More Headphones from CES 2021 and Beyond

In post a couple weeks ago, we focused on some of the wireless headphones introduced at last month’s virtual CES 2021, the first virtual gathering in the show’s 53-year history. We’re visiting the massively popular category again, this time with a look at headphones introduced at the show or shortly thereafter, including models that bring new form factors and technology into the fold.

Shure Expands Aonic Line of Sound Isolating Earphones
With an illustrious history in professional audio that dates back more than 90 years, Shure is known the world over for innovation in microphones, including the iconic Unidyne 55 — a.k.a. “the Elvis mic” — which is still in production today. During World War II, the company supplied microphones and headphones to the Allied Forces, allowing bomber crews to communicate over deafening aircraft noise, but didn’t get back to headphones until many years later with its E Series of professional in-ear monitors and the consumer versions that followed in 2004.

Shure continues to build on the success of the E Series and develop consumer earphones based on its professional designs. At CES 2021, the company highlighted three recent additions to its Aonic line of Sound Isolating earphones: The Aonic 3 ($199), Aonic 4 ($299), and Aonic 5 ($499). Designed to fit comfortably in the ear while reducing external noise by up to 37 dB, all sport a detachable 3.5mm minijack cable with an integrated Android/IOS-compatible mic/remote and can be easily converted for wireless operation using the optional True Wireless Secure Fit Adapter ($179).

Shure’s smallest earphone, the Aonic 3 employs a single, vented balanced-armature driver in a low-profile design aimed at “listeners who want a smaller in-ear form factor.” The earphones are offered in black or white and can be bundled with the wireless adapter for $349.

The Aonic 4 is a hybrid dual-driver design that mates a dynamic driver with a balanced-armature driver. Shure says the earphones are “specially tuned for dynamic bass and extended high frequency detail with natural separation between instruments.” The earphones are offered in two-toned gray/white or smoke gray/black and can be bundled with the wireless adapter for $449.

Designed for listeners who want a more spacious “cinematic audio experience,” the Aonic 5 employs three balanced armature drivers — two woofers and a tweeter — and borrows a feature from Shure’s iconic SE846 professional earphones: customizable sound. The earphones come with interchangeable “nozzles” — the tube that connects the driver casing to the eartip — for creating three distinct sound signatures: balanced, warm, or bright. The earphones are offered clear, gloss red/clear, or matte black/clear and can be bundled with Shure’s wireless adaptor for $649.

All models are covered by a two-year warranty and include a carrying case with a ¼-inch phone-plug adapter and a selection of eartips to ensure a comfortable fit. Visit shure.com for more information.

Focal Goes High Style with Celestee
France’s Focal is perhaps best known for its exotic high-end speakers but the company has actually been in the headphone business for almost a decade now and currently offers upwards of 20 models including its $4,000 flagship, the Utopia. The Celestee is a lower priced follow-up to 2019’s $3,000 Stellia but at $990 it’s still firmly in the high-end category.

At a time when headphones are trending wireless, Focal opted for a closed-back wired design featuring a removable cable and its signature M-shaped inverted-dome driver with a generous 1.6-inch aluminum/magnesium radiating area. The inside of each earcup is acoustically treated to reduce resonance, while the outside is appointed with ear cushions covered in high-quality “semi-aniline” leather and supported by an aluminum yoke with a headband covered in leather and microfiber.

Sporting a dark blue finish with copper accents — an “elegant alternative to more traditional chrome and silver parts” — the Celestee was designed with on-the-go use in mind so it weighs less than a pound and has a rated impedance of 35 ohms to accommodate portable audio players. Accessories include a carrying case and ¼-inch phone-plug adapter. Visit focal.com for more information.

Cleer’s New Noise-Canceling Wireless Earbuds Start at $60
San Diego-based Cleer Audio, maker of the Top Pick-designated Enduro 100 showed up at CES 2021 to preview two new wireless earbuds: the $60 Roam NC and $130 Ally Plus II. Due out in March, both feature noise cancellation, wireless charging, Qualcomm cVc technology with dual microphones for clear phone calls, app control, and reduced pricing.

At $60, the Roam NC will be Cleer’s lowest priced headphone offering when it hits stores next month. The earbuds are sweat-resistant and feature “custom-tuned” 0.23-inch dynamic drivers, active noise cancellation designed to reduce external noise by up to 25 dB, and an “intuitive touch pad” for accessing voice assistants and controlling music, calls, and volume.

Battery life is rated for up to 5 hours of play time with noise cancellation engaged but can be extended an additional 10 hours with the supplied charging case; a 5-minute quick-charge mode provides 1 hour of play time. Graphite, caramel, and sand color options are available.

Moving up the technology scale, the Ally Plus II earbuds are hailed as the least expensive wireless earphones to incorporate adaptive noise cancellation, a sophisticated form of noise suppression that employs feed-forward and feed-back mics to sense the listener’s surroundings and “provide optimal suppression of environmental sounds.” The ’buds also feature aptX Adaptive-enabled Bluetooth 5.2, larger 0.4-inch dynamic drivers, and angled silicon eartips to reduce pressure in the ear canal and enhance comfort during extended listening.

Battery life is rated for up to 11 hours of play time but can be extended an additional 22 hours with the supplied charging case, which has a window so you can see the earbuds and confirm that they are charging. Midnight blue and stone color options are available.

For both models, the companion Cleer+ app provides EQ presets with the ability to customize the sound and lets listeners control the level of noise cancellation and outside ambient sound. Visit cleeraudio.com for more information on the Ally Plus II earbuds and click here for more information on the Roam NC earbuds.