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Echo devices can now make calls and send messages on Alexa’s own network in India

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 12:45

Alexa-to-Alexa calling is part of a phased roll out for Echo owners in India. This is will enable users to call and message contacts who also own Echo devices or the Alexa mobile app.

Users will have to give Alexa access to their contacts and she’ll able to filter through them and determine which ones also have access to the interface. After this, the user will be able to see a list with all of their contacts that are available for texting or calling. All that’s left is to tell Alexa to make the call or send a message.

The Drop-In feature, also going live, turns the Echo device into an intercom. If you own multiple Echo devices (which is now possible since Amazon removed their ‘one device per customer’ regulation that was enforced during the invite-only phase), the user will be able to get in touch with Echo devices in another room within the same house. 

For instance, if the user is in the living room and wants to get in touch with someone in the kitchen, all they have to do is say, “Alexa, drop in on the kitchen,” and they’ll be able to broadcast their message on the Echo device located in the other room.

Restricting contacts and who will able to contact you on the Echo device is a feature not available in India yet, but they do have plans of rolling it out shortly.

Making Alexa smarter

Any smart technology gets dumber in India because it hasn’t been tailored to fit the local requirements. For instance, one of the primary focus areas for Amazon has been to recognise what the right pronunciation of Indian words and names are in local accents. 

Puneesh Kumar, the Country Manager for India (Alexa Experience and Devices) stated  in an interview with ETtech that - "We are trying to make sure Alexa can even pronounce the words correctly because it needs to sound natural. We don't want anything to sound robotic or mechanised."

The results are evident with Alexa pronouncing Lata Mangeshkar in a non-Indian accent just three months ago and now enunciating that same name perfectly in a local Indian accent. 

Kumar also reiterated that, during the invite-only phase, Alexa has received major upgrades in terms of speech recognition, expanded local knowledge, localised skills and a better music selection.

Alexa hasn’t quite taken the nation by storm, but Echo owners are excited that Alexa is gradually integrating localised skills to make the interface more India-friendly. Amazon has even removed the invite-only limitation that kept Echo from being mainstream and making all Echo devices (ie. Echo Dot, Echo and Echo Plus) across 20 cities in India at over 350 retails stores. 

The best Bluetooth speaker of 2018 in the UAE: the best portable speakers for any budget

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 09:08

Best Bluetooth Speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to TechRadar's round-up of the Bluetooth speakers you can buy in 2018. 

There are two extremes in the audio world. At the high end are costly hi-fi setups made up of almost a half-dozen different devices. They can sound incredible, but are equally good at costing an arm and a leg and taking up a dedicated equipment rack. 

At the other end of the spectrum sit Bluetooth speakers. Yes you'll have to keep these battery-powered devices charged, and their reliance on Bluetooth rather than good old-fashioned cables means that the sound fidelity is never going to be as good, but they're much cheaper and a lot more convenient. 

Whether you're looking for a speaker to bring with you on your next adventure, a portable powerhouse to bring with you to the beach or a rocking wireless speaker for your next house party, there's definitely a Bluetooth speaker out there for you. 

Need some suggestions? Here's our list of our top picks for the best Bluetooth speakers around. Some are rugged. Some are stylish. Some are weatherproof and some aren't fit for the outdoors - read through and take your pick. 

How to pick out the best Bluetooth speaker

One of the biggest questions we get asked when talking to folks about Bluetooth speakers is: How do I pick out the best one? 

Regardless of what features you want from your speaker, its imperative that it has a decent battery life and good level of sound quality. There's no point in having a device packed full of features if its battery dies quickly and it sounds rubbish. All of our picks fulfil these two requirements, so when you're picking from this list you can afford to focus more on features. 

On the features side, common requests include water-resistance (and water-proof speakers), voice calling and device charging - a feature that allows you to plug your phone or tablet into the speaker to siphon off a bit of juice when it's running a bit low. Some of the best speakers (like the UE Boom 2) now include all three! 

Another good way to narrow down your search is to select a speaker based on the activity you're going to do with it. A great travel speaker might not have the exact same attributes as the best home listening speaker, for example. 

That being said, we've tried to highlight some of the most common use cases below and have selected a speaker that fits perfectly with that scenario.

 The best Bluetooth speakers of 2018:  

This sequel to the UE Boom nails everything a Bluetooth speaker should be. It's loud, yet detailed. Portable, but still incredibly durable. Plus, even better, the addition of waterproofing turns what used to be the best Bluetooth speaker around for most occasions into the best one for every occasion. 

If you're deep in the search for your next –, or first – Bluetooth speaker, you can stop looking now. (But if you're looking for a little more power, the Megaboom – also from UE – is a great choice, too.) 

Read the full review: UE Boom 2

As a package, the JBL Charge 3 offers a compelling set of features and excellent sound quality to boot. It punches well above its weight, playing loudly and distortion-free. 

The Charge line of speakers have been on our shortlist of recommendations for a long time thanks to the way they combine great sound quality with the ability to charge your devices over USB. 

The latest iteration maintains JBL's dominance in the portable Bluetooth speaker market.

Read the full review: JBL Charge 3

The Bose SoundLink Mini II is relatively ancient, having been released in June 2015. However, writing off the SoundLink Mini II because of its age would be a mistake, as it remains one of the best sounding wireless speakers. 

That said, it punches way above what its size would suggest, producing deep bass, sparkling highs and a lush midrange. While most wireless speakers sound OK, the Mini II proves that small speakers don’t need to compromise on sound, and other Bose conveniences like a charging pad. 

Read the full review: Bose SoundLink Mini II

When someone asks us for a recommendation for a waterproof speaker, the UE Roll 2 was always on the top of our list. We loved the Roll 2’s unique form factor, 50-foot wireless range and, obviously, it sounded good, too. Where it was lacking was in the bass department. Logitech, UE’s parent company, has fixed the Roll 2’s lack of bass by creating the appropriately named UE Wonderboom. 

In our eyes, the UE Wonderboom bests the Roll 2 in just about every way –except for the Roll 2’s handy bungee cord. Still, ignoring that, if you’re looking for one of the best waterproof Bluetooth speakers on the market today, it’s hard to do better than the UE Wonderboom. Plus, it comes in some interesting colors, including Avocado and...you guessed it, Unicorn.

Read the full review: UE Wonderboom

The Creative Muvo 2C is a speaker than punches well above its weight in terms of its sound quality. This tiny Bluetooth speaker is one of the smallest we've seen to pack its own bass radiator, which results in much better dynamic range than many other speakers at this price point. Plus, it's also feature rich in terms of its inputs, allowing you to play music either over Bluetooth, a 3.5mm jack, USB or even insert a microSD card to play MP3 files directly. 

Of course, that being said, if you spend more you'll get a more refined sound, better bass still, and a longer battery life. But if you're looking for a budget speaker than the Muvo 2C is hard to beat at this price. 

Read the full review: Creative Muvo 2C

B&O created a hit with the Beoplay P2. It’s a well-designed speaker that’s extremely easy to use, has a well-built companion app, and it sounds great. On top of that, the speaker is ultra-portable without compromising on much bass content. Sure, you could get something a little bigger (and stereo) for the same price, but at this size the sound quality justifies the price. The smart gestures are a nice touch too, although we wouldn’t buy the device solely for that reason.

Read the full review: B&O Beoplay P2

The Marshall Kilburn might not appear to be the best choice in Bluetooth speakers. It’s large, heavy, doesn’t have USB charging and isn’t waterproof – plus, AED 1,299 is a lot to pay for a Bluetooth speaker. 

But none of this matters because the Kilburn sounds so darn good. 

