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Whatever you do, don't cut the cord connecting the Google Pixel Buds

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 19:17

One of our chief complaints in our hands on Google Pixel Buds review was that the "wireless" earbuds aren't actually wireless.

That's because the headphones, which tout the ability to translate different languages in real-time, are connected by a cord, thus disqualifying them from being true wireless 'buds, as is the case with the Apple AirPods or Samsung Gear IconX.

And, even if you're tempted to cut the cord between the Pixel Buds (just because?), you shouldn't. As spotted by Android Police, Google's support page for the headphones warns against it.

"The cord between the two earbuds conducts power and audio signals so do not cut it," the page reads. "The warranty will be voided if the cord is cut."

Turns out, then, that the cord isn't just to keep you from misplacing your Pixel Buds. It actually serves a purpose, and the headphones will likely be ruined if you snip the cable. 

Google's Pixel Buds go on sale in the US in November for $159. The earbuds will come to the UK and Australia shortly after, costing £159 and AU$249, respectively. 

You'll have your choice of three colors, each designed to match the Google Pixel 2 and Google Pixel 2 XL. The cord, far as we can tell, isn't customizable.

  • Headphones are sure to make noise with deals this Black Friday

The best TVs for gaming on PS4 and Xbox

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 20:10

When the original Xbox One and PS4 consoles came out, it looked like video games - on consoles, at least - had opted to sit out the 4K revolution that was already sweeping the TV world: Both consoles were originally resolutely HD-only, and there wasn’t so much as a sniff of support for the high dynamic range (HDR) technology that was just joining 4K on the TV scene.

Skip forward three years and mid-generation hardware updates have given us the PS4 Pro and Xbox One S: consoles capable of outputting both 4K and HDR for video and gaming purposes. (Although, PCs are starting to see graphics cards supporting 4K and HDR, too.) To sweeten the deal, just ‘round the corner we have the Xbox One X – the most powerful console ever made, capable of delivering a whole new era of native 4K/HDR gaming beauty.

While this is all brilliant news for the quality of our gaming experiences, though, it puts ever more pressure on your TV. A console can have all the power in the world, but if it’s attached to a TV that can’t harness that power it might as well be a ZX Spectrum. Well, not quite, but you get our point.

Unlocking the good stuff

So what exactly does a TV need to be able to do these days to unlock your full gaming potential? Let’s start with arguably the most basic requirement: 4K.

Resolution revolution: The Xbox One S outputs all of its games in 4K, achieved via surprisingly good built-in upscaling. 

The PS4 Pro outputs games in 4K too, using a mix of upscaling and in-game enhancement. The Xbox One X, meanwhile, has been designed with enough power to drive more games than ever before with native, game engine-integrated 4K support. Yes, you can still get non-4K Xbox One and PS4 consoles, and the Nintendo Switch isn’t interested in 4K either. And yes, non-4K games will have to be upscaled by a 4K TV, so won’t be totally ‘pure’. However, upscaling is remarkably good on the best 4K TVs now, and can be done without adding significant delay to the time it takes a TV to render pictures.

4K resolution can be transformative, especially on big screens. And basically 4K is just the way everything is going now (both in the gaming and video worlds), so not being set up for it with your new TV just doesn’t make sense.

Change your range: Sitting right alongside 4K in today’s video world is high dynamic range (HDR) technology. This delivers pictures with a much wider light range than the standard dynamic range pictures we’ve been living with for decades in a bid to get the pictures we’re seeing on our screens looking closer to the way our eyes see the real world.

The Xbox One S supports HDR on some of its games, and via some of its streaming apps. The same situation applies for both the PS4 and PS4 Pro, and naturally the Xbox One X will deliver HDR too. Most people would say that HDR done well delivers more impact than 4K, especially on small screens. 

The only problem is that HDR puts a lot of pressure on a TV, since it demands both much more brightness than SDR, and better contrast so that the extra brightness and deeper blacks can potentially share the screen simultaneously. In fact, HDR done badly can look worse than SDR done decently well; something to think about if you’re considering buying a very cheap TV.

Let there be light! One of the most important elements of a good HDR performance is brightness. Many movies and games target 1000 nits or so for their brightest elements, so if you have a TV less bright than that it won’t unlock HDR’s full potential. Especially in a video game environment, where graphics can be more stark in contrast terms than ‘real life’ tends to be.

It’s perfectly possible for TVs to deliver great HDR pictures without reaching 1000 nits and more of brightness. This is particularly true with OLED screens, for instance. But the darker a screen, the harder its processing is going to have to work to try and figure out how to resolve picture information in HDR areas above its capabilities.

Lag? Lame! If you’re a really serious gamer - especially when it comes to reaction-based online games - you need to care about input lag: The time it takes for a particular TV to render image data received at its inputs. Obviously you’re looking for low numbers if you don’t want to be shot in the face by an opponent your TV hasn’t even shown yet!

Again, manufacturers don’t tend to provide input lag figures in their provided specifications. However, we generally measure input lag on the TVs we test. Also, I’ve provided the input lag measurements for all of our recommended TVs.

Roger that – over and out: Sound design has always played an integral part in a great gaming experience. It’s getting taken to another level these days, though, with the arrival of surround sound gaming. In fact, the Xbox One S and Xbox One X consoles even support Dolby Atmos: Dolby’s most advanced sound system yet, which introduces a height channel and ‘object based’ precision to the soundstage.

With impressively good timing, LG is about to roll out support for Dolby Atmos over HDMI to its 2017 OLED TVs (some of which ship with integrated sound bars) any moment now. Also, while integrated Atmos support isn’t found elsewhere yet, this year has seen a surge in TVs featuring really powerful sound systems. So unless you’re thinking of investing in an external sound system, it will certainly pay you to have sound as well as picture quality in mind when you buy your gaming TV.

Things to pay attention to are whether speakers are facing forwards (as this will almost always give you a more direct, clean sound); rated power output; whether there’s a dedicated bass speaker (often found on a TV’s rear); built-in soundbars; and the number of individual speakers used.

The chosen ones

OK, now that the essential buying advice done and you're an AV expert, let’s now pick out our selection of the best gaming TVs you can currently buy, taking in a combination of price and sheer quality.

This high-end 65-inch Samsung set has a number of unique gaming-friendly advantages. For starters, unique screen filters mean that pictures are almost completely unaffected by ambient light. And trust us: being able to game in daylight and enjoy pictures that look as intense, bright and contrast rich as they do in a dark room is nothing short of a revelation.

The 65-inch screen also delivers hands down the brightest pictures the TV world has seen, which works wonders on the intensity of a typical game’s graphics - especially if the game is available in HDR.

The set resolves 4K resolutions majestically too, while its heavy duty build quality enables it to produce a fairly potent and distortion-free audio performance (despite its having seemingly no visible speakers).

If all that wasn’t exciting enough, the QE65Q9FAM blows out the competition with an exceptionally low 12ms of input lag when using its Game mode.

The QE65Q9FAM can suffer with some gentle light clouding issues during very high contrast HDR sequences, and it’s also, alas, painfully expensive. But if you want the best, etc…

Review link: Samsung Q9F QLED TV

While the OLED55E7 doesn’t have nearly as much HDR-friendly brightness as the Samsung Q9F range, it’s stunning when it comes to the other end of the brightness story, delivering gorgeously rich, deep black colours completely free of the sort of clouding issues that LCD TVs suffer with. Also, while OLED can’t yet go as measurably bright as LCD, the way the darkest pixel in an OLED picture can sit right next to the brightest with no contamination between the two gives the OLED55E7’s pictures a lovely luminous quality that’s particularly effective during dark game settings.

It’s great to see, too, that LG has got input lag down to just 22ms across all source types (using its Game picture preset).

One last big attraction of the OLED55E7 is its built-in sound bar. This will soon be able to handle Dolby Atmos from the Xbox One S and Xbox One X consoles, and can produce a huge wall of bass-rich sound (provided you run it LOUD) that works brilliantly for gaming without the need for an external audio system.

Review link: LG OLED E7

Sony’s XE9305 range is unique in the LCD TV world for using two light guide plates. This essentially gives it twice as much control over how much light reaches different parts of the screen as you get with other edge-lit LCD TVs.

As a result, the 55-inch 55XE9305 – XBR-55X930E in the US – can put ferociously bright HDR highlights (up to 1400 nits and more) on the screen alongside deep blacks more effectively than any other edge LCD to date.

Colours also look superbly rich and vibrant thanks to Sony’s Triluminos processing, and no brands handle motion as slickly as Sony. You can sometimes see traces of light ‘blocking’ around stand-out HDR objects, but for the most part the 55XE9305’s pictures are blisteringly bright gaming nirvana.

The only niggle is the 55XE9305’s input lag figure of around 38ms. This is slightly higher than we’d ideally see, and occasionally momentarily slips to 52ms.

Read the full review: Sony XBR-X930E / KD-XE93 Series

Samsung's MU7000 Series is the brightest TVs in their price class, immediately giving it an advantage over the affordable competition for HDR gaming – especially as they surprisingly manages to deliver better (or, at least, more consistent) black levels than Samsung’s more expensive 2017 models.

