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9 Best Earplugs (2023): For Concerts, Sleep, and Listening

9 Best Earplugs (2023): For Concerts, Sleep, and Listening

You only get one pair of ears, so it’s a good idea to look after them—and a good set of earplugs can come in handy in all kinds of situations. A proper set is a much better solution for blocking out noise during the night than a pillow over the head and is more comfortable than headphones. What you’re looking for in earplugs really depends on what you want them to do. When you’re sleeping, for example, comfort is paramount. Plus, you need an indiscriminate approach to blocking out snores, traffic noise, or a car alarm down the street.

If you’re watching a band play live, though, you want to maintain as much fidelity as possible and just cut out the frequencies that might be harmful to your hearing. The average concert pumps out about 100 decibels, but if you’ve ever seen My Bloody Valentine, you’ll know some bands seem to have a personal vendetta against your ears—and continuous exposure to sounds over 85 dB can cause permanent damage to your hearing. That means it’s not possible to pick out one pair of earplugs that’ll work in every situation. Instead, we’ve picked several that satisfy different needs.

Be sure to check out our other buying guides, like the Best Sleep Gadgets, Best Wireless Earbuds, Best Wireless Headphones, and Gifts for People Who Need a Good Night’s Sleep.

Updated April 2023: We’ve added the Vibes High Fidelity Earplugs and Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds for travelers.

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Nothing Ear (2) Review: Vibrant Sound, Control Issues

Nothing Ear (2) Review: Vibrant Sound, Control Issues

The app also has some welcome customization features. There’s an extensive listening test, for example, provided by hearing experts Mimi—let the app walk you through an eartip fit test, let it know how old you are, and then listen to the series of beeps. After this process is completed, analysis of the results allows the Ear (2) control app to adjust EQ settings to best suit your hearing profile. And it will finesse the EQ in real time, depending on the content you’re listening to. For better or worse, the app even shows you a graphic representation of your hearing range.

There’s a similar test available to adjust the intensity of the active noise cancellation. Again, you’ll need to take the eartip fit—and after that, the personalized test uses seven audio filters to adjust ANC to deliver the most comfortable listening experience possible. That’s the theory, anyhow.

The Ear (2) use Bluetooth 5.3 for wireless connectivity, with SBC, AAC, and LHDC 5.0 codec  compatibility. LHDC 5.0 makes the Ear (2) High Res Audio Wireless certified, and they can, when linked to an appropriately specified player, accept 24-bit/192-kHz streams. Whatever the standard of digital audio file you stream, though, it’s delivered by a couple of 11.6-mm polyurethane/graphene full-range dynamic drivers of a design that’s unchanged from the original Ear (1). Each is in a dual-chamber enclosure, intended to smooth airflow.

Pacy, Vibrant Sound

Giving the Ear (2) the best chance of impressing seems only fair, and so they’re connected to a Nothing Phone (1) using the LHDC 5.0 Bluetooth codec. The Phone (1) is running the TIDAL music streaming app. And as long as you keep the price uppermost in your mind, there’s lots to like about the way these earbuds perform.

An MQA-powered TIDAL Masters file of Prince’s “U Got The Look” lets the Nothing Ear (2) express themselves almost entirely. They’re a pacy, vibrant listen, with plenty of low-frequency control and extension—and the sort of detail levels that prevent bass from just thumping along in time. Texture and timbre are nicely described, rhythmic expression is very decent, and momentum is never in doubt.

Midrange detail levels are equally high, and that allows both Prince’s and Sheena Easton’s voice to describe their technique and character in full. The soundstage the Ear (2) create isn’t the biggest, but it’s well laid out and controlled, which means more than enough space for a singer to do their thing free of interference from elsewhere. That’s not to say they seem in any way estranged from the rest of the performance, though—the Ear (2) do good work presenting recordings with commonality rather than as a collection of discrete occurrences. 

Top-End Trouble

The top of the frequency range is assertive to an almost reckless degree. Paired with the Nothing Phone (1) the amount of bite and shine the top end summons approaches dangerous levels, and if matched with an unsympathetic source player it’s easy to imagine the top end getting out of hand—especially if you’re listening at significant volume. No one wants dull or rolled-off treble response, of course, but the Ear (2) may have gone just a little too far in the opposite direction.

Dynamic headroom is considerable, though, which is always a good thing when a recording veers between very quiet and extremely loud. And the more subtle harmonic details of a recording don’t go astray, either—so your solo instrument sounds intimate and immediate.  

The active noise cancellation, also, is fairly well implemented. “Reduce” is the word that applies rather than “cancel,” it’s true, but still, we’re talking about a significant reduction of external sound. And it’s achieved at no cost to the sound of the earbuds, either. There’s no hint of counter-signal or noise-floor disruption when ANC is switched on. Which puts the Ear (2) ahead of quite a few price-comparable rivals.

Taken as an overall package, there’s quite a lot to like about the Nothing Ear (2). Thanks to the extensive nature of the control app, ownership feels like quite a bespoke experience, and thanks to a combination of assertive sound quality (almost too assertive where treble is concerned) and effective noise cancellation, they’re an enjoyable listen. And because of Nothing’s industrial design language, they’re quite individual lookers. 

