How Do Wireless Earbuds Work? Plain & Simple Explanation of Bluetooth Earphones

How Do Wireless Earbuds Work? Plain & Simple Explanation of Bluetooth Earphones

Affiliate Disclosure: When you buy a product via our links, we sometimes earn a referral fee. Learn more

Wireless earbuds are very small headphones that insert partially into your ear canal and do not need to be physically connected with wires to your smartphone, computer, or stereo system in order to work.

Also called Bluetooth earphones, these ingenious and handy earbuds use Bluetooth technology to wirelessly connect to the source (the device which is actually playing the music – again, a phone, a computer, a tablet, a stereo system, or other devices).

But what does this all really mean, and how does it work? Let’s get into these questions and more, with a more in-depth look at wireless earbuds, explained as plainly and simply as possible.

  • What Are Wireless Earbuds?
  • How Do Bluetooth Earbuds Work?
  • What is Bluetooth?
  • What is a Codec?
  • How Do You Use Bluetooth Earbuds?
  • What does True Wireless mean?
  • What Are Wireless Earbuds?

Wireless earbuds are earbuds that do not need to be plugged in to operate. Instead of receiving the musical signal through connected wires, they receive it through a wireless Bluetooth transmission sent from a device.

When I say “device,” I mean something like a cellular telephone, computer or tablet, internet radio or home stereo system – even many televisions today have Bluetooth built-in and can transmit to a Bluetooth wireless earbud.

Wireless earbuds must have several things built-in in order to function properly:

  • A Bluetooth Receiver – like a radio, basically, which receives the Bluetooth signal from the transmitting device
  • An Antenna – again, just like a radio, a small antenna that makes it possible for the earphones to receive the signal
  • A Computer Chip – a tiny chip that processes the Bluetooth signal and converts the digital information into a normal musical signal that the little built-in speakers can play
  • An Amplifier – in the same way, a stereo system needs an amplifier to make speakers loud enough to hear, a wireless earbud needs a much, much smaller and lower power amp for its built-in speakers
  • Speaker Drivers – this is where the sound comes from. Any headphone or earbud will have at least one small speaker, which moves with the musical signal coming from the amplifier and makes a sound.

Fancier and more expensive earbuds may actually have more than one speaker driver, like a woofer for low frequencies and a tweeter for highs, but not necessarily

Wireless earbuds will also have a rechargeable battery, as well as a built-in microphone for making and receiving phone calls, and are designed to fit well and comfortably in your ears and stay put, even if you are moving around.

So, How Do Wireless Headphones Work?

  1. You start with a device, like a smartphone or a computer, which has music stored on its drive or is getting music from the internet. The device may also be a television, an internet radio, a stereo system, or a record player.
  1. This device “sees” your Bluetooth earbuds – that is, it senses that they are close, through radio wave transmissions – and connects, or “pairs” with those earbuds.
  1. When you play music on your computer, smartphone, or other devices, that music is sent over those same radio waves in a digital format, using Bluetooth standards, from the device to the earbuds.
  1. The earbuds receive that Bluetooth digital signal, decode it and turn it into a normal musical signal, and then use their built-in amplifiers to power their tiny speaker drivers and play the music.

What Is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is a standard protocol, meaning it is a way of organizing and sending digital files or other digital information over radio waves.

Because Bluetooth is a standard format and method, different Bluetooth devices – like phones or computers which transmit, or speakers, headphones, or earphones that receive – all speak the same language and can work together.

Bluetooth is a short-distance radio wave system, meaning that your phone and your earbuds must be close together – devices using the newest generation of Bluetooth (called Bluetooth 5.2) have up to 240 meters of range, so almost 800 feet, but with older Bluetooth devices (most often you will see Bluetooth 4.2) the maximum range is only about 50 meters or about 165 feet.

What is a Codec?

One slightly more technical part of Bluetooth that you may come across is the word “codec.” 

  • This section is not essential for understanding how wireless headphones work, and you can skip ahead, but it might be of interest, especially to audiophiles or gamers.

