Cards of portable audio industry were shuffled in the past year. Smart phone manufacturers abandoned 3.5mm jack. Stream music became dominant. We didn’t find many exciting news about wired headphone launches in 2018. TWS (True Wireless Stereo) is the ace of spades. Bluetooth 5.0, LDAC and fast charging are also listed of our Top 8 Keywords of Earphone/Headphone Industry in 2019.
Key Words: TWS, Bluetooth 5.0, LDAC, ANC, Hybrid DBA, Fast Charging, AI Assistant, Sweatproof
TWS (True Wireless Stereo)
The search trend (and sales) of TWS, which was widely introduced by Apple AirPods, is skyrocketing in 2018. Major earbud manufacturers are following up and presented their flagships on the table.
As its name tells, True Wireless Stereo made left and right channels separated for Bluetooth connection. The revolutionary transmission technology was widely applied in consumer level earbud market in last 12 months. From $29 to $299, you can select a TWS earbud from basically every major audio brand.
5G cellular mobile communication is around the corner. We may or may not see a few evolutions in mobile internet, artificial intelligence, smart home and other fields in 2019. The past year belongs to Bluetooth 5.0 for sure. It is critical to deliver maximized power under limited energy storage for earbuds, considering the size and demand for ergonomic structure.
In a word, the earbuds with Bluetooth 5.0 are greatly improved in terms of transmission bandwidth, range, stability and energy consumption, compared to their predecessors of Bluetooth 4.x era. And finally, the Bluetooth 5.0 took a big step for lossless audio transmission, which was the major, if not the only concern of many consumers.
Is Bluetooth 5.0 the answer to connection stability and battery lifetime? Probably not good enough, but still a big step.
LDAC is an audio coding technology developed by Sony, which allows streaming audio over Bluetooth connections up to 990 Kbit/s at 24 bit/96 kHz (also called high-resolution audio).
To be short, LDAC is a 3x faster transmission technology compared to traditional Blueooth. It was firstly applied to Sony’s own products exclusively, and later open to other devices since Android 8.0 “Oreo” is in the market. In only 12 months, earphone makers like 1More, Panasonic, Pioneer published their own headphones or media players with LDAC technology. Keep in mind that LDAC function is only available when both devices (media player and headphone/earbud) have LDAC.
ANC (Active Noise Cancelling)
In many lifestyle blogs, ANC headphones are described as one of the products that upgrade quality of life. It is true that ANC offers a brand-new solution other than earplugs, and it doesn’t block your desired sounds like human voice or music.
Technology barrier of ANC is lowered in 2018. New audio brands like Arbily and Xiaomi pushed pricing level of entry-level TWS earbuds to $50 to $80 level. You can find hundreds of earbuds or headphones with ANC function (or at least claimed as) on Amazon labeled from $30 to $300.
55.4% of consumers consider ANC an important function when they make purchasing decisions, according to our survey in November 2018. For some specific customer groups like frequent travelers, active noise cancelling is a must-have while audio quality may not be the 1st thing they evaluate. Anyway, having ANC without sacrificing too much music quality is a nice thing for most people. You can choose to spend the extra money for the function, especially when most brands provide 2 versions of their flagship headphones.
Hybrid DBA (Dynamic and Balanced Armatures)
Hybrid became the favorite for many industries in the past 10 years – cars, food, and now audio. Dynamic drivers, are used widely in high resolution audio like home or car. Balanced Armatures offer much more detail than a Dynamic driver, providing a crisper sound in general. While Balanced Armature drivers might have the detail, they don’t have the punch and natural sound of Dynamic drivers.
Hybrid pairs a dynamic and a balanced armature together and delivers well-received sound signature of each. Traditional manufactures are hesitant to the hybrid concept. The claimed “superior” technology doesn’t necessarily lead to better listening experience. Is Hybrid DBA the future of hi-end audio, or is it just a marketing term? It’s better to visit the nearest BestBuy or Target and make the decision by your own ears.
Like for smart phones, fast charging became the new standard for wireless Bluetooth earphones. You can see taglines like “10 Minutes Charging for 3 Hours Playtime” anywhere.
No question that fast charging is a super nice thing to have, when most TWS earphones runs for just 2 or 3 hours – which is acceptable for phone calls, but lousy music quality for the last half or one hour of its battery lifetime?
Note that fast charging may accelerate the decrease of battery performance, but maybe we don’t care because we would expect battery or Bluetooth technologies to upgrade every year and new earbuds to replace the ones we’re using now.
It’s not new stuff but it became worldwide popular in 2018. Alexa and hundreds of Alexa-alike products occupied your homes. Some even canceled physical buttons and hope people to use voice control as much as possible.
Well in real world we don’t really need an artificial voice that just looks smart but is not really. AI voice can be an alternative to keyboard entry but it brings up the privacy concerns at the same time.
However, the built-in real-time translation technology is quite promising. The “auto-translate” cake from Japanese animation Doraemon is already here, it just needs to be polished for daily usage.
Sports earphones became a very specific market, and the core function of sports earphone became our last pick of Top 8 Keywords for Earphone/Headphone Industry in 2019. Most earbuds come with at least IPX4 level water resistant. JIS (Japan Industrial Standards) describes IPX8 as: The equipment is usable for continuous submersion in water under specified pressure. IP67 is the new standard for most sports earphones. We wouldn’t encourage you to test the waterproof grade, because when it comes to sports earphone, the ergonomic design weights just as much as waterproof performance and it cannot be graded by numbers.
Portability and wire-free made TWS the king in consumer audio industry in 2018 and will continue to be in 2019. Users would buy it for business travel, sports, commuting and even Hi-Fi in some occasions to replace the entry-level mic control earphones. An ideal TWS earphone would come with ANC, sweatproof, fast charging (and large capacity charging case) and Bluetooth 5.0 technology.