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JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: budget headphones that are all about that bass
3:00 pm | April 21, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Headphones Wireless Headphones | Tags: , | Comments: Off

Jlab JBuds Lux ANC: Three-minute review

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC's sound is more bass-heavy than most over-ear headphones. It's something I've come to expect with most JLab products and means your mileage will depend on how bassy you want your music to be. 

JLab is mostly known for its budget headphones and earbuds, but with the JBuds Lux ANC it’s making inroads into the ‘luxury’ headphone market – that descriptor is a word JLab chose, and not my verdict, for reasons we’ll get into later. That’s not to say that the JBuds Lux ANC are premium devices – they cost less than $100 / £100. The brand's just trying to give buyers on a budget something to buy that feels like a top-end rival.

In some ways, it’s a successful venture. As with most other JLab audio devices, these headphones pack a bassy punch, with the 40mm drivers treating your ears if you’re a fan of thumping tunes. 

The JBuds Lux ANC also pack lots of features you’d expect from premium alternatives. As the name suggests, they have active noise cancellation (that’s the ANC) which works very well in its standard setting (although the ambient mode leaves something to be desired). They also have Bluetooth Multipoint so you can jump between different devices, spatial audio for improved movie or TV show watching and Google Fast Pair so you don’t have to spend ages setting up the device.

That’s not to mention the 70-hour battery life (when ANC is off, it’s reduced to 40 hours when it’s on), handy on-cup button controls and the ability for you to fold them down. These are all handy quality-of-life features that we like to see.

There are a few rough edges though. As previously stated the sound is bass-heavy, but this is at the deficit of other aspects of the sound – treble and especially the mid-range felt a little bit lacking. Your music preference will dictate whether these are great for you, or a poor choice, and in the interest of fairness it’s worth mentioning that I’m not a huge fan of this bass-heavy approach to sound.

Something which is less dependent on taste, and more on the shape of your head, is the fit and comfort of the JBuds Lux ANC. I personally found them rather uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time, and also a little less grippy than many of their close rivals – they were fine when sitting still or even walking, but they wobbled on the many occasions I found myself running for a bus. As I write this, I’m having to have a little break from the JBuds Lux due to my ears aching from wearing them. Like I said, ‘luxury’ is JLab’s description, not mine.

Overall, these are decent for their price, undercutting even our top budget pick for the best over-ear headphones, but your taste is a more important factor when it comes to buying them. That’s unless you like to judge a product based on its name: the JLab JBuds Lux ANC aren’t buds and aren’t luxury, so they only score 2/4 for that metric!

JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: Price and release date

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC close-up on the JLab logo

The signature JLab logo is very prominent on the JBuds Lux ANC. (Image credit: Future)
  • Released in February 2024
  • Priced at  $79.99 / £79.99 (roughly AU$120)

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC were announced in January 2024, and went on sale during the month afterwards. You might have trouble buying them though. At the time of writing, two months after their release, they’re already sold out in some regions.

The JBuds Lux ANC sell for $79.99 /£79.99 (roughly AU$120). That’s pricier than almost every other pair of headphones sold by JLab and is in line with the Studio Pro ANC, which will set you back $80 /£80 / AU$99 at the time of writing. The brand sells plenty of wireless headphones for less, though.

The sub-$100 / £100 / AU$130 headphone market is a fiercely competitive one, with many other brands trying to convince you that you don’t need to pay top dollar for great headphones. At the bottom of this review you’ll find some of our favorite similarly-priced headphones that you should consider alongside the JLab JBuds Lux ANC.

JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: Specs

JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: Features

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC's port and buttons.

On the side of the JBuds Lux ANC, there's a USB-C port, as well as buttons for power, volume and noise cancellation.  (Image credit: Future)
  • Battery life reaches 70 hours, 44 with ANC
  • Three ANC modes, standard works but ambient doesn't
  • App brings some handy extra features

As the name suggests, a key feature of the JLab JBuds Lux ANC is the active noise cancellation, which blocks out surrounding sounds while you’re listening to music. This isn’t a given in the best cheap headphones, so it’s welcome here, but even more welcome is the fact that it’s actually good!

The standard noise cancellation mode is great at isolating and removing background sound, great for if you’re sick of the inane chatter of nearby teams in the office or the rumble of the bus every day on your commute. You can turn it off if you want to hear these sounds, plus there’s a third option called Be Aware.

Be Aware is effectively an ambient mode, so that annoying noises (babies crying) are removed while important ones (large vehicles bearing down on you) remain audible. Unfortunately this didn’t work too well: I found that sounds Be Aware let in were given a tinny make-over, so they were even more annoying to hear than if I’d just turned ANC off. I didn’t use this for long.

The JLabs have a fantastic battery life, you love to see it. With ANC turned off, they’ll last for up to 70 hours without needing to be charged, though with ANC or Be Aware turned on that drops to a still-impressive 44 hours. You can charge them via USB-C cable.

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC with a phone running the JLab app.

You can completely customize the sound performance of the JBuds Lux ANC via the JLab control app.   (Image credit: Future)

Downloading the JLab app onto your smartphone offers a few extra features. You can control the noise cancellation and change what the buttons do, but you can also set a volume limit, changing between ‘movie’ and ‘music’ modes and also fiddle around with an equalizer. 

This latter lets you jump between three presets: ‘JLab Signature’, ‘balanced’ and ‘Bass Boost’, but there’s also a custom mode for if you feel comfortable messing around with sliders to personalise the tone.

Most headphone smartphone apps tell you the battery percentage, so you can accurately gauge how long they’ll last for before needing a charge. Curiously, the JLabs one doesn’t, beyond showing you a vague battery icon, which is an annoying omission. 

  • Features score: 4/5

JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: Design

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC laying on a textured surface

You can pick up the headphones in four colors: Graphite (black), Cloud (white), Sage (green) or Mauve (uh… mauve). (Image credit: Future)
  • Handy on-cup controls
  • Uncomfortable to wear for long periods
  • Folds up but no IP rating

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC are supposedly comfier to wear than most budget headphones, hence the ‘lux’ in its name. This adjective is exhibited by the use of soft fabric at the arch of the headband, and soft foam ear cups to settle on your ears.

Several people who’ve used the JBuds Lux and reported back online have called them comfortable to wear, but I don’t concur – no matter how much I extended or retracted the band to adjust its size, I found that they pinched a little too much. It wasn’t too noticeable in the moment, but wearing them for more than an hour in one sitting brought about mild earaches. The fact that not everyone has found this issue suggests that it depends on your head size, though I must point out that it’s not something I often find with headphones.

The headphones didn’t sit totally still either. When I was relatively inactive – say, relaxing on the grass in the warm sun, or sitting at a desk to write this review – there were no issues, but vigorous movement caused them to wobble and sometimes resulted in a cup falling off my ear. By ‘vigorous movement’ I mean running for a bus or jumping down stairs, and I daren’t not even attempt to use them for runs or workouts. Again, I can see this as being a head size issue, but I’d be remiss not to point it out. 

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC held above on a textured surface

The JBuds Lux ANC fold up, making them ultra portable and perfect for travel.   (Image credit: Future)

Weighing 235g, these aren’t too heavy, though they’re not among the lightest headphones we’ve seen either. Like the best travel headphones, at least you can rotate the cups, extend the band and fold in the cups to make the JLabs more portable, which is a little more versatility than we see in all pairs of wireless headphones. There's no IP rating though.

On the right cup you’ve got the USB-C port for charging as well as a power button, a volume rocker and a noise cancellation toggle (between off, on and Be Aware mode). Each of these was easy to locate and press when wearing the headphones, though when I first started testing the headphones, I did mix up the power and noise cancellation buttons a few times.

As mentioned, there are four color options, and our review unit was mauve. All four options are fairly subdued, so you’re not getting anything too lurid whatever you pick.

  • Design score: 2.5/5

JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: Sound quality

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC on someone's head.

Unfortunately, for me, the fit was a little too tight.  (Image credit: Future)
  • Bass-heavy sound
  • Treble lost in the mix
  • Lots of peaking at high volumes

When going into the sound section, it bears repeating that the JLab JBuds Lux ANC are low-end headphones, and as such the best they can aim for is ‘decent’ or another similar synonym. And that target is basically hit, although more so than for most headphones, taste will be the most important judge.

Headphone or earbud fans probably know JLab’s reputation for creating bass-heavy audio devices, which is either draw you or put you off depending on what you like in your music. 

If you want as much bass as possible to enhance your music, you’ll get on well with the JBuds Lux; it’s clearly the focus of the sound mix of the headphones and it pounds through in all the songs it can. It can provide a nice warm sounds if you listen to the right type of music.

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC laying on a textured surface

(Image credit: Future)

This all comes at the cost of balanced audio, though, with treble lost in the mix, even when you try to eke out as much as possible from the app equalizer. I frequently struggled to hear, say, rhythm guitars, piano countermelodies or vocal harmonies that are usually fairly audible.

Like an unsuccessful mountaineer, the JLabs often felt close to peaking, especially when you turn the volume high. However at medium and low volumes I didn’t often hear noises get outright distorted.

I did miss the soundstage and bright audio of some of the JLab’s rivals when testing these, but then again I’m not one who prefers a bass-heavy sound. Your mileage will vary.

  • Sound quality: 3.5/5

JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: Value

  • Affordable over-ear headphones
  • The ANC is competitive 

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC close up on the JLab branding.