Over a month's time, we fell in love with the Kilburn’s design, feel and pristine sound quality. There’s no other portable Bluetooth speaker on the market quite like it. It’s a head turner and conversation piece. It’s a piece of audio art that you’ll be proud to show off to your friends during a party. 

Read the full review: Marshall Kilburn

It seems just about every speaker company has a wireless speaker that can take the abuse of being outdoors and Bose, a company most well-known for its brand of excellent noise-canceling headphones, is no different. If you’re looking for something from Bose to take with you on your next hike, the AED 549 SoundLink Color II is the company’s only splash-proof speaker that can stand up to the elements with an IPX4 rating. 

Read the full review: Bose SoundLink Color II

Bringing bluntness over refinement, the JBL Flip 4 is a good Bluetooth speaker for the rugged outdoorsman in your friend circle. It’s rough, tough design makes it perfect as a portable speaker to accompany all aspects of your life while its sound is solid without worrying your home audio system.

It’s all weather friendly design is a win, but a lack of definition and distinction in the mid-range ultimately means its sound quality is not quite up to scratch when compared with some, more high-end portable speakers.

Read the full review: JBL Flip 4

  • Now need something to listen to? Check out our collection of the best podcasts

Qualcomm enhances its wireless audio tech for next-gen buds and 'hearables'

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 12:30

Qualcomm has lifted the lid on a number of enhancements its made to its TrueWireless Stereo technology, which was first announced in 2017 to meet growing demand for headsets and hearables with a smaller, true wireless form factor.

The latest update has been created to provide users with an improved listening experience across all smartphone platforms, as well as a more streamlined pairing experience that does away with the need to pair individual buds separately. It also allows longer playback time, as users can easily role switch each earbud between primary and secondary functions.

An added mode of the latest update, called TrueWireless Stereo Plus, enables a user's smartphone to simultaneously connect to both earbuds and then choose the relevant audio content to relay to each. This not only improves the listening experience, but also more evenly distributes power consumption too. 

'Truly wireless hearable devices'

The new Qualcomm TrueWireless tech is supported on the company's latest Bluetooth audio System-on-Chip (SoC), called the QCC5100. By combining the TrueWireless Stereo Plus tech, the SoC chip and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform, Qualcomm promises power consumption can be reduced by 10 percent, delivering around an extra hour of listening time.

Anthony Murray, senior vice president and general manager, voice and music at Qualcomm Technologies International, Ltd. said: “We are constantly looking to improve our technologies and platforms to help our customers differentiate their product offerings, and these enhancements in Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo technology are designed to help them create the next generation of exciting and innovative truly wireless hearable devices that can support substantially longer music play time and voice call time.”

Qualcomm has revealed that earbud and headset designs based on the QCC5100 chip using the new, enhanced Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo tech are expected to be available in the second half of 2018. They are also likely to be on display at Mobile World Congress 2018 (MWC) in February 2018, so we'll keep you updated about what we see from Qualcomm there. 

The John Lewis Aria DAB is a radio of true modern charm

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 11:20

 John Lewis has made in-house designed radios, washing machines and other home appliances for years. They’re part of the Only Here range, which you can only buy at John Lewis. It doesn’t stop at tech either. There are exclusive homewares and fashion buys too. 

A real pick of the moment is the new John Lewis Aria DAB radio, which will get you excited for several reasons. Firstly, John Lewis made some top DAB units over the last five years, and the Aria one has also already has a What Hi-Fi? award under its belt. 

It combines John Lewis’s renowned quality, which made it the UK’s most trusted brand of 2017 according to a YouGov study, with a price that won’t leave you eating noodles until payday.

You can’t argue with its looks either. The John Lewis Aria comes in wood finishes of walnut, black ash and light oak, helping it fit the style of your living room. 

It’s an upright design, and as such it can use a large driver for better sound quality without taking up too much space. The John Lewis Aria will be as at home on a bedside table as the kitchen counter or a bookshelf in your lounge. 

And if you are looking for a bedside buddy, the Aria has dual alarms and a snooze button. We’d like to live without “snooze” but, well, we just can’t. 

The key tech you need inside

There’s more tech inside than you might imagine too. The John Lewis Aria has Bluetooth, so you can stream any audio you like from your phone. A headphone jack is on hand too, for those evenings when you want to listen to BBC 6 Music, but no-one else in the house does. 

Dedicated preset buttons and a clear front LCD that doubles as a clock finish off the list of elements we look for in a modern, easy-to-use DAB set. Now you just have to choose whether to go for moody black ash to match the TV, or light oak to match the table. It’s a tricky one.

If you’re new to John Lewis’s range of electrical exclusives, be sure to check out its new blender and hand mixer online or in store. Just like the Aria DAB radio, they look smart and their prices are dangerously tempting. All three come with free delivery and a generous two-year warranty.

The John Lewis Only Here range also features exclusives from some of the most popular brands. Favourites include the charming concrete finish UE Wonderboom and the stylish white version of the Nespresso Latsissima One coffee machine.

Spotify’s first piece of hardware may be on the horizon

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 14:59

For the past year, Spotify has been working on its very first piece of hardware, and if some recent job listings are anything to go by it could be going into production very soon. 

In April 2017, Spotify posted some job listings which gave us our first sign that the streaming service was looking to break into hardware. The listings included a Senior Product Manager of Hardware who would be working on “a category defining product akin to Pebble Watch, Amazon Echo, and Snap Spectacles”. 

A second listing, for a Product Manager of Voice who was to “be responsible for the strategy and execution of Spotify’s voice efforts beyond our core apps [...] areas like desktop, TVs, speakers, cars, wearables, headphones”, suggested that whatever this product is, it’s going to include some form of voice control.

Going hard on hardware

Things went quiet for a while after that, and we had no further insight into what this piece of hardware might be. But a recent group of job listings suggests that Spotify is now preparing to start the manufacturing process.

These adverts show that Spotify is looking to hire an Operations Manager, a Senior Project Manager: Hardware Production, and a Project Manager: Hardware Production and Engineering.

The job description for the Operations Manager states that “Spotify is on its way to creating its first physical products and setting up an operational organisation for manufacturing, supply chain, sales & marketing”, which certainly suggests things have now moved beyond the planning stages. 

It makes a lot of sense for Spotify to bring its very own piece of hardware to the market, so it can stop relying on third-party services to support it. Though it’s the most popular music streaming service in the world, Apple and Amazon have been pushing their own music services through their hardware. 

Keeping up with the competition

While the manufacturers of any devices, from smart speakers to phones to cars, are all quite willing to natively host the Spotify service, it’s notably absent from Apple’s Watches and its new HomePod – something which many consider a drawback with the new speaker. 

Spotify clearly thinks it's better served using its popularity to convince consumers to buy its hardware now, and keep up with its streaming competitors before it has too much ground to make up. 

Still, despite this clear move forward in the production process, we’re no closer to knowing what kind of hardware Spotify is working on. Looking back to its original job description, which hinted at “a category defining product akin to Pebble Watch, Amazon Echo, and Snap Spectacles”, we find ourselves none the wiser. 

Our first instinct would be to say Spotify is going to release a smart speaker that works with Google Assistant – although if that's the case it would be rather odd to say it’s working on a “category defining product” when it notes that that particular product category has already been defined by the Amazon Echo.

The mention of Snap Spectacles and the Pebble Watch has us wondering if Spotify is planning to release something in the wearable music category. Certainly some kind of Spotify-integrated headphones would create a stir, but with Spotify not wishing to enlighten us further we’ll just have to wait and see. 

Bang & Olufsen DIY kit lets you make your own smart speakers with Raspberry Pi

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 11:53

Got a great sounding pair of speakers gathering dust as they just can't keep up with the connected smarts of the modern musical age? Then Bang and Olufsen may have a solution for you – provided you don't mind getting your hands dirty with some tinkering.

