True Wireless Stereo (TWS) technology is here to stay. It offers unparalleled convenience for people who want to listen to music, podcasts, or anything else on the go. If you’ve ever struggled with that tangle of wires while using regular headphones, you’ll know exactly why the TWS market has grown so rapidly over the last few years.
And there are benefits to having plenty of competition in the TWS market: lower prices and an abundance of different devices to choose from – just to name two.
But all of that choice has one obvious downside: How on earth do you go about finding the right TWS device for you?
With so many different options, price points, and features available, it can feel like you need a degree in audio engineering before making an informed decision.
Don’t worry, help is at hand. We’ve done the hard work and condensed all of the TWS information out something much more manageable. Are you ready to remove the complexity and guesswork from your TWS earphone purchase? Dive into the best TWS buying guide around!
Step 1: Know what you want
Perhaps it’s easier said than done, but you shouldn’t start shopping for a new set of earphones until you know your expectations and requirements. If you are new to the world of TWS technology and haven’t the faintest idea what features and specifications are available from the various TWS products out there, don’t worry. By the end of this article, you will be a certifiable TWS pro with a clear idea of what features you want.
Take the following steps to come up with a shortlist of potential TWS products.
1.1 Your price range
With so many products out there, and with costs ranging from $30 to thousands of dollars, you need a rough idea of how much you want to spend. So first up, decide on your budget to narrow down the options.
1.2 What features are important to you?
You might have hobbies that mean you need certain things from your TWS headphones. For example, if you want to use your earphones while working out, some degree of waterproofing is a must. Or maybe you travel a lot for work. In that case, you might want to prioritize comfort and battery life.
Try and work out when and where you are going to use your earphones the most, and what features and specifications that might require.
1.3 Your preferred brand
Many of us feel a degree of brand loyalty and make decisions based on that. If that sounds like you, good news: most earphone manufacturers now offer multiple models of TWS earphones. So even if you usually buy from one manufacturer, you’ll still have plenty of choice and flexibility in what features are available.
1.4 Narrow down your list!
Once you have decided on the price range, must-have features, and the brands you will or won’t buy, you can start to compile a list of products that match your requirements. When you have a shortlist of around five products, Google, reviews, and word-of-mouth can help you make that final decision.
Step 2: Consider the important specs
After price comes the next most important consideration. And, we’re sorry to say, this is one that requires a little more effort on your part. It’s time to work out the specifications that matter most to you. There are several specs that can come into play when deciding which TWS headphones to buy. Here’s an outline of the ones that will make the biggest difference to the majority of consumers.
2.1 Bluetooth Codecs: Which is the best?
Without going into too much technical detail, in TWS terms, a codec is simply a piece of software that compresses or “shrinks” an audio file down so it can be transmitted more quickly, then decodes it at the other end.
The choice of codec used in headphones can have a serious impact on the sound quality Here’s an overview of the codecs you will encounter when shopping for your next pair of earphones.
- SBC – The first codec used in Bluetooth devices. Comparatively lossy compression. However it’s the general codec that most TWS earphones support.
- AAC – Apple’s proprietary codec. The benefit is that files don’t have to be recompressed to be transmitted over Bluetooth.
- aptX aptX LL, aptX HD – All three variants have great bandwidth and a high bitrate, making them perfect for high-quality audio playback.
- LHDC & LDAC – Both of these offer very high maximum bitrates but have not been that widely adopted within the TWS market.
That’s it for codecs. If you’d like more of an in-depth look at the technical specifications behind these different codec formats, head over to our blog post, Become a True Wireless Stereo Professional.
2.2 Bluetooth Versions: Does it matter which one your TWS earphones use?
All technological standards go through a process of iterative upgrades. Bluetooth is no different. Since its inception in 1999, it’s gone through five major revisions, with many smaller incremental improvements in between. The current version is BT5.0, but many TWS devices still use the slightly older but perfectly functional BT4.2.
So what’s the difference between Bluetooth 4.2 and Bluetooth 5.0? The most recent version of Bluetooth, BT5.0, has brought numerous changes and improvements over the previous version. Chief among these is the ability to use Bluetooth low energy (BLE) on more devices, including, at long last, headphones. This means that devices with BT5.0 will last longer on the same amount of power.
While the above improvements are great, by far the biggest and most important benefits of BT5.0 are in its vastly improved range and speed.
BT5.0 has up to four times the range, eight times the bandwidth, and twice the speed of BT4.2. Unfortunately, though, you’ll have to pick which of these benefits you want to use at any given time. When using headphones, you will most likely want to take advantage of the lower latency and greater bandwidth.