(Image credit: Future)

You’re getting what you pay for in the JLab JBuds Lux ANC. These are some affordable headphones that deliver the kind of sound quality and feature set that we often see in similarly-priced products.

The noise cancellation does compete with higher-end headphones, so if that’s your metric for value, you’re getting it here. But in most other categories, the JBuds Lux basically match the price.

  • Value: 3.5/5

Should I buy the JLab JBuds Lux ANC?

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC's side buttons.

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

JLab JBuds Lux ANC review: Also consider

How I tested the JLab JBuds Lux ANC

The JLab JBuds Lux ANC laying on a textured surface

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested for two weeks
  • Tested at home, in the office and on walks

I used the JLab JBuds Lux ANC for roughly two weeks prior to writing this review. They were the latest in a string of budget headphone reviews I've done for TechRadar, so I compared them directly to a few close rivals.

Testing was largely done at home or in the office, with some listening done while on walks in both busy and quiet areas. These all provided different tests for the ANC as well as the quality-of-life features for the headphones. To give the JLabs a fair shake, I tried to listen to a diverse range of music on them including rock, pop, classical, country, jazz and streamed TV shows from Prime Video.

I've been writing about tech for six years now including five for TechRadar, so I'm well versed in the headphone and tech space. As stated I've reviewed other similarly-priced headphones and I've also tested other JLab products.

  • First reviewed in April 2024
Earfun Wave Pro review: it would be silly to ask more from budget wireless headphones
12:00 pm | April 9, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Headphones Wireless Headphones | Tags: | Comments: Off

Earfun Wave Pro: Two-minute review

The more I test Earfun earbuds, the more the name makes sense: while these music machines won’t quite impress audiophiles, they provide enough handy functionality and useful features – at lovely low prices – to make the listening experience fun. The ear part of the name probably doesn’t require justification.

You may have noticed that the new Earfun Wave Pro are not actually, earbuds; they are, in fact, the first pair of over-ear headphones that this relatively new audio company has made. Yes, it made a ‘Pro’ product before the regular bog-standard one.

Thankfully, not only has Earfun avoided dropping the ball with this new form factor, but it’s managed to make perhaps its best product yet. It carries over what made Earfun’s earbuds great, and turns it up to 11.

We should start at the price: these are lovely and cheap compared to many other over-ear headphones, cheap enough that your grandma might pick them up from a big-box electronics store to buy as a Christmas gift for an unruly teen. They undercut several other Earfun earbuds as well as some fairly big names in the budget headphone market.

Don’t set your expectations low just because of the cost though: these sound surprisingly great for the price. Both bass and treble are pronounced, and while some mid sounds are lost between the two, the overall soundstage is a lot more audible than on many equivalent-price rivals I’ve tested.

I particularly like how Earfun has avoided the classic budget headphone bass trap (either having barely any, or way too much). If the Goldilocks tale had covered budget headphone bass power as well as beds and porridge heat, the flaxen-haired trespasser would certainly pick the Wave Pro.

The headphones feel great to wear too. They’re not heavy and have soft cup padding, plus they’re easily foldable to tote around and have a great build quality. My favorite part of the Earfun Wave Pro is the incredible battery life (80 hours, down to 55 if you have ANC on), which all but eliminates the need to charge these cans on your next road trip. Seriously, unless you’re constantly listening to music, you’ll probably only find yourself charging these things two or three times per month.

Any gripes I had with the Earfun are pretty minor: they take a weirdly long time to turn off, the five different ANC modes risk confusing people who only recently learned what that stands for (active noise cancellation), and there’s only one color option, which might dismay fashionistas.

I called them minor, alright! And it was hard to find even these, because the Earfun Wave Pro really knock it out of the park when you consider competitors at their price point. 

Earfun Wave Pro review: Price and release date

The Earfun Wave Pro on a wooden backdrop.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Released in January 2024
  • Priced at  $79.99 / £79.99 (roughly AUD$120)

You can pick up the Earfun Wave Pro for the very reasonable price of £79.99 / $79.99 (roughly AU$120).

Being Earfun’s first over-ear headphones, we can’t compare them to any predecessors, but it’s worth noting that the brand has loads of earbuds ranging from $50 to $120 (or equivalent) so these fit roughly in the middle of the brand’s line-up.

Given that you’re spending roughly $400 / £400 / AU$600 for the best headphones on the market, the Earfun Wave Pro definitely reside in the ‘budget headphone’ camp.

Rivals in that sub-$/£100 area include the Sony WH-CH520, which retail for a touch less, and the JBL Tune 670NC (which retail for a tiny bit more, as do the Sony WH-CH720) – but sales can fold minor price differences like that with ease. Both predate it on our list of the best cheap headphones

Earfun Wave Pro review: Specs

Earfun Wave Pro review: Features

The Earfun Wave Pro on a wooden backdrop.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Total battery life of up to 80 hours
  • App brings a few useful extra features
  • Multipoint connection to multiple devices

I’ve gushed about it enough in the opening of this review, so it’s worth starting with one of the best bits of the Earfun Wave Pro: it has an amazing 80-hour battery life. That’s over three days of non-stop music, if you’re so inclined, though switching on AMC drops that to 55 hours.

While you do see the odd headphone here and there with eighty-plus-hour battery lives, it’s rare, and most budget rivals on the market will give you half that (or less). I was staggered to see the Earfun Wave Pro last longer between charges than my nerdy endurance workout headphones designed for long expeditions, but here we are.

Charging is done via the USB-C port on the headphones, with Earfun stating that 10 minutes of charging gets you 10 hours of (ANC off) listening. 

You don’t need to download the Earfun Audio mobile app to use the Wave Pro, but it brings a few extra features that enhance the experience.

The Earfun Wave Pro on a wooden backdrop.

(Image credit: Future)

You can use the app to toggle between five different types of noise cancellation, boot up an equalizer to customize your sound experience, turn on a game mode for improved latency, and also change the on-can controls in case you want the volume up button to do something other than turn the volume up. You can also assign long press commands to the buttons which is a bit more useful. I found the default EQ of the headphones fine too, though you can tweak them to fit any preference.

As mentioned, the app lets you select between several ANC modes: Normal, Ambient, Wind Noise, Comfort ANC and Strong ANC. Five modes is a lot (even if one, Normal, is actually ‘off’), and I can see some users being confused by all this choice. Roughly I’d call the modes a sliding scale of strength, but it’s worth playing around until you find one you like and sticking with it.

For calling, the headphones have five microphones which pair with an algorithm that’s designed to isolate your voice from background sounds when you’re talking. By all accounts, I sounded clear when talking to people on the phone.

The Wave Pro also have multipoint connectivity, which lets you pair to two separate devices and jump between them based on what you’re doing. It’s situationally a really useful feature so you can connect to, say, your laptop for streaming a movie and also your phone in case a call pops up.

  • Features score: 4/5

Earfun Wave Pro review: Design

The Earfun Wave Pro on a wooden backdrop.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Comfortable and light design
  • A few on-cup controls
  • Folds up into carry case but no IP rating

You’ve seen headphones, right? Yeah – the Earfun Wave Pro looks exactly like you'd expect: two cans connected by a headband. This band can be adjusted and the cans can be rotated and tilted a little, so it’s easy to fit onto heads of different sizes. 

Unlike some budget headphones, you can fold the Earfuns up to reduce their space, and this way they’ll also fit into the surprisingly premium-feeling carry case you get in the box.

The cups are fairly wide and are clad in soft memory foam caps. Honestly, these are some of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn. The weight certainly doesn’t hurt either – weighing 268g in all, these aren’t the lightest headphones by a fair margin, but they still feel easy-breezy to wear. You’re not going to get earache from wearing these for too long.

The Earfun Wave Pro on a wooden backdrop.

(Image credit: Future)

Unlike many other low-cost headphones I’ve used, I was pleasantly surprised by the build quality of the Wave Pro. Many of its rivals have cheap plastic which results in the occasional ‘creak’ or ‘squeak’ when you move your head, but the Earfun had none of that.

You’ve got several buttons on the right ear cup: a noise cancellation toggle (which switches between ‘normal’, ‘ambient sound’ and ‘noise cancellation’, not the full range available on the app), a volume up and down rocker, and the power button. The power button is easy to use to turn on the headphones, but you have to hold it down for a full six seconds to turn them off, which feels far too long to be convenient. Plus there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack, for if you prefer wired audio, but plugging a jack into it turns off the headphones, and I couldn’t find a way to turn it back on (and thus use noise cancellation) while the jack was still connected.

There’s only one color option: bog-standard black. It’s an inoffensive hue, but I’m always a fan of funky color choices.

  • Design score: 4/5

Earfun Wave Pro review: Sound quality

The Earfun Wave Pro on a wooden backdrop.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Well-balanced audio
  • Mid lost a little
  • Max volume is really, really loud

The usual stumbling block where low-cost headphones are concerned is sound quality, but compared to their rivals the Earfun Wave Pro are really impressive… though they obviously won’t compete against super-pricey audiophile-pleasing premium options.

The bass is decent – yes, decent is a good word for it. It’s there, it’s solid and audible, but it’s not exactly going to shatter your teeth, if that’s what you want. I read comments from buyers who found the initial bass levels lacking – thankfully the EQ mode in the app lets you fix this, if you like your music to make your head (and boots) shake.

At least the bass is matched really well with the treble. By default I found both mixed well together, to the point that I didn’t actually deploy any EQ tweaks – beyond my testing to conform these worked. Rarely did low-end or high-end frequencies impair or overshadow each other, though on occasion some parts felt lacking – I’m listening to Toto’s Hold the Line as I write this and the piano accompaniment is a little harder to hear in the mix than I'm used to. 

