The best hearables and smart wireless earbuds you can buy right now

From Bragi Dash to Gear IconX, what's on sale and what's coming this year

Ears are an increasingly popular place for wearable tech to sit, with a number of smart headphone and hearable startups entering the space.

And it's a busy time for the market, showing the appetite is certainly there for fitness coaches, personal assistants and language translators in our ear, with no bulky wrist accessory or cumbersome display necessary.

Read next: Why hearables are so hard to build

Below, we'll explore devices which actually exist and which we've already tested, like the Bragi Dash Pro and Samsung Gear IconX 2018.

But in case you're not quite ready to buy your first connected ear accessory, we've also detailed the smart earbuds and hearables to look forward to for the rest of 2018 and beyond.

Best hearable: Bragi Dash Pro

The best hearables and smart earbuds you can buy right now

Bragi's update to the original Dash takes everything we loved about the original and ups the ante. It's now got five hours of battery life rather than three. It's got real-time translation thanks to iTranslate, a '4D menu' that lets you use head gestures to navigate menus (a little complicated, but a nice proof of concept), and automatic activity training. A recent update also added Alexa support, for additional smarts.

The new model easily comes out on top in fit and comfort as Bragi is offering a (more expensive) custom-molded version, in partnership with hearing aid company Starkey. If you opt for that, you're getting a far better fit than anything else on this list. Go for the regular Bragi Dash Pro and they're still perfectly snug.

It also has all those same solid fitness tracking features as the original Dash including run and swim tracking, plus the waterproof design along with the built-in music player makes it our go-to headphones for swimming too. We found the heart rate monitor accuracy falls short of the Jabra Sport Elite, with the Dash trailing behind the chest strap by a lengthy margin as we hit the highest intensity.

Bragi comes out number one not only for being the most feature-rich hearable on our list, but for giving us fewest reasons to remove its hearable from our ears. And that's how it should be. Overall, the Dash Pro is an impressively smart hearable, even if the fitness tracking left us a little unsatisfied in testing.

Wareable verdict: Bragi Dash Pro review

From $329, bragi.com | Amazon

Best for translation: Waverly Labs' Pilot

The best hearables and smart earbuds you can buy right now

Waverly Labs' Pilot crowdfunding campaign built up a lot of hype, raising a total of $4.5 million, but many of the questions we had about this language translating hearable were answered upon review.

Essentially designed to be a pair of Babel Fish earbuds, offering real-time audio translation of 15 languages (plus regional dialects), we were consistently impressed with how the Pilot was able to accurately convert languages. It's not perfect just yet - for example, it still finds noisy environments tough to work in - but Waverly Labs' first generation sets the foundations for deeper translation smarts in the future.

Essential read: I went on a date using Waverly Labs' Pilot earbuds

It's not just its base smarts that are the selling point, either, with the Pilot also offering one of the more comfortable fits and sleekest designs on the market. And when you're not out on the streets translating, its excellent audio quality will ensure that these become your go-to earbuds when listening to music.

In terms of rollout, the startup began its first batch of deliveries to backers in December, with the rest being shipped out before the hearable hits the retail market this summer.

Wareable verdict: Waverly Labs Pilot review

$249, waverlylabs.com

Best for augmented audio: Nuheara IQbuds

The best hearables and smart earbuds you can buy right now

Nuheara raised ten times its crowdfunding target and started shipping out units of its smart IQbuds last year. Like the now-deceased Here Ones, these wireless buds focus on altering your experience of hearing the world, packing in noise cancelling and letting you mix your own balance between your music and the real world.

When we tested the IQbuds, we liked the sound quality, audio blending features and range of presets but were disappointed by music playback controls and battery life. If you're looking to grab a pair, note that Nuheara is about to push out two new earbuds - scroll down for more.

Read this: Nuheara IQbuds review

$269, nuheara.com | Amazon

Best for running: Jabra Elite Sport

The best hearables and smart earbuds you can buy right now

The wireless Elite Sport seem to do it all - real-time coaching, heart rate sensing and VO2 Max testing, plus sweat and waterproofing. Extras include audio pass-through (so you can pay attention to the world around you) and easy switching between calls and music.

In initial testing, we found that the sports tracking, comfort and sound quality to be solid, but the HR tracking and charging case to be questionable. However, a software update has rectified some of these issues, as well as bumping the battery life up considerably.

