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At CES 2020, the AirPods Pro competitors arrived in droves

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True wireless noise cancellation is taking off

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Image: 1More

Whether it’s Audio-Technica, 1More, Panasonic, or Klipsch, at times, it felt like every headphone manufacturer at CES 2020 had a pair of wireless earbuds to announce. It’s not been long since most of these companies were getting into true wireless in the first place, but many of this year’s models arrived with a new feature: active noise cancellation, which is quickly becoming impossible to leave out of a pair of premium earbuds, just months after Apple added the feature to its true wireless lineup with the AirPods Pro.

At CES this year, there were over half a dozen companies with active noise-canceling headphones to show off. From Audio-Technica’s ATH-ANC300TW to Nuheara’s IQbuds2 Max, they all have pretty awful names but are set to release at a diverse range of price points in the coming months, ranging from a budget friendly-ish $120 through $649.

It would be an oversimplification to claim that all of these companies are responding to the AirPods Pro from last November. After all, Sony released its first pair of noise-canceling true wireless headphones, the WF-1000X, way back in 2017. But Apple’s move, and the lengthy rumor cycle that proceeded it, almost certainly played a part, given how dominant the AirPods are.

Just look at what happened after it released the original AirPods. Apple was by no means the first company to release a pair of true wireless earbuds — Earin’s crowdfunded wireless earbuds arrived in 2015 — but after the AirPods’ release in late 2016, there was a flurry of other headphone companies producing their own takes on the form factor. Apple is rarely the first to take the leap into a new product category, but when it does, other companies tend to take notice.

If Apple is one part of the equation, then Qualcomm is almost certainly another. The chip manufacturer best known for its smartphone processors also produces a wide range of wireless chips for headphones, and these provide a much easier foundation for headphone companies that want to go wireless. Qualcomm makes numerous ultra-low-power chipsets that are designed specifically for true wireless headphones and, crucially, many of its most recent chips now come with built-in support for noise cancellation.

It’s rare for a headphone company to specify whether it’s using one of Qualcomm’s chips, but if a pair of headphones supports Qualcomm technologies like AptX audio — as almost half of the headphones on this list do — then you can be fairly sure it’s using the company’s hardware.

Despite the hardware these headphones are likely to have in common, there’s still a lot of variation between the true wireless headphones on display at this year’s show. Manufacturers still have control over numerous elements of their construction, including their drivers, which end up determining how good they sound.

It’s unfair to label an entire product category as an alternative to a single Apple product, but, like it or not, the AirPods continue to dominate most people’s idea of true wireless earbuds. Those options can offer things that the AirPods don’t — whether you want higher sound quality, a different form factor, or just the interoperability of USB-C charging. The market is already filled with alternatives to Apple’s original AirPods, and after CES 2020, it sounds like the same is going to be true for the AirPods Pro very soon.

1More’s True Wireless ANC include wireless charging.
Image: 1More

1More’s True Wireless ANC are first up, and they arrive just over a year after the brand’s first foray into the true wireless market. You’ll get five hours of noise-canceled listening out of a single charge (six if you don’t use noise cancellation), and their charging case gives you an extra 16 hours. After that, you can charge using either USB-C or Qi wireless charging. The earbuds support Bluetooth 5 and AptX, and are available to preorder now for $199.99, with an expected ship date of January 28th.

The ATH-ANC300TW will be released in May for $249.
Image: Audio-Technica

Meanwhile, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC300TW support many of the same features, including Bluetooth 5, AptX, and charging over USB-C (although there’s no sign of wireless charging). Battery life stands at 4.5 hours while using noise cancellation, and its case gets you an extra 13.5 hours. They’re supposed to come out in May 2020 for $249.

Panasonic’s true wireless ANC earbuds come with IPX4 water resistance.
Image: Panasonic

It’s a similar story with Panasonic’s RZ-S500W earbuds, which PCMag reports offer connectivity over Bluetooth 5 (there’s no sign of AptX) and charge over USB-C. You get five hours of playback from a single charge, while their battery case gives you 15 hours more. They’ve also got an IPX4 splash-proof rating. The RX-S500W will be available in June for $180, according to PCMag.

Released under Panasonic’s Technics brand, the EAH-AZ70W have a more premium price.
Image: Panasonic

Also from Panasonic, albeit released under the company’s Technics brand, are the EAH-AZ70W true wireless earbuds. They’re more expensive than Panasonic’s own brand of earbuds at $249. But for the price, you get six hours of battery life instead of five, with a case that gets you a total of 18 hours of charge. They’re also IPX4 water resistant for good measure, and they will be available in June.

The Klipsch T10 earbuds (pictured) are the most expensive on this list at $649.
Image: Klipsch

Klipsch announced a large range of headphones at CES 2020, but only two of them, the T5 and T10, feature active noise cancellation. There’s also a huge price gap between them: the T10s will go on sale for an eye-watering $649 this fall, while the T5s will be a reasonable-in-comparison $299. Klipsch boasts that the T10 earphones are the “world’s smallest and lightest earphones,” but you get more listening time out of the cheaper T5 earphones (eight hours compared to six). Both pairs feature a “built-in operating system,” which “allows for control using voice and head gestures” — whatever that means.

Nuheara says its IQbuds2 Max will analyze your hearing to adjust its sound.
Image: Nuheara

Nuheara’s secret sauce with its IQbuds2 Max is its EarID technology, which it claims is able to analyze your hearing and tailor its sound appropriately. It’s not an entirely new idea (we saw Nura attempt something similar a few years back), but it’s pretty unique for wireless earbuds. Nuheara claims you’ll get 20 hours of Bluetooth streaming from its earphones, although it’s not clear if that includes their charging case. They’ll be available in March for $399.

For $119, you get a pair of noise-canceling earbuds with five hours of charge.
Image: Edifier

Edifier’s TWS NB is one of the cheaper pairs of earphones on this list, and it will cost $119 when it goes on sale next month. For that price, you’re getting a pair of Bluetooth 5 noise-canceling headphones built around a “Qualcomm low power-consumption chipset,” which get five hours of playback with ANC turned on or 11 hours with it turned off. Its case will get you an extra 10 or 22 hours, depending on if you use noise cancellation.

Ausounds’ true wireless ANC earbuds will be available next month.
Image: Ausounds

Finally, Ausounds claims that you’ll get as much as 24 hours of battery life out of its AU-Stream Hybrid true wireless headphones, but this drops to 14.5 hours if you turn its noise cancellation on. They support the Bluetooth 5 standard, and will be available in February 2020 at a price that’s yet to be announced.

Correction: Technics’ EAH-AZ70W will cost $249, not $280 as previously stated.