The Earfun Wave Pro on a wooden backdrop.

(Image credit: Future)

If anything is missing in the soundstage, though, it’s the mid sounds between bass and treble. Instruments and lines could sometimes get lost between the low- and high-frequency titans, or smushed together to create ‘noise’ instead of ‘music’.

But it's important to remember that these are truly budget conscious over-ears and the Wave Pro never sounded tinny across the course of my listening, a death sentence for low-cost cans. Even at high volumes, I never heard songs exhibit that horrid hiss through the treble. 

Perhaps some of my praise for the Earfun's audio is down to these headphones' long list of tech specs: there are 40mm drivers, a High-Res Audio certification (both for wireless and wired music) and a Lossless Digial Audio Codec (LDAC) for improved Bluetooth streaming.

The Earfun Wave Pro’s max volume is wincingly loud, loud enough that I wouldn’t recommend listening for very long. But it’ll definitely appease people who like to get their blood pumping with deafening bangers. 

The ANC on the headphones is good, not great, but most people will find it fit for purpose. I mainly listened on the strongest mode which still let in some sounds, but it’s a lot better than nothing.

  • Sound quality: 4/5

Earfun Wave Pro review: value

The Earfun Wave Pro offer you considerable value for money, when you consider the range of features and admirable sound quality for the price.

These are certainly budget headphones, yet you wouldn't be going amiss by opting for them over pricier alternatives and pocketing the cash, if you don't need the real premium trappings of rivals.

I say that all without mentioning that the Earfun comes with a carry case, so you won't need to spend extra on one of those.

  • Value: 5/5

Should I buy the Earfun Wave Pro?

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

Earfun Wave Pro review: Also consider

How I tested the Earfun Wave Pro

The Earfun Wave Pro on a wooden backdrop.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested for over two weeks
  • Tested at home, in the office, on public transport and on walks

I used the Earfun Wave Pro for about two weeks for the testing of this review, plus a few days before the official testing period when I wanted to get my bearings with them a little.

I mostly tested the phone while it was connected to my Android phone, though I also tested it on various gadgets like other phones, an iPad and my work laptop. I used it for music, podcasts, TV streaming and some games too.

I've been reviewing gadgets for TechRadar for a little over five years as of writing this review; originally for the phones team as a writer then editor, but I currently write reviews for various sections of the site. I've tested various Earfun earbuds as well as other low-end headphones to rival the Wave Pro. 

I also tested these immediately after the same-price Edifier W820NB Plus, which was a useful counterpoint.

  • First reviewed in April 2024
Edifier W820NB Plus review: Affordable headphones with plenty of features
1:00 pm | February 24, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Headphones Wireless Headphones | Tags: | Comments: Off

Edifier W820NB Plus: Three-minute review

The Edifier W820NB Plus is a prime example of a cheap pair of wireless headphones that is more focused on keeping its low price than offering the most up-to-date features and a strong performance all round. As the flagship product from the Chinese audio company, the W820NB Plus give you great value for money… as long as you don’t mind seeing some corners cut in the sound department.

This entry in Edifier’s 2023 portfolio of headphones offers a great range of customization over your listening experience: there are three levels of noise cancellation, four different EQ modes and an optional gaming latency toggle to let you tweak the way the cans sound. The touch controls are some of the most convenient I’ve used on a pair of headphones too, letting you change volume and toggle ANC with an easy touch of the right pad. 

Unfortunately, the ability to modify your listening experience in-app or using touch controls doesn’t matter as much as it could as the W820NB Plus simply doesn’t sound too great – the mid is seriously lacking and music sounds tinny when the volume is turned up too high. That may seem like a huge issue with the headphones but it’s not – music quality isn’t the only important factor when considering cans and sometimes, features, price and battery life are even more important than sound quality.

The W820NB Plus does have a few other issues, and the main one is in the setup process. Edifier has four different smartphone apps for some reason, and even when you’ve worked out the right one (Edifier Connect), you will need to do some volume tweaking before you can make the most of the cans. Oh, and with no carry case or ability to be folded down, the Edifier W820NB Plus certainly isn’t the most portable headphones on the market either.

Unless you’re looking to spend hundreds on the best over-ear headphones on the market, then you’ll have to contend with the nuanced budget headphone market. As far as sub-$100/£100 headphones go, the Edifier W820NB Plus are par for the course, offering a solid feature set but at the expense of audio quality. But if you’d rather have customization, affordability and easy touch controls over top-tier sound, the Edifier W820NB Plus is worth considering.

Edifier W820NB Plus review: Price and release date

Edifier W820NB Plus

(Image credit: Future)
  • Released in May 2023
  • Priced at  $79.99 / £79.99 / AU$80.99

The Edifier were made available to buy in mid-May 2023, as one of the brand’s bustling line of over- or on-ear headphones. They cost $79.99 / £79.99 / AU$80.99, so these certainly count as cheap wireless headphones, designed for people who aren’t audiophiles but don’t want to opt for random tat online. 

Edifier’s full headphone line runs from options half that price, to ones four times that cost, so it’s on the lower end but not right at the bottom. 

At that price, the competition includes the $130 / £90 / AU$189 JBL Tune 670NC and the $60 / £60 / AU$77 Sony WH-CH520, the latter of which ranks in our list of the best cheap headphones as the premier budget on-ear headphones. 

Edifier W802NB Plus review: Specs

Edifier W820NB Plus review: Features

Edifier W820NB Plus

(Image credit: Future)
  • Total battery life of up to 49 hours
  • A little fiddly to set up 
  • App offers range of handy extra features

You can get quite a bit of extra mileage out of the Edifier W820NB Plus using the app… if you can set it up correctly. You see, Edifier offers four different apps on the Play Store or App Store, and there’s no clear indication on which is the correct one, so you’ve got a 25% chance of picking correctly the first time (let me turn that to 100%: it’s Edifier Connect).

Once you’ve installed the app, it’s incredibly easy to pair the headphones to it, so it’s only the set-up process that’s a pain (which, I must add, isn’t mandatory, as you can use the headphones without it. But the extra functions are handy).

Using the app, you can flick between three noise cancellation modes: off, on, and Ambient. The first two are self explanatory, while Ambient sits somewhere in between, allowing in background noises like vehicles or loud shouts without letting the drone of everyday life get in the way. For the most part, the Edifier’s noise cancellation works well, though it sometimes struggles outdoors with wind or other such forces.

Another feature of the app is a gaming mode, which boosts latency at the slight expense of sound quality. It’s handy for prolific mobile gamers, and can help in competitive games when hearing the direction of footsteps and combat can mean the difference between success and failure.

The other primary feature is that you can use Edifier Connect to move between four EQ modes: Classic, Pop, Classical and Rock. Changing modes has an annoying pause as the assistant voice tells you the new mode, and this gap may be why I struggled to hear a big difference between the modes.

Edifier W820NB Plus

(Image credit: Future)

A few other features of Edifier Connect are worth flagging. It has its own on-board volume control that’s independent of your phone’s, so if you’re not aware, the W820NB Plus can sound a little too quiet when you start using them. I’d recommend you crank this to full straight away, and then fully rely on your phone’s volume rocker going forward to change volume. 

The other noteworthy feature is fun: Soothing sounds is a library of ambient noises like ‘Twilight resonance’, ‘Relaxing piano with white noise’ or ‘Waves and seagulls’. You could use these to help lull you to sleep, get into a meditative state or, as I found when writing this review, focus your mind to get more productive and write more headphone reviews. Just note that most of these tracks are about a minute long, so you need to turn on the looping function or re-play them every minute.

In terms of battery life, you’re looking at 49 hours, which drops to just 33 when you turn on ambient noise cancellation. That’s over a day of listening whichever mode you have on, which is certainly nothing to turn the nose up at, though it’s not quite the 70 hours of the JBL Tune 670NC or other super-long-lasting low-cost rivals.

The lack of wear detection means that, to save battery, you need to remember to turn off the headphones when you finish listening with them. Thankfully, as described, the buttons are easy to use.

You charge the W820NB Plus using a USB-C cable, and it’ll take roughly an hour and a half for you to get the headphones all the way from empty to full. Fast charging means you can get 7 hours of use from just 10 minutes of charging though, if you’re in a hurry.

  • Features score: 4/5

Edifier W820NB Plus review: Design

Edifier W820NB Plus

(Image credit: Future)
  • Standard-looking headphones with five color options
  • Easy-to-use control buttons
  • Doesn't fold; no IP rating

The Edifier W820NB Plus don’t exactly shake things up in the world of headphone design, but there’s nothing wrong with that. There are five different color options available: black, gray, green blue and ivory. We tested the latter.

They’re fairly comfy to wear although, as with all headphones, too much continuous wear can lead to some aching. Tactically-placed pads offset this to an extent. The size of the band can be extended some ways, although not as much as on some rival headphones.

On the right can you have the W820NB Plus’ controls: there’s a button that toggles between ambient noise and noise cancellation, a power button and volume up and down buttons. They’re all fairly easy to find and use, though as the buttons don’t protrude much, it can be a case of trial and error on your first few attempts at using the headphones. You’ll quickly get used to the positioning though.

You’re not getting a 3.5mm headphone jack on the cans – sorry, people who like to have wired connectivity as an option, but you won’t be able to do so here. You’re also not getting an official IP rating, so handle with care.

