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Behind the magic: an inside look at Skywalker Sound

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 21:45

This behind-the-scenes look at Skywalker Sound is part of our official Star Wars Week coverage. Join us as we tour the famous sound studio that brought hundreds of your favorite film, TV and video game scores to life! 

Skywalker Sound. Maybe you haven't heard the name before, but you've definitely heard it. Or at least its product, anyway.

In the last decade Skywalker has mixed and made sound for hundreds of projects, everything from Pixar's adorable animations to blockbuster action films like The Dark Knight.

It's pretty good at it, too. Skywalker has won 18 Academy Awards and a handful of Golden Reels - the audio industry's award for sound engineering - in a little over 25 years of operation.

The 40-or-so team members at Skywalker Sound work on a not-so-modest ranch in Nicasio, California - about 45 minutes north of San Francisco. The ranch, appropriately, is called Skywalker Ranch and is owned by none other than George Lucas.

Getting to the ranch is a bit of a trek, and security is tight - guards greet you on your way in and out of the complex. But once you're past the collapsible iron bridge you'll find anything you could ever need, sound mixing or otherwise.

Wandering around the property I saw cattle, a stable equipped for horseback riding, rows upon rows of crops and a vineyard. Inside the Tech Building was a red-brick labyrinth of million-dollar recording studios, original 1940s movie posters and a mostly organic buffet.

I was there to watch video game icon Tommy Tallarico and electronic dance music star BT work on their album Electronic Opus.

In the past, we've shown what great audio looks like, but not the process of how it's made. This feature will change that.

Entrance to the Tech Building or driveway to Bruce Wayne's Manor? You decide.

Skywalker Ranch is located in scenic Marin County, a short 45 minute drive away from both the city of San Francisco and Sonoma, California's wine epicenter.

Not pictured is the lavish guest house, herd of cows or Lake Ewok.

The recording stage. This is where the magic starts.

Both lone singers and symphonies fill this acoustically tuned space while sound technicians sit behind glass panels watching levels rise and fall.

The wood blocks you see in the back have random inlaid patterns that dampen sound.

Grand pianos: a staple of every recording studio.

Even though the name carries a lot of clout in the industry, one of the engineers told me renting space at Skywalker isn't more expensive than a similar space in say, LA or New York.

Behind the recording stage is a booth equipped with a mixing board.

"How much does it cost?" I asked of the board's price.

"It's a few years old now, but brand-new it cost $800,000. But that's before installation," one of the sound engineers at the Ranch told me.

"After everything is said and done it costs around $1 million."

There are 16 of these sound boards located in the main building of Skywalker Sound, with another handful located in other buildings on the property. Primarily, the main house is reserved for big name game developers like Naughty Dog, the team behind the Uncharted series, or movie production studios like Pixar and Paramount.

While I was there sound editing for Inside Out was happening a few rooms away while in another studio artists were plowing through old Star Wars recordings to pick out R2-D2 samples.

On any given day you might see or, more explicitly, hear a dozen of the biggest films of the year being recorded at Skywalker Sound. Here's a list of all the films the firm has ever worked on in-house.

This is the sound board up close. The tape helps sound artists keep track of which instruments are assigned to which channels.

Before mixing down, Tallarico and BT had about 200 channels of raw audio to listen through.

Like-sounding instruments were then grouped together and mixed into the single category seen on these tapes. Levels can then be individually altered to create less or more of one set of instruments.

Although most aspects of the film industry have transitioned entirely into a digital medium, audio engineers at Skywalker still use analog equipment on some projects.

According to the Skywalker Sound website, it has provided sound services for more than half of the top twenty-five highest grossing films of all time.

This article was first published in February 2015

Music recognition and AR? Apple is reportedly buying Shazam

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 00:19

Here's a pairing we didn't quite see coming: Apple is close to buying Shazam, the music recognition app, according to a new report. The deal could be announced as early as Monday. 

Apple and Shazam, which also identifies everything from TV shows and movies to ads, are signing paperwork this week and plan an announcement early next, sources tell TechCrunch. Plans to announce the acquisition could change, however.

Apple is known for buying up other companies, though Shazam is certainly no small startup. It gained popularity for its ability to recognize music and more through a snippet of sound, and can also identify items such as books and magazines through visual cues picked up through a device's camera. Shazam has even ventured into augmented reality for brands. 

Shazam says over 100 million people use its app every month. While it's reportedly valued at over $1 billion, TechCrunch sources say Apple is buying it for much less. One source puts the price at around £300 million, which is about $401 million.

Hey, what's that sound

The move would make sense for Apple on a few fronts. 

The most obvious is bringing Shazam's music recognition capabilities to Apple Music, perhaps helping users more easily find music. 

Shazam also has a feature that lets users see what popular artists are Shazaming, and this could conceivably make its way to Apple Music, giving users another way to connect with artists and discover new music.

Yet another area where Apple could stand to benefit is from Shazam's work in augmented reality. Apple has made a big push into AR recently with the launch of the iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iOS 11

Shazam's ability to scan real-world objects and generate branded AR content looks to fit right in with where Apple wants to go. When you consider Amazon recently brought AR shopping to its iOS app, it seems only natural Apple will want to do something similar on its own.

Whether or not the Shazam deal goes through, Apple has historically shown its commitment to bettering its music services through big acquisitions. The company paid $3 billion for Beats in 2014, after all.

We'll keep our ear to the ground for any developments, including an official announcement from Apple and Shazam.

The best Boxing Day sales 2017: where to find the best deals in the UK

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 16:37

The Boxing Day sales are a great opportunity to grab a bargain deal before the year's out. This might be for something you've been waiting for a stunning price on for months, or maybe something you'd been keeping your fingers crossed you'd be getting for Christmas.

And hey, just because you didn't find the right price on Black Friday, doesn't mean you won't have better luck this time. As for the 'January sales', we're seeing fewer ace deals in those each year nowadays as retailers focus on November and December for their best deals. So, if you see a bargain that looks right for you, it might be time to treat yourself while you still have a chance.

When do the Boxing Day sales start?

Not a silly question at all. We actually see loads of retailers push the button (probably with gravy on their fingers) at some point on Christmas Day. We'll be watching all of the usual suspects like a hawk throughout the Christmas break and will bring you the deals when they go live, even if they go live sooner than expected.

We're expecting retailers to really get going with the deals by early evening on Christmas Day. So you might want to delay that post-dinner snooze until you've taken a peek. We're even hearing whispers that some super eager online stores will even unleash a few deals on Christmas Eve. We'll let you know as soon as they do. Not that we're trying to put Santa out of a job.

Who's having a Boxing Day sale?

If last year was anything to go by, all the big stores will be getting stuck in. With so many keen shoppers going online over the Christmas period in recent years, it's just too good a chance for them to finish 2017 off with some extra money in the bank. Let's take a look at the big hitters below and at what to expect.

What Boxing Day deals were there last year?

If you want an idea of what potential discounts might be waiting just around the corner we can always take a look at some of the more popular offers we saw last Boxing Day. So let's hop into the Deals Time Machine and see...

iPhone 7 | Vodafone | 5GB data | Unlimited calls/texts | £34 per month (+half price for 6 months)
This was the strongest iPhone 7 deal out there for Boxing Day last year. The upfront fee was just £65 and it was only £17 per month for the first 6 months, then £34 for the remaining 18. Expect similar prices, if not lower, on the new iPhone 8. The total cost over 24 months was £779 was at Mobiles.co.uk. If you'd like to take a look at the latest prices, and there are some great ones today, we've rounded up the latest iPhone 8 deals and iPhone X deals. You can certainly make an even bigger saving by taking a look at the older iPhone 7 deals too, as the phone is very similar to the iPhone 8 if we're honest.

