How do NFC Headphones Work: In today’s world of wireless technology, most of us are getting used to the non-cable way of handling things in several situations starting from headphones, laptops, and PC accessories to making payments. While most people are aware of the common technologies used in wireless transmission- Bluetooth and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), many people are not aware of NFC, another wireless technology used in mobile phones and headphones.
Even when people hear about it from the manufacturers while purchasing NFC headphones or mobile phones, they tend to ignore it due to a lack of awareness about how this technology can be useful in making a lot of things convenient. That said, have you ever wondered how contactless payment services through mobile devices work in an Android or an iOS phone? Or, what is the role of NFC as a headphone when it already has a Bluetooth connectivity option?
In this article, we are going to dig deeper into the NFC technology to get a complete overview of what it is, answer to ‘how do NFC headphones work’, NFC vs Bluetooth audio, NFC pairing, and more.
Let’s First Get Started With What Exactly Is NFC Technology, and How Do NFC Headphones Work?
The acronym NFC stands for “Near Field Communication”- a wireless medium that is used to transfer or share data in a secured way from one device to another. Sounds pretty much like a Bluetooth function right? Well, it is pretty similar with the only difference being, NFC has an extremely short transmission range even though this is also based on the RFID technology but on a much lower level. This means that in order for NFC pairing to work, both the transmitting and the receiving devices have to be in proximity (only around 4 to 5 inches) to each other. While this may seem quite uninspiring, it has proven to be pretty useful in some situations.
While you are in a hurry to make payment for your shopping in a crowded store, it may be pretty annoying and time taking to dig into your bag looking for your credit or debit card. NFC can save you from this by allowing you to make a contactless payment easily. If you are concerned about the safety of the transaction, then, don’t be. The interaction is secure and encrypted which makes it one of the safe modes of payment today.
Uses of NFC Technology
Other than the payment option, this technology is also used in transferring files, images, documents from one mobile to another.
When it comes to the headphones, the NFC technology allows the Bluetooth headphones and speakers to pair automatically with your smartphone. NFC pairing terminates the need to go through the whole process of selecting the device, setting up, and pairing it manually. This makes the connectivity pretty simple, swift, and seamless. Most smartphones these days are integrated with this technology, commonly marketed as a “tap-to-pair” feature.
You need to remember that in order for the NFC pairing to work, both the devices – headphones and mobile should be compatible with this technology. If either device doesn’t have the NFC feature, clearly you cannot use this method to connect or pair. Although it hasn’t been introduced to all the headphones and speakers in the market, a good number of headphones are seen to have NFC pairing facility other than the Bluetooth connectivity options.
One of the main reasons why you may not find NFC pairing service in all the headphones is the cost. This technology involves a decent amount of engineering and more components to function, from the microchip to the reader in the NFC tag to communicate in the unique ID. Therefore, it costs more than RFID and may not often be included in cheaper headphones. This may, however, vary from product to product and between different manufacturers.
Other Uses of NFC Technology
As mentioned earlier, NFC has a wide range of uses other than headphones. Since everything is done virtually these days, you will find this technology in many applications:
One of the biggest fields where you will find this technology in use is payments through mobile phones. Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Apple Pay, and now WhatsApp Pay all use NFC chips for easy payment transactions using the tags built in your payment cards. This is both reliable and easy to use. Even if you forget to carry your wallet, you can complete your payment through your mobile phone in almost all the stores these days. You might want to check out our other article on audiophile headphones under 200.
Most of the banks and their customers are understanding the practicality of this technology and have therefore adopted NFC technology in card payment options as well. Additionally, with the spread of pandemics, people are choosing contactless payments more than cash. Your credit and debit cards, therefore, come with NFC tags integrated into them.
NFC headphones and speakers can be easily paired with your mobile device, so you can use them wirelessly to listen to the tracks in case the Bluetooth signal isn’t reliable or broken for some reason. These days some high-end cameras also use this technology to connect to WiFi-Direct, so you can easily transfer or share photos and videos on a more secure device.