Another thing sadly absent from the Edifier is any form of portability consideration. You can’t fold the headphones down into a smaller form factor, there’s no included carry case, and the structure and build of the cans don’t feel suited to being shoved in a backpack. If you’re not planning to wear these on your head or around your neck, you can’t really take them anywhere!

  • Design score: 3.5/5

Edifier 820NB Plus review: Sound quality

Edifier W820NB Plus

(Image credit: Future)
  • Limited sound stage
  • Initially a little quiet

After a few sections of praises, the Edifier W820NB Plus delivers in the audio section a result a bit more in keeping with its price. By no means does music played over the headphones sound bad, but it doesn’t really sound good enough – it’s much more middle-of-the-road.

The main issue is that the headphones lack a palpable sound stage, so the bass doesn’t sound low and the treble doesn’t sit above the mid – music sounds like one unidentified mush of sound and mid sounds are a little lost in the melee.

Once you’ve gotten past the app volume problems mentioned earlier, the W820NB Plus can get nice and loud, but at higher volumes the music sounds quite tinny, especially those mid sounds that are struggling to cut into the mix as is.

To be clear, the Edifier W820NB Plus still sound decent – I used them for lots of movie watching and music streaming beyond what’s required for review testing – it’s just decent ‘for the price’. They’re a far cry from cheapie Amazon headphones or the kind your grandma might buy you for Christmas, but they won’t compare to $150 / £150 / AU$200 plus rivals from the major brands.

  • Sound quality: 2.5/5

Should I buy the Edifier 820NB Plus?

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

Edifier 820NB Plus review: Also consider

How I tested the Edifier 820NB Plus

Edifier W820NB Plus

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested for over 20 days
  • Tested at home, in the office, on public transport and on walks

I tested the Edifier 820NB Plus for over three weeks before starting to write this review, so they were subjected to quite a bit of use. 

Testing was done while in quiet rooms like my home and the office, while on walks around my local area and also on public transport like coaches, tubes and buses. I mostly used it while connected to my Xiaomi Mi Note 10 Android phone for music streaming, calls and gaming, but also paired it sometimes to my iPad Pro to watch movies or TV shows.

I've been testing tech gadgets for TechRadar for over five years now. Currently, I write freelance for several sections including audio, but previously I worked as a staff writer and section editor for the phones section. 

  • First reviewed in February 2024
Sennheiser Accentum Plus review: A mid-range over-ear headphone that packs a punch
6:51 pm | February 23, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Headphones Wireless Headphones | Comments: Off

Sennheiser Accentum Plus review: One-minute review

The Sennheiser Accentum Plus was created by taking everything that was enjoyable about the more entry-level Accentum wireless over-ear headphones and adding touch-controls, aptX Adaptive capability and (perhaps most significantly) a carry-case. They prove that sometimes a gap in the market is so small that you don’t even notice it, but Sennheiser certainly did.

There’s plenty to like here, from the neat and tidy design and excellent standard of fit and finish to the robustly informative sound the headphones make. Active noise cancellation is decent, control options are very nicely implemented, and battery life is approaching ‘epic’.

Nothing’s perfect, though, and the wider-headed among us are likely to find the Accentum Plus a non-starter – the fit is about as snug as these things ever get. And the richly bassy sonic signature won’t suit everyone either – although it can be mitigated, just a little, using the five-band EQ embedded in the control app.

Fundamentally, the Accentum Plus are the same as the Accentum – but more so. They also come with a carry-case, something that a lot of the best wireless headphones offer as standard.  

Sennheiser Accentum Plus review: Price and release date

The Sennheiser Accentum Plus

(Image credit: Future)
  • Released on February, 22, 2024
  • Price: $229 / £199 / AU$399

The Sennheiser Accentum Plus went on sale on 20th February this year for $229 in the US and £199 in the UK. Meanwhile in Australia, they’ll set you back AU$399.

At this money they sit nicely between the more affordable Sennheiser Accentum and the pricier Sennheiser Momentum 4 – but, of course, there are more brands than just Sennheiser ready to part you from this sort of money for a pair of wireless over-ear noise-cancellers…

Sennheiser Accentum Plus review: Specs

Sennheiser Accentum Plus review: Features

The control app for the Sennheiser Accentum Plus

(Image credit: Future)
  • Bluetooth 5.2 with aptX Adaptive compatibility 
  • 50 hours of battery life 
  • 37mm full-range dynamic drivers

Obviously it’s a bit of a theme of this review – but in quite a few ways, the Accentum Plus are very, very similar to their more affordable Sennheiser Accentum stablemates.

Certainly there’s nothing broken about the 50-hour battery life and ‘ten minutes charge equals five hours playback time” of the original Accentum, and the Plus hasn’t bothered to fix it. These are both very competitive numbers, after all. And the Plus also utilise the same 37mm full-range dynamic drivers in order to do the audio business, which, again, seems only sensible.

The changes that have been made all seem like upgrades, though. Bluetooth 5.2 wireless connectivity with aptX Adaptive codec compatibility is very promising where sound quality is concerned, and the appearance of a 3.5mm socket on the right earcup means hard-wired listening is available this way as well as through the USB-C socket positioned alongside it. 

The right earcup also has a single physical control, which covers ‘power on/off’ and Bluetooth pairing. Otherwise, control is available either via the capacitive area of the right earcup (‘play/pause’, ‘volume up/down’, ‘skip forwards/backwards’ and ‘answer/end/reject call’ are all available) or the exemplary ‘Smart Control’ app that’s free for iOS and Android. 

The app features a five-band adjuster, with a number of presets and the facility to store one user-defined setting. The wind noise reduction feature of the newly adaptive active noise-cancellation system can be switched on or off. The multi-point wireless connectivity can be managed from here, and it’s also where you can check for firmware updates, adjust the volume of your own voice that’s audible during calls, and rearrange the various ‘tiles’ that control the different app functions to best suit your purposes. And if you fancy registering with Sennheiser and forking over some personal info, you can use the app’s ‘sound check’ and ‘sound zones’ features to tailor the sound to specific circumstances and environments – and switch between them automatically. 

Otherwise, the most obvious upgrade the Plus enjoy over the standard Accentum is their carry-case. It’s soft but protective, has handy storage for your cables, and generally helps no end in keeping the finish of your headphones nice and tidy. 

Features score: 5 / 5 

Sennheiser Accentum Plus review: Design

A close up of the Sennheiser Accentum plus

(Image credit: Future)
  • Clean, basically anonymous looks
  • Fine standard of build and finish 
  • Quite a snug, narrow fit

‘Less is more’, so they say, and there’s even less here in terms of design than there is of the more affordable Sennheiser Accentum. Because most of the interface is now touch controls, there’s just one physical control button here – it’s on the edge of the right earcup.

Otherwise, the Accentum Plus are basically featureless – whether or not that’s a good thing will depend on your feelings regarding ‘discretion’ where design is concerned. At a glance, the only thing that separates them from their Accentum sibling is the silver, rather than matte black, ‘Sennheiser’ logo at each end of the headband.

So you get a clean, minimal look and a quality of build and finish that’s well up to the established Sennheiser standard. The articulation in the yokes allow the headphones to fold flat, and there’s enough articulation to allow the to fit snugly over even the more eccentrically shaped ears and heads that might wish to wear them. The concealed headband adjustment works smoothly, the pleather covering the memory foam-filled earpads is comfortable – and it doesn’t get too hot too quickly, unlike some alternative designs.

Really, the only conceivable shortcoming where the design of the Accentum Plus is concerned is the relative narrowness of the fit. I know I spend a lot of time complaining about the massive, head-swamping nature of a lot of over-ear headphones – but it’s possible to go too far the other way. These Sennheiser are a snug fit, and it’s perfectly possible that the larger-headed among us might find them quite tight.  

Design score: 4.5 / 5

Sennheiser Accentum Plus review: Sound quality

The Sennheiser Accentum Plus

(Image credit: Sennheiser)
  • Weighty, punchy sound
  • Dynamic up to a point
  • Good noise-cancellation

Obviously there’s more to the sound a pair of headphones makes than the physical characteristics of the drivers that are delivering it. But nevertheless it’s notable that despite being so closely related to the more affordable Accentum model in terms of specification, these Accentum Plus differ in terms of sonic balance. Not dramatically, but noticeably nevertheless. 

With a 44.1kHz file of Cranes in the Sky by Solange playing via Qobuz, the Accentum Plus are an assertive, big-boned listen with impressively solid, nicely controlled low-frequency presence. The bass hits hard here, but with the kind of straight-edged precision that allows the rhythm proper expression and keeps momentum high. That the overall frequency balance is skewed towards the bottom end is undeniable, but there are any number of listeners for whom this will be just the ticket.

And besides, it’s not as if this emphasis puts undue pressure on the midrange. Voices enjoy more than enough room in which to express themselves, and the Accentum Plus retain and reveal plenty of fine detail regarding tone, texture, technique and all the rest of it. The soundstage they create is spacious and convincing where layout is concerned, too, and while the midrange in general and vocalists in particular are hundred towards the front they never sound estranged or separated. The Sennheiser are adept of unifying a recording, no matter how complex, into a coherent and convincing whole – no element of it is left behind.

At the top of the frequency range there’s a polite level of attack – it’s not enough to let treble response get out of hand, even at volume (good) but it’s not quite sufficient to claim the Accentum Plus are giving you the complete high-frequency picture (not quite so good). 

