The main difference between aux and Bluetooth in that one is wireless and the other is wired. Auxiliary (auxiliary) connection refers to any secondary wired connection, but is usually associated with a 3.5mm headphone jack. Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard that connects keyboards, headsets, speakers, controllers, and other peripherals to a host computer such as a laptop, phone, or tablet.

Aside from the differences between wired and wireless, what else makes an Aux connection different from a Bluetooth connection? In terms of convenience, compatibility, and sound quality, which one is better? Here we look at the similarities and differences between Aux and Bluetooth.

Bluetooth vs Aux

General conclusions

  • Wired, limited cable range 3.5 mm.

  • Excellent sound quality, although most won’t notice the difference.

  • There is no need to set up, connect, or digitally connect to a speaker or playback device.

  • Wireless, in most cases up to 33 feet.

  • Poor sound quality, but most won’t notice the difference.

  • Requires a pairing process, which can be frustrating.

While Aux can refer to any auxiliary or secondary input, it is usually associated with the 3.5mm headphone jack, which has been around since the 1950s. Aux inputs are also called phone jacks, stereo jacks, headphone jacks, audio jacks, 1/8″ cords, or any iteration of these terms.

Bluetooth, meanwhile, refers to a wireless communication standard for computers and peripherals. Although Bluetooth is not as versatile as Aux inputs, it is increasingly being used.

Convenience: Aux is faster, more versatile and wired

  • Wired access.

  • Easy to set up. No need to connect or install a compatible device.

  • Most audio players have an Aux input.

  • wireless.

  • Range up to 33 feet but requires pairing process.

  • Not as versatile as Aux, but increasingly common.

Connect your phone to the speaker system using Aux cables easier and possibly faster but the presence of a cord limits the distance between the device and its host. There is no need to digitally set the Aux connection. You only need a headphone jack that runs from your audio source to the Aux input on your speaker or receiver. Unlike Bluetooth audio, Aux connections require a physical cord, which can be lost or damaged.

Bluetooth is a wireless standard that allows greater freedom of movement between a device and its host. Most connections are effective up to 33 feet. Some industrial uses up to 300 feet or more. For car audio system Bluetooth connections allow hands-free control via virtual assistants such as Siri. It also allows you to make hands-free calls, which cannot be done with an Aux connection.

Bluetooth connections can be finicky. To connect your phone or media playback device to your speaker system, you must put the speaker into discovery mode and use your phone to locate the speaker. This process is not always as easy as advertised. If a two devices are not paired repeat the process until it works. Since the software is always updated, an old or outdated device can be a problem to connect. Some couples also require a password to complete the connection. All of these can make the audio playback process more of a hassle to start than an Aux cord.

Sound quality: Aux delivers superior sound without data loss

  • Lossless analog audio transmission.

  • No audio compression or conversion to meet wireless standards.

  • Excellent sound, but some may not notice the difference.

  • Compressed audio loses some data according to wireless standards.

  • Low sound, but some may not notice the difference.

Bluetooth audio is generally considered inferior to most wired audio connections, including 3.5mm Aux. This is because sending audio over a Bluetooth wireless connection involves compressing digital audio into an analog signal at one end and decompressing it into a digital signal at the other. This conversion results in a slight loss of sound quality.

While most people won’t notice the difference, the process contrasts with Aux connections, which are analog end-to-end. The digital-to-analog conversion is performed by the computer or phone hosting the audio.

Although the sound quality is theoretically higher, Aux has its drawbacks. Since this is a physical connection, Aux cords tend to wear out over time. Plugging and unplugging the cord repeatedly can slowly erode the metal, creating bad connections that distort the sound. Short circuits in the electrical flow also introduce audible noise. For wired connections digital USB connections usually provide better sound quality, but not everyone will notice the difference.

In high-end sound systems, these differences become apparent—whether via Aux, Bluetooth, or USB. Thus, the Aux connection provides a higher sound quality than Bluetooth. A digital connection (eg USB) provides the best sound. Differences in accuracy between each source must be weighed against differences in convenience.

Compatibility: Aux is ubiquitous, but only for audio

  • Aux inputs can be found on CD players, car head units, portable speakers, turntables, home theater systems, musical instruments, smartphones and tablets.

  • Only compatible with other Bluetooth devices.

  • Not just for sound systems. Keyboards, printers, headsets, drawing tablets and hard drives are also connected.

Since Aux connections are analog, there is a wide range of compatible sound systems. Almost every audio player has a wired Aux input, including CD players, head units, portable speakers, turntables, home theater systems, some musical instruments, and most smartphones and tablets. The biggest exception is every iPhone made since 2016.

Bluetooth connections are completely wireless and work with a variety of peripherals, not just sound systems. Bluetooth can be used to connect keyboards, printers, headsets, drawing pads, and hard drives to the host device. However, since Bluetooth connections are wireless, Bluetooth is less compatible with older or legacy sound systems.

Final verdict

Aux describes any secondary audio connection, but most commonly refers to a 3.5mm headphone jack. The technical term for this type of Aux connection is TRS (tip, ring, sleeve) or TRRS (tip, ring, ring, sleeve). These names, in turn, refer to the physical metal contacts in the head of the plug.

It’s because aux cords have stood the test of time that they remain so common. Aux cords are not without flaws, but the simple analog convenience is one of the reasons these cords are popular. However, Bluetooth is catching up.

Bluetooth’s motivation was to create a faster wireless alternative to RS-232 serial port connectivity for personal computers in the 1990s. To end of that decade the serial port was largely replaced by USB but Bluetooth eventually found its place in the mainstream.

Since Bluetooth allows you to create mostly secure wireless local area networks, this technology can be used for more than just listening to audio. Bluetooth is not one to one for the 3.5mm headphone jack. Each standard has its own main use cases, but as media becomes more wireless and digital, the Bluetooth situation becomes more compelling.

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