If you prefer an option with wires, then you should definitely check out the Jabra Sport Pulse Special Edition headphones too. They also offer stellar sound, but crucially offer more reliable heart rate tracking in comparison to the Elite Sport.

Wareable verdict: Jabra Elite Sport review

$219.99, jabra.com | Amazon

Running hearable alternatives

LifeBEAM Vi

The best hearables and smart earbuds you can buy right now

The self-learning hearable, which raised $1.6 million on Kickstarter, offers real time coaching based on a user's own physiology. It'll interpret data to deliver actionable insights, such as weight loss optimisation, exhaustion level management and even running technique. Plus, audio performance is aided, thanks to a partnership with Harman Kardon.

In testing, we found that Vi offers good heart rate tracking and the AI coach can be useful - aside from occasional bugs, our only real beef was that the voice detection is too uneven.

The device itself looks like a standard pair of behind-the-neck running headphones, while GPS is tracked via a connection with your smartphone. Speaking of which, you can't use these to track exercise without having your phone with you. That might be a turn-off for some.

Overall, there's lots of potential here, and new features (such as treadmill tracking) have rolled out to the hearable. If you're into running and being coached to becoming a better runner, then these are worthy of your attention.

Wareable verdict: LifeBEAM Vi review

$249, getvi.com | Amazon


Samsung Gear IconX (2018)

The best hearables and smart earbuds you can buy right now

Dropping before the turn of the year, Samsung's second generation smart earbuds, the Gear IconX 2018, brings the Korean company's smart assistant Bixby and battery life life which blitzes the closest competition - five hours of streaming music over Bluetooth, seven hours of standalone use and up to four hours of talk time.

Even if you have a non-Samsung Android smartphone in your pocket, the buds will tap into Google Assistant, but unfortunately there's once again zero support for iOS users here.

They have a snug fit and the wingtips sit comfortably inside of your ears. We had no problem keeping these lodged in our ears during workouts. We also really appreciate how they detect when you're putting them in or taking them out, powering up/off accordingly.

Like the Bragi Dash Pro, Samsung has its own version of 'ambient sound', allowing a certain amount of outside noise to pass through while your music continues. In practice, we found the passthrough much better on the Here One, but it still works fine on the Icon X.

As for fitness, the optical heart rate sensor had a tendency to report some strange readings now and then. It also fluctuated a little more compared to the chest strap in the higher heart rate zones. We wouldn't say it's terrible, but the Jabra buds performed better.

Wareable verdict: Samsung Gear IconX (2018) review

$179.99, samsung.com | Amazon

Oakley Radar Pace

The best hearables and smart earbuds you can buy right now

Yep, the Radar Pace are a pair of sports shades with a hearable attached. Expensive, sure, but in our review we were very impressed by its coaching credentials. The conversational AI is awesome and learns your habits over time, though the occasional voice command is missed and it does need to pair with your phone to work.

Wareable verdict: Oakley Radar Pace review

$449, oakley.com | Amazon

Best smart assistant: Sony Xperia Ear

The best hearables and smart earbuds you can buy right now

The Xperia Ear is Sony's take on the Moto Hint but for any Android phone. The voice assistant is Sony's Xperia Agent (or you can choose Google Voice) and you can interact with it to get news, missed calls and messages, weather, Google searches and more.

It comes in Graphite Black to start, with more colours promised but still not available, and has a battery life of 3.5 hours, plus Sony has put a lot of work into the call and audio quality, as you'd expect.

Since these are now a little long in the tooth, it may be worth waiting for Sony's new hearable, detailed below.

Wareable verdict: Sony Xperia Ear review

$129.99, sonymobile.com | Amazon

Incoming

Here's what's coming next in the world of hearables. Some are crowdfunding projects, some are concepts, and some are announcements from bigger companies that haven't materialised as real products yet.

Nuheara IQbuds Boost and LiveIQ

The best hearables and smart earbuds you can buy right now

For 2018, Nuheara is rolling out two new hearables, both of which are putting a focus on augmented audio. The IQBuds Boost bring more customisation and amplification than the existing IQbuds, along with something called Ear ID that will calibrate the earbuds to give you a personalised sound.

Meanwhile, the LiveIQ buds are focused on noise cancellation, helping you block out the sound no matter your environment. The IQBuds Boost will set you back $449 and will be available to buy from 24 April, while the LiveIQ buds will be under $200 and will ship in Q3.