Dynamics – especially the big dynamic shifts in volume and intensity apparent in a TIDAL stream of James Brown’s Give It Up or Turnit a Loose, for example – are given a reasonable amount of emphasis. The Sennheiser Accentum Plus either aren’t deep-breathing enough or aren’t impolite enough to go to town on big dynamic shifts, but they’re certainly more than alluded to.

The always-on active noise cancellation proves just as effective here as in the original Accentum. Which means that almost all external distractions are dealt with confidently, and without any disruption to the sound you’re enjoying. Other headphones (mostly those that say ‘Bose’ on them somewhere) can do a more complete job, but it seems unlikely anyone will reject the Accentum Plus on the basis of their ANC.  

Sound quality score: 4.5 / 5

Sennheiser Accentum Plus review: Value

The case for the Sennheiser Accentum Plus

(Image credit: Future)
  • Good build quality and standard finish
  • Very descent specification 
  • Slightly colored audio performance

It should go without saying by now that you could do a lot worse than decide on a pair of Sennheiser Accentum Plus. The company’s reputation for sterling build quality and finish wasn’t attained by accident, the headphones are very competitively specified at this price. 

The Accentum Plus also have a particularly attention-grabbing battery life and the control app is one of the more useful around. Those who enjoy the balance of the sound will be pleased, too, although in absolute terms it’s not as neutral as some listeners might prefer.

Value score: 4.5 / 5

Should I buy the Sennheiser Accentum Plus?

Buy them if…

Don’t buy them if…

Sennheiser Accentum Plus review: Also consider

A close up of the Sennheiser Accentum Plus

(Image credit: Future)

How I tested Sennheiser Accentum Plus

A close up of the Sennheiser Accentum Plus

(Image credit: Future)
  • At home and in transit
  • Wired and wireless
  • With iOS and Android devices

My custody of the Sennheiser Accentum Plus coincided with a very disrupted flight to Germany – and so as well as using them at my desk, I was able to test them while in the back of taxis, on trains and on aeroplanes. 

Used them with Apple and Samsung smartphones ares sources, as well as an Apple laptop, and I used them connected both wirelessly and using their analogue connection. And naturally, I listened to a lot of different styles of music, derived from lots of different sizes of digital audio files. 

  • First reviewed in February 2024
Final Audio UX2000 review: lacking in looks but extremely budget friendly
1:00 pm | January 28, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Headphones Wireless Headphones | Tags: , | Comments: Off

Final Audio UX2000 review: Two-minute review

At first grab, the Final Audio UX2000 feels pretty cheap and flimsy. It's when I folded them up for the first time that I started liking them. This mean they fit in your bag or on your desk well but even better? They are actually worth grabbing for more than just their portable design. 

These might not be some of the absolute best over-ear headphones but you could do a lot worse. Sound quality is the highlight here with a wide soundstage, strong bass, yet decently crisp mids too. During my testing, I listen to a lot of different genres and the Final Audio UX2000 didn’t let the side down with anything. 

However, the Final Audio UX2000 do lack some neat features. There's no wear detection, no app and the hybrid active noise cancellation (ANC) system isn't adjustable. You get used to these omissions but it’s a reminder that the Final Audio UX2000 are pretty cheap for good ANC headphones so something’s got to give.

Said ANC does work well even if it’s technically hybrid rather than full. At times, you’ll have noise trickle through but for everyday use, it does the job well and easily rivals more famous competition. As for features, they have a strong battery life of up to 45 hours, which makes the Final Audio UX2000 an ideal pair of cans for your commute, whether you’re walking or resting. 

At $120 / £100 (around AU$180), the Final Audio UX2000 are tempting. Odds are you’ll still favor something more famous among the best over-ear headphones such as something from Sony or JBL, but you shouldn’t overlook the Final Audio UX2000. There are concessions to make but they’re understandable ones at the price. 

Final Audio UX2000 review: Price and release date

  • Released in December 2023
  • Officially priced at $120 / £100 

Final Audio UX2000 being held to the side

(Image credit: Future)

The Final Audio UX2000 was released in December 2023 for $120 / £100 (around AU$180). The headphones are currently available in the US and UK at popular third-party retailers like Amazon. 

Solely available in black, they aren’t a fashionista’s dream like some of the competition in this price range. Said competitors include cans like the JBL Tune 770NC in the UK and the ever popular Sony WH-CH720N, so the field is a fairly busy one. 

That’s not forgetting the Final Audio UX3000, which was released in August 2022 as the brand's first over-ear headphones. These are priced only slightly more ($30 / £20) than the Final Audio UX2000.

Final Audio UX2000 review: Specs

Final Audio UX2000 review: Features

A close up of the buttons on the Final Audio UX2000

(Image credit: Future)
  • Multipoint connection 
  • Hybrid ANC
  • No app support

The Final Audio UX2000 is a little thin on the ground when it comes to features. The standout is its multipoint support which is increasingly becoming an essential addition as we’re all juggling multiple devices these days. 

There’s also support for AAC and SBC codecs while there’s Final’s so-called hybrid ANC. It uses an stress-resistant driver to theoretically boost its ability to cancel out annoying background noise. It works fairly well, doing a great job of blocking out an ever-present dehumidifier and other environmental noise, but it’s not perfect. It’s nearer to ANC than not but I was curious about it being hybrid rather than full ANC. 

Using Bluetooth 5.3 means no need to worry about sound dropouts so all seems well... Until you remember there’s no app support. Final has a companion app but it doesn’t support the Final Audio UX2000 yet so hopefully that’s coming soon.

Features score: 3 / 5

Final Audio UX2000 review: Battery life

Final Audio UX2000 lying face down

(Image credit: Future)
  • Up to 55 hours 
  • USB-C charging 

The Final Audio UX2000 promises up to 45 hours of battery life even with hybrid ANC on, and in my time with it, that’s about right. Turn the volume down a little and you can eke out a few more hours, though.

Similarly, turn off ANC and that time extends. With mixed usage though, an average of 45 hours seems about right. USB-C charging is the order of the day here with a full charge taking just over two hours to achieve. It’s all fairly respectable if not exceptional.

Battery life score: 4 / 5

Final Audio UX2000 review: Sound quality

Final Audio UX2000 from the side

(Image credit: Future)
  • Surprisingly good hybrid ANC
  • Wide soundstage 
  • Strong bass

At $120 / £100, I’m not expecting the Final Audio UX2000 to be some of the best headphones around but these cans surprised me with how good they sounded. The instant highlight is how wide the soundstage feels. While some other headphones in this price range can leave music sounding a little distant, the UX2000 wrap sound around you well.

Alongside that, the UX2000 are pretty bassy and ideal for excitable and booming music. While the punch could be a little greater if I was going to be picky, it’s still perfectly respectable. I enjoyed the enthusiasm that came from my David Guetta playlist with the bass feeling suitably engaging.

Somehow, the UX2000 are also pretty crisp sounding when it comes to more subtle tracks like Queen’s Under Pressure. Is it as revelatory as something like the Sony WH-1000XM5? Of course not, but these cost a fraction of the cost and I still didn’t feel like I was missing out. 

Temper your expectations and you’ll be happy with how these sound. That goes for the ANC which is a hybrid system that uses two microphones on each ear cup to analyze sound to block out irritants. It’s not perfect but it mostly blocks out what you need to escape from. If only there was an app for setting up a transparency mode or tweaking the EQ.

Sound quality score: 4 / 5

Final Audio UX2000 review: Design

The Final Audio UX2000 folded up

(Image credit: Future)
  • Very plain style
  • Tactile buttons
  • Foldable design

Let’s get to the good bit – the Final Audio UX2000 fold and not enough headphones do this any more. That makes them easier to toss in your bag but also easier to find room on your desk for them. 

The UX2000 do feel a little cheap in your hands and aren’t anything exciting to show off to anyone, but it’s nice to see physical buttons over touch controls. Touch controls are cool but physical buttons tend to work more accurately and that’s the case with these.

At the bottom of one ear cup is the USB-C port while the other ear cup has room for a 3.5mm jack if you prefer to listen wired. Buttons are a simple matter of power, ANC, and volume so they take seconds to figure out.

Design score: 4 / 5

Final Audio UX2000 review: Value

The Final Audio UX2000 lying flat on a bench

(Image credit: Future)
  • Mediocre build
  • Good features

Because the UX2000 are from a lesser known brand, this likely means they don't feel like the headphones you’ll show off to your mates. Final Audio's build quality feels cheap too but inside that plasticky surface are decent drivers that ensure it sounds pretty good – and that’s ultimately where it counts with headphones. 

If you need more features, something like the Sony WH-CH520 offer app support and quick charge, but lack fantastic ANC, so it’s a trade-off of what’s most important to you.

Value score: 4 / 5 

Should I buy the Final Audio UX2000?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Final Audio UX2000 review: Also consider

How I tested the Final Audio UX2000

Final Audio UX2000 being held

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested over 14 days in many different situations
  • Listened against the Apple AirPods Pro 2, Philips Fidelio L4 and JBL Tune 770NC
  • Listened to Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube videos and Twitch

Over Christmas and New Year, I primarily used the Final Audio UX2000 as my main headphones. They took over from my usual Apple AirPods Pro 2 and recent regular use of the Philips Fidelio L4

I used them on my (nearly) daily morning walks to test them out among environmental noises like busy traffic. In the evenings, I relaxed by the Christmas tree checking out how my favorite playlists sounded through them. 

