back to article Folk sure like to stick electric toothbrush heads in their ears: True wireless stereo sales buck coronavirus trends

Despite the economic effects of the pandemic, true wireless stereo (TWS) devices like earbuds, headphones and speakers have proved robust, with Q1 global shipments up 86 per cent year-on-year to 43.8 million. Across the board, Canalys stats show all vendors traded well, although there are few highlights. Apple, predictably, is …

  1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Earbuds ...

    ... provide all the music and news that a bear needs when they wake up in the morning.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Airpods have another advantage

    The device transmits to both earbuds at the same time. Where as with the knock offs the device transmits so one primary earbud, and that retransmits to the secondary at battery and latency costs. You can get magnitudes more battery life with non "true" ones that have a wire between the earbuds. Qualcom and MediaTek who make the chips in the knockoffs for some reason have been unable to copy what Apple does, they have recently managed to allow dynamic switching of which earbud is the primary, e.g. allowing use of one earbud while the other charges, and the one closest to device receives a better source signal.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Airpods have another advantage

      "knock-off". I don't think that means what you think it means.

  3. BebopWeBop Silver badge
    Happy

    I find 'earbuds' (and I have tried a couple of different types) uncomfortable and I suspect they are a wee bit insecure for vigorous activities. I do like wireless headphones (and have 'invested' in a set of high-end Sony's - mainly because losing the wires stops me getting things tangled up. I guess I will have to wait for 'direct to brain' transfer...

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      maybe you should try the ones AC above suggests:

      " You can get magnitudes more battery life with non "true" ones that have a wire between the earbuds."

      Then you can clothes peg them to your collar for security.

      I've never liked any of these devices as i dont like being out of sync with the surrounding environment, not hearing local noises , and singing loudly and unconsciously at anyoner in the vicintity

      Might have to get some in an attempt to eliminate feedback in zoom/whatsapp chats etc

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        It does not make them any more comfortable for my ears. Clearly, if others find them comfortable then, unfortunately, it is my lugholes that are to blame, so I am not going to petition for custom buds - them's the downsides (one of many) of having odd ears :-)

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        > Might have to get some [ear buds] in an attempt to eliminate feedback in zoom/whatsapp chats etc

        It seems odd you're getting feedback when using those apps in 'loud speaker' mode, since modern phones use multiple microphones and other trickery minimise feedback and background noise. It might be worth making sure that your phone's secondary microphone (often looks like a small hole, akin to a hardware reset button one used to see on gadgets) isn't block by a case, a bit of dirt or your finger

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      The fit may depend a lot on the shape of your ear: I have relatviely small channels so generally struggle with in-ear solutions. Out cycling they generally work loose after an hour so. But then, as someone who wears glasses, find anything that is secured over the ear uncomfortable. :-/

      My Jabra Sport did sterling service for several years, though I tended to ride with one ear free so that I could hear my surroundings. Switched to Sony's sport model with an external driver this year which don't exclude the surroundings as much but the cable is a bit short and floppy which means it catches quite easily and can start pulling at the bugs, but I reckon I might be abe to solve this with a small length of tubing.

      1. Mark192 Bronze badge

        Charlie Clark said "I tended to ride with one ear free so that I could hear my surroundings"

        Lucky blighter. My stupidly designed ears create so much wind noise above 25mph that popping in earbuds increases my hearing :-/

      2. hoola Bronze badge

        All these earbud things are useless for me as they simply will not stay in, no matter what you do.

        I have had the misfortune of suddenly needing hearing aids and that brings me to the next issue:

        Ear buds are useless if you have impaired hearing as the devices driving them simply do not have the control to shape the response, particularly if it is lopsided (L to R). Most headphones are also useless as they:

        Sit on the ear so are very uncomfortable & the hearing aid pick up all the noise from outside

        Sit over the ear and press the buttons on the aids and, even with closed back, still pick up outside noise.

        Given that everything is done in software why is it so difficult to make a balance control?

        This takes us back to square one where control on the device would enable the aids to be muted whilst benefiting the quality of the headphones.

        The aids I have will stream music over bluetooth and it is not bad, some tweaks in an equaliser can get some of the low end back but it is still light years away from decent headphones.

  4. Roland6 Silver badge

    "Apple ...was the first to popularise them..."

    >Despite the economic effects of the pandemic, true wireless stereo (TWS) devices like earbuds, headphones and speakers have proved robust, with Q1 global shipments up 86 per cent.

    I suspect Q2 global shipments will also be up, thanks in a large part to Zoom et al. People look so much more natural wearing an earbud rather than a traditional full headset.