They don’t use local dimming, however. While this means it can’t get as deep with its black colours as TVs that do use local dimming, it also means you don’t see as many distracting clouding problems.

Oh, FYI: the 49-inch panel is only 8-bit, but colours still look rich and mostly free of striping (and bigger MU7000s are actually 10-bit). Even better, input lag on the UE49MU7000’s Game mode is a phenomenally low 12ms.

Read the review: Samsung MU7000 Series

Panasonic’s latest LCD TV might not be as bright as most of its rivals, but it does have a rather cool trick up its sleeve: new digitally enhanced backlight technology that adjusts the angle of each pixel to reduce the usual light clouding problems associated with LCD technology. This gives you dark gaming scenes more uniformity, making it easier to remain immersed in the action.

The 50EX750 also stands out from the crowd for gaming with its outstanding 10ms of input lag when using its gaming mode. Frustratingly you actually get comfortably the best picture quality from the 50EX750 if you use its Dynamic picture preset - but you could always stick with Dynamic for most of your gaming and only switch to Game when you’re playing something where reaction times are really important.

While the OLED55B7 lacks the ultra-glamorous design and built-in soundbar of the LG OLED55E7 higher up this list, remarkably it delivers almost exactly the same high level of contrast-rich picture quality for a whole lot less.

Input lag remains equally strong at just 21ms too, and while it’s important to stress again that OLED’s 740 nits of peak brightness limits the impact of its HDR pictures in some ways, its ability to place deep black colours just a pixel away.

Read the review: LG OLED B7 

One of our final recommendations for a gaming TV is another big one. This gives us the chance to raise one final issue about gaming on today’s consoles and PCs compared with previous generations: that you really have to think big if you’re going to get anything like the ultimate gaming experience.

This is partly because you need a relatively large screen to get the most from 4K resolutions, but also because the main TV brands are increasingly only building truly HDR-friendly colour, contrast and brightness performances into their relatively large - and, alas, expensive - TVs.

Even a 55-inch Sony model struggles for brightness a little in its bid to make 4K HDR pictures relatively affordable. However, it does a great job with colours within that brightness limitation thanks to Sony’s Triluminos processing engine, while its black level performance is outstanding for such an affordable and edge-lit LCD model. It also only suffers with 21ms of input lag on average - though oddly, lag occasionally slips to around 50ms for a frame or two.

The 65PUS7601 boasts arguably the single most aggressively game-friendly feature on this list, in the shape of its Ambilight system. Ambilight uses LED lights ranged along the TV's rear left, right and top edges to throw out coloured lights that can be continually matched in terms of shade, intensity and even location to the colours in the picture you're watching; the result is greatly enhanced connection with what you're watching, something that's especially useful where gaming is concerned. The Ambilight system even features a dedicated gaming mode, designed to react faster than normal to changes in your game graphics. The 65PUS7601 also provides generally strong (for its reasonably low price) 4K and HDR picture quality, and you can get input lag down to only around 30ms if you're careful how you set it up. The set even features a dedicated HDR game mode that adjusts the HDR processing to suit the relatively stark and precise look of game graphics versus 'natural' video.

A little more buying advice for the road...

If you want to learn more about shopping for gaming TVs, we've added a bit more info below. Read on to level up your AV knowledge skill!

Bits and B.O.B.s: Connected to the HDR point, you might want to think about your gaming TV’s bit depth. The best HDR experience requires a 10-bit screen able to support 1024 values of each RGB colour - otherwise you will get an inferior colour performance, including, possibly, colour striping where you should see subtle blends. Most premium HDR TVs these days are 10-bit, but it’s far from a given at the relatively affordable end of the TV market.

The Xbox One S and PS4 consoles automatically assess the bit-depth of your TV and select the optimum HDR video output accordingly. The Xbox One S even provides a description of your TV’s capabilities under 4K TV Details in its Advanced Video Settings menu. The Xbox One X will presumably do the same.

To be clear, it’s entirely possible for an 8-bit TV to deliver a good HDR colour performance if they have a strong video processing engine. But 10-bit panels certainly have an immediate advantage.

One other point to add here is that some TVs - including high-end Samsung models - actually support 12-bit colour management/processing, even though their panels are only natively 10-bit. The Xbox One S and presumably Xbox One X both provide Colour Depth boxes in their Video Fidelity settings that let you select the maximum bit performance for your particular TV.

Colour purity: Another advanced setting but important thing to consider for the ultimate gaming visuals is chroma subsampling.

This video compression term refers to a TV’s colour purity, and is usually written in such terms as 4:4:4 and 4:2:0. These numbers reveal how many pixels colour is sampled from in the top and bottom rows for every two rows of four pixels. So with 4:2:0, for instance, colour is being sampled from two pixels in the top row and no pixels in the bottom row.

From this it follows that the bigger the numbers are, the purer the colour performance will be, as there’s less ‘guesstimating’ of what colours should look like. The problem is, full 4:4:4 colour support requires a lot of extra image data, and so cannot be handled by the HDMI connections or processing of all TVs.

In truth, the differences in picture quality between 4:4:4 and 4:2:2 and even 4:2:0 aren’t usually enormous. They can be more pronounced with gaming graphics than video, though, so it’s worth trying to check what a TV you’re thinking of buying can support - even though it’s not information regularly carried in TV spec lists. The latest consoles are pretty good at detecting the optimum chroma subsampling a TV can support, automatically adjusting their outputs according.

It’s something that can cause annoying ‘handshaking’ issues with some TVs, though, so both the Xbox One S and PS4 Pro now provide subsampling ‘limiter’ options in their video output menus (‘Enable 4:2:2’ on the Xbox One S, and 2160 YUV4:2:0 on the PS4 Pro). 

Frame rate handling: Now that the Xbox One X is almost here and promising native 4K resolution games running at 60 frames a second, make sure that whatever TV you buy has the latest specification HDMI sockets. If it doesn’t have at least one HDMI socket built to the v2.0a specification, it won’t be able to receive 4K resolution at anything higher than 30 frames a second.

Fortunately far more of this year’s 4K TVs do feature HDMI 2.0a sockets than in previous years, but it’s still something that’s worth double checking - especially if you’re buying a particularly cheap TV.

Now you know everything there is to know about gaming TVs! 

ZAKK’s new Bluetooth headset keeps runners safe at night

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 12:12

 

Global lifestyle brand ZAKK has come up with a unique concept for its new Firefly Bluetooth headset: built-in LED lights designed to enhance visibility for late night joggers.

The Firefly headset alongside its standard audio cables, also runs a LED light cable that can glow to alert oncoming traffic. The LED can light up in three different modes – fast flash, medium flash and continuously stay on. The light lasts up to five hours of when lit, or four hours of being lit up with music playback.

Additionally, the Firefly headset sports a sweat-proof coating and can connect up to two phones simultaneously, with its 85mAh battery providing up to five hours of music playback. It also features a built-in microphone that offers up to seven hours of hands-free talk time.

“The launch of ZAKK Firefly in the UAE complements the lifestyles of fitness-savvy and health-conscious individuals,” said Karan Saini, Head of Marketing at ZAKK. “The Firefly has been designed to perfectly blend the essential requirements of security, technology and lifestyle elements.”

The ZAKK Firefly LED Bluetooth headset is now available for AED 99 in stores across the UAE.

The best stereo speakers in 2017

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 18:28

As technology continues to progress, we audiophiles haven’t changed a bit: At the end of the day, we want our sound clear, full, and true to the original source. Finding a set of speakers that checks our laundry list of requirements, however, is much easier said than done. 

To find the best stereo speakers on the market, we reached out to some of the best audio companies on Earth to review and test a wide variety of stereo speaker setups, ranging from compact bookshelf speakers to room-dominating towers with built-in subs. We will be reviewing more units in the future and adding them to this list, so keep your eyes (and ears) peeled for that. 

The testing process

In testing these speakers, we compared each stereo set at a comparable power level and tested the same tunes, plucked a variety of music genres. 

Our test songs spanned the dynamic range of music and artists, from John Mayer to Tom Petty, and from U.K. prog-metal band TesseracT to the likes of John Williams and Hans Zimmer. Each song was chosen to test the dynamics offered by each set of speakers with some speakers reacting better to certain genre’s than others, depending on their design.

Of course, not all speakers are created equal in function. The Definitive Technology BP9080x towers, for example, are obviously made to cover a more broad frequency range than say the Edifier bookshelf speakers with a 4 inch woofer. We used to our best judgement in testing these speakers according to their individual purpose and affordability, and graded them with that in mind. 

Since comparing bookshelf speakers to high performance towers is an obvious case of apples and oranges, we’ll at least try to make it clear which speaker is an apple and which is an orange. Sound good? Good.

Without further ado, these are the best stereo speakers we have tested so far. 

In life, money isn’t everything. In sound, however, it’s pretty important.

Case in point: the Definitive Technology BP9080x speakers. Right off the bat we want to make it clear that this stereo pair is a luxury item that is made only for the most avid audiophile on the market. 