Samsung Galaxy S7 | Vodafone | 3GB data | Unlimited calls/texts | £28 per month (+half price for 6 months)
The upfront  cost was only £15 and then just £14 per month for the first six months of your deal before the price reverted to the usual £28 for the rest of the contract. That was the best Samsung Galaxy S7 deal out there and even matched last year's best Black Friday deal on the phone. This previous deal was only £603 over 24 months at Mobiles.co.uk. This year, we're expecting some super cheap offers on newer models. Actually, prices are pretty good right now. Take a look at our up-to-date guides for the best Samsung Galaxy S8 deals and Note 8 deals.

4K TV: This 43-inch LG 4K TV with 4K and HDR Pro screen was originally £599 and it went down to £399 at Amazon.You could also get the 55-inch version for just £550 too. 4K prices have really come down across the board this year, so you'll be able to go bigger and better for less than this!

Coffee machine: The De'Longhi Dedica coffee machine with 15 bar espresso pump went down from £199 to just £147.99 at Amazon.

Smartwatch: You could get the Huawei W1 stainless steel smartwatch at a discounted £199 at Amazon. If you're itching for an offer today, check out our selection of the best smartwatch deals.

Surface Pro 4: The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet/laptop replacement with the keyboard attachment, 128GB storage and 4GB RAM was down to £699 at Argos. There's a new version out now. Be sure to take a look at the latest Surface Pro deals.

Acer Aspire ES: This 15.6-inch Windows 10 laptop with 1TB HDD and 4GB RAM - was one of Argos' headline deals and it's down to £199.99.

Lenovo Yoga 510: The super versatile Yoga with Core i3 CPU, 128GB SSD, Windows 10 and 4GB RAM was a big hit too for just £349 at Currys.

Sonos: These speakers are one of the fastest-growing brands in home audio and you could save at least £20 on all Sonos gear at Amazon.co.uk.

Mobile phones: Save £10 on the upfront cost of any phone with the voucher code 10OFF at Mobiles.co.uk. Amazingly, this deal is still going and can be used right now on any mobile phone with the one exception of the iPhone X.

Apple iPad: At Currys you could save £20 on the marked price of any iPad when you using the old IPAD20 discount code at the checkout! 

GoPro: The GoPro Hero+, which can record 1080p video at up to 60fps and stay waterproof down to 131 feet was going for a mere for £99.97 at Currys. Looking for a discount now though? We've listed all the latest GoPro deals in our guide.

PS4: Game was running a whole range of PS4 bundles starting at £199.99.

Xbox One S: You could Get the new Xbox One S with a copy of Minecraft and a £15 Now TV voucher - all for £219.99 at Game. We'd expect to see similar bundles for arguably under £200 this year.

Samsung tab: The Samsung Galaxy Tab A 7-inch Android tablet was only £89 at Currys.

TV and DVD combi: This cheap JVC 32-inch TV with a built-in DVD player for the spare room was a hot deal at just £199.99 at Currys.

Soundbar: TV owners looking for an audio boost saved an extra £20 on this Samsung soundbar with subwoofer for £89 at ao.com.

Washing machine: Currys had the Beko WM74165W washing machine reduced from £299 to just £169.

Chromebook: This 11.6-inch Acer Chromebook laptop which was reduced at Amazon to just £149.99.

Gaming keyboard: Laptops Direct shaved 28% from the cost of Razer's DeathStalker Chroma keyboard, which you could buy for just £64.97.

Canon Powershot G5X: You could have saved £100 on the Canon Powershot G5X Premium Compact Camera at Argos, where it was down from £599.99 to £499.99.

Canon Powershot G9X: Also at Argos, a saving of £50 on the retro-styled Canon Powershot G9X Premium Compact Camera in Silver – it was reduced from £399.99 to £349.99.

Sony Cybershot W830: Lots of people bought the compact Sony Cybershot W830 20MP 8x Zoom digital camera in silver, pink, purple or black for just £69.99 at Argos, down from £89.99.

Nikon D3400 DSLR camera: There was a saving of £100 on the Nikon D3400 with 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom Lens at Currys, where it was just £369.

Best headphones under Rs. 2000 in India

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 10:28

Most of us eventually end up buying a new headset from a third party manufacturer to please our ears. This article is all about guiding you to purchase the best pair of headphones under Rs. 2000 to serve your needs. We have meticulously selected the 10 best earpieces which offer unmatchable acoustics while costing under a budget.

Starting from Bluetooth headsets to over-the-ear headphones and headsets with microphone and earpieces without a mic, the list contains every type of headphones to serve your various needs.

SoundMagic PL30+ C is well-known for its perfectly balanced audio output. You simply won’t need to fiddle with different equalizer settings to extract the best sound out of the headphones; the company has already done it for you. However, if you are inclined towards any specific type of acoustics, just choose the default equalizer setting for that respective niche and you’ll be done.

Speaking of the external appearance, the PL30+ C looks quite premium with its metal housing and quality construction. The headphones come in an attractive packaging which consists of a hard case, 5 sets of earbuds and a couple of hooks. For a selling price of Rs. 1699, the SoundMagic PL30+ C In-Ear Headphones are a great choice if you are a fan of well-adjusted sound output.

Sennheiser is one of the most premium audio equipment manufacturing brands in the world. The CX 275 S is just an entry level offering from the company. Still, the headphones offer a decent sound output which is a bit more inclined towards the treble side.

The Sennheiser CX 275 S fits quite well in the ears and features a composed yet premium build quality. At the time of writing this article, the headset costs Rs. 2149, but usually it is available for below Rs. 2000.

These are another pair of exceptional headphones from SoundMagic. Just like the PL30+ C, the E10C is also tuned quite well with a subtle emphasis on the bass. Precisely speaking, this is one of best headset for bass lovers under Rs. 2000.

Moving on to the build quality, the SoundMagic E10C kills it with metal construction and tangle-free wires. The retail package comprises of a plethora of earbuds, premium hard case, clip and a couple of adapters. The E10C is currently available in four attractive color choices.

The Sony MDR-EX255AP is a decent pair of in-ear headphones with good sound quality. It sports an extensive range of frequency response and delivers a balanced audio output. Little adjustments to the equalizer can reveal the true capabilities of the headset.

Build quality-wise, the mid-range earphones are on par with the competition. The semi-braided wires along with the metal casing look and feel quite premium. With real-silicon earbuds, the Sony MDR-EX255AP fits quite well in the ears.

These on-ear headphones are a paradise for bass lovers. With its huge 30 mm drivers, the Sony MDR-XB450 is capable of producing some extreme bass outputs which are quite unmatchable at its price range. However, this extra bass doesn’t mean that the headsets have weak treble. The MDR-XB450 fares quite well in the mids and the highs too.

Talking of the exterior finishing, the Sony MDR-XB450 looks quite magnificent with its flashy metallic housing and well-cushioned ear pads. However, the build quality is not that good for long term usage as some external glitches tend to appear after a year of extensive use.

With a price tag of Rs. 1999, the headphones offer great build quality with premium metal housing and sturdy cables. Look-wise, there are few headsets in this price range that can beat the Mi Pro HD.

Xiaomi’s Mi In-Ear Headphones Pro HD is the arguably the best you can get if your budget is Rs. 2000. This is a truly high-end earpiece which is capable of producing top notch sound output as well as unrivaled sound recording ability. The only downside is that the Pro HD requires an extensive burn out period to deliver to its full potential.

The Sony Extra Bass MDR-XB50 is another set of bass-oriented headphones from the Japanese company. The earpiece produces exceptional lows with well-balanced mids and highs. The only drawback of this headset is its comparatively lower maximum volume.

Speaking of the exteriors, the MDR-XB50 is a decent looking product with a glossy metallic finished housing. However, the best part is its true silicon earbuds which fit really well in the ears. Sony also bundles some additional earbuds of different sizes and a carry pouch along with the earphones.

