The Earfun Free Pro 3 stand out in the world of sub-$100 /£100 earbuds. The affordable earbud market can be a tricky one, rife with knockoffs and sketchy buds from unknown companies, but amongst the mess are a few gems, and the Free Pro 3 definitely counts.
At just $79.99 / £79.99 (no Australian release at the time of writing), these buds have prices to rival the newest Samsung, Sony and JBL models, but a few perks that might make you pick them over the competition.
The Free Pro 3 sound great. they’ve got pronounced bass and distinct treble, which means that music sounds great. There's no mealy audio with these buds – in fact, the audio rivals some of the best headphones, which is no small compliment.
Another great aspect of the buds is that the carry case is one of the smallest on the market, so it can really easily slip into a pocket and be left out of sight, out of mind. Despite their small form, the Earfun’s battery life is great, outlasting many big-name rivals like the AirPods Pro.
Not everything works perfectly though. Most importantly, the fit of the earbuds was unreliable, and in the testing period, they fell out a fair few times. This problem will depend on your ear size, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t flag it.
The earbud controls aren’t exactly stellar either, making it a little tricky to skip songs or change volume just by tapping them mid-song. It’s much easier to simply pick up your phone than start hammering on your head, hoping something will happen. That’s a small loss though, and is pretty easy to overlook given the great package you’re getting overall.
Earfun Free Pro 3 review: Price and release date
Released in October 2023
Officially priced at $79.99 / £79.99 (roughly AU$125)
The Earfun Free Pro 3 were unveiled in October 2023, and were put on sale on the 30th of the month. These are fairly affordable earbuds, costing $79.99 / £79.99 (roughly AU$125, but at the time of writing it’s not available in Australia).
That’s a good price point for affordability, but not a great one for competition, with many big-name rivals also sitting at the high-two-figure-end of the spectrum. The Samsung Galaxy Buds FE, Sony WF-C700N, JBL Tune Flex and many, many more all sit within $20/£20 of the Free Pro 3, so these Earfun buds really need to impress.
Earfun Free Pro 3 review: Specs
Earfun Free Pro 3 review: Features
Total battery life of up to 33 hours
EarFun Audio app brings audio customization
Nice and simple pairing
According to Earfun, the Free Pro 3 buds have a 7.5 hour battery life each, with the case’s battery bringing the set’s entire charge time to 33 hours. You can charge the battery via the USB-C port on the case. This is a great battery life in theory – in tests, the buds seemed to nearly reach this figure, though by turning on some of the features you’ll lose some time.
What features, you ask? Well the EarFun Audio app brings a few extra tricks that are pretty commonplace in headphones at this price tier. The Earfun Free Pro 3 work perfectly well without you downloading the tie-in app onto your phone, a strategy I wish other audio makers would embrace, but if you turn on the app you get some extra tricks.
This includes a noise cancellation mode as well as an ‘Ambient Sound’ tool to vary how much AMC is in use, an equalizer function, and a ‘Game Mode’ which improves latency for when you’re gaming. The earbuds would have worked fine without these features, but they’re neat extras for people who care about their sound.
You can also use the app to connect multiple devices to the earbuds, so you can easily switch between them. This is a handy feature for people who own multiple devices that you frequently use. Pairing the buds to a phone was easy and convenient, both for the initial set-up and for subsequent listening sessions.
Features score: 3.5/5
Earfun Free Pro 3 review: Design
Very small carry case
Earbuds have awkward fit
Touch controls aren't perfect
A lovely aspect of the Earfun Free Pro 3 is that their carry case is one of the smallest on the market. The case measures just 67 x 50 x 31mm, and weighs in at a lightweight 41.5g.
In fact, it was so slender that it could fit into the watch pocket of trousers (you know, that tiny pocket inside the main pockets of many pairs of trousers). This portability made the Earfun a lot easier for me to carry around than some rival buds I’ve tested with much larger carry cases. There’s not much to the case – just space for the buds, and a USB-C charging port, but it’s still big enough to pack a fairly large battery, as you’ve already read about.
The buds themselves are equally lightweight, so you don’t feel like they’re dragging down your lobes every time you’re listening to tunes. Atop the buds are small rubber loops, seemingly designed to ensure they stay firmly lodged in your ear – unfortunately this doesn’t work very well. I found the Free Pro 3s to feel rather loose in my ear, and on several occasions when I moved my head too fast or didn’t lodge them in properly, they fell out, which wasn’t exactly ideal.
The Earfuns have on-board touch control, so in theory you can just tap once, twice, thrice or tap and hold for functions that you map out in the app. Unfortunately these proved incredibly temperamental in testing, so much so that I just ignored the feature after the tests. The buds also have an IPX5 rating against small particles but not water, so try not to get them wet.
Design score: 2.5/5
Earfun Free Pro 3 review: Sound quality
Fantastic for bass and treble
Less good for everything in between
When you’re paying this much for some wireless earbuds, audio quality isn’t something you can guarantee. That’s no dig at headphone makers – battery life, features and handy design can be even more important than sound for many users.
This isn’t an issue for the Earfun Free Pro 3 though because they sound surprisingly good, exceeding their price tag and then some. The buds surpass most rival earbuds (and even some headphones) for their meaty bass, with low-frequency sounds pronounced and clear. That’s not at the expense of treble though, resulting in music having a wonderful sound stage.
The maximum volume on the Free Pro 3 is surprisingly high, in that I can imagine it could be quite damaging if used for a long period of time, but that means no one can complain about it not being loud enough! At higher volumes, the sound can get a little tinny though.
The Earfuns have noise canceling that reaches up to 43dB, removing lots of ambient background sound and improving the listening experience. As previously stated you have some control in how prevalent the ANC is, and can get rid of it if you want to stay aware of your surroundings.
The delightfully delicious Dali iO-12 are easily in my top three headphone designs of all time, aesthetically speaking, and I've seen some gorgeous headphones in my time. I almost want to take a bite out of them, or at least dunk them in something creamy and highly calorific. And it's not just looks and luxe either – aptX Adaptive is here, as is 24-bit/96kHz resolution if you're going USB-C wired (both 3.5mm and USB-A to USB-C cables are provided) so you're getting the trousers and well as the talk, so to speak.
While the Dali iO-12's bid for entry to our best wireless headphones guide surely includes that USB-C port for hi-res audio passthrough (take note, iPhone 15 and Apple Music users) the sense of pride in ownership one feels wearing these striking yet understated headphones is a massive part of their appeal. They look expensive (because they are) but more than that, they sound expensive.
Forget special spatial audio side-sauce, forget customising what the on-ear controls do, forget EQ tweaks (other than the solo bass boost button) forget sound zones, forget speak-to-chat features and forget tweakable ANC. There's none of that here. In fact, there's no app here at all, so forget any visual representation of what's going on inside your headphones.
That said, they're some of the best noise-cancelling headphones around even without the scope to tweak modes, levels or adaptiveness. And this is because what you chiefly want when you stick on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones is for them to be worthy of their name claim and cancel some noise. What you need to know is that Dali's iO-12 reduce noise very well, thus setting the stage to deliver excellent audio to your ears.
I'm not at all surprised. Although TechRadar's reviews of Dali gear to date hone in the brand's speaker output (including the new Epikore 11, if you skip to point three here) my tenure at our sister publication, What Hi-Fi?, saw me help review the 2019-issue Dali iO-6 and Dali iO-4, the Danish audio specialist's first ever foray into the world of wireless over-ear headphones and one it approached as very much a 'personal speakers for your ears' endeavour. However that sounds, those inaugural cans were nothing short of excellent for detail, finesse and form, marred only by a fractionally over-cautious delivery that lacked an extra ounce of punch for the price.
To atone for this (a mere four years later), Dali has added a button to boost bass. I don't particularly like it, but it's there – and the hi-fi sound profile is so enjoyable I don't care. There's also a new patented Soft Magnetic Compound (SMC) magnet system, which I'll discuss later because that is inspired.
The ear pads here in the newest model are bigger than previous models, and while they're very well padded, make no mistake: this is a big set of over-ears and could swamp a smaller wearer – or overheat the user who tends to suffer from overly warm ears. If ever there was a set of over-ears for the fall temperature drop, it's the Dali iO-12. I love the coziness of them, even if the headband fell back on my crown a little more often than I'm used to – a 370g, they're certainly not the lightest on the market.
In summary, if you like to keep things simple and you want a quality, mature, hi-fi grade listen plus an aesthetic that purrs "I'm very important; do leave me alone", you've met your match in the Dali iO-12. However, if you prefer all the whistles and bells of an app-enhanced experience, you'll find a more suitable proposition for less money in the likes of the Sony WH-1000XM5, Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, or even the mighty Bowers & Wilkins Px8.
I did warn you they're expensive…
Dali iO-12 review: Price & release date
Released May 18, 2023
Priced $1,499 / £999, which is around AU$1,870
The Dali iO-12 were unveiled at the prestigious annual hi-fi trade show, High End Munich, in May 2023.
And high end is certainly what they are. If you want them, you'll need deep pockets; they're more expensive than premium options such as the Focal Bathys ($799 / £699 / €799, around AU$1,210) or the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 ($699 / £599 / AU$1150).
OK, they're not quite as dear as the wired Meze Audio Liric ($1,999 / £1,799 / AU$3,399) but still, they're easily four or five times the price of many quality, aggressively priced options out there.
Now, consider that every single one of the options above except the Dali iO-12 has a companion app. That performance had better be good, no?
Dali iO-12 review: Specs
Dali iO-12 review: Features
New Bass/Hi-Fi button
USB Aaudio supports up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution
Excellent ANC – but not as fully featured as the competition
Let's talk stamina first: 35 hours is very good. It's better than the 30-hour claim of the TechRadar 2023 Award-winning Bowers & Wilkins PX8, although not as good as the 45 hours you'll get from the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 or the 80-hour staying power of the Edifier Stax Spirit S3, but the latter is a somewhat skewed contest since the Edifier headphones are devoid of ANC. Also, I can confirm that Dali's battery life claim holds true.
Multipoint? Yes, it's here – and once you get used to that fact that the physical buttons are all on the right earcup, altering volume (by pushing the outer lip of the circular right earpiece either up at the top or down at the bottom), handling playback and scrolling ANC profiles works a charm. I did find myself turning them off occasionally in error, forgetting that the ANC button (which scrolls between "Transparency", "ANC off" and "ANC on") is actually further forward on the earcup and a little trickier to locate, but these controls are certainly dependable.
