Why You Shouldn’t Use Bluetooth Headphones for Gaming
Good headphones cost a lot of money. As we like to say around here, “Buy once, cry once.” If you are going to get good headphones, you want to be able to use them for everything. If you are a gamer, that means you want headphones that are comfortable enough for long sessions, high quality enough for critical music listening, and wireless for when you don’t want to be shackled to your computer. I mean, they don’t really make headphone jacks on phones anymore so they are going to have to be wireless. But should you use Bluetooth headphones for gaming? Let’s discuss.
The Case for Bluetooth Headphones
Listen, we get it. Bluetooth headphones are not only convenient, they are pretty much everywhere. Sure, many Bluetooth headphones (especially the larger ones) come with a cable that you can use to wire directly to your computer, but they are really meant to be used wirelessly. Bluetooth is the de facto standard in wireless transmission. Is there really a competitor out there?
While it sounds and feels very monopolistic, the ubiquitousness of Bluetooth means that there are lots of headphone options out there, some even touted as good for gaming. You can find cheap ones that sound okay or really expensive ones that sound phenomenal. Surely, Bluetooth headphones should be okay for gaming.
It’s All About Latency
The problem with Bluetooth is latency. In order for the sound to go from your device or computer to the driver that is in the headphones, it must be converted a number of times. Each one of these conversions takes time. Not a lot of time, but some. When you add it all up, you end up with the sound lagging behind what is happening on the screen.
On top of that, the lag with Bluetooth is often slightly variable. What this means is that, even if you could delay the video so that it would better align with the audio, the audio lag isn’t always steady. It’s impossible to perfectly align the audio and video with normal Bluetooth.
Enter Bluetooth Low Latency
Bluetooth knows that lag is an issue, so they’ve introduced the aptX Low Latency mode into their codec. The problem (so far) with aptX Low Latency, is that it hasn’t been adopted very widely. Even if you were to buy a set of Bluetooth headphones specifically with Low Latency mode, you’d also need your device (computer or phone) to have it. Having it on the headphones alone is not enough.
On top of that, “low” isn’t “no” latency. The aptX materials claim “approximately 40ms” latency. This may be enough for the lip sync to look pretty good, but it won’t be good enough for those gamers who are using audio cues in their FPS games. Enabling Low Latency mode also reduces battery life and wireless transmission range and stability. So there are other downsides to be had.
For gaming and most content that involves both audio and video, Bluetooth just isn’t good enough. It’s fine for streaming audio and enjoying music during your workout. It’s great for podcasts and audiobooks. It can even be okay for causal viewing (like TikTok where lip sync is often an issue or for content where slightly out-of-sync video and audio won’t matter). But for gaming or any sort of immersive AV experience (we’d classify watching a movie or streaming a TV show in this category), Bluetooth headphones just aren’t good enough. You are going to need a second set of headphones with a wire. If you have a source with access to aptX Low Latency, it may be fast enough for most applications. But if you are just using regular Bluetooth, you’ll need a second set of headphones.