The headphones we saw at CES 2015 were smart, connected, and packed with technology: There were headphones that could measure your heart rate, stream music from incredibly long range, allow you to hear ambient noise, and almost anything else you could imagine.
Here are the models we found most notable.
Urbanears Plattan ADV Wireless
Urbanears prides itself on being able to fully incorporate its headphones into your lifestyle, so it’s no surprise that they’re cutting the cords on their popular Plattan ADV headphones. The new Plattan ADV Wireless headphones have Bluetooth 4.0, eight hours of battery life, and a fancy swipe interface located on the left ear cup so you can control your music sans remote.
The swipe interface is a bit more practical than JBL’s gesture-based control system, since you still have to actually touch the ear cup in order for your gestures to register. Swipe gestures are simple and intuitive: Swipe forward to go forward a track, backward to go back a track, up to increase the volume, down to lower the volume, tap once to play/pause/answer a call, and tap twice to hang up a call.
The Plattan ADV Wireless headphones still have the features that made the original Plattan ADVs popular, including a removable, washable headband and an audio-out “ZoundPlug,” which lets a friend plug into your headphones and hear what you’re hearing. These wireless lifestyle headphones will launch in 10 different colours in June 2015 for around $100 (£70).
Comfy, high-quality, on-ear headphones are difficult to find at an affordable price point, but Skullcandy’s got you covered. The company’s latest on-ear headphones, called Grind, will debut in Q1 for the impressively low price of $60 (around £40). While these headphones don’t feel particularly premium, they’re lightweight and very comfortable to wear, whether on your ears or around your neck.
Grind feature a foam-padded aluminium headband, with padding placed specifically so as not to put pressure in the wrong places. The headphones’ ear cups don’t fold or swivel inward, but they do pivot just enough to give each person a customized, comfortable fit. Grind comes in Skullcandy’s traditional bright, flashy patterns and colours, so they’re a fashion statement as well as a means of listening to your music or taking calls.
These headphones do offer Skullcandy’s “Taptech” technology, which is a physical multi-functional button on one of the ear cups. With this button you can make and take calls and also control your music without needing to fiddle with a remote or perform fancy swiping gestures.
ONvocal says its Mix360 headphones aren’t just headphones, they’re a “hearable” device. In case it's still to early on a Monday to work it out, “hearable” is a mash-up of “hear” and “wearable.”
Kitschy branding aside, the Mix360s are actually pretty nifty. These wireless headphones allow you mix sounds from three different sources: Your music, the ambient noise around you, and the sound of your voice. This means you can create your own custom sound audio input, depending on what you’re doing and where you are.
If you’re sitting in an airport waiting for your flight, you can mix music and ambient noise to ensure you don’t miss your boarding call while you’re listening to tunes. If you’re taking a phone call, you can mix in the sound of your own voice to make sure you’re not yelling at the person on the other line.
The Mix360s aren’t the only headphones that allow you to mix in ambient noise, but they’re the only headphones I saw at the show that let you hear the sound of your own voice. The Mix360s have a neckband that holds the battery and the microphones, and wired earbuds that travel from the neckband to your ears (the system is Bluetooth, but wires still connect the earbuds to the neckband). Interested? They’re taking preorders now, and the final product will start shipping this year for $349 (around £230).
SMS Audio BioSport
There are plenty of sports headphones on the market, but SMS Audio’s new BioSport in-ear phones are among the few that can also monitor your heart rate. The BioSport earphones, which the 50 Cent-founded SMS Audio developed with some help from Intel, use optical sensors that can see the change in your blood cells and accurately determine your heart rate with the help of an algorithm. According to the company, the ear is actually a great place to track your heart rate, because it’s dark and it’s not subject to a lot of movement (unlike your wrist).
The BioSports don’t need to be charged, they use your phone’s battery to power their fancy light sensors (which don’t require a lot of juice, so you’ll barely notice a difference in your phone’s battery life). The phones work with apps such as RunKeeper (and soon, MapMyFitness). You can purchase them now for $149 (around £99).
Plantronics Backbeat Pro
Bluetooth headphones are about as common at CES as neon signs in Vegas, but Plantronics’ wireless Backbeat Pro Bluetooth headphones are anything but common. They’re outfitted with a Class 1 Bluetooth radio that gives them incredible range – up to 330 feet. The only problem is that they need to be paired with a Class 1 Bluetooth device to achieve that range, and most smartphones and tablets use shorter-range Class 2 Bluetooth radios.
But the Backbeat Pros are impressive headphones even if you can’t take advantage of the range. They have active noise canceling, they can mix ambient noise in with your music, and they deliver 24 hours of continuous wireless streaming. The plush headband also has built-in sensors so it knows when it’s being worn. Take these headphones off, and your music will automatically pause until you put them back on again. The Backbeat Pros are available now for a relatively affordable price (considering the features) of just $250 (around £165).
Muzik “smart” headphones
Muzik says it produces the world’s first and only “smart” headphones. They’re outfitted with capacitive touch buttons that you can program to tie into your favorite social apps. Tap a button to share the song you’re listening to with a friend, or create an update on Facebook or Twitter.
Social-media connections aren’t the only thing that makes these headphones “smart,” they also have built-in proximity sensors and an accelerometer that enables you to control the headphones with gestures. The supported gestures are closer to Urbanears’ swipe gestures than JBL’s air gestures. The Muziks are available now, in black or white, for $299 (around £200).