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Audio-Technica releases ATH-M50xBT wireless studio-grade headphones

Wed, 31/10/2018 - 02:00

Audio-Technica has a long history of creating professional quality headphones, with its M50 series used in recording studios the world over, reportedly favored by the likes of Stormzy and Royal Blood.

Now the Japanese audio brand has cut the cord, making its famous headphones wireless with the ATH-M50xBT, which connect to your devices via Bluetooth. They are available to buy now for $199 (£179 / AU$379). 

Harnessing the sonic power of the original M50s, the new headphones should be great for listening on the move, with touch controls to activate your smartphone’s voice activated assistant - whether you use Siri or Google Assistant. 

The M50xBTs have been designed with portability in mind, with a collapsible design and 90 degree swivelling cups, which Audio-Technica says provides a high level of sound isolation, so listening in noisy environments like trains or planes should be easy.

Long battery life

Audio-Technica claim the new headphones have an impressive 40 hour battery life, even during continuous playback - this means you should be able to get enough juice for around an entire week’s worth of commuting from a single charge.

If you prefer a wired connection or you’re running low on battery, the headphones come with a 1.2 meter cable that has an inline mic and controls. 

Whether the M50xBTs can truly provide the same level of audio quality as their wired counterparts remains to be seen, but with large aperture 45mm drivers and support for Bluetooth aptX, it should give you a high level of audio quality provided your source is good too.

You will also be able to manage the audio via the free Audio-Technica Connect app, which is compatible with iOS and Android phones. 

Categories: General Technology

Shure's next-gen headphone cable elevates wireless listening

Sat, 27/10/2018 - 08:03

Shure's sound-isolating earphones are unmistakable with their one-of-a-kind design. From the immense value of the entry-level SE215 earphones all the way up to the high-end clarity of the quad-driver SE846, Shure has established a lineage of impressive sound and fit, complete with that uniquely-shaped module and detachable cable.

And since last year, they've been wireless too. No, not in an Apple AirPods-like, free-floating manner. Instead, Shure's RMCE-BT1 Bluetooth Enabled Remote + Mic Accessory Cable let you swap out the original wired 3.5mm cable for a Bluetooth tether that linked up the earphones with a remote in between, but then connected wirelessly to your device for freedom of movement.

It was a great start, and according to Shure, the unexpected demand for the Bluetooth device convinced them that wireless connectivity was going to be a key part of their future in earphones.

Now Shure is back with the RMCE-BT2 High-Resolution Bluetooth 5 Earphone Communication Cable, and it's more than just a new look and version number: it's been retooled and rebuilt to deliver better performance, especially on the higher-end Shure SE models. Ahead of the launch, we visited Shure's Chicago-area headquarters and downtown offices to try out the RMCE-BT2 cable and find out about their mission in expanding their Bluetooth footprint.

The future of the headphone cable

As innovative as the new RMCE-BT2 cable is, Shure would consider it a minor innovation on its previous effort, the RMCE-BT1. Before, the two earphone connectors were joined by a single cable, which both an in-line remote and a small module hanging off of it. Now, however, the connectors emerge from a larger module with a metal clip and grippy texturing, ensuring that it'll stay put when hooked onto your shirt collar. And the in-line remote is still there on the right cable.

Of course, appearances are deceiving: What's inside is what really counts here, as Shure has redesigned the technology to maximize wireless playback performance.

"The first model was a very efficient, cost-effective model that met Shure's standards for things like reliability, build quality, and functionality," explains Matt Engstrom, Shure's category director for microphones, earphones, headphones, and phono. "For the second generation, we decided to go a little bit deeper on some of the componentry."

Coming off of the BT1, Shure saw an opportunity to build a higher-end version of its Bluetooth cable and create something that comes closer than ever to duplicating the output of a wired device.

The key difference is a dedicated headphone amplifier, which exists separately from the other components. Many wireless headsets use a single chip for the amplifier, antenna, Bluetooth radio, and other components to minimize size and expense. Coming off of the BT1, Shure saw an opportunity to build a higher-end version of its Bluetooth cable and create something that comes closer than ever to duplicating the output of a wired device.

"These days, it's possible to get a very-good quality package all in one. They'll put a Bluetooth radio, they'll put an antenna, they'll put a codec to convert digital to analog, and then they'll put an amplifier all on one chip. And they get pretty good," Engstrom explains. "The performance of them is admirable considering how inexpensive they are and what they do."

"Our products that can connect to these Bluetooth devices offer a very, very high level of performance. And that performance can't necessarily be achieved with an all-in-one solution," he continues. "So we chose to break out some of the critical components, namely the headphone amplifier, as a separate component. And what that headphone amplifier is going to do is provide a more full-range signal and better sound quality with less things like noise and distortion—a much better-matched signal."

Wireless for the discerning ear

For years, audiophiles derided wireless technology—and for good reason. Before better codecs came along, basic Bluetooth wasn't enough for high-resolution music to maintain its integrity during transmission. But, now that we have technology like aptX and AAC, that's a different story.  

That said, despite the advanced codecs, you might not be able to tell the difference between the BT1 and BT2. I couldn't tell the difference while wearing Shure's SE535 earphones, which start at $449, using the BT1 ($99) first and then switching the cable over to the BT2 ($149). Honestly, both sounded excellent to me.

But I'm not an audiophile and this isn't a review. (The SE535s cost more than twice as much money than the AirPods and other earbuds and headsets I typically pop onto my head.) For those listeners who demand a high-end audio experience, and who may have spent significant time with Shure's products lodged tightly within their ears, they may notice the subtle enhancements. 

But they are subtle, for sure.

"It does take a discerning ear, and for some products, it's not an immediately noticeable difference."

Matt Engstrom

"It does take a discerning ear, and for some products, it's not an immediately noticeable difference," says Engstrom. "The more demanding product—in our case, it's the more you spend: the single-driver, the dual-driver, the triple-driver, and the four-driver [models]. As you go up that line, the demands of that product become more substantial, especially up to the four-driver."

"It has an impedance—impedance is the resistance at which the system operates. It's very, very low, and unfortunately you also need an amplifier that's also extremely low-impedance to match that. The amplifier in this new wireless product is optimized for something that has a very demanding specification, like our high-end products. The difference you might notice is a more complete frequency response; the difference you might notice is extremely low noise floor when no music is playing, and a very strong capability to match very complex passages at loud volumes."

In addition to the hardware upgrades, the RMCE-BT2 also adds support for Qualcomm aptX audio codecs (along with AAC and SBC), with three modes available on compatible devices: standard aptX audio, aptX HD, and aptX Low Latency. "[aptX HD] offers a fidelity that's almost matched by cables. You get basically almost as good as a cable with something like HD," says Engstrom. Meanwhile, the Low Latency option is ideal when listening in locations with a lot of other Bluetooth devices around, to reduce any stuttering from congestion. The BT1 only had SBC support, so there are a lot more codec options this time around.

The BT2 also bumps up to Bluetooth 5 with this model, for improved connectivity, and packs in a couple more hours of battery life—it's up to 10 hours, from eight in the previous model.

Shure to continue 

Shure's biggest focus is on high-end listening tech, and the RMCE-BT2 only furthers that aim in the wireless space. Your average listener might not notice the aural advantages over the previous BT1 model, but for those Shure listeners who both want to squeeze every bit of added quality out of a device—while also embracing the freedom of Bluetooth connectivity—it may be an upgrade worth investing in.

