CES is a wonderful place to get a taste of what 2021 will look like, as hundreds of companies brandish their best and brightest new gear ahead of release later in the year. And, in our experience, it’s a particularly great place to see the latest new headphones in all their high-tech glory.
The show was digital-only this year, but there were still plenty of intriguing headphones to gawk at, virtually or otherwise. While we obviously couldn’t go ears-on with the vast majority of the latest audio wares, we’ve rounded up some of the coolest headphones we saw at the show so you can get a jump on the latest audio badassery at the start of the new year. Enjoy!
V-Moda has always gone its own way, adapting its signature, tough-as-nails headband and earpads with new and intriguing ways to get your tunes. The company’s new noise canceling headphones are proof the company is not kidding around this year, offering 10 levels of noise canceling, impressive battery life, high-resolution audio support, and more, all rolled into a sleek and distinctive frame you can customize to taste thanks to removable shields. At just under $500, the price is a bit of a shocker, coming in just under Apple’s ultra-luxe AirPods Max. Can these well-armed cans stand up to Apple’s best? We’ll find out sometime this year.
Anker’s Soundcore brand has been making impressive strides when it comes to affordable, fully wireless earbuds for a few years now. The new Liberty Air 2 Pro (not to be confused with the Liberty Pro 2) offer an impressive list of features that includes active noise canceling, up to 26 hours of battery life with the case, IPX4 water resistance and more. If the specs sound as familiar as the design looks, it’s for good reason. These buds seem custom-built to take on Apple’s AirPods Pro, but at a much nicer price. The big question will be whether Soundcore can get the noise canceling right. But if the company has taken a step up there, at just under $130 these earbuds could be serious value contenders in the new year. What’s more, you can already pick them up at Amazon and find out for yourself.
As per usual, JBL turned out a veritable grip of headphones for the show, including three different pairs of true wireless earbuds in multiple price points and with multiple use cases. But the Tour One stand out from the pack, with a sound signature aimed at studio-style balance, alongside adaptive noise canceling, up to 50 hours of claimed battery, and other flagship features, all in a sleek and subtle design. They also offer Hi-res Audio certification courtesy of an ultra-wide frequency response. We won’t know if they can match up against our favorite travel cans, the Sony WH-1000XM4 until we try them out, but at nearly $50 less, we expect they’ll put up a good fight from a value standpoint.
JLab’s wild new Frames may look like nothing you’ve seen before, but they’re actually based not so loosely on another pair of “Frames” from none other than Bose. However, while Bose’s Frames are fully functional “audio sunglasses,” the JBuds version are a clip-on alternative that ask you to provide your own pair. This may seem like you’re getting less for your money, but the JLabs JBuds cost about a quarter of what you’ll pay Bose, at just $50. What’s more, their clip-on design means they can work with sunglasses, reading glasses, and regular glasses—all in the same day, if you like. We don’t expect them to sound as good as Bose’s near-magical audios shades, but they do claim better battery life (8 hours per charge), and could be a fun sonic alternative for active types who want to spice up their shades.
While the IE 300 are much more traditional than most pairs on our list, don’t count out the old ways—especially if you want to put more of your money toward sound than features. Sennheiser’s latest in-ears offer what the company calls a “refined version” of its 7mm Extra Wide Band (XWB) transducers. Translation: they offer tiny drivers engineered by Sennheiser with the utmost care for clear, accurate, and detailed sound. Sennheiser claims they provide extremely low distortion and a housing that minimizes unwanted vibrations to remove barriers between you and your favorite tunes. While we haven’t heard them yet, you can bet these sound as good as they look, and their over-ear design curves to your ear for a good fit. At $299.95, they’re a pricey purchase, but we’d bet you’ll be able to hear where your money went.
When it comes to sheer design, few earbuds we saw at CES are as plain old neat as the latest from 1More. The maker of excellent value buds like the Stylish and Colorbuds, 1More has a knack for fun design and the spindly Comfobuds are another fine example. These were also the only pair at CES this year we actually got to try out ahead of the show. They come packed in an impossibly small, pill-shaped case and offer an AirPods-style design at just under $60. There aren’t many features on board here and the sound is, to put it lightly, bassy as hell, but if you love bass soloes and need an ultra-cheap pair of earbuds that will turn heads, they might be right up your alley.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.