Business

Cutting-edge technology is making headphones easier on your ears

David Chang/European PressPhoto Agency

The hottest developments in consumer electronics these days are as close as your ears. Headphone engineers are using some of the coolest cutting-edge technology to create portable earphones that are, finally, totally free of wires.

They’ve designed some noise-canceling headphone models that deliver both excellent sound and noise-canceling capability.

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They’re also adding fun features and functions to sports models, such as heart rate and activity monitors, and “coaches” that will talk you through your workout routine. There are even models you can pop into your ears to listen to your favorite songs as you swim laps.

Here’s a rundown on what you need to know about each type:

True wireless earphones

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Wireless headphone sales last year exceeded sales of wired models for the first time. As the name suggests, true wireless earphones have no external wires. The two untethered earpieces fit into the ears, much like a pair of hearing aids would. Some, like the Apple AirPods, follow voice commands to do things such as pause or skip to the next song.

 Advantages: Because there are no wires, there’s nothing to tangle or knot and nothing hanging behind your head, running under your chin, or worn around your neck in a collar.

 Drawbacks: The earpieces of true wireless earphones contain all of the electronics, so they’re larger and heavier than most other types, which can take some getting used to. Most hold a charge for about three hours.

Noise-canceling headphones

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Frequent fliers have appreciated the welcome dose of serenity delivered by noise-canceling headphones ever since Bose introduced the first pair almost 20 years ago. But Consumer Reports notes that while many models have long done well at canceling sound, most haven’t delivered top-notch audio.

Fortunately, there are exceptions, such as the new Bose QuietControl 30, the first wireless, portable, noise-canceling headphone model to be rated “excellent” in both noise reduction and sound quality.

 Advantages: Some do a good job of damping down sounds and creating a measure of quiet even in the noisiest environments.

 Drawbacks: They’re best at canceling steady, constant sound, so they won’t eliminate the wail of the crying baby in the row behind you, but the better models will do a decent job of muffling it.

Sports headphones

Almost everyone likes — at least — the idea of getting in shape, which might be why well over half of all wireless portable headphones Consumer Reports recently rated are sports models.

“They’re typically designed to stay in the ear and not shake loose, a lot of them claim to be moisture-resistant, and many of the ones we’ve rated have very good sound,” says Maurice Wynn, a senior tester in Consumer Reports’ labs.

 Advantages: Generally secure-fitting and light, with some capable of producing very good sound, sports headphones can be a versatile choice.

 Drawbacks: They’ll track your steps or other activity only while you’re wearing them, which can make them impractical to use in place of a fitness tracker.

For more, visit www.ConsumerReports.org.
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