The SoundMagic E30 was launched way back in 2013, but still, it is quite relevant to current standards. The earpieces generate a very well-balanced sound output with unmatchable clarity. The best part is that you can enjoy pure music which is not distorted by excessive bass. The E30 focusses more on the treble side while maintaining a composed yet tight bass.

When it comes to building quality, the SoundMagic E30 fails to impress. The headphones are made of cheap plastic with sub standard finishing. The earpieces are designed to be worn over the ears with its cables going around your earlobes. If properly plugged in, the E30 provides exceptional noise cancellation and are quite comfortable too.

The Audio-Technica ATH-AX1iS is a great pair of over-the-ear headphones which cost less than Rs. 2000. It offers a well-tuned sound output with a somewhat composed bass. These earpieces also feature inline microphone and volume control keys that work with any Android or iOS device.

Talking about the build quality, the ATH-AX1iS feels quite flimsy and the finishing is not really up to the mark. However, the headset is surprisingly quite durable and would not break off that easily. Last but not the least, the Audio-Technica ATH-AX1iS fits really well on the ears and you won’t feel uneasy after extended usage.

This is the only Bluetooth headset in our list, and believe me, it’s a gem. The BoAt Rockerz 510 not only looks awesome but also sports an excellent sound quality. The big 50 mm drivers inside the headphones churn out an unmatchable bass.

Speaking of build quality, the BoAt Rockerz 510 is an outstanding looking earpiece. With materials like faux leather and aluminum combined with good quality polycarbonate, the Bluetooth headphone not only looks great but also feels premium. If you are looking for a wireless headset under Rs. 2000, buying this is a no brainer.

Check out our list of the best noise-cancelling headphones.

Want Alexa wherever you go? These headphones have Amazon's AI built-in

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 18:00

Amazon’s smart assistant had its first taste of third-party devices earlier this year with the Huawei Mate 9 and Sonos One smart speaker, and now Alexa is making its way to another non-Amazon device: the Pro Voice, the first Bluetooth wireless headphones with Alexa built-in.

The headphones are going to be produced by 66 Audio, a Culver City, California-based audio company that specializes in athlete-friendly headphones. 

Here’s how it works: The Pro Voice connects to your smart phone of choice via regular old Bluetooth. As long as the headphones then stay within 125 ft of the paired device, all you need to do is say the wake word (“Alexa”) and the headphones will start listening. 

As far as we know, the version of Alexa inside the Pro Voice is the exact same one you’d find on any Amazon Echo or Amazon Fire TV device in the sense that it has access to all of Alexa’s first and third-party skills, Amazon’s Music Unlimited streaming service and the ability to control your synchronized smart home devices - only you’ll be able to do this from anywhere and everywhere you go. 

The headphones are going to launch first in the US, UK, Canada and Germany on Amazon starting today, and will retail for $139.99 (around £100/AU$180). 

Alexa under the hood 

While the idea of carrying a smart assistant with you at all times around your neck might be off-putting for some, it presents some unique opportunities - specifically for athletes who might not always have their hands free when they’re at the gym. 

One good use for the headphone might be setting a timer for crunches or push-ups while in the same breath using Amazon Music Unlimited to pull up your favorite pump-up jam. It's only a hair faster than pulling out your phone and doing those things manually but considering that the device theoretically works up to 125 ft away, it could be possible to leave your phone in your locker.

For now, products like the Pro Voice are only going to appeal to a very niche crowd, the kind that wants a smart assistant without pushing a single button and is willing to pay for it. And while it's not the most practical solution, the Pro Voice presents an interesting look at the future of headphones: one day, Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant might be around our necks 24/7. 

Jabra Elite 25e can give you 18 hours of music wirelessly for Rs 3,999

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 09:54

Jabra launched a new pair of in-ear wireless earphones in India on Tuesday. Touted as Elite 25e, the earphones come with a neckband and offer up to 18 hours of battery life on a single charge. The wireless earphones will be available at Croma, Amazon and all Jabra authorized resellers at a price tag of Rs 3,999 starting today.

Coming to the specifications, the wireless earphones come with a dedicated voice control button and a message read out feature which allows users to access Siri and Google Now on the move. This means you don’t need to take your phone out of your pocket if you want to answer a call or change a song.

Improved neckband design courtesy Jabra EarGel

For better in-ear audio experience, the wireless earphones are equipped with Jabra's EarGel design which offers a comfortable fit and less audio leakage to the listeners. So, whether you prefer rich bass or crisp high tunes, your sound quality needs won’t be compromised, claims the company. Also, the improved neckband design promises to offer all-day comfort to users.

Commenting on the launch, Calum MacDougall, SVP at Jabra said, “The Jabra Elite 25e is engineered with the multi-tasking, on-the-go person in mind who values high-quality conversations and music while on the move. No product currently on the market delivers this level of battery life and experience for the Jabra Elite 25e’s price point. Therefore, we believe this product, following in the footsteps of the hugely successful Jabra Elite Sport, is worthy of the name Elite.”

The wireless earphones are IP54 rated, which makes it wind and water resistant. Also, the Multiuse feature allows users to connect the earphones with two devices at the same time via Bluetooth and up to 8 devices in total.

To recap, Jabra launched Elite Sport – a set of truly wireless earphones for fitness fanatics, a few months back.

Best speaker 2017: The best connected speakers for your home

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 17:42

Updated: The BlueSound Pulse 2 has earned a place on our list of the best connected speakers, although its high price means that it's currently sitting down at number seven. 

There was a time when if you wanted to listen to music in the comfort of your own home, then you’d need a whole host of bulky equipment including dedicated standalone speakers, a stereo amplifier and a CD player or turntable to provide your tunes. 

However with the move towards digital music that started with music players like the iPod, and has continued with smartphones and streaming services such as Spotify, the need for a dedicated Hi-fi setup isn’t as great as what it once was. 

These days, so long as a speaker is capable of accessing your music from streaming services it should be able to handle most of what the average person listens to, though certain models are also able to access music stored on a home network in case Spotify doesn’t have your favorite tracks. 

This movement towards streaming has been reflected in audio sales, with John Lewis recently reporting that 70% of its audio sales are now of wireless products rather than traditional Hi-fi. 

So if you’re looking for a speaker that you can easily control with your smartphone to access streamed music then look no further than our guide to the best connected speakers you can buy today. 

Sonos was one of the first companies to get into the connected speaker business, and as a result has one of the most seamlessly integrated speaker systems on the market. 

The Sonos Play:5 is the company's flagship, and has the 

Unlike solutions which rely on Bluetooth or Google Cast, Sonos' speakers are controlled directly from its own app, which has built in integration for a number of streaming services, including Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Deezer, TuneIn a whole range of smaller services.

Since this is a multi-room setup, you can also add additional speakers such as the Sonos Play:3 and Sonos Play:1 to built up a complete surround sound system, but if you want to keep it simple, then you should find the Play:5 to offer more than enough sound. 

Read the full review: Sonos Play:5

The Pure Evoke C-F6 isn't a flashy speaker – its modest (but refined) looks let it slip unassumingly into any decor, although it doesn't boast the premium multi-room options of pricier competitors on this list.

But that's also not really the point of the Evoke C-F6 – it's positioning itself to be the one-room, one-shop stop for all your audio playback needs. There's a dazzling array of audio source options on offer here, with the biggest draws being Spotify Connect, DAB, Internet radio, Bluetooth and old faithful CD playback.

With a solid app letting you control the speaker from across a room, and the Evoke C-F6 offering a warm and natural soundstage from its stereo speakers, it'll take pride of place on whichever bedside table or living room shelf you decide to pop it on.

Read the full review: Pure Evoke C-F6

It's a tough call between this speaker and the Mu-So Qb for the best looking music player on this list, but the Zeppelin is certainly the most striking.

But as with all these speakers, the proof is in the pudding, and the Zeppelin sounds absolutely stunning no matter what volume you play it at. Its bass is distortion free, and its mid-range is nice and punchy. 