Other than these, NFC has also been adopted in the gaming world and for automating your home. You can even use NFC pairing to connect your mobile phone with your smartwatch, provided your watch has the NFC chip in it.
Now that you have a general idea about “how do NFC headphones work”, let’s move on to the next section for more on how headphones can be connected to the audio devices using the NFC pairing technology. Later we will also list out the difference between NFC Vs Bluetooth audio for a better understanding of how this technology compares and competes with others.
Various Steps Involved in Connecting NFC Headphones to Your Smartphone
You do not really need to have a technical background in order to use NFC headphones or for NFC pairing of two devices. All you need to do is understand your phone’s settings and follow the prompts of your NFC headphones and the device. So if you want to connect your headphones through Near Field Communication (NFC), here are a few simple steps that you need to follow:
- Make sure that your mobile phone is supported by Android 4.1 or higher versions.
- Wireless headphone and the charging case. You need the charging case in case your headphone’s battery is low.
The NFC Pairing Process
- Turn the NFC on your mobile device “ON”. If you do not know how to do it or doing it for the first time, then go through the user manual and follow the steps given there.
- You need to make sure that you have the “NFC Easy Connect App” on your Android smartphone.
- “NFC Easy Connect” is a free app that you can easily download from Google play store. You just need to download the app and install it.
- Once completed, open it and make sure that it is on your mobile screen.
- Take the NFC headphones and if it is earbuds then remove both the right and the left ones from the charging case.
- If your wireless headphone is off, then press the power button to turn them on.
- The “N” symbol on your NFC headphones indicates that it is compatible with this technology. For NFC pairing, you need to hold the mobile’s NFC logo close to that of headphone’s until you hear a brief notification sound and the mobile phone vibrates.
While doing this, here are a few things that you need to make a note of:
- Make sure that your mobile screen is unlocked.
- If the headphone is in your ears, keep an eye on the volume settings and make sure that the volume is turned sufficiently high so you can hear the connecting notification sound.
- You may at times face issues with NFC pairing if the mobile phone has a protective case. Just remove the case and try connecting again and it should work.
- In order to complete the NFC pairing process, follow the instructions that are the prompts that you receive on your phone. If you are wearing the headphones you will hear the ‘Bluetooth Connected’ prompt once the process is completed.
Can You Add NFC to Your Headphones Separately?
If you do not have NFC added to your Bluetooth headphone or speaker, you can add it and reap the benefits of this technology. To do that, here are a few things that you will need:
- The smartphone, tablet etc. that is NFC compatible.
- Passive NFC tags that you can program using different writing apps.
- The speakers or headphones that you need the NFC added.
- Any writing app.
NFC tags are easily available online, and they will not cost you much. The cost of an NFC tag usually varies depending on the storage capacity. It can also vary depending on the material used to configure the tag. While some are done on plastic, some have metal surfaces that have the tags, though metal tags aren’t as abundant as the plastic ones. Obviously, the higher the storage, it is going to cost you more. On average, if you buy 10 tags, it will cost you around $9 to $15.
When it comes to the writing app, there are many available like TagWriter by NXP, NFC Writer by Tagstand, NFC Task Launcher. You can choose which one is easy and convenient. In case you are wondering if you need to learn to code for that, well, you do not. All you need to do is to select the options that these apps give you.
You can add a Bluetooth setup command, you can choose the option to include multiple tags to a single speaker or headphones.
NFC Vs Bluetooth Audio: What Are the Major Differences Between the Two?
While both NFC and Bluetooth are wireless technologies, there are significant differences between the two- be it for setup, functioning, connectivity range, or power usage. Let’s get into the comparison of NFC vs Bluetooth audio in detail:
NFC has an extremely short range of 3 to 4 inches which means that both the devices need to be kept next to each other for this to work. Going away from the range will lead to an interference of the signal and it will not work. But because of the shortest range, there is no interference due to any obstacle either.