B&O has partnered up with HiFiBerry to offer a new DIY kit that lets you add wireless functionality to legacy speaker sets. The Beocreate 4 Channel Amplifier is a board designed to be paired with passive loudspeakers, acting as a digital amplifier on its own, or adding Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities if paired with a Raspberry Pi.

Running open-source software, it'll let you add Airplay, or Spotify Connect functionality too.

Enthusiast project

Now, compared to some Raspberry Pi projects, the Beocreate 4 is relatively straightforward to set up – plugging into the amplifier, you won't need to do any soldering on the Pi, with screw ports for the cabling. However, there are simpler ways to get your older speakers online, with plug-and-play options like Google's Chromecast Audio being more beginner-friendly. 

But with B&O's audio pedigree well known, the amp's capabilities may make it a better match for breathing new life into your old speakers.

You can pick up the Beocreate 4 now, priced at $189 (around £135, AU$240). 

Amazon Echo devices now available for offline purchase in India

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 10:32

Amazon has today announced that customers looking to purchase its Echo devices can now do so without waiting for an invite. In the announcement, Amazon revealed that its Echo devices can be purchased both online and offline – customers looking to purchase these devices online can do so on Amazon.in. In the offline channel, Amazon has tied up with over 350 retail outlets across 20 cities in India, including the likes of Reliance Digital, Croma, Crossword and more.

To recall, Amazon launched its Echo devices in India back in October last year, but to be able to purchase these devices, customers had to wait for an invite. Now, Amazon has opened up the sale of its Echo speakers to all customers, so you can buy one now without using an invite. The Echo speakers are priced between Rs 4500 and Rs 15000 – the Echo Dot costs Rs 4499, the Echo costs Rs 9999 and the Echo Plus costs Rs 14999.

Alexa assistant helps you get the best out of Echo devices

Amazon’s Echo devices come with Alexa assistant built-in, which lets you automate regular tasks and lets you access a vast library of Alexa skills. Amazon had recently announced that the Alexa skills library has crossed the 12,000 number, including PM Modi’s popular Mann Ki Baat programme.

In addition to Alexa skills, customers can also use the Amazon Music Service to access a huge library of Indian and International music. Thanks to Alexa, you can play these songs using voice commands, making the entire experience quite seamless. Apart from that, users can also use hands-free calling and messaging, check cricket scores and schedules and more.

Apple admits your HomePod might stain wooden surfaces

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 09:50

Apple has acknowledged a number of complaints from users who say their HomePod speakers are leaving white rings on wooden surfaces, admitting that "it is not unusual for any speaker with a vibration-dampening silicone base to leave mild marks when placed on some wooden surfaces".

Numerous reviews and users on Twitter have been pointing out the major flaw in Apple's new smart speaker, which is apparently caused by oils diffusing between the silicone base and the surface of the Apple. The marks should be able to be cleaned off and will fade gradually anyway, the brand says.

In the meantime, the official advice? "If you’re concerned about this, we recommend placing your HomePod on a different surface," says Apple – or maybe just get a stand (although that can possibly lower the quality of the stand). 

The company is taking flack for not warning customers in advance that the HomePod and wood was a bad mix, so future buyers might want to think about where to place it.

We had our speaker on a wooden surface in our testing, but it was a thinner (well, cheaper) wood, and found no example of the staining... but it seems that more porous, expensive veneers are those in danger.

Profit margins

In the meantime, analyst firm TechInsights reckons the internal components of the HomePod cost Apple $216 to make, putting its profit margins per speaker at $149 before the cost of advertising and engineering and everything else gets factored out.

It's less of a profit margin than many of other products Apple makes, including the iPhone X

TechInsights also calculates that it's narrower than the profit margins Amazon and Google make on the Amazon Echo and Google Home – though of course these are all rough estimations from an external company.

Pricey as the HomePod might be – especially for a speaker that marks your furniture – it seems Apple is prepared to take a bit of a hit on the price in return for getting the Siri-powered speaker into as many homes as possible.

Amazon Echo speaker deals save you up to $50 before President’s Day weekend

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 21:25

You’ll be able to find new Amazon Echo speaker deals ahead of the official President’s Day 2018 sales events in the US, letting you save on the Echo Dot, Echo Spot, Echo Show or the latest standard Echo.Amazon has a discount available on all four of the above speakers.

The best price for an Amazon Echo speaker is the Echo Dot at $39 after a $10 discount. This is the miniature Echo speaker that you can easily set up and add Alexa’s smarts to any room. With a 3.5mm stereo cable, the Echo Dot can even integrate with your home speaker system, making it a handy voice-controlled DJ.

For a more powerful speaker right out of the box, Amazon’s Echo 2nd Gen is $84.99 thanks to $15 off. It’s available in several different colors and material finishes.

To get a bit of video thrown into the mix, the new Echo Spot is $114.99 after $15 off. This small speaker includes a small circular display that can be used to display online videos, song lyrics, the weather or handle a video call. It can even integrate with in-home cameras to double as a baby monitor or two see who’s at the front door.

For even more screen and the biggest discount of the bunch, the Amazon Echo Show is $179 after $50 off. The Echo Show boasts a large speaker at its base and a 7-inch display paired with a front-facing camera, making it a highly capable device. With Bluetooth, it can even connect to an external speaker system. Not bad for an early President’s Day deal.

You can buy the Apple HomePod in UAE right now

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 11:47

Apple released its first smart speaker, the Apple HomePod this past weekend but only in the US, UK and Australia. You can checkout our full review of the HomePod here, but in summary, it has fantastic audio quality but is deeply rooted inside Apple's ecosystem.

Although Apple has yet to announce an official date for a global launch, and we think that it might be a while for that, you can already buy HomePod in the UAE through retailers like noon.com and souq.com

At the moment, noon is listing the HomePod for AED 1,440 which is roughly US$460. That is definitely a bit higher than the retail price in the US which is $350 but much better than what it's going for at souq.com at the moment which is AED 2,149.

If you're willing to wait a bit, BuyOnDubai has them on pre-order for AED 1,440 which comes to US$392. We think that is a pretty good deal. Deliveries are expected within a week so it won't be a long wait either.

HomePod impresses audiophiles but Siri said to be falling short

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 11:34

If you're interested in the nitty gritty technical aspects of the Apple HomePod, a comprehensive audio analysis posted to Reddit by a self-confessed audiophile reports that the smart speaker performs exceptionally well from an audio point of view. It's a "100 percent audiophile grade speaker" summarizes WinterCharm.

"Apple has managed to extract peak performance from a pint-sized speaker, a feat that deserves a standing ovation," the post continues, which is apparently based on more than 8 hours of testing, and looks at frequency response, distortion, and many other acoustic measurements to reach its conclusions.

The thoughts put down backed up our HomePod review, pointing out that this speaker is a 'no-brainer' if you're embedded in the Apple ecosystem. If you're not though, then it's a tougher sell thanks to the locked-down elements of the smart home control and reliance on Apple Music.

Respected US outlet Consumer Reports, meanwhile, is also reporting that the HomePod is "one of the best-sounding smart speakers" that has ever arrived on their test bench – but they do point out that the Google Home Max and the Sonos One just edge it out in terms of overall audio quality.

"Hey Siri, up your game"

The HomePod is proving less impressive as a smart speaker, as per a series of tests reported by 9to5Mac. Run by Loup Ventures, the tests showed Siri was only capable of answering 52.3 percent of queries posed to it, behind Cortana (57 percent), Alexa (64 percent) and Google Home (81 percent).

"This places HomePod at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of AI assistant performance. Siri is particularly strong in Local and Commerce queries, handily beating Alexa and Cortana, but still falling short of Google Home in those areas," reports Loup Ventures in a blog post.