It's also backed by a complete swath of connectivity options, so you'll have no problem getting your more obscure apps playing through the speaker. 

The only problem is its price: $699 (£499 / AU$999). But while the sticker price ensures that only serious audiophiles will give it some consideration, it's a lot less pricey than the Mu-So Qb, and you get a similar level of sound quality. 

Read the full review: Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless

You might not have heard of it before, but Naim audio is a company that produces some of the most stylish connected speakers in the business, and we think the Mu-So Qb is the best they've put out yet. 

It comes will a full suite of connectivity options including aptX Bluetooth, Spotify Connect and AirPlay, which means all of your music should be supported at its maximum resolution, no matter what device you're using. 

But even if you don't have your phone in hand, the speaker is still controllable using its sleek touch-screen which allows you to access internet radio stations, for example. 

It's got a premium price, but if you pluck for the Qb then you won't be disappointed. 

Read the full review: Mu-So Qb

Ruark Audio is a company that started out by making radios, and this heritage is clearly visible today in its current speakers, which still keeps one foot in the world of radio with full FM,DAB and Internet radio connectivity. 

The R2 is a great looking speaker, especially if you opt for the walnut finish, and it backs up these looks with an absolutely amazing sound, which is amazingly rich and full as we'd want out of a living room speaker. 

We could have done with AirPlay or Google Cast support to help with streaming apps other than Spotify from an iOS device, but if you're someone that relies on this streaming service, then it should be more than connected enough for your needs. 

It's control knob is also one of the neatest little bits of design in the business. 

Read the full review: Ruark Audio R2 Mk3

If you're looking for hi-res audio, then give the Denon Heos 5 a listen. It supports lossless FLAC files up to 24-bit/192kHz, and DSD 2.8Mhz and 5.6Mhz, which should satisfy all but the most hardcore of audiophiles. 

Unfortunately its Bluetooth connectivity is limited in so far as it doesn't support the more advanced aptX, but it's app is solid, and it also supports Spotify Connect if you want to stick to apps that you know and love already. 

The sound can sound a little stodgy at times, and the bass doesn't achieve the lows achieved by the more expensive models in the range, but the Heos 5 is nevertheless a decent multiroom speaker. 

Read the full review: Denon Heos 5 HS2

The BlueSound Pulse 2 is a fantastic sounding speaker, but its price means that other speakers on this list will represent a better choice for many people. 

Nevertheless, if sound quality is your absolute priority, then the Pulse 2 is a great choice it supports hi-res files up to 24-bit/192kHz, although it unfortunately doesn't offer support for the other hi-res file format, DSD. 

It's also lacking support for the streaming technologies DLNA and UPnP, meaning that it's a little harder than it should be to stream music over a home network. 

But if you're looking for a speaker that doesn't make any compromises when it comes to sound quality, then the BlueSound Pulse 2 is a great choice. 

Read the full review: BlueSound Pulse 2

Of its trio of new multi-room speakers, the Marshall Stanmore is the middle child. However, that doesn't mean it's the unloved sibling. 

While the larger Woburn is just a little too big for most rooms, and the smaller Acton has a number of connectivity issues, the Stanmore strikes a nice balance between the two with a sound that's big and punchy, without straying too far into 'overkill' territory (although mark our words, it will if you want it to). 

It features its own app for controlling it, but we were fans of how nicely it integrates with a host of other services including AirPlay, Google Cast and Spotify Connect, meaning you can stick to the apps you're familiar with while still controlling your new toy. 

But it's the on-board controls that impressed us the most. You're able to set presets from a number of different services, meaning you can happily switch between pre-defined Spotify playlists and internet radio stations with a twist of a vintage Marshall-styled brass knob. 

It's not got the most refined sound out of the speakers on this list, but the Marshall Stanmore is intelligently designed and simple to use. 

Read the full review: Marshall Stanmore

JBL is the first to bring Google Assistant to a big-brand portable speaker in Australia

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 02:47

Voice assistant-enabled devices aren’t new – there were plenty on display at all the major tech shows around the world during 2017. But Australia has been slow to receive them, with Google Home being the first smart speaker to officially make its way Down Under, followed by Home Mini not that long ago.

Sony then introduced its own Assistant-enabled speaker, the LF-S50G. But they all suffer the same limitation of relying on a wall socket for power – meaning you can’t take them with you to the backyard or to the beach.

JBL is changing the game by introducing the LINK series of voice-activated speakers to Australia. The JBL Link 10 and Link 20 are IPX7 certified, making them waterproof, and all you need to do to get help with your little tasks is to use the voice command “OK, Google”.

Linking the gap

With the Link series speakers, JBL, a Harman company, marries portability and durability with its signature sound.

Battery life does seem a tad meagre compared to other JBL Bluetooth speakers, however – the smaller Link 10 promises up to 5 hours of playback, while the Link 20 could keep going for up to 10 hours.

Like the JBL Playlist, the Link series of speakers also come with multi-room smarts – you can link two or more speakers to fill your whole home (or a large room) with your favourite tunes, as long as they’re all within range of your home’s Wi-Fi network.

Being Bluetooth-enabled, like all of JBL’s portable speakers, you can play music from any mobile device, and built-in Wi-Fi gives you control over your smart home systems, like lighting and thermostats. Of course, you also get to ask Assistant anything else you want, just like you would with Google Home.

First of its kind

JBL is the first big brand to launch a portable voice-activated speaker in Australia. There are lesser-known names on shelves as well, like the Mobvoi TicHome Mini available at Jaycar, but there’s no denying that JBL’s renowned bass-thumping sound will set the Link speakers apart. 

The Link 10 and Link 20 speakers are now available at JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman stores across Australia, retailing at $229 and $299 respectively.

Lossless audio explained: sorting the FLACs from the ALACs

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 09:59

Thanks to the PC, the iPod and then the smartphone, the music world was once ruled by the 128kbps MP3 file. Our music was mobile, and heavily compressed, and to anyone who had been used to CD or vinyl, it sounded pretty terrible. Lossy MP3, WMA and AAC music ripped from CDs or downloaded was the way of things … until recently. 

Cue a new dawn of music downloads and streaming services that deal in music that's as close to the original Studio Master as possible, and called either lossless audio, or the often-confused Hi-Res Audio. Hang on … there are two new lossless music formats? 

SACD players like the Pioneer PD-70AE-S support lossless music

What is lossless audio?

In its purest form, lossless refers to uncompressed music. “Lossless audio is the unmodified output of the recording process, it's the most accurate representation of output of the recording process that exists,” says Gilad Tiefenbrun, CEO at hi-fi and audio equipment company Linn, which pioneered Studio Master downloads in 2007.

The Studio Master – the original recording made laboured over by the artists and producers – perfectly captures the sound, the texture, the detail, and the space required to express the feeling and the emotion of the original performance.  

"Even before digital recording, studio engineers were required to reduce both bandwidth and dynamic range … to shrink down the size of the Studio Master to fit on an LP or Cassette Tape," says Greg Stidsen, Director, Technology and Product Planning at hi-res multi-room streaming company Bluesound. Studio-quality lossless digital-audio formats include AIFF and WAV, though the resulting files are often pointlessly massive. Cue lossless compression files. 

The FiiO M3 player supports 24-bit/96kHz playback

What is lossless compression?

“Use a lossless compression format and the result will still be lossless as long as the compression format is perfectly reversible,” says Tiefenbrun. 

The open-source lossless format FLAC (free lossless audio codec), Apple Lossless (ALAC) for iTunes and Monkey's Audio APE files are examples of lossless compression formats, and these are perfectly OK for music to be considered lossless. 

"What is generally meant by lossless audio is the direct copy of the Studio Master recording, reduced in size for lower bandwidth transmission, and reconstituted later while retaining all the musical information from the original recording," says Stidsen. 

