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Tech Roundup: Choosing In-ear Wireless Headphones in 2020

Wireless in-ear headphones arrived on the market around five years ago marking a significant revolution. Headphones without wires that neither link them together nor connect them to a smartphone or DAP: the future is here. These headphones, also known as “true wireless” hold an unprecedented levels comfort. Discreet, efficient and with ever-improving performance, they are just as good as their wired counterparts. Read on for ten of the most representative models on the market today.

Door Alban Amouroux | Nieuws | 12 januari 2020
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In-ear headphones are held inside the auricle entering the ear canal, a design which allows the headphones to be held in place without falling. Many elements are integrated into the earpiece: Bluetooth (the wireless connection that allows the transferral of music to the headphones), a battery in each headphone and, for certain models, several microphones used for phone calls, voice control or active external noise cancellation.

However, in-ear headphones are not adapted to fit all people. Much like our fingerprints we all possess ears of different shapes and sizes. It may be that some models are not specifically adapted to your morphology, hence different sized buds are often included to provide optimum hold.

We have tested various models and we must confess that these are some very well put together wireless headphones that demonstrate well thought out designs. While there’s always some element of risk, you can rest assured that these headphones will not be falling out of your ears and offer true comfort for daily use.

1. Anker Soundcore Liberty Air: a serious in-ear at an unbeatable price.

Price: 89 euros

Features: Bluetooth 5, 3.5-hour battery life + 12 hours, micro USB charging, IPX5

Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air headphones are all about simplicity. Their only additional feature is the inclusion of a microphone for standard telephone calls. These headphones concentrate principally on playing wireless music. To achieve this, they use graphene membrane transducers for exemplary linearity.

The recharging case connects with a micro-USB and offers a total of 15.5 hours of battery life which is relatively low when compared with the competition. Nevertheless, Anker has worked well on the ergonomics. Four different pairs of buds are included, as well as three EarWings supports for securing the headphone in the auricle.

+
Easy-to-use
Compact size
IPX5 certification


-
Mediocre battery life
Standard audio codec
Standard quality microphone


2. JBL Free X: The perfect headphones for doing sport while listening to music

Price: 129 euros

Features: Bluetooth 4.2, 4-hour battery life + 20 hours, micro-USB charging, IPX5

JBL pursues the development of large audio offerings that embrace mobility. These Free X in-ears are part of this effort. With their rather large size, they have made no room for discretion with the JBL logo made clearly visible. Free X headphones are available in black and white, with a recharging case of assorted colours. They have four hours of battery life, with an additional 20 hours of battery life thanks to the case.

JBL have included two pairs of different ear buds as well as two different auricle supports which cover the entirety of the inside of the ear. The 5.6mm transducers ensure reproduction of the entire sonic spectrum, with adequate bass. In telephone mode, the headphones automatically fall into their mono mode for the reproduction of more natural sounds.

+
JBL sound on the move
Available in two colours
IPX5 certification


-
Non discreet
Medium-level battery life
No noise cancellation


3. Jabra Elite Active 75t: noise cancellation at an unbeatable price

Price: 199 euros

Features: Bluetooth 5, 7.5-hour battery life + 20.5 hours, USB-C charging, IPP5, noise cancellation

Jabra has recently updated its flagship in-ear headphones, the 65t, to a new 75t version. They mark the fourth generation of true wireless headphones. The Danish manufacturer has managed to miniaturise the model increasing discretion and comfort. Only three types of buds are provided with no auricle supports. Their IP55 certification protects them from splashes of water.

The 75t is equipped with four microphones for telephone calls but also noise cancelling functionality. The headphones are particularly well geared for telephone calls thanks to the mobile application, Sound+, which enables a variety of functions and is used by the brand’s other wireless headphones. One must note the excellent 7.5-hour battery life of these Bluetooth headphones.