If that’s you, then let us tell you just how amazing these speakers are. 

From beginning to end of the covered frequency range, the BP9080x speakers are crystal clear, articulate, and genuinely moving. The passive design is aided by an active subwoofer, giving the user independent control of the subwoofer volume on each tower, meaning it can be adjusted to fit any room with any standing waves. 

The midrange is as full and clear as any speakers we’ve ever heard, never getting overworked or muddy no matter what songs and sounds we threw at it. The pitch-perfect mid range blends perfectly into the gorgeous treble frequencies that never got harsh, even when the windows were shaking from the volume. The clarity from the top of the frequency range to the bottom can’t be overstated. 

On top of it all (literally) there are two “height channel” speakers that make this a perfect centerpiece in your Dolby Atmos or DTS:X home theater. 

All of this audio goodness is wrapped in a tall and slender package made from premium materials that is impossibly discreet, especially considering the amount of volume it can pump out. All we can say is that if you’re looking to spend the money (and it is a lot of money), we can’t recommend Definitive Technology’s BP9080x speakers enough. 

If you’re not in the market for full-on entertainment behemoths like the Definitive Technology towers, the Klipsch RP-150M speakers are a surprisingly affordable bookshelf speaker option with a mid-range and high frequency clarity that rivals our top pick. 

These light and passive reference speakers are beautifully designed and are a continuation of what Klipsch does best: honest and clear replication without over-coloring the sound. While the 5-inch woofer doesn’t do much in the way of bass, not coming audibly close to the 48 Hz promise on the frequency response, these speakers have a surprising amount of low-mid thump. 

The mid range in these Klipsch speakers is completely clear and open, allowing for subtle articulation to come through that would be lost on lesser systems. The upper range never gets shrill and has a natural air under it that seems to be a signature in Klipsch products. 

Overall, if you’re looking for a solid pair of stereo speakers for casual listening, studio work, or piecing together an entertainment system, these Klipsch RP-150M speakers are just about as good as they come, especially for the price. 

The beauty of Polk Audio is in its ability to make quality speakers that compete with the biggest name brands while keeping a lower price tag. Do these beautiful full range Polk Signature S60 towers stand up to the prowess of the Definite Technology BP9060x towers? Well, not exactly, but these are stellar speakers in their own right. 

Polk’s passive signature series speakers for home entertainment are designed to provide full and immersive sound, and for the most part, they hit the mark. The mid-range, which is the easiest to muddy up, is crystal clear and articulate no matter what sound is blasting through these almost four-foot tall towers. 

The high frequency range is certainly lively, occasionally to the point of shrillness when the volume is really pushed, but never gets too harsh for comfort. As for bass frequencies, the packaging advertises a unique porting system that allows more low frequencies to travel more easily. However, to hear the bass really cutting through, the volume needs to be cranked quite a bit. Still, overall the sound quality is excellent in these Polk Audio speakers, the frequencies might could just use a little tweak with an external equaliser. 

If you’re looking for a more affordable alternative to the Definite Technology towers, the Polk Audio Signature S60 speakers are a solid option that will likely outshine just about any other run-of-the-mill home entertainment system you’ll encounter. While they don’t handle the highs or the lows as well as our premium pick, we have no doubts that even the most critical ears will be happy with the signal these bad boys pump out.

The Edifier R1280T speakers are a popular choice on Amazon, and for good reason. These compact desk/bookshelf style speakers back an impressive sonic punch and look good doing it, all while keeping the price tag under $100 for the pair. Ok, it’s $99.99, but that penny really does count!

The standout features here include its active design, rich mid-range response, and surprisingly competent bass. Because of the small woofer size, these guys obviously don’t push much low-end, and because of the tweeter design, the highs aren’t as clear as the competition we tested. But other than that, the frequency response and clarity holds its own pretty well.

While they don’t compare to the encompassing power of the Definitive Technology BP9080x or even the clarity of the Klipsch RT-150Ms, these compact speakers certainly serve a purpose. If you’re looking for an affordable set of computer speakers, or better yet a warm stereo set up for your turntable, the Edifier R1280T speakers are a fantastic option for the money.

Google Home Mini bug caused devices to record 24/7

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 09:27

When putting an internet-connected device with a microphone in it in your home there's always the risk that it could be constantly recording and sending your data to its manufacturer. 

For some owners of review samples of the Google Home Mini, this worst case scenario came to pass as their devices were found to be constantly recording and sending the audio data to Google. 

After a journalist from Android Police (via: Engadget) received one of the devices from Google's recent launch event, he noticed that its lights were constantly flashing even when he wasn't speaking to it directly. 

The reason for this has to do with the touchpad that you can use to wake the device manually rather than saying 'OK Google'. On this particular device, this was malfunctioning, causing the device to constantly think the user wanted a command recorded. 

Since discovering the problem, Google has issued an update to correct the issue. 

Privacy concerns

This isn't the first time there have been privacy concerns surrounding a smart home speaker. 

Since the devices are always listening out for their 'wake phrase', there have been some concerns that the devices are constantly recording, and sending this voice data back to their manufacturers. 

These concerns came to a head last year when data from an Amazon Echo was requested as part of a murder investigation. This caused Amazon to issue a statement confirming that voice data was only sent back to the company after a wake word was heard. 

However, more recently a security expert demonstrated how a previous generation of the Echo device could be modified to allow a hacker to remotely harvest its data without the user's, or Amazon's, knowledge. The vulnerability has since been removed in the current generation of the device. 

This malfunction will do little to dampen these privacy concerns, although it's reassuring that it has affected a pre-release review sample and that Google would correct the issue so quickly. 

Thankfully, not every recipient of a review sample of the device was so unlucky.

Best earphones under Rs. 1,000 in India for October 2017

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 05:29

With the festival of lights, Diwali just around the corner, a lot of us are looking to cross off items on our checklists. Over the last few weeks, we have covered a range of gadgets you can buy at great prices – from smartphones to laptops, cameras, Bluetooth speakers and more. In this post today, we take a look at some of the best earphones under Rs. 1000 that you can buy in this festive season.

With companies like Xiaomi, OnePlus and others not bundling a pair of earphones with their smartphones, there are a lot of us looking for a pair of good earphones to enjoy music on the go. While these companies themselves offer earphones separately at decent prices, there are some good alternatives from companies like Sennheiser, Sony etc.

Keeping in mind the basic requirements from a pair of affordable earphones, we have compiled a list of the best earphones you can buy under Rs. 1000. Some of these earphones are available at attractive discounts during the ongoing festive season sales, so you may want to take a look at them.

Sennheiser CX180

The Sennheiser CX180 is one of the bestselling pair of earphones in the Indian market. These in-ear earphones have been so successful that Sennheiser had to manage its supplies on a per-dealer basis. But what makes the CX180 so popular?

Featuring a simple and intuitive design, the Sennheiser CX180 support a frequency range of 20-20,000Hz, with a sensitivity of 110dB. Focusing on serving the entry level earphone buyers, the CX180 feature a decent amount of bass – striking a good balance between aggressiveness and quality.

Sennheiser has struck almost all the right chords with the CX180. With an entry level price and the right kind of sound, the CX180 has proven to be a great success for the company. However, there’s one thing though – the CX180 doesn’t come with an in-built mic, so you may not be able to switch tracks or attend calls. However, at a price of Rs. 699, the Sennheiser CX180 is a very good option to consider.

Buy Sennheiser CX180 at Rs 699 from Amazon India

Sony MDR-EX150

Sony is another well-known name when it comes to audio devices, so it’s no wonder that the Sony MDR-EX150 made it to our list of best earphones under Rs. 1000. Featuring a simple and elegant design, the MDR-EX150 offer slightly more than the Sennheiser CX180.

Like the CX180, the Sony MDR-EX150 also stay focused on delivering a decent bass experience. An entry level pair of earphones from Sony, the MDR-EX150 come with a canalphone design and offer noise cancellation for an enhanced audio experience.

The MDR-EX150 support a frequency range of 5-24,000Hz, with a sensitivity of 103dB and impedance of 16 Ohm. They are quite lightweight – standing at just 3 grams without the wire. These earphones come with a 9mm dynamic driver and hybrid silicone earbuds, combining to give you a good overall experience. The one drawback of the MDR-EX150 is that they do not come with an in-built mic, so if you need one, you’re better off looking at other options.

Buy  Sony MDR-EX150 at Rs 599 from Amazon India

boAt BassHeads 220

A new entrant and an Indian company, boAt has been offering some really good earphones for a while now at very attractive prices. The boAt BassHeads 220 is the first entry from boAt in our list of best earphones, giving you a very good bang for your buck.

Unlike other options in this list, the boAt BassHeads 220 features some metal in its design, giving it a slightly more premium look and feel. They also feature a flatwire design, offering users a tangle-free experience – that alone makes a good case for the BassHeads 220.

Coming to the core specifications, the boAt BassHeads 220 support a frequency range of 20-20,000Hz and a sensitivity of 98dB. It comes with 10mm drivers and supports passive noise isolation to improve your audio experience. Additionally, it also comes with an in-built mic and music shortcuts, allowing you to receive/hang up calls, change tracks, play/pause and more.