It's much like a ZIP file, where a complex document is zipped into a smaller size container for transportation to another computer where it gets unzipped and is again identical to the original file. 

These file formats are a delivery mechanism; they use compression algorithms to squeeze-out the silence from music. What they don't do is compress the actual music, or delete any data. That's different to compressed or 'lossy' music file formats like MP3, which removes data. 

“Given the amount of processing, storage, and bandwidth available today, it seems foolish to commit the world’s precious music creations to formats that modify or remove information from the output of the recording process,” says Tiefenbrun. 

The Sony UBP-X800 supports Hi-Res Music

What is High Res Audio?

Lossless is not the same as High Res Audio, which is effectively designed to be far better than an MP3, much better than a CD, and as close as possible to the Studio Master without having to deal with horrendously large file sizes. 

“The distinction between the two is an unfortunate confusion,” says Tiefenbrun. “Many companies have taken to calling the format of CD 'lossless', while declaring anything distributed with a sample rate or bit depth higher than that as 'hi-res'. However, the only thing that's technically lossless audio is the original, unmodified recording. 

"The generally accepted definition of High Res Audio is an analogue frequency response of at least 40kHz, and a minimum of 24-bit 96kHz digital recording and playback," says Stidsen. So-called 24/96 is the most common, but you can also find music files at 24/192 and even 24/384.

Before we delve any deeper, let's look at what these numbers actually mean. 

Bit-depth explained

"Bit depth is how we define dynamic range, or the difference between the loudest sound and the softest sound," says Stidsen. 

Each bit represents six decibels (dB) of dynamic range, so a 16 bit signal has 96dB of dynamic range, and a 24 bit signal has 144dB. Compared to an LP, which couldn’t contain the full dynamic range of music, a 24 bit systems gives an additional 48dB of dynamic range. 

"That's enough to capture all the subtle musical detail that adds so much realism to reproduced sound," says Stidsen. 

OK, so we want 24 bit music for plenty of dynamic range. What next? 

Sampling frequencies explained

Analogue sound moves in waves, so when it's converted into a digital signal, a microphone samples it at regular time intervals. How often it does that is the sampling frequency, with 1 Hz meaning one sample per second.  

"At least two samples are required to reproduce a waveform which means that we need at least 80kHz of sampling rate to reproduce the 40kHz signal that defines High Res Audio," says Stidsen. A CD gives you 16-bit/44.1kHz. 

Tidal Masters offers studio master quality music via streaming

Where can I find lossless & Hi Res Audio music? 

Hi-res music was first available as DSD files on DVD-A and SACD discs (the latter are supported by the Sony UBP-X800 Blu-ray player), and more recently downloads from sites like HDtracks.com, ProStudioMasters.com, 7digital.com, OnkyoMusic.com and HighResAudio.com. 

"Due to the relatively large file sizes, hi-res started as a download option from stores such as HDTracks and 7Digital, but streaming services are now becoming available, most notably from Tidal and Qobuz, but not yet on Apple, Google or Amazon’s music services," says Jack Wetherill Senior Market Analyst at Futuresource Consulting. Spotify doesn't even offer lossless audio streaming yet, let alone hi-res, but there is evidence that the technology is being investigated

More recently, hi-res audio has started to enter the mainstream through Tidal Masters and Deezer thanks to a new format called MQA. However, it's not lossless – some compression does take place. 

Deezer is also now offering to stream MQA files

What devices support lossless music?

Unfortunately, although a hi-res music library is incredibly impressive, there are issues with compatibility because lossless files – as well as taking up vastly more storage space – can only be played on hardware capable of decoding the files. 

"Sales are still relatively small, but growing, restricted mostly to high-end stereo amps, AV receivers and network audio players," says Wetherill. 

More popular are portable Hi-Res Audio players like the Astell & Kern AK70, Sony NWZ-A10 Walkman, Onkyo DP-S1 and Pioneer XDP-30R, though smartphone support is building. 

"LG's and Samsung’s introduction of Hi-Res capability this year into some of their smartphones is also helping drive up the installed base of Hi-Res devices," says Wetherill, though he insists that major promotion and making it simple to listen to music in better quality needs to happen. He adds: "Millennials need to be convinced that the sound quality is significantly superior to what they have experienced until now."

  • Need some headphones to indulge your newly discovered love of lossless audio? Our guide to the best headphones has everything you need to get equipped

The best wireless headphones available in India

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 08:04

Wireless headphones can be polarizing. Not everyone loves the idea of dropping the stalwart 3.5mm jack. But, listen, it's possible to get that pristine audio quality that wired headsets provided along with the convenience of wire-free listening.

All you need is a pair of awesome wireless headphones, and thankfully we've rounded up the best right here. 

You might've been hesitant to cut the cord before – everyone has heard a horror story of wireless headphones' bad battery life or awful sound quality before. But you've got little idea of how inconvenient wired headphones are until you try out a pair of really good wireless headphones. 

Forget having to run a wire down your top every time you want to listen to music on the go, or struggling with a cable to get your phone out of your pocket, wireless headphones are comparatively a convenience dream.

Headphones, no strings attached

So what makes wireless headphones so special? And how do you determine the best wireless headphones from a whole bunch of wannabes? 

Easy. You try dozens of wireless headphones and stack them against one another, mono a mono. (Well, stereo a stereo in this case.)

While these headphones are great for anyone looking to cut the cord from their music players, they're especially practical when you consider the growing amount of phones launching without a headphone jack such as the iPhone 7, HTC U Ultra and Moto Z. Most of these phones are shipping with adaptors to use your existing headphones, but if you want to charge your phone at the same time then wireless headphones are the way to go. 

Looking to finally ditch the cord? Here are the top 10 wireless headphones, ordered by their price-to-performance ratio:

  1. Optoma NuForce BE Sports3
  2. Sony WH-1000XM2
  3. Bose QuietComfort 35
  4. Sennheiser Momentum Wireless
  5. Jabra Move Wireless
  6. Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2
  7. Sony MDR-1000X
  8. Sennheiser PXC 550
  9. AKG N60NC Wireless
  10. Beats Studio 3 Wireless
  11. Beats X

NuForce knocked it out of the park with the BE Sport3 headphones. They're an incredible value for a pair of wireless headphones that sound good, last all day, have a bulletproof build and incredible noise isolation. While they're not the most dynamic or resolving headphones, NuForce shows us that the future of wireless headphones is a bright one.

Read the full review: Optoma NuForce BE Sport3

The Sony WH-1000XM2 are an excellent revision of an already great pair of wireless headphones: They sound great, deftly wield noise cancellation technology and cost just as much as a pair of Bose QC35s. They might have a slightly shorter battery life than some other headphones on our list, but Sony’s WH-1000XM2 outclass them all in terms of performance and feature-set.  

Not only do they provide awesome noise-cancellation, but they have three neat tricks that few other wireless headphones have: One is an ambient noise mode that only lets in mid-to-high frequency tones (announcements over a loudspeaker, for instance) and another being Quick Attention mode that allows you to let in all outside noise without taking off the headphones. (The latter is perfect when giving a drink order on a plane or speaking to a coworker for a brief moment before diving back into your work.) The last trick Sony has up its sleeve is the LDAC codec. Alongside the widely adopted aptX HD standard, LDAC enables Hi-Res Audio playback using the 1000XM2.

Great-sounding and feature-packed, the Sony WH-1000XM2 are great travel companions and all-around excellent wireless headphones.

Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM2

Sitting at the top our list is the Bose QC35. Bose has finally brought its fantastic noise-cancelling technology to a pair of wireless headphones and it's done so without any of the traditional drawbacks of wireless headphones. They sound great, and their battery life is long enough for all but the longest of flights.

At Rs. 29,363 the QC35s sit firmly at the premium end of the spectrum, but if you want the best noise-cancelling headphones available and the best wireless pair of cans, you can't get any better than this.

Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35

Although they're a much better looking, and sounding, pair of headphones, the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless (not to be confused with the smaller, cheaper, Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear Wireless) are kept off the top spot of the list by their premium price point, which puts them out of reach of all but the most committed of music lovers. 

But for those that can afford them, these are a no-holds-barred wireless headphones are oozing with positive qualities. They're comfortable, hard-working set of headphones that will likely last for years.

Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

If in-ear headphones aren't your style, your next best bet is the Jabra Move Wireless. These headphones may look like a budget buy, but don't let that fool you: this set of on ear Bluetooth headphones is nothing but an all-around stellar product. From the fun and edgy design to excellent performance, these cans come recommended for anyone interested in wireless on the cheap.

Read the full review: Jabra Move Wireless

If you're a frequent traveler you're probably all too familiar with headphones that can't hold a charge and can't block out sound, let alone sound very good. Let us introduce you to the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2, one of the few headphones on the market that can do all of the above and cost less than half as much as one of the bigger names like Beats, Bose and Sony. 

If we had to boil it down to its core, the BackBeat Pro 2 offers an excellent travel headphone with incredible battery life, supreme comfort, the ability to pair two device as once and, most importantly, good sound quality for the cost.

Read the full review: Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

The MDR-1000X are definitely the closest competitor to Bose's QuietComfort series we've ever had the pleasure of testing. Some high-end codecs (LDAC, AAC and aptX) help the 1000X sound even better than the QC35s, but ultimately the noise canceling is a bit less effective in Sony's pair of cans.

What should drive your decision on whether to buy the MDR-1000X is your music player – if you're a Sony Xperia owner, you'd be hard-pressed to find a pair of headphones that sound as good as these with noise canceling tech built-in. Even if you're not, Sony's wares are still worth a listen – and maybe a purchase – if you aren't too put out by its Rs. 28,990 price tag.

Read the full review: Sony MDR-1000X

If you're a fan of Sennheiser's sound, but want noise-cancellation in addition to wireless operation then the PXC 550 headphones might be exactly what you're looking for. They might be pricey, but these headphones sound great. 

The reason we haven't put them further up the list comes down to their controls. Although controlling the headphones with a series of swipes on the outside of the earcup feels futuristic, it's not much help when you want to quickly skip through multiple tracks, or set the volume at a specific level.

Outside of these issues, these are a great pair of headphones that tick (almost) all the boxes. 

Read the full review: Sennheiser PXC 550

The AKG N60NC Wireless sound like a pair of headphones that should be much more expensive than they are. 

At their mid-range price point the headphones offer fantastic value for money, with great sound quality and a level of noise-cancellation performance that's on a level with the much more premium entries on this list. 

Our biggest issue with these headphones is the fact that they're on-ear rather than over-ear, meaning that we found that they got uncomfortable over longer periods. 

Regardless, the benefit of this is that this is a fantastically compact pair of headphones, and if you're willing to make the trade-off then these are great for the price. 

Read the full review: AKG N60NC Wireless

If you’re not too picky about audio, you’ll love the Beats Studio 3 Wireless. They look good, are comfortable and sound decent while releasing the pressure valve of city life with active noise cancellation.

Add great battery life and an Apple W1 chip and you have headphones that are very easy to get on with, particularly if you own an iPhone. 

Read the full review:  Beats Studio 3 Wireless

The Beats X is a bold new product for what has quickly become a traditional headphone maker. Instead of sticking to bass-heavy workout earbuds or wildly expensive over-ears, the company has crafted a new pair of musically inclined in-ears for anyone already sick of losing their brand-new Apple AirPods.

It has a few problems of its own – including poor noise isolation and a lack of fidelity – but if you’re looking for a no-fuss pair of earbuds that charge in 5 minutes and don’t mind dropping some cash on them, the Beats X are for you.

The W1 chip also makes pairing and connecting these headphones a breeze. 

Read the full review: Beats X

We're constantly reviewing new wireless headphones, but get in touch if there is a set that you'd like us to take a look at.

The best headphones, Beats and audio deals on Cyber Monday 2017

Sun, 11/26/2017 - 20:16

If you haven't had a chance to bag a great deal on a pair of headphones this shopping weekend, then Cyber Monday might have exactly what you need. 

Upgrading your headphones can snag you much better, detailed sound, and advanced features like wireless operation and noise-cancellation. 

It's possible to spend the earth on a pair of headphones, especially a premium brand like Beats, but with a bit of clever shopping you can get yourself a great pair at a seriously reduced rate. 

After all, while phone technology progresses at a terrifyingly fast pace, with handsets redundant just a couple of years after they're first released, headphone technology develops a little more sedately. Don't be afraid of picking up a pair that are a little older if they still have all the features that you need. 

Read on for our pick of the top headphone, Beats and audio deals this Cyber Monday. 

Cyber Monday audio quick links: The best headphone and audio deals on Cyber Monday 2017 Cyber Monday headphone deals Cyber Monday Earphone deals Cyber Monday Bluetooth speaker deals Cyber Monday soundbars and cinema speaker deals

Should I buy the Jabra Talk Wireless Bluetooth Headset?

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 20:20

The bottom line: If you’re looking for a simple, inexpensive wireless headset that offers a few useful features, this could be the device for you – especially at the Black Friday prices we've found. HD Voice technology delivers crisp and clear audio, while a noise-filtering mic ensures your voice comes over loud and clear at the other end too. The Jabra Talk's bonus feature is that it doubles up as a headphone, which means you can listen to anything that’s playing on your phone – music, the radio or even your Google Maps directions. It's a no-frills devices in terms of design and features, but bear in mind what you're paying.

Pros: HD Voice technology for clear calls, doubles up as a headphone

Cons: Not a super-secure in-ear fit

Jabra Talk Wireless Bluetooth Headset: everything you need to know

Performance

When you invest in a headset, one of the most important features is the clarity of the call, and reviewers universally agree that Jabra's HD Voice technology works well, delivering crisp sound quality. And with automatic volume adjustment you won’t need to worry about fiddling around with any buttons – one lesser distraction if you’re behind the wheel. 

Another handy feature is the clever noise filtering mic, which helps to ensure that your voice doesn’t become distorted if things are loud where you are. Note that the headphone feature is a bonus feature rather than a selling point, so don't expect immersive, rich sound. 

Features

This headset is Bluetooth-compatible with all operating systems, while the Jabra Talk Multiuse feature enables you to connect to two devices at the same time – handy if you have a work phone in addition to your regular phone. With six hours of talk time and up to eight days' standby on a single charge, charging  doesn’t necessarily have to be a daily exercise – and the Jabra Talk will even let you know when it’s running low on power. 

The design

If we’re going to talk about any particular flaws, it’s probably the design. Many reviewers have commented on the fit of the device, saying it's not as secure as similar devices in the same price bracket. It does come with three sizes of silicone earbuds though, to help you achieve the best fit. Manual controls are limited, while the redial button is in an awkward position that can result in accidental presses when fitting the device to your ear. It's finished in a safe, corporate grey, with a few metallic flourishes to make it that bit smarter. 

If you’re looking for an inexpensive headset that enables you to take calls on the go, this wireless headset from Jabra might well be for you – and you'll find the best Black Friday deals above. 

Sony's new range of headphones take noise cancelling to next level

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 14:15

On Friday, Sony unveiled a whole new series of wireless noise-canceling headphones in India. The company launched the successor of its MDR-1000X headphone, the WH-1000XM2 along with WH-H900N, WF-1000X and WI-1000X. To get you off the confusion, Sony explained that WH stands for Wireless Headband, WI is for Wireless In-Ear and WF stands for Wireless Freedom. 

The WH-1000XM2 is the flagship product priced at Rs 29,990, followed by the WI-1000X for Rs 21,990, WF-1000X for Rs 14,990 and the last one is the WH-H900N from Sony’s h.ear series priced at Rs 18,990. The WH-H900N is more like a toned down version of the 1000XM2.

