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The tech report card "Verge 2018": headphones



Headphones did not have the most promising start to 2018. Already in January, a multitude of competing voice assistants, wireless audio protocols, and idiosyncratic control schemes seemed to be causing a fragmented market turmoil. Everyone wanted a wireless headset, and the vendors of these devices wanted to establish a walled garden effect around the product.

However, the demand for technologically advanced headphones has only increased over the course of the year. The threat of user-hostile competition between headphone manufacturers has not materialized. Thanks to integrated wireless chips that bundle Bluetooth radios with the required voice assistant compatibility for iOS and Android, virtually every manufacturer was able to release a new pair of wireless headphones in 201

8 that works well with both Siri and Google Assistant. The fragmentation crisis has thus been largely averted, although the rapid pace of improvement also baffles a lot of people about how quickly their new headphones are being replaced.

Sony's third-generation 1000X M3 cans are the new champions for wireless noise cancellation. Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless has raised the bar for truly wireless earphones, but with a number of operational errors. Audio-Technica's M50xBT and OnePlus Bullets Wireless have improved the quality we expect from lower-cost Bluetooth headsets and headphones. Even old-school brands like Grado and Koss have released their own wireless editions this year. The selection and quality of wireless audio equipment has never been so good and the disappearance of the 3.5mm audio jack of smartphones is no longer the horrible nightmare it once was.

OnePlus and Google launched great USB C earphones this year – The Type C Bullets and the Pixel USB C Earphones – with super low prices, matching the old 3.5mm analog headphones which we would carry everywhere with us. The legitimate complaint of 2017 that USB-C earphones are too expensive and wireless headphones are too high a compromise is no longer true. With companies like Apple and Lenovo starting to remove the headphone jack from both their tablets and cell phones, the trend towards wireless and USB-C headsets is accelerating. It is time for the majority of us to finally make the transition from the old analogue connection.

Audiophiles will of course continue with their exotic XLR and quarter-inch connectors, and their market segment was well served by two American boutique companies in 2018: Audeze and MrSpeakers. Audeze launched the LCD2-Classic at the end of 2017, and the LCD2 closed-back in 2018 followed, setting new heights for both the sound quality and sound enjoyment you can get for under $ 1,000. In fact, these two LCD2 models provide a compelling reason never to spend four digits on headphones again: both offer clarity of sound, detail and precision on a par with headsets that cost many times more. At the end of the year, MrSpeakers reissued the $ 2,000 Ether 2, and the design and performance of these headphones provide a great argument as to why you should jump with exotically expensive headphones. The Ether 2s have an unusually wide and natural sound, which combines with a memorable and organic sound with few competitors. That means the audiophile segment is thriving, too.


  OnePlus Type-C Bullets

Photo by Vlad Savov / The Verge

There are some aspects of headphone business that can be criticized, of course. First, the process of pairing and connecting Bluetooth headphones to other devices remains unpleasant and uncomfortable for most users, even as battery life improves and wireless performance with other devices continues to improve. Apple's AirPods and their seamless connection stand head and shoulders above any rival on Android. The other problem is one of the prices: Headphone manufacturers seem more willing to supplement existing products at existing prices with features and functions than to reduce their profit margins. It's no coincidence that the companies with the most aggressive prices in 2018, OnePlus and Google, do not have headphones as their main business.

Overall, the headphone market was the most dynamic and interesting consumer technology year. While smartphone makers fiddled around the edges of display scores, headphone manufacturers improved the substance and style of their products. Microsoft, Dolby, Anker and the myriad of gaming equipment brands have also expanded this year's confusing selection of headphones. The trend for 2019 is that all continue to switch to USB-C, at least while charging, while the entire headphone category continues. Better than anything else in the technology.

Endnote: A

A
2018 Class

The Verge 2018 Certificate: Headphones

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Gold Stars

  • Good USB C earphones are now just as cheap as analogue ones
  • Noise-canceling headphones have become even better
  • The wireless earphones have also improved the sound quality
  • Audiophile equipment continues to reach new heights

Need for improvement

  • There are still some wireless models with MicroUSB charging
  • Bluetooth pairing and synchronization remain inhumane and unwieldy
  • Prices are not falling as fast as possible

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