Buy boAt BassHeads 220 at Rs 649 from Flipkart

JBL C100SI

JBL is a very well-known name when it comes to audio devices, and sure enough, it finds a mention in our list. The JBL C100SI are a very decent pair of earphones in the entry level segment, offering a good balance between design and ease of use while retaining the sound quality.

Like most other earphones in this price range, the JBL C100SI feature support for a frequency range of 20-20,000Hz and a 9mm driver for an enhanced audio experience. Given the features offering by competing earphones, the JBL C100SI also focus on delivering a very good bass experience. JBL also touts its well-known sound quality, and after having tested it for a few months now, the claims are fairly true.

Another area where the JBL C100SI one-up some other options is the mic – the C100SI comes with an in-built mic allowing you to manage calls and change tracks easily.

Buy JBL C100SI at Rs 899 from Amazon India

Skullcandy S2DUL-J846

Skullcandy is a well-known brand with the young crowd, offering a good balance between quality and price. It also offers a range of colours which may interest a lot of people. While the glossy design and the Skullcandy branding everywhere may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s made out of good quality material.

The Skullcandy S2DUL-J846 offers support for a frequency range of 20-20,000Hz and come with a 10mm driver for an enhanced audio experience. Skullcandy reiterates that it is an amalgamation of style with performance – in this price range, the hardware on offer is very similar to what other competitors are selling.

These Skullcandy S2DUL-J846 earphones come with an in-built mic, but unfortunately there’s no control button so you will still have to use your phone to manage calls or change tracks. All in all, these Skullcandy earphones seem to come with a fair bit of cons when compared to other earphones in this price range. However, if you’re looking for a colourful, trendy option, these earphones can be an option.

Buy Skullcandy S2DUL-J846 at Rs 649 from Flipkart

Smart speaker's corner: why Amazon and Google can't let go of hardware

Sat, 10/07/2017 - 13:00

A few short months ago I thought I knew where the world of smart speakers was heading. I made bold claims about how Amazon's Echo hardware was on the verge of redundancy now that a host of third-party manufacturers were rushing to produce Alexa speakers of their own. 

Now, though, after a couple of weeks that have included a host of new announcements by both Amazon and Google, I’m not so sure. 

Although my previous prediction looks a little crazy in retrospect, at the time I’d just walked out of a meeting with chip-maker Qualcomm where their representatives had proudly shown off some tech that would make it far easier for third-party manufacturers to equip their devices with voice assistants. 

Even Amazon was getting in on the action by opening up the microphone tech behind its Echo speakers.

Not to be left behind, Google also got in on the third-party action

Everyone seemed to be preparing themselves for a tidal wave of Alexa and Google Assistant speakers as manufacturers rushed to tick this newest of feature boxes. 

The Panasonic SC-GA10 is one such third-party speaker that's packing Google Assistant.

At the time it felt like the point of Amazon and Google's own devices had been downgraded. They seemed to have been downgraded into something that was just meant to get the voice assistants into people’s homes, at which point Amazon and Google could take a step back and let other people manufacture the hardware. 

The two giants could then focus its efforts on the software in much the same way as Google did with Android in the pre-Pixel era. 

This tactic had been working surprisingly well. I saw numerous manufacturers rush to include either Alexa or Google Assistant in their new speakers at IFA, and just last week Sonos debuted the Sonos One, an Alexa-packing multi-room speaker. 

Even EcoBee built the assistant into the fourth generation of its smart thermostat

The Sonos One comes packing Alexa. And then the last two weeks happened

Then we saw a whole host of new first-party announced over the past two weeks. 

Amazon was first with its surprised Seattle event in which it announced an abundance of Echo devices. These included a new version of the base Amazon Echo, an enhanced Amazon Echo Plus, and a miniature screen-equipped Amazon Echo Spot

Then, at its big Pixel 2 launch event earlier this week, Google followed Amazon's lead and announced two new first-party Google Assistant speakers, the Google Home Mini and Google Home Max.

Its clear that neither Amazon nor Google have any intention to retire from the hardware race just yet. 

Amazon's Echo Plus shows the company has no plans to give up on its own hardware anytime soon. Where do we go from here?

Now that my previous theory about Google and Amazon stepping back from hardware has been proved wrong (thanks for that guys), where do we go from here? 

It seems obvious that Google and Amazon intend to take a Pixel-esque approach to their hardware where they control the ecosystem while also producing the flagship hardware to show other manufacturers how it’s done. 

But the direction of this new generation of screen-equipped devices is a lot harder to pin down, especially now that Google is rumored to be joining Amazon with a screen-equipped device of its own. 

Maybe third-party manufacturers will be given the ability to make screen-toting voice assistant devices of their own? Could we be about to see an army of Spot-style speakers from Amazon’s third-party partners?

Could we see screen-equipped devices from companies other than Amazon in the future?

But then again, maybe part of its plan to produce the flagship Alexa devices means Amazon will want to keep screens as an exclusive feature for itself. Other manufacturers can make smart speakers of their own, but for the full experience you’re going to have to go to Amazon. 

At the moment, I’m leaning towards the latter, at least until we get firmer news on Google’s screen-equipped offering. You’ll still be able to have everything in your house listen to you, but for the premium experience you’re going to want to buy one of Amazon’s own devices. 

Really though, it’s still early in the war for controlling the smart home. Whoever eventually does win, though, will reap the benefits for years to come.

  • Be sure to keep an eye out on Black Friday where Amazon is sure to lead the way on discounts for its Echo devices. Our Amazon Black Friday deals page will play host to all the company's best deals. 

The best stereo speakers in 2017

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 18:35

As technology continues to progress, we audiophiles haven’t changed a bit: At the end of the day, we want our sound clear, full, and true to the original source. Finding a set of speakers that checks our laundry list of requirements, however, is much easier said than done. 

To find the best stereo speakers on the market, we reached out to some of the best audio companies on Earth to review and test a wide variety of stereo speaker setups, ranging from compact bookshelf speakers to room-dominating towers with built-in subs. We will be reviewing more units in the future and adding them to this list, so keep your eyes (and ears) peeled for that. 

The testing process

In testing these speakers, we compared each stereo set at a comparable power level and tested the same tunes, plucked a variety of music genres. 

Our test songs spanned the dynamic range of music and artists, from John Mayer to Tom Petty, and from U.K. prog-metal band TesseracT to the likes of John Williams and Hans Zimmer. Each song was chosen to test the dynamics offered by each set of speakers with some speakers reacting better to certain genre’s than others, depending on their design.

Of course, not all speakers are created equal in function. The Definitive Technology BP9080x towers, for example, are obviously made to cover a more broad frequency range than say the Edifier bookshelf speakers with a 4 inch woofer. We used to our best judgement in testing these speakers according to their individual purpose and affordability, and graded them with that in mind. 

Since comparing bookshelf speakers to high performance towers is an obvious case of apples and oranges, we’ll at least try to make it clear which speaker is an apple and which is an orange. Sound good? Good.

Without further ado, these are the best stereo speakers we have tested so far. 

In life, money isn’t everything. In sound, however, it’s pretty important.

Case in point: the Definitive Technology BP9080x speakers. Right off the bat we want to make it clear that this stereo pair is a luxury item that is made only for the most avid audiophile on the market. 

If that’s you, then let us tell you just how amazing these speakers are. 

From beginning to end of the covered frequency range, the BP9080x speakers are crystal clear, articulate, and genuinely moving. The passive design is aided by an active subwoofer, giving the user independent control of the subwoofer volume on each tower, meaning it can be adjusted to fit any room with any standing waves. 

The midrange is as full and clear as any speakers we’ve ever heard, never getting overworked or muddy no matter what songs and sounds we threw at it. The pitch-perfect mid range blends perfectly into the gorgeous treble frequencies that never got harsh, even when the windows were shaking from the volume. The clarity from the top of the frequency range to the bottom can’t be overstated. 

On top of it all (literally) there are two “height channel” speakers that make this a perfect centerpiece in your Dolby Atmos or DTS:X home theater. 

All of this audio goodness is wrapped in a tall and slender package made from premium materials that is impossibly discreet, especially considering the amount of volume it can pump out. All we can say is that if you’re looking to spend the money (and it is a lot of money), we can’t recommend Definitive Technology’s BP9080x speakers enough. 

If you’re not in the market for full-on entertainment behemoths like the Definitive Technology towers, the Klipsch RP-150M speakers are a surprisingly affordable bookshelf speaker option with a mid-range and high frequency clarity that rivals our top pick. 

These light and passive reference speakers are beautifully designed and are a continuation of what Klipsch does best: honest and clear replication without over-coloring the sound. While the 5-inch woofer doesn’t do much in the way of bass, not coming audibly close to the 48 Hz promise on the frequency response, these speakers have a surprising amount of low-mid thump. 

The mid range in these Klipsch speakers is completely clear and open, allowing for subtle articulation to come through that would be lost on lesser systems. The upper range never gets shrill and has a natural air under it that seems to be a signature in Klipsch products. 