"We continue to, after more than 20 years in the earphone business, try to improve the audio quality, fit and comfort, and durability," Engstrom affirms. "We make products that have very, very high standards of audio quality, so it only made sense to add this next-generation wireless adapter for our transducer platform."

This ensures that SE earphone owners can listen however they please, easily replace a busted cable or component without trashing the entire device, and enjoy a high-end product for a potentially long stretch of time.

Rather than release new, dedicated Bluetooth earphones, Shure continues to build upon its proven platform. This ensures that SE earphone owners can listen however they please, easily replace a busted cable or component without trashing the entire device, and enjoy a high-end product for a potentially long stretch of time.

Wireless may still be a new market for Shure, but the RMCE-BT2 High-Resolution Bluetooth 5 Earphone Communication Cable shows that the company is serious about providing a way for new and existing users alike to adapt to the growing demand for wireless connectivity.

"We were surprised at how many people bought our first-generation wireless [connector] last year, and that really helped us decide to double down in this market and come up with a new product," says Engstrom. "I think we're here to stay now."

Categories: General Technology

Logitech Z607 5.1 speakers get you surround sound on a tight budget

Fri, 26/10/2018 - 19:54

Making the upgrade to 5.1 surround sound can be a pricey undertaking. There's lots to consider, from AV amps to whether or not you want to go the whole hog to a Dolby Atmos system.

Logitech is looking to cater for those on a much tighter budget, without limiting the playback sources its latest speaker system can tap into. It's today announced the Logitech Z607 5.1 Surround System, available for the bargain price of £109.99.

That translates to roughly $140 or AU$200 – a steal for getting that immersive sound around your home.

Multi source

So what do you get for that price? "True" 5.1 surround sound from five satellite speakers and a 5.25-inch subwoofer, for a 160 watts max output.

You'll be able to connect up a TV, phone or computer via Bluetooth, 3.5mm or RCA cables – so note that this isn't going to offer any HDMI passthrough if you're looking to make this part of a living room cinema system.

However, it's aiming to make set up and use as straightforward as possible, with 6.2 meter cabling letting you easily dot the speakers around your room, and USB, SD card and FM radio playback all supported. There's also a small remote control included for controlling playback across a room.

Expect to find the speakers on sale from today over at the Logitech website.

  • Dolby Atmos: the ins, outs and surrounds of the object-based audio system
Categories: General Technology

Jabra launches Engage 50, a premium noise canceling headset for professionals

Fri, 26/10/2018 - 19:48

Jabra has launched a new noise-cancelling headset Engage 50. It's a professional corded headset aimed at improving call experience in offices, call centers or similar. It is said to be engineered to solve issues faced at customer service-led organisations. 

It features a 3-microphone system that is said to filters out background noise and breathing sounds and it's also compatible with on-premises and cloud-based softphone platforms. 

The headset is lightweight and promises a comfortable fit for prolonged wearing. The microphone can be adjusted for optimum comfort and better audio. To further increase employee productivity, there's a circular status lights on the earcups. It's a simple addition but it does help to indicate if you're on call or free to talk signaling with green and orange.

Additionally, the Engage 50 brings a call control unit (remote), which allows users to adjust volume, speed dial, mute/answer/end calls, and even control the status light. 

Some additional smarts are provided by a live on-screen rich call analytics to ensure best results for both customers and enterprises.

Price and availability

The Engage 50 comes in two variants - Stereo and Mono.  Stereo is priced at Rs 23,730 and Mono will be selling for Rs 21,470.

Categories: General Technology

TicPods Free true wireless earphones are on sale now

Thu, 25/10/2018 - 05:00

Following a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign from AI company Mobvoi, the TicPods Free true wireless headphones are now available to buy from its website for $129 / £119.99 / AU$199.

The new headphones look like a convincing dupe of the Apple AirPods, but with some crucial differences - although the design is similar, the TicPods come in a range of different colors and support Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, as well as Apple’s Siri.

Created by Mobvoi (the company behind some of our favorite smartwatches including the Ticwatch Pro and Ticwatch S), the in-ears come with a number of features including touch control and ambient noise cancelling technology. 

Touch and go

With a side touch panel on each earbud, you can control the TicPods using a number of gestures, including swiping up and down to adjust the volume, double tapping to answer and end calls, and long pressing to reject calls. 

A long press on the earbud should also activate your voice activated assistant of choice - whether you prefer Google Assistant, Siri, or Alexa, the TicPods should have you covered. You will of course need to be an iPhone user to enable Siri, but the headphones will automatically connect to whatever voice assistant you’ve set as your default on your iOS or Android device.

They also have an IPX5 rating, which means they won’t break down at the sight of rain (or after a sweaty workout session), and are available in red, white, or blue. 

In terms of audio quality, the TicPods have a few tricks up their sleeve, with ambient noise cancellation and a noise isolating design, meaning you should be able to listen to your music free from environmental distraction - and with four hours battery life and a wireless charging case, these could be the perfect headphones for your commute.

Categories: General Technology

Google's new Chromecast third-gen can stream full HD at 60fps

Thu, 25/10/2018 - 02:06

Google has launched the Chromecast 3 officially in India. The new casting device from Google is a successor to the Chromecast 2, and as the name suggests it is the third generation of the casting device from the company.

The Chromecast 3 is priced at Rs 3,499 in India and will be available in Charcoal color variant. It will be available exclusively on Flipkart as of now, and we’re expecting it to be listed on other online websites along with Google Store in near future. 

Early buyers will get a free one year subscription to Sony Liv and six months ad free subscription of music streaming app Gaana. Flipkart is also offering a Rs 100 cashback if you buy the Chromecast using PhonePe, which brings down the total cost to Rs 3,399. Additionally, during the ongoing Flipkart Festive Dhamaka sale, Axis Bank debit and credit card users can avail 10% instant discount. 

What's new in the third-gen Chromecast?

The Chromecast 3, similar to its predecessors, essentially helps you watch content on a screen via an HDMI by either mirroring smartphone screen or casting the content of a supported app to the TV.

The new inclusions are a claimed 15 percent bump in performance, support for 60fps video streaming at full HD (1080p) resolution. It used to be only HD (720p) in the previous models. 

Another major upgrade includes Google Assistant integration, which allows users to plug the Chromecast third gen to any speaker to simply use your voice to play content on YouTube or a compatible TV.

The third-gen Chromecast is supported by both Android and iOS devices and some compatible popular apps include Netflix, YouTube, HBO and Hulu. 

It has got a new design that goes in line with the latest Google Home products. It looks the same like a hockey pluck, but with a new matte finish, rounded corners and a Google’s iconic “G” logo on top. It measures 162 x 51.8 x 13.8mm and weighs 39.1 grams.

Categories: General Technology

Beastie Boys Sonos Play:5 special edition speaker is ready to mmm... drop!

Wed, 24/10/2018 - 20:21

You gotta fight for your right to party, and Sonos is here to help. It's teaming up with legendary rappers the Beastie Boys to release a limited edition of its Play:5 speaker, with all proceeds of the sales going to charity.

The Beastie Boys Play:5 features a cool design by San Francisco artist Barry McGee printed across its grille – but that's about it in terms of differences from the core Play:5 speaker. It's more a chance to shout about your love of the Brooklyn trio than anything else.