What these physical buttons are not is customizable in any way. What am I talking about? Well, other headphones give us options to change what a single or double press might do. The competition might also let you deploy sidetone to amplify your voice during calls, set a few EQ profiles for different music genres, switch auto-pause on or off, offer sound zones, give you the chance to prioritize audio quality or a stable connection, or even switch up the vocal notifications to a female voice. None of that here.
Usually in this section I'd provide three screenshots of Dali's companion app and a bit on its merits or shortcomings. Only, I cannot do that because there isn't one. One could argue you don't need an app if the sound from the box is good enough – and to a degree I'm inclined to agree. But anyone who's used Sennheiser's sound zones, deployed Bose's new Immersive Audio or created their own EQ profile for maximum hip-hop track enjoyment may beg to differ. In the end, it's up to you.
One new button on the iO-12's right earcup, nearest your crown, is denoted by an EQ symbol. Press it and a male voice utters "bass" or "hi-fi" depending on how many times you've pushed it. It's something extra and it adds value, although I prefer Dali's integrated, refined hi-fi listen. Rather than unearthing that extra ounce of clout, snap and energy you might be hoping for, the bass booster amplifies the low end but draws a veil over the other frequencies somewhat.
The good news? The noise cancellation here is very good. The levels are not selectable on a slider (look to the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 for this) but still, when it's on, it does create a lovely bubble of silence.
Features score: 3.5/5
Dali iO-12 review: Sound quality
Neutral, revealing separation with oodles of clarity
Treble frequencies are particularly insightful and agile
Can still be beaten (just) for fun and zeal
What I love about larger over-ears is the circumaural sound dispersion and the Dali iO-12 serve up the goods here – in a big way. Kicking off with Far Beyond the Sun by Yngwie Malmsteen on Tidal (a FLAC file), cymbal crashes and keys approached my left ear with newfound direction and clarity as the guitar came in centrally.
My Chemical Romance's To the End reveals whispered backing vocals darting underneath each ear as axe crashes stay over on the left and the melody comes through the right. Gerard Way's vocal is as overly close to the mic as it should be in a cohesive and musically pleasing mix across the frequencies.
Switching to an Apple Music file on my iPhone, the key progressions in Joni Mitchell's Blue are three-dimensional and moving. My playlist continues to All I Want, where each musical passage is given due diligence in a layered performance – strummed guitar chords in my right ear, the rhythm in my left, Mitchell's ponderous artistic vocal stylings and trills upfront and center. Honestly, it's emotional – particularly through the sparkling treble. Dali's iO-12 offer immersive listening without the extra parlor tricks; it's dynamically agile listening inside your head. I applaud it. I can (and have) listened to it for hours. If you're a singer, you'll want people to listen to your voice on these cans.
Some listeners may want an extra iota of what I can only call fun; a cheekier rise and fall, a bit of added oomph, a punchier bass injection. You can look to Bose or JBL for these marginal sonic additives to the audio curve, I'll take the insight, detail, neutrality and precision of the Dali iO-12's hi-fi profile, thank you.
Sound quality score: 5/5
Dali iO-12 review: Design
USB port on the right earcup, 3.5mm jack on the left
Classy design which lies flat but doesn't fold
Very large earcups and pads
The iO-12 are the world's first headphones to feature Dali's patented Soft Magnetic Compound (SMC) magnet system. This is an important build feature since it uses the same material found in Dali's high-end speakers, but to understand it fully you need to know about 'hysteresis'. Conventional magnets in a speaker design can introduce an unintended resistance to the voice-coil, which can lead to unwanted distortion in the audio signal, aka hysteresis. Dali's SMC technology, combined with the company's signature paper fibre cones, promises to significantly reduce hysteresis and lower uneven harmonic distortion drastically. And I think it's a huge success.
Looking for a set of foldable headphones – the kind that concertina up for easier portability? No dice here sadly. In the same way that the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, Focal Bathys or newer Fairphone FairBuds XL do, these cans have cups that can rotate to lie completely flat (and they do so silently, with no clicking whatsoever during adjustment), but the square hard-shell case is really quite big and not one that can easily slip into a bag unnoticed.
The build here is really quite beautiful though (it does include real leather, vegans take note) and there is ample padding wherever you need it, particularly from the rectangular pads attached to the circular earcups. That said, they're big. You may love this; I certainly do – it helps to deliver a wide soundfield and there's nothing quite like a huge set of over-ears wrapped around your head to signal "No words, please" to the public. However, once or twice during testing and despite the about-perfect clamping force, I did find the iO-12's headband slipped back on my crown as I walked. I think it's their sheer size.
Ultimately, these are cans that aren't backwards about coming forwards. Photos don't do it justice but the metallic circular accent on each earcup catches the sun beautifully – I did get regular compliments while wearing them.
I like that the physical buttons are all one earcup since I'm right-handed, although those with larger fingers (or lefties) may find this a little fiddly – only the ANC button takes a bit of practise to locate quickly.
What is a tad strange is the location of the wired input options, with one on each earpiece (USB-C on the right, 3.5mm jack on the left) – but this is relatively small fry and something you'll also find on the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2. The supplied fabric-covered cables feel premium, robust and impossible to tangle.
There's very little sound bleed here, but there's also no IP rating for water resistance, so you should be careful in very heavy storms – particularly at this price.
At 370g, they're equivalent to something like Apple's AirPods Max (384g), and like the AirPods, they use clamping to distribute that weight comfortably. Considering Sony's WH-1000XM5 are quite a bit lighter at 249g, the Dali definitely feel a tad more substantial in the scheme of headphones.
Design score: 4.5/5
Dali iO-12 review: Value
Premium looks, premium sound, premium price
USB-C audio connection adds flexibility and hi-res audio
There's no app – and cheaper options have one
There's no getting away from it: these headphones are expensive. But what they do, they do extremely well – and by that I mean you're getting excellent sound quality and very decent ANC.
Buying headphones usually involves a compromise (omission of a particular hi-res codec, poor call quality but great sound, lack of water resistance), and here, the glaring omission is app support and smart features. There just aren't any. Dali actually lists "No app required" as a feature in the iO-12, but we're not so sure.
The battery level is more than sufficient at 35 hours, the build is incredibly beautiful and the sound is supremely detailed and integrated. If you want an extra ounce of oomph though, you'd be better off looking to Bose.
Value score: 4/5
Should I buy the Dali iO-12?
Buy them if...
Don't buy them if...
Dali iO-12: Also consider
How I tested the Dali iO-12
Tested over two weeks, listened against the Edifier Stax Spirit S3, Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, Bowers & Wilkins PX8 and Focal Bathys
Used on long walks on public streets, at work in a busy office, on a train, and at home
Listened to Tidal Masters, Apple Music, Qobuz and Spotify on an iPhone 12, a Sony Xperia 1 V, and from MacBook Pro
To test headphones is to invite them into your life – how the case fits in your bag is just as important as how they slip onto your head. The Dali iO-12 became my daily musical companion – after a thorough run-in period. And just as Dali is a trusted name in speakers, I now trust what the firm can do with personal speakers that wrap around your head.
These headphones accompanied me to work on busy weekdays (walking brusquely to the station; boarding a train and taking the London Underground; at the office) and walking along the blustery seafront – a great way to test any wind-interference from mics during calls.
To check the audio quality across the frequencies, I listened to various playlists across various music genres (spanning everything from grime to classical) on Apple Music and Tidal, but also to podcasts and albums on Spotify – plus of course YouTube tutorials (on how to change a light in my refrigerator, most recently) from my MacBook Pro.
I’ve been testing audio products for over five years now. As a dancer, aerialist and musical theater performer in another life, sound quality and the user experience have always taken priority for me personally – but portability, security and comfort come a close second.
The JBL Authentics 500 sounds more like an IndyCar Series race than a loudspeaker, but it’s actually the name of the newest premium Wi-Fi speaker with Dolby Atmos support from audio powerhouse JBL.
Launched alongside the more affordable Authentics 200 and 300, this is one of the best wireless speakers for people who are willing to toe the edges of their budget, without splurging too far.
It’s one of the priciest speakers JBL has put out, and at the time of writing it heads up its line of Wi-Fi speakers (which doesn’t include the wallet-melting and LED-bedecked PartyBox line).
In terms of audio quality and features, there’s a good reason for this price. The Authentics 500 has audio chops that’ll rock your socks off, with sharp treble and bass that’s so ground-shaking that the speaker could be picked up by a seismograph.
You’re getting the connectivity tripartite here (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and wired, with bonus USB-C connection in the US) and built-in functionality with a range of different music streaming apps: Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, Chromecast, Amazon Music and more all have easy shortcuts and tie into the device.
The third-party collaboration extends to smart home assistants, and the JBL is so smart that it can actually run two assistants at once. This might just sound like a way to use each assistant for what they’re good at; letting Alexa control Amazon Music or Google to find web results, but it’s actually a vital tool for tech fans who have a diverse tech ecosystem that isn’t exclusive to one range.
So the JBL Authentics 500 ties cozily into a smart home and will please audiophiles with its excesses. So why have I only given it four stars out of five? Well, because it can be so damn fiddly to use!
The set-up process was quite a pain, because it involved wading through pages on the app store to find the exact right app and twiddling my thumbs while a massive firmware update was installed. And while connecting to the speaker was often a breeze, the app definitely wouldn't concur, as it sometimes couldn't sense the speaker even when the device in use was literally playing music onto it.
This may seem like a minor gripe, but speaker apps can be rather divisive for music fans, so featuring one that doesn't work perfectly might raise eyebrows. There's no doubt the Sonos Era 300 offers a simpler experience and similar audio quality for less – but it doesn't have as many features as the JBL.
JBL Authentics 500: Price and release date
Released in September 2023
Costs $699.99 / £579.99 / AU$999
The JBL Authentics 500 was announced alongside its 200 and 300 siblings at IFA 2023 at the end of August 2023, and went on sale shortly after.
The 500 costs $699 / £579 / AU$999, so it’s certainly not a cheap speaker – it’s the priciest of the brand’s current Wi-Fi speaker range, narrowly sliding above the Boombox 3. For context the Authentics 200 costs $349 / £299 / AU$499 and the Authentics 300 goes for £379 / $449 / AU$599.
Some of the close competitors to the JBL Authentics 500 you’ll find include the $449 / £449 / AU$749 Sonos Era 300 (which TechRadar gave 4.5 stars in our review), the $799 / £699 / AU$1,199 Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin (five stars in our review) and the $699 / £599 (roughly AU$900) Bang & Olufsen Beosound Emerge.
This isn’t too premium as a speaker though, and most brands have one or more offerings in the four-figure range if you really want to splash out.