Overall, if you’re looking for a solid pair of stereo speakers for casual listening, studio work, or piecing together an entertainment system, these Klipsch RP-150M speakers are just about as good as they come, especially for the price. 

The beauty of Polk Audio is in its ability to make quality speakers that compete with the biggest name brands while keeping a lower price tag. Do these beautiful full range Polk Signature S60 towers stand up to the prowess of the Definite Technology BP9060x towers? Well, not exactly, but these are stellar speakers in their own right. 

Polk’s passive signature series speakers for home entertainment are designed to provide full and immersive sound, and for the most part, they hit the mark. The mid-range, which is the easiest to muddy up, is crystal clear and articulate no matter what sound is blasting through these almost four-foot tall towers. 

The high frequency range is certainly lively, occasionally to the point of shrillness when the volume is really pushed, but never gets too harsh for comfort. As for bass frequencies, the packaging advertises a unique porting system that allows more low frequencies to travel more easily. However, to hear the bass really cutting through, the volume needs to be cranked quite a bit. Still, overall the sound quality is excellent in these Polk Audio speakers, the frequencies might could just use a little tweak with an external equaliser. 

If you’re looking for a more affordable alternative to the Definite Technology towers, the Polk Audio Signature S60 speakers are a solid option that will likely outshine just about any other run-of-the-mill home entertainment system you’ll encounter. While they don’t handle the highs or the lows as well as our premium pick, we have no doubts that even the most critical ears will be happy with the signal these bad boys pump out.

The Edifier R1280T speakers are a popular choice on Amazon, and for good reason. These compact desk/bookshelf style speakers back an impressive sonic punch and look good doing it, all while keeping the price tag under $100 for the pair. Ok, it’s $99.99, but that penny really does count!

The standout features here include its active design, rich mid-range response, and surprisingly competent bass. Because of the small woofer size, these guys obviously don’t push much low-end, and because of the tweeter design, the highs aren’t as clear as the competition we tested. But other than that, the frequency response and clarity holds its own pretty well.

While they don’t compare to the encompassing power of the Definitive Technology BP9080x or even the clarity of the Klipsch RT-150Ms, these compact speakers certainly serve a purpose. If you’re looking for an affordable set of computer speakers, or better yet a warm stereo set up for your turntable, the Edifier R1280T speakers are a fantastic option for the money.

The best earbuds (in-ear headphones) available today

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 16:02

Best In-Ear Headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to TechRadar's round-up of the best earbuds and earphones you can buy in 2017.

Of the many types of headphones available on the market, in-ears are perhaps the most compact. 

While over-ear and on-ear cans have a bulky headband that sits over your head, in-ear headphones (or earbuds), sit neatly inside the ear, making them perfect if you want to wear something that's low-profile and innocuous.

This makes them perfect for the gym, where bulkier headphones can be weighty and uncomfortable. 

Not only are the best pairs of in-ear headphones ultra-comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, but newer models can be completely wire-free. We have a few listed below (see: Beats X and Optoma NuForce BE Sports3), but you can check out our full guide to the best wireless headphones if you're looking for more suggestions on which headphones are the best at cutting the cord, or our guide to the best true wireless earbuds for some earbuds that are completely wire-free. 

We're constantly reviewing new pairs of earphones, so we're always updating this list as we find better ones available. That means while this list might change from month-to-month as better headphones make their way to our test stations, you can rest assured knowing that you're getting the best headphones on the market at any point and any time you buy them.

Without further ado, here are the 10 best earbuds we've tested.

  1. 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone
  2. Optoma NuForce BE Sport3
  3. RHA T10i
  4. Beyerdynamic iDX 200 iE
  5. Klipsch Reference X6i
  6. Sennheiser Momentum In-Ears
  7. 1More Quad Driver In-Ear Headphones
  8. V-Moda Forza
  9. Focal Sphear
  10. Bose QuietControl 30

Additional resources: 

After spending a few weeks with both the 1MORE Triple Driver in-ear headphones and the 1MORE Quad Driver in-ear headphones we were blown away at just how much value each one gave in their prospective price ranges. 

For $100 (£100, about AU$168), it’s hard to think of a better sounding and built headphone than the 1MORE Triple Driver. That said, if you want just that little extra refinement and luxury materials, the 1MORE Quad Drivers are still a bargain at twice the price. 

There’s very little we can fault the Triple Drivers for. Its rubber cable is annoying and its remote control feels cheap but these are just nitpicks. But, for its price, it’s impossible to do better than 1MORE's Triple Driver in-ear headphones. 

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

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

Leading off our list is the RHA T10i. It's here for one simple reason: the sound quality is incredible, thanks to the snug seal created when the headphones are stuck in your ear. OK, plus the bass is also robust for such small earphones.

The RHA T10i look slick with a metal finish around the drivers and around the cable as well. They also come with several replacement tips if the defaults don't fit your ear canal. They're more expensive than other buds on the list, but there's good reason they're in our top spot.

Read the full review: RHA T10i

There's no shortage of sub-$200 headphones on the market, but the Beyerdynamic iDX 200 iE are at the top of the pack. Their excellent build quality, sound and design make them one of the most well rounded in-ear headphones I've ever heard. No, they're not cheap, but again, you get what you pay for.

Read the full review: Beyerdynamic iDX 200 iE

The Klipsch Reference X6i are a wonderful-sounding package. Their comfort, build quality, sound quality and features make it great value for the money, too.

They have some problems (like an awful lot of cable noise while you're moving around with them on), but if you're looking for balanced sounding in-ear headphones for $179 / £165 / AU$399,  we can wholeheartedly recommend the Klipsch Reference X6i. Stated simply, they're supremely comfortable audiophile-level in-ear headphones for an affordable price.

Read the full review: Klipsch Reference X6i

With the appealing candy apple detailing, Sennheiser gets you in the door. But once you're in, you'll stay for the killer sound quality that comes from the Momentum In-Ear earphones.

These are the among the best deals in the headphones market as it stands today. The company has a version available for each flavor of mobile OS – Android and iOS – so everyone can get in on the goodness.

Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear

They're expensive, but the 1MORE Quad Driver in-ear headphones are worth every penny. 1MORE hit it out of the park with this flagship pair of in-ear headphones with its balanced sound build quality, smartphone compatibility and price. These in-ear headphones will make mobile audiophiles very happy. 

The only reservation that we have is that the Quad Drivers face tough competition from 1MORE’s own cheaper Triple Driver sibling which costs half the price. In terms of value, the 1MORE Triple Driver headphones are the winner but for those who want just a bit better build and more detailed sound, the 1MORE Quad Driver headphones are worth the extra money. 

Read the full review: 1More Quad Driver In-Ear Headphones

The V-Moda Forza offers a lot: It sounds good; it's built to last and its modular design is like nothing we’ve seen before on an earbud. The Forza, therefore, are perfect for anyone who wants a headphone that can do it all, from working out to taking these with you on the morning commute to the office. 

Sure, it’s not the most balanced sounding or highest resolution, but the water resistance and modular design of the Forza make it a pretty compelling option.

Read the full review: V-Moda Forza

For a first attempt at making an in-ear headphone, Focal knocked it out of the park with the Sphear. They sound great with all types of music and offer an exciting, mid-forward presentation that will make your toe tap with the music. They may not be the best built or best isolating in-ear headphones on the market but for the commuter looking for a comfortable and great sounding pair of in-ear headphones, the Sphears check all the right boxes.

For about the same money, you can get the excellent Klipsch Reference X6i, which feel better made and offer a more laidback and balanced musical presentation. Also, unfortunately they’re designed for Apple devices so don’t expect the volume controls to work if you have an Android device. Boo! 

Read the full review: Focal Sphear

Life is full of trade-offs, and it's the same with the Bose QuietControl 30s. On the plus side you get a level of noise cancellation that’s on a par with the brand's over-ear headphones, but the compromise here is on sound quality, which is simply not as good as that of other in-ear or over-ear headphones we’ve tried.

 Read the full review: Bose QuietControl 30

Have a pair of headphones you want to recommend? Hit me up on Twitter

Amazon Great Indian Festival: Best deals on Headphones and Speakers

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 10:31

It's day two of Amazon India's Great Indian Festival sale and we're back with some crazy deals on headphones, earphones and wireless speakers. If you're looking for a really good pair of earphones or want that spine chilling sound while watching your favorite movie, head down below and have a look at these discounted products.

 

Not looking for a headphone or speaker? You can pick from the list below to get the best deals by category.

If you're looking to buy a new laptop, here are the best deals on laptops

Amazon Great Indian Festival: Best deals on laptops

Some great offers on wearables

Amazon Great Indian Festival 2017: Best deals on wearables

Best discounts and offers on mobile phones

Amazon Great Indian Festival 2017: Best deals on mobile phones

Offers on storage solutions: Hard disks, pen drives, and more

Amazon Great Indian Festival 2017: Best deals on Hard disks, Pen drives and more

The best power bank deals on Amazon are now live

Amazon Great Indian Festival 2017: Best deals on power banks

Boat Rockerz 400 at Rs 1,099 @ Amazon (save Rs 1,891)

The Boat Rockerz 400 wireless headphones come with 40mm drivers and get paired with your smartphone using bluetooth which makes them a great buy. Boat headphones are known for their punchy bass and noise cancellation at low price point. Additionally, if a user wants to connect the headphones using a 3.5mm jack, Boat Rockerz 400 come with that as well. The headphones are covered in faux leather finish and are really portable.