Make some noise

However, pick up the $499 speaker, and you'll also be doing your part to support Peace Sisters, a charity that supports underprivileged women in Africa, and Little Kids Rock, the charity that gives greater access to music lessons to children across the United States.

The Sonos Play:5 is a powerful-sounding connected speaker, bringing multi-room audio to your home from practically every conceivable digital source. The Beastie Boys edition will act just like a regular Play:5, and will seamlessly slip into your multi-room set up.

While the Beastie Boys speaker will only be available at physical retail in Sonos's NYC brick-and-mortar store, you'll still be able to pick it up globally online through Sonos.com. Act fast – it's being made available in limited amounts, so this will get snapped up quickly.

Categories: General Technology

Should I buy a HyperX Cloud Stinger gaming headset?

Tue, 23/10/2018 - 06:57

PC gaming audio has come a long, long way since when sound cards and digital surround sound were a big deal – to the point that you can get quality audio from a relatively affordable PC gaming headset. But, just how low can you go?

The HyperX Cloud Stinger, once lauded as one of the best PC gaming headsets on this very site, is an over-ear gaming headset that calls for just $49/£49 for what’s honestly a rather quality set of headphones. 

That price nets you a surprising amount of features for both comfort and function. So, will just 50 bucks or quid – a relative pittance in the grand scheme of your Black Friday expenses – be enough to upgrade your PC gaming audio experience?

The headset

HyperX’s Cloud Stinger is slightly rudimentary in its design, a solid piece of black plastic (with an adjustable steel slider for sizing) connecting two large ear cups with the HyperX logo emblazoned on them. These ear cups can rotate 90 degrees for a better fit that can more easily rest on your shoulders when it’s break time.

Inside, you’ll find memory foam cushions beneath leatherette ear cup pads, which wrap around 50mm audio drivers. On the left ear cup rests a microphone on a swivel that, when moved upward, automatically mutes itself – that’s a super convenient feature that not even some high-end headsets include.

Finally, gamers that like to play on Mac every once in a while (maybe at work?) will appreciate that this is a multi-platform headset supporting both Windows and macOS.

The cost

While the HyperX Cloud Stinger goes for just $49/£49, so do a few other competing budget gaming headsets. Most notably, those include the $49/£49 Corsair HS50, which features a more adjustable microphone that’s detachable (though, it doesn’t auto-mute).

This one, too, is a multi-platform headset, however it’s more widely so with support for Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch, too.

We’d say that the HyperX Cloud Stinger is definitely the more feature-rich – and PC-friendly – of the two, but not quite as widely applicable to your various gaming devices as Corsair’s. That said, the HyperX also has the super-neat (and useful) auto-muting feature, which is a rarity at this price point. So, if it’s quality PC gaming audio on a budget that you seek, the HyperX Cloud Stinger certainly gets you there.

Categories: General Technology

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

Sun, 21/10/2018 - 15:34

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

Even if you're lucky enough to have a dedicated AV cabinet and a speaker system to rival some of the biggest and best stadiums across the globe, there are still going to be plenty of times when you need a portable, reliable and durable Bluetooth speaker.

Whether you're looking for a speaker to take on your next adventure that'll need to be waterproof and drop-proof, a portable powerhouse that's capable of bringing the bass to an outdoor party or something small and compact that'll fit in your carry-on, we've collected together some of the best Bluetooth speaker options available to buy now.

Of course there are some compromises to the form factor, like limited battery life and a drop in audio quality - but, when it comes to convenience and price, Bluetooth speakers can't be beaten.

Your only problem is there's too much choice. So to help you decide which speaker to buy, here are some of our favorite possible portable audio companions for the beach, camping or on-the-go listening.

How to pick out the best Bluetooth speaker

With so much choice it's no huge surprise that the question we've been asked time and time again when it comes to Bluetooth speakers is: How do I pick out the best one for me? 

Well, although it may seem like the choice is endless, there are plenty with unique selling points. Some are rugged. Some are stylish. Some are weatherproof and some aren't fit for the outdoors. 

If you're having problems figuring out what speaker might work for you, start by picturing where you're going to use it and find a speaker that matches that setting. If you're a beach person, that means water- and dust-proofing are key. If you're a party person, you might want the ability to connect two speakers together or a speaker with multi-point pairing that allows multiple devices to connect at a time. We'll break down these features for you below to help you find a speaker that first for your unique lifestyle.

However, 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 fulfill these two requirements, so when you're picking from this list you can afford to focus more on features. 

Whatever your budget and whatever your needs, here are 10 outstanding Bluetooth wireless speakers, ranked by their price-to-performance ratio, that will surely work for you.

 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

The newest speaker in the Denon Envaya line is one of the first speakers to absolutely blow us away in 2018. It offers powerful, room-filling sound that will sound great to most ears, plus comes with an IP67 rating, make it both dust and waterproof. It's also built like a tank, making it one of the most durable speakers we've ever laid our hands on.

Despite a nearly flawless performance, the Envaya isn't perfect: While sound quaity is full, powerful and rich, it doesn’t have the treble bite some like and the buttons located along the side can feel stiff and difficult to operate. These are ultimately minor complaints, however, and the Denon Envaya remains a great Bluetooth speaker – easily one of the best you can buy this year.

Read the full review: Denon Envaya (DSB-250BT)

  • Now need something to listen to? Check out our collection of the best podcasts
Categories: General Technology

LG C8 OLED, Sony WH-1000XM3 win big at What Hi-Fi? Awards

Sat, 20/10/2018 - 06:59

If you’re a fan of AV, the name What Hi-Fi? should mean something to you. 

These folks have been covering the world of TVs, speakers and headphones for the last four decades and have a reputation for reviewing the latest and greatest in audiovisual tech. 

The culmination of a year’s worth of reviews happens at the brand’s annual What Hi-Fi? Awards, held in September and October of each year.

For the 2018 awards, 102 products walked away with a trophy – including some of our favorite products, like the Sony HT-ST5000 Soundbar and the Beyerdynamic Amiron – with top accolades going to the LG C8 OLED for Best 55-inch TV and 65-inch TV  under £2,500 and the Sony WH-1000XM3 for Best Wireless Headphones over £300.

Unsurprisingly, audio manufacturers Rega and Chord swept the turntable and DAC categories, respectively, with Panasonic's new DP-UB9000 winning an award for Best 4K Blu-ray player over £500.

While the awards are generally separated by price, one product in each of the categories will be awarded a Product of the Year trophy in-person at the annual What Hi-Fi? Awards ceremony, which goes down Wednesday, November 7.

Ready to see which other products got a nod this year? You can check out all 102 awards over at the What Hi-Fi? Awards 2018 landing page.

Categories: General Technology

Best Bluetooth earbuds: the 10 best wireless earbuds and earphones in 2018

Fri, 19/10/2018 - 15:00

Best Bluetooth Earbuds: Welcome to TechRadar's round-up of the best wireless Bluetooth earbuds and earphones in 2018

Bluetooth earbuds have come such a long way since they hit the market. At one time possibly the worst way to listen to music, they've become one of the best thanks to improved wireless transmission standards like aptX and innovations in battery technology that enable longer battery life in a smaller package.

These innovations were happening long before Apple ever thought of cutting the cord, but that certainly has helped push things along. 

If you're after good sound without the wires, thanks to the best Bluetooth earbuds, that dream is now a reality.