The HomePod isn't yet fully functional, with Apple promising that stereo support (for two connected HomePods) and multi-room support will be rolling out later this year. 

In the meantime, one HomePod owner has worked out that you can use the AirFoil app on macOS and Windows to create a stereo setup with two HomePods, if you've got the cash to afford a couple of them.

For the last word on the Apple HomePod, look no further than the TechRadar review, where we give Apple's new smart speaker a thorough testing, and put it dangerously close to a fireplace. 

We found the device excelled at the speaker part, and didn't do so well with the smart aspects - something to consider if you're thinking of picking up the powerful-but-pricey device.

Apple Homepod is now on sale – Siri-powered tunes are headed your way

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 13:21

The Apple HomePod, the iPhone maker's answer to the Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers, has gone on sale.

Powered by the Siri voice assistant, Apple hopes to put the speaker at the center of its HomeKit smart home plans, as the one device to rule not only your playlists, but your entire in-home connected ecosystem.

Priced at $349 / £319 / AU$499, pre-order sales saw stock swallowed up by keen Apple fans. But while Apple stores may be in short supply of the speaker, you're likely to have more luck at the many third-party retailers also offering the curvy speaker.

Smart enough?

But is it worth your time? As you'll see in our hands on Apple HomePod review, there's a lot to love about the audio quality of the speaker, even if Siri's smart features have some catching up to do to match its Amazon rival.

Again, Apple's insistence on forcing its users into its walled garden limits the device's appeal (you better make sure you're ready to cough up for an Apple Music subscription to get the most out of the HomePod, for example). But with some time for Siri to expand its functionality, the sheen of Apple's premium design sensibilities is still present.

We'll have a full review of the HomePod shortly, so keep your eyes peeled for its arrival.

Apple HomePod demand means new orders will arrive late

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 11:14

The release of the Apple HomePod is so close now that you can almost hear Siri's sultry tones beaming out of its drivers. But if you're late to the pre-order party, you're now unlikely to get Apple's smart speaker on its launch date.

Initially, Apple had set Friday February 9 as the delivery date for pre-orders of its Siri-powered speaker. But try to order through the Apple online store now and you'll see that date has slipped to between 12 February and 14 February, depending on your territory.

With in-store pick-up options also unavailable, it seems that Apple has underestimated demand for the Amazon Echo rival.

Third-party options

However, if you're desperate to get an Apple HomePod as soon as it's released, you've still got some options.

Third-party retailers are stocking the HomePod, and can often fall under the radar on major Apple launch days. You may not get the kudos of a pat on the back from an Apple Store Genius staff member, but you'll at least likely be able to walk away with the device on its release.

With early reviews for the HomePod highly impressed by the HomePod sound quality, but not Siri's smart capabilities, there's an argument for waiting a little longer for the product to mature anyway. Our full review will follow shortly.

Best headphones of 2018: Headphones for any budget in India

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 07:14

Music is incredibly personal and everyone prefers a different genre. 

Which is why it's not surprising that when it comes to headphones there almost as many preferences to choose from. Some people like the convenience of wireless while others prefer the reliability and audio quality of wired headphones. There are those who want the portability of in-ear headphones, meanwhile the rest go for the comfort of over-ears. 

Upgrading your headphones is a personal choice, but it's an essential step if you want to step away from the cheap earbuds that they probably came bundled with. 

A better pair of headphones will bring a new dimension to your music, whether it's more detail, additional functionality or just more bass. 

And while you could spend hundreds or thousands to get audiophile-grade gear, we're the kind of people that like stellar performance for a good price. 

The headphones that you'll find here have tons of features to help you get the most out of your music, no matter how you like to listen to it. These features range from wireless connectivity to noise-cancellation, and come in the three major form-factors: in-ear, on-ear and over-ear headphones. 

It sounds like a lot. But that's where our guide to the best headphones steps in. 

We've selected the best headphones for each form-factor, and we've even picked out a budget option for each so that you should be able to find an excellent pair, no matter where your price point holds. 

Here's a quick look at the best headphones this year:

If you already know which kind of headphones you're looking for, then you can browse through our other, more specific, collections: 

What headphones does TechRadar recommend?

We think the two most important things to consider when buying a pair of headphones are form-factor and price, and so that's exactly how we've organised our guide.

Below you'll find our top picks for the best in-ear headphones, the best on-ear headphones, the best over-ear headphones, the best noise-cancelling headphones and finally the best wireless headphones.

As well as a top pick for each form-factor we've also included a budget pick which manages to offer great sound at a much more competitive price point.

After spending a few weeks with the 1MORE Triple Driver in-ear headphones we were blown away at just how much value they give in this price range. 

It’s hard to think of a better sounding pair of headphones that are as durable than them. There’s very little with which we can find fault with but it's worth mentioned that the rubber cable is an unnecessary struggle and the remote control feels cheap because it's made of plastic without a metallic finish. But this is honestly just nitpicking. 

Instead, it's better to highlight the 1More Triple Driver's have a warm tonal balance. Even the bass sounds good with extension and impact. It gives you the right amount of boost without completely taking over.

Read the full review: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone

The Sennheiser CX 213's build upon the legendary budget in-ears, the CX 180, which have been around quite some time. Although it's minimal upgrade when it comes to the CX 213's, the sound quality is balanced with a slight mid-bass bump. Bass is slightly emphasized and features good impact while maintaining good control. It also brings better passive noise cancellation to the table over the CX180.

For your money, you can't do any better than Grado's SR60e. The third-generation of the Prestige Series is its best and most refined yet. 

The SR60e is a particularly smart choice if you're looking for an entry-level set of headphones that sounds like they should cost you way more than they do. Its open-backed ear cup design gives you a more breathable experience than what most on-ear headphones can deliver. 

In our candid opinion, it's the gold-standard when it comes to on-ears.

The Oppo PM-3 truly deserve to be called as the best over-ear headphones. 

The build of these headphones is comparable to other big brand names like Sony and Philips, who are experts at putting together their own contraptions. The synthetic ear pads may be a little off putting to a few users but fear not, they're soft, comfortable and don't overheat your ears.

Their compact design makes them easy to travel with and their durability with hold up against heavy wear and tear. They deliver incredible sound across the entire soundscape with clear and natural high paired with a balance bass. In other words, Oppo PM-3 never fails to provide crisp sound quality to the users.

Read the full review: Oppo PM-3

Even though they have a plastic body, but AKG K92 stands as a very good competitor when it comes to audio quality. In most cases, you get what you pay for but these headphones deliver above and beyond their price range. They're dynamic, expressive and let you clearly listen to individual instruments without them meshing into a whole mess of sound.

Most users prefer them for in-house use due to their size but being lightweight, portability is feasible. Their size is an asset rather than a drawback because their fit wouldn't be an comfortable otherwise.

All in all, their performance is amazing and they definitely give other brands a run for their money.

Read the full review: AKG K92

When you buy a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, you're often trading sound quality for the ability to block out outside noise. It's a trade that we've been willing to make for years because, honestly, we just hadn't been able to find a pair of headphones that could do both noise-cancellation and Hi-Res audio.

Until now. 

The Sony WH-1000XM2 is the follow-up to the surprisingly great MDR-1000X. They might have a slightly shorter battery life than Bose’s flagship over-ear headphones, the QuietComfort 35, but Sony’s WH-1000XM2 outclass the QC35 in terms of both performance for the price and overall feature-set.   

Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM2

The Philips Fidelio NC1 replaces the Sony WH-H900N in our list. They come with two 1.5" Neodymium drivers and have a 3.9 ft cable. 

If you're looking for travel headphones, they fit the bill with a hard case while folding in comfortably keeping them from being ruined when you throw them into your bag. The aluminium finishing gives them a premium look and subtle design, despite 'High Definition Audio Philips NC1' being written on both sides.

