foam tips. Expensive buds often ship with cleaning tools. Less expensive models may not have these, but that doesn’t mean they won’t benefit. Ear bud cleaning kits are available. Again, study your manufacturer’s instructions and follow their directions.