The latest headphone trends
Sony launched the MDR-1000X last year: an equal competitor to the Bose QuietComfort 35. The current king of active noise cancelling was under pressure and more than challenged by its opponents’ technology and features.
Now, Sony is taking things even further with the WH-1000XMK2. The seemingly unchanged headphones can be configured using the «Sony | Headphones Connect» app, adjusting the ANC, surround sound and listening position simulation and different transparency levels. The app can also access your smartphone’s acceleration sensor and recognises whether you are on a train or plane or walking, adapting the ANC to the typical sound environment. Optimising the ANC goes even further: a sensor in the headphones measures the air pressure. As this affects how sound waves spread, the interference signal (sound) is eliminated with an opposing sound wave adapted to the air pressure.
The Sony 1000X series has even more to offer: the WI-1000X features a high-end neckband headset and ANC, like the Bose QuietControl 30. It’s full to the brim with audio technology (AptX, LDAC and more) and has similar features to the WH-1000XM2. Wearing it takes some getting used to - the style hasn’t really reached Europe yet - but it’s already very common in Asia and the US.
The third 1000X headphone set in the series is the WF-1000X, Sony’s first true wireless headset and also the first of its kind with integrated active noise reduction. For me, this was the highlight of the show. It’s very comfortable to wear, with effective noise cancelling and balanced sound. There’s no high-resolution audio technology such as AptX or LDAC, but the first impression is very good. The charging case provides nine hours of additional running time. As a previously single case, the headphones do not automatically charge when you use them, but you just have to press them down. The small clips on the front act as antennae, connecting the ear buds to each other. Their exposed position makes the connection more stable and enables it to practically pass around the front of your head.
Sony has reworked not only the model, but its descriptions too: * «WH»: wireless headphone * «WI»: wireless in-ear * «WF»: wireless freedom (for true wireless headphones)
«MDR» remains for corded neckband-style headphones.
Beyerdynamic’s Xelento wireless headphones are by far the most expensive wireless, in-ear models in the world. This gem is basically identical to the corded Xelento remote, right down to the capsule, which stores the battery and wireless technology.
The Aventho is designed for a wider target group: the elegant on-ear headphones are wireless, compatible with aptX HD like the Xelento wireless and can be personalised. Entering your age on the app launches a hearing test lasting several minutes. The app then determines your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to hearing and loads the resulting sound profile on the headphones. The headphones can also be used with this personalised data without the app: it can be uploaded via USB-C. The ear pieces control things, and their touch sensitivity can be adjusted via the app.
In addition to gaming headphones Custom Game and the hopefully finally available MMX 300 2nd Gen, another headphone amplifier/DAC was presented at IFA. It’s a shame, though, that the Impacto is essentially only compatible with three headphone sets. The permanently installed headphone cable can be connected to the T1 (2nd Gen), T 5 p (2nd Gen) and Amiron home headphones and convert digital audio straight from your PC or smartphone. A USB, USB-C and Micro-USB cable is included.
Sennheiser has expanded the Momentum series with the Momentum Free, Bluetooth, in-ear headphones with a classic design. The CX 7.00BT is a neckband-style headphone set and the IE 80S succeeds the IE 80 as one of the very few innovations with a cable.
Sennheiser showed us real innovation at IFA with the Ambeo. These headphones can be connected to Apple devices via Lightning and have relatively effective active noise reduction. So far, so good! But the product is actually a recording device for ultra-realistic, binaural sound. Both microphones record the sound exactly where it naturally occurs: in our ears. This creates an extremely realistic impression of the acoustic environment. You are really in the middle of everything and the sounds around you can be localised very accurately. The sound is displayed as a stereo track and can be played on all devices and listened to on any headphones. Generally speaking, this recording technology has applications for all settings – with or without images – where the protagonist takes centre stage.
JBL is also giving true wireless earbuds a try. The plug-like ear pieces, fancifully named «Free», are relatively well priced and impress with a charging case offering 20 hours of battery life.
Barely 20 years after Sennheiser’s «Surrounder», JBL is trying collar-style headphones. The JBL Soundgear is connected via Bluetooth and runs for six hours without charging. We’re not absolutely sure what the product’s target consumer group is. People with a headphone phobia and a need to crank up the volume without annoying the neighbours or housemates? It’ll be interesting to see how the product is received.
JBL also has new neckband-style headphones: the Reflect Fit was one of the models to be presented – the first of this design with integrated pulse measurement.
The Jabra Elite Sport has a longer battery life: four and a half hours compared to the previous three hours.
Bang & Olufsen
The Danish luxury brand completes its line-up with the BeoPlay E8 true wireless earbuds. Unlike most other products of this type, the earbuds communicate via NFMI (near field magnetic induction) rather than Bluetooth. The technology is used for hearing aids and transmits a lot less than Bluetooth. It should also provide a more stable connection.
The new Gear IconX improves on the biggest criticism of its predecessor: the battery life is now five hours, or seven hours when using the built-in memory (4 GB).
The biggest name in microphones and IEMs (in-ear monitoring headphones) is joining the wireless market with its first wireless headphones. The introductory SE112 model includes a built-in Bluetooth unit, whereas the earbuds of the well-known SE215 been made even smaller and a cable and plug can be attached. The Bluetooth unit is also available individually, so the expensive E215, SE315, SE425, SE535 and SE846 models can be treated to a wireless upgrade. As the headphone connection can be used in MMXC format for most earbuds with a removable cable, other manufacturers’ earbuds can also be used.