Earbud Battery Life - Bluetooth Question

Good morning! This question a spinoff of the ongoing discussion of wireless headphones/earbuds.

I needed a not-too-expensive pair of wireless Bluetooth earbuds for zooming, and I picked up a Skullcandy set that was recommended by Wirecutter. What I’ve found is that I get very short battery life – no more than 90 minutes or so, and the case doesn’t seem to recharge them. I sent the pair back for replacement when I was having even more trouble charging, but the battery life is still short.

I realized that I’m using these with my elderly 2010 iMac, and recalled that my computer is old enough that it can’t do Handoff because there’s some low-power Bluetooth capability that I don’t have. My question: is it possible that the trouble I’m having with earbud battery life is because my iMac lacks low-power Bluetooth and forces the earbuds to burn through battery more quickly? Or is something else going on?


Dave Scocca

If your Bluetooth headphones are separate EarPods for each ear, you can use them individually so that you can charge the one you’re not using. That way, you can use them until the battery in the case is exhausted. I believe that all such EarPods sets have microphones in each pod.


Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a communication protocol distinct from “classic” Bluetooth (aka BR/EDR - Basic Rate, Extended Data Rate). BLE was invented independently by Nokia and was later integrated with the Bluetooth 4.0 standard (and became widely supported by devices implementing Bluetooth 4.2 and 5.0).

If a device requires BLE, it won’t work if connected to a host that doesn’t support BLE. It is possible, however, to design a device that can connect over both BLE and BR/EDR. For such a device, you should expect the two modes to behave differently, both in terms of overall performance and battery life.

In the case of headphones, I suspect they are designed to operate using the BR/EDR protocol. BLE is not well suited for streaming data (as would be the case for a headset). I would expect the audio to use BR/EDR, and only use BLE for control-plane features (e.g. reporting button presses).

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