This year’s newest headphones are trying to be smart—in a lot of ways.

At CES 2018, the annual convention of the electronics industry, the major trend has been gadgets integrating voice-activated digital assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Although a few headphones have started to build support for those technologies, experts say that the challenges generated by noisy environments, spotty connectivity, and battery life mean that you probably won’t notice a flood of AI-enabled headphones until 2019.

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Instead, many of this year’s headphones are focusing on specialization. Many new products are designed for a very specific purpose, whether that’s doing laps in a pool or playing video games. 

“There’s a lot of value in simplicity,” says Ross Rubin, an electronics industry analyst with Reticle Research, a technology consulting firm. “There’s still a very healthy market in differentiation with devices that don’t rely on any sort of connectivity.” 

If you’re a listener looking for headphones to match your specific sport, hobby, or interest, 2018 could be your year.

Nuheara Live IQ true wireless headphones are an appealing option for air travel.
Photo: Nuheara

Nuheara Live IQ

Who it’s for: An earbud fan on an airplane.

What it does: Nuheara’s Live IQ combines two widely used headphone features, hybrid active noise cancellation and true wireless design—there’s no wire connecting the two earpieces. That makes them an appealing option for the air passenger who wants to travel light. 

The Live IQs also have tap control for Google Assistant and Siri. The company clams the 9.2-mm dynamic drivers will deliver high-fidelity sound. 

1More hopes its Spearhead VR gaming headphone will appeal to adults.
Photo: 1More

1More Spearhead VR

Who it’s for: The grown-up gamer.

What it does: Can a gaming headphone appeal to adults? 1More hopes so. Its new Spearhead VRs light up for game play and feature a patent-pending “levitating magnet” design that is supposed to produce bass that can rattle your fillings. (We’ll see about that once we get them in the lab.) But remove the USB cord, swap it with a 3.5-mm cord, and the lights turn off. That’s supposed to help the VRs—which share technology with 1More’s audiophile stereo models—switch moods from Call of Duty to Bob Marley.

The Jabra Elite 65T earbuds are compatible with virtual assistants.
Photo: Jabra

Jabra Elite 65T

Who it’s for: The early adopter.

What it does: These truly wireless earbuds provide a preview of the near future in smart headphones. They’re compatible with digital assistants of every stripe: Alexa, Google, and Siri. Once you’ve set up the Jabra app, you can touch the earbud and start talking to the digital assistant of your choice. The 65T Active version is water-, dust-, and sweat-resistant, so it’s well-suited for the adventurous user who never wants to be out of touch. 

The JBL Endurance Dive headphones are designed for swimmers.
Photo: JBL

JBL Endurance Dive

Who it’s for: The minimalist athlete.

What it does: One problem with most headphones designed for workouts is that you still need to be tethered to a phone to supply your music. That can be a bummer if you’re running, a deal breaker if you’re swimming.

That’s why the JBL Endurance Dive, $90, designed for the water, includes 1GB of storage, enough for about 200 MP3 songs, which should get you through the longest pool workout. 

Bose has partnered with Tile to put trackers in earbuds.
Photo: Bose

Bose Earbuds With Tile Interface

Who it’s for: People who lose things.

What it does: One of the biggest problems with earbuds is the very real possibility of misplacing them. Bose has partnered with Tile, the company that makes Bluetooth trackers that hang on a key chain or sit inside a bag, to address the issue. The find-your-earbuds feature is built into the 2018 versions of the Sound Sport Wireless and QuietControl 30 headphones, both of which earned a recommendation from CR’s testers in their earlier, non-Tile versions.

The technology works the same as Tile’s existing, um, tiles. If you’ve merely misplaced your earbuds, you use an app to trigger them to make a sound. If they’re out of Bluetooth range and have crossed the barrier from “misplaced” to “lost,” Tile’s online crowdsourcing comes into play, with other users enlisted in the cause of finding your buds.