The headphones offer quality audio to the users with a promising 30 hours of battery life. Even if you choose not to use the noise cancelling function, the audio quality is amazing providing a balanced sound without forcibly favoring the bass. 

If you're on-the-go and don't want want to lug around massive headphones, this is the choice for you. 

Read the full review: Philips Fidelio NC1 

The Sennheiser CX 213's build upon the legendary budget in-ears, the CX 180, which have been around quite some time. Although it's a minimal upgrade when it comes to the CX 213's, the sound quality is balanced with a slight mid-bass bump. Bass is slightly emphasised and features good impact while maintaining good control. It also brings better passive noise cancellation to the table over the CX180. 

Optoma NuForce BE6i are an updated version of the original NuForce BE6. However, the changes are minimal in the new pair of headphones. 

They come with 10mm dynamic drivers and an eight hours of battery life, which is bump up from the 6 hours that their predecessor offered. They have an aluminium enclosure for the drivers but it's paired a sub-par plastic remote on their tangle resistant flat wire. 

They deliver good quality sound with controlled bass and decent clarity up top.

The Optoma NuForce NE6i are a pair of no-huss, no-fuss headphones that can survive heavy use.

Read the full review: Optoma NuForce BE6i 

Following the footsteps of Apple, Jabra launched a pair of ‘true wireless’ earbuds in India recently. Apart from offering great sound quality, the earphones come with advance fitness analysis technology. Through this, the earbuds can track your heart rate during workouts.

The initial setup of may make you feel a little silly because you have to stand in one place at first and then jump around for a few seconds. 

The carry case doubles as a charger giving you 4.5 hours of battery life in one charge, followed by two more charges before you need to plug them back in.  

They also support all the major operating systems including Android and iOS and can be easily paired with any smartphone - but you definitely need a phone for these to work.

Read the full review: Jabra Elite Sport 

Press on to page two to see how to pick out a good pair of headphones along more of our recommendations.

There's usually more to a set of headphones than meets the eye. As such, we've provided a breakdown of what you can expect to find in each kind of category.

Not only will learning more about headphones help you make a more informed purchasing decision, but you'll also be able to ascertain when you're really getting your money's worth.

In-ear headphones

These type of headphones are usually the cheapest and easiest way to pump audio into your ears. If you've purchased an MP3 player, or more recently, a smartphone, it's likely that a set was included with the purchase.

Earphones rest in or just outside the ear canal, creating a tight seal to keep air out and sound in. Compared to other types of headphones, these are the most discreet ones you'll find. Their small form-factor also makes them the king/queen of portability and the prime choice for athletes.

You're not likely to find strong performers at the low-end of the price spectrum. Their sound delivery is generally muddled, lacking bass and overcompensating for that with harsh mids and highs. That said, it won't cost you much money at all to find a value-packed option complete with inline controls and a microphone.

On-ear headphones

While similar to over-ear headphones in appearance, they fit to your head a little differently. Instead of enveloping your ears with a soft cushion, on-ear headphones create a light, breathable around the edges of your ears. Thus, the noise isolation is much less effective than in-ear or over-ear options. This might be a deal breaker for some, but there are some benefits to keep in mind.

On-ear headphones are usually more portable than their over-ear brethren, and as such they appeal to travelers and the fitness geeks. Taking a walk or a jog around town is also safer, as you can hear traffic go by and be aware of potential hazards.

Over-ear headphones

This ear-muff style of these headphones generally provide greater richness and depth of sound, which allows listeners to pick apart the instruments and decibels easily. Additionally, over-ear, or circum-aural headphones, go around the ear and offer a generous amount of padding.

The price range for a set of on-ear headphones begins around Rs. 5k and from there, the sky's the limit. For example, the Oppo PM-1, while excellent, are priced exorbitantly at Rs. 56k. It's definitely not necessary to spend that much. That said, you tend to get what you pay for.

If your headphone budget is in the Rs. 500-15,000, you'll start getting into options that have excellent build quality, premium materials and amazing sound and features like ANC (active noise cancellation.)

Wireless headphones

This category of headphones doesn't limit you to a specific form factor like the others. In fact, you can find in-ear, on-ear and over-ear headphone styles sans wire.

Opting to go wireless will cost over and above the price traditional of wired cans. So, keep in mind that bustling to go futuristic isn't going to be cheap. One important thing to keep in mind is that your music player must support the Bluetooth wireless protocol because that's a prerequisite use these type of headphones. 

Bluetooth technology has become exponentially more reliable over time, but it's always susceptible to disturbances in the force. In short, any little thing, from the understandable (conflicting Wi-Fi signals, microwaves, cordless telephones), to the absurd (sticking a hand in the space between the device and the headphones) can sometimes interrupt the wireless listening experience.

Noise-cancelling headphones

This category, like wireless headphones, isn't limited to a form factor. You can find this clever mix of technologies integrated into the ear pieces of in-ear and over-ear headphones alike.

Many companies falsely claim to offer true noise cancellation with just the padding included around the ear cups. Don't believe it. This is PNC (passive noise cancellation), and it doesn't amount to much. You can even replicate this effect by cupping your hands around your ears, so why shell out the big bucks for it?

On the other hand, ANC (active noise cancellation) is the real deal. This technique employs a set of external microphones, which detect the decibel level outside. Once it has an idea of the incoming noise level, the headphone speakers inside transmit a noise generated to dampen the racket. The end result is an effect that hushes the outside noise, allowing you to focus.

For its next trick, blockchain plans on making recorded music profitable again

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 00:00

In recent years most discussions of blockchain technology have related to Bitcoin, the digital currency that recently saw its value skyrocket to over $19,000 before plummeting to just over $7,000 at the time of writing. 

But while cryptocurrencies are the most widespread use of blockchain, in truth its potential use cases are many and varied, and the latest problem that blockchain enthusiasts want to solve is ensuring that musicians are fairly compensated for their songs.

Enter Choon, a new streaming service co-founded by the DJ Gareth Emery. Choon plans to harness the transparency and record-keeping advantages of blockchain to cut out the middle men and deliver revenue directly to artists.

As Emery describes it: “Our way of doing royalties and accounting was basically designed in the days of jukeboxes and sheet music and has been grandfathered in across every new innovation, and we just have a system that is completely not fit for purpose.

“Rather than trying to innovate on top of a system that is fundamentally flawed we're trying to create a new system that has no connection to the old one.”

It’s a bold ambition – but does Choon have any chance of succeeding in a world dominated by the likes of Spotify and Apple?

The problem

In Emery's view, the current problem with the music industry is that there are too many middlemen, with each of them demanding their cut of the profits, leaving close to nothing for the artist who actually created a track. 

These middlemen range from record labels, publishers and copyright societies to the streaming services that package up an artist’s music and delivers it to fans. 

“We've all been sort of sold this myth that there's no money in recorded music,” Emery explains. ”There is actually – it’s a $16 billion dollar industry– it just goes to the wrong people.”

Gareth Emery is one of the co-founders of Choon, which wants to cut out the middlemen in the streaming business so that more money goes to artists

And Emery’s argument isn't just that these middlemen suck up too much of the money in the recorded music industry, but that their very existence is undemocratic. Emery shares stories of managers encouraging artists to wish Spotify’s playlist curators a happy birthday on Twitter, or send them gifts to secure a spot in a playlist with millions of subscribers. 

“Careers can get made or broken by being in those playlists,” he adds.

Emery talks about his own experiences of having to schmooze the curators of the electronic music playlist, and says it’s similar across other music genres. “I guarantee you now that if you had somebody here from an indie rock band they would know who the power player is who creates those playlists for indie rock, and they would know how you get on their side.”

