At CES 2016 I got the pleasure of checking out two pairs of truly wireless Bluetooth earbuds that make a compelling case for cutting the cord. The Earin headphones have an MSRP of $250 (and can currently only be found at Best Buy for $300) and the Kanoa in-ear buds ship in April and will sell for $300, though right now you can pick up a pair for only $150 on its website.
There's a bevy of Bluetooth headphones available, but many are over-the-ear or on-ear designs. I don't know if you've noticed, but the "wireless earbuds" you see in stores today aren't truly wireless; all have either a neckband or short cord to connect them.
It makes them harder to lose, but they can also become an occasional nuisance, like getting caught in your hair or tangled in your bag. Earbuds that are actually sans wires remain a rare breed and that's why aspirational models like the Earin and Kanoa are so intriguing.
The Earin headphones have a more traditional earbud design; they look like your standard in-ear pair with the cords cut off. I really like the simple, clean design and they felt like they we're solidly built. The tiny buds fit fine in my small ears and the memory-foam like material that they're made of (similar to Kanoa), expanded to fit my ear and blocked out a considerable amount of ambient noise.
I admit, I didn't think such a small pair of headphones could pack enough power for me to satisfyingly blast The Beatles, or whatever's on my Spotify playlist of choice. I was wrong. I purposefully played a song with heavy bass and was surprised to hear rich, full sound.
What about the fact that they're basically the size of two almonds, therefore practically begging to get lost? The response to this is a carrying case that charges the buds when stored inside. The cylindrical case is slightly bigger than a tube of lipstick and has no problem fitting inside of a pants pocket.
The Earin headphones' battery lasts about two and a half hours and the charger, which charges via USB, can recharge them up to three full times.
The Kanoa earbuds are bigger, blue and don a pentagon shape. They're water-resistant and have optional silicone jackets, making them a more sporty option. Like the Earin, the Kanoa earphones come with Comply foam earbuds and charge via carrying case.
Probably due to their larger size, the Kanoa headphones have longer battery life than the Earin, lasting four to six hours on a full charge, and its charging case can recharge them up to five full charges. Unfortunately there wasn't a case available for me to check out, but it's rectangular in shape and appears to be pocket-friendly.
Once I was able to try the Kanoa using the smallest earbud it comes with (it comes with an array of Comply foam and silicone buds in a few different sizes). The pentagon shape perfectly nestled into my ear and the foam buds suitably conformed to my canal. They felt incredibly secure and stayed in place even when I shook my head.
Though they weren't as bassy as the Earin, the Kanoa headphones sounded great. I felt like I had real speakers in my ears, not some small earbuds. I could crisply hear every instrument and every subtle effect. I almost felt like I was hearing headphones for the first time. High-end models are supposed to have impeccable audio quality, but for a truly wireless pair that depends on a Bluetooth connection, I was very impressed.
Which one would I buy?
I'm so glad you asked. I'm really tempted to grab my credit card right now and buy a pair. The last time I bought wireless headphones, my big deciding factors were sound quality, design and a price less than $100. I was able to find these cool over-the-ear Jabra headphones and I couldn't be happier with them, except occasionally they're too big to lug around. It sucks going back to corded earbuds after the beautiful, freeing feeling of wireless headphones. Now, I have the perfect alternative.
Earin and Kanoa aren't the only headphones revolutionizing the definition and standards of wireless in-ear buds. There's other competition out there, and don't expect that to change anytime soon. I know a lot of people interested in a product like this, however it'll probably be awhile until they're priced low enough to persuade an actual purchase.
I think the Earin headphones are beautiful, but I don't think I could ever pay $250-$300 for two little earbuds, even if they were prettier than Beyonce. I could, however, justify $150, which is the current pricing of the Kanoa headphones. They're temporarily half off and will shoot up to $300 when they hits retail stores.
Like in life, good looks can only get you so far. Though I prefer the Earin's aesthetic, Kanoa's sound quality impressed me more than I thought wireless headphones ever could. They give me hope that one day I'll own an awesome set of truly wireless in-ear headphones. I just don't think that day is today.