Meet the family

The WH-1000XM2 is the spiritual successor to the awesome MDR-1000X that we looked at last year. Like it's predecessor, it's an over-the-ear, headband style set of noise cancellation headphones. New to this year's model, it has a better battery life of up to 30 hours and options to tailor the sound according to your environment. New features like Atmospheric Pressure Optimizing, Ambient Sound Control and Sense Engine promise to further enhance the sound. 

The second headset is a behind-the-neck style WI-1000X that is designed for commuters and features a battery life of 10 hours. It has the world’s first ‘Atmospheric Pressure Optimising’ feature, that uses sensors to detect the air pressure around you and optimise the Wireless Noise Cancelling accordingly.

Sony also showcased it's completely wireless WF-1000X earphones. They're equipped with a 6mm driver for a dynamic sound despite their minuscule size. The headphones power up automatically connect to the last device they were paired with as soon as you take them out of their charging case which can keep the device charged for 9 hours.

The WH-1000XM2 and WH-H900N lastly, feature a new Quick Attention Mode which has been carried from the yesteryear's MDR-1000X. This allows users to pay attention to the outside noise by simply covering the right earcup. Moreover, both the headphones have touch sensors which allow users to control volume, switch songs, play and pause audio with just a swipe on the earcup.

Price and availability

The WF-1000X and WI-1000X will go on sale from November 24 onwards, while the WH-1000XM2 and WH-H900N will start selling from December 14 across all Sony centers and retail partners.

Should I buy the Audio-Technica AT-LP60 Fully Automatic Belt-Drive Stereo Turntable with SP121BK Active Speaker?

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 02:00

The bottom line: The Audio-Technica AT-LP60 is already renowned as a standout automatic turntable in its price range, and price cuts this Black Friday mean that you can currently snap it up for an even more agreeable price. The option to use the built-in preamp or use the line-level output to add your own is a nice inclusion, and the automatic raising and lowering of the tonearm is even better. Overall, it’s a simple-to-use turntable for beginners, with a great sound, and superb affordability, and at this week’s discounted rates, you can’t go wrong!

Pros: Easy to use out of the box, multiple options for use

Cons: Felt slip mat isn’t the best

Audio-Technica AT-LP60 Turntable: Everything you need to know

The AT-LP60’s fully automatic operation is its big selling point, making it especially attractive to absolute beginners worried about damaging their records. The entry-level price certainly helps, too, but don’t let it fool you. The low-vibration aluminium platter is engineered for clarity, and reviewers have been left thoroughly impressed by its full sound and favourable signal-to-noise ratio (that’s a lack of hiss and crackle between tracks, to you and us).

User-friendliness

This belt-driven turntable’s tonearm automatically lifts and lowers using the Cue button on the front of the unit, meaning first-timers don't have to worry about where to place the needle. The factory-set counterweight should also go a long way towards peace of mind, as it cuts set-up time (and stress) right down to the minimum. However, if you would like to steepen the learning curve, this unit, while equipped with a handy on-board preamp, also offers the opportunity to add your own using the line-level output.

Construction

At just under 3kg, the AT-LP60 is very lightweight and portable, especially when compared to some other automatic turntables on the market, although impressed users seem determined that this shouldn't be mistaken for a lack of sturdiness and stability. The inclusion of a felt slip mat, which can leave things a little staticky and unbalanced if not sat flat, is seen by some as disappointing, but it seems a small hurdle to overcome in the grander scheme of what is, by all accounts, a very highly-rated and excellent value turntable.

If you want a heavy-duty turntable that’ll last through thousands of plays and year upon year of use, the step up from the LP60, the LP120, might be more your speed. But for affordable quality, it seems the LP60 simply can’t be beaten, so be sure to check out our Black Friday deals above if you’re sold.

Should I buy the Kitsound BoomBar+ Portable Bluetooth Speaker?

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 00:01

The bottom line: With this Kitsound portable speaker featuring in the sales, you can grab yourself a bargain. Built with both Bluetooth and AUX connectivity, the Kitsound Boombar+ can be easily paired with laptops, computers and smart devices, making it the ideal travel companion. If you’re looking for a party speaker, bear in mind that many users have said they would like the volume to go louder, so this is not the best speaker for entertainment but for occasional, personal use, the Boombar+ might just do the job. 

Pros: Super lightweight, Bluetooth for easy connectivity

Cons: Sound quality might fade with regular use

Kitsound BoomBar+ Portable Bluetooth Speaker: Everything you need to know

As a rework of Kitsound’s best selling speaker, you can expect a certain level of finesse in the deliverance of your sound and this is reflected in the reviews. With a frequency response of 150Hz - 20Hz, most reviewers rate the sound quality fairly highly, so long as you keep the volume relatively low, that is. At higher volumes, you might experience a slight crackle over time. That said, taking into consideration the price and the fact that it is a small, portable speaker it might well be the more fiscally-friendly option.

Connectivity

If you’re using the device to amp up the volume on a film, connecting the speaker to your laptop via the aux cable is the best way of getting the a decent quality noise, as condensing the sound through Bluetooth means the delivery of sound can get a little out of sync. If you’re connecting it to your mobile to play your Spotify playlist, then you can still expect to hear a clear, high quality sound. They’ve also handily incorporated a hands-free function so you can take calls without too much faffing around. 

Performance

With 20 hours of play time, there’s plenty of juice no matter where and why you’re using your speaker and with a 3 hour charge time, it can quickly be prepared to provide an evening of music. In terms of volume, this speaker won't knock your socks off, but, this makes it quite a handy speaker for poolside listening or even camping when you don't want to disturb people around you. It'll also travel well with its sturdy exterior, and it's not the best looking speaker so you might not mind it getting bashed about.

Extras

Kitsound haven’t left anything out of the box either - they give you everything you need, including a 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable. As an added bonus, you get a carry case to keep it protected when not in use, and they’ve also incorporated a carry handle into the speaker so you can carry it without getting fingerprints on the glossy black cover. 

If you like the sound of this portable speaker, take a look at the best deals across the web right now in the widget above. 

Should I buy AKG Soft Touch In-Ear Wired Headphones?

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 00:01

The bottom line: Make sure you don’t miss out on sales reductions on these headphones from renowned brand AKG. If you’re looking for a budget pair of headphones that promise to deliver a punchier sound than the usual budget buys, take a look at these. Small, yet perfectly formed, these wired headphones are designed to be small enough to fit into little ears and stay securely in. Despite the drivers being just 8mm, AKG reckons they emanate a high-output sound that delivers a decent level of accuracy. According to the majority opinion, they do, but more favourably for mid frequency sound with bass and high frequencies slightly lacking.

Pros: Built for comfort, decent all-round sound 

Cons: Base sound isn’t particularly rich

AKG Soft Touch In-Ear Wired Headphones: Everything you need to know

Compatible with iOS, Android and other common operating systems, these headphones have been packed with technical features that allow you to listen to your music with ease. 

Usability

The one button remote cable enables you to take control of your music, with skipping, pausing and playing all easy and instant and you can answer calls to make transition from listening to speaking faff-free. Unfortunately, you can’t use the control to change the volume, which is widely recognised as an annoying lack of functionality - and if you find taking your device out of your pocket or your bag an inconvenience, there are certainly other headphones within this price range that offer you volume control from the wire. 

Design

A common problem for in-ear headphones is discomfort but AKG have really put some effort into ensuring that these headphones offer superior comfort over long periods of time. For the most part, users agree with this, which is largely thanks to the tilted ear-tips, which aid a more natural in-ear positioning. With 3 sizes of soft ear-tips available to choose, you have the freedom to ensure that these headphones are the perfect size for your ears. With them fitting snug, they aim to block out a lot of external noise so you can listen to your music without much in the way of outside interference. 