For those looking for a cheap wireless headphone, this is a good investment at Rs 1,099.

SteelSeries The SIMs 4 Gaming headphones at Rs 499 @ Amazon (save Rs 1,500)

Specifically crafted for The SIMs 4, these SteelSeries headphones are a real steal at Rs 499. Apart from being fully customisable for The Sims 4, users can configure the Plumbobs LED lights on both sides of the headphones through the Steelseries Engine 3. This headphone is pretty lightweight and gives fantastic sound. Its got a 2m cable length and users just need to plug and play.

Even if you're looking for casual listening or watching movies, these Steelseries headphones are a great buy at Rs 499.

Boat BassHeads 225 earphones at Rs 469 @ Amazon (save Rs 530)

Boat BassHeads 225 in-ear earphones might be the perfect pair of headsets available in under Rs 500 price range. It's a no brainer to even think about any other earphones for people who are on budget. The BassHeads 225 feature 10mm drivers but that's not the only great thing about these earphones. They are crafted out of polished metal and feel really sturdy in hand, though not that heavy when listening to songs. The earphones also come with tangle free cable and a microphone.

Boat BassHeads 225 as the names states are heavy on bass and impart a clear sound along with supporting noise cancellation.

Sony MDR-ZX110A On-Ear headphones at Rs 549 @ Amazon (save Rs 751)

If you're looking for a good pair of headphones but don't have the budget over Rs 500 to go for, say the aforementioned Boat Rockerz 400, the Sony MDR-ZX110A are a good option at Rs 549. These Sony headphones feature 30mm neodymium driver units to provide a really good and clear audio.

Users looking for a budget headphone deal, the Sony MDR-ZX110A are the headphone you should go for.

Sony Extra Bass MDR-XB250 headphone at Rs 899 @ Amazon (save Rs 591)

These Extra Bass headphones from Sony have been around from quite some time now. They come with 30mm driver units that provides deep and punchy bass, if you're looking for that kind of headphones. These headphones are specifically built for EDM lovers and is a great choice.

Amazon India is offering the Sony MDR-XB250 at Rs 899 which isn't a deal you should miss.

Google Home vs Home Mini vs Home Max: which smart speaker is for you?

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 14:01

With the dust now settling on Google’s host of new hardware announcements, it’s time to take stock of where the Google Home family of devices has ended up. 

There are now three official Google Home devices. There’s the original Google Home speaker, which was announced back in 2016, and the newly announced Google Home Mini and Google Home Max

Prior to the event there were rumors that Google might be preparing to announce a screen-equipped Google Home in much the same vein as Amazon’s Echo Show, but the rumored device was nowhere to be found on the evening itself. 

However, with three first-party Google Assistant speakers you now have a lot of choice if you want to get the search giant’s voice assistant into your home.  Here’s a rundown of how the three speakers compare. 

Price

The three speakers sit at radically different price points. The Mini is the cheapest of the three, and costs just $50 / £50 / AU$79, which is identical to Amazon’s budget Echo speaker, the Echo Dot

The standard Google Home, meanwhile, costs $130 / £120 / AU$199.

Finally, the premium Google Home Max was announced as having a price tag of $400 (around £305 / AU$510), which makes it the most expensive first-party smart speaker around, more costly that even Apple’s premium-styled HomePod which is set to cost $350 (around £265 / AU$450). 

Design

Although the three speakers follow a similar design template, mixing clean plastic with colored speaker meshes. 

The small Home Mini is available in three colors, black, grey, and coral (aka pink). Underneath the speaker mesh are four lights that illuminate to show that the speaker is listening to you. 

The standard Google Home speaker features a white plastic shell sitting atop a colored speaker mesh. Different colored bases are available if you want to customize the speaker to match your home, although by default the speaker comes with a gray mesh. Its listening lights are located on the top plastic of the device.

Finally, the Google Home Max is available in only black or white, with its four listening lights being located underneath the speaker mesh on its front. 

The Max is, as its name implies, a much larger speaker than either the Home Mini or the Home. Although it’s got rounded corners, the speaker is much more rectangular in appearance, and includes the option to be mounted vertically as well as horizontally. 

Sound quality

Due to their varying size constraints, the three speakers are equipped with radically different quality speakers. 

The Google Home Mini has the most basic speaker setup of the three. Google advertises its 40mm driver offers ‘360-degree’ audio. In our hands on time with the device we thought it sounded clear enough, though it was definitely lacking in bass. 

Things get a lot better when you move up to the standard Google Home. This speaker features dual 2-inch passive radiators for some added kick in the bass, and it pairs this with a 2-inch driver. 

The Google Home Max offers the most substantial audio quality of the three, and it achieves this through a combination of hardware and software. 

On the hardware side, the new speaker features two 4.5-inch woofers, and multiple tweeters. Google is yet to confirm the exact specifics of these drivers. 

On the software side, the Max also has content covered with a free 12-month subscription to YouTube Music. It also features Google’s room-sensing technology called Smart Sound, which apparently optamises the speaker to sound the best it can in whichever room it’s located. 

The technology sounds similar to what Apple is promising its upcoming HomePod is capable of. 

Suffice to say, when it comes to sound quality, it looks like you’re going to get what you pay for. 

Conclusion

Aside from differences in hardware, the three speakers will offer near-identical access to Google’s voice assistant. 

As such, you should be able to happily buy a Google Home Mini safe in the knowledge that it will be able to control your smart lighting just as capably as the premium Google Home Max. 

The difference, it seems, is in how likely you are to want to use the speaker to listen to music. If you want a smart speaker that’s going to mainly be used for setting timers and hearing the weather, then you can save some money with a Mini, while the Max should prove more than capable of being the centerpiece of a party. 

Of course, you could always buy one of the numerous third-party speakers equipped with Google Assistant that have been popping up all over the place, including the Harman Kardon Allure and Panasonic SC-GA10.

Google Pixel Buds can translate in real-time through your Pixel phone

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 18:09

Google Pixel Buds are a new pair of wireless in-ear headphones designed by Google for the newly minted Google Pixel 2 and Google Pixel 2 XL smart phones. 

While they might sound like a rip-off of a product you’ve heard before (cough, Apple AirPods) they could be one of the neatest, smartest wireless headphones ever released.

They’re smarter because not only do they offer the features you’ve come to expect in wireless earbuds at this point, like direct access to Google Assistant with one tap as well as voice commands, but the Google Pixel Buds will offer real-time 1-to-1 language translation.

During the company’s Pixel 2 event, the Google Pixel Buds were used to hold a conversation between two of the presenters – one speaking in English, the other in Swedish – and the results were played over the speaker for the audience.

Google Translate irl

As you’d expect, questions were translated from the English speaker to Swedish and the responses, which were said in Swedish, were translated back to English. 

The process was not only seamless but is was, genuinely, impressive – which could pose real a threat to products like Logbar, Pilot and Bragi’s Dash Pro Babelfish earbuds, especially since the Google Pixel Buds will be compatible with over 40 languages including Italian, French and Japanese, right out of the box.

Like Apple AirPods, the Google Pixel Buds will launch with a charging case that will help to provide 24 hours of uninterrupted playback when fully charged.

The Google Pixel Buds will come in three colors – Just Black, Clearly White and Kinda Blue – all of which match the colors of the new Google Pixel 2, and will be available starting in November in the US for $159/£159 with Canada, U.K., Germany, Australia and Singapore following shortly.

  • Sounds like Google Pixel Buds could be joining our list of the Best Bluetooth Earbuds sometime in the near future...

Google Home Max is the high-powered answer to Apple’s HomePod

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 16:56

Apple might have a great-sounding new smart speaker coming out later this year – but, as it turns out, so does Google.

The Google Home Max was announced at the company’s Google Pixel 2 event held on October 4 with one basic premise – Google wants to create a great, powerful sound that adapts to its environment.

The speaker packs in two custom 0.7-inch tweeters and two 4.5-inch dual-excursion woofers into a large chassis. Google claims that these drivers will help the Home Max drive its sound throughout the room. 

Of course, music isn’t the only application for a smart speaker and with devices like the Max and the original Home also being used for podcasts, audiobooks and voice calling as well. 

To that end, the speaker comes with a new technology called Smart Sound that raises and lowers volume contextually to match your environment. 

The example given on stage was to imagine turning on a dishwasher. Instead of asking Google Assistant to turn up the music so it can be heard over the sound of the machine, the AI inside the Home Max will dynamically adjust the sound to make it more audible. 

The Google Home Max will launch in December of this year for $399 (about £300, AU$500) – first in the US and then come to other countries around the world – and will come with a free 12-month subscription to YouTube Red.