Offering wireless connectivity for your mobile or MP3 player, today's range of Bluetooth earbuds are showing it's possible to cut the cord and still retain high-quality audio. And with flagship phones slowly ditching the headphone jack, having pair of untethered headphones has never been more useful.

Ready to cut the cord? Read on for the best Bluetooth headphones we've seen so far: whether you're looking for a model with noise-cancellation, a good long battery life, or support for high-res audio, we'll have the best option for you.

Can't decide which type of headphones to buy? Check out our guide video: 

Wireless earbuds vs true wireless earbuds

Before we dive too deep down the rabbit hole, we should cover the whole true wireless vs wireless discussion happening in the audio world right now. 

Wireless headphones – the earbuds you see in front of you now – have existed for some time now, basically since Bluetooth as a standard was invented. 

For years they went largely unrecognized by the audio community because Bluetooth, despite being ultra-convenient, didn't do the best job transmitting music at a high enough resolution. That changed with the advent of aptX - a codec that allowed for higher bitstreams at lower latency. 

While aptX was changing the game for the whole of the audio community, audio manufacturers were working on an entirely new form factor: True Wireless.

True Wireless have no cord whatsoever. While wireless allowed us to wear headphones a few feet away from our music players, True Wireless cut the cord between the earbuds out completely, giving us true range of motion. 

If the small cord between the two buds doesn't bother you, you're in the right place – but, if you're looking to go full wireless, we also have a round-up of the best true wireless headphones to help you live that cord-free lifestyle.

What are the best wireless earbuds?

Optoma NuForce BE Sport4

NuForce have really crafted something special here with the BE Sport4 earbuds. Sleek and solidly-built, these are high-performance buds that improve on their already five-star predecessors. They're ideal for exercise, although any urbanite will also find their lightweight functionality and impressive sound isolation highly appealing. Proof that wireless headphones can now compete with the best of them.

Read the full review: Optoma NuForce BE Sport4

RHA MA390 Wireless

If you don't mind rocking the nechbuds, the Moto Surround hits all the high notes in terms of price, performance and battery life. After spending several weeks with the RHA MA390 Wireless, we came away extremely impressed with the package RHA has come up with. The headphones are built extremely well, have a fun sound signature, and can take a beating. And all at an affordable price. 

It’s main rival, the OnePlus Bullets Wireless, are also excellent, however we give the nod to the RHA MA390 for its more dynamic sound and better build quality. 

Read the full review: RHA MA390 Wireless

OnePlus is most known for its “flagship killer” phones like the OnePlus 6, but the company also makes headphones - the best example of which are the company’s excellent Bullets in-ears. But wired headphones weren't the end for OnePlus' audio escapades. Instead, OnePlus created a wireless version of its Bullets headphones and, for $70 (£70, about AU$124), they offer an incredible value in the neck-bud headphone category. 

The OnePlus Bullets Wireless are so good, in fact, that they’ve unseated the NuForce BE6i and Beats X in our list of the best wireless earbuds. This is a pair of wireless earbuds that we have no hesitation recommending to anyone.  

Read the full review: OnePlus Bullets Wireless

Jaybird X3

When Jaybird released the Jaybird X2 wireless headphones, they quickly became a favorite for athletes and casual listeners alike. Their reputation grew thanks to rugged construction, impressive sound quality and, above all else a respectable price that just kept dropping. The appropriately named X3s carry the Jaybird torch onwards, improving on almost every feature of their predecessor and managing to hit the market at a lower cost while doing so.

That said, the Jaybird X3 are a great improvement over an already excellent pair of in-ear headphones with the X2's: We liked their slimmer profile, a battery life boost is always welcome, and the new MySound app allows you to find a sound profile that's perfect for you. We'd prefer to have a universal USB charger rather than a proprietary charging dock, but this is a minor complaint for a pair of headphones that otherwise tick all the boxes. 

Read the full review: Jaybird X3

Optoma NuForce BE6i

Sony’s excellent WH-1000XM3 are the gold standard when it comes to active noise cancelling headphones but for some, the over-ear design may be a dealbreaker. If you wear glasses or plan on being active, an over-ear design is not ideal. If you fall into that camp, Sony’s answer is the WI-1000X. 

These wireless noise cancelling earbuds offer some of the best sounding wireless audio we’ve heard in a robust form factor that can survive the abuse of a daily commute or visits to the gym. The headline feature of the WI-1000X headphones is its excellent sound quality thanks to aptX HD support. 

As a package, the Sony WI-1000X do so much right that it’s hard to fault it too much for its average battery life, lack of multi-point connection, and slow Adaptive Sound Control. For audiophiles who travel often, these headphones should be a serious consideration.  

Read the full review: Sony WI-1000X

Beats X

There will always be those who are ready to complain about the sound performance of Beats headphones, but the inclusion of Apple's proprietary W1 chip has been a boon for the strength of their wireless connectivity. 

The Beats X hence make up for their slightly bassy sound with a rock solid connection and a pairing process that, on iOS devices at least, is as painless as it's possible to be. 

Functionally that makes these wireless earbuds a joy to use, just don't expect the most detailed or broad soundstage. If you’re shopping for a no-fuss pair of earbuds that charge in 5 minutes and don’t mind spending a little extra money on them, the Beats X are for you.

Read the full review: Beats X

Bose QuietControl 30

Life is full of compromises, and it's no different with the Bose QuietControl 30s. On the positive side you get a level of noise cancellation that comes close to what's offered by the brand's over-ear headphones, but the concession here is on sound fidelity, which just isn’t on the same level as that of other in-ear or over-ear headphones we’ve tested. 

There's also that neckband which adds an unfortunate level of bulk to what should otherwise be a slimline pair of headphones. 

Read the full review: Bose QuietControl 30

The best True Wireless Earbuds

Jabra Elite 65t

If you want a pair of high quality truly wireless earbuds that aren’t the Apple AirPods, then the Jabra Elite 65t should be at the top of your list. 

After spending over a month with them, we came away impressed with the well-rounded package that Jabra managed to create: The earbuds offer a subtle, mature look and a reliable wireless connection, which isn’t always the case with truly wireless earbuds. Plus, they sound great compared to the competition. 

If you only have the budget for one of these, go for the Elite 65t. 

Read the full review: Jabra Elite 65t

Optoma NuForce BE Free5

The NuForce BE Free5 wireless earbuds show just how accessible truly wireless headphones are today. For around $100 (about £75, AU$134) they feature a more polished design than the more expensive BE Free8, and even sound better to boot. However, we found the left earbud would drop out briefly more than we’d like, and we hope NuForce can address this issue.   

The connection dropouts combined with the frustrating controls keep it from claiming the top spot on our list, but the BE Free5 offer undeniable value in the truly wireless headphone market. 

Read the full review: Optoma NuForce BE Free5

Apple AirPods

While there are some definite benefits to them, we just can't give the AirPods the top spot on our list. Ultimately, their lack of in-line remote means that there are easier headphones to use while out and about, and Siri isn’t a good enough replacement. 

They might not fall out as easily as we once feared, but they don’t feel secure enough for their price or strong enough in the performance category to make up for this transgression. Maybe Apple’s AirPods 2 can fix these issues in the near future. That said, diehard Apple fans will not be disappointed by Apple’s first wireless earbuds. 

