The Best Portable Audio Gear of 2018

(Inga Hendrickson)
Photo: Inga Hendrickson fitness

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Finally, wires are a thing of the past.

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(Courtesy Bose)

Bose SoundSport Free ($250)

We’ll say it: these earphones are the best we’ve ever heard. “True wireless”—two individual monitors, with no cord running between them—has gone from wonky and frustrating to game changing. The SoundSport Free pumps out audio that’s deep, robust, and as richly detailed as a nice pair of over-the-ear headphones. That quality comes wrapped in a water- and sweat-resistant package that held up around town, while traveling, and on dozens of runs in both dry and dripping conditions. A charge lasts five hours at medium-high volume, and the included storage-cum-charging case is good for two more cycles. Of course, we’ve never been shy about cranking the volume, and the SoundSport Free played louder than any other earphones we tested. All that power and clarity has a downside—they’re bulkier than other wireless buds, and testers were initially skeptical about fit. But Bose’s design is deceptively secure, and the just-right rubber wedges that hold the earpieces in place never budged. We’ve been living in a golden age of earphones, and the first fully wireless ones are just hitting the market in appreciable numbers. Bose already nailed it. Long after our test concluded, these have remained our go-to pair.

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(Courtesy Fender)

Fender Newport ($200)

Best portable speaker

The Newport sounded as good as any other speaker we tested this year, but we really fell for the design: the retro styling is meant to evoke Fender’s classic guitar amps, and the toggle switch and dials invite tinkering. It’ll pump out music from your phone for 12 hours, has a respectable 33 feet of Bluetooth range, and recharges quickly via USB. It’s not immune to falls or water, but the small size and solid build made us want to take it along on everything from business trips to days at the crag.

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(Courtesy U-Jays)

Jays U-Jays Wireless ($179)

Most versatile headphones

These traditional Bluetooth buckets drew testers in with their crisp, clean, not overly thumpy sound and featherweight package. Handy touch controls on the right ear cup let you pause, skip songs, and adjust volume while on the go. With 25 hours of playback per charge, the U-Jays Wireless is exceptionally compact and adaptable for full-size headphones, and while not intended for exercise, it performed well on quick jogs.

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(Courtesy Jaybird)

Jaybird Run ($180)

Best workout partner

Testers loved Jaybird’s Run earphones for their comparatively slim profile, secure fit, ease of connectivity, and solid build. They boast four hours of playback, and as with the Bose, there are two charges on tap in the included case. For true-wireless buds at the lower end of the price spectrum, the Run packs outstanding sound, as well as water and sweat resistance. Testers loved Jaybird’s easy-to-use smartphone app, which lets you fine-tune treble and bass or choose from dozens of custom presets. Anyone in the market for dedicated workout earphones should start here.

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