JBL Authentics 500 review: Specs
JBL Authentics 500 review: Features
Lots of tie in apps and assistants
Bluetooth 5.3 or Wi-Fi streaming or 3.5mm aux-in
Buggy companion app
The Authentic’s set-up process wasn’t exactly a breeze. While my first few days of testing solely utilized a Bluetooth connection to the speaker, which was simple, most of the device’s features require you to pair with the JBL app. That first hurdle is the biggest, as there are 10 different JBL-named apps on the Play Store, but it’s JBL One that you’re looking for.
When I finally found the right app to install, the speaker told me it’d take 20 minutes to install firmware updates. After that, it decided to crash several times when trying to set up the voice assistants. Not exactly ideal.
My issues continued through the testing period. Occasionally, when I was streaming music from a phone via Wi-Fi, the JBL One app wouldn’t be able to connect to the speaker, even when Bluetooth was enabled. This meant I couldn’t play with the equalizer or control the music through the app itself.
The app is pretty useful when it works, though. You can use it to set up Wi-Fi streaming, set a ‘Moment’ or favored prompt that you can enact by pressing the heart button on the speaker (like a beloved playlist), play with the speaker’s equalizer, and enable voice assistants.
The equalizer gives you a little more control over sound than the on-speaker dials, letting you tweak mid as well as bass and treble, but there’s no way to set or change presets.
The ‘Moment’ button lets you quickly draw from a range of music services including Amazon Music, Tidal and Napster, but curiously missing is Spotify. Spotify Connect is available for Wi-Fi streaming though, as is AirPlay 2, Amazon Alexa, Tidal Connect and Chromecast.
A neat feature on the Authentics is that you can enable multiple assistants, like Alexa and Google Assistant, making this a useful option if you have multiple product ecosystems on the go.
Overall, the list of features and tie-in apps here is really neat. Whichever music service you use, you’ll be covered.
As stated, you can use the JBL either via Bluetooth (5.3, nice and reliable!) or Wi-Fi, giving you a range of ways to listen, with Wi-Fi streaming built into a lot of music apps these days including the ever-present Spotify. I never had any issues with either of these options in terms of dropping or cut-outs, though Bluetooth could sometimes take a while to pair, so I’d recommend you opt for Wi-Fi purely out of convenience. If you are still suspicious about wireless connectivity, there’s also a 3.5mm aux jack you can use.
Features score: 4/5
JBL Authentics 500 review: Sound quality
If you want the short version, the JBL Authentics 500 sounds fantastic.
The bass is the killer here, thanks going to the 6.5-inch subwoofer hidden on the underside of the box for this miracle of music. Unlike some bass-heavy speakers, the element didn't overwhelm the other aspects of a song, instead underlining the rest of each tune. Balance in speakers like this is never a guarantee, so the JBL was pleasantly surprising.
That means the treble remains crisp and clear, no matter what kind of thumping bassline a song normally has. I did find that the top-mounted treble dial seemed to have very little effect, though, with the bass dial having more of a palpable impact on music.
Unfortunately bass does tie in to one audio issue, though the real culprit is the app's lack of sound profiles. The prominent bass became too dominant in certain types of audio, particularly when I used the speaker for podcasts (or other spoken word content) or movies. This could be fixed by changing the dials on the speaker (or in the app, if it wanted to work), but sound presets could make it much easier.
The speaker supports Dolby Atmos Music, the surround-sound tech that makes music and movies sound fantastic, but only for certain apps like Tidal.
The max output on the Authentics 500 is 270W; in my general testing period, I never got even close to its volume limit, thanks to just how loud it was. Turning the dial up to full won’t just annoy the neighbors, but people several towns over.
I found this out the hard way (the neighbor part, not the hyperbole) when I accidentally knocked the volume dial up to about 70% volume with a toe: even at this level, my neighbor had to come around to have a word. That is to say, this is a loud loudspeaker, and no matter the size of your home, you won’t be straining to hear tunes.
Another minor gripe is that there only seemed to be a few volume levels; when you turn the dial, each new volume tier (indicated by a new section lighting up on the dial) ratched up the noise by a noticeable margin. I spent a good while turning the dial just a few degrees one way then another, trying to find a Goldilocks spot, before realizing that one didn't exist. I was stuck deciding between music a touch too loud, or a touch too quiet, which is a first-world problem if ever you've heard one, but a problem nonetheless.
Sound quality: 4/5
JBL Authentics 500 review: Design
Classy ’70s-esque design
Three main dials for volume, bass and treble
Big body and heavy
The JBL Authentics 500 is a big speaker; it makes its 200- and 300-named siblings look like they need to head back to the gym, and while that heft hints at its impressive speaker functionality, it does make this a challenging piece of kit to fit in your home.
Measuring 17.6 x 9.4 x 2.2 in / 447 x 240 x 255 mm, this is a piece of gear that you can’t just leave on any book shelf or window ledge (and weighing nearly 8kg, not all surfaces might support it!). Before buying the speaker, you should probably work out where it’ll sit on your house, and make sure you’ve definitely got space for it.
Not only is your home placement important to check that it fits, but you should also ‘vibe-check’ your home to make sure the speaker fits in with your decor. This is certainly a classy-looking speaker, with a black body and gold trim, and it could be as much of a fashion statement as it is a musical device if you want to channel some old-school cool. It's based on JBL's 1970s-era speakers.
Despite being such a big speaker, the Authentics 500 has a rather barebones set of buttons atop it. That’s mostly a good thing: it’s clear to see which is the dial for volume, bass and treble, the Bluetooth pairing and favorites buttons are clear and the pause/play function is easy to spot too. Privacy fans will also enjoy the physical slider which turns off the microphone, to make sure you’re not being listened to.
That slider is on the back, joined by the power port, 3.5mm audio jack, a USB-C port and an ethernet port, so you can get your internet wired if you’d rather. This USB-C port lets you input music digitally, but only with the US models of the speaker.
What’s missing is a power button: the instruction manual simply shows a picture of the power cable under the ‘Power On/Off’ heading, implying that the only way to turn the speaker off is to unplug the thing. When I wanted to use my phone’s onboard speakers I either had to manually disconnect the Bluetooth or turn the speaker off at the wall, which was rather annoying; a simple power button or switch would be appreciated.
Design score: 4/5
JBL Authentics 500 review: Value
This has so far been a pretty glowing review of the JBL Authentics 500; perhaps the elephant in the room (other than the speaker itself, the chunky monkey!) is the speaker’s price.
This isn’t a cheap speaker, and you can get similar features and decent audio quality from the more affordable JBL Authentics 200 and 300. Plus they’re smaller, and in the case of the 300, is portable with a built-in battery.
So buy this if you’ve got the funds to cover its extra cost, but it’s certainly not the value option compared to its siblings.
Compared to other speakers, you can get the Sonos Era 300, with similar Dolby Atmos support and nearly as many speakers (but no subwoofer) for notably cheaper. But considering one of our criticism of that speaker was that we wanted more bass, and considering the extra connection options of the JBL, the extra money is warranted.
Value score: 3.5/5
Should I buy the JBL Authentics 500?
Buy it if…
Don’t buy it if…
JBL Authentics 500: Also consider
How I tested the JBL Authentics 500
As stated in this review, when I started using the JBL Authentics 500 I solely used Bluetooth, just to test how it worked alone; then for a day I used 3.5mm for the music. In both cases, this was for testing purposes, not because I'm a luddite, and then I moved onto using the app which I've covered in detail earlier in this review.
In full I tested the JBL Authentics 500 for roughly a week. A large part of this was with my default listening app: Spotify, using both Bluetooth and Spotify Connect for Wi-Fi streaming.
I also used the speaker for a few other things; I listened to an episode of my favorite podcast 'Fall of Civilisations' (which, at four hours long, counts as some pretty intensive testing) and connected it to my PS4 to watch the new movie No One Will Save You. At several times I accidentally also played autoplaying social media videos through the speaker, but this wasn't an intended part of the testing experience!
For some context on me; I was on the TechRadar team for several years as a staff writer and then editor. I've also tested plenty of other tech for the site, including loudspeakers and headphones since 2019.
To save you the bother of checking, you are indeed reading about the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, Bose's newest and Ultra-suffixed set of buds. But yes, they do look remarkably similar to the 2022-issue best noise cancelling earbuds in the business, the now-outgoing QuietComfort Earbuds 2.
Given that fact, you might be thinking 'Well, that's good, surely! Five stars back then, five stars now, right?'
The thing is, this race isn't getting any easier to win. If you were expecting a design overhaul to warrant a new Pro iteration only a year after the older model launched, you'd be disappointed. Aside from the outer-facing surface of the stems, which is now shinier, a few tweaks of the four-mics-per-bud array to promote better calls (they are indeed clearer and better this time around) and a massage of the silicone stability bands, which are now a lot easier to fit thanks to new grooves on the earbuds, there's little to write home about physically.
But physical design is only half the story. Under the hood, Bose's trump card and reason for the Pro moniker is its own all-new Immersive Audio technology. And that means truly device-agnostic, head-turning, belly-laughter-inducing joy where musical strands within tracks present themselves either all around you, or slightly in front of your temples, depending on which Mode you select.
Thanks to the Snapdragon Sound Suite, you now get aptX Adaptive support on the menu too. Sonically, they're the same vigorous and engaging listen as the QCE II they supersede, and although we might have hoped for an extra ounce of dynamic nuance and detail in our music, the active noise cancellation is still top of the heap.
All glowing praise, so why the very good rather than excellent verdict? A few reasons. When the QCE II launched in September 2022, we'd yet to meet the Technics EAH-AZ80, which arrived in May 2023 offering very clear calls, a poised and revealing sound plus multipoint connectivity to three devices. Yes, three. How many devices can the new flagship Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds connect to simultaneously? One. While it may seem a small issue, anyone familiar with the ease multipoint connectivity brings to your working day (answering your phone, back to your laptop for a Zoom call, reverting to the WhatsApp audio message on your phone – all without manually altering your earbuds' source) will miss it sorely here.
Then, there's the omission of wireless charging on the spec sheet. Both the Technics and the July 2023-issue Sony WF-1000XM5 can charge wirelessly from the box. Now, Bose can sell you a cover for the case (which will also work for the QCE II) to allow it to charge wirelessly, but at $49 / £49 / AU$79 it rather ups the asking price to get a similarly specified proposition, no?
