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Best new headphones of CES 2021

Several new headphones were announced at CES 2021. Here's a look at the best of them.

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David Carnoy
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1 of 14 David Carnoy/CNET

Anker Liberty Air 2 Pro

I was expecting Anker to release a noise-canceling version of its popular Liberty Air 2 earbuds last year, but the launch apparently got delayed a few months, thanks in part to the global pandemic. But the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro ($130, £130), the company's first earbuds to feature active noise-canceling, are here now, making their debut as part of CES 2021. Except for having a small issue with the included ear tips (I had to use my own to get a tight seal), they're an excellent set of true-wireless earbuds that measure up well against Apple's AirPods Pro for significantly less money.

Here's a look at the key features, according to Anker:

-11mm Purenote drivers
-Targeted active noise cancellation
-Six-mic uplink noise reduction helps optimize voices and minimize background noise
-Two transparency modes
-HearID Personalized Sound (via app)
-Up to six hours of battery life with ANC on (seven hours with it off) and charging case provides 15 hours of extra juice
-Wearing detection for autoplay/pause
-Earbuds fast charge: 10 minutes gets you two hours of playback
-Buds can be worn independently.
-Customizable user touch controls to set preferences for play/pause, track advance, volume, etc.
-IPX4 waterproof
-Nine sets of silicone ear tips, ranging from XXXS to XL and L Plus
-Bluetooth 5.0
-USB-C fast charge and wireless charging 
-Price: $130
-Available now in four colors (black, white, blue and pink)

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2 of 14 JBL

JBL Reflect Mini NC

The new JBL Reflect Mini NC TWS, available now, are JBL's new sportier true-wireless earbuds that are fully waterproof with an IPX7 rating and include sport fins to lock the buds in your ears. They also have active noise canceling.

Key specs, according to JBL:

-Up to seven hours of music playback, with two extra charges from charging case
-6mm dynamic drivers
-Active noise canceling with Smart Ambient feature (transparency mode)
-Ear fins for a secure fit
-Built-in voice capabilities with support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant
-IPX7 waterproof and sweatproof rating with reflective accents
-Hands-free stereo calls with autopause
-Independent earbud use (you can use a single bud)
-Google Fast Pair
-Compatible with My JBL Headphones App
-Price: $150 (roughly converting to £110 and AU$195)
-Available in blue, white and black, starting this spring

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3 of 14 Bose

Bose Open Sport Earbuds

Last year Bose released a couple of new sets of true-wireless earbuds -- the QuietComfort Earbuds and Sport Earbuds -- both of which have a noise-isolating design where the ear tips nestle inside your ears, sealing out a decent amount of ambient sound (the QuietComfort Earbuds also have active noise canceling).

While it's technically not a CES 2021 product, Bose announced launched its new Sport Open Earbuds the week before CES. As their name implies, they have an open design without a tip, meaning it kind of sits on top of your ear. 

They're available for preorder now for $200 and scheduled to ship Jan. 21. Initially, they'll only be available in the US, so no international pricing is available, but $200 is about £150 or AU$260.

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4 of 14 V-Moda

V-Moda M-200 ANC

Say what you will about the AirPods Max's high price, but it seems to have paved the way for other companies to release more expensive headphones. Case in point: the new V-Moda M-200 ANC, which carries a list price of $500. That makes it $49 less than the AirPods Max and it comes with a traditional carrying case, as opposed to Apple's widely mocked Smart Case.

Here are the M-200 ANC's key specs, according to V-Moda:

-40mm drivers with neodymium magnets and copper-clad aluminum wire coils
-Hybrid active noise canceling, adjustable in the V-Moda app
-Bluetooth 5.0
-Bluetooth audio codecs: Qualcomm aptX HD, AAC, SBC
-Mobile app for customizing sound through different EQ profiles and to adjust noise-canceling levels
-Up to 20 hours of wireless playback on one charge with ANC activated (10 minutes of charging gets you 90 minutes of extra playback)
-Voice assistants: Google Assistant or Siri
-Charging: USB-C
-Frequency response: 10-40,000Hz (Hi-Res Audio certified in wired mode)
-Adjustable headband with a steel core coated in 100% PU leather
-Artificial (vegan) leather earpads with 3D memory foam adhere magnetically and are replaceable
-Detachable cables: Audio Only Cable added when zero latency is required
-Weight: 320 grams (11.3 ounces)
-Warranty: One year, plus Immortal Life Replacement Program
-Exoskeleton carry case
-Shield customization: Choose from a variety of aluminum shield colors with initials or a design laser engraved 
-Price: $500 (£370 or AU$650 converted)
-Ships in six to eight weeks

