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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

Beats Studio 3 wireless headphones get gold accents and new high-flying colors

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 20:16

Beats by Dre is aiming squarely for the business-class flyer with a new range of its premium Beats Studio 3 wireless headphones, first released in late 2017.

The new Skyline Collection range features the same internal specs and active noise cancelling functionality as the original models, but with a bit of a face-lift.

The Beats Studio 3s are now available in three new luxury-themed – and luxury-sounding – color schemes: Midnight Black, Crystal Blue, Desert Sand, as well as the previously-available Shadow Gray. All four also add in some flashy gold accents on the Beats logo and either side of the band.

These new style options join the original core colors of White, Blue, Black/Red, Porcelain Rose, and regular ol' Matte Black.

Despite the considerably flashier appearance, the new models will be available at the same $349.95 (£299.95 / AU$449.95) price as current models, and are expected to go on sale in the coming weeks.

Look sharp

At one point the Beats Studio 3 headphones were selling over 10 units every minute across the globe shortly after being released in late 2017. In our review last year we praised the extensive 22-hour battery life when using active noise cancelling – going up to 40 hours without – but called out the middling mids and somewhat sub-par bass. 

Beats headphones have always been as much a lifestyle item as an audio accessory, and they certainly look better than ever.

Categories: General Technology

Sony’s WH-1000XM3 launched in India at Rs 29,990

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 19:49

Sony has launched the WH-1000XM3 noise-cancelling headphones in India, the sequel to the Sony WH-1000XM2, and the heir apparent to the top position in the noise-cancelling headphone kingdom.

With their WH-1000XM2, Sony stole the show with its predecessor was its excellent noise-cancellation modes, Quick Attention Mode and aptX/aptX HD support, which of course is carried on to the 1000XM3. 

Even the impressive 30-hours battery backup remains, but with a faster charging method that promises to deliver 5 hours of backup with just 10 minutes of charge. Whereas, its predecessor delivered around 2.5 hours of backup with 15 minutes of charge. 

What’s improving this year, according to Sony, is the introduction of multiple microphones that will help calls come through cleaner and a switch from a microUSB port to a USB Type-C port along the earcup of the headphone. 

The overhaul

After using it for a day, we noticed a substantial improvement on noise-cancellation over its predecessor. Although, the audio sounded relatively similar and it's great.

There are major changes in the design. The most evident design change is in the bridge of the headphones. The curvature of the band is increased to result in minimal gap between the band and the head. Also, there's some extra cushioning done on top to make it rest comfortably for long stretches. Additionally, the cushion on the ear-cups is deeper, allowing more part of the ear to fit in comfortably.

Further, there are several small touches to the design. For instance, there's a copper accent used on the black variant for the Sony logo and the noise-cancelling microphones. Even the textured finish on the cans is a lot smoother and neater, which aids better touch controls to play, pause and other controls. 

Powering the 1000XM3’s noise-cancellation prowess is Sony’s new QN1 processor that’s faster than last year and offers more powerful processing, too – things we couldn't tell from our time with the headphones but a neat upgrade all the same. 

The Sony WH-1000XM3 will hit stores on October 18 at the best price of Rs 29,990, in Black and Platinum silver variants. 

Categories: General Technology

Marshall brings major update to the Minor Bluetooth in-ear headphones

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 01:00

Heritage rock brand Marshall has just announced that its Minor in-ear headphones have been given a major upgrade, with Bluetooth aptX, improved fit, and a longer battery life – while still maintaining Marshall’s classic roadworthy look. 

The Marshall Minor IIs come in at $129 (around £120 / AU$180), almost triple the price of their predecessors – though if the new in-ears perform as well as Marshall claim, this higher price could well be justified. 

As well as supporting Bluetooth aptX, that price tag gets you 12 hours of wireless playback from a single two hour charge. If you’re out of juice and in hurry, though, Marshall says the upgraded in-ears should provide around two hours of playtime from a quick 20 minute charge, and for further longevity, the headphones go into a low energy standby mode when you pause your music. 

Comfort and quality

As a legendary rock brand, it’s only fitting that Marshall is focussed on sound quality, and with “custom-tuned 14.2 mm drivers”, the Minor IIs should have a well balanced and crisp sound. 