A little on Bose's new Immersive Audio and the Modes tab then, (because these can be a little confusing in an otherwise very intuitive app experience): if you simply select 'Quiet' under the Modes menu, you'll get maximum ANC but Immersive Audio will switch off. Same with 'Aware' – and that's a shame because this little setup can do so much more. The 'Immersion' mode sets ANC to its highest and also plays immersive audio in the Motion setting – so, the three-dimensional presentation moves with you as you turn your head, rather than fixing your source device as a reference point.
But my favorite Mode by far is entitled (perhaps bizarrely) 'Work' – although you can set up your own Modes too – because here, you get the Holy Grail: a ten-increment ANC slider and the option to have Immersive Audio either Off, Still (fixed) or in Motion (moving with you). Deploy this, set Immersive Audio to 'Still' and I promise you'll think you're not wearing earbuds. You'll also think your laptop just got much better at playing music.
Finally, (and let me be clear, the noise cancellation here is the most effective you'll find in a set of earbuds; top of the class) the sound quality is marginally beaten for detail and dynamic rise and fall by the Sony and Technics options. That's not to say the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are a bad listen, far from it, but competition is fierce at this level and for that extra ounce of dynamic build through the leading edges of notes, they've been bettered.
I heard new backing vocals being brought forward to my left ear in Hootie & the Blowfish's Hold My Hand as I turned my head. Across the course of my listening, I also heard a lovely, lively, and zealous mix in Jackson Browne's The Pretender. It's only during songs such as Rod Stewart's Sailing that you notice it; so energetic is the Bose QCUE's performance, it doesn't start out quietly and delicately enough, nor does the mix build as pensively as it should.
Then again, near-audiophile quality music doesn't have to be your top priority here. Perhaps you take regular flights and want something portable that creates a near bubble of silence around you, plus music? That's what you'll get here. Note that although the QCUE's battery life can suffer for it (and you're only getting six hours in a best-case scenario anyway, before the case is required) the noise cancellation here is excellent; emphatically your best bet for nixing cabin noise and keeping your carry-on baggage to a minimum.
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds review: Price & release date
Officially priced $299 / £299 / AU$449
Launched September 2023
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds will officially set you back $299 / £299 / AU$449 and they became available in mid-October, having launched on September 14, 2023.
This pricing is pretty close to Sony's 2023 flagship WF-1000XM5, depending on where you're buying ($299.99 / £259 / AU$499) and the excellent Technics EAH-AZ80 (which boast triple-device connectivity and some of the best call quality we've ever experienced, also at $299 / £259 / AU$499).
Remember though, if you want wireless charging, you'll need to shell out an extra $49 / £49 / AU$79 for a cover to slip over your Bose QCUE case – so it's starting to add up to a typically Bose price tag.
Bose has kept it simple with a tried and tested launch price, releasing the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds with the same MSRP as the five-star, September 2022-issue Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, ($299 / £279 / AU$429), but given the standard of the competition in 2023 – and the few key omissions on the spec sheet – is it a gamble?
Yes and no. The aces up Bose's sleeve are the exemplary levels of ANC and Immersive Audio – but it's impossible to ignore the basic battery life and connectivity omissions, which makes things start to look a little disappointing in direct comparison.
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds review: Specs
Should you buy the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds?
Buy them if...
You want the best ANC earbuds on the market For noise-nixing alone, you've found them. Select 'Work', tweak that ANC slider, set the Immersive to either 'Still' or 'Motion' and enjoy.
You want head-tracked Spatial Audio on Android As well as aptX Adaptive, these earbuds don't care about your source device or streaming service, they'll give you fantastic spatial audio that stays put or comes with you.
You like earbuds with tails Some users with smaller ears may find these buds a little bulky – but if you know you like to feel the gravitational pull of the tails securing them in your ears, these buds may well be for you.
Don't buy them if...
You love multipoint connectivity No dice here sadly. There's a tab in the app for your previously connected devices, but it's strictly a one-in, one-out policy here.
You need Qi wireless charging You can get this from Bose, but you'll have to shell out more for a cover to put over the case, whereas Sony and Technics will sell you a set of buds for the same money that does it straight from the box.
You really like smaller earbuds At a time when every manufacturer is shaving a few grams off its earbuds with each fresh iteration, these buds do feel a touch bulky.
Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds review: Also consider
How I tested the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds
Tested for 10 days, listened against the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, Technics EAH-AZ80 and Sony WF-1000XM5
Used at work (commuting on the train; in the office; walking through London) and on the blustery Dorset seafront
Listened to Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless tracks and Spotify on an iPhone 12, Sony Xperia 1 IV and a MacBook Pro
When testing earbuds or headphones, devotion to the task is key. The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds have been my musical companions for ten days solid – after a thorough 48-hour run-in period.
To better test the comfort levels (and battery life claims), I wore them throughout the working day in a busy office and on the noisy London Underground network. I also wore them in a quieter pilates class, to check the fit and security.
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra earbuds accompanied me to work on weekdays (walking brusquely to the station; boarding a train and the London Underground; at the office) and on a particularly blustery day on a secret Dorset beach searching for sea glass – a great way to test any wind-interference from mics during calls.
When testing the audio quality across the frequencies, I listened to myriad playlists (spanning everything from house-pop to classical) on Apple Music and Tidal, but also to podcasts and albums on Spotify – and YouTube clips (mostly about mudlarking on the Thames foreshore, if you want to know) from my MacBook Pro.
I’ve been testing audio products for five years now. As a classical dancer, aerialist, and musical theater performer in another life, sound quality, fit, and user experience have always taken priority for me personally – and having heard how wonderful ANC can be when done well, I know where the bar is.
The Sony HT-AX7 is in a category of its own. It's a portable Bluetooth-connected surround sound system, where you can just grab the two rechargeable mini 'puck' speakers from the top of the main unit, place them behind you, and be surrounded by movie audio. Or you can just place them around a room for more diffused music than from a single speaker, Sony says.
The Sony HT-AX7 isn't promising 5.1-channel sound or anything quite so simple. It's processing your music and adding Sony's 360 Spatial Sound Mapping to create its best approximation of a bubble of sound around you, based on the location of the three units. There are two speaker drivers plus two passive bass radiators in the main unit, and a speaker in each of the satellites. The price for all this tech is pretty steep compared to your average portable Bluetooth speaker, though, at $499 / $499 (approx. AU$960).
We're not aware of any of the best Bluetooth speakers with a setup like the Sony HT-AX7's. And while some of the best soundbars have detachable and rechargeable rear speakers, as well as Bluetooth, they're far from portable. This device measures just 12 x 5.2 x 4.8 inches / 306 x 133 x 123 mm with the speakers attached.
Clad in simple gray fabric, it's an odd, though not ugly, device aesthetically – kind of like a Lego brick when the speakers are on. The plastic on top has a high-quality matte feel. It bends inwards where you press the buttons for turning it on and off, activating Bluetooth pairing mode, playing/pausing (and taking calls – it has a mic), volume up and down, and the 'Sound Field' button that activates its surround-sound processing.
The two satellite speaker pucks are held on by magnets, and have a smartly designed charging system so you don't have to worry about their rotation at all. The magnets aren't especially strong, which makes them easy to grab, but also is easy to knock off accidentally. If you move the speaker too quickly when picking it up, you may lose one – I did exactly this when turning it to put it on charge. They're also easy to nudge off. However, they're built very solidly, so dropping them was no problem for me. The fabric is the thing most likely to get damaged if they hit something rough.
I had the Sony HT-AX7 out of its box and connected to my iPad Pro in about a minute, with surround sound following seconds behind that. Like all the best Bluetooth speakers, it's super simple – you hit the Bluetooth pairing button on top, connect from your tablet, phone (or whatever), play a movie, and position the rear speakers however you want them.
And with Sony's Sound Field tech on, it sounds good – though I was disappointed by the lack of strong rear effect at first. The volume of the satellite speakers and main speaker is controlled all together, and they were just too quiet by default. But Sony's Home Entertainment Connect app enables you to ramp up the volume of the rear speakers, and I found that increasing their volume by three gave me the impact I was hoping for.
With my iPad or phone, the effect is great – I watched lounging in bed, with the rear speakers on the head board, the front speaker down by my feet, and the tablet in my hand. But I don't actually watch like this all that often – most of my tablet or phone movie watching is done on planes or trains, with some of the best noise-cancelling headphones pulling audio duty.
So next I connected it to what most excited me: my portable projector. I have a Samsung The Freestyle (2022), and for a while I've been planning to get rid of my spare-room TV and just use the projector, but I haven't known what to do about good sound. Its own speakers aren't sufficient, but I haven't found anything that's quite right to connect it to instead – either the connection is wrong or the size is.
But the Sony HT-AX7 is ideal. It connects to the Freestyle over Bluetooth, and the HT-AX7 doesn't have to be permanently out. I can put it on a shelf when I'm not watching, and then just grab it, spread its three speakers out in a few seconds, get in position and start enjoying genuine surround sound with the projector. I'm instantly in love.
And happily, the Sony's sound is really effective when watching movies. It's got enough bass to provide meat to action or big movie soundtracks, but I found dialog easy to pick out, and it's dynamic enough to give impacts and sound effects some heft.
The soundscape feels wider than the small box across the front. Even with my projected screen hitting about 80-inches, the audio didn't feel like a mismatch compared to the screen.
There was impressively little lag over Bluetooth, and absolutely no discernible lag between the front and rear speakers – they felt like a coherent unit. I would not say the surround sound effect is as impressive as my Sonos setup I use for my TV – the rear speakers are too weedy to create a feeling of totally enveloping you (the system doesn't pump bass to them meaningfully at all, relying solely on the front speaker for that) – but they add directionality for music and effects, and really enhanced the cinematic feeling beyond just having a speaker at the front.
As well as the all-important Sound Field mode, it has two audio modes (accessible through the app) that may come in handy. There's Voice Mode, which pushes the EQ up into higher registers to help speech stand out further, and Night Mode, which clamps down the bass and reduces dynamic range, so it's less likely to wake people in other rooms if a movie turns loud suddenly.
I can certainly imagine there are kids and students who watch a lot more movies on their tablet than I do, and for them the HT-AX7 will be a better fit in a bedroom or dorm room. For me, it's a super-convenient companion to the new breed of small projectors, and it's a total winner in that regard.
However, there had to be a however. We need to talk about the music performance of the Sony HT-AX7, because that's what really causes the $500 / £500 price tag to stick in your throat.
If this were half the price, its music performance would be okay. But at this price, it's an outright disappointment. The mid-range and treble feel weighed down by the bass, and are only able to orbit it rather than express themselves freely, which makes the soundstage feel constrained.