The fact that the music industry also continues to be dominated by male acts lends yet more weight to the argument that the industry’s trendsetters are out of touch. 

The solution?

Choon’s solution is twofold. First, it will dispense with all aspects of human curation of its homepage. 

“There's gonna be no smoke and mirrors about how our home page is structured,“ Emery explains. “When we use algorithms to work out what you get shown, we will publish those in transparent ways so everyone knows exactly why a release is in its position.”

Not only will this hopefully eliminate what Emery implies is the nepotism that’s developed around Spotify’s human-curated playlists, it'll also allow Choon to – in theory at least – be run with a much smaller staff than other, bigger streaming services. 

The second part of the equation is simplifying the complicated process of assigning and paying royalties based on how frequently artists are streamed – and that’s where blockchain comes in.

Emery has experience of having to 'schmooze' the curators of electronic music playlists, but he says that artists in every genre face the same challenges

Emery is keen to emphasize that blockchain technology is not at the core of every part of the Choon ecosystem. Instead it’s a two-tiered system, consisting of a more traditional streaming service infrastructure and an Ethereum-based blockchain to log streams and ensure that artists get paid. 

“When I get paid royalties right now I get 300 pages which come from my record label showing what they were paid from Spotify. It's probably two years since the streams took place, and it is completely impossible to know whether what I'm getting paid is actually correct,” Emery explains.

“When I get paid royalties right now I get 300 pages which come from my record label showing what they were paid from Spotify“

In contrast, Emery wants Choon’s system to be completely transparent. Anyone and everyone will be able to see exactly how much each artist is being streamed, no one will be given preferential treatment, and you’ll even be able to be paid daily rather than waiting for what Emery says can be years to get your royalties from streams. 

Underlying the open nature of the blockchain-based system that Emery and his team have created is the fact that the DJ would be perfectly happy for other companies to build their own streaming services on top of the infrastructure– even Spotify could, if it was so inclined. 

Thanks to this transparency and streamlining, Choon plans on passing 80% of its revenues back to the artists while only taking 20% for itself. 

Bum Notes

But cashing out is where the system gets a little messy. 

It shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise that a streaming service based around blockchain would choose to pay its artists in cryptocurrency, but what could raise some eyebrows is the fact that Choon plans on paying its artists in an entirely new cryptocurrency called ‘Notes’. 

Like other Ethereum-based currencies, Notes piggybacks on the existing infrastructure of the network, but builds in its own functionality specific to the requirements of Choon. The streaming service plans to initially distribute the currency via an initial coin offering (ICO), a common method of funding new cryptocurrencies, but once the ICO is completed Notes will become freely tradable. 

Emery hopes that if artists can make more money from their recorded work they'll have to spend less time touring in order to pay the bills

But a cryptocurrency being freely tradable carries its own risks, specifically the extreme volatility that has become a staple of cryptocurrency markets. In a month that’s seen the price of Bitcoin fluctuate by as much as $10,000, isn’t Emery worried that this reliance on a digital currency will create more headaches for artists than it solves?

“We've been pretty frank... cryptocurrencies are volatile,” he responds. ”I think everybody kind of needs to look at their personal risk profile, and look at how much risk they want.

“I think the artist that would be nervous about those sorts of concerns, probably you're not gonna want to get paid in crypto. They're gonna want to get paid in fiat from the 99% of options [streaming services] available.”

Volatility is one thing, but there’s also no guarantee that Notes will hold any value at all. Choon can make all the claims it wants about paying more than competing music streaming services, but ultimately if it’s paying its artists in a cryptocurrency that turns out to be worthless then what’s the benefit?

Techno-utopia?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this reliance on an unproven currency to distribute royalties means Choon will launch with a library that’s closer in style to SoundCloud than to Spotify, consisting of around 400 independent artists who own their own music libraries, rather than those who are already signed to an existing label. 

And Emery seems happy with not catering to the existing giants of the industry. “I'm not interested in Elvis and the Beatles, and I'm not interested in even, say, Calvin Harris and Ed Sheeran,“ he says. “Who I want is the Calvin Harris and Ed Sheeran who's in his bedroom right now making music... we're building the system for the future rather than trying to bolt a solution onto the system of the past, which is fundamentally broken.”

“I'm not interested in Calvin Harris and Ed Sheeran. Who I want is the Calvin Harris and Ed Sheeran who's in his bedroom right now making music“

But for those bedroom-based musicians, contributing their music to Choon will initially be an act of faith rather than a means to get rich quick. This won’t be a situation where they’ll earn money regardless – they’ll need the system to succeed in order for Notes to have value that they can exchange for real currency. 

Emery, unsurprisingly, is optimistic that the ‘mission’ (as he calls it) will pay off. 

“When I first got into Bitcoin it wasn't so much that I thought 'at some point this Bitcoin that I'm paying $200 for is gonna be worth $10,000' – I just believed in the thing. I was a believer in the mission.”

And with revenues from recorded music having gotten so low, it might be that the slim chance of a new system might be better than the guarantee of the revenues of the existing one. 

For Emery, ultimately it all comes down to making better music. “We're all touring all the ****ing time because it's the only way any of us make any money. Being on the road 250 days a year is actually not the best for making outstanding art… there is an intention here of just increasing the quality of the music we're making.” 

The best noise-cancelling headphones in the UAE for 2018

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 09:52

Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to TechRadar's round-up of the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy in 2018.

Why does the world need noise-cancelling headphones? Because there's nothing worse than settling down to a long journey with a couple of your favorite albums, only to have your jam session ruined by the dull roar of jet-engine, the car horns of nearby traffic or by screaming toddlers.

But that's why everyone should own a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. These specialized headphones can remove the sound of everything around you, so you can listen to your music at a lower (and safer) volume without hearing any of the annoyances of the happening going on around you. 

What most people don't know is there are large variations in how well this effect is achieved – see: passive noise-cancellation vs active noise-cancellation – but even in their most basic form these headphones are still much better than a traditional pair of headphones in terms of keeping outside sound at bay. 

If you opt for one of our top picks for the best noise-cancelling headphones, you'll get a pair that not only effectively eliminate the most background noise possible, but will also make your music sound pretty good in the process. 

Talk about a win-win. 

How to buy noise-cancelling headphones

So what do you want to look for when looking for a pair of the best noise-cancelling headphones? Look for anything with the words "active noise-cancellation technology" on it.

Active noise cancellation involves some pretty interesting processes to cancel out sound. Along with the padding which passively blocks sound, microphones planted in the ear wells of headphones actively analyze the ambient noise level and reflect sound waves back into your ear that work to zap the outside noise. The goal is to hear nothing but the music, or whatever it is you're listening to.

Active noise cancelling headphones are more effective at what they do, but the downside is that this noise cancellation requires batteries in order to function, which means you'll have to remember to keep them charged.

Now that you know all that, you're ready to choose a set. Let's take a look at the best noise-cancelling headphones around:

Additional resources:

The Sony WH-1000XM2 are an excellent revision of an already great pair of 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 Bose’s flagship over-ear headphones, but Sony’s WH-1000XM2 outclass the QC35 in terms of performance and feature-set.  

You’d want to pick these Sony headphones over the Bose because not only do they provide the same level of awesome noise-cancellation, but they have three neat tricks that Bose just doesn't have on its headphones: 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, feature-packed and just as affordable as the competition? The Sony WH-1000XM2 are our all-around pick for best noise-cancelling cans.

Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM2

The Bose QuietComfort 25 are the best noise-cancelling headphones we've ever used. We say that as a publication who strives for maximum performance per dollar when purchasing headphones. We say that as someone who believes that, in most circumstances, you can find a cheaper product that performs as well, if not better, than a more expensive option if you do some research.