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5 of 14 Sennheiser

Sennheiser 250BT

The last few years I've written up a fair number of new Sennheiser headphones, most of which have had more premium price tags. But now the company is releasing a new $70 (£60) on-ear wireless model, the 250BT, that should appeal to those on a tighter budget (it came out in India already). Equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, its features seem pretty basic, but it does have 25-hour battery life, according to Sennheiser, as well as support for the AAC and AptX audio codecs, and it also taps into Sennheiser's Smart Control app, allowing you to customize the sound. 

They aren't out quite yet but expect them to hit stores soon.

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6 of 14 Status

Status Between Pro

Status' new Between Pro earbuds are billed as high-end true-wireless buds with a mid-range price tag ($169, converting roughly to £125 and AU$220). I've been using them and although their design is a little funky, they do sound really good. They also have impressive battery life -- up to around 12 hours. That's about as good as you get for true wireless.

Look for them to arrive in stores around April. Status is currently offering a $20 discount if you preorder them.

Here are their key specs, according to Status:

-Triple speaker drivers: Two balanced armature drivers and a 10mm dynamic driver inside each earbud for a total of six components producing sound
-Four microphones with cVc ambient noise reduction, ensuring stellar call quality
-Battery life: 12 hours of continuous playback from the earbuds, plus another 36 hours in the charging case
-Bluetooth 5.0

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7 of 14 David Carnoy/CNET

1More Comfo Buds

1More has a new take on the standard AirPods for those who have trouble keeping them in their ears. The $49 Comfo Buds have mini ear tips on them that help secure them in your ear. They don't sound fantastic (the bass is a little lacking) but as their name implies, they're lightweight and comfortable to wear. It's also worth noting that their charging case is remarkably narrow and compact. It looks like a tiny hot-dog bun. They're also available in white.

Here are their key specs, according to 1More:

-13.4 mm extra-large dynamic driver 
-Weigh only 3.8 g
-Semi in-ear design 
-Instant pairing technology connects the earbuds automatically (after initial pairing) with your device once you open the case
-Four built-in ENC (Environmental Noise Cancellation) microphones suppress outside noise while amplifying your voice during calls
-Auto play and resume: The infrared sensor will automatically pause music playback when you take the earbuds out of your ears and resume when you put them back on
-Price: $59 list (on sale for $49)
-Colors: Black and white

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8 of 14 Earin

Earin A-3 earbuds

Way back in 2015, Swedish company Earin was the first to release a set of true wireless earbuds. Now it's unveiled its third-generation A-3 earbuds and they look a lot like what the standard AirPods would look like if you removed their trademark extruding stems. The new buds are set to hit Kickstarter on Jan. 14 for $199 in a special early-edition version and then hit Amazon and other retailers in the next few months, Earin says. The price converts roughly to £150 and AU$160.

Here are the Earin A3's key specs, according to Earin:

-14mm drivers 
-IPX52 water resistance rating (they can withstand a sustained spray of water but are not fully waterproof)
-Bluetooth 5.0
-Bluetooth audio codecs: Qualcomm aptX, AAC, SBC
-Mobile app for customizing sound through different EQ profiles and to adjust noise-canceling levels
-Up to 5 hours of wireless playback on one charge with 5 extra charges from their charging case
-Charging: USB-C

A-3 buds have an IPX52 water resistance rating (they can withstand a sustained spray of water but are not fully waterproof) and deliver 5 hours of battery life with five extra charges from their charging case. They have 14mm drivers, Bluetooth 5.0 and Qualcomm's higher-end QCC5121 chipset. AAC and aptX audio codecs are supported (certain Android devices like Samsung Galaxy phones support aptX streaming but iPhones do not). 

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9 of 14 JBL

JBL Tour Pro Plus

JBL's Tour Series headphones will hit the market later in the year, with the JBL Tour Pro Plus available in black at major retailers and on JBL.com on May 30 for $200. That price roughly converts to £150 and AU$260.