I compared the Sony HT-AX7 directly to a Sonos Era 100, and the Sonos speaker has better balance and detail as a result. It also has a bit more energy… and it's half the price.
Now, the Sony HT-AX7 does, of course, have its party trick: you can take those satellite pucks and place them around the room so it's no longer like you have only one speaker. The sound is more diffused, great for actual parties. And in a party, no one cares about total audio fidelity.
But as I mentioned before, the system doesn't let the satellites handle bass, so they're only spreading part of the sound around – bass still clearly pulses from the main unit. You could spend the cost of this speaker on two Sonos Era 100 speakers for sound that's dispersed around a room, or less than it on a Sonos Move 2 if you want portability. You'd get better results either way.
It's also worth noting here that there's no support for higher quality sound of any kind. No LDAC for higher-res Bluetooth, no Wi-Fi, no 3.5mm jack or USB-C audio input (its USB-C port is used for charging only).
And for TVs, there's no optical connection or HDMI connection, so you can't connect it to any TV or projector without Bluetooth. I can understand not wanting to deal with HDMI ARC here, but an optical/3.5mm input would have really raised the flexibility of the HT-AX7 for people.
The technical features it does have work perfectly, though. It has multi-point pairing to two devices, which worked totally seamlessly for me. I had no trouble switching between my tablet and projector without any connection freak outs.
And the battery life is far better than Sony's promises, in my experience, though it may depend on volume. Sony says 30 hours officially, but I got well over 40 hours, admittedly playing it mostly at only about 20% of volume (because that's all I've needed while it's in the room with me, trying to run it down while I work). Still, that was with the two satellite speakers separated and playing wirelessly too, and the Sound Field processing on. It's extremely impressive (though I don't like that the app only reports battery life in 20% increments).
Sony recommends a 45W charger for using and charging at the same time, and it doesn't come with this in the box – just a USB-C cable. However, it will charge from a lower charger (I used my 20W phone charger), it just might take a while. But you won't need to charge it often, thanks to that battery life.
I really like the Sony HT-AX7 despite its flaws. I think for the price it simply needs to be more versatile and better with music – but someone who prioritizes those is not who I'd recommend it to. As I said, get two Sonos Era 100 speakers if music is your focus.
This is designed to solve a particular problem. To be a soundbar for Bluetooth devices, without the baggage of an actual soundbar. To be the portable sound equivalent to the best portable projectors, easy to pull out for a thrilling movie night, and to tidy away afterwards. If you're a cinephile in a small space, the Sony HT-AX7 is a quiet revolution. It was for me. I just wish the price felt more justifiable, and the speakers stayed on more steadily.
Sony HT-AX7 review: price and release date
$499 / $499 (approx. AU$960)
Released in August 2023
With a price of $499 / $499 (an Australian release is still pending), the Sony HT-AX7 finds itself in the company of products like the Sonos Move 2. As a Bluetooth-only speaker, something like the UE Epicboom is still much cheaper.
But maybe we should compare it some soundbars, too. For the price, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 is a direct competitor to connect to a projector or TV, though it doesn't have Bluetooth. The Samsung HW-Q800C can actually be found for a similar price now, and that has Dolby Atmos, a wide array of speakers, and a separate subwoofer. Of course, it's huge, not portable, and really prefers to be wired, though it has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Sony HT-AX7 review: Specs
Should I buy the Sony HT-AX7?
Buy it if…
Don't buy it if…
Sony HT-AX7 review: Also consider
How I tested the Sony HT-AX7
Tested at home, in different rooms
Used to stream movies and music
Connected to iPad Pro, iPhone and Samsung The Freestyle (2022)
I tested the Sony HT-AX7 over the course of a week in my home. As mentioned in the review, I used with my 12.9-inch iPad Pro and Samsung The Freestyle projector for watching movies, and with my iPhone for listening to music. I watched movies from Netflix, Disney Plus and Apple TV. For music, I streamed tracks from Apple Music.
For testing the battery life, I played music from my phone to the speaker, with the two satellite speakers removed, and the Sound Field processing mode on.
The Ultimate Ears Epicboom has been worth the wait for a fresh speaker from a brand that used to be huge in portable speakers – at least, in terms of sound quality. It's big, it's bold, it looks like a bunch of mug-sized Wonderbooms morphed into one glorious beast, and UE's useful Outdoor Boost button (which made its debut in the 2019 Wonderboom 2) takes pride of place on the top plate.
So, one of the best Bluetooth speakers on the market then? For sound, correct – and that will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with our Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2 review, a speaker we rated as one of the best such options around in 2019. OK, the newer UE Wonderboom 3 didn't score quite so highly, but that's largely because there were so few updates between it and its (much) older brother, and the competition got fierce.
The Epicboom is smaller than the talented (but rather somber-looking) 2020-issue UE Hyperboom and much bigger than the Megaboom 3. Although the Epicboom's wrist strap is ill-placed and odd given the speaker's near-2kg weight (I cannot carry it with the thing around my wrist – I'm no weakling, my palm just isn't Hulk-sized… today) it is still light enough to be grasped by its sides like a plant pot and carried to its destination. And wherever it is placed, indoors or out, you can expect meaty and prominent, zealous sound.
Through the Ultimate Ears Boom app, you can now power it on or off using your phone, tweak the EQ, deploy Outdoor Boost, alter the volume or daisy-chain up to 150 other PartyUp-enabled Booms in a feature similar to JBL's PartyBoost or Sony's Party Chain (yes, all the big brands like to 'party').
The key bit is the word 'enabled' though, because if you recently bought UE's newest (by a wide margin) Wonderboom 3 proposition, it won't work, unfortunately. Why? Because PartyUp is not compatible with any Wonderboom, Blast or Megablast UE speaker. So, while you can daisy-chain your Boom, Boom 2, Boom 3, Megaboom, Megaboom 3 and Hyperboom to your heart's content, the newest speaker in that list was released in February 2020. Then again, maybe you are still using that original Boom you bought in 2013 – and I for one commend you on making that thing last…
Any other flies in the ointment? The battery life, at 17 hours, is acceptable rather than excellent and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention two other factors at play: namely price (at $349 / £340 / AU$499, it's more than a little pricey), and connectivity.
Anyone familiar with the Logitech brand knows that UE rarely wades into premium territory with it's funky-fresh speakers. Also, as a quick internet search proves, the much bigger Hyperboom is now available for only slightly more than the Epicboom's MSRP. Perhaps more pressing here though is the smaller but similarly-styled Wonderboom 3, which will set you back a trifling $99.99 / £89.99 / AU$149. Add to this the recent Sonos Era 100, which is a lot cheaper than the Epicboom, at $249 / £249 / AU$399, and as we pointed out in our Sonos Era 100 review works with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi multi-room – there's a reason Sonos speakers feature heavily in our best wireless speakers roundup.
What does the pricier Ultimate Ears proposition offer? Just Bluetooth connectivity, with a 55m (180ft) range, all of which does leave us wondering: is there a market for such a thing in 2023? Then again, if a speaker that hooks up to your phone's music is what you chiefly need, but you need it loud and good-looking, you've found it.
And the reason it gets the rating it does, despite the cost and limited wireless connectivity at the level? It is one of the best party speakers for sound I've heard in some time.
Ultimate Ears Epicboom review: Price and release date
Released September 6, 2023
Officially priced at $349 / £340 / AU$499
The Ultimate Ears Epicboom was released in early September 2023 for $349 / £340 / AU$499.
You can choose from two color options at the checkout: cotton white with 'lipstick red' accents (which is more of a coral pink hue), or charcoal black with lime. We tested the former and as previously mentioned, this shoe-box sized speaker – it's around the same size as the Bose Home Speaker 500 – bridges the size gap between the bigger Hyperboom and smaller Megaboom 3.
For size, I might compare it to the Tribit Stormbox Blast ($199 / £229.99 / AU$319.99) which the Epicboom beats for sound, although at its price, the Epicboom is best compared to other speakers that hover around the $349 mark, including Sonos' dominant ouevre of multi-room speakers. Two words: tough competition.
Ultimate Ears Epicboom review: Specs
Ultimate Ears Epicboom: Features
A 17-hour battery life
Plenty of useful in-app presets and features
No 3.5mm port or mics
UE says the Epicboom has a 17-hour battery life and in my testing this rang true – even when I played it louder than 50% volume. That quoted stamina is okay, but the older Hyperboom can go for longer, with a claim of 24 hours. The Epicboom also has a one-touch NFC feature (available for NFC-compatible smartphones with Android 8.0 or later) for that 'just hold them together' pairing magic.
If you're using a 15W charger – you get a USB-C to USB-C cable in the box, but not the block – UE says the Epicboom will charge fully in two hours. I do miss the bright yellow cable UE speakers were once famous for, but the white one supplied here is perfectly adequate.
Through the refreshed Boom app (updated on September 6), you can choose between different EQ presets including Signature, Bass Boost, Game/Cinema, Podcast/Vocal, and the all-new Deep Relaxation mode. You can also customize the mids, highs, and lows of the sound based on your personal preferences by dragging five different dots on the EQ tab to create your own – if, for instance, your online HIIT instructor tends to speak a little loudly as the workout gets spicier.
As mentioned, the fan-favorite feature within the Boom app, PartyUp, lets you pair multiple compatible Ultimate Ears speakers (read: Epicboom, Boom, Boom 2, Boom 3, Megaboom, Megaboom 3, and Hyperboom speakers) to kick your soirée up a notch, but it's also worth noting that if you're pairing two Epicbooms, you can use PartyUp to create a (rather expensive) stereo pair.
There are no mics under the hood and you don't get Wi-Fi support (so in-built streaming services and voice assistants are out), but the app also lets you select up to four music presets through Apple Music (iOS device only), Spotify (Android only) or Amazon Prime Music. I set the radio station Apple Music 1 as a preset and it works beautifully.
Features score: 3/5
Ultimate Ears Epicboom review: Design
A return to UE's trademark fun, fresh design
IP67 rating and environmentally friendly materials
Big –but not too big
Make no mistake: although UE's design language here is all fun, it's rock-solid in terms of build and braun. Ultimate Ears is back to being the Cali surfer dude (or dudette) of Bluetooth speakers; gone is the brutalist build of the Hyperboom – Epicboom is made from 100% post-consumer recycled polyester fabric, a minimum of 59% post-consumer recycled plastic and one thing that's hard to photograph properly is the vanilla-ice-cream-with-strawberry-sprinkles nature of this plastic. It's both classy and cute.
