HP has joined the list of companies making wireless earbuds and then sticking a screen on the charging case, with its announcement of the Voyager Free 60 Plus. Oddly, the company’s marketing the earbuds directly toward enterprise users rather than gadget heads, but we’ll get back to that in a bit. Let’s talk about that screen first.
It’s actually optional — the regular Voyager Free 60s come with a plain old charging case, which HP says will add 10 hours of talk time. The case for the Plus model, however, has an OLED touchscreen that lets you control music playback, volume, and settings, see your battery status, and accept or reject calls.
You should also be able to use the screen to switch between two connected devices — the buds support multipoint pairing and can remember up to eight connections. (You can still pair the non-plus models to up to two devices at once, but controlling that connection won’t be as easy.) Other features include adaptive active noise cancellation with a transparency mode, “WindSmart technology” for making calls clearer when you’re outside, AptX support, and earbud-based gesture controls for things like volume or track control. They also have an IP54 rating, certifying them as splash and dust resistant.
HP says you can expect around eight hours of listening time with ANC on before you have to put the buds back into the case to refill their batteries. Both cases can charge via USB-C or Qi wireless and helpfully include a USB Bluetooth dongle in case your laptop doesn’t have the standard built in.
The plus version, however, also come with a USB to 3.5mm cable, which HP says is “ideal for in-flight entertainment systems.” It won’t let you use the earbuds as a semi-wired headset — the company says the cable is “listening only” — but it could come in handy in other situations, like when you’re plugging into a treadmill. Some of LG’s earbuds have come with a similar feature, and it’s nice to see headphone makers taking into account that not every airline or gym has adopted Bluetooth.
Putting a screen on the case of your wireless earbuds is unusual but not unprecedented. In August 2022, JBL announced a set of earbuds whose case included a 1.45-inch touchscreen for controlling music playback and calls as well as checking notifications. And at this year’s CES, JBL said that the Tour Pro 2s would be coming to the US for $249.95.
That’s about how much a pair of second-gen AirPods Pros will cost you, unless you manage to get them on sale. But HP’s pricing for the Voyager Free 60s neatly brings us around to the fact that the company’s marketing these as an “enterprise” product. According to the company’s press release, they’ll start at $299 when they go on sale in March, and there’s no word yet on how much extra you’ll have to pay for the version with a screen. (You know, the entire reason these buds will be interesting to most people.)
What makes them an “enterprise grade audio device,” as HP’s data sheet puts it? Well, one thing is the branding — they’re technically called the Poly Voyager Free 60s. The Poly brand, which HP acquired in 2022, is largely associated with conference phones, meeting room hardware, and the like. Practically, that means that you’ll use the Poly Lens app to change your earbuds’ settings, and that “IT teams can manage and receive insights” from the device via Poly software. (I am desperately curious about what kind of data it can pass on to your boss.)
The earbuds are also certified to work with several business services like Zoom, Google Meet and Voice, and Microsoft Teams, though the latter certification is limited to the separate Microsoft Teams certified edition of the Voyager Free 60. (Of course, if you’re brave enough to use a noncertified headset with Teams, the normal ones should be totally fine.)
To an average consumer, that sort of thing may seem like a gimmick, but it’s very possible that these earbuds will be good for conference calls and meetings; HP says there are three microphones per bud, which could help make sure your co-workers hear you clearly. Of course, that would be useful outside of the boardroom as well, and I don’t just mean for those working from home. It’d be nice to see HP strip out some of the enterprise features from the Free 60 Plus and sell it at a more consumer-friendly price point. Unless or until that happens, though, these may just be some of the coolest enterprise gadgets at CES.