Bluetooth headphones on the other hand have a much longer range that varies from 10 feet to as high as 33 feet. This means that even if you move away from the audio source, you will not lose the connection easily unless there is an obstacle between the sound and your headphone.
Process of Setting Up
Setting up NFC headphones needs no effort or manual processes at all. All you need to do is turn on the NFC on both the devices and bring them close to each other in order for the NFC pairing to take place. Once the pairing is done, you can transfer the files via NFC instantly and seamlessly.
Bluetooth, on the other hand, needs a manual setup where you need to search for the device you want to pair with, then depending on the device, you may need to set up and enter a passcode. Some additional settings may need to be changed in order for the pairing to be successful.
How Fast Is the Connection?
Just like the NFC pairing process, its connection speed is superfast- meaning, it takes little to no time to transfer data or files.
Bluetooth, however, may have a slow or fast connection depending on what version of it you are using. Oftentimes, the older version like Bluetooth 4.x may have a slower speed than the latest 5.x versions.
How Much Power Does Each Technology Consume?
NFC headphones consume very little power when compared with Bluetooth devices. Since this technology uses a low-power RF transmitter-receiver, even if you keep the NFC switch on, it will not eat up much battery power. Unless it is a passive NFC that uses the energy from the smartphone or laptop that you are connecting it with.
On the other hand, Bluetooth consumes a lot of power. You might have noticed that the battery of the headphone drains out faster when the Bluetooth is turned on.
NFC Vs Bluetooth Audio
Near Field Communication or NFC is not really made for audio or music due to several reasons. The connectivity is so limited, there’s no point in using it for music because you literally have to keep your phone and headphone in the same place. The size of the data transferred is also way too small. Additionally, NFC can only be used to pair the headphone with the mobile phone as it is much quicker to connect. Then while playing the tracks it will use Bluetooth. Therefore, if you have to listen to music, you need to use the Bluetooth wireless mode which is more practical and feasible.
NFC is designed for making contactless payments, transferring low-resolution data, etc.
Both NFC and Bluetooth have security issues even though NFC is considered to be a more secure medium than its other counterpart because of its short range. While it is great for use in crowded places where chances of data manipulation are more, it still needs to be carefully handled. The long-range of Bluetooth makes it more vulnerable to various types of cyberattacks which is why it is not recommended to.
With this, you probably have a fair idea about NFC vs Bluetooth audio. Also, check out our best over ear noise cancelling headphones from here.
What are some common problems with NFC?
Now, all this while we have been talking about the various benefits of NFC headphones, how they can make certain things pretty convenient, it is important to pay heed to the common concerns that most people have with this technology as well. We have also provided solutions to these concerns, so you can use this technology securely.
Data Manipulation, Eavesdropping, or Other Similar Security Breach
Well, with wireless signal transmission, there is always a threat of various kinds of security breaches which often makes the users insecure. Tampering with the data or interference with the signal like in the case of eavesdropping etc. can be possible only when the data transfer or payment is not processed through a secure channel. Once a secure channel is set up between the sender and the receiver, there is end-to-end data encryption which ensures that no external device can have access to it. So in case you are using NFC to make payments or working with other companies, do not forget to check with them if they use secure channels.
When your mobile gets stolen, it can lead to different kinds of problems like revealing your personal information, etc. if your phone is not security protected. The thief can also literally hover the phone near the card reader to purchase things at the store. In order to safeguard this, you should always keep your phone locked with a password or a PIN.
While interception attacks aren’t an easy thing to do, with today’s technological advancements, some high-tech hackers can make it possible in a rare case. In an interception attack, there is a middleman working between the two NFC devices. When the data is shared between two devices, the middleman takes the information, manipulates it, and passes it to the other end. This is only possible when both the devices are in active mode. Therefore, it is very important that when one device (the transmitting device) is active, the receiving one should be in the passive mode. It is called ‘active-passive pairing’ that keeps it secure from a third party to interfere.