The Minor IIs have also been designed with comfort in mind, with Marshall claiming that their ergonomic fit will stay comfortable all day long, with the in-ear design providing “just the right amount of noise isolation”.

Despite all the upgrades, the new in-ears still  feature that classic Marshall look, with brass detailing and the iconic logo taking center stage on the inline remote – if this all sound up your street, the Minor IIs are available to buy now from the Marshall website

Categories: General Technology

Marshall rocks out with new line of Bluetooth home speakers

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 01:00

Rocking out in the comfort of your own home just got easier, with a new line of Bluetooth speakers from hard-rocking Marshall, now available to purchase.

Each of the three speakers are iterations of previous models, from the compact and shelf-ready Marshall Acton II ($249 / £219 / AU$345), to the beefy 110W Marshall Woburn II ($499 / £439 / AU$690). In the middle sits the 50W Marshall Stanmore II ($349 / £299 / AU$480) – a mid-sized wireless speaker and the follow-up to one of the best wireless speakers in our 2018 guide.

The UK-based manufacturer is known for making amps and speakers with an authentic weight and "crunch" to the sound, making them perfect for amplifying guitar-heavy rock and roll.

Metal on metal

Marshall have since expanded into a wide range of speakers, amps, and instruments – and even their own line of Marshall Major headphones.

The three new speakers announced today all feature Bluetooth 5.0 for a strong wireless connection of up to 10m, with built-in multi-host functionality and dynamic range compression to prevent distortion at higher volumes. While they're envisioned for the home and weighed down considerably with premium parts – class D amplifiers, custom-tuned drivers, and the like – they're also practical enough to take on the road.

As usual, the Marshall Bluetooth app allows you to control EQ, switch between stereo or ambient modes, and alter the brightness of the speaker's LED lights. 

Categories: General Technology

The cheapest Google Home prices in October 2018: get the best deal on every Home speaker

Tue, 09/10/2018 - 23:22

The best Google Home prices aren't hard to fine. In fact, since you're on this page, you're already in the best place to find the latest deals on the Google Home, Google Home Mini and Google Home Max smart speakers.

The Google Home family of smart speakers are amongst the most popular smart speakers on the market that tap into the convenience of voice control. And don't tell Alexa, but Google Assistant has proved to be considerably smarter at answering our requests. The Google Home and Google Home Mini are roughly on a par with the Amazon Echo range in terms of audio quality for music, but the newer Google Home Max frankly thrashes any of Amazon's Echo speakers for music fans that want to feel every beat.

After you save on your new smart speaker, getting going with it is as simple as a voice command. All you need to do is say 'Ok Google' and ask your Google Home any question you like. Google Assistant uses the enormously powerful Google search engine to bring you the answer.

More features and apps are being added all the time, but right now you can stream music from Google Play, Spotify, Tunein or your phone. There are smart home tech features to pair it with too, so watch in awe as you smart lights and thermostats are told what to do. Even the basic features prove incredibly handy, such as adding items to shopping and to-do lists, or setting alarms – finally, no more burnt pizza!

The cheapest Google Home prices

The standard Google Home was the first smart speaker Google released. It costs a fair bit more than the Home Mini, but the more powerful speaker can be worth it if you want to play louder music. It's a great middle option between the choice of three speakers and considerably cheaper than the high-end Google Home Max.

So, how much is the original Google Home? Prices started around the $129 / £129 mark, but retailers are slowly getting more competitive nowadays. We're seeing more discounts, or bundles, sometimes including a Chromecast dongle for free.

The cheapest Google Home Mini prices

The Google Home Mini is a smaller cheaper version of Google Home, first unveiled in 2017. Instead of a pricey £129/$129, like its bigger older brother, you pay $49 in the US and £49 in the UK for the Home Mini. 

Naturally, the Google Home Mini comes with Google Assistant, meaning you ask it questions by simply starting with, "Ok, Google." And with the power of Google search engine behind it and now a super low price to match, Alexa's time may be up.

Color options include chalk (grey), charcoal (black) coral (pink) and the newest entry is mint (light green). At such a cheap price point, you may be tempted to get more than one, especially for family homes as a new Broadcast app allows you to talk to any Google Home device in the house.

Google Home Mini deals have been strong of late as Google is keen to catch up to the Amazon Echo Dot sales, so you'll rarely have to pay the full RRP.