Read the full review: Apple AirPods

Categories: General Technology

Spotify cuts the fat from its Premium app with streamlined overhaul

Fri, 19/10/2018 - 11:42

Spotify’s Premium app hasn’t seen too much of a shake-up in the last few years, but the music streaming platform has announced the roll-out of a streamlined overhaul to its otherwise-familiar interface.

Spotify says the refresh is intended to “give subscribers an even more personal and intuitive experience”. In essence, it does this by removing two of the five menu tabs that appear at the bottom of the app – Browse and Radio.

The remaining tabs (Home, Search and Library) still play the same roles they previously did, but the Browse and Radio tabs have been integrated in various ways within them.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

When you tap on the Search tab now, you’ll be greeted with a search bar (obviously) and the same array of curated genre tiles that previously comprised the Browse tab. Once you click into the search field, you’ll get the familiar list of “recent searches”, so you can quickly find that artist or track you previously looked up.

The Radio integration, however, is a little more complicated. If you navigate to your Library, you’ll see Stations appear along with your playlists, songs, artists and so on, but you can also access a radio station from any song, artist, album or playlist via its option menu.

A neat new feature added to Spotify’s Radio functionality is the ability to save these curated playlists to your Library and make them available offline by downloading them for later listening.

The latest update have already begun rolling out globally to both Android and iOS users with a Premium account, so expect it to land on your device in the coming days if it hasn’t already.

Categories: General Technology

Sonos and Roku partnership could add Roku TV control to Sonos One

Fri, 19/10/2018 - 04:43

In a deal that would be a win-win for everyone, Roku could be pairing up with Sonos to add Roku TV voice controls to a Sonos voice-enabled speaker. 

The partnership, which is still in the works, would be a boon for home entertainment enthusiasts who often use a Roku TV or player alongside a Sonos system like the Sonos One speaker or Sonos Beam.

More importantly, the deal might let you wirelessly connect your Sonos speakers to a Roku TV thanks to the Roku Connect platform - which so far only includes the Roku Wireless Speakers. This collaboration would make sense as it adds a big brand name to the Roku Connect platform while simultaneously pushing Roku fans towards buying a Sonos-made speaker.

As great as this sounds from the perspective of an AV enthusiast, this is all still just a rumor at this point, with no confirmation from either company. 

But, should a deal come to fruition, it could also mean that Sonos would support the Roku Entertainment Assistant, the company's new voice assistant that’s likely to debut next year. 

If that becomes available on the Sonos One, Roku Entertainment Assistant would fourth supported smart assistant to appear on the platform after Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri that’s supported via AirPlay 2.

Hey Roku, find me some movies, will ya? 

In practice, the integration of the Roku Entertainment Assistant would let users search for movies and shows in Roku’s vast library of content using voice commands. 

Then, when they come across the content they’d like to play, it can just be sent to the Roku TV or Roku player, similar in the way Chromecast and Google Assistant speakers work today. 

A plan like this does raise some concerns about how robust Roku’s smart assistant is going to be and if Sonos will compromise its relationship with other mainstream players when it adds Roku Entertainment Assistant integration, but we’re sure these types of details will all be ironed out behind closed doors in the next few months. 

Until then, we can look forward to the first Roku Connect product, the Roku Wireless Speakers, that are due out in November of this year.

Categories: General Technology

Reboot of The Real World in the works for Facebook Watch

Thu, 18/10/2018 - 01:40

In a confusing world of fake news and catfishing that it helped create, Facebook apparently wants to get real with a reboot of MTV’s The Real World for its Facebook Watch video platform. The social network and TV giant have teamed up for three new seasons of the show set to debut in mid 2019.

The three new seasons will be filmed in Mexico, Thailand and the US respectively, and will incorporate interactive elements via Facebook’s platform that will "empower fans to shape the action" according to a press release from the two companies.

Each season of the show will allow viewers to vote one housemate into the cast before filming begins, and fans will get to connect with cast members through Facebook Live, Premieres (recorded videos aired via Facebook Live) and Watch Party (in which Facebook Groups watch videos together with miniature chat rooms).

Facebook and MTV are aiming to live up to the original show’s tagline and mission statement: “The true story of seven strangers, picked to live in a house, work together and have their lives taped, to find out what happens when people stop being polite... and start getting real.”

That might be a tall order these days, with both Facebook and reality television under strong scrutiny as to their ‘realness’. But, hey, at least it might be entertaining to see complete strangers clash in a gorgeous house all over again.

Via CNET

Categories: General Technology

Best soundbars for TV shows, movies and music in 2018

Wed, 17/10/2018 - 04:25

Best Soundbar Buying Guide: Welcome to TechRadar's round-up of the best soundbars (also spelled sound bars) you can buy in 2018. 

In all our years testing TVs, we've found very few that sound as good as they look. 

Unfortunately, as panel technology continues to move forward, manufacturers are paying less attention to including powerful audio speakers, leading to poor performance that often sounds weak and tinny. This can make it hard to hear dialog, and makes cinematic moments less impactful than they should be.

The easiest way of rectifying this problem is with one of the best soundbars. These speakers sit nice and neatly below your TV, and often offer tremendous sound without taking up much more space in your living room. 

With one of the top soundbars, you won’t just end up with better sound, but also more advanced features, like virtual surround sound, Dolby Atmos support and even multi-room audio functionality that allows you to stream the same audio signal between different rooms in your house. Choose poorly, though, and you may end up with a soundbar that’s barely better than your TV’s built-in speakers. So, ahead of Black Friday 2018, let’s dive into what makes the best Soundbar 

What's the best soundbar?

Soundbars come in many shapes and sizes, and range in price from under £100/$100 to over £1,000/$1,500. 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 short 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. 

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 $450/£599 price tag. 

Read the full review: Samsung HW-MS650 Soundbar

The Sony HT-ST5000 is the priciest soundbar you’ll find here, but for the money you’ll get an exceptional piece of equipment that offers support for Dolby’s spatial Atmos tech – on top of dealing exceptionally well with more conventional surround sound.

The build quality and design of the soundbar is exceptional, and its general audio performance impresses with its clarity and spatial presentation. 

Still, the lofty price tag might turn some users off, and most people will get everything they need from less expensive units like the Samsung HW-MS650 above. But, if you want to have the best high-end soundbar around, the HT-ST5000 is the best soundbar you can buy today. 

Read the full review: Sony HT-ST5000

The Q Acoustics M4 soundbar doesn’t immediately set pulses racing with its slightly prosaic looks, ‘mere’ 2.1-channel sound and lack of any HDMI support. However, you only have to hear what the M4 can do with both music and movies for your doubts about it to evaporate almost instantly. In fact, it sounds so good that it starts to make the idea of trying to deliver more channels from an affordable sound bar look a bit silly.

In fact, though, it sounds so much better than pretty much any rival soundbar in the same price bracket that it’s actually ridiculously good value - especially if you care about music as much as you care about movies. 

Read the full review: Q Acoustics M4 Sound Bar

The Samsung HW-N950 is something special. It's the latest flagship soundbar from the company, but the first to benefit from Samsung’s acquisition of Harman Kardon – a partnership that's already paying dividends.

The HW-N950 is a whole-hearted upgrade on our previous award-winner, Samsung's HW-K950 – which long held the #6 spot on this list. Most importantly, the N950 now supports both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, compared to the K950 which was disappointingly limited to the former. 