Busy rush hour traffic was a good challenge for the UX2000’s hybrid ANC along with neighbours using the break to hammer holes in their walls. 

Primarily, I listened to Apple Music and Spotify with occasional dips into Twitch streams to see how they sounded when dealing with conversations. A few podcasts were listened to via my iPhone 14 Pro.

My taste is varied so there was everything from Harry Styles to Jimi Hendrix depending on my mood. YouTube and Twitch time were mostly spent watching gaming videos.

I’ve reviewed audio products for over 10 years now and I’m increasingly picky about what sounds good and can spot the difference, while appreciating that $100 cans won’t usually compete with $400 ones.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review: simply the best (apart from the battery)
1:06 am | January 16, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Headphones Wireless Headphones | Comments: Off

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: Two-minute review

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are my favorite cans released in the past year, and are an absolutely thrilling listen that also set a new standard when it comes to active noise cancellation. See, maybe I didn't even need two minutes to help you make your decision about them.

Of course, you've probably already noticed that the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones achieve this by being more expensive than most of the best noise-cancelling headphones, so that complicates things – though I think they more than earn this price tag.

Things are also complicated by their short battery life, which is really noticeable compared to the 30 hours minimum we expect from the best wireless headphones these days. 24 hours doesn't sound terrible, but the difference has really jumped out to me compared to Sony headphones with 30 hours of battery.

It's also a bit of a shame they don't match some of the other more elite options by including USB-C audio support or next-gen Bluetooth (at the time of writing), though they do have aptX for higher-quality wireless streaming.

But that doesn't matter. It's only the battery life that's pulled them down from a full five-star rating, because they sound so full, and exciting, and rich – while simultaneously clamping down on outside sound. When you throw in the bonus of effective spatial audio modes among other useful smart features, it feels like a package that's well worth the price.

They've replaced the AirPods Max as my high-end headphones of choice, though if you want something that offers a lot of the same features as these for a lower price (and with a 60-hour battery life), look to the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless. But if you want the ultimate balance of sound quality and noise cancellation, pay for these.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review: Price & release date

  • $429 / £449 / AU$649
  • Released in early October 2023
  • Priced higher than Sony and Sennheiser's best

The QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are the most expensive option in Bose's range, adding a significant premium over the $349 / £350 / AU$549 for the non-Ultra Bose QuietComfort Headphones released at roughly the same time – and which are already available for a significant discount compared to that MSRP.

The price pulls them more into line with the AirPods Max or Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay HX, and a clear level beyond the likes of the Sony WH-1000XM5, which are obviously a major competitor.

However, I should note that in the UK, the price has consistently been £399 since November, and in Australia we've seen them as low for as low as AU$550 outside of sales season, so that now seems to be the standard kind of price in those countries, which helps.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones held in a man's hand

(Image credit: Future)

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review: Specs

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones showing the ports and buttons

(Image credit: Future)

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review: Features

  • Immersive Audio creates spatial sound from any source
  • Bose Music app provides lots of control option
  • Great connectivity options overall, including multi-point Bluetooth

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are the most feature-packed cans from Bose yet, bringing two of the hottest bits of tech in headphones at the moment: multi-point Bluetooth and spatial audio.

Multi-point Bluetooth isn't a surprise given how many of the best wireless headphones feature this ability to connect to two devices simultaneously and switch seamless between them, but it's a first for Bose, and it's something we consider a must-have for premium headphones these days (it's notable and frustrating that the cheaper Bose QuietComfort Headphones lack this). You may have to turn this on in the Bose Music app, in the Source screen.

Spatial audio is handled by Bose's own special sauce, and is called Immersive Audio. Much like on AirPods Max, you can turn it off, you can set it so that sound is coming from a bubble around you that moves with your head, or you can have it so that the orientation of sound is locked and when you turn your head it's like you're doing so in a room full of speakers. If you'll use it, we recommend the first Immersive option for music, and the second for movies, since the latter is more like a home theater setup.

Bose also adds tech called CustomTune here, which adapts to both the shape of your ears as well as the environment to make sure you're always hearing the sound accurately, in theory.

And speaking of adjusting to the environment, there's active noise cancellation that's Bose's most advanced so far, and it's pleasingly customizable. It comes with Quiet Mode (normal noise cancelling), Aware Mode (that lets in outside sounds) and Immersion Mode (which puts ANC on full and activates Spatial Audio). But you can also create your own modes – go to the Modes screen in the Bose Music app and tap the + to do this. You can choose a use-case, and then adjust the noise cancellation level in 10 increments, choose the Wind Block feature to reduce wind noise (which also turns ANC to full if you activate it), and choose whether to active Immersive Audio or not, and if so with what kind of head tracking. When you've made custom modes, you can switch between them using a button on the headphones, so it's easy to move from your custom commute mode with full ANC and no Immersive Audio to your office mode with 60% ANC power and Immersive turned on.

Elsewhere in the app, you can adjust a three-band EQ, disconnect from paired devices in the Source screen, and decide a use for the secret Shortcut button on the headphones. There's a touch strip on the right earcup for adjusting volume, and if you turn Shortcut on, pressing and holding this will act as a third button. You can use it to switch the type of Immersive Audio, activate a voice assistant, tell you the battery level, or use it to activate Spotify and resume where you left of, or switch straight to your Discover station. I hope Bose will add more options in the future, but these are a good start.

In terms of wireless connectivity, you've got Bluetooth 5.3 – with support for SBC and AAC codecs, though not Bluetooth LE Audio and the LC3 codec yet, though Bose says it will come at some point – and Snapdragon Sound. This is a form of aptX Adaptive that works with phones with Snapdragon Sound in, but not with most aptX devices, which is frustrating. But if you've got the right kind of phone, at least it's there for you. Everyone else will have to hope for higher-quality streaming from LE Audio in the future.

You've got a 2.5mm jack for a wired connection, and it comes with a 2.5mm-to-3.5mm cable in the box (along with a nice protective case). There's also a USB-C connection, but unlike the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless or Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2, this can't be used for wired Hi-Res Audio from a phone or laptop – it's just for charging. A shame, considering the price of these headphones, but not a dealbreaker.

Bose says that these have a "revolutionary mic system" for clarity on calls, and while it's definitely good for a pair of cans without a boom mic, I would not call it revolutionary. Using them, you sound generally clear if a tad quiet, and occasionally a little digitally enhanced. It was good enough, but a real mic close to the mouth is still way, way better. They have a 'Self Voice' feature to hear yourself on calls, and overcome the weird 'I sound like I'm locked in a box' feeling of talking on the phone with headphones on. You can turn this off if you prefer.

The battery life is perhaps the biggest flaw here: 24 hours with ANC on, and 18 hours with Immersive Audio on, is meager. You get a middle-of-the-road 30 hours from the Sony WH-1000XM5 and an excellent 60 hours from the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless. And compared to using a pair of Sony cans regularly, I really noticed how quickly these were running down in comparison; Bose's estimate appears to be accurate, and it makes a difference. It's the single thing that held them back from a full five stars, to be blunt about it.

There a few things to mitigate this, though. They have a prompt auto-pause feature when you remove them from your ears, and an auto-off feature if left turned on but unused, though this was set to 24 hours by default, and that eats a ton of battery over that 24 hours. In the Bose Music app, I switched this to 20 minutes, and that's working great for me, especially since they turn on and connect very promptly. They also charge quickly, including a 15-minute juice-up for two hours of use.

  • Features score: 4/5

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

(Image credit: Future)

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review: Sound quality

  • Stunning detailed and powerful sound balanced perfectly
  • The ANC is the best-in-class, no question
  • Immersive Audio does its job, but adds some effects

Bose doesn't really mention this in the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones' specs, but they use a pair of angled drivers in the earcups. We've seen this concept before on the Bowers & Wilkins Px8, and the idea is that, while most headphones have drivers installed flat inside the earcups, this isn't ideal for perfect audio. Your head is not square (er, probably), and earcups don't sit directly flat on your skull, which means in most headphones, the drivers aren't parallel to your ear canals. One side of the driver is closer, which means its sound reaches you marginally faster. So the speakers in the Ultra (and the Px8) are angled in the earcup, so when they're on the head they're parallel to your ears (or as close to it as possible). This should mean improved timing, and the best possible detail, because all the air is reaching you in a balanced manner.

I mention all this for some context, because these things absolutely freaking rule. They deliver some of the most alive, exciting, textured, finely resolved, deeply engaging music I've ever heard from a pair of wireless headphones. It's the kind of sound I would expect to pay 50% or even twice as much for – and I'd begrudgingly accept that it's worth it. The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones may not be cheap, but on the music quality alone, I think they're a great deal.

You will probably notice the bass first. Put on anything with some low-end chops, and you'll notice yourself sinking into its depths immediately, but with a firm and controlled floor. It can punch deep down and pull straight back up with precision, and never feel like it's overplayed its hand.

It's helped by just how rich and layered the mids are. Bass is free to go for a walk because it doesn't drag the mid-range with it – voices hover comfortably and naturally, instruments stay separated but part of a whole, fine detail is clear from everywhere. And the treble is shimmering and lofty without ever getting harsh or detached.

The dynamism within the Ultra Headphones' range is just astounding. They can go from nothing to rocketing through sounds like a firework that's just sparked up. Their timing is so strong and they're so responsive that this aspect alone can really spoil other headphones, making them feel like they're moving with weights attached in comparison.