Key specs, according to JBL: 

-6.8mm dynamic drivers
-Adaptive Noise Canceling
-Six hours of battery with active noise canceling on, eight hours with Bluetooth only
-Speed Charge (10 minutes of charging gets you an hour of playback)
-Adaptive Ambient Aware and TalkThru
-Voice Clarity with three-mic beamforming array technology
-Dual Connect and Sync as well as Fast Pair
-Hands-free voice capability with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant
-IPX4 sweatproof
-SilentNow and My Alarm
-Smart Audio and Video, optimized for listening to music versus a movie
-Customized tap panel control
-Check My Best Fit feature lets you check your ear fit with the companion app
-JBL Headphones App to customize EQ settings
-Price: $200

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10 of 14 JBL

JBL Live Pro Plus

JBL says the Live Pro Plus will be available on JBL.com on March 14, for $180 in four color options -- black, white, pink and beige. That price roughly converts to £130 and AU$230.

Key specs, according to JBL: 

-JBL Signature Sound 
-Adaptive Noise Canceling with Smart Ambient
-Wireless charging
-Echo canceling mic technology
-Dual Connect and Sync
-Auto play/pause
-Up to seven hours of playback in the earbuds (six hours if using noise-canceling feature)
-Charging case holds up to 21 hours of battery life
-Speed Charge (10 minutes of charging gets you an hour of playback)
-Touch controls
-Customizable with My JBL Headphones app
-IPX4 water-resistant
-Fast Pair
-USB-C fast charging
-Hands-free voice capability with multiple voice services (Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant)
-Hotword and Device Action support
-Price: $180

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11 of 14 JBL

JBL Live Free NC

The Live Free NC Plus will also hit JBL.com on March 14 for $150 (roughly converting to £110 and AU$195). It has four color options: black, blue, white and rose. 

Key specs:

-Active Noise Canceling with Smart Ambient
-Wireless charging
-Dual Connect and Sync
-Auto play/pause
-Fast Pair
-USB-C fast charge
-Up to seven hours of playback in the earbuds
-Charging case that holds up to 14 hours of battery life
-Touch controls
-Touch and talk, with multiple voice services (Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant)
-IPX7 waterproof and sweatproof
-Price: $150

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12 of 14 JBL

JBL Tour One

JBL's $300 Tour One noise-canceling headphones will ship on May 30. That price roughly converts to £220 and AU$390. Here are its key specs, according to JBL:

-True Adaptive Noise Canceling
-JBL Pro Sound powered by 40mm dynamic drivers
-Hi-Res Audio Certified to support frequencies up to 40kHz
-50 hours of total music playback (25 hours with noise canceling and Bluetooth on, 50 hours with Bluetooth only)
-Speed Charge (10-minutes of charging equals two hours of playback)
-Adaptive Ambient Aware and TalkThru
-Four-mic technology for superior call quality
-Hands-free voice capability with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant
-USB-C charging
-Auto Play/Pause 
-SilentNow and "My Alarm" feature for traveling
-Smart Switch, optimized for listening to music versus a movie
-Compatibility with the JBL Headphones App to customize listening and using behaviors
-Fast Pair
-Price: $300

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13 of 14 JLab Audio

JLab Audio JBuds Frames

Maybe you've had your eye on Bose's second-gen Frames audio sunglasses, but you looked at the $250 (£240, AU$400) price tag and said no thanks. Well, JLab Audio will be releasing a $49 alternative this spring. The JBuds Frames are essentially open-ear true-wireless earbuds that clip onto your existing glasses.

It's an intriguing concept that JLab describes as a bring-your-own-frame design, although it's clearly a bit kludge-looking and a bit disingenuous to call these earbuds "frames." International prices aren't currently available, but $49 is roughly £40 or AU$70.

Here are their key specs, according to JLab:

-Over eight hours of playtime
-Two hooks secure the JBuds Frames to almost any type of eyeglasses, with two sets of silicone sleeves ensure a tight fit on styles with smaller temples 
-16.2 mm drivers
-Output: 120 +/- 3dB
-Codecs: AAC / SBC
-20 to 22 kHz frequency response
-Impedance: 22 ohms
-Dual connect allows either JBuds Frame device to be used independently 
-Two different EQ settings
-Input power: 5V 90mA
-120-mAh lithium polymer battery
-Charge time: Two hours
-Standby time: 100 hours
-Range: 30-plus feet (10m)
-Weight: 11.7 grams per frame component
-IPX4 water-resistance rating 
-Two-year warranty
-Price: $49
-Available spring 2021

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14 of 14 Jabra

Jabra Elite 85t in more colors

Jabra didn't unveil any new headphones at CES this year, but it did have one minor announcement: Its relatively new Elite 85t noise-canceling true-wireless earbuds are now available in four new colors: gold/beige, copper/black, black and gray. They were released in October in titanium/black.

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