With that in mind, the Samsung HW-N950 is simply one of the best soundbars that we have heard to date – and one of the only soundbars that really delivers a 7.1.4-channel immersive audio experience. The use of wireless rear speakers and a subwoofer, make the N950 easy to install and setup and allow the N950 to deliver object-based audio as the content creators intended, without resorting to psychoacoustic trickery.

Read the full review: Samsung HW-N950

The Philips Fidelio B5 is an impressive bit of kit, and it's the perfect soundbar for someone who appreciates good cinema sound but has no interest in tearing up their living room to install a 5.1 surround sound system to use only every now and then. The B5 enables you to pick and choose your movie moments, and do it on a whim. And it creates a pretty decent surround sound experience too, using both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Digital Surround decoding.

The combination of convenience and good audio – the raison d'etre of the soundbar – with its transformative surround sound capabilities makes the Fidelio B5 a great option for the movie fan who can't face all the aggravation of a proper 5.1 installation.

Read the full review: Philips Fidelio B5

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

The Sonos Beam is a fantastic soundbar for its price, one that takes full advantage of the Sonos ecosystem and is a joy to use (and set up, if your television has HDMI ARC). Its smaller form factor means it’s a device that will sit comfortably next to a 32-inch TV but it’s got enough of a footprint to not be dwarfed by a much bigger set. 

The Sonos Beam doesn’t offer earth-shattering bass and the lack of Dolby Atmos support will irk some, but at this price point it'd be more of a surprise if it had been included. The voice control may be Alexa-only for now, but it works well and if you have adopted some of Amazon’s TV toys, it really is worth experimenting with. 

Read the full review: Sonos Beam

 With its nine drivers are arranged in trios for left, center and right channels and a virtual surround mode to create the illusion of having more speakers around the room, the HEOS Bar is pretty much whatever you want it to be.  

Blessed with such a balanced soundscape, the HEOS Bar proved immediately adept with music, and has a consistently warm yet refined sound quality that's all its own. The fact that it lacks the opportunity to tweak the audio settings is not as important as we had feared. Music sounds superb, especially lossless tunes, from which HEOS Bar drags out a lot of detail. However, we did notice on a couple of occasions that the first half-a-second was cut-off songs. 

Read the full review: Denon HEOS Bar

Focal, most known for its excellent sounding speakers (and the recently released Focal Listen headphones), is late to the soundbar space, but its Focal Dimension was worth the wait. The Dimension soundbar is simply gorgeous, with its piano black accents and aluminum unibody construction.

At $1,399 (£799, AU$1,699) it's not exactly cheap, but you're paying for excellent build quality, sound and design.

Read the full review: Focal Dimension

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 £599/$700/AU$999, 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

You know, it just didn't feel fair comparing the Creative X-Fi Sonic Carrier to other soundbars on this list. It'd be like comparing jet-skis to yachts. 

That being said, if you have the deep pockets to afford it, the Creative X-Fi Sonic Carrier is in a different league of soundbars. It features 17 speakers set in an 11.2.4-channel or 15.2-channel configuration that can put out well over 110 dB of sound and supports Dolby Atmos right out of the box.  

Is $4,000 too much to spend on a soundbar - even one as genuinely awesome as the Creative X-Fi Sonic Carrier? Probably. But is a few grand worth spending to turn your basement or garage into a club / near-cinema-quality home theater? Yeah. It is.   

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

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: which is the smart speaker for you?

Tue, 16/10/2018 - 08:25

If you're in the market for a smart speaker, then you're going to have to weigh up the Amazon Echo vs Google Home question: how do you split two of the best devices out there? Well, hopefully we can help.

As you would expect from two of the biggest names in tech, the Amazon Echo and the Google Home are both very polished smart speakers, and neither would look out of place in your home. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are both maturing and becoming more useful with every passing day too.

Both the Amazon and Google smart speakers (and their assistants) let you get answers to questions, set timers and alarms, control smart home devices, and much, much more – all with spoken voice commands.

The Amazon Echo and Google Home devices have a lot in common then, but they are also some key differences to talk about. You need to be aware of what you're getting before you part with any of your hard-earned cash.

We know that the smart speaker is at the center of most smart homes: but is the Amazon Echo or the Google Home right for you? Let's dive in.

Amazon Echo: the different models compared

Let’s kick off with the smart speaker that started it all. Back in 2014, Amazon launched the Echo, and it's now up to its second generation model: standing 148 mm tall and sounding pretty decent for its price, with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections supported, it's an impressive bit of kit. It also features that signature blue ring around the top telling you when it's heard the "Alexa" wake word.

The Amazon Echo Dot

Perhaps the most popular Echo of all though, and one of our favorite smart home devices full stop, is the Echo Dot – that's likely because it’s the cheapest of the entire bunch and is about the same size as a hockey puck, making it a no-brainer for those who want to try smart home tech for the first time. 

Now in its third generation, the Echo Dot doesn't have the best audio quality in the range, so it's best suited for rooms where music playback won’t be its primary function. That said, you can pair it up with a Bluetooth speaker or another audio device using an AUX jack connection, making it a cost-effective upgrade you can make to any aging Hi-Fi system.

The Amazon Echo Plus

Then there's the pricier, 2nd-gen Echo Plus: slightly taller than the vanilla Amazon Echo, with improved sound and integrated smart home hub features – meaning it can be more tightly integrated with the various other bits of smart home kit you've got installed.

The Amazon Echo Show

And what about the newly upgraded Echo Show? It's essentially an Amazon Fire tablet with an Alexa-enabled speaker built in, so you can get Amazon Prime Video or the weather forecast up on screen as well as having responses read out to you. It's a perfect gadget for the kitchen (think recipes and video watching).

The other smart speaker in the Amazon Echo line to come with a screen is the Echo Spot, which you can think of as an upgraded Echo Dot – this Echo is perfect for a bedside table, with the ability to make video calls through its circular screen.

The Amazon Echo Spot

All of these devices have access to the majority of Alexa's skills (think voice-controlled apps) available, though only the Plus can truly double up as a bridge for your smart home devices – while all Echo products can talk to things like smart bulbs and thermostats, it’s only the Plus that lets you do away with individual hubs for each additional gadget family.

All the Amazon Echo smart speakers have a certain sense of style about them, as you can see from the pictures above – especially after the most recent 2018 refresh, with all that fabric and all those curves. For more details on each Amazon Echo device, check out the full reviews below:

Google Home: each model compared

Google's smart speaker range is a little smaller than Amazon's, with four Google Home speakers to choose from, including the recently unveiled Google Home Hub – the only one of the range to feature a screen.

The Google Home Mini

The smallest of the three is the Google Home Mini speaker. Like the Echo Dot, the speaker is puck shaped, if a little more pebble-like with softer edges, and has a top side covered in a fabric speaker mesh. You can pick up the Google Home Mini in a range of colors, with four flashing LED lights illustrating when it's listening to your commands and showing the volume level.

The Google Home

In the middle of the range taking on the Amazon Echo devices is the standard Google Home speaker, which looks considerably different to the Mini. It has the appearance of a small vase, with a two-tone color design (multiple shades are available here too) and a sloping top side that houses a touch control panel.

The Google Home Max

The Google Home Max, meanwhile, looks much more like a traditional loudspeaker, and is the largest of the bunch – it doesn't really have an equivalent Amazon Echo device either. It's boxy in design, closer aesthetically to the Google Home Mini (with the mesh speaker covering), and can stand in either a portrait or landscape orientation to suit the space you've got.