Updating Your App From Time-to-time
Other than these security concerns, the NFC function may be interrupted when the app that you are using for the payment or data transfer isn’t updated. So, in order to use the feature seamlessly, make sure that the apps that are needed to be used are always up-to-date. Other than an interrupted service, an older version app may also put your bank, credit, or debit card information at risk.
How Do NFC Headphones Work- a Little Detailed Look Into the Near Field Communication Technology
An NFC chip is a tiny component that forms an integrated circuit. The chip looks like a loop that has a built-in antenna that is powerful enough to transfer data in seconds. NFC comes in two types: Active and Passive chips.
The ‘Active chip’ has self-power and does not need power from outside. It uses its power to share files and even power the passive chip through electromagnetic conduction, by generating an electromagnetic field for the receiving device to get the power from. You will usually find an active NFC chip in smartphones. The active chip can get into passive mode if the device becomes the receiver of the data.
The ‘Passive chip’ on the other hand doesn’t have a power of its own. As mentioned above, this chip receives the power from the active one through electromagnetic induction. When you place your mobile, laptop, or device with an active chip near the one with passive NFC, the active NFC produces electromagnetic waves that its passive counterpart uses. It then sends the feedback to the card reader in the smartphone. The entire process works at a very low voltage.
The Different Modes in Which the NFC Communication Takes Place
When you bring two devices close to each other (the transmitting and the receiving ones), they get activated instantly. A communication medium is created between the two. But, there are three different modes that the NFC devices operate on:
This mode is used by two devices with active NFC chips. When the information or file transfer takes place between two active NFC devices like two mobile phones, etc. NFC headphones also use this mode with the smartphone or other transmitting device to establish a connection between them.
Read/ Write Mode
This platform is used when an active NFC chip reads and writes information from the passive one like in the case of the NFC tags.
Card emulation mode: This is a dedicated mode that ensures contactless card payments when you shop in the stores. Most of the stores these days are equipped with payment receiving devices.
NFC uses low radiofrequency waves of just 13 MHz to communicate. In order for this technology to work properly and for the NFC pairing to take place, both the NFC and Bluetooth connection needs to be turned on.
Some Top Brands That Offer NFC Headphones
Even though not all headphones that are available today are integrated with the NFC chip, there are a few brands that offer NFC headphones for easy and effortless pairing with audio devices. Some well-known ones are Sony, Bose, Jabra, Audio-Technica, Sennheiser, and Phiaton.
The adoption of NFC or Near Field Communication hasn’t gained as much popularity as Bluetooth yet. However, with the increase in demands of wireless and cashless payment conveniences today this technology is rapidly growing and improving constantly. When it comes to headphones, many top brands have already started integrating NFC chipset into their headsets, and it is steadily picking up pace.
You will mostly find this in the top-end headphones lines in most brands as the cost of this technology is slightly higher when compared with other wireless technologies. But, there are a few budget-friendly options with this technology as well. Nevertheless, NFC has its own limitations and benefits to offer. While it has proven to be quite a useful tool in the financial sector, if you compare NFC vs Bluetooth audio, certainly Bluetooth is the winner because of its long-range and obvious conveniences. Check out our other article to understand how to choose earbuds.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
Not all the models of Android and versions of the iPhone have NFC. However, all the versions of the iPhone, from the iPhone 6 and up to date have NFC chips in their hardware. In the case of Androids, most of the mid to high-end models of smartphones are made compatible with NFC. But, that doesn’t mean every phone has it. If you are specifically looking for an NFC integrated smartphone, it is best to talk to the manufacturer or the sales representatives before you make a purchase.
As explained in the article, obviously Bluetooth is better for audio because of its bigger connectivity. While NFC is great for transferring small files quickly without any hassle, it is not meant for audio at all.
It depends on the brand and the model. Most of the top brands like Sony, Bose, etc. have this technology added to their mid to premium category phones, but there are budget-friendly options like Edifier W675BT that have NFC pairing options as well.