A codec is the actual standard of the digital stream which is sent from your phone, computer, or another device to, in our example, your wireless earphones. It is a portmanteau for code-decode, and the codec’s standard specifies how a file is encoded, compressed, decoded, and decompressed.

Sadly there is no really simple way to explain all of this, but the good news is that you don’t need to worry about it at all – since Codecs are standard, any Bluetooth devices you purchase or try to use will all work together automatically.

The only thing many consumers may want to know is a special kind of codec, called aptX, or aptX Low Latency. And again, this is simpler than it sounds.

If your headphones are Bluetooth, they will work with any and every Bluetooth device, again like computers, phones, and more. And if your Bluetooth headphones also have this special aptX codec – which the manufacturer or seller should clearly indicate – they can receive and decode the Bluetooth music signal in a much more high-resolution mode, called “lossless,” and can sound significantly better.

And for gaming, you may want not just aptX, but aptX Low Latency, which makes sure that there is never any delay between what you see on the screen and what you hear with your headphones.

That said, the newest 5.0 or 5.2 versions of normal Bluetooth, even without the special aptX codec, sound absolutely fantastic and have no noticeable delay between audio and video, so again it is not necessary to know about or understand codecs, or to know which is which.

Still, audiophiles and serious gamers tend to insist on aptX or aptX Low Latency.

How Do You Use Bluetooth Earbuds?

Knowing a little of the technical workings behind them doesn’t necessarily help you know how to use wireless earbuds, but don’t worry – it couldn’t be simpler!

All you need to do is

  1. Turn on your Bluetooth wireless earphones – they usually come in a charging/storage case, and just taking them out of the case turns them on
  2. Open your Bluetooth settings on your phone, computer, or other devices
  3. Find the Bluetooth earbuds on that settings window – they are usually called by their brand name, like Sony or Bose
    1. You may need to click on “Find Device” (Windows computers) or “Scan for Device” (Android phones)
  4. Click on the headphones and then click on connect

You only need to do this one time, and after that, the headphones and your phone, computer, or other devices will connect automatically when they are on and in range of each other.

What Does True Wireless Mean?

Although it has been around for years now, “true wireless” – or TWS (true wireless stereo) is still a fairly new technology, and in many ways a huge improvement over older wireless earbud designs.

Originally, wireless earbuds did not need a wire to connect to your phone, computer, or other music playback device, but they did need a cord to connect to each other. This cord allowed for a bigger antenna, and also let manufacturers use only one amplifier to power both left and right buds.

When you wear this type of wireless headphones, this extra connecting wire normally lays across the back of your neck.

These days, though, we are seeing more and more true wireless earphones, which means there is no wire connecting the left and right buds.

These used to be quite a bit more expensive, and in fact, premium ones from companies like Sony, Bose, and Sennheiser can still be pretty pricey (though they sound fantastic), but you can now easily find very affordable true wireless headphones which also sound great.

In fact, given the advantages, true wireless buds offer, you hardly ever see the old type anymore, and when we here, at Speakergy recommend wireless earphones they are always the true wireless variety.

How Can You Find the Best Wireless Earbuds?

This article is intended to be informational, and not a buyer’s guide, but still, it might be a good idea to close with a few of our favorite truly wireless headphones.

These are true wireless earphones that we’ve tried and tested, and really spent some time with, and found to be not only fantastic sounding but also well made and easy to use, and they are all highly recommended.

Best Wireless Earbuds – Speakergy Recommendations:

  1. Tozo T6 Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds
  2. JBL Tune 230NC True Wireless Noise Cancelling Earbuds
  3. Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro True Wireless Earbuds
  4. Sony WF-1000XM3 Noise Canceling Truly Wireless Earbuds
  5. Bose QuietComfort True Wireless Noise Cancelling Earbuds

This is really just a small sampling of headphones we’ve reviewed and which we recommend, and we encourage you to check out some related articles from our website, which will give you more information and point out other great products.