  5. MJI Silver badge

    Are they good with earwax?

    Do they brush them out?

    (Sticking with Sennheiser on ear)

    1. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Are they good with earwax?

      Are they good with earwax?

      Only if you cover them with glue.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Are they good with earwax?

        Not that most people bother, but one is supposed to wipe in-ear buds with hand sanitizer or ethanol or whatever before each use.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Although it wasn't the first to launch [product] (that honour goes to little-known firm [company]), it was the first to popularise them, giving [Apple brand name] a cultural cachet that other devices lack.

    Isn't that the Apple business model in general?

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      re: Isn't that the Apple business model in general?

      Indeed it is. They are rarely first to bring any tech to market but when they do, it is often implimented better than the rivals (not always I hasten to add) and naturally, they'll make you pay through the nose for the pleasure (sic) of owning a device that was probably made in some chinese sweat shop and sold by Apple.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: re: Isn't that the Apple business model in general?

        I'd challenge the "implementation" part...given that even without the recent hardware woes their devices tend to be somewhat lacking in flexibility and expansion capabilities....

        But they're certainly pros at marketing...at making their goods seem desirable and elite. Even though the iPhone is extremely widespread they still have the image of being a luxury good that few have.

        On an unrelated note it does make me sad when you see people struggling to pay for groceries, talking on their £1000+ IPhone Xs.....and that Money Saving Expert has a whole subsection of their website dedicated to "How to afford an iPhone when you have no money" or words to that effect. Apparently "Not having an iPhone" isn't an option for so many people, no matter what the cost...

        1. DS999

          Re: re: Isn't that the Apple business model in general?

          Apple's goal isn't to give power users every feature or every knob to turn. It is to provide what the broad market of typical consumers wants, with as little fiddling as possible.

          Which is why you rarely see praise for their products on forums populated by techies. They can't understand why anyone buys Apple's stuff when there is something else that's cheaper, or with more features, or with more configuration options, or all three available. So they regard buyers of Apple products as "sheep" because they refuse to accept that their needs/wants are different than that of the average consumer.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: re: Isn't that the Apple business model in general?

            Apple's goal isn't to give power users every feature or every knob to turn. It is to make as much money as possible by taking other people's products, putting them in a shiny case and then spending millions of dollars on marketing in order to convince shallow people that they are the most desirable product on the planet.

            FTFY.

            Apple don't innovate or research. They're fundamentally incapable of that. All they've ever done is take other's people's work and apply incrementally small modifications that they then sell as their own.

  7. RobThBay

    Dr Who

    Funny that no one has mentioned how much the apple airpods resemble the recent Cyberman ear pieces.

  8. John Robson Silver badge

    I'm still astonished...

    that no manufacturer has gone the hearing aid design route.

    The drivers in my RIC aids are phenomenal, and with the relatively large size of the pack behind my ear they provide for ~ 5 days of battery life with bluetooth streaming alot of that time. Take out the T-Loop and reduce the ridiculous amounts of DSP on board and you have an incredibly comfortable "all day" set of ear wear. Without the need for an embedded mic the minor collisions and scrapes that occur with glasses would be completely unnoticed.

    OK, I have custom moulds for my receivers, but I also have the open cup "default" ones, and they let in ambient sound practically unaffected (can change with the closed domes for some isolation), the custom moulds give me a very controlled audio environment though.

    The battery life and comfort are unmatched on the market - and for no particularly good reason.

    1. Roopee

      Re: I'm still astonished...

      One could argue that if you need hearing aids you are not really in a position to judge the quality of speaker drivers, other than to say which you prefer of course, which is always a valid opinion.

    2. Kernel

      Re: I'm still astonished...

      "no manufacturer has gone the hearing aid design route."

      When I had my aids fitted the audiologist told me that Apple have invested heavily in companies that manufacture hearing aids because, as you point out, hearing aid design leads the pack in terms of functionality, battery life and DSP capability - although not necessarily sound fidelity.

  9. uncle sjohie

    Based on reviews, and previous experience with non-wireless in-ears from Sony, I bought the lauded WF-1000XM3 in-ears, and they are a marvel of technology. Sadly I found out that the in-flight systems in airlines don't support Bluetooth the hard way, and I couldn't get them to fit comfortably for longer periods of time. So I bought a pair of Sony WH-1000XM3's over-ears, which I just love. Sony here in the Netherlands had an promo where you could try-out the in-ears for a month or so, and get your money back, if you decided you didn't like them.

