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Wireless headphones are improving faster than anything else in tech

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Wireless headphones are improving faster than anything else in tech
Issue Time:2019-03-05

Wireless headphones are improving faster than anything else intech

Equippedwith USB-C, voice assistants, and better batteries, 2018’s wireless headphoneskick 2017’s butt

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If you’re in themarket for new wireless headphones, IFA 2018 has been an absolute treat foryou. If, on the other hand, you just bought a pair, well... this is going to bean upsetting read. At this year’s IFA in Berlin, headphones manufacturersbrought out a litany of meaningful, tangible, delightful improvements that havemade the wireless audio market much more exciting than it was just a few daysago. Let’s take each new change in turn.

 

USB-C IS THE NEWCHARGING STANDARD

Anyone who’s beenfollowing my writing will know that I think this change is overdue. For months,I’ve been imploring headphone makers toget with the times — a majority of smartphones and laptops now charge via USB-C— but most of them kept updating their flagship models while keeping theflimsier and now outdated MicroUSB standard. No longer. Every new pair ofwireless headphones or earphones I’ve come across here at IFA has featured aUSB-C charging port. Whatever market data everyone has been looking at, it’sfinally showing the investment into USB-C to be worthwhile, and the industryhas promptly responded by flooding the Berlin Messe halls with USB-C-poweredheadphones.

 

You might thinkSennheiser’s 12-hour total battery life (four in the buds with two extrafour-hour charges in the case) on the Momentum True Wireless less monumental,but they’re extracted from a lightweight design that’s effortless to wear. Wealways say we want more battery life and would tolerate bulkier designs, butSennheiser has rightly listened to the way we spend our money — on extra-thinphones with fewer features but slicker design — and it’s made its first  wireless earbuds as small as possible. Plus, they sound pretty damn good, and12 hours of damn good music is worth more than 20 hours of discomfort andmediocre audio.

 

EQUAL PARTSEXCITING AND ENTICING, THE HEADPHONES MARKET IS EVOLVING THE WAY SMARTPHONESONCE DID

In all cases,whether larger over-ear designs or smaller in-ear ones, each successivegeneration of wireless headphones is taking major steps forward in increasingbattery life. The smartphone market hasn’t known such a rapid pace ofimprovement since the early days of 4G, when most phones had terrible batterylife and every new model offered a chance to make significant advances. Now,smartphones have plateaued in most respects, we’re still waiting to see howgood ARM-powered laptops will be with their extended battery, and smartwatchesare waiting for more efficient chips to push them forward. Headphones are theconsumer electronics category that is in the most fast-moving part of itsdevelopment cycle.

 

SMARTER DESIGN

Give designersenough time and enough tries, and they’ll really perfect a product. Sony’sthird-generation 1000Xs are, once again, the cardinal example of this. Theseare a massive redesign from the first two 1000Xs, which were already supercomfy to wear for long periods of time. But the new edition, well, it justratchets the goodness up a couple of notches. Now even lighter, even moregentle in their embrace, these are benchmark-setting headphones. My colleaguesin the Verge New York office tried them out before me, and each was elated(one, already an owner of 1000X M2s was more frustrated than thrilled) with howcomfortable Sony’s latest headphones feel.

 

I alreadymentioned above that Sennheiser seems to have made the right trade-offs withits Momentum True Wireless, but the matter bears expanding upon. If we rewindto only a couple of years ago, truly wireless buds were huge, ugly, didn’t holda connection well, and sounded like an indistinct mess of exaggerated bass andtinny treble. This is hardly ancient history, yet here we are today, looking ata pair of neatly crafted buds that you might quickly forget you’re wearing ifit wasn’t for their great passive noise isolation. Oh yes, the Momentum TrueWireless are also great at isolating noise.

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