The best Google Home Max prices

Ok, so you're after some serious boom for the tunes? Then you'll want to take a look at the monster-sized Google Home Max. This large-speaker houses two 4.5-inch woofers for high-fidelity music playback along with the Google Assistant tech that's proved so popular in the Google Home range of smart speakers. Technically, this speaker is what we'd call super smart as it'll adjust its music playback automatically depending on room-size and placement. The microphone has been improved too and is more than capable of picking up your requests from the other side of the room even with music blaring out at significant volume.

The Google Home Max prices tend to match the name to with a $399/£399 pricetag. It's been out for a while in the US, but the Max only arrived on UK shores in August 2018 and it appears to be a John Lewis exclusive for now, unless you import one from the US via eBay.

What are Google Home bases?

The bottom part of the original Google Home speaker can be swapped out for different 'bases' to replace the default grey one. They're not cheap though and the official ones are only available from the Google Store at the time of writing.

Fabric bases are the cheapest at $20/£18 and come in Mango (orange), Marine (green) and Violet. Metal bases are $40/£36 and come in Carbon (black), Copper and Snow (slightly grey). We might just have to splash out for that Violet one though.

We've seen some third-party sales and knock-offs, mainly leather-style ones, at Amazon and eBay, but nothing particularly tempting so far and the prices aren't that much cheaper either.

Categories: General Technology

First look: Devialet Phantom Reactor is a bass rumbling speaker in a tiny package

Tue, 09/10/2018 - 19:00

Devialet's Phantom speaker line has always been a showstoppers, with its sci-fi good looks and wild side-firing bass reflex ports. But the speakers have also been big, heavy, and intimidatingly expensive, too.

The company is looking to make it a little easier to join its audiophile-grade party with the new Devialet Phantom Reactor line, two new speakers that offer comparable power to the flagship Phantom speakers in a package a quarter of the size, and at a more palatable price point.

Offering Bluetooth, AirPlay, UPnP and Spotify Connect (with Chromecast Audio set to be included next year) the Phantom Reactor delivers either 600W or 900W of output power, depending on whether you opt or the suitably named Phantom Reactor 600 or Phantom Reactor 900 models.

Big sound, small speaker

Given its 219mm (Length) x 157 mm (Width) x 168 mm (Height) size, that's an astonishingly loud system – comparable to a symphony orchestra in your living room. Likewise, the 18Hz infra-bass would lead you to believe there's a dedicated subwoofer in the room – made all the more dramatic by the way the bass-reflex ports on either side of the Phantom Reactor pump air rhythmically and forcefully in time with the beat.

Despite the small package and extreme volume levels, Devialet is able to deliver its output without as much as a hint of distortion as it approaches those louder peaks. Its Analog Digital Hybrid (ADH) amp delivers the quality of an analogue amp in a digital-sized package, while the company's Speaker Active Matching audio system retains detail even at the Phantom Reactor 900's 98db max volume. 

Old and new, side by side.

Available only in white, the curvy speaker has an amazing sci-fi chic appearance. Physical inputs now include a hybrid minijack, Ethernet and optical point for TVs. There's also a new set of capacitive touch buttons in a curved strip along the top edge – sensible given how much of the control of previous Phantom products has been relegated to app-only input.

Sonically, it's a breathtaking model. Listening to the 900 model we were most impressed when presented with a live recording of a solo bass guitar. It was playing bass harmonic notes, which are usually challenging in terms of clarity for a speaker this size to pull off accurately. But there was incredible detail with the Phantom Reactor 900, with the bell-like notes of the harmonics chiming in the air, before rumbling into deep, thunderous deeper notes with the dramatic movement returned via the bass reflex ports. It was particularly impressive that it retained the metallic twang of the performer's freshly-wound strings, a detail that would have been lost on less capable systems. 

Though they'd be perfect in a stereo pair (well suited in their new size to being sat either side of a TV), it's frustrating however that the Reactors wont work in tandem at launch. Devialet promises it's a feature in the pipeline, though it'd have been great to see this ready from the off, given that it's now practically a standard with competition like the Sonos One. Likewise, there's no smart helper like Google Assistant or Alexa involved here, which would have been welcome given the price point...

