True wireless earbuds’ main benefit is convenience; after all, you can connect without any wires, how cool. As it stands, though, wireless tech is only as good as its connectivity and there are a handful of obstacles that a Bluetooth signal must overcome in order to successfully transmit data.

Before we get into what exactly is impeding your AirPods’ connectivity, let’s figure out how true wireless earbuds work.

How true wireless earbuds work

Qualcomm True Wireless Stereo Plus allows for a simultaneous connection between the source device and left and right earbuds. This reduces latency and improves connectivity. Pictured: A diagram of Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo technology, which sets one earbud as a primary and the latter as a secondary receiver. On the right side is Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo Plus, which simultaneously communicates with both earbuds.

Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo Plus allows for a simultaneous connection between the source device and left and right earbuds. This reduces latency and improves connectivity.

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What makes a good set of true wireless earbuds?

Just like traditional wireless headphones, true wireless headphones receive a Bluetooth signal from your phone via a 2.4GHz wavelength. The path of transfer renders your phone a transmitter and the earbuds receivers. Unlike typical wireless earbuds—which receive the signal simultaneously since the earbuds are connected by wire—truly wireless earbuds designate one earbud as the primary receiver, and the other becomes the secondary receiver.

Of course, there are exceptions like the Earin M-2. According to Earin CTO Olle Linden, “A 10MHz signal is transferred through the head, from ear to ear, via magnetic induction not around the head like the [Earin M-1].” Each M-2 earbud houses an antenna system and allows for a more stable connection.

Connectivity barriers

As stated before, there are a few ways that the environment can hinder your truly wireless earbuds’ performance. Here’s a quick rundown of what they are and how to minimize interference in a given situation.

Physical obstacles

As Bluetooth earbud users know all too well, connectivity issues arise as soon as that phone is plopped into your pocket. It’s not just your true wireless earbuds, it’s a problem across the board.

 Pocket to earbuds (dBm)Far pocket to earbuds (dBm) Signal strength: 0m from phoneSignal strength: 1m from phoneSignal strength: 2m from phoneSignal strength: 3m from phoneSignal strength: 5m from phone
Erato Apollo-55-63-29-45-65-67-84
JLab JBuds Air-42-50-22-45-59-63-83
Rowkin Ascent Micro-50-55-29-48-55-57-72
OnePlus Bullets Wireless-42n/a-23-39-55-63-72

With the table above, we measured dBm to gather signal strength information for a variety of true wireless earbuds and the OnePlus Bullets Wireless earbuds for comparison. The closer to zero the dBm measurement, the stronger the signal.

As you can see, distance makes a difference because the signal has to travel a further distance and relay your media in a timely, nearly immediate manner. Since air is a factor that can degrade connection quality, it’s no wonder that our bodies serve as impediments too.

The solution

While there’s no way to render your body a massless substance, you can try placing your phone in a closer pocket, say a breast pocket or even a coat pocket as most of them rest above the hips. This lessens the distance the signal has to travel and reduces the amount of mass it has to penetrate.

The 2.4GHz band is highly trafficked

True wireless connectivity: Pexel stock image of a crowded highway.

Think of the 2.4GHz band as a highway during perpetual rush hour.

You can get a read on the FCC’s 2.4GHz breakdown if you’re so inclined, but all you need to know is that Wi-Fi and other wireless products all ride the same 2.4GHz wave so to speak. It’s comparable to how I-85 is an inefficient wreck to drive on since it’s the only viable option for commuters to get in and out of Atlanta.

This explains why connectivity can be dubious in places like a gym, the subway, or on city sidewalks. There’s just too much signal interference. To counteract this, some earbuds use the path of least resistance within the 2.4GHz band to make for a more streamlined data transfer.

The solution

There isn’t much that we listeners can do about this barrier, other than avoiding these places as much as possible when using true wireless earbuds. Of course, you could shell out for the more premium earbud options like Earin’s or Bose’s, but that comes with a higher asking price.

If the stuttering doesn’t bother you much, it’ll quickly become a negligible hiccup but if it’s too frustrating, you may be better off using wired or regular wireless headphones until truly wireless ones advance a bit more.

Size limitations

Earin M-2 true wireless: The earbuds are in the hand, showing off the touch control panels.

The Earin M-2 earbuds feature a tiny build given the fact that each houses its own antennae unit.

True wireless earbuds are small, they have to pack in a wide array of technologies into the housings and don’t have the benefit of wires connecting the internals. This means that manufacturers are working within unprecedented constraints. In order to maintain a reasonable earbud size, the housings are jam-packed with components each delegated with a deliberate task.

The solution

This one is up to manufacturers and general technological advancements, but keep an eye out for products that have connection-fortifying features like the Earin M-2.

Should I even buy true wireless earbuds?

If they appeal to you, absolutely. It’s an exciting and new technology that may be fallible, but for many, the pros still outweigh the cons. It’s hard to beat the liberated feeling of stepping onto a train car with true wireless earbuds and no longer worrying about snagging a cable on a disgruntled passenger. Plus there are plenty of different types of true wireless earbuds for different uses. 

Next: Best true wireless earbuds under $100