This story is part of our continuing coverage of CES 2020, including tech and gadgets from the showroom floor.
Headphones have come a long way in the last few years. Whether it’s silencing the world around you for nocturnal bliss in any setting, cutting loose all cables for total wireless freedom, or a beautiful mix of both, we expect a lot from our cans in 2020. And at CES 2020, we got a sneak peek at the best of what’s to come in the year ahead.
Below, we’ve selected the most value-packed, coolest, and most innovative headphones we’ve seen so far at the show this year, from noise-canceling true wireless earbuds to killer new travel cans, and more. Follow below for our top picks from CES 2020, and get ready to save your dollars for their impending release.
The storied audio brand has watched from the sidelines as competitors got into travel-friendly, active noise-canceling headphones to great results. Now, the brand is jumping into the game with the gorgeous new Aonic 50. Offering stout build quality, comfy and cushy padding, and noise-canceling that gave me a lovely respite from the bustle of the showroom floor, the $400 Aonic 50 may be pricey, but they don’t disappoint.
While battery life at 20 hours doesn’t match the top of the class (see Sony), it’s more than enough for all but the craziest trips you could take, and it matches Bose’s new 700. Beyond that, you’ve got the sound — glorious, balanced, clear, and defined. Thank goodness Shure has brought its audiophile touch to the modern era.
Panasonic’s first true wireless headphones are actually from Technics, the company’s high-end audio wing. Well, the first ones you can try, anyway. Panasonic brought three pairs of fully wireless buds to the show, including two pairs under the Panasonic banner, but the Technics are taking the lead. And after spending some time with them, I came away impressed with the company’s first try in this crowded space.
Active noise-canceling is the headline here, and the buds’ hybrid system did a very nice job shutting out the chaotic drone of 150,000 people in a single convention center that is CES. Sound was also relatively impressive in the few minutes I spent with the buds, with powerful bass and clear treble, though the very top of the midrange gets a little sharp at times (I’m guessing Panasonic may tool with this before the buds hit the market in June). Other features for these $250 buds include 6 hours of battery life, IPX4 water resistance, and ambient sound mode, which, like the ANC, will be adjustable through an app.
Puro’s new cans offer a lot of the features we expect in a pair of top-flight wireless headphones, including noise cancellation with two adjustable modes, solid sound, and battery life of up to 32 hours without noise-canceling, and 28 hours with it. But they also offer something unique to the travel-can marketplace: Volume limiting.
The company was created to design headphones for children that wouldn’t allow them to crank up the volume after the founder’s daughter incurred hearing loss from her regular headphones. But, as it turns out, adults aren’t much better at regulating their sound, so the PuroPro now do the same for us. The cans limit sound to 85dB automatically (no matter how far you crank up your phone). That’s frankly as loud as anyone needs, but because we’re adults, you can also engage a feature that allows them to go up to 95dB, so at least you’ll know when you’re being careless with your long-term hearing. Now, that’s innovation.
Another pick from Shure, the Aonic 215 aren’t your average true wireless headphones. Using the company’s previously crafted modular design, but in a true wireless version, the 215 let you swap out multiple earbuds from Shure’s wide selection. The modular battery wraparounds bring 8 hours of battery life per charge, along with three more charges in that mondo case. They also sound fantastic, like their over-ear brethren, but if you want to upgrade, you can replace the buds with Shure’s latest at any time.
OK, full disclosure: Like many earbuds and headphones at the show (especially from big brands), the Elite Active 75t ($200) aren’t fully ready for prime time. I got a chance to check out an early sample, though, and they sound fantastic. The earbuds I tried, while nearly identical to the Elite 75t, also seemed to be a bit less bassy at first blush (something I was happy about). Jabra reps told me this may be due to firmware updates, and, of course, the buds are also adaptable via the EQ in Jabra’s app. Water-resistance is also improved, now rated at IP57, meaning they’re fully dunkable for up to 30 minutes — perfect for a wash after a workout.
It’s the app that’s not quite up to speed for the Elite Active 75t yet, but when it’s fully fleshed out, its set to offer more features than ever, including My Sound, which is designed to calibrate the sound using the onboard microphones for fully tailored audio. My Control will also let you customize the controls to your fancy. Frankly, any Jabra upgrade is worth getting excited about, and if the My Sound works as designed, these may be among the best buds of 2020.
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