And they sound like this with active noise cancellation on, over AAC on Bluetooth! Several companies (including Apple) say that most headphones don't even reveal the detail possible in standard wireless sound and that hi-res isn't really necessary for a lot of people. We've always championed that people should have the higher-quality option available to them, at least… but I can certainly feel some truth of this argument when I'm using these headphones.

Like the sound, the active noise cancellation is mind blowing. It's absolutely best in class, there's no question. I've never heard busy cities become as quiet as when I'm walking with these on, it's truly next-level stuff.

I have found them to have an odd processing issue with some extremely loud sounds – during a plane take-off, an especially loud bus struggling to get up a hill, and on an extremely windy day, for instance. In these cases, when the noise reached its apex, the headphones' sound became blocky and loud, too. It was brief, so I don't find it to be a dealbreaker, but the fact remains. Bose may be able to fix this with an update, who knows.

The Immersive Audio option does well at its fundamental job of making it feel more like the sound is coming from speakers around you, rather than being pumped straight into your ears. The head tracking works very well, and never felt lagged or detached from my head movements, either. But while it's pleasant for both music and movies, ultimately, I didn't find it very additive, partly because it turns out to be a trade-off.

The immersion and positioning of sounds is done based on processing stereo sound, which is a bit different to the spatial audio you get from Apple's AirPods, where it's based on Dolby Atmos 3D sound systems (when possible). And, as someone who's used AirPods Max and AirPods Pro 2 a lot, it didn't have the same convincing recreation of a theater system as you get from those headphones. Again, this isn't really a problem, and I still liked having it on for watching a movie on a plane because it did still create the feeling of the sound coming from outside of the earcups.

But it also adds some effects, including a sense of reverb for some upper-mid or treble sounds. It makes the sound feel less sweet, so for music I never got on with it. I'll still use it for watching movies on flights, however.

  • Sound quality score: 5/5

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

(Image credit: Future)

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review: Design

  • Very premium plastic and faux leather finish
  • Folding design is great for travel
  • Physical and touch-based controls

The QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are as comfortable and premium-feeling as you'd expect for the money. The plastic earcups and headband top have a great soft-touch matte finish, and are connected to the headband by solid aluminum hinges. Protein- and plastic-based faux leather are used for the headband's underside and the earpads, and they're very comfortable and soft to wear.

The earcups fold into the headphones, so they can get smaller for journeying, and they come with a nice hard case, which has a USB-C-to-A charging cable and the audio jack cable inside the box. They're definitely some of the best headphones for travel, thanks to this combined with their active noise cancellation might.

On the right earcup are the controls, which include one button that turns them on and off, and controls pairing mode, and does play/pause/skip tracks. A second button switches between different listening modes – it cycles through whatever you have set in the Modes screen, so if you've added custom ones, it includes that. Next to these buttons is a touch-sensitive strip that controls volume, and holding on it is the 'Shortcut' button. These all work well.

On the left earcup is the USB-C port and the 2.5mm jack, plus a charging light.

I can only find one minor gripe with the fit, and that's the fact that if you put them around your neck and rotate the earcups to lie flat, they rotate so the open side is up, rather than facing down towards your body. I prefer the other way around. Hardly a major issue.

  • Design score: 5/5

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones on a white table, with their case

(Image credit: Future)

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review: Value

  • Expensive, but easily worth it overall
  • A clear step from the non-Ultra QuietComfort Headphones
  • Lack of other hi-res support is a shame

While any pair of headphones that costs this much is going to be hard to describe as the bargain of the century, I still think the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are actively good value considering just how strong their active noise cancellation and audio quality is. They're not a little better than the likes of the Sony WH-1000XM5; they're clearly and obviously better. They're slightly better than the AirPods Max, and those are much more expensive than the Bose.

And they tick almost all the feature boxes, too, so they feel like a great investment from the smart side of things – though they are beaten in smarts by the location-based cleverness of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless or Sony headphones.

Where they obviously fall short is a lack of full aptX or LDAC support for wider wireless CD-quality sound, or USB-C audio support for hi-res digital wired audio. Other premium options have this, it should really be here – but not everyone will mind. I don't, really.

The battery is the clear lacking element, since less expensive headphones with the same kind of features are able to not just beat these, but to absolutely embarrass them in the case of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless.

But I'm living with that. It's a small frustration, it's not a dealbreaker. I still think they're well worth the price tag.

  • Value score: 4/5

Should I buy the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones?

Buy them if...

Don't buy them if...

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review: Also consider

How I tested the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested over three months
  • Used mainly with an iPhone and MacBook Air
  • Tested in real-world office, city and travel situations

I've been using the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones since their launch, taking the time to test them in as many different situations as possible. I've used them in the TechRadar offices, at home, and travelling on buses, trains and planes, to really get a sense of their real-world performance. They've been my primary over-ear headphones during that time.

I've been compared them directly to headphones including the Bose QuietComfort Headphones, Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, Apple AirPods Max, Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, and Sennheiser HD600.

In day-to-day use, I mainly used them with my iPhone to listen to Apple Music tracks, but I used them with an iPad Pro for watching videos from various streaming services, and to test the multi-point connectivity. I've also used them with audio from various other sources, including Spotify, podcasts and YouTube. For wired use, I connected them to my MacBook Air.

Read more about how we test

  • First reviewed: January 2024
Dali iO-12 review: deliciously detailed wireless headphones with just one thing missing
1:00 pm | November 4, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Headphones Wireless Headphones | Tags: , , | Comments: Off

Dali iO-12: 3-minute review

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. 

Dali iO-12 held in a hand on autumnal leaves background

Favorite time of year, with headphones to match (Image credit: Future)

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 iO12 in their case, on autumnal leaves

The Dali iO-12 have a fairly large case, but it feels premium and the earcups lie flat.  (Image credit: Future)

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. 

Consider for example the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2, ($349 / £349 / approx. AU$540), the Sony WH-1000XM5 ($399 / £380 / AU$649), the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 ($399 / £379 / approx. AU$575), the Edifier Stax Spirit S3 ($399 / £330 / approx. AU$640) or the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless ($349.95 / £300 / AU$549.95) for starters. 

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 closeup, right earcup

All physical buttons, all on the right earcup – and although all work well, we'd love an app… (Image credit: Future)

Dali iO-12 review: Specs

Dali iO-12 headphones held in a hand, with autumnal leaves in the background

You've got to say the Dali iO-12 are a good-looking pair of headphones… (Image credit: Future)

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's iO-12 case on autumnal leaves

No denying it's a big case… (Image credit: Future)

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 headphones on a park bench with autumnal leaves

Don't worry, we didn't leave the Dali iO-12 here. As if we could bear to part with them… (Image credit: Future)

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 in their case on a beige table

Can't get enough of the chocolatey hue? You're not alone  (Image credit: Future)

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.

That said, if you want the best (and by that I mean tweakable) transparency profiles, EQ presets, button tweaks, spatial audio, or perks money can buy, spend it elsewhere, on the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, or the Sony WH-1000XM5

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

TR's Becky Scarrott wearing Dali iO-12 headphones in a park

Unmistakably fall weather calls for warm, chocolate brown Dali over-ears. (Image credit: Future)
  • 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. 

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: glorious wireless headphones with top-end features and sound, but OK ANC
4:12 pm | September 29, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Headphones Wireless Headphones | Tags: , , , | Comments: Off

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2: Two-minute review

Shure's Aonic 50 Gen 2 look the business. And not only that, they back up their not-here-to-mess-around aesthetic with Qualcomm's Snapdragon Sound support, so aptX Adaptive, aptX HD, regular aptX and LDAC are all here – aka all of the current top-tier wireless audio coding. 

But there's more! The Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2's bid for inclusion in our best wireless headphones guide culminates in a special USB-C port not just for charging. It means hi-res USB audio is also on the menu (look over here, iPhone 15 and Apple Music users!) thus completing a veritable banquet of connectivity options, from wireless Bluetooth audio pinged from your phone, older sources in a more traditional wired hi-fi system, right up to USB-C audio from your MacBook Pro at work. If that sounds good to you, add these headphones to your list. 

However, the star feature of these hotly anticipated second-generation Shure cans (let's be clear here, the three years and five months since the originals is eons in the world of headphone iterations) is Shure’s new spatialized audio technology. The feature provides three distinct modes: Music, Cinema, and Podcast. And the good news is that these are a delight across the board, offering oodles of separation and crispness to vocals during movies and podcasts especially, but unearthing extra sonic articles in even your heavy-rotation music playlists too. 

To stake a claim for the best noise-cancelling headphones currently on the market, Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 feature advanced hybrid active noise cancellation. As you'd expect, mics inside and outside the earcup allow the Aonic 50 Gen 2 scope to fine-tune your auditory environment, but you can also help it along thanks to four selectable modes: Light, Moderate, Max, and MaxAware. 

For us, the performance here was just a shade under excellent. On the one hand, the clamping force is strong with this one (possibly even a little too forceful for those blessed with larger skulls) and levels of passive isolation are top-notch. But on occasion we found the more ambient-aware options (MaxAware aims to offer the best of both worlds – blocking unwanted noise and maintaining awareness of your surroundings) added warmth to our music and a marginal sweetness to the upper mids. Essentially, the overall efficacy of the noise-nixing here can be beaten by the class-leaders at the level. 

