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Audio gear alternatives: Speakers, headsets, and earbuds - oh my

Re-discover the hidden gems in your music collection and listen through these great speakers, headsets, and earbuds for spring 2020.
Written by Eileen Brown on

If you feel you are going stir crazy staying in your home and minimizing contact due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you might want to lose yourself in re-discovering the hidden gems in your music collection.

Whether you prefer earbuds, headphones, or Bluetooth speakers, here are a few of the latest offerings available for 2020, which you can buy right now to help you through your social distancing activities.

Disclosure: ZDNet may earn an affiliate commission from some of the products featured on this page. ZDNet and the author were not compensated for this independent review.


The ACIL Bluetooth headphones are IPX7 sweat proof and rain-proof and stay in the ear when jogging or running. They are simple headphones with a wire joining the two buds and a simple-to-use control. Taking around two hours to charge, these earphones will give you around 12 hours of playtime. They also have passive noise-canceling to block out ambient sound around you. The built-in microphone is adequate for calls.

The best Holiday audio for under $100 zdnet

These Mu6 Space 2 noise-canceling headphones are incredibly comfortable to wear, with deep padded cushions and a large shell that fits comfortably over even the largest ears. Sound is good. Bluetooth connects well and the sound is good. Call quality is mainly good across a range of PC's and mobile devices. I found the volume controls difficult to use. Initially, sliding one finger up and down and back and forward did not do what I wanted. I need more practice. Noise cancellation was good. The headphones stop playing music when the headphones are removed and start playing when they are replaced.


The VOGEK noise-canceling headphones are in-ear Bluetooth headphones that have a built-in microphone and a neckband so that you don't lose them. They come in a zip case and charge by micro USB cable. When fully charged -- takes about two years -- they will deliver over 12 hours of playtime. I like the feel of these earbuds in my ear. I can hardly feel them. Usefully, there is a magnet in each earbud that clips the two together when around your neck to keep them secure. A nice zip case means you won't lose the spare eartips or the charging cable. These headphones are IPX6 rated so they can cope with water jets directed at the earbuds.  The call quality is not so good however with a buzzing at the other end when the call connects. Currently, you can get a 30% discount with the coupon code: BIGSALEGO reducing the price to $27.99


The Tronsmart Onyx Ace earphones look remarkably like Apple earpods and sit snugly and comfortably in the ear. The earphones have four microphones and have noise cancellation features. The Qualcomm QCC3020 chip means latency is minimized. The earbuds deliver good bass and have a good range. The earbuds will play for up to five hours with one charge and can be charged over four times by returning the buds to the charging case which uses USB-C fast charging. Double-tap either ear to answer and end calls, tap to increase or decrease the volume, or long-press to play the next or previous track –--depending which earbud you use. You can also access your voice assistant.


The Element T6 Mini speaker packs 15W from its compact handy sized speaker. At the base of the speaker a flexible cone ensures a rich, booming, 360-degree bass sound when on any hard surface. Its 2,500mAh battery will give up to 24 hours playing time before needing to be recharged. It takes just under four hours to fully charge the speaker. You can connect it to your voice assistant to control your sounds. It has True Wireless Stereo (TWS) so two speakers can be paired for full stereo sound experience. It is IPX6 rated, so it is splash-proof and is fairly rugged. It is not immersion proof, however. You can use the speaker for hands-free calling, too.


The Marshall Tufton is water-resistant and rugged giving up to 20 hours playing time before it needs to be charged. It has the classic Marshall style with a guitar carry strap. This speaker allows you to connect to two devices simultaneously so that two of you can decide what music to play. It is rated at IPX2, so it can cope wit dripping water -- but not a full-on rainstorm. Its retro looks have analogue controls that unfortunately do not go all the way up to 11.


These unfortunately named (vulgar slang in the UK) Spunky Beat earbuds are IPX 5 splashproof and are impervious to sweat, splashes and rain. They are comfortable to wear and sit well in my ears. The Qualcomm QCC 3020 chip gives an impressive sound and a deep bass range. Phone calls are good and clear and background noise is minimal even when running. The earbuds support touch control, which takes a little getting used to. To switch to the next track, tap and hold the right earbud for two seconds. For the previous track, tap the left bud. Tapping either earbud will answer or end phone calls. If you want to activate your phone assistant, tap twice. A single charge will give you around seven hours of playtime, and you can recharge the buds three times by returning them to their charging case whilst out and about.


The Tribit StormBox Micro Bluetooth speaker really packs a punch. It is IP67 waterproof and dustproof and has True Wireless Stereo (TWS) so two can be paired for stereo sound. It is loud, with 9W output from is small form factor and the bass is really good. Across the range the sound really delivers. Its 2,600mAh battery will deliver up to eight hours playing time. I will charge using USB- C in about three hours. Launched at CES 2020 in Las Vegas this year, it will be available from Amazon with 20% code: TBMICZDN

Your buying guide

Earbuds and earpods are purely a matter of choice. if you have uniquely shaped ears, you might struggle with some of these earbuds as they are designed for the majority of ears. If this is you, stick to the over the ear headphones. These types of headphones are cushioned and very comfortable, but you might need to take the headphones off to manipulate the controls until you get used to them. For simplicity, you can not go wrong with an external Bluetooth speaker.


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