    1. Boothy

      Also got the Sony WH-1000XM3 headset here.

      Wore them flying from Australia to the UK in January, using the included flight adaptor, and they still had around 30% charge left on landing in the UK, despite using them almost constantly (I rarely sleep on flights). So basically a full day of use, and charge to spare.

      They also work well with Windows, both for things like Zoom/Skype using the built in mic, but also for music playback (gaming I guess as well, but I use 5.1 speakers for that).

      I noticed they show up as both a Headset, and Headphones in Windows Sound Settings (mmsys.cpl). Use Skype/Zoom etc and it uses the Headset mode (mono, with a mic), but use something like Media Player, and it uses the Headphone profile instead (stereo and higher bit rate, but no mic).

    2. logicalextreme Bronze badge

      Yeah, my first ever pair of bluetooth headphones (other than a PS3 gaming headset I acquired about a decade ago) finally died at the end of last year after about 4 hours of walking in the rain (£25 impulse buy from Tesco and two or three years' daily use, so I'm okay with that). Spent ages researching what I could replace them with and decided that in-ear hasn't quite reached the feature set that I want yet (the Sony ones have zero waterproofing, and while the cheap ones I had didn't either I'd kinda expect it from the Sony ones considering the price and the fact that their rivals are IP-rated).

      Having spent a lot of time indoors of late, however, I'm mighty tempted by the over-ears now.

    3. MrMerrymaker Bronze badge

      I have those! They're great.

      I got foam earbuds for mine, a heck of an upgrade. My old Etyomitic wired ones had them and nothing else will do.. So yes, foam earbuds :)

  10. M. Poolman

    Little known company called Onkyo

    I think are quite well known in HiFi circles. I've got a couple of the entry-level separates and am well pleased. Worth checking out (other companies are of course available, and I have no connection with them).

    1. BenDwire Bronze badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Little known company called Onkyo

      They do some pretty good AV amps too - The very nice folk at Richer Sounds will let you have a listen if you ask nicely.

    2. Boothy

      Re: Little known company called Onkyo

      Still got an old Onkyo TX-SR606 sat in the living room.

      Was handy being able to basically throw any video signal into it, and get a single HDMI out of it for the TV, with the audio going to the 5.1 speakers, rather than to the TV.

      Stripped it down to replace the caps on the HDMI board about 8 years ago (at ~4 years old I think), as it would no longer sync the HDMI video signals. Lasted a good few years longer after that.

      I don't actually use the HDMI now, as the HDMI is so old on the Onkyo, my newer devices won't work through it anyway, but my TV has four HDMI inputs and a pass through optical, so I just use the TV as the switcher and the Onkyo basically acts as a plain 5.1 audio amp.

  11. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Windows

    "Canalys reckons the wireless earbuds sector will deliver over 200 million units this year"

    And what forecast does Canalys has as to how many will end up in landfills, polluting our water aquifers ?

    Any idea on that ?

    The entire wireless earbud sector is just electronic waste, especially if the batteries are not replaceable and, if I'm not mistaken, they generally aren't.

    This entire market is an affront to everything that ecology stands for.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: "Canalys reckons the wireless earbuds sector will deliver over 200 million units this year"

      Basically all of them will; consumers aren't great about bringing tech to recycling places. The same argument could be made about most other types of tech though--even with replaceable batteries, consumers discard their devices all the time and don't always recycle properly. The amount of ewaste from these specifically is not that much compared to all the old smartphones currently sitting in landfill, or even to all the cheap earbuds with broken wires that are also in those landfills. While it's a major problem, you can't really blame these any more for it than most other kinds of tech.

    2. Mark192 Bronze badge

      Re: "Canalys reckons the wireless earbuds sector will deliver over 200 million units this year"

      "The entire wireless earbud sector is just electronic waste, especially if the batteries are not replaceable"

      They're rechargeable. The earbuds are charged by their case and the case is recharged in the same way phones are.

      I replaced the faulty battery in my cheap £13 earbuds. Took nothing more than a soldering iron and some patience. Expensive ones may or may not be harder to repair.

      Electronic waste irritates me so much that, like you, I subscribe to the paper edition of The Register.

      1. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: "Canalys reckons the wireless earbuds sector will deliver over 200 million units this year"

        "They're rechargeable. The earbuds are charged by their case and the case is recharged in the same way phones are."