But, in the case of the Bose QuietComfort 25, that's simply not true. They are still the best noise-cancelling headphones on the planet in 2018.

If you want the same level of excellent noise-cancellation as the Bose QC35s but want to save a bit of money, consider opting for the last-generation QC25s. (The biggest sacrifice you'll be making is wireless.) 

Nevertheless, the QC25s are a finely-tuned set of headphones that provide over 35 hours of very good noise-cancelling performance with one AAA battery.

Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 25

They're a little more expensive then the Philips NC1, but the Bose QC35 headphones offer wireless connectivity, so you can be free from cabling as well as background noise. 

They're also a much better sounding pair of headphones than Bose's previous (wired) attempt, the Bose QC25s, and their battery life is long enough for all but the longest of flights.

They also come with a cable in case you want to use them with a device that doesn't support Bluetooth. 

At AED 1,275 the QC35s sit firmly at the premium end of the spectrum, but if you want the best noise-cancelling headphones available right now at any price then there are few out there that can compete.

Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35

If you prefer on-ear noise-cancellation, then the AKG N60NC Wireless are a great pair of headphones. 

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. 

These are a fantastically compact pair of headphones, and offer a very complete package for the price. 

Read the full review: AKG N60NC Wireless

With noise-cancelling tech just as effective as that in headphones from rival Bose, and with a more musical sonic ability, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC are a definite contender for the noise-cancelling crown. More affordable and easy to travel with, these lightweight headphones are a great value all-rounder, whether for flights, commuter trains or busy offices. 

Design-wise, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNCs seem a more slimmed-down, lighter and more focused effort than the bulky and expensive alternatives from Bose and Sony; and crucially, the HD 4.50 BTNCs are just as good with audio, and almost as good on noise-canceling. Whether you're after noise canceling for long-haul ravel, for the commute, or just to stay more productive in a noisy office, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNCs are worth considering. 

Read the full review: Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC

The PXC 550's greatest strength is their sound. Other wireless noise-cancelling headphones might offer a better user interface or better noise-cancellation technology, but ultimately none of the above match up to the sound quality of these Sennheisers. 

However, that said, there are a couple of irritations that prevent us from being able to fully and unreservedly recommend them, such as unresponsive touch controls  These annoyances aren't quite deal-breakers, but there are definitely other noise-cancelling headphones out there that don't suffer from the same issues.

Read the full review: Sennheiser PXC 550

The Samsung Level On Pro Wireless are one of the few headphones we've tested that feel like they're meant as a package deal for another device. Yes they'll work with every Bluetooth and 3.5mm jack-equipped handset on the market, but you're better off sticking to a Samsung device in order to squeeze every ounce of aural goodness from the Ultra High Quality (UHQ) audio codec.

It's one of the comfiest pair of cans on the market, and they're also much cheaper than a lot of the competition. If it had a better sound quality for the vast majority of cell phone users it would be an easy recommendation but, as it stands, really makes the most sense at checkout when purchased alongside Samsung's Next Big Thing.

Read the full review: Samsung Level On Pro Wireless Headphones

The Bose QuietControl 30s are the only in-ear headphones on this list, after all, it's much easier to block out background noise when you've got two thick cushions sitting around your ears. 

Given the limitations, Bose has done a fantastic job on the noise-cancellation of the QC30s, which is frankly better than a lot of over-ears out there. 

The downside is that these aren't the best sounding headphones on this list, but if you're willing to make that compromise then it's hard to find fault with them. 

Read the full review: Bose QC 30

With the second generation Plantronics BackBeat Pro, Plantronics went back to the drawing board to fix many of the issues owners complained about the original. The BackBeat Pro 2, therefore, manage to keep all the great things about the original and improved upon its shortcomings, like its bulk and weight. 

In terms of value, the BackBeat Pro 2 are basically a steal. With the BackBeat Pro 2, you’re getting a 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. If you don’t want to drop $350 (£290, AU$500) on the Bose QuietComfort 35 or $400 (£330 or AU$700) on Sony’s flagship MDR-1000X, the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 should be on the top of your shopping list. 

Read the full review: Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

We're constantly reviewing new noise-cancelling headphones, but let us know on Twitter if there is a set that you'd like us to take a look at.

Spotify dealt major blow as Apple Music set to overtake in paid US subscribers

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 11:09

Apple's focus on music downloads meant it was a little late to the music streaming business, but it seems the delay hasn't harmed its chances of being number one. 

Figures obtained by the Wall Street Journal suggest that Apple Music might be about to overtake Spotify in the US to have the most paid subscribers in the US.

Globally, Spotify still has the lead with 70 million subscribers versus Apple Music's 36 million, but the development will be a big win for Apple's music service. 

A difference in models

According to the numbers, the shift is unsurprisingly due to occur because of Apple Music's higher growth rate than Spotify at 5% month-on-month versus Spotify's 2%. 

But it's hard to do a like-for-like comparison between the growth rate of the two services because of their subtly different business models. Apple Music has a three month free trial compared to Spotify's 30 days, and doesn't offer a free tier of service. 

It's likely that the upcoming launch of the HomePod will further spur growth in Apple Music's subscriber numbers. News emerged last week that the upcoming speaker won't support Bluetooth streaming, which will be a blow to Spotify users on Android devices without access to AirPlay. 

Last year we were sceptical of a report that Apple Music had 10 million more users that Spotify, but this latest news suggests that the two are now far more evenly matched in the States. 

Meanwhile there are still massive differences in the popularity of streaming services across the world. Globally Spotify is still dominant, but surprisingly Deezer has the lead in its homeland France, and other services have their own pockets of popularity. 

The best Bluetooth speakers 2018: the best portable speakers for any budget

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 16:59

Best Bluetooth Speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to TechRadar's round-up of the bluetooth speakers you can buy in 2018. 

There are two extremes in the audio world. At the high end are costly hi-fi setups made up of almost a half-dozen different devices. They can sound incredible, but are equally good at costing an arm and a leg and taking up a dedicated equipment rack. 

At the other end of the spectrum sit Bluetooth speakers. Yes you'll have to keep these battery-powered devices charged, and their reliance on Bluetooth rather than good old-fashioned cables means that the sound fidelity is never going to be as good, but they're much cheaper and a lot more convenient. 

Here's our list of our top picks for the best Bluetooth speakers around. Some are rugged. Some are stylish. Some are weatherproof and some aren't fit for the outdoors - read through and take your pick. 

Here's a quick look at the Top 10 Bluetooth speakers in 2018.

How to pick out the best Bluetooth speaker

One of the biggest questions we get asked when talking to folks about Bluetooth speakers is: How do I pick out the best one? The answer is to set your budget, figure out a list of must-have features and then shop within those constraints. 

Regardless of what features you want from your speaker, its imperative that it has a decent battery life and good level of sound quality. There's no point in having a device packed full of features if its battery dies quickly and it sounds rubbish. All of our picks fulfil these two requirements, so when you're picking from this list you can afford to focus more on features. 

On the features side, common requests include water-resistance (and water-proofed speakers), voice calling and device charging - a feature that allows you to plug your phone or tablet into the speaker to siphon off a bit of juice when it's running a bit low.

Another good way to narrow down your search is to select a speaker based on the activity you're going to do with it. A great travel speaker might not have the exact same attributes as the best home listening speaker, for example. 

That being said, we've tried to highlight some of the most common use cases below and have selected a speaker that fits perfectly with that scenario.

The best Bluetooth speakers of 2018: 

This sequel to the UE Boom nails everything a Bluetooth speaker should be. It's loud, yet detailed. Portable, but still incredibly durable. Plus, even better, the addition of waterproofing turns what used to be the best Bluetooth speaker around for most occasions into the best one for every occasion. 