Phantom Reactor price and availability

The Phantom Reactor goes up for pre-order on October 10, hitting shops on October 24th. Prices start at £990 for the Phantom Reactor 600 ($999) and go up to £1290 ($1299) for the Phantom Reactor 900. It's still not cheap then, but it is uniquely designed, and really rather wonderful sounding.

You'll find it in stores including Selfridges, JohnLewis.com, Amazon UK and Harrods in the UK, and Corso Como, B8ta, Nordstrom, Microsoft Store, Barneys and Amazon in the US, as well as Mr Porter worldwide.

Categories: General Technology

Google Home 2: what we want to see

Tue, 09/10/2018 - 01:31

Google Home 2… the smart speaker that’s yet to be announced, but is certainly on the horizon. Google have rapidly expanded its range of smart home products from its initial Google Home offering, with both the cost-effective alternative Google Home Mini and more audio-focused Google Home Max.

In some ways Google have been playing catch up with its main smart home competitor, Amazon, who dominate with a fleet of Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Dot, and Echo Spot devices available for sale amid a growing market of Alexa-compatible devices.

With a new Google Home Hub set to ape the screen-based Echo Show, and continual updates aiming to bridge the gap between the respective company’s offerings, the time is ripe for a meaningful hardware upgrade to the now two-year-old Google Home hardware.

It’s unclear whether we’d see a whole new model branded as the Google Home 2, or (more likely) just a replacement model that continued to go under the Google Home banner. 

We expect we may hear more at Google’s annual launch event, which this year is taking place on October 9. For now, we’ve run through everything we want to see from an updated Google Home speaker.

More Google

We’ve been scratching our heads for the best part of two years over this in particular – why can’t the Google Home integrate with Gmail, Google Docs, and the wider ecosystem of Google services so many of us are dependent on?

Google Assistant is already ‘smarter’ than a lot of its counterparts, largely thanks to the wealth of data and search engine results Google can dredge up for it. Having a Google Home that could read from your Gmail inbox and reply to your messages, or dictate text straight to your Google Sheets, would really start opening up the voice assistant’s untapped potential and help it pull ahead.

Sure, that’s more of a software than a hardware issue, but a new product launch would also be the perfect time to offer a wider array of smart capabilities.

Smarter casting

One thing the Google Home already does pretty well is its casting function, which allows you to summon music or video content through the speaker and throw it to your TV’s Chromecast or even your smartphone. If the voice commands could be simplified and allow for more direct voice control of Netflix-style streaming services through Google Home, it would make it much more of a crucial addition to the home.

A real AUX port

The audio drivers in the Google Home aren’t anything to shout about, and more sound-focused buyers should probably be angling for the Google Home Max, anyway. But it’s a shame such a vast range of artists are being funneled through inferior speakers. 

Google Assistant has managed to cobble together the biggest music library of any smart assistant, thanks to Google Play Music as well as the Google-owned Youtube Music – if you sign up for the service, at least. The current model can already connect to external amps and speakers over Bluetooth – finally – but getting a physical AUX port would do a lot to win over listeners concerned about losing audio quality over the air.

Design that doesn't put us to sleep

For all the charms of Google’s Home Mini and Home Max, both versions of the smart speaker lack the distinctive shaping of the original product, ditching its candle-holder silhouette and sloping touch-capacitive display – leaning towards you instead of making you crane over it – for their vaguer pillow-shaped outlines.

We’re not against changing up the formula – being able to customize more than the color of the bottom half would actually be a good start. But the style factor is one area Google still has the lead over Amazon, and we’d be sad to see an update to the main Google Home opt for the more generic design of its spin-off devices.

Competitive pricing

Isn’t this what we always want? The Google Home is still retailing at £129 / $129 / AU$199, so we imagine the new model would seem a good deal by bringing in upgraded features for the same price. Being able to invest in the older hardware at a reduced price or, better yet, getting an enhanced model that matched more closely to the Amazon Echo’s £89 / $99 / AU$119, would do a lot to lower the price barrier for new adopters.

Categories: General Technology

Sony's new hi-res headphones will pair nicely with its $8,500 music player

Sat, 06/10/2018 - 04:35

Sony surprised the crowd at the Rocky Mountain Audio Festival (the biggest high-end audio festival in the US) when it unveiled a slew of premium audiophile products – including a massive pair of 70mm over-ear headphones and a $8,500 music player. 