While the vanilla Google Home is an acquired taste in terms of design, both the Mini and Max are subtly attractive, and should fit into any surroundings without much concern.

Google Home Hub

And lastly that Google Home Hub, unveiled in October 2018, and taking on the Amazon Echo Show directly. It can show videos, the weather, recipes, music artwork and so much more, but it doesn't have a camera – so video calling is out of the question.

To find out more about each version of the Google Home, check out the full reviews below:

Keep in mind that, with both Alexa and Google Assistant, third-party speaker manufacturers are increasingly choosing to integrate the voice helpers into their own products. So, if there's an audio manufacturer you're particularly fond of, it may be worth holding out to see if it has any plans to join either of the smart ecosystems – at this point, it's highly likely that most all audio devices in the near future will come equipped with some sort of microphone and voice control system.

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: smart features

The smart features of the Google Home and Amazon Echo lines are broadly similar – speak to them, and you’ll be able to do anything from playing back music, having general knowledge questions answered, controlling smart home gear, and setting alarms and timers... and that's just scratching the surface of the Amazon Echo vs Google Home debate.

Both Google and Amazon are committed, long term, to improving their respective voice platforms, and each has done a good job so far of enticing third-party smart device manufacturers – from thermostat makers to smart lighting companies – to make their products compatible with each service. With a base level of commands available to each, with either a "hey Google" or "hey Alexa" wake command, control of the digital world is just a vibration of your vocal chords away.

The Amazon Echo Plus

Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers do take a slightly different approach to the way their abilities are accessed.

Google Home's abilities are, by default, accessible to all – barring pairing up third-party smart home devices with your Google Home system, if you've made a request that the Google ecosystem can understand, it'l carry out the required response unprompted.

Alexa, on the other hand, relies on the installation of skills – individual, app-like sets of related voice commands focussing on certain topics or abilities. Handled and activated through the Alexa app on smartphones, these can range from getting information on local transport times, or to activating voice-controlled games. 

There's no right or wrong approach really – Google's is simpler, but Alexa's encourages faster and broader development and support from third-parties.

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: audio

As you'd expect from such a wildly varying range of shapes and sizes, you get very different sound performance across both ecosystems, let alone when comparing Amazon Echo against Google Home in general. Here's a broad breakdown of how they sound in relation to each other.

If you can only afford the entry-level devices, and music remains a top priority for you, go for the Google Home Mini, which sounds a lot better than the Echo Dot. Unless you hook up a Dot to another speaker over Bluetooth or the 3.5mm jack, it's just too thin and harsh to fully enjoy. 

If you're looking for a small Echo speaker, your best best then is the Echo Spot, which despite its size offers a richer sound. The screen, however, massively increases its expense, so bear that in mind.

The Google Home Max

As you move up the size scale, the Google Home is too bass-heavy to be truly enjoyable. It also has worse clarity than the latest generation of the Amazon Echo speaker and the Echo Plus. So, if you're limited to around $100/£100, the Amazon Echo may be the best choice from an audio perspective.

With a slight premium in price, and the inclusion of Dolby processing, the Echo Plus sound is more dynamic than the standard Echo, as you'd hope.

And, despite its looks, the Echo Show sounds better than the Echo Plus and Echo, though not so dramatically as to forgive it some of its other failings.

If you're going for pure sonic superiority between the Echo and Google Home ranges however, opt for the Google Home Max. Its bass is well tuned, its mids and highs well defined, and its top volume levels loud without verging into highly distorted territory.

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: price

There's such a range of prices across the two speaker platforms that, in fairness, there’s something for every wallet size when it comes to the question of Amazon Echo vs Google Home.

It's more about what you’re expecting to get from your smart speaker of choice: Amazon, offering the widest spread of options, hits both the most affordable and expensive price points between the two brands, with the Echo Dot at the lower end and the screen-packing Echo Show at the top. Google, on the other hand, sits somewhere in the middle.

You can compare the latest pricing between the ranges below.

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: verdict

There's no easy answer to the question of whether you should go for Amazon Echo or Google Home as your smart speakers of choice. Both lines are very accomplished and, so long as you temper your expectations in line with the amount of money you're going to spend on buying into one of the lines, all sound good enough for their respective price points.

The choice really then comes down to the preference of ecosystem as opposed to the hardware. Are you heavily invested in Google's services? Then Google Home is probably for you, as the two areas are only going to become ever-more-closely linked. Google's natural language understanding is superior too, even if its voice implementation still needs some refinement.

However, in terms of sheer value for money and the already vast reach of its collaborations and abilities, Amazon's Alexa devices seem the more sensible bet at this stage. It’s a close run race, with Google's powerful search capabilities potentially seeing it through in the long run. But there’s something to be said for Amazon’s more focussed approach – from our experience so far, Alexa currently feels like the more reliable assistant. But that could change. Either way, place your bets – you're unlikely to come away disappointed whether you opt for an Amazon Echo or a Google Home smart speaker.

Categories: General Technology

Real-time translation rolls out to more Google Assistant-enabled headphones

Mon, 15/10/2018 - 00:00

One of the features that wowed us when we first saw the Pixel Buds from Google was the instant translation feature – even if it worked a little slower than "instant" in practice. It appears the same feature is no longer a Pixel Buds exclusive, and has now rolled out to all headphones offering Google Assistant integration.

Droid Life spotted the subtle but crucial change in the Pixel Buds support pages, which now state that "Google Translate is available on all Assistant-optimized headphones and Android phones" rather than only on the Pixel Buds and Pixel phones.

The actual translating happens through Google Translate via whichever smartphone is connected to the headphones, so Google just needs to flick a switch to give third-party hardware access to the functionality. The likes of LG, Sony and JBL all have headphones with Google Assistant on board.

Choose your language

At the moment, the real-time translation feature supports some 40 languages including English. The voice command "help me interpret..." then a language is enough to launch the Google Translate interface on the phone, with audio routed through the headphones and the phone speaker as you try and keep up a conversation.

We're not sure exactly how the feature is going to work on headphones that aren't the Pixel Buds, or if translation will be limited to specific models from third-party manufacturers, but it looks like as far as Google is concerned it's open to all.

"The Pixel Buds make translation a less awkward and more rewarding process, but nevertheless stilted by Google's own Translate app," we wrote in our original Pixel Buds review, so maybe don't cancel that Spanish course just yet. For quick and simple translations though, you've now got a broader choice of devices to pick from.

Via 9to5Google

Categories: General Technology

Apple Music gets cosy with Genius' lyric site

Fri, 12/10/2018 - 19:16

Apple Music subscribers got a boost of lyrical support this week, after the streaming service announced a partnership with the online lyrics database Genius.com.

Subscribers to Apple's music platform will now find Genius-sourced lyrics accompanying most of the tracks in their iOS app on iPhone or iPad. 

Users will also be able to see further tidbits about the artists and annotations explaining slang and phrases of particular note.

A blog post from Genius.com clarified that there's no immediate way to tell which lyrics in the Apple Music app are from Genius and which are from other sources, due to both having the same text formatting, but that "there may be updates on this in the future". 

Just the two of us

Having originally started as a small online project, Genius has vastly expanded into a comprehensive database for song lyrics and community-sourced annotations, much like a Wikipedia for the ears. 