2.3 Bluetooth Chipset: The brain of your device
All TWS earphones are powered by a chipset. The chipset is just another name for the transmitter/receiver inside your device.
Sometimes it can be quite difficult to find out what chipset is used by a particular brand or manufacturer., and to make things even more complex, some TWS manufacturers such as Apple and Huawei have started to produce their own Bluetooth chipsets.
Generally speaking, the big corporations that produce Bluetooth chipsets are a safe bet. Some of the better-known Bluetooth chipset manufacturers include Qualcomm, Airoha, Realtek, Actions, BES, and Cypress.
2.4 The driver
This is nothing to do with software. In headphone terms, the driver is the element that converts electrical signals into sound waves and then passes these down to your eardrum so you can enjoy the noise.
There are four different types of drivers you can choose from when buying a pair of headphones.
- Dynamic drivers – The most common type found in headphones. They have a large diaphragm and offer good bass, are affordable, and don’t use too much power.
- Planar Magnetic drivers – These are exclusive to high-end headphones. They offer fantastically clean sound but normally require an external power source.
- Balanced armature drivers – The smallest type of driver, normally utilized by in-ear headphones. Manufacturers customarily employ several in each earpiece to be able to produce a wide range of frequencies.
- Electrostatic drivers – These have no moving parts and therefore offer exceptionally high sound quality. Electrostatic drivers are exclusive to big, studio-style over-ear headphones. Usually found in recording studios or the homes of serious audiophiles.
Now that you are aware of the most important specifications that can be found inside TWS earphones, you are one step closer to making that purchasing decision! Give yourself a pat on the back.
Step 3: Decide which TWS features you need the most
As well as the specifications listed above, which will apply to all TWS earphones on the market, there are also a large number of features that different devices may or may not have.
Not everyone needs every feature, and a good way to save money is not to splurge on extra features unless you are sure your lifestyle demands them.
Most TWS headphones these days come with touch control, but not all touch control is created equal. Some touch-reactive TWS earphones only allow you to control the volume and next/previous tracks, but more and more we are seeing devices that come with support for voice assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant.
If you tend to use voice assistants, be sure to check that any potential purchase supports them.
Wireless charging is starting to hit the mainstream. If you are the type of person that rejects the cluster of wires (so 2019), then you might want to focus on devices that are compatible with wireless charging protocols such as Qi.
Active noise-canceling (ANC) is a very clever technology that was once the preserve of high-end headphones but has trickled down to more affordable price-points.
ANC works by means of a small external microphone that picks up ambient noise and then neutralizes it before it has a chance to interfere with your listening experience. It works best for sustained noise that doesn’t change frequency too much. It’s perfect if you commute or travel by plane frequently.
Different TWS earphones can have a large amount of variation in their battery life. If you spend a lot of time hiking, camping, or otherwise away from easily accessible power sources, then you will want to opt for earphones that have decent battery life.
Another time when an extended battery life could be of importance is if you plan on using your headphones as part of your profession. The last thing anyone wants is their livelihood affected by substandard technology!
Increasingly, many TWS earphones come with some degree of water protection, measured by their IP level. Normal gym users will probably need IPX4 or above, but you can get earphones rated higher if you need extra protection against the wet.
Once you have your shortlist of viable TWS headphones, get on Google and find some reviews! Many of these will be sponsored, so it’s best to check as many different websites as possible.
Social media sites such as Reddit can be great for finding unbiased, honest breakdowns of various products.
It’s also important to try before you buy. All of the numbers and data at your fingertips mean nothing compared to your personal experience. The most important factor in deciding which headphones to buy is, ultimately, which ones you like the look, feel, and sound of the most. And those are all things that are very hard to grasp over the internet.
Last but not least: Pay attention to customer service! Reviews can be a great source of information on the reputability of a company and how they handle customer service issues.
If something goes wrong with your device, the last thing you need is an unhelpful company rep on the other end of the phone. Life is simply too short for bad customer service.
That’s pretty much everything. But allow us to leave you with some final words of wisdom: The number one tip when considering which TWS headphones to grace your ears with is to know what you want. There’s no point buying earphones with features you’ll never use, but you’ll be disappointed if you buy a pair and later on find out they are missing some critical functionality. Once you know what you require and how much you are willing to spend, create a shortlist that you can then research for reviews, and if possible, try them out in real life.
Or if all that sounds like far too much effort and you’d rather someone else did the hard work, why not give UGREEN Hitune TWS earphones a shot? They hit most of the most popular points listed above, including aptx, 27h playback, and certified Qualcomm cVc 8.0 noise-cancelling tech.
Which TWS earphones are you thinking about getting? Let us know what features are most important to you in the comments below!