Made from polycarbonate, they’re designed to be taken out and about and should survive any amount of turmoil that you put them through. AKG also provide you with a slim-line carrying pouch to protect them when you’re not wearing them. They’re also available in grey, teal or yellow - so make sure you keep an eye out for deals in your preferred colour.

Sonos Play:1 receives permanent 25% price cut to £149

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 15:57

Sonos has just announced that it's reducing the price of its entry-level Sonos Play:1 by 25% to £149. 

From tomorrow you'll be able to grab the speaker at this reduced rate from the official Sonos store

But this isn't just a short-lived Black Friday reduction. It's actually permanent, presumably as a result of the recently released Alexa-equipped Sonos One

The Sonos One is almost entirely the same hardware as the Play:1. The difference's include the headline Alexa integration, and a touch-sensitive control panel on the top. It's available for the Play:1's original price.

Whatever the reason for the discount, if you're prepared to live without Alexa integration, this is a great deal. 

Jabra Sport Pulse bring elite training to the masses: should you buy them?

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 12:00

Jabra reckons that we're all wasting our time trotting around the park for a few minutes a week, getting tangled in a million wires, which is why its created the Sport Pulse headphones.

These launched at £200 but have slowly come down in price. These new wireless headphones can read your pulse just by sitting in the ear, which has become more popular in the months  since the Pulse launched.

[Update: With both the Jabra Move Wireless and the Jabra Elite Sport headphones getting discounts this Black Friday, we think it's likely that the Jabra Sport Pulse headphones get a reduction too. Given the size of the reduction the Elite Sport got, you could possibly pick up the Sport Pulse for a serious bargain if you time it right.]

Rain runners

The Sport Pulse headphones are pretty standard in some respects: combined with the Sports Life app for Android or iPhone, they allow you to train in different zones and prepare plans for you based on your goal, be it speed, time or distance.

However, unlike most other running apps, the new headphones can tell you your VO2Max level (useful to see how fit you actually are getting), assess whether you're overtraining or just keep an eye on your resting heartrate over time.

We've used these pretty extensively, and while the fit is OK, the heart rate monitor leaves a lot to be desired. This is a shame, as the sheer volume of things you can do with the Jabra Sport Life app is amazing - the VO2 Max testing and Cooper tests are advanced fitness metrics.

That's not to say they won't work - other consumer reviews have lauded the heart rate technology - but these feel a bit first-gen.

Tunes a-plenty?

The wireless buds feature the usual suspects of upgrades you'd expect at this price point: Dolby-enhanced sound and resistance to sweat, for instance. 

When launched Jabra partnered with Google to let you make offline playlists from YouTube and listen to the tracks on the run, but that never really materialised into a massive selling point.

So, should you buy them? Well, for £200 they were insanely expensive at launch, given heart rate monitors and apps to monitor the sensors can be found for a lot cheaper.

But massive savings have meant they're already down to over half that, and with the holiday season coming up - with both Black Friday and the Christmas sales popping up - these could be a real smart buy for a simple set of Bluetooth running headphones, and if the heart rate monitor works for you then you'll be laughing.

Should I buy the B&O PLAY by Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H5 Wireless Bluetooth In-Ear Headphones?

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 00:15

The bottom line: If you’re sick of the mediocre sound quality of your current headphones, then the B&O PLAY by Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H5 Wireless Bluetooth In-Ear Headphones are a welcome upgrade that are certainly worth their money. Better yet, you can scoop them up for just half the price in this year’s Black Friday sales. Their wireless technology means you can listen to anything, anywhere on any device without compromising on an immersive sound experience.

If you rarely listen to music on the go, then we doubt you’ll appreciate the difference in quality and therefore these probably aren’t a worthwhile investment for you. However, if you’re commuting to work every day, these are sure to pack a punch in comparison to your bog standard pair of Apple or Android headphones.

Everything you need to know about the B&O PLAY by Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H5 Wireless Bluetooth In-Ear Headphones  

Okay, so let's start with the most important thing – the audio. These headphones deliver an exceptional listening experience whatever your taste in music may be, with a frequency range of 20 to 20,000Hz. The crystal clear sound is only optimised by the ability to customise the headphones to your listening preferences through seven different ear tips including standard silicone ones or specially designed sport tips which protect from sweat. This not only improves sound quality but maximised comfort – something commuters and runners alike will be pleased to hear – but you’ll also be able to download the corresponding Beoplay app to further customise your listening experience.

Efficiency at its best

The B&O PLAY by Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H5 Wireless Bluetooth In-Ear Headphones are designed with comfort and ease in mind, which is why they have a sleek and slim design that features magnetic earbuds that automatically click together to secure around your neck whilst out and about, and they are dust and splash resistant making them the best wireless headphones for exercise and commuting. 

Now we know what you’re thinking: what’s the battery life on these things? The B&O PLAY by Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H5 Wireless Bluetooth In-Ear Headphones have a surprisingly impressive battery life of up to 5 hours, and you’ll also get an easy to use charging cube so you can quickly regain juice in just a couple of hours.

Sound and style you’ll love

Users don’t just love these headphones for their sound quality. Unlike some other headphones which are chunky and get tangled easily, the B&O PLAY by Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H5 Wireless Bluetooth In-Ear Headphones are lightweight at just 18g, easy to carry with an accompanying pouch and come in a range of stylish colours including black, moss green and dusty pink. 

If this is the product you’ve been looking for, check out the best Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals in the widget above. 

Should I buy the Bose SoundTrue Ultra In-Ear Headphones on Black Friday?

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 00:01

The bottom line: Cash in on one of the big reductions this coming Black Friday with money off these Bose SoundTrue Ultra In-Ear Headphones. Optimised for Samsung and Android operating systems, you can talk hands-free and control various music functions without having to reach for your phone. Promising to deliver a deep, rich sound, the design has been optimised to allow you to immerse yourself in your music and reviews suggest that they do a great job of cutting off any interfering background noise. Built for durability, don’t expect the same plushness as some of the over-ear Bose headphones offer. Note that Bose have created a separate version of these headphones for iOS users.

Pros: No outside interference, control your music without your phone

Cons: Lacking the finesse of other Bose designs

Bose SoundTrue Ultra In-Ear Headphones: Everything you need to know

We all know that Bose are renowned for their sound quality and that is what it is offering up here.

These headphones aim for a well-balanced and realistic sound with a certain emphasis on the bassline and they have been designed to be a crowd pleaser and a good all-rounder for listening to various types of music. While not marketed as noise-cancelling, the sealed acoustic in-ear design aided by the StayHear Ultra Tips is designed to help keep them well buried and reduces the amount of sound that leaks out around you. 

Design

Many in-ear headphones start to ache after a while but the StayHear Ultra Tips have been designed with comfort in mind and attempt to remain soft while providing a secure fit. With three sizes available, you can choose the size that best fits your ear shape so they remain comfortable no matter how long you wear them. 

With the in-ear design being fully immersive, you can experience the quality of the Bose sound with minimal distraction and concentrate on the clear-cut sound that the manufacturer promises they produce. 

Function

These in-ear headphones have been engineered to be durable and sweat and weather resistant, which means the design has been given a robust makeover - not to everyone’s liking. And while this means they’re a decent pair for the gym, reviewers reckon the straight jack doesn’t make them the easiest headphones to zip inside a pocket. Also something to consider is a lot of people these days have caught onto the wireless trend for exercise as it eliminates the risk of yanking the phones out of your ear and these - well- have a wire. 

Extras

Because you’re buying Bose, you do benefit from a little extra detail. For example, these headphones come with a carry case so you can keep them protected when not in use. They also come with a clothing clip, which helps to prevent the cable from moving around and producing that horrible interfering cable noise. 

For stuffy commutes and calling people on the go, these Bose headphones are ideal. If you need a cheap and disposable pair of semi-decent headphones that offer the superior Bose sound quality, then these are the ones for you. Check out the deals above. 

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