Under the hood, the dual 1.5-inch drivers are coupled with a 4.6-inch woofer for bass clarity and immersive sound that'll go just above 94dB at full whack (think lawnmower loud). I can confirm that the Epicboom goes loud enough without distorting for your next garden party or medium-sized indoor event – especially with the Outdoor Boost button, which augments the treble to cut through extraneous noise, as well as those on-the-fly EQ tweaks.
UE's trademark gigantic plus and minus buttons on the side and fully water- and dust-proof IP67 rating are here again – and yes, this one also floats if it finds its way into your pool.
One of our gripes with the smaller Wonderboom 3 was the lack of information on each tiny button's function. That is not the case here. Yes, the unit is bigger, but these buttons are far more intuitive, in that they start on the left with 'power', then 'pairing', the Outdoor Boost button, and finally UE's 'Magic button' which handles playback or your presets. And in front of all of these (closer to the big plus/minus buttons on the front-facing panel) is your NFC Connect spot. It's simple – although of course if you're nowhere near it, you can use your phone to do control it via the Boom app.
My one issue with the design? The strap – it isn't helpful and is actually painful if you hang the entire thing around your wrist and try to bicep curl it. But that's a small thing in an otherwise delightfully classic Ultimate Ears design.
Design score: 4.5/5
Ultimate Ears Epicboom review: Sound quality
The UE Epicboom has 360-degree omnidirectional sound, so wherever you are in relation to the speaker you're getting quality audio chops.
Niall Horan's orchestral version of So Long skips along musically, with admirable precision and timing across the frequencies in an expansive, emotive, layered mix that gives his vocals more space to shine than in almost any other rival Bluetooth speaker I've tested. Dungeon Family's Follow the Light is vibrant and as funk-heavy as it should be, with oodles of early noughties boot-shaking bass clout and energy. Jamie T's voice is textured and brimming with South London attitude as he spits out The Old Style Raiders.
Honestly, even when I max out both the bass slider and the volume during testing, I struggle to make it struggle, with even my more complex, heavy playlists.
Ultimate Ears has been holding out on us for a great new speaker, but I'm grateful for any wait that culminates in this. Like a band that broke through with a number-one smash hit, followed it up with an even better album, then cemented it with… nothing, for well over two years, Epicboom feels like that hotly-anticipated banger of a second album that confirms I was right about UE all along.
Sound quality: 5/5
Ultimate Ears Epicboom review: Value
Know this: within its price bracket, the Epicboom is one of the best-sounding Bluetooth speakers around right now.
Its fresh design, Outdoor mode, excellent companion app and superior sound make it a compelling proposition in the Bluetooth arena – but therein lies an issue: other things can connect to your Wi-Fi and thus will do more for less outlay (Sonos Era 100, this is you).
The Epicboom's battery life is adequate rather than excellent and while it's a great waterproof companion for outdoor parties, I do worry whether anyone considering it might just opt for something that'll do it cheaper, like the Tribit Stormbox Blast, or pay a little extra for the Sonos Move 2 or Naim Mu-so Qb 2 and get Wi-Fi support along with all of the associated perks.
I still recommend it for sound though – and I want to make that plain: this thing is worth every penny of the money if you value sound quality above all else. The issue I see is that when looking for something fun which you can chuck outside at the barbecue and know it'll bring the tunes, audiophile-quality sound is seldom the top priority.
Value score: 4/5
Should I buy the UE Epicboom?
Buy it if…
Don’t buy it if…
Ultimate Ears Epicboom review: Also consider
How I tested the Ultimate Ears Epicboom
Tested for a week after a thorough run-in, listened against the Tribit Stormbox Blast, UE Boom 3 and Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 3
Used in the office; at home; in a friend's garden
Listened to Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless tracks and Spotify from an iPhone XR, Sony Xperia 1 IV and a MacBook Pro
As always when testing any hi-fi separate, time, energy, placement and investment is key. I tested the Ultimate Ears Epicboom in one of the larger boardrooms in our offices, my own humble apartment, a dance studio and a friend's garden (I don't have a garden).
To test the omnidirectional sound quality, I danced around the Epicboom in ever-decreasing circles. I did of course max out the volume in the biggest office boardroom – I'm an agent of chaos – and while I stopped short of submerging the speaker in freshwater, I did check that it floats in my bathtub (not to boast, but I do have one of those).
When testing the audio quality across the frequencies, I listened to various playlists spanning everything from pop to thrash metal on Apple Music, Qobuz and Tidal from my iPhone, but also to podcasts and albums on Spotify – plus YouTube tutorials (mostly on how to get a Thames foreshore permit to go mudlarking, if you must know) from my MacBook Pro.
I’ve been testing audio products for five years now. As a dancer, aerialist and musical theater performer in another life, sound quality has always taken priority for me personally – but price, portability and durability are also very high on the list.
If the Denon PerL Pro earbuds look suspiciously familiar, that is because they are. But don't be disheartened! They offer something no other current earbuds can – not even the best noise cancelling earbuds.
First, let's get the business bit out of the way: friendly Australian earphone startup Nura has been secured by much-bigger-brand Denon and now, a product that looks very much like Nura's flagship summer 2022-issue earbuds, the NuraTrue Pro, has been released by Denon under the moniker PerL Pro. There's also a non-suffixed PerL too, which may or may not be closer to Nura's slightly older NuraTrue; we haven't tested this. I think it's a very positive merge for all involved.
You see, Denon spotted that Nura's particular otoacoustic testing is unique in consumer earbuds – and done well, it's very good indeed. Backtracking just a little: the chief issue of earbud designs from a listening perspective is the shape of the ear canal they have to sit in and project into; those echo-chamber-like cavities, twists and arcs within it. These make all of us hear frequencies differently. Denon's tests help fix it, then give you the option to nix noise, add spatial audio, bring in immersion or make ambient sound more prominent. And all of this is excellent.
I should note that there is similar tech out there: Nothing's Ear (2) personalized hearing tests were a hit when I tried them, but these tests require active input; you have to tap out when you can't hear a tone (with all of the associated "Wait, could I hear it?" self-doubt). Denon's is a completely passive experience where all one is required to do is wear them, initiate the test and sit for about 30 seconds in a quiet environment as special sonic tones do their good work.
I had two quite different results across two tests and you know what? Both were a vast improvement on the default sound from the box – and you can save up to four anyway in the excellent Denon Headphones companion app. After the test, listening to a neutral profile versus your freshly-curated optimized one is the aural equivalent of backgrounds coming to focus or colors appearing crisper on an OLED TV, altering the tone or focus slightly so that you feel closer to it. It's heady stuff. And you can amp up the immersion levels to feel that admirable bass clout – which never muddies or bloats across the course of my listening, even with grime and hip-hop heavy playlists.
Add to this Bluetooth 5.3 with Dirac Virtuo support (like the OnePlus Nord Buds 2) with aptX Lossless and aptX Adaptive (to provide a streaming experience similar to listening to a CD) and the PerL Pro are bordering on something an audiophile looking to try wireless audio may consider. To clarify, aptX Lossless is a top-tier codec since it boasts a bitrate of between 1.1Mbps and 1.2Mbps (1,100 and 1,200kbps) while aptX Adaptive's maximum bitrate is 420kbps, the older aptX HD can stream at 576kbps, and Sony's LDAC maxes out at 990kbps.
Also, you're getting a perfectly acceptable eight-hour battery in the buds, with an extra 24 in the case, wireless charging, IPX4 sweat resistance and a total of eight mics for top call-handling.
The thing is, there are a few downsides. At $349 / £299 / AU$549 they aren't cheap, are they? If you're going to go in around the same level as the flagship Sony WF-1000XM5 ($299 / £259 / AU$499) things really ought to be perfect in terms of design, and I do not think they are.
The buds were uncomfortable in my concha (the bowl bit of your outer ear) over a period of time, because the driver housing of the Denon earpiece is quite large – and the top plate is larger still. Each weighs 8.6g and if that doesn't sound like much, note that the older Sony WF-100XM4 weighed 7.3g and Sony tried very hard to shave a lot off that for the XM5, which come in at 5.9g.
Now, a larger earpiece doesn't always mean discomfort (Shure's Aonic Free are huge and comfortable) but here, the lip of the driver housing did tend to rub on my ear uncomfortably, where it rests. I realize that fit is arguably as personal as my hearing itself (Denon's otoacoustic process makes sure they fit well in the ear before starting the testing proper), but it's my job to notice. If you have bijou ears, I'd avoid.
Also, the case is a tad too bulky for a pocket and although the ANC profile is good (creating a hard-to-penetrate bubble in the office) it isn't tweakable any further than on or off – and the ambient toggle is oddly far less effective. After deploying it, I still struggled to hear my other half talking to me from across our very small kitchen.
Do you care, given the sonic prowess – and are you supremely confident in the size of your ears? That's your business and for the right user, these earbuds are stone cold winners. But not for everyone.
Denon PerL Pro review: Price & release date
$349 / £299 / AU$549
Released June 2023
As mentioned briefly above, this pricing is more expensive than Sony's 2023 flagship WF-1000XM5 ($299.99 / £259 / AU$499) and the excellent Technics EAH-AZ80 (which boast triple-device connectivity and some of the best call quality we've ever experienced – and are also $299 / £259 / AU$499), plus of course the five-star Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, ($299 / £279 / AU$429) which are some the best earbuds for noise cancellation we've ever had the pleasure of testing.
Yes, the Denon PerL Pro offer a uniquely tailored listening experience. It's still tough company to keep.
Denon PerL Pro review: Specs
Should you buy the Denon PerL Pro?
Buy them if...
You want to dip your toes into otoacoustic audio tests This is the single most compelling reason to buy these buds – and the hearing test results it won't disappoint you.
You need the best wireless codec support Bluetooth 5.3, Dirac Virtuo for spatial audio, aptX Lossless and aptX Adaptive – aka the top dogs in high resolution Bluetooth audio.
You're all about that bass Set up your personalized ProEQ profile. Deploy spatial audio beside the toggle. Now, ramp up the immersive slider beneath that. Feel the talented, boot-shaking, low-level clout.
Don't buy them if...
You have a smaller ear and want small earbuds No dice here sadly. They're big, they're bold, and while to some they may be beautiful, to others they could be a heavy or uncomfortable.
You need top Ambient passthrough/awareness modes There is a 'social mode' here, but in my tests it just, well, didn't allow me to be that social.
You want head-tracked spatial audio Don't get me wrong, the spatial audio here is excellent, but it is not head-tracked. For dynamic audio that darts between each ear as you turn your head away from your source device, look to the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro or LG Tone Free T90Q on Android, or Apple's AirPods Pro 2 with an Apple device, of course.
