Thursday, May 19, 2022

The best headphones, earbuds, and hi-fi gear from CES 2022

Anyone hoping for a somewhat normal CES 2022 experience faced disappointment when Covid-19 forced many exhibitors to pull out of the Las Vegas tech expo at the last minute. Thankfully, the audio products and technologies on display this year haven’t disappointed us. 

CES is the location where you can find the weirdest and wackiest developments in the world of tech, not to mention important innovations. This year it was the smaller audio brands that stole the spotlight, however, many of the larger audio companies are having a more subdued presence than normal. 

There was everything from invisible headphones to Bluetooth speakers boasting never-ending battery lives. Alongside the usual spectrum of truly wireless earbuds, soundbars, also record players provide us a taste of what can be expected from this year in audio.

Products released in CES 2022

While CES 2022 may not have been the return to normal we were hoping for, it’s been a bumper show for all things audio. Here are a few of the best products and technologies to come out of Vegas this year.

There are lots of headphones to cover at CES, this year’s offering included some truly wacky technologies alongside conventional audiophile over-ears. 

Mark Levinson, the company best known for its high-end hi-fi gear, released its first headphones at the show. The Mark Levinson No. 5909, comes with 40mm beryllium drivers, hi-res audio support, active noise cancellation, along with 34-hour battery life.

The Mark Levinson No. 5909 RELEASED IN CES 2022
The Mark Levinson No. 5909 RELEASED IN CES 2022

While being one of the most hi-fis, they’re also the most expensive headphones at CES this year; they’ll leave a hole of a cool $999 (about £750 / AU$1,400).

If that price is now much of a concern, there are also some excellent Sony WH-1000XM4 rivals from Shure. The Shure AONIC 40 is priced at $249 / £215 (about AU$345). For that price, you receive a stylish foldable design, ANC, 40mm neodymium dynamic drivers, along with adjustable EQ settings. All of that at $100 / £134 less than Sony’s flagship. 

However, the most eye-catchy piece was a way different beast from the Mark Levinsons and Shares of the world.

The Noveto N1 is an innovative device that’s effectively a pair of ‘invisible headphones.’ This gadget beams ultrasound to ‘pockets’ of air just outside your ears. You will hear your music as if you were wearing actual headphones, however, they look like a soundbar. 

Noveto N1 Invisible Headphones Use-Case Video

Nobody else can hear your music. And, thanks to clever head-tracking tech means the sound should always hit the right spot, even if you are moving around. That’s the kind of tech CES is about.  

The Noveto N1 is an innovative device that's effectively a pair of 'invisible headphones.' This gadget beams ultrasound to ‘pockets’ of air just outside your ears. You will hear your music as if you were wearing actual headphones, however, they look like a soundbar. 
The Noveto N1 is an innovative device that’s effectively a pair of ‘invisible headphones.’ This gadget beams ultrasound to ‘pockets’ of air just outside your ears. You will hear your music as if you were wearing actual headphones, however, they look like a soundbar. 

True wireless earbuds are becoming cheaper

There were lots of new true wireless earbuds to see at the CES. Though none of them can be called truly innovative, the latest models show how far the form factor has come, and how affordable it can be. 

JBL showcased three true wireless earbuds models at this CES. All were priced at $149.95 (about £115 / AU$210), and none of them cut back on the specs. The Live Pro 2, comes with adaptive noise cancellation, with up to 40 hours of battery life, along with six microphones equipped with noise as well as wind isolation.

Jabra has also launched a more affordable pair of wireless earbuds. The Jabra Elite 4 Active are among the most comprehensively specced buds at the price. They cost $119 / £119 / AU$179 while giving you good audio performance, decent noise cancellation, adjustable EQ settings, along with competitive 28-hour battery life. 

Perhaps the most interesting buds to come from the show are the Belkin Soundform Immerse. These could make a great cheaper alternative to the AirPods Pro. These retail at $179.99 (about £130 / AU$250), and these sleek-looking buds pack in lots of the same features as Apple’s noise-canceling earbuds, and hi-res audio support.

None of these models represent huge advances in true wireless technology, but they offer previously premium features at lower prices. Looks like CES 2023 will be a tad more exciting, 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. However, Qualcomm says the audio afforded by this codec is expected to come to the next generation of wireless earbuds/headphones. Will be “mathematically bit-for-bit exact,” so there won’t be any loss of data over a wireless connection in your music.

Record players get it all done

This CES has been great for record players. The best turntables to come from this year’s expo showcased a mix of modern conveniences, for example, wireless streaming/portability along with the nostalgia of spinning vinyl on a great deck.

Cambridge Audio showcased  2 new record players:

  • The Alva TT V2
  • The Alva ST.

The former acted as the successor to the world’s first aptX HD Bluetooth turntable. 

The Alva TT V2
The Alva TT V2

While offering hi-res wireless streaming, the Alva TT V2 also comes with a detachable headshell along with a switchable phono stage, so to upgrade the record player over time. 

Priced at $1,999 / £1,700 (about AU$2,770), this is the most high-spec record player to come out of CES 2022. The bargain was the Victrola Re-Spin. 

Priced at $99.99 / £99 (about AU$140) this suitcase turntable comes in a range of bright colors along with a built-in Bluetooth speaker, as well as a portable design. Though there isn’t a built-in battery, the Victrola Revolution GO comes with a rechargeable battery, lightweight build, along with a built-in Bluetooth speaker. It comes with a detachable guitar strap, to be able to carry it around like a handbag. 

While it’s not the best-sounding turntable, we are 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, a true innovation worthy of CES.

Speakers that keep the party going… 

There weren’t many speakers that were attracted to the CES 2022. The one model that did is a prototype that isn’t likely to hit the market. 

The portable speaker was developed by tech companies Exeter and Mayht, its innovative design could shake up the market. Designed with Exegers Powerfoyle material, it has the ability to convert any light source into energy, thus providing the speaker with virtually infinite battery life. 

The prototype device also contains a new kind of dual-membrane driver created by Mayht, which as per the company’s claims can match the power of a speaker 10 times its size. 

It’s a shame that the market will never get its hands on this product. However, this prototype speaker does give us a great insight into what wireless speakers of the future might look and sound like.

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