You’re not short of choice where true wireless earbuds at this price are concerned, but be assured: The Nothing Ear (2) are much more than just a (+1).

Anker Soundcore Space A40 Review: Great Budget Wireless Earbuds

Anker Soundcore Space A40 Review: Great Budget Wireless Earbuds

You’ve probably heard of the golden age of TV, a renaissance brought on by the streaming era that is now, sadly, on the decline. It might not bring us another Better Call Saul, but there’s a different golden age that’s still very much shimmering in A/V: the wireless earbud market.

From hearables breaking free of their prescription chains to 3D spatial audio and customized listening, earbuds are innovating at an incredible rate. And new options like Anker’s Soundcore Space A40 prove you can reap the benefits of this brave new world on nearly any budget.

A few years ago you couldn’t find a pair of earbuds with effective noise canceling for under $200. The Space A40 deliver it for half that price, alongside good sound, massive battery life, and a ton of extras to help you customize your experience. That’s all packed into a comfy and compact design that looks fancier than the price suggests.

The A40 do skip a few conveniences, like auto-pause when you pull an earbud out, and the controls can be a little inconsistent. But with great performance in a surprisingly affordable package, the Space A40 are one of the best bargains in this golden age of portable listening.

Stylish and Slim

Anker SoundCore Space A40 Earbuds and Charging Case

Photograph: Anker

Even as earbuds everywhere shrink around them, the A40 stand out not only for their minuscule size but also their good looks. The pill-shaped, Qi-ready charging case is stylish and feels good in your hands. Its matte exterior, accented by a metallic Anker logo on top and a trio of LEDs where the clamshell lid meets the base, lends a premium air.

Inside, the glossy plastic terminals hold matching gloss earbuds, with a more matte finish at the exterior for the touchpad controls. The buds are ergonomically shaped, and, most important, their weight of just under 5 grams per side (for reference, Apple’s AirPods Pro weigh 5.4 grams) meets the unofficial baseline for buds that seem to disappear in your ears after a few minutes.

The Space A40 do just that, and the fit is relatively stable. Five sizes of ear tips goes beyond most competitors, and I was able to do all my usual earbud-enhanced activities, from yard work to hikes at my local park, with only a minor readjustment here or there. I did feel them jostle a bit on a jog, and their IPX4 water resistance is solid but not dunkable, so those looking for better stability and weatherproofing may want to consider jumping up to Jabra’s Elite 4 Active.

One place the buds muck up the grade curve is their massive battery. You get up to 10 hours of playback, with four full recharges in the case for 50 hours total. I clocked more like 7 to 8 hours with noise canceling, but that’s still around 40 hours, besting pricier flagships from Samsung, Google, and Apple.

Customize Anything

The Space A40 let you customize just about everything. That starts with the fit and extends to touchpads that are reassignable via the Soundcore app. They offer near-comprehensive control, from volume to voice assistants, so you rarely need to reach for your phone.

You’ll need to assign volume in the app (it’s off by default), and I find the double-tap for pause or song skip can sometimes be triggered when you’re trying to do a few rapid single taps to ramp up the jams. I’m also not in love with the hold command, which seems to take hours to cycle through noise canceling and transparency mode (it’s really just a couple of seconds).

Best Kids’ Headphones (2023): Volume-Limiting, Noise-Canceling, and More

Best Kids’ Headphones (2023): Volume-Limiting, Noise-Canceling, and More

As writers and testers in WIRED’s Gadget Lab, we spend all day immersed in personal technology of all kinds. It’s probably no surprise that if we work on a computer during the day and enjoy gaming in our downtime, our kids do, too. I (Adrienne) have a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old that attended school remotely and play video games; my colleague Simon Hill has a 9- and a 12-year-old. Between us, we—er, well, our kids—have tested many of the kid headphones on the market. 

These are our top picks, along with some advice—such as why you might want a pair of child-specific headphones. Don’t forget to check out our other parenting guides, such as the Best Kid Tablets and the Best Kid Podcasts. Looking for a pair for yourself? Check out our list of the Best Headphones.

Updated January 2023: We updated links and pricing and added the BuddyPhones Cosmos+ and StoryPhones.

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The Best Wireless Earbuds for Every Need

The Best Wireless Earbuds for Every Need

wireless earbuds are one of those ideas that sounded like a dream at first: Pop a little headphone into each ear and listen to music or take calls untethered from everything. The first wireless buds were gigantic, died after a few hours, and had a bunch of other problems. Luckily, times have changed. There are tons of new models that sound fabulous and work perfectly. After testing dozens over the past four years, these are our favorite wireless earbuds right now, in a wide range of styles and prices.

For more top picks, check out our other product guides, like the Best Wireless Headphones, Best Noise-Canceling Headphones, Best Cheap Headphones, and Best Workout Earbuds.

Updated September 2022: We’ve added the Google Pixel Buds Pro, Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro, and Astell & Kern UW100.

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