Denon PerL Pro review: Also consider
How I tested the Denon PerL Pro
Tested for two weeks, listened against the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, Technics EAH-AZ80 and Sony WF-1000XM5
Used at work (commuting on the train; in the office; walking through London) and on the blustery Dorset seafront
Listened to Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless tracks and Spotify on an iPhone 12, Sony Xperia 1 IV and a MacBook Pro
When testing earbuds or headphones, investment is key. And thus, the Denon PerL Pro have been my musical companions for over two weeks – after a thorough 48-hour run-in period.
To better test the comfort levels (and battery life claims), I wore them throughout the working day in a busy office and on the noisy London Underground network. I also wore them in a quieter online yoga class, to check the fit and security.
The Denon PerL Pro accompanied me to work on weekdays (walking brusquely to the station; boarding a train and the London Underground; at the office) and on a particularly blustery day on a secret Dorset beach – a great way to test any wind-interference from mics during calls.
When testing the audio quality across the frequencies, I listened to a plethora playlists (spanning everything from grime to free jazz) on Apple Music and Tidal, but also to podcasts and albums on Spotify – and YouTube tutorials (mostly about drying flowers to make confetti, since you ask) from my MacBook Pro.
I’ve been testing audio products for five years now. As a dancer, aerialist and musical theater performer in another life, sound quality, fit and the user experience have always taken priority for me personally – but having heard how wonderful ANC can be when done well, I know what to listen for.
A luxury headset that makes use of AI features seems like an obvious concept now, but it still surprised me seeing Logitech Zone Wireless 2 take full advantage of modern advancements to implement AI in a mostly successful way. According to Logitech, the AI tech was built from the ground up into the hardware, which is apparent from how every aspect of this headset revolves around it.
It’s not to its detriment either and only feels a little gimmicky. ANC is run by AI, and you’re able to adjust between several different levels or turn it off completely. Plus, there’s a feature called Personal EQ that can even adjust how it adapts to your hearing through a brief set of questions through the app.
Other than traditional noise-cancelling, there are other interesting variations. For instance, when making phone calls, you can not only cancel out background noise on your end but the AI can recognize the other caller’s voice and filter it from their background noise as well.
There’s also a slew of other AI quality-of-life tools and features, like connecting to up to two devices via Bluetooth and switching between them on the fly. And if you’re using the wireless dongle instead, there’s a feature called Smart Enumeration where if a device is not in use audio will not come out from it.
If you remove the headset while listening to audio, it automatically pauses. Meanwhile, putting them back on resumes and tilting either speaker can also mute any audio. An option lets you automatically answer a phone call by putting on the headset if you’re connected to a smartphone.
There are health and safety options too, like anti-startle protection that limits sudden high-pitched noises as well as noise exposure control that measures daily noise levels in a call and ensures it doesn’t exceed a certain amount.
So how do all these AI tools measure up? Pretty well but not perfect.
At the very least, this headset could easily land as one of the best wireless headphones but not take the top spot. The auto-pause feature is good except when it doesn’t pause because it doesn’t recognize the action of pulling off the headset or when stays paused even when I put it back on. The tilt mute feature is very spotty, and I found that it either doesn’t register me tilting it deliberately, or it’s overly sensitive and mutes at a slight nudge.
The noise-canceling is probably the only feature that works just as promised, with every ANC setting reducing outside and background sounds to a near-perfect degree. It still shocks me how instantaneous the effect is.
The Logitech Zone Wireless 2 has a lovely audio quality, with a great soundscape that’s able to handle a wide range of highs and lows. Even the bass is robust and loses very little quality at max volume, and I could suitably feel it in my teeth, which is a great sign to me. It’s also flexible to handle music and audio from video games, movies, music from streaming services, and more.
I love that for a headset with an adjustable microphone, the 90-degree swivel on the earphones makes it completely ambidextrous. Unfortunately, the build quality is a little disappointing for such an expensive product. It’s admirable that the headset is made of 22% recycled plastic and low-carbon aluminum, but the seams of the headband cover split a little from the headband when I pull on it.
Of course, not many people will be stretching the headband to that extent but when I compare it to the Razer Barracuda Pro, which has a similar price point even if it doesn't exactly make it to our best PC gaming headsets list, it doesn't measure up in build quality. To offset this, Logitech does make it so that buyers can completely repair and replace parts on their own, which is something that should be a standard for any of these devices.
One advantage it does has over other headsets is just how light and comfortable it feels. The ear cushions and headband cover are clearly made of memory foam and, coupled with the light weight, make it feel like I’m wearing a cloud.
Another issue is the battery, which lasts up to 40 hours listening with ANC off, up to 22 hours listening with ANC on, and a talk time of 15 hours with ANC on and up to 18 hours with ANC off. Not amazing. At best, you're required to charge it every two days of regular use, which can get a bit cumbersome. It gets even worse, as I noticed that when the power dips below 40% the volume and audio quality dip as if there’s some background battery-saver mode that's activating.
Compared to the Razer Barracuda Pro's 40-hour battery life that lets you drain every last drop of power while maintaining perfect audio quality, Logitech's own offering pales in comparison.
Logitech Zone Wireless 2: Price & availability
How much does it cost? $299.99 / £299.99 / AU$499.95
When is it available? October 2023
Where can you get it? Available in the US, UK, and Australia
The Logitech Zone Wireless 2 will be available in the US, UK, and Australia in October 2023 for an MSRP of $299.99 / £299.99 / AU$499.95.
The price point is quite steep, putting it firmly in the luxury headset market. That on its own isn’t bad, as there’s plenty of tech and development that’s gone into it. But considering that the build quality isn’t as high as similar headsets like the Razer Barracuda Pro and Logitech’s own Pro X 2 Lightspeed, the MSRP sticks out like a sore thumb.
Value: 4 / 5
Logitech Zone Wireless 2: Specs
Should you buy the Logitech Zone Wireless 2?
Buy it if...
You want a headset with AI features The AI features are quite good, elevating the noise canceling to greater heights and adding cool abilities like smart pausing.
You want a light and comfortable headset One of the best features of this headset is that, unlike many other bulky headphones, this one is super light and the memory fits your ears like a cloud.
Don't buy it if...
You need a long-lasting battery Battery life isn't bad but you'll find it draining faster than you realize, needing a charge every couple days of regular use.
You're on a tight budget This is an extremely pricey headset, so if you're on a budget there are plenty of cheaper alternatives.
Logitech Zone Wireless 2: Also consider
How I tested the Logitech Zone Wireless 2
I spent about a week testing this keyboard
I tested it for productivity work, gaming, phone calls, and music
I used it extensively in a home office environment and outdoors
I tested the Logitech Zone Wireless 2 in a home office environment, as well as in high-volume areas, like public transit and parks, to see how well the noise-canceling worked. I also tested out the various AI and ANC features to check for effectiveness and reliability.
The Logitech Zone Wireless 2 is a Bluetooth-compatible headset that's meant for extensive use over a period of years. I made sure to quality-test it to see if it held up to those standards while maintaining maximum comfort levels.
I've tested headsets including gaming ones, and understand how to properly rate and test them out to ensure that they reach a certain level of quality.
We pride ourselves on our independence and our rigorous review-testing process, offering up long-term attention to the products we review and making sure our reviews are updated and maintained - regardless of when a device was released, if you can still buy it, it's on our radar.
How on earth are the JLab JBuds Mini so small? Seriously, the earbuds are 30% smaller than the Go Air Pop before them and the case is 50% smaller. Next to any other earbud I can think of, they're teeny. Potentially the smallest around, it's safe to say storage isn't an issue, unless you're worried about losing them given their slight and non-existent heft. JLab has thought of that though by adding a keyring to the side so you can easily attach them to your keys ensuring you'll never miss out on having earbuds on your person.
None of this would matter if the JLab JBuds Mini were pretty ropey but they're actually great for the price. Costing just $39.99 / £39.99, they'll suit every budget. Cheap and tiny, the JLab JBuds Mini still pack a fair bit in. While codec support is a little limited, there's Bluetooth Multipoint connectivity, the JLab app to help you tweak some settings, and a Be Aware mode that makes up for the lack of true ANC.
They're IP55 rated which will be handy for those sweaty days. A quick charge function could be better with 15 minutes giving back only an hour of play, but with 20 hours overall via the (did we mention it's tiny?) charging case means that'll rarely be an issue.
The JLab JBuds Mini are really quite cute yet potent, easily vying for a place among the best budget wireless earbuds. They fit in your ears perfectly and all we could really hope for is options that would match skin tone accurately, as no one would notice you wearing them if so.
JLab JBuds Mini review: price and release date
Released in September 2023
Priced at $39.99 / £39.99
The JLab JBuds Mini was released in September 2023 for $39.99/£39.99. Currently available across Europe, the UK and the USA, they're affordable across the board.
The earphones are available in five colors – black, aqua teal, pink, mint green and sage gray. Count on the fairly ordinary looking black to be first to see a discount.
JLab is competing among itself for rivals with the JLab Go Air Pop hanging around at just $20 / £20 but being a little older and a little bigger than the JLab JBuds Mini. There's always the pricier EarFun Air Pro 3 too if you need ANC although the buds are certainly a lot bulkier.
JLab JBuds Mini review: specs
JLab JBuds Mini review: features
Be Aware mode
The JLab JBuds Mini are so small that you'd almost expect them to have nothing going for them. However, JLab has squeezed a fair amount in for cheap earbuds. Notably, it's always good to see Multipoint support so you can connect two devices at once – something that pricier earbuds can still lack.
At all times, it's simple to just keep to using one earbud if you prefer, while the Be Aware mode provides you with a bit more of an ability to hear what's going on around you, such as if you need to listen out for traffic. There's no ANC here but the passive noise isolation is better than you'd think for earbuds of this size and price, presumably because they're such a nice and snug fit in your ear.
Via the JLab app, you can make some adjustments to the EQ with a choice of presets as well as the option to make changes for yourself. Out of the box, you won't instantly find yourself in need but we'll get into that later.
With no issue with connectivity, it always felt like the JLab JBuds Mini were ready even when I just need one earbud by my metaphorical side. It's those little things that mean you're more likely to grab the JLab JBuds Mini, even when there are alternatives nearby.
Features score: 4 / 5
JLab JBuds Mini review: battery life
Up to 5.5 hours through the earbuds and up to 20 hours including the case
15 minutes charge gives back an hour
The JLab JBuds Mini is pretty typical for your average pair of earbuds but that means it's better than you'd think for the size. You'll get about 5.5 hours from one charge with 20 once you factor in the charging case.