Spotify subscribers may have noticed that they already get Genius-sourced lyrics shown in the Spotify app during songs, displaying both the lyrics themselves and background information about the song and artist.

What makes the partnership with Apple different is that Genius has returned the favor, making Apple Music the official streaming service for Genius.com. 

Anyone visiting the Genius website can now connect to their Apple Music account and play available songs right out of their browser - a canny move given Apple and Spotify's heated competition for paid users. 

Categories: General Technology

Tidal's hi-res MQA music library crosses the 1 million mark

Fri, 12/10/2018 - 04:48

Tidal has always had a fair amount of hi-resolution audio tracks but, starting today, the service’s library of studio-quality music now numbers in the millions, thanks to its growing library of MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) tracks.

If you’ve never heard of the format before, MQA is an audio codec developed by Meridian Audio that supports studio-quality audio (96 kHz/24 bit). That’s a little better than the service’s CD-quality tracks on the service, which were a bedrock for the service when it launched in 2015, but topped out at 44.1 kHz/16 bit. 

Tidal started adding MQA audio starting back in January 2017 and, since then, the number of tracks has grown from around 30,000 to more than 1 million.

That said, if you want to check out the massive catalog of music for yourself, you’ll need to be a Tidal HiFi subscriber and use Tidal’s desktop app ... which disqualifies folks who are used to using Tidal’s mobile app or those who like paying less than $20/£20 a month for their music streaming service.

If you can stomach the cost and don't mind sitting at your PC or laptop while streaming your music, however, Tidal's massive MQA library should offer a pretty compelling reason to finally commit to that costly HiFi plan.

Categories: General Technology

The best noise-cancelling headphones available in India

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 21:57

Here are so many applications for noise cancelling headphones that after a point you have to wonder why nobody thought of making them sooner. Sometimes it's the incessant chatter of your co-worker, sometimes it's the construction in the plot next door, and sometimes it's just people, in general. 

Enter noise-cancelling headphones, which remove the sound of everything around you, so you can listen to your music at a lower (and safer) volume. 

There are large variations in how well this effect is achieved, but even at their worse these headphones are still much better than a traditional pair of headphones in terms of keeping outside sound at bay. 

The top picks for the best noise-cancelling headphones include devices that not only effectively eliminate the most amount of background noise, but also make your music sound pretty good in the process. 

That said, sometimes the effect isn't completely perfect. They're less effective at cancelling out higher-pitched noises, but most of the high-end sets excel at dealing with low, consistent noises like the hum of a train or plane. 

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.

You see, when it comes to noise-cancelling headphones, there are two types to look out for: active and passive. Passive means that when the headphones are pressed against your head and the sound is cut out in the process of closing your ears off to the world outside. It's not high-tech, it's just isolation. 

Lots of headphones claim that this is some sort of advanced technique, but it's nothing more than a few layers of foam trying their darndest to keep sound out.

Active noise cancellation, on the other hand, involves some pretty interesting processes to cancel sound out. Along with the padding which passively blocks sound, microphones planted in the ear wells of headphones actively analyse 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. The downside is that this noise cancellation requires batteries in order to function, so you'll have to keep them charged if you want to keep the noises of the outside world at bay.

Now that you know all that, you're ready to choose a set. Let's take a look at the best noise-cancelling headphones available, starting with a list of our top 10.

Sony just updated its WH-1000XM3 wireless noise cancellation headphones with multiple microphones and a USB Type-C port. While these may seem to be minor tweaks, they do affect the overall listening experience. There are some design changes as well with the addition of copper accents. The headphones are powered by Sony's own QN1 chipset which just sets the next benchmark for audio quality.

Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Headphones review

Sony WH-1000XM2

The Sony WH-1000XM2 are a great pair of wireless headphones which offer excellent audio quality to the listeners. If battery life is one of the major factors that concerns you then fear not, the Sony WH-1000XM2 come with a powerful battery which can serve your needs for up to 30 hours. Yes, you heard it right. 30 hours of continuous playback time.

Apart from this, you will also get to experience hands-free calling which can be easily controlled using the touch panel given on the sides of the headphones.

Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM2

Philips Fidelio NC1

Philips presents an elegant noise-cancelling solution with its NC1. These on-ear headphones aren't wireless, but that's hardly a reason to knock them off. In the same price range as the Bose QuietComfort 25, the NC1s' are a more compact set that's high on comfort and battery life, making them perfect for the traveler on-the-go.

You get a lot for your money in this set. The box comes with the headphones, a hard case for storage and the headphones have a rechargeable battery that provides noise cancellation for close to 30 hours. The headphones come with a replaceable cable that's tangle proof.

The only thing to be aware of is that there may be some noise leakage to the people around you and that could prove to be an annoyance.

But best of all, the sound performance is extremely well-balanced and warm.

Read the full review: Philips Fidelio NC1

Bose QuietComfort 35

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. 

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

Bose QuietComfort 25

If you want the same level of excellent noise-cancellation as the Bose QC35s but want to save a bit of money, consider the last-generation QC25s. 

The biggest sacrifice you'll be making is wireless, but in our opinion the QC35s are also the much better sounding pair of headphones. 

Nevertheless, the QC25s represent a great mid-range pick. You're getting 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

Bowers and Wilkins PX wireless

Bowers and Wilkins may not be the most popular name when it comes to headphones, but their devices don't fail to impress.

They do their job of delivering decent sound quality but also come packed with extra features. For instance, they're capable of turning on or off on their own depending on whether on you're wearing them.

You won't have to switch them out any time soon either, since they come with a USB type-C charging port.

Coming back to the audio, it's decent but it's not perfect. It doesn't exhibit the same depth that's seen in flagship models from Bose or Sony. But, they're definitely worth a listen and their features make them a tempting purchase.

Read the full review: Bowers and Wilkins PX Wireless

AKG N60NC Wireless

Wireless headphones aren't always the cheapest pair to but, but the AKG N60NC do a pretty decent job of offering a mid-range product that's on level with premium models.

The combination of great sound quality, longer than average battery life and noise-cancellation that actually works, the AKG N60NC gives you bang for your buck.

The main hang up with this pair of headphones is the fact that it comes with a 2.5mm jack serving as a charging point as well as the link for a wired connection. In either case, a 3.5mm jack and a USB type-C port would've been preferred. 

Read the full review: AKG N60NC Wireless

Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC

The Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC provide a great audio experience to the users. In addition to this, they can also become your ideal travelling partner. Weighing 238g, the headphones are easy to carry and light, compared to their rivals. Despite stiff competition in this category, these headphones hold their own thanks to their pocket-friendly price tag.

These headphones aren't the best in appearance with the aluminium finish looking flimsy but that's also the primary reason that they're so lightweight. The bass isn't very strong and the fall in music quality is noticeable when the NoiseGuard mode is on. But then again, this isn't unusual for headphones using NoiseGuard. It's effective and does what it's supposed to do. 

These headphones compare well with others and are optimal for frequent travelers.

Read the full review: Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

If you're a frequent traveler then you're probably familiar with headphones that can't hold a charge, can't block out sound and for the most part, don't sound very good. 

If you're tired of buying headphones like that, let us introduce you to the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2, one of the few headphones on the market that can do all of the above and cost half as much as compared to one of the bigger names like Beats, Bose and Sony. 

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

Read the full review: Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2

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 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,it 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 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 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

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.

Categories: General Technology

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