Best earbuds 2023: Bluetooth remote control, LE audio, Auracast … – USA TODAY

Shopping for wireless earbuds is starting to be fun again. Models now coming to market are not only among the first with next-generation Bluetooth features, they’re also breaking the mold with some innovative.
The shakeup for this half-billion-pair-per-year market is long overdue. Yes, there have been some recent standouts, like Sony’s WF-1000XM4 superior sound quality and the next-level noise cancellation of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II. But by and large, last year’s buds do more or less the same things as the previous year’s models. Just as they did the year before.
Even Apple’s latest, the 2nd-generation AirPods Pro failed to generate much excitement when the tech giant unveiled them last September. Yes, they sound a little better and last a bit longer on a charge. But there aren’t any breakout new features. They do more or less the same things as the first-gen Pro buds – and most every other pair on the market, for that matter. They make calls, listen to music, block outside noise and switch between devices. And they look just like their predecessors.
Credit the emerging Bluetooth Low Energy Audio standard for sparking much of the innovation. By marrying high-fidelity traits of traditional Bluetooth with the uber-efficient Low Energy specification, Bluetooth LE Audio can dynamically adjust quality to maintain connections, even in the most challenging environments. It’s also paving the way for new features, like maintaining multiple connections at the same time.
And earbud makers are seizing the opportunity to add some innovative features of their own.
One of the coolest new features I’ve seen in a long time is now available− remote control. New models – notably HP’s just-released Poly Voyager Free 60+ UC and the upcoming JBL Tour Pro 2 – feature a touchscreen built into the case for quick access to volume, transparency, noise cancellation and other settings that can be too intricate to manipulate reliably on the buds and too time-consuming to access via the smartphone.
I’ve been evaluating the Voyager Free 60+ buds for nearly a month, and the on-case menu has proven to be an invaluable addition. Rather than yanking the buds from my ears when a passing neighbor speaks to me on my morning dog walk, I can leave the ear buds in place, quickly pause the music and switch the transparency setting to speech so I can hear what they’re saying.
Along with Sony’s WF-1000XM4, the Jabra Elite 7 Pro and a few others, the Voyager Free 60+ buds also support Multipoint, a new Bluetooth feature that lets your earbuds maintain connections with your smartphone and laptop or tablet concurrently. It works much more smoothly and intuitively than technology that can connect to just one device at a time.
With Multipoint, you can watch a video on your tablet while keeping an, uh, ear on smartphone notifications. Answering a call on your smartphone will automatically pause the video on your other device.
Though many new smartphones, tablets and laptops are technically capable of supporting Bluetooth LE Audio features like Multipoint, not many do yet. To get around this conundrum, HP offers another cool option for its new earbuds: a USB dongle that instantly adds Bluetooth LE Audio to laptops. The dedicated link is great for making bankable audio connections for video calls on Zoom or Teams while coupled to your smartphone.
Bluetooth LE Audio includes another multiple-connection feature, called Auracast. When it comes available – hopefully later this year – Auracast will work opposite of Multipoint. That is, it will connect multiple earbuds, headphones and speakers to a single audio source.
Auracast will open many more uses for earbuds. For example, Auracast will be great for watching movies on a plane with another person. It will also create new options for playing or watching multiplayer games with friends. Auracast will also help folks who are hard of hearing by connecting their in-ear aids directly to on-stage microphones at conferences and other events.
Exciting stuff. So keep those new buds coming, electronics makers. I’m all ears!
USA TODAY columnist Mike Feibus is president and principal analyst of FeibusTech, a Scottsdale, Arizona, market research and consulting firm. Reach him at Follow him on Twitter @MikeFeibus.


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