+
Compact
Noise cancellation
Battery life


-
No Bluetooth aptX
Only one connection at a time


4. Klipsch T5: optimal battery life with a vintage twist

Price: 199 euros

Features: aptX, Bluetooth 5, 8-hour battery life + 24 hours, USB-C charging, IPX4

The design of Klipsch T5’s is not in itself original, but the application of the vintage version of its logo on the outside of the headphones gives them a certain unique aspect. These are the first true wireless headphones to be released by the American brand. They flaunt 5mm transducers that favour ‘loudness’ where medium ranges play lightly in the background, a constant among Klipsch products.

The T5 is compatible with the aptX codec, something which is not offered among less costly rivals. The metal recharging case resembles a lighter and offers 24 hours of battery life in addition to the eight hours of battery life from the headphones themselves, an impressive feat. Three types of buds are provided, but without any supports. You will have to find the bud best adapted to your ear to isolate yourself from outside noises as the T5s have no noise cancelling system.

+
Bluetooth aptX
Great battery life
Signature dynamic sound


-
No noise cancellation
Flashy


5. Libratone Track Air+, a most discreet in-ear headphone

Price: 199 euros

Features: Bluetooth 5, 6-hour battery life + 18 hours, USB-C charging and wireless, IPX4, noise cancellation

Libratone have gone for originality with the design of the Track Air+. These headphones combine a rounded shape, which is held in the auricle, with little elongated rods for additional hold. Four buds are provided, and the headphones are offered in a black or white finish. In addition to the USB-C, wireless charging is also possible through an optional dedicated support.

Libratone Track Air+ are equipped with personalisable active noise reduction through the dedicated mobile application allowing you to reduce your environment’s sound to 30dB. The microphones that see to this function are also capable of taking phone calls and voice commands in conjunction with your preferred vocal assistant. With IPX4, you can use the headphones in the rain without fear of breakage.

+
Light and discreet
Noise cancellation
Wireless recharging


-
No Bluetooth aptX
Limited medium and high ranges


6. Audio-Technica ATH-CKR7TW: sound quality above everything

Price: 249 euros

Features: aptX, Bluetooth 5, 6-hour battery life + 9 hours, micro-USB charging

Audio-Technica have miniaturised their traditional headphones and transformed them into the in-ear ATH-CKR7TWs. The exterior’s design is of the brand’s large logo making use of an already well-known style. These headphones are available in black or grey. As usual, Audio-Technica have worked in a large transducer for optimum frequency and bass performance measuring 11mm in diameter, around two times the size of most rivals.

On the downside, these headphones are around twice as heavy than most rivals. But the weight is still a reasonable 9 grams per earpiece. Regarding accessories, ATH-CKR7TWs are sold with four buds and detachable blades for added hold. Note the presence of aptX for audio quality. Audio-Technica have not included any noise cancellation tech.

+
Hi-Fi Tech
Large transducers
Quality AKM DAC


-
Bulky and heavy
No noise cancellation
Limited battery life


7. Sony WF-1000XM3: excellent on all levels

Price: 249 euros

Features: DSEE HX, Bluetooth 5, 6-hour battery life + 18 hours, USB-C charging, NFC, noise cancellation

With Sony’s classic 1000XM3 Bluetooth headphones as a reference point, the Japanese brand has created a spin-off in-ear version. WF-1000XM3s hold a particularly large design yet the weight remains an acceptable 8.5 grams per headphone. Seven pairs of buds are included: four silicon and three memory foam. The recharging case uses a USB-C port providing a total battery life of 24 hours. They can reach 32 hours when noise cancellation is disabled.

Sony has managed to implant into WF-1000XM3 all their incontestable know-how in the field. You can activate transparent listening which amplifies voices by simply touching the outside of the headphone. However, Sony has left no space to include aptX HD and LDAC codecs. Instead they have gone for SBC and AAC accompanied with DSEE HX to help reinvigorate overly compressed sounds.