        Which means not only do they use incredibly inefficient inductive charging( at best about 60%, but can easily fall below 30%), but they require two separate charging steps with an additional battery stuck in between the socket and the thing you're actually trying to charge. People often dismiss things like phone power use because it's so small compared to something like a kettle, but when you have billions of the things being recharged every day, switching to wireless charging and using three times as much energy is actually pretty significant. Just because they have rechargable batteries doesn't mean they're actually good for the environment - in terms of both energy use and waste, ear pods are far worse than regular headphones.

        "I replaced the faulty battery in my cheap £13 earbuds. Took nothing more than a soldering iron and some patience. Expensive ones may or may not be harder to repair."

        Have a look at some of the teardowns on ifixit. Both Apple and Samsung earbuds are simply impossible to do anything with, because you have physically rip the things to pieces in order to get at anything inside.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: "Canalys reckons the wireless earbuds sector will deliver over 200 million units this year"

          The energy usage is not that important exactly because of what you mentioned. A person who uses these likely also has at least one of these things: an electric oven, a central heating system, an air conditioner, a dishwasher, a washing machine, a clothes drier, or an automobile. They likely use that thing too. Small devices like this are comparatively unimportant because, if we eliminated them entirely, not much would change.

          Let's look at it numerically. We have a wireless earbud case containing a battery with a stated capacity of 400 mAh (let's assume this is 5V, so that's 2WH). The earbuds inside have 50 mAh each, 0.5 Wh together. Now let's assume that charging is hideously inefficient, about 10%. If the battery in the case is empty, it will take 20Wh to fully recharge it. The earbuds themselves are even less efficient at 5%, so recharging their combined 0.5 Wh takes 10 Wh. Combined charging power usage is 30 Wh. This would probably be enough to run the earbuds for three days or so of all-day usage, but let's call it one day. 30 Wh per day.

          Let's compare this to something that's not the biggest user of power in a house. How about the humble microwave oven? How about a really pathetic low-power microwave oven? A 500W one? How long could you run this per day before it used more than your earbuds? 30 Wh / 500 W = 0.06 hours. 0.06 hours * 3600 seconds / 1 hour = 216 seconds. Three and a half minutes.

          I've been very generous to the argument here. The efficiency numbers we used are ludicrously low, even for wireless charging and dual batteries. The frequency of charging is unrealistically high. The microwave power is lower than normal. And of course I didn't consider the much higher-power devices out there. If you intend to worry about power usage, focusing on something this small is pointless. If we improved charging to complete efficiency (not possible), the power usage would be basically the same. If we eliminated the devices entirely, power usage would be basically the same. If we want to reduce power consumption, we're going to have to focus on the big users of power. These ... aren't it.

  12. JDX Gold badge

    "something you can buy on Amazon for less than £20."

    You can, but you shouldn't. I've tried several in the low-price end because I refuse to spend £hundreds and they showed the promise but were not very good. I eventually got some for £35 that are actually pretty nice. As long as I don't bend over, then one of them cuts out.

    I am nervous of expensive ones because I don't know they will solve this sort of glitch or if it's a fundamental limitation on Bluetooth.

    I was a rather surprsied convert to them. I thought they were stupid but for gardening or DIY work, not having any wire or headband is a big boon for me in terms of comfort and not accidentally pulling them out every 2minutes. They offer quite good ear protection as well.

  13. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

    I've got some real Apple AirPod things in the box for my iPhone. Given I never used the wired headphones that came with my previous iPhones, I'm guessing these are basically doomed to rot. If I haven't already chucked them away, that is.

    1. Is It Me

      Sell them, that is what I did with the earphones that came with my iPod years ago.

      Since Apple sells them for a painful price you can get a decent amount of money from an Apple fan.

  14. analyzer

    Amazed

    That no one has mentioned bone conduction headphones. I use these all the time now when out and about as you can still listen to everything around and still play music, etc etc. Granted the playback is not as deep and rich as headphones or earbuds but if you don't want the proverbial 59 bus up your arse they do the business.

  15. TheRealRoland

    Wired

    With all the news people reporting from home on the evening news - it was agonizing how bad the sound quality was when people would use wireless earbuds, and now after a while see people just go back to wired earbuds. Much better.

    And also, yet another thing to charge, when on the road.

    Aahhhh*, remember what that was like?

    * scream of infinite horror, or sigh of nostalgia

    1. hoola Bronze badge

      Re: Wired

      "Yet another thing to charge"

      Each with it's own case, some Micro USB, some USBC, some take so little power on the charge that a powerbank will not work as it keeps turning off because it thinks nothing is connected.

      A wire may break but compared to something running out of charge it is almost infinitely less likely to stop working.

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