Skip to main content

The most innovative headphones of 2022

We’ve been in something of a golden era for personal audio for more than two decades if you start counting with the launch of the first iPod. You might think that there’s simply no more room for new features or improvements, and yet if anything, the pace of progress — especially in headphones and earbuds — has only increased. In 2022, companies started to look at ways to overcome wireless audio’s traditional limitations, sometimes successfully, sometimes a little less so. But either way, we’re here to recognize the products that really stepped out on a limb.

Want to see the rest? Check out our full list of the most innovative tech products of 2022!

Winner: Sony LinkBuds

Sony Linkbuds

People love wireless earbuds and with good reason. They’re convenient and most sound so good these days, you hardly miss the wire at all. Tack on handy new features like noise cancellation, Bluetooth Multipoint, and access to your voice assistant, and it’s easy to see why these devices are everywhere.

But the problem with wireless earbuds is that they block out the outside world. And the better they sound, the more they usually block our ears. Transparency mode can help, but it’s only meant to be a temporary thing — best used for quick conversations. Sony thought it might be able to give us the best of both worlds: Earbuds that sound great while letting us hear the world around us, not just some of the time, but all the time. Its solution: the uniquely shaped LinkBuds.

By designing the LinkBuds with a donut-shaped audio driver, Sony managed to create surprisingly great sound that doesn’t block even the faintest of sounds from entering our ears. It also introduced Wide Area Tap, one of the coolest features we’ve ever seen on a set of earbuds, that turns the part of your cheek directly in front of the earbud into a touch control.

Unfortunately, Sony’s clever formula means you need to accept certain compromises. The LinkBuds, while small, don’t fit a lot of ear shapes. Fit always plays a role in earbud sound quality, but it matters a lot more on the LinkBuds. Battery life is well below what we’ve become accustomed to, and it turns out that listening to the outside world is something we don’t always want to do — and yet there’s no way to block it out.

Still, these issues notwithstanding, a ton of thought and engineering went into making the LinkBuds, and we appreciate the effort Sony made to solve a very real problem.

Runner up: LG Tone Free T90Q

LG Tone Free T90Q seen inside charging case.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Sometimes, innovation means offering people a suite of features they simply can’t find in any other product. By that measure, it’s hard to beat LG’s Tone Free T90Q. These earbuds look a lot like Apple’s AirPods Pro, and they offer Dolby Atmos head-tracking spatial audio — just like Apple’s buds — but they go much further. The charging case has a built-in UV light system to sterilize the earbuds, the companion app has a dizzying number of control and EQ customization options, and you can use Bluetooth Multipoint to connect to two devices at once.

But the really impressive thing that the T90Q do is let you connect to both digital and analog wired sources of audio, while still maintaining the quality of their aptX Adaptive codec, for 24-bit, hi-res sound. It’s all done via the charging case and two USB-C cables — perfect for when you’re in an airplane, or when your computer or phone can’t speak aptX Adaptive.

Honorable mention: Nura True Pro

NuraTrue Pro earbuds in charging case.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Being first isn’t always easy. The Nura True Pro are the first earbuds to support Qualcomm’s aptX Lossless codec, which is itself the first lossless Bluetooth codec on the market. In theory, that means these earbuds can deliver perfect, bit-for-bit CD sound from a lossless source like a FLAC file or any of the lossless streaming options from Apple Music, et al.

But in order for aptX Lossless to work, it has to be supported on both the earbuds and the smartphone. For most of 2022, finding a compatible smartphone was very difficult. The Nura True Pro will be awesome when these phones become more commonplace in 2023, but by then, they’ll likely have lost that first-mover advantage. Still, Nura knew that was a possibility and decided to push ahead anyway, hoping its commitment to innovation would pay off eventually. Gotta respect that.

Editors' Recommendations

Simon Cohen
Contributing Editor, A/V
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like…
These Fruity Pebbles earbuds are a cereal junkie’s dream come true
Fruity Pebbles-themed JLab Go Air Pop wireless earbuds.

You know what we don't get enough of these days? Headphone companies doing collaborations with sugary breakfast cereal brands. Thankfully that conspicuous absence will soon be filled by JLab and Post, with two special edition sets of Fruity Pebbles-inspired products: The $35 Go Air Pop, and the $30 JBuddies Studio.

These Flintstones-themed devices will be available directly from the JLab website starting on March 7, which is National Cereal Day -- but you knew that already, didn't you? JLab provided no rationale for why it chose to engage with Post Consumer Brands on this partnership, but it's a good bet that the company has been keeping close tabs on Skullcandy -- its closest competitor -- and its recent collaborations with Doritos on earbuds and gaming headsets.

Read more
Rode’s NTH-100M headphones are built for gamers
Rode NTH-100M headset.

Rode, the Australian company best known for its high-quality microphones, has released a new version of its NTH-100 studio headphones that comes equipped with a boom mic for gaming -- or any other voice-based activities. The NTH-100M is priced at $189, a $40 premium on the price of the $149 NTH-100. The NTH-100M is available starting February 1, 2023.

Cleverly, the NTH-100M are actually just the original NTH-100 but packaged with the additional boom mic. Existing NTH-100 owners can convert their headphones into a set of NTH-100M by buying the NTH-Mic separately, which costs $59.

Read more
Skullcandy’s latest Doritos-themed headphones feature UV glow stripes
Skullcandy x Doritos SLYR multi-platform gaming headset seen glowing in the dark.

The love affair between Skullcandy and Doritos continues. After launching a limited edition set of Doritos-themed Dime wireless earbuds to celebrate 4/20 day in 2022, the duo is back for another collab. This time, Skullcandy has given its Dime 2 wireless earbuds and SLYR gaming headset the nacho cheese-inspired colors, but with a twist: special stripes that glow when exposed to a black light have been added to the paint job.

The two headphones can be purchased immediately, but won't ship until mid-February. The psychedelic sets are priced at $70 for the SLYR multi-platform wired headset and $35 for the Dime 2 wireless earbuds.

Read more