+
Automatic noise cancellation
Frequency response linearity
Seven pairs of buds included


-
Bulky
No aptX Bluetooth


8. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless: the only true wireless compatible with aptX LL

Price: 279 euros

Features: aptX, aptX LL, Bluetooth 5, 4 hours battery life + 8 hours, micro-USB charging, noise cancellation

Like a great number of their rivals, Sennheiser has made a true wireless version of one of its flagship products. In this case, Momentum. In this miniature version they have gone for a metallic aesthetic. The effects of this can be felt on the weight of these headphones which amount to 17grams per earpiece. The transducers are a little bigger than average with 7mm in diameter.

Four types of bud are included, and the recharging case displays an attractive cloth finish, perhaps to the detriment of the battery life as they can hold no more than 8 hours of energy. Momentum True Wireless headphones are equipped with a noise cancelling system as well as an audio equaliser, both configurable through the use of the mobile application. Note that these headphones are the only ones on the market to offer the aptX Low Latency Bluetooth codec.

+
Balanced registers
Automatic noise cancellation
Audio aptX and aptX LL codecs


-
Poor battery life
Weighty earpieces
Only one connection at a time


9. Apple AirPods Pro: The perfect true wireless for an Apple environment

Price: 279 euros

Features: Bluetooth 5. 4.5 hours battery life + 24 hours, USB-C charging and wireless, IPX4, noise cancellation

Apple has produced millions of their famous white wired headphones sold alongside the iPod and then the iPhone. Evolution was required, and so the company has moved on like many others to true wireless. AirPods Pro are a reworking of the classic version with the principal difference of the inclusion of well-functioning noise cancellation. For adaption to your ear, three kinds of bud are provided. AirPods Pro are perfectly adapted for use in an Apple environment. Association with an iPhone is simply carried out through use of the recharging case for example. It is possible to link two pairs of AirPods to the same iPhone to share your music. The touchpads on the headphones allow you to change track and the level of noise cancellation but lack a volume control, requiring the use of Siri or taking out your smartphone.

+
Noise cancellation
Ergonomic
Great battery life


-
No physical volume controls
No aptX Bluetooth


10. Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E8 2.0: The most prestigious of in-ear headphones

Price: 299 euros

Features: Bluetooth 4.2, 4-hour battery life + 12 hours, USB-C recharging and wireless, IPX54

Beoplay E8 2.0 headphones are among some of the most expensive in-ear Bluetooths on the market. The brand is traditionally positioned at the top of the range. A position justified here with a very attractive recharging case with leather and aluminium finish. The headphones are available in five shades, including the original powdered pink. Five kinds of buds are provided, four in silicon and one in memory foam.

E8 2.0s are equipped with 5.7mm transducers offering great linearity but with high notes that can sometimes be a little shrill. Automatic noise cancellation is there with the option of adjustment by tapping the outside of the headphone. The battery life is a mediocre 16 hours in total. Recharging is carried out through a USB-C chord. A wireless recharging stand can also be used.

+
Noise cancellation
Quality build
Five pairs of buds offered


-
Mediocre battery life
No aptX Bluetooth


The Bluetooth in-ear headphone market is still young, and prices remain contained as there are not yet any ultra-high range models. For the time being, manufacturers do not know how to include high resolution audio codecs. Companies must therefore settle for Bluetooth aptX at best. There really are a lot of concessions to be made between volume, weight and integrated technology; the battery takes up the space of other components and too much weight means the headphones won’t hold inside the ear without some form of assistance. Regardless of their technological constraints, true wireless headphones offer unmatched comfort in use. They’re placed in your ears then forgotten. Active noise cancellation is available for certain models for additional isolation allowing you to better enjoy your music and podcasts. General battery life is also a crucial factor ranging from standard to double that, or even more, among models. True Wireless headphones are always sold with a recharging case and have their own internal battery meant for charging between uses. These headphones have relatively low battery lives, the case therefore can recharge them up to two or three times. Finally, most in-ear headphones are certified with IPX4 or IPX5 making them resistant to rain, sweat and dirt. These types of headphone are built primarily for comfort and ease of use.

Translated by Henry Wright

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