The headphones, called the MDR-Z7M2, are a sequel to Sony’s previous premium cans, the Sony MDR-Z7. These premium cans have a claimed frequency response between 4 Hz - 100,000 Hz (you know, only five times what the human ear is capable of hearing) thanks to an aluminum-coated liquid crystal polymer diaphragm.  

They’re also going to cost you $899 (around £685, AU$1,275). 

Of course, great headphones are only half the battle – the other half is having a great player and great source material. Thankfully, Sony also unveiled a new $8,500 (around £6,500, AU$12,000) music player that is, perhaps, the very definition of the word overkill. 

Behold, the gold-plated Sony DMP-Z1 Digital Music Player.

Gold-plated perfection

The Sony DMP-Z1 Digital Music Player supports DSD native playback up to 11.2 MHz and PCM playback up to 384 kHz/32-bit and sports two independent AK4497EQ mono Digital-Analog Convertors (DACs). To store your (hopefully) pristine collection of lossless music, the DMP-Z1 has a 256 GB hard drive and two microSD slots.

And yes, the volume knob is gold-plated.

While the headphones will be available starting in November 2018, the DMP-Z1 won't be available until January 2019 and only then through authorized Sony dealers. 

We'd better start saving now...

Categories: General Technology

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

Fri, 05/10/2018 - 21:02

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. 

  • Update: Ultimate Ears has just introduced a sequel to the award-winning UE BOOM 2 and MEGABOOM called the UE BOOM 3 and MEGABOOM 3. Our UE MEGABOOM 3 review is live right now, and we should have a review of the UE BOOM 3 shortly.

Of course there are some compromises you'll have to make when you downsize your speakers to a more portable option, like reduced battery life and a drop in audio quality, but when it comes to convenience and price Bluetooth speakers can't be beaten.

As is often the case these days, your only problem is there's too much choice. So to help you decide which speaker to buy, here are some of our favourite 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.

UE Boom 2

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

Fugoo Style

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

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

Read the full review: Fugoo

JBL Charge 3

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

Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless

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

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

Read the full review: Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless

Bose SoundLink Mini II

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

Anker Soundcore Flare

Anker has a history of making excellent budget wireless speakers. While we weren’t entirely impressed with the Anker SoundCore 2’s sound, we couldn’t be too mad since the speaker was so affordable. 

So what happens if you can stretch your budget? For around $20 more you get the Anker Soundcore Flare, an excellent waterproof Bluetooth speaker that can stand toe-to-toe with the competition. 

The Soundcore Flare is an amazing value in the sub-$100 wireless speaker segment. Competitors like the UE Wonderboom (listed above) give the Flare a run for its money in terms of build quality but we give the Flare the slight edge with sound quality. We recommend the Flare for anyone looking for a wireless speaker that can do it all without breaking the bank. 

Read the full review: Anker Soundcore Flare

UE Wonderboom

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

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

Read the full review: UE Wonderboom

Bang and Olufsen Beoplay P2

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

Marshall Kilburn

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

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

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

Read the full review: Marshall Kilburn

Denon Envaya (DSB-250BT)

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

RHA TrueConnect wireless earbuds are primed to pummel Apple’s AirPods

Fri, 05/10/2018 - 05:53

After making some serious headway in the development of wired headphones, RHA is now turning its attention to the true wireless form factor popularized by the Apple AirPods. The result is the all-new RHA TrueConnect.

The new wireless earbuds, which borrow some design cues from Apple’s in-ears but offer improved audio and battery life performance, are available to pre-order starting today for $169/£149 (around AU$240) and will start shipping on October 18.

That said, the RHA TrueConnect sport a 5-hour standalone battery life with up to four additional charges from the re-charging case for a total of 25 hours, can be charged to 50% in 15 minutes and support the Bluetooth 5.0 standard. 

The headphones will offer a noise isolating design and IPX5 sweat- and splash-protection, plus RHA says that its extended-stem design should offer improved call quality while single-tap controls on each earbud can be used to play/pause, skip and summon your phone or tablet's personal assistant.

If they offer anything close to the performance of RHA's popular wired headphones, they stand a very good chance of becoming the best true wireless earbuds on the market ... at least until the Apple AirPods 2 hit shelves in 2019.

Categories: General Technology

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