Wireless headphones last on average less than half the length of time wired pairs do, according to our reliability survey of owners.
Wireless headphones can also cost well over £100, so knowing how long a brand will last you, which brands develop the most faults, and how quickly, is an essential buying decision. That’s why each year we ask over 15,000 Which? members in our reliability survey to tell us whether they're pleased with their headphones, or have experienced problems.
Our unique survey data takes into account how often faults were reported, how serious they are, how rapidly they occurred, and the reason the headphones were ultimately replaced. In our latest analysis, we've looked at a whole range of headphones manufacturers – including AKG, Apple, Beats, Bose, JVC, Samsung, Sennheiser, Sony and many others – and have calculated a reliability rating for each so you know which brand won’t let you down, and which has pairs that are less reliable.
We also look at brand loyalty to find out who you turn to time and again, and crucially reveal how long you can expect headphones brands to last.
We asked people how long in general they are likely to keep the product, and called this 'estimated consumer lifetime'.
Estimated consumer lifetimes should only be used as a guide – there’s nothing to say your headphones will suddenly stop working when this time period is up! Consumers may also choose to replace a perfectly functioning product. But as a comparative indicator between brands, it’s a useful way to get an idea of how a product you own or are shopping for compares to others.
|Brand||Wireless Estimated average consumer lifespan in years||Wired estimated average consumer lifespan in years|
|Wireless headphones data is based on a survey of Which? members in July 2020 covering 591 headphones.|
Wired headphones data is based on a survey of Which? members in July 2020 covering 1,309 headphones.
The graph above shows how the length of time a brand stays fault-free can vary greatly around the overall average.
However, what is most stark is the different lifetimes of wireless versus wired headphones. Based on fault rates reported by owners in our survey, we estimate the average pair of wired headphones lasts for almost 20 years (19.8 years), whereas you can expect the average pair of wireless headphones to last less than half that (8.6 years).
Not being able to replace the battery yourself in wireless headphones - and that many manufacturers do not even offer battery replacement schemes - will be a major contributing factor to this, and should be an important consideration when choosing between wired and wireless headphones.
The lifetime of a pair of headphones will also vary greatly depending on the model you choose as well as the brand. This is partly since cheaper pairs tend to have less robust build quality - but our reviews also regularly highlight that paying more is no guarantee of definitely getting strong build quality.
Which? members can see how brands compare for faults over a five-year period in the table below.
|Brand||One year||Two years||Three years|
The above data is based on a survey of Which? members in July 2020 covering 591 headphones. We did not get enough responses to provide figures for more wireless headphones brands.
Our survey also reveals how satisfied people are with a brand overall – we use this to calculate a ‘customer satisfaction’ score, based on how likely people are to recommend it.
Loyalty is also an important factor. Though it doesn’t always correlate directly with satisfaction, some brands have what it takes to keep customers coming back time and again. Our loyalty score is based on whether people stuck to the same brand when they upgraded.
|Best wireless headphones||Worst wireless headphones||Best wired headphones||Worst wired headphones|
|Average score in our headphone tests||85.5%||22%||62%||32%|
Almost three times as many people chose to abandon our lowest scoring brand the next time they bought a new pair of headphones.
|Brand||Wireless customer satisfaction score||Wireless customer loyalty score||Wired customer satisfaction score||Wired customer loyalty score|
Overall the most common problems people experience with their headphones are the earcup material deteriorating - 15% of faults reported from wireless headphones owners were due to this, and one in five (21%) of wired headphones owner faults. For one high-end wired headphones brand, a whopping third (36%) of all faults reported were earcup fabric.
In addition for wireless headphones, faulty wireless connections (usually Bluetooth) were the cause of 15% of faults, sound stopped working 13%, sound deterioration 15%, deteriorating battery life 12% and 11% damaged headbands/joints.
For wired headphone owners, alongside deteriorating earcup fabric, 23% of faults were due to faulty physical connections (such as the cable and 3.5mm socket), 18% of faults reported involved sound not working, another 13% deterioration in sound quality and 12% of faults were due to damaged headband/joints.
We believe that headphones should last at least five years without developing a fault, and you should expect no major faults in the first year of ownership. Our data tells a different story. For example, one in twenty (5%) of owners of one premium-priced headphones brand suffering faults even within the first year of ownership.
The tables above show a marked difference between the very best and worst headphone manufacturers for reliability. Indeed, only 1% of wireless headphones from the most reliable brand developed even a minor fault after five years of ownership. Similarly, for wired headphones, owners of two brands even reported no faults whatsoever even after five years of ownership - a remarkable record. Find out which these are in the tables below.
Choose a brand from the list below to find out more detail about its performance in our survey. If a headphone brand isn’t included it means we didn’t get enough responses from owners of headphones from that brand.
Which? has a wealth of information on Britain's favourite headphones brands. Every year we ask Which? members to tell us about the technology products they own - from how likely they would be to recommend a brand, to how reliable the products are once they get them home.
This year more than 15,000 Which? members told us about nearly 100,000 devices. We calculate a brand's reliability and its customer score based on the results of our annual survey.
Our brand surveys, combined with our extensive lab tests, mean we can recommend the best headphones you should buy.
This data is crucial for our testing, too. If a brand falls far below the category average, we take away the manufacturer’s Best Buy awards and won’t recommend any of their products unless a marked improvement in the longevity of its products is shown.