If you're deep in the search for your next –, or first – Bluetooth speaker, you can stop looking now. (But if you're looking for a little more power, the Megaboom – also from UE – is a great choice, too.) 

Read the full review: UE Boom 2

Meet one of the Bluetooth speaker market's best-kept secrets. The Fugoo comes in your choice of jacket style (Style, Tough, or Sport), but no matter which one you choose, this speaker is just as suited for the elements as it is your coffee table. 

Despite its small size, this option offers surprisingly good sound performance and, get this, up to 40 hours of battery life when listening at medium volume. We were able to get nearly 20 hours out of it at a high volume.

Read the full review: Fugoo

As a package, the JBL Charge 3 offers a compelling set of features and excellent sound quality to boot. It punches well above its weight, playing loudly and distortion-free. 

The Charge line of speakers have been on our shortlist of recommendations for a long time thanks to the way they combine great sound quality with the ability to charge your devices over USB. 

The latest iteration maintains JBL's dominance in the portable Bluetooth speaker market.

Read the full review: JBL Charge 3

The new Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless is a beautiful piece of design. It's a solid, reassuringly weighty wireless speaker delivering on all the B&W audio heritage which the British audio maestro has been building up throughout its  lifetime: The sound is clear and natural, delivering room-filling audio with seriously punchy mid-range, and dynamic, controlled bass.

Its price might put a bit of a damper on your wallet, but if you have audiophile tastes that extend into the portable speaker space, the Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless is the only speaker you should be considering.

Read the full review: Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless

The Bose SoundLink Mini II is relatively ancient, having been released in June 2015. However, writing off the SoundLink Mini II because of its age would be a mistake, as it remains one of the best sounding wireless speakers. 

That said, it punches way above what its size would suggest, producing deep bass, sparkling highs and a lush midrange. While most wireless speakers sound OK, the Mini II proves that small speakers don’t need to compromise on sound, and other Bose conveniences like a charging pad. 

Read the full review: Bose SoundLink Mini II

When someone asks us for a recommendation for a waterproof speaker, the UE Roll 2 was always on the top of our list. We loved the Roll 2’s unique form factor, 50-foot wireless range and, obviously, it sounded good, too. Where it was lacking was in the bass department. Logitech, UE’s parent company, has fixed the Roll 2’s lack of bass by creating the appropriately named UE Wonderboom. 

In our eyes, the UE Wonderboom bests the Roll 2 in just about every way –except for the Roll 2’s handy bungee cord. Still, ignoring that, if you’re looking for one of the best waterproof Bluetooth speakers on the market today, it’s hard to do better than the UE Wonderboom. 

Read the full review: UE Wonderboom

The Creative Muvo 2C is a speaker than punches well above its weight in terms of its sound quality. This tiny Bluetooth speaker is one of the smallest we've seen to pack its own bass radiator, which results in much better dynamic range than many other speakers at this price point. Plus, it's also feature rich in terms of its inputs, allowing you to play music either over Bluetooth, a 3.5mm jack, USB or even insert a microSD card to play MP3 files directly. 

Of course, that being said, if you spend more you'll get a more refined sound, better bass still, and a longer battery life. But if you're looking for a budget speaker than the Muvo 2C is hard to beat at this price. 

More recently we've reviewed its older sibling the Creative Muvo 2, which could be an option if you want this same functionality in a slightly larger form factor. However, it doesn't present quite the same value for money as the 2C. 

Read the full review: Creative Muvo 2C

B&O created a hit with the Beoplay P2. It’s a well-designed speaker that’s extremely easy to use, has a well-built companion app, and it sounds great. On top of that, the speaker is ultra-portable without compromising on much bass content. Sure, you could get something a little bigger (and stereo) for the same price, but at this size the sound quality justifies the price. The smart gestures are a nice touch too, although we wouldn’t buy the device solely for that reason.

Read the full review: B&O Beoplay P2

The Marshall Kilburn might not appear to be the best choice in Bluetooth speakers. It’s large, heavy, doesn’t have USB charging and isn’t waterproof – plus, $299 (£239, about AU$390) is a lot to pay for a Bluetooth speaker. 

But none of this matters because the Kilburn sounds so darn good. 

Over a month's time, we fell in love with the Kilburn’s design, feel and pristine sound quality. There’s no other portable Bluetooth speaker on the market quite like it. It’s a head turner and conversation piece. It’s a piece of audio art that you’ll be proud to show off to your friends during a party. 

Read the full review: Marshall Kilburn

It seems just about every speaker company has a wireless speaker that can take the abuse of being outdoors and Bose, a company most well-known for its brand of excellent noise-canceling headphones, is no different. 

If you’re looking for something from Bose to take with you on your next hike, the $130 (about £100, AU$170) SoundLink Color II is the company’s only splash-proof speaker that can stand up to the elements with an IPX4 rating. 

Read the full review: Bose SoundLink Color II

  • Now need something to listen to? Check out our collection of the best podcasts

The cheapest AirPods prices in February 2018

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 00:01

Apple's new wireless headphones have proven difficult to find since launch, but we've tracked down the cheapest AirPods prices on the net to make sure you get the best deal.

Stock of AirPods has been getting snapped up at a super fast rate, which isn't great news for those of you looking for a big discount. The AirPods' price is undeniably high, but we're in familiar territory here given Apple's reputation for premium items with the cost to match.

If you've taken advantage of a cheap iPhone X deal or iPhone 8 deal lately, the Apple AirPods rank amongst the best earphones to pair with your new phone. Although, as they're bluetooth, you can pair them with plenty of other mobile phones too and even laptops.

How much are AirPods?

The official AirPods' price is $159 in the US and £159 in the UK. So you shouldn't pay any more. Although, we have seen some stores cheekily push the price up when stock thins out.

At the time of writing, we're seeing that AirPods are mainly available at the official Apple store. They're actually the cheapest there too generally as the third-party prices at Amazon and eBay have seen inflated prices thanks to the lack of stock.

Once stock is more readily available everywhere though, expect the usual outlets to charge closer to the RRP and, better yet, dip below it. Fingers crossed we don't have to wait long though!

As an alternative, there are lots of wireless earphone and headphone deals in our Beats headphone deals page.

Sonos finally kills off CR100 controller and long-time fans aren't happy

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 17:09

After ceasing the sale of it way back in 2012, Sonos has today announced that it's ending support for the legacy CR100 hardware controller that first launched alongside its multi-room speakers back in 2005. 

From April 2018 anyone who still owns and uses the controller will no longer be able to use it to control their speakers thanks to an upcoming firmware update. 

Users on the Sonos forums aren't happy about the change. "Should Sonos stay with the decision to forcibly retire the CR100 I will part ways with the company and seek alternative solutions when the time comes," said Don_H.

"These controllers aren't the most elegant solution, but they are purpose-built and run like tanks."

Another forum-member, Dash, expressed similar frustration, pointing out that the change would impact upon both their non-smartphone owning child and older relatives. 

An inevitable move?

However, with the hardware now over 12 years old and having not been on sale for over five years, the writing has been on the wall for the CR100 for some time now as smartphone control has taken over. 

After an initially shaky start, Sonos's app has seen excellent improvements over the years, and is now the primary way people will interact with their multi-room system. 

With Alexa support having arrived on the entire range of speakers, and Alexa being directly built into the recently released Sonos One, voice control has now joined the app as a means to control the system. 

These developments will bring little comfort to those users who will see their hardware lose its functionality. Sonos is running a recycling scheme for any CR100s still out in the wild, underlining the finality of this decision. 

We've contacted Sonos to see if there's any way fans of the old CR100 will be able to continue using the controller past April, as well as to find out if the touchscreen enabled CR200 will be meeting a similar fate. 

  • Check out our review of the recently released Sonos One

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