Google Home Mini release date, news and features

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 16:36

Google's Home speaker is starting to look a little bit lonely. While Amazon has forged ahead adding numerous smart speakers to its Echo lineup, Google has stuck with just the one speaker, and has seemingly been content to allow third-party companies to bolster the lineup with speakers such as the JBL Link 300

However, that's all changed at Google's Pixel 2 launch event, where Google announced the Google Home Mini, a new puck-sized smart speaker in the same vein as Amazon's low cost Amazon Echo Dot.

As expected, the speaker is a low-cost entryway into Google's smart ecosystem. 

Cut to the chase
  • What is it? A smaller version of Google’s smart speaker
  • When is it out? October 19
  • What will it cost? It will cost $49 in the US, £49 in the UK and $79 in Australia
Google Home Mini release date

At its announcement, Google said that the new speaker will be released on October 19, with pre-orders opening today. 

Google also announced that the speaker would be coming to all territories that currently have the Google Home. 

A tweet from UK phone provider EE suggested that the speaker is coming to the UK on the same date as the US, although it stopped short of confirming this directly. 

Google Home Mini price

The Google Home Mini will cost $49 when it launches in the US, £49 in the UK and $79 in Australia. 

This is the same price as the Amazon Echo Dot, suggesting that Google has learned a lot from Amazon's low-cost competitor. 

Google is also including one for free with every Pixel 2 purchase, although it didn't announce whether this would be an international offer, or US exclusive. 

Google Home Mini features

With an enclosure made entirely out of fabric, the speaker has an incredebly rounded design. 

There are four lights underneath the fabric that indicate when the speaker is listening to you, and its top can be tapped instead of saying 'OK Google' out loud. 

Google advertises that the speaker offers 360 degree sound and has far-field microphones that can hear you through the sound of music playing. 

In terms of the functionality of the speaker, we’re expecting it to offer much of the same functionality as the full-size Google Home, albeit with a much smaller (and therefore likely weaker) speaker. 

Prior to its announcement, a leaked Walmart listing suggested the speaker will measure in at 4.53 x 4.53 x 4.72 inches (11.5cm x 11.5cm x 12cm), which is just a shade bigger than the Amazon Echo Dot’s 3.3 inch diameter and 1.3 inch height. 

The speaker will be available in three colors, Chalk (a slightly off white), Charcoal (a dark gray) or Coral (light pink). 

The cord present in the images suggest that the speaker will, like its bigger brother, rely on mains rather than battery power. 

Also prior to its announcement screenshots from someone living near the Google campus suggest that the speaker will unsurprisingly be set up in much the same way as the existing Google Home speaker through the Google Home app. 

Sonos One vs Amazon Echo: Can Sonos beat Amazon's home team advantage?

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 15:42

After over a year of promises, Sonos has finally announced its own smart speaker. Called the Sonos One, the speaker will combine the intelligence of Amazon's Alexa with the multi-room capabilities of Sonos when it releases on October 24. 

Not to be outdone, Amazon has also announced some new additions to the Amazon Echo lineup. There are now a dizzying array of different Amazon Echo speakers from the screen-equipped Amazon Echo Show to the miniature Amazon Echo Dot, but for the purposes of this guide we'll be comparing the newly announced Amazon Echo, since this is likely to become the default version of the smart speaker going forward after it releases in November. 

Here's everything you need to know about how the two speakers compare. 

Price

In terms of price, the Sonos One is much more expensive than the updated Amazon Echo. The new Amazon Echo will cost $99 / £89 when it goes on sale, while the Sonos One will cost $199 / £199. 

That makes the Sonos One over double the price of the new Amazon Echo. 

Depending on what you plan on using your smart speaker for, however, the extra money could be worth it. 

Sound quality

One of the biggest selling points of the Sonos One is sound quality. With a pair of Class-D amplifiers and custom built drivers, the speaker looks set to deliver the same high level of audio quality that Sonos has become known for over the years. 

The Sonos one also features the same Trueplay speaker tuning as Sonos's other speakers, 

Amazon's record on sound quality has historically been a little more patchy, with the original Amazon Echo being roundly criticised for lacking in bass. 

With the new Amazon Echo, the company has promised that it's going to improve the situation. The new speaker features a dedicated tweeter and a 2.5-inch downward-firing woofer. In our hands-on review of the new Echo we thought that these improvements lead to a clearer and more immersive sound.  

Of course, if audio quality is your primary concern, then Amazon has also recently announced the Amazon Echo Plus, which features Dolby Processing for a better level of audio quality. 

Design

In terms of design, the Sonos One follows the same design philosophy as the company's existing Sonos Play:1 with a plastic finish that's available in either black or white.

In this regard Sonos seems to be following in Amazon's footsteps, as the finish will sound very familiar to anyone who's spent time with the original Echo. 

With the new Echo however, Amazon has given its design an overhaul, introducing wood, cloth, and metallic finishes.

All this means the new Amazon Echo is the slightly more versatile looking of the two speakers overall. 

Multi-room functionality

Sonos was the brand that essentially invented the multi-room product category, and it's hence not surprising that the Sonos One will integrate with your existing Sonos speakers. 

You can either pair it up with other speakers to play the same music, or else have different music playing in different rooms. You can even pair two Sonos Ones together for stereo sound, add a Sonos Sub to improve the bass, or pair them with a Sonos Playbar or Playbase to integrate them into a surround sound setup. 

The Sonos One will also support Apple's AirPlay 2 with a forthcoming update, which will bolster its multi-room capabilities when used with iOS devices. 

Amazon has also added some multi-room functionality of its own with a recent update

It's not quite as substantial as Sonos's offering, but it should allow you to play music seamlessly across your house from all of your Echo devices. 

Physical buttons

Another key difference between the two speakers is physical buttons. 

While the Amazon Echo gets by with just four buttons (two for volume, one to wake Alexa, and one to stop the device from listening to you), the Sonos One is much more fully featured. 

The latter features touch controls that allow you to skip tracks without having to use your voice, which is helpful if you want to skip multiple tracks in quick succession (notoriously difficult when using voice controls). 

Other features

We initially suspected that Sonos's new speaker wouldn't otherwise have too much to distinguish it from Amazon's own hardware, but that was before the surprise announcement that the Sonos One will be made compatible with Google Assistant next year. 

The update will mean you should have the ability to summon either voice assistant to control your smart speaker. 

It's not yet clear how the two voice assistants will be combined. Presumably there'll be some option to switch between them in the Sonos app to avoid awkwardly summoning Google Assistant when you meant to ask for Alexa. 

Naturally, as an Amazon-made product, the Amazon Echo will stick to just supporting Alexa. 

Sonos One announced: the long-promised Alexa smart speaker is finally official

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 14:36

After months of waiting, Sonos's long promised Alexa-powered smart speaker has finally been announced. 

Called the Sonos One, the smart speaker integrates with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant via a dedicated Sonos Alexa skill. Interestingly, the company also announced that the speaker is also set to receive Google Assistant support later, in 2018. 

The voice control means you'll not only be able to control music playback, but you'll also be able to access all of Alexa's other functionality such as controlling your smart home and getting weather reports. 

Since this is a Sonos speaker after all, it will also be able to integrate with any other Sonos equipment you have to get music playing throughout your home. You can pair two together to create stereo sound, add a Sonos Sub or integrate them with an existing Sonos-based home cinema setup. 

Long-promised

The speaker is based on Sonos's existing Play:1 which we were seriously impressed with when we reviewed it. The Sonos One features the same Class-D amplifiers and custom drivers. There are also touch controls on the device to control music playback directly. 

Other features include the ability to turn down the music when the Sonos One is listening to your voice commands through its six microphone array. AirPlay 2 will also be supported via a software update next year. 

To limit privacy concerns, the speaker has a light that's hard-wired to the microphone so that you can be sure it's not listening to you when you don't want it to. 

The speaker will be available in either black or white finishes when it goes on sale on October 24 for $199 (£199) with pre-orders starting today. 

In addition to the new speaker, Sonos has also announced that Alexa can be used to control its existing lineup of speakers. The Beta for this service starts today

Sonos first indicated it was working on an Alexa-powered speaker back in August 2016. A change to its privacy statement back in August 2017 indicated we'd see the smart speaker soon, before just one week ago pictures of the speaker appeared in the wild

We'll be interested to see how the speaker performs when we get it in for a full review. If Sonos can combine its excellent audio chops with the intelligence of Alexa it might have a great little speaker on its hands. 

Sonos brings Alexa control to its existing speakers with Beta launching today

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 14:17

Sonos has announced that it is bringing Alexa control to its multi-room lineup. 

Thanks to the beta, which available as an update starting today, users will be able to speak to an Amazon Echo speaker and use it to play music on their Sonos speakers. 

You'll be able to instruct Alexa to play music in specific rooms, and also control music playback directly.  

Integration with a separate Echo

To get Alexa working with an existing Sonos speaker, you'll need a separate Amazon Echo speaker to listen to your voice commands. 

Alexa support has been long promised by the audio company, after it first announced it was working on it last year. More recently, a change to Sonos's privacy statement suggested the announcement was on its way soon.

We're looking forward to trying out Alexa control on our Sonos speakers when the Beta launches later today. 

