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The Best Audio Products of CES 2023
Every year we wade into the morass of smart fridge news and TV announcements to find the handful of worthwhile audio products that come up during the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. Most years, this means a handful of fairly conventional products like headphones and earbuds, and all that stuff was still there this time. However, this year there were a few extras things to look for when deciding which products seemed the most promising.
Here are five standouts worth paying attention to.
The Eargo 7 iterates on a great design just in time for self-fitting hearing aids to hit the market
Hearing health company Eargo is releasing a new version of its self-fitting hearing aids in time for the FDA to start certification for over-the-counter (OTC) sale. The Eargo 7 is expensive, but not nearly as much as a pair of traditional hearing aids. This OTC hearing aid is a fraction of the size of a more traditional option, and claims to bring the high performance and professional support of regular hearing aids, without the compromises and shortcomings of cheaper OTC options. Plus, it’s tiny—when you’ve got these in your ears, they’ll be virtually invisible to other people. However, all that is also true of the older Eargo 6 model, so what’s new?
The Eargo 7 brings IPX7 waterproofing, which means it can handle submersion in a meter of water for up to 30 minutes—more than enough to survive getting caught outside during a downpour or stand up to sweat at the gym. The hearing aids also feature a new Sound Adjust + option, which provides improved noise processing in noisy environments.
The Razer Leviathan V2 Pro brings intelligent surround sound without headphones or extra speakers
The desktop soundbar market has been slow to really catch the attention of gaming audiences—at the end of the day stereo desktop speakers and gaming headsets are both still very good audio options for gamers, and often quite a bit cheaper. However, Razer’s repeated attempts with the Leviathan line is starting to bear some interesting fruit. The Razer Leviathan V2 Pro introduces beamforming surround sound that uses head tracking to monitor where you are in relation to the speaker and tune its surround sound output to match.
SoundGuys’ own AJ Wykes got some hands-on time with the speaker and came away very impressed. The Leviathan V2 Pro can’t account for more than one head at a time, but if you’re the kind of person who leans to the left and right while they play games, this could be a very compelling option when it comes out.
Sennheiser’s Conversation Clear Plus isn’t an OTC hearing aid, but it’s still impressive
Sennheiser (which had its headphone business purchased by hearing aid company Sonova not too long ago) unveiled an expensive but very compelling self-fitting option in the Conversation Clear Plus. It doesn’t quite qualify as an OTC hearing aid, but this wearable is focused on making it easier for people who struggle to hear in noisy environments. The Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus looks like a regular pair of true wireless earbuds, and features some things you’d expect to get out one, like ANC, making phone calls, and music playback.
The Conversation Clear Plus uses Bluetooth to connect to your phone, and there’s a companion to help you set it up and customize its performance for your needs. It features dedicated settings for three different noise environments too, so you’ll have options for when you’re at the party, and when you want to leave.
Altec Lansing is bringing new entries into the sparse market for children’s headphones
The market for children’s headphones has been a bit dry for a long time. While Puro Sound Labs has released reliable volume-limited, high quality headphones, there hasn’t been much worthwhile competition. Altec Lansing could be changing that with its new line of volume-limited headphones. The company has two headsets on display at the show, and the both look pretty promising. We’re highlighting the higher end of the two, the Altec Lansing MZX4500 Kid Safe Active Noise Canceling Headphones.
The MZX4500 features an IPX4 rating, which will be great if your kid is particularly spill-prone. You can connect to devices with Bluetooth and using wired 3.5mm. Most importantly, the headset limits audio output to 85dB—the volume threshold you need to stay below to avoid risking hearing loss—and it features ANC, which means kids may feel a little less inclined to crank the volume as much as they can when in a noisy environment.
Stuff we found interesting, but not enough for an award
There are a lot of interesting products and trends at CES this year, and they don’t all deserve or make sense for an award. Here are a few of the other things we noticed.
Bluetooth enabled record players are a thing this year
AJ said it in his Day One show floor report: Wireless record players are a thing this year. It’s not just that Audio-Technica chose CES as the venue to announce another run of the updated reissue of its Sound Burger portable record player. Companies like Victrola and JBL both had new turntables (the Stream Onyx and Spinner, respectively). Not a major trend, but still worth noting—device manufacturers are still committed to vinyl, and they’re actively investing in ways to integrate it into more modern audio setups.
OTC hearing aids are here in a big way
We had two main picks, but it’s worth highlighting a more couple to really communicate how everyone’s getting in on the OTC hearing aid craze. Not too long ago, HP announced it was partnering with hearing aid veteran Nuheara to release the Hearing Pro, an OTC hearing aid that splits the difference between true wireless earbuds and hearing aids, with Bluetooth niceties like media streaming and ANC, and an app to optimize hearing aid performance based on your surroundings—it was at the show and seemed very impressive. Then there’s JLAB’s announcement it would be bringing a $99 USD OTC hearing aid to market—no word on the name yet, but the price alone is a big deal. The market for products helping with mild-to-moderate hearing loss is about to get a lot more crowded.
Knowles is trying to challenging the way earbuds are tuned
Audio company Knowles showed off a pair of true wireless earbuds that won’t be available to consumers, but to businesses as an example of what earbuds can sound like using the company’s new audio frequency response target curve. Many audio products released recently base their audio tuning on what’s known as the Olive-Welti curve—what many have decided is a good target for subjectively “pleasing” audio. Knowles has produced research that updates the shape of the curve in the top octave, above 10kHz, and is encouraging companies to adopt its earbud-centric curve. It’s a big move and we’re very curious to see how it goes.