TBD, nuheara.com

Sony Xperia Ear Duo

The best hearables and smart earbuds you can buy right now

While Sony only unveiled this hearable at MWC in February, we've actually been aware of the concept for roughly two years.

Tucking all the tech below the ear, the Xperia Ear Duo help you tune you into your music and the world around you at the same time. Plus, they delivers features like gesture controls and Sony's own unique take on smart assistants along with easy access to Google Assistant and Siri.

Sony says that the $280 hearable will drop in May, but you can get our already get our initial verdict on the buds by reading our Sony Xperia Ear Duo review.

$280, sonymobile.com

MyManu Clik

The best hearables and smart earbuds you can buy right now

We saw many translation hearables dropping just before the turn of the year, though the MyManu Clik managed to get out slightly ahead and begin shipments of its buds in October 2017.

The difference between fellow crowdfunding success Pilot and Clik is that this UK startup's hearables will be able to translate 37 languages in real time. Language packs are synced and stored on the buds, which can detect the language someone is speaking after a sentence. Yep, it doesn't need a data connection.

Read this: MyManu is finally ready to break down language barriers

The translation buds are available to order through its website, though beware of the lengthy wait before expected delivery. Currently, the next batch isn't tipped to release until the end of June.

$249, mymanu.com

Mars translation buds

The best hearables and smart earbuds you can buy right now

Ok, it's another pair of translation buds, but these ones promise to do something special. Rather than one person wearing the buds and the other holding up the smartphone - or requiring both parties to own their own pair - the Mars earbuds will let you simply stick one bud in the other person's ear and -hey presto - you're translating.

They currently support English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean, and are expected to ship this summer. We've seen them working in action, so we have reason to hope these will make it to a product as promised.

Sgnl

The best hearables and smart earbuds you can buy right now

A fitness tracker-like band worn around the wrist, Sgnl looks quite different to other hearables on our list. But trust us, it's deserving of a place on this list. Sgnl uses bone conduction technology to send sound through your hand - put your finger up to your ear and you'll be able to take calls, hear notifications or even listen to audio when watching a video on your phone.

Better yet, after so much waiting we finally have a confirmed release date. Sgnl is shipping out this March and will cost $249 when it does.

$249, mysgnl.com


Shop for recommended smart earbuds on Amazon

Bragi The Dash Pro
Bragi The Dash Pro
$300
Apple AirPods
Apple AirPods
$168.98
Jabra Elite Sport
Jabra Elite Sport
$159
Samsung Gear IconX (2018)
Samsung Gear IconX (2018)
$155.99

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10 Comments

  • sonncom says:

    Hi,

    your article is one of the few good overviews and inspired me to create an infographic that visualises a categorisation I found useful. I found out that you can put the main purposes of hearables (smart earbuds, computing, sound, hear, fitness and health) in a circle and show a Hearable Universe. Check it out at http://hearable.world/the-hearable-universe-2016-w...

    and feel free to use it.

    All the best,

    Tom

  • Rlee says:

    You guys should run a story on Truu'a wireless earbuds kickstarter saga. They've completely shut down their website and gone ghost. And with €700+k of backers' money too. 

  • WirelessHooper says:

    I'm really looking forward to trying the Here One. But the noise cancellation option on the Bragi is pretty epic. I would like to try wearing any or all of these for basketball. 

  • Lauman says:

    You write of Nuheara IQbuds, but the image you use is NOT the IQbuds nor are they US$229 but US$299, same as Here One, but much better reviews, ratings, battery life and customizable features. Someone missed the mark here on the IQbuds. 

    • waldo777 says:

      The IQbuds arent worth $229 USD let alone $299 USD

    • JohnnyAppleseed says:

      Their worth is entirely subjective, I personally am in love with my IQbuds. The amount of technology they've packed into these things is mind blowing, and the sound quality is very good. I did consider Here One, which by most accounts is of a similar quality. The poor battery life was a deal breaker in the end.

  • rahlquist says:

    Ahh wearable. Not everyone can/should use devices that are internal to the ear. What about them? Those are true wearbles, those that rest on the outside of the ear. 

  • mattsalt13 says:

    Where are the Sony wx1000?

  • ElijahErwin says:

    Hi.. Thanks for the article. 

    I think for this price range, Rowkin got one of the best products. Actually they're cheaper. Got one recently and pretty impressed by its features and sound quality.

  • ElijahErwin says:

    Hi.. I think for this price range, Rowkin makes some awesome products. Check those out too guys..

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