There's also quick charge support although it's a little weak. A 15 minute charge gives back an hour. That's ok but it's far from special even if it could get you out of a jam.
Battery life score: 4 / 5
JLab JBuds Mini review: sound quality
Strong noise isolation
The JLab JBuds Mini block out sound far better than you'd anticipate given their size and price. While you'll still hear traffic as you walk past, it isn't as all encompassing as with other weaker earbuds. There's still room to enjoy your music with the JLab JBuds Mini being suitably vibrant at all times.
There's the app's EQ for getting things just how you like them but out of the box, the JLab JBuds Mini sound pretty good. While bass could be stronger in an ideal world, it's all still pretty lively with a wider soundstage than anyone could have seen coming here.
The JLab JBuds Mini use standard codecs so it's all good for your usual streaming services, but there's no aptX or LDAC support.
Still, vocals are clear at all times while there's a reasonable crisp quality to ballads like Harry Styles' Sign of the Times. It's a weaker story when switching to something dance heavy like I'm Good (Blue) by David Guetta and Bebe Rexha, but you'll still enjoy it.
Sound quality score: 4 /5
JLab JBuds Mini review: design
Touch-sensitive surface on buds
We've mentioned it a lot but the JLab JBuds Mini are supremely small. They come with a keyring attachment and the case is a perfect fit next to your keys. As someone who hates to forget their earbuds, this is ideal for avoiding the peskiness of hearing my surrounding environment when I don't want to.
The earbuds are small too, of course, but not so small that you'll worry. They fit snugly in your ears and even during a run, there was no wobble factor here. The earbuds are sufficiently comfy that your ears won't ache during extended periods of use either.
Controls are a little tetchy. With not much room on the bud, it's very easy to accidentally mistap when adjusting them in one's ear. On the other hand, no one likes to have awkward controls so this is a tricky one to complain about or applaud too.
Design score: 4 /5
JLab JBuds Mini review: value
Plenty of good features
The JLab JBuds Mini might have a plasticky case but it suits their style. More importantly, they're cheap yet have many of the key features you could want.
The main competition comes from JLab's previous small earbuds – the Go Air Pop with most other rivals like the EarFun Air Pro 3 and the Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0 proving much bulkier.
Value score: 4 /5
Should I buy the JLab JBuds Mini?
Buy them if...
Don't buy them if...
JLab JBuds Mini review: also consider
How I tested the JLab JBuds Mini
Tested for one week
Used outside and around the home, in both noisy and quiet environments
10 years of audio reviewing experience
Swapping my regular earbuds for the JLab JBuds Mini, I solely used them for a period of just over a week. They were part of my daily morning walk where I walked among quiet areas and noisier traffic-filled parts of suburbia. I also used them while running to check the fit was snug and correct.
Around the house, I used them while completing housework and also for quieter times in the evening to relax.
I listened to a mixture of modern and older music, as well as many podcasts. These were all through Apple Music, Apple Podcasts or Spotify. I also watched a few YouTube videos thanks to the JLab JBuds Mini's multipoint feature simplifying the process.
Over the past ten years, I've reviewed dozens of speakers, headphones, and earbuds. These have covered a wide range of price ranges and I'm always pleasantly surprised when cheap can defeat expensive options.
Tranya is a relatively new audio tech brand that has brought out several different types of true wireless and sports earbuds over the years. Its latest flagship buds are the Tranya Nova, a budget pair of noise-cancelling earbuds that promise an exceptional and immersive listening experience.
During testing, I found they delivered on that claim. They’re certainly not audiophile-grade, and are light on features compared to higher-priced rivals. But for your money, you’ll get a pair of buds I would go as far to describe as reliable because you’ve got all the basics. The sound here is good, the ANC is impressive for the price, the fit is comfortable, the battery life is better than most rivals, and the buds themselves may look a little cheap but they’re minimal and unobtrusive.
The problem is that the Tranya Nova enter a crowded marketplace. Not just because there are so many of the best true wireless earbuds to choose from these days, but because there are lots catering to this specific price point that sits somewhere between budget and mid-range.
This doesn’t take away from the fact that the Tranya Nova are a solid choice if you’re looking for an affordable pair of true wireless earbuds, but it does mean you’ll find plenty of other options that may have several better features, slightly improved specs and even a cheaper price tag.
Tranya Nova review: price and release date
Released in June 2023
Available to buy at $79.99 / £79.99
The Tranya Nova earbuds were released in June 2023 and cost $79.99 / £79.99. On the Tranya website, the official price is $99 (there’s no pricing for other territories, as far as we can tell) but you’ll find the $79.99 / £79.99 price on Amazon, which seems to be consistent.
At under $80 / £80, we’d class the Tranya Nova as a pair of budget true wireless earbuds, inching into the mid-range category. In this same price bracket there’s a lot of competition. In our best budget wireless earbuds guide, there are similar buds, like the EarFun Air Pro 3, which are also available for $79 / £79.
There are also much cheaper buds, like the JLab Go Air Pop at $20 / £20, but they do deliver less accomplished audio. In comparison, at the higher end of the budget category there’s the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus costing $139.95 / £119.95, although we did rate the audio on offer from those buds incredibly highly.
They’re just several examples, but the upshot here is that competition is fierce in this category of the best earbuds and you usually have to sacrifice a certain feature or sound quality if you want a more affordable price.
Tranya Nova review: specs
Tranya Nova review: features
Nice EQ in the app
Good battery life
The Tranya Nova earbuds aren’t packed with features, but you’ve got everything here you’d want from a budget pair of buds.
This includes an easy-to-use app with settings you can tweak, like an EQ with presets as well as a custom profile you can create. As well as touch controls on the buds themselves that you can customize, too, choosing from a range of taps and different functions, like play-pause, volume up/down, previous/next track, voice assistant, game mode and ANC mode.
It’s in the app that you can check on the battery levels of the buds, select from three ANC modes (on, off and ambient sound), as well as switch on a game mode, which brings you 40ms low-latency.
A nice feature that we wouldn’t always expect from budget buds is multi-point pairing, allowing you to connect the Tranya Nova to two different audio source devices. I found this worked well during my testing, allowing me to move between playing audio from my laptop and then from my iPhone.
Battery life here is impressive compared to most other buds in this category. You’ll get 36 hours of playtime in total from the charging case and nine hours from the buds themselves.
To add a bit of context, the JBL Live Pro 2, which I think they’re most similar to, have 10 hours in the buds and 30 in the case. But most other budget buds, like the Sony WF-C700N, offer seven and a half hours from the buds and only 15 hours from the case, which seems to be the norm at this level.
Features score: 4/5
Tranya Nova review: sound quality
Call quality is decent
An expansive and enjoyable listen
I keep my expectations low when I’m testing a budget pair of buds, but I was generally impressed with the performance of the Tranya Nova earbuds – at least for this price.
The bass was decent, if a little fuzzy at times with particularly bass-heavy tracks. I really enjoyed listening to No One Loves Me and Neither Do I from Them Crooked Vultures, a track with some meaty bass that these buds just about did justice to. As well as vocals and highs that sounded crisp rather than tinny – a common complaint with similar buds.
There’s a decent balance across the whole range here and a soundstage that, again, I’d say is broad for the price – although with the volume turned up high things started to get just a little muddy. Audiophiles will be looking for more clarity, detail and richness, but you’ll likely only find that with higher-priced buds or buds a little more expensive with standout audio performance, like the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus. Having said all that, the majority of people will be happy with these buds, especially considering you can tweak the EQ a little in the app if you really want to.
Considering these are budget buds, the noise-cancelling was pretty impressive. I think this is both a testament to the buds and the fact I got a really great fit from the ear tips (more on that soon). It’s the kind of noise-cancellation that didn’t block out the sound of a barking dog in the street or loud laughter next to me in a cafe, but did wipe out ambient traffic sounds and the low hum of a fan – the level I’d expect at this price.
Sound quality score: 3.5/5
Tranya Nova review: design
A light, plasticky feel to them
The Tranya Nova earbuds are plain and minimal. They have the stem design that’s become the norm since Apple released its AirPods. In the past I’ve found some stem earbuds stick out from my ears too much, but these were an ideal length.
They’re made from plastic and have quite a cheap feel to them, but I like that as it means they’re light. Unlike a lot of other buds, they don’t come in black but a deep blue that Tranya calls ‘midnight’.
They come with three different ear tips. Maybe I got lucky with the way the smallest tips fit my ears, but I found them incredibly comfortable and they created a great seal for the ANC to perform its magic. Like most buds at this price point, I did start to feel them a little after an hour or so of wear – they’re certainly not the most comfortable buds I’ve tried – but that’s to be expected.
There’s IPX5 waterproofing here, which means they’ll withstand the most sweaty workout. This is good news considering they’re comfortable and stable buds, they fared well when I took them jogging in very windy conditions.
They come with a small, shiny charging case with a pill box design that’s pretty typical. However, the high shine finish on the outside was prone to fingerprint smudging, although that’s hardly a dealbreaker.
Design score: 4/5
Tranya Nova review: Value
Good value for the range of specs and features
Competitively priced compared to rivals
Not special, but a solid pair of budget buds
For the range of specs and features on offer and the solid performance and battery life, these are great value buds and I enjoyed using them.
Yes, there’s a lot of competition and several other buds from different brands perform just as well at a similar price. But that shouldn’t distract from the fact these are a solid pair of buds that should keep most people happy – especially anyone on a budget, those trying true wireless buds for the first time or anyone not fussed about the highest quality sound.
Value score: 5/5
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Tranya Nova review: Also consider
How I tested the Tranya Nova
Tested over two weeks
With an iPhone 14 Pro
A mix of Spotify and Tidal with some movies on my too
I tested the Tranya Nova earbuds over the course of two weeks in a range of environments, including working at a busy coffee shop and in a silent library, as I took a walk along the beach and through a crowded city and everywhere in-between. This gave me a great opportunity to put the ANC and comfort of the buds to the ultimate test.
I used an iPhone 14 Pro with the earbuds for the most part, switching between Spotify and Tidal as my streaming services of choice. I also paired the buds with my MacBook Air while I was catching up on Apple TV’s Foundation series.
I’ve had more than 12 years experience testing tech, especially devices you wear, from health and fitness trackers to VR headsets. Over the past few years I’ve been particularly focusing on audio tech, especially devices that fall into the same affordable but accomplished category as the Tranya Novas, so I have a lot of experience with similar buds to inform this review.