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The best headphones, earbuds, and hi-fi gear from CES 2022
CES is the place to find the weirdest and wackiest developments in the world of tech, not to mention the most important innovations. This year was no exception. It was the smaller audio brands that really stole the spotlight this year, however, with many of the larger audio companies having a more subdued presence than normal.
We’ve seen everything from invisible headphones to Bluetooth speakers with never-ending battery lives, alongside the usual gamut of true wireless earbuds, soundbars, and record players – giving us a real taste of what we can expect from the coming year in audio.
So, while CES 2022 may not have been the return to normal we were hoping for (and really, what does normal ever mean where CES is concerned?), it’s still been a bumper show for all things audio. Here are a few of our favorite products and technologies to come out of Vegas this year.
Headphones should be heard and not seen
There are always lots of headphones to see at CES. This year’s offering included some truly wacky technologies alongside conventional audiophile over-ears that’ll appeal to discerning listeners.
Mark Levinson, the company best known for its high-end hi-fi gear, launched its first pair of headphones at the show. The Mark Levinson No. 5909 are among the most high-spec cans we’ve seen, coming with 40mm beryllium drivers, hi-res audio support, active noise cancellation, and 34-hour battery life.
They’re also the most expensive headphones we’ve seen at CES this year; they’ll set you back a cool $999 (about £750 / AU$1,400). Ouch.
If that price is out of the question, we also saw some excellent Sony WH-1000XM4 rivals from Shure. The Shure AONIC 40 cost $249 / £215 (about AU$345). For that you get a stylish foldable design, ANC, 40mm neodymium dynamic drivers, and adjustable EQ settings – and at $100 / £134 less than Sony’s flagship cans.
However, our favorite pair of headphones from CES was a very different beast to the Mark Levinsons and Shures of the world. In fact, it’s not a pair of headphones at all.
The Noveto N1 is a genuinely innovative device that’s effectively a pair of ‘invisible headphones.’ Looking a bit like a soundbar, this clever gadget beams ultrasound to ‘pockets’ of air just outside your ears. You’ll hear your music as if you were wearing actual headphones, while people around you are none the wiser.
That’s right – nobody else will be able to hear your music. And, clever head-tracking tech means the sound should always hit the right spot, even if you move around. That’s the kind of tech CES is all about. We can’t wait to try it for ourselves.
True wireless earbuds are getting cheaper
There were lots of new true wireless earbuds to see at CES this year. While none of them can be said to be truly innovative, the latest models show just how far the form factor has come – and how affordable it can be these days.
JBL released three true wireless earbuds models at CES. All retail for $149.95 (about £115 / AU$210) and none of them skimp on the specs. The Live Pro 2, for instance, comes with adaptive noise cancellation, up to 40 hours of battery life, and six microphones equipped with noise and wind isolation.
Jabra also launched a more affordable pair of wireless earbuds. The Jabra Elite 4 Active are among the most comprehensively specced buds we’ve seen at their price. They’ll cost you just $119 / £119 / AU$179, and give you good audio performance, decent noise cancellation, adjustable EQ settings, and competitive 28-hour battery life.
Perhaps the most interesting buds to come from the show are the Belkin Soundform Immerse, which could make a great cheaper alternative to the AirPods Pro. Retailing at $179.99 (about £130 / AU$250), these sleek-looking buds pack in lots of the same features as Apple’s noise-canceling earbuds, as well as hi-res audio support.
None of these models represent huge advances in true wireless technology. However, they do demonstrate how manufacturers are beginning to offer previously premium features at lower prices. We predict CES 2023 will be a bit more exciting in this regard, as brands begin to incorporate Qualcomm’s aptX Lossless codec, which will allow for lossless audio streaming over a wireless network.
So far, this hasn’t been possible due to bit rate limitations. However, Qualcomm says the audio afforded by this codec – which is expected to come to the next generation of wireless earbuds and headphones – will be “mathematically bit-for-bit exact,” so you won’t lose any data over a wireless connection or any precious detail in your music.
Record players that do it all
It’s been a great CES for record players. The best turntables to come from this year’s expo showcased a fantastic mix of modern conveniences, like wireless streaming and portability, with all the nostalgia of spinning vinyl on a great deck.
Cambridge Audio unleashed two new record players: the Alva TT V2 and the Alva ST, with the former acting as the successor to the world’s first aptX HD Bluetooth turntable.
As well as offering hi-res wireless streaming, the Alva TT V2 comes with a detachable headshell and switchable phono stage, so you can upgrade the record player over time.
At $1,999 / £1,700 (about AU$2,770), it’s the most high-spec record player to come from CES 2022. The most exciting turntable was the bargain Victrola Re-Spin.
This $99.99 / £99 (about AU$140) suitcase turntable comes in a range of bright colors and boasts a built-in Bluetooth speaker and cute, portable design. While it doesn’t have a built-in battery, one of Victrola’s other CES offerings does – and it’s the first record player to do so.
The Victrola Revolution GO comes with a rechargeable battery, lightweight build, and built-in Bluetooth speaker. It even has a detachable guitar strap, so you can carry it around like a handbag.
While it’s not the best-sounding turntable we’ve ever tested, we were impressed by how well it works, and how easy it is to use. For $199.99 / £199 (around AU$280), it works well, plays at a loud volume, and lets you take your vinyl on the move. That’s a true innovation worthy of CES.
Speakers that keep the party going… forever
There weren’t many speakers that really caught our eye at CES 2022. In fact, the one model that did is a prototype that won’t actually hit the market.
The portable speaker was created by tech companies Exeger and Mayht, and its innovative design could really shake up the Bluetooth speaker market. Designed with Exegers Powerfoyle material, it can convert any light source into energy, giving the speaker virtually infinite battery life.
Not only that, but the prototype device also contains a new kind of dual-membrane driver created by Mayht, which the company claims can match the power of a speaker 10 times its size.
It’s a shame that the public will never get their hands on this particular device, but this prototype speaker does give us a great insight into what wireless speakers of the future might look (and sound) like.