AirPlay 2 support and an app upgrade

Sonos also used its presentation to announce that its lineup will shortly be receiving AirPlay 2 support, allowing you to stream music directly from your iOS device to a single or multiple speakers, and will also allow you to control your Sonos speakers using Siri. 

Alongside Alexa support, the Sonos app is also getting an upgrade. The new version will allow you to more easily group together rooms for playing songs on the fly. 

Sonos also announced that it was building an open smart home platform to allow different connected devices to talk to each other. It claims this is in an effort to build the 'Sonic Internet'. 

A 'Works with Sonos' certification badge will be applied to products which fully support the new standard. 

The platform is set to launch fully in 2018, with the developer portal launching today. 

Google Home Mini release date, price and rumors

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 09:54

Google's Home speaker is starting to look a little bit lonely. While Amazon has forged ahead adding numerous smart speakers to its Echo lineup, Google has stuck with just the one speaker, and has seemingly been content to allow third-party companies to bolster the lineup with speakers such as the JBL Link 300

However, that's all rumored to be changing at Google's upcoming Pixel 2 launch event, where Google is expected to launch the Google Home Mini, a new puck-sized smart speaker in the same vein as Amazon's low cost Amazon Echo Dot.

Although the speaker is yet to be officially announced, the quantity of leaks makes it seem almost inevitable. 

Read on for everything we know about the rumored smart speaker. 

Cut to the chase
  • What is it? A smaller version of Google’s smart speaker
  • When is it out? Latest rumors suggest October 19
  • What will it cost? Leaks suggest it'll be $49 (around £40, AU$60)
Google Home Mini release date

The latest rumors surrounding the speaker's release date come from a leaked Walmart listing that suggested the speaker will be out on October 19 in the US. 

Although this gives us a pretty firm idea of its US release date, we don’t yet have any information about when it will come to the UK. 

The Google Home speaker was announced at Google I/O, in May 2016, but it didn’t come to the UK until April 6 2017, which was far later than its November 4 2016 US release. 

Given its past performance, we wouldn’t be surprised if the UK didn’t see the Google Home Mini until early 2018. 

Then again, now that Google has done the hard work of getting Google Assistant working in the UK, there might not be any cause to delay its newest smart speaker in the territory.

Google Home Mini price

That same Walmart listing suggested that the device will retail for $49 in the US, though again we don’t have any information for other territories just yet. 

A straight exchange rate conversion suggests that its price will be around £40 in the UK and AU$60 in Australia, but as with all consumer electronics the exact pricing could differ massively. 

We won’t know for sure until Google officially announces the speaker. 

Google Home Mini rumors

In terms of the functionality of the speaker, we’re expecting it to offer much of the same functionality as the full-size Google Home, albeit with a much smaller (and therefore likely weaker) speaker. 

The leaked Walmart listing suggests the speaker will measure in at 4.53 x 4.53 x 4.72 inches (11.5cm x 11.5cm x 12cm), which is just a shade bigger than the Amazon Echo Dot’s 3.3 inch diameter and 1.3 inch height. 

The speaker will be available in three colors, Chalk (a slightly off white), Charcoal (a dark gray) or Coral (light pink). 

The cord present in the leaked images suggests that the speaker will, like its bigger brother, rely on mains rather than battery power. 

Finally, recent screenshots from someone living near the Google campus suggest that the speaker will unsurprisingly be set up in much the same way as the existing Google Home speaker through the Google Home app. 

There are also rumors the device might be announced alongside a Google Home 'Max'. Details are scarce on this second device, with rumors ranging from stereo sound to a built-in screen much like the Amazon Echo Show

Evidence mounts for Google Home Mini as it makes appearance in the Home app

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 14:13

Evidence is mounting that we're about to see the announcement of the Google Home Mini, a smaller version of the Google Home smart speaker similar to Amazon's Echo Dot

This leak comes courtesy of someone who lives near Google's campus in Silicon Valley, who discovered that the device was available for setup in their Google Home app

This suggests a neighbor had a Google Home Mini (possibly because they work for Google themselves), which during its setup phase anyone within range was briefly able to connect to. 

A Mini adventure

The Google Home Mini's existence was first suggested two weeks ago when Droid Life obtained leaked images. 

These images suggested the speaker would be available in chalk, charcoal or coral colors, and would be priced at a budget-friendly $49 (about £40 / AU$60) compared to the Google Home's premium $129 (£129 / about AU$170) price point. 

Without official confirmation we don't yet know when the smart speaker will make an appearance, but we're expecting to see the device make an appearance at tomorrow's Google Pixel 2 launch event

Best soundbars for TV, movies and music in 2017

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 06:37

Best Soundbar Buying Guide: Welcome to TechRadar's round-up of the best soundbars (also spelled sound bars) you can buy in 2017. 

While TVs have been undergoing their 4K revolution, audio has seen just as much of an improvement with the move towards object-based audio solutions like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. 

All this means that there are some pretty compelling reasons to upgrade your TV's built-in audio. 

But even if you don't go for top of the line features you can still give your system's sound an appreciable boost for even a moderate investment. 

Soundbars are the perfect audio solution for anyone that doesn't want the hassle of  installing a collection of separate speakers around their room powered by a dedicated amplifier. 

Instead, soundbars sit neatly underneath a television, providing great sound without dramatically increasing a TV's footprint. 

Choose wisely and you can also net yourself some great new technologies in addition to overall better sound quality. 

Over the years we've tested hundreds of soundbars, and our picks below cover a range of the best models on the market at a variety of price points.  

What's the best soundbar?

Soundbars come in many shapes and sizes, and range in price from under AED 1,000 to over AED 5,000. Cheaper models have basic connections, more expensive ones add superior HDMI inputs (including 4K/HDR passthrough), wireless audio streaming (e.g. Bluetooth and AirPlay), better power, more refined speaker drivers, and decoding of Blu-ray sound formats.

A full surround setup is the premium solution to bad sounding televisions, but if you're a little shorter on space (not to mention budget) then a soundbar offers a very decent compromise. Plus, these days higher-end soundbars will also include the latest and greatest audio technologies like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

Design is also important, with some models able to sit in front of your TV on a stand while others may need a separate shelf, or to be wall mounted. However, whatever your budget, there are some cracking good acoustic upgrades to be had that can give your TV the sound it deserves. 

Here are the best soundbars we've tested:

  1. Samsung HW-MS650
  2. Sonos Playbar
  3. Samsung HW-K950
  4. Bose SoundTouch 300

Not content with dominating the TV world, Samsung now seems to have its sights set on becoming the number one brand for home entertainment audio, too. All this effort has already delivered outstanding results in the shape of both the HW-K850 and, especially, HW-K950 Dolby Atmos soundbars, as well as a range of ground-breaking multi-room wireless speakers.

But, above everything stands the South Korean manufacturer's HW-MS650. No other one-body soundbar has combined so much raw power with so much clarity, scale and, especially, bass, or excelled so consistently with both films and music. It’s the sort of performance that only genuine audio innovation can deliver - and with that in mind, it’s well worth its AED 1,600 price tag. 

Read the full review: Samsung HW-MS650 Soundbar

The Sonos Playbar is a non-HDMI device that uses optical to hook up to a TV. Used simply on its own it delivers a massive sonic boost to your TV listening, but operating it does require using a smartphone or tablet app. 

The benefit is that it can seamlessly segue in to a Sonos wireless system, and can even act as the front three speakers in a 5.1 setup with two Play:1s acting as rears. 

Unfortunately although it's optical-only setup will be great for most, it does exclude owners of TVs that lack this connector, which has pushed it a little further down this list. 

Read the full review: Sonos Playbar

Do you need Dolby Atmos? This more immersive '3D bubble of surround sound' tech is here, created not only by a standard soundbar design, but with a couple of satellite speakers and a subwoofer added. Is that verging on a messy home cinema cinema of old? Perhaps in theory, but this is one of the sleekest implementations of Dolby Atmos yet. Using rear speakers with upward-firing speakers, it actually creates a virtual 5.1.4 system.

OK, so the AED 5,200 price tag is not perfect. It only plays DTS in stereo (unless you have a Blu-ray player that can convert it to Dolby Digital), but this simple-to-set-up package is an amazing performer that should be near the top of any audiophile's soundbar audition list.

Read the full review: Samsung HW-K950

Boasting high-end design, Bose's slim soundbar looks superb, and sounds above average. At 97.9cm wide, it’s best partnered with larger screen sizes (50-inch+) and priced at AED 2,600, it offers great sound. There are caveats regarding usability and price, but overall it warrants a cautious two thumbs up.

It's also worth mentioning that, as this isn’t a 2.1 package, there’s no subwoofer supplied – although Bose will sell you a wireless Acoustimas sub and the ST300 can be partnered with the brand’s Virtually Invisible (i.e. small at 10cm) 300 surround speakers. The system is also compatible with the Bose SoundTouch wireless multiroom system which includes smaller Bluetooth speakers.  

Read the full review: Bose SoundTouch 300

  • We've come up with a list of the best Sci-Fi movies to really put your soundbar to the test.

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