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2's app, ShurePlus PLAY, three screens showing the features of the headphones, on gray background

Shure's ShurePlus PLAY app is one I'd go to battle for (Image credit: Future)

Picking up on the comfort, at 340g they feel just a tad heavy over longer listening sessions, despite the ample padding. For reference, the Edifier Stax Spirit S3 weigh 329g they're comfortable for all-day use. OK, Apple's AirPods Max weigh 44g more than the Shures at 384g, while Sony's WH-1000XM5 are quite a bit lighter at 249g – so depending on what you're used to, there may be an adjustment period here. 

When it comes to sonic performance, Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 is a set of over-ears for the EQ curious. There is very good sound to be had here, if you're prepared to work for it just a little. Those with neither the time nor the inclination to play with those presets might find the sound out of the box a little light on lower mids, treble-heavy and even a fraction cluttered timing-wise, albeit expansive and detailed. 

The ShurePlus Play app is your friend here and honestly, I'd go in to battle for this companion app – it is slick, easy to navigate and makes more sense than several offered by rival products. It'll even corral your music under one tab, for easy streaming across various services. Pairing is also a breeze and these headphones skip happily from one device to another thanks to multipoint connectivity that really works. 

In summary, the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 are solid all-rounders. If I'm nitpicking (and it is my job to do so), those who want perfect sound quality from the box may not have the patience for these headphones and the ANC is fine rather than fantastic – but those who love immersive spatial audio during movies, podcasts or playlists are well served here. And if you want USB-C hi-res headphones with the option to go wireless? They're an excellent choice. 

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 headphones held in a hand on multi-color background

An understated build, but a quality one, to be sure. (Image credit: Future)

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: Price & release date

  • Released in September 2023
  • Priced $349 / £349 / approx. AU$540

The Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 arrived in the third week of September 2023, having been announced on August 31.

They are priced aggressively for the elite over-ear headphones sector. To explain, that MSRP is actually cheaper than the launch price of the inaugural April 2020 Shure Aonic 50, which were aimed very much at the upper end of the consumer market and evaluated accordingly at $399 / £359, around AU$580.

This clever new pricing strategy from Shure undercuts the asking fee of some of the best and most notable over-ear headphones in the business by a tidy $50 – see the Sony WH-1000XM5 ($399 / £380 / AU$649), the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 ($399 / £379 / approx. AU$575) and the Edifier Stax Spirit S3 ($399 / £330 / approx. AU$640) for starters.

The Illinois audio specialist has put the Aonic 50 Gen 2 right in the way of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless too, which will set you back $349.95 / £300 / AU$549.95 too. Smart – if the performance is good enough.

Shure Aonic 50 headphones held in a hand showing detail on the earcup

All physical buttons, all on the right earcup – and it works. (Image credit: Future)

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2: Specs

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 in their hard travel case, on a wicker chair

Note the 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable for optional wired listening and USB-A to USB-C, for both charging and audio. (Image credit: Future)

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: Features

  • Excellent spatial audio processing options
  • Very useful EQ presets
  • USB Audio supports up to 32-bit/384kHz

Firstly, stamina: 45 hours is very good (although not as good as the 80-hour staying power of the Edifier Stax Spirit S3, granted, but the comparison is skewed since the Edifier headphones are devoid of ANC) and I can confirm that this battery claim holds true.

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 headphones are a walk in the park to pair, too. Multipoint? Easy – and once you get used to that fact that the physical buttons are all on the right earcup, altering volume, playback and ANC profiles works a charm. 

One lovely little perk here is PausePlus. Imagine you're listening to death metal at the office with Max ANC deployed and your boss approaches (just a random example, no reason). If PausePlus is toggled to on, simply pressing the multi-function button to pause the music also deploys ambient sound, so you can hold a polite conversation with your superior and pretend you were only listening to the latest episode of Revisionist History podcast.

Next up, Shure's Spatializer – no, nothing to do with turning vegetables into edible ribbons. In the app, under the device tab (see? It makes sense, it's a feature on the device) you can select spatial audio processing optimized for music, movies or a podcast. I found they brought all of these sources to life, adding depth, value and enjoyment to the whole testing process. 

The EQ presets are a similar story – in fact I suggest using both EQ and spatial audio liberally. There's a dedicated Equalizer tab, and although you can go manual if you want, Shure has sensibly opted to call its presets names such as Bass Cut, Bass Boost, Treble Cut and Vocal Boost. My particular favorite is Treble Cut for music, since I do find these headphones a little heavy-handed through the higher frequenciess, but the point is that Shure has bucked the trend of creating profiles for specific music genres (how often have you wondered whether 'jazz' is the correct preset for the acoustic mix you're listening to, or whether soft-rock is really the same as 'rock'?) and it's an excellent move. 

Now, ANC. It's acceptable. It isn't a complete bubble of silence. You deploy it by moving a physical slider all the way up on the right ear cup for ambient, or all the way down for ANC. But you can also open the app to select either the Environment Mode Level on a slider, or Light, Moderate, Max, or MaxAware ANC options. I was unable to perceive a lot of difference in the ANC options during the course of my testing save for MaxAware, which also filters in ambient noise. For softening the extraneous sounds of the office, they do a job – but the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 or Sony WH-1000XM5 still do that job a fair bit better. 

Call quality is aided by a "Hear myself on calls" toggle and it does exactly what it says on the tin, making calls feel a lot less like your head's stuck in a bucket as you speak. 

  • Features score: 4.5/5

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 case, held in hand with a garden in the background

A svelte but durable hard-shell case with a useful strap. (Image credit: Future)

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: Sound quality

  • Expansive and revealing separation and clarity 
  • Can come off treble-centric on occasion
  • Not the most musically cohesive listen

Kicking off with Ritchie Sacramento by Mogwai on Tidal (a FLAC file) with a wired USB-C connection to my Mac, the twinkling chimes and expansive ambient soundscape is pensive and more detailed than I remember it through lesser headphones. The driving beat underpins everything and as sonic articles jangle and dart between each ear, a rare talent for clarity through the mids is revealed.

Paolo Nutini's Loving You is a delight, with Nutini's textured voice held centrally among agile guitars and easy drums.

Switching to an Apple Music file on iPhone, Jamie T's Sticks 'n' Stones is energetic and immersive to the point that I feel Jamie and friends all congregating around me at Hampton Wick Station. It's here I notice the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2's tendency to over-celebrate the treble though – and as a result, the mix can sound a touch disorganized and jumbled on occasion; the placement of each musical strand seems as if it relies on the frequency being played. Here, female backing vocal "ah"s come forward a little too readily when T's lyrics should be the star of the show, for example.

It's a relatively minor issue and one only noticeable in direct comparison against the likes of the Focal Bathys and Edifier Stax Spirit S3, but it's our job to notice. Otherwise, we're treated to a detailed mix with plenty of dynamic rise and fall through the mids and a decent serving of snappy bass weight. 

Deploying the Treble Cut EQ option is the panacea for the upper registers, but it really is worth switching out these profiles depending on your music. If you're someone who believes headphones should just sound good without having to lift a finger, you may not like this solution – and it's a fair point. 

  • Sound quality score: 4/5

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 headphones detail with cups rotated to lie flat, on a wicker chair

The Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2's cups glide silently to lie flat – but headband adjustments are a bit clicky. (Image credit: Future)

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: Design

  • USB port on the right earcup, 3.5mm jack on the left
  • Design lies flat, but doesn't fold
  • Longer hair can get caught in the hinge points when fitting them

Do you miss foldable headphones – the kind that concertina up for easier portability? Well, you won't get them here. The large Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2's earpieces here lie flat in the same way that the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, Focal Bathys or newer Fairphone FairBuds XL do, and the hard-shell case is a little more svelte than the Focal's, but it'll still take up a bit of room in your bag – unless you want to use the strap to latch it to a carabiner on the outside of your backpack, perhaps. 

The build here is classy and the hinges rotate silently and at a glacial pace (be careful; the anchor point is towards the back of the headband and I caught my hair a few times) which is why it's a little strange that the headband itself is a little noisy if you need to alter the sizing. 

The padding on both the earcups and headband is ample and personally, I love 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. 

What is a little strange is the location of the cable ports, with one on each earpiece – but this is a relatively small issue. 

There's hardly any sound bleed; people on desks next to me couldn't hear my tracks at 50% volume in the office unless I lifted an earcup away from my head. On this, the clamping force is relatively strong; if you're running for a train you'll be glad of it, if you're relaxing in a comfy chair, perhaps not so much. There's no IP rating for water resistance here, so try not to wear them to the shower.

In summary, the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 are a handsome, sleek – if marginally heavy, at 340g – set of over-ears. They're not winning any design awards for originality, but the branding on each earcup is classy and if you prefer physical controls and sliders over touch capacitive functions (I do) you'll enjoy them. 

  • Design score: 4.5/5

Shure Aonic 30 Gen 2 on a black table, outside

In case you're wondering whether the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2's headband is nicely padded, yes it is.  (Image credit: Future)

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: Value

  • Spatial audio is a high-end option
  • USB-C audio connection adds flexibility
  • The merely acceptable ANC may not be what you want

First off, these headphones are not particularly expensive given their features and the price of competitors. That said, if you want the best ANC over-ears money can buy, spend it elsewhere, on the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless or the Sony WH-1000XM5. There is active noise cancellation here, and the presets are fine, but it isn't a class-leading experience. 

Buying headphones almost always involves a compromise somewhere (omission of a particular hi-res codec, poor call quality but great sound, lack of water resistance), but for the wealth of connectivity supported both with wires and without, the spatial audio profiles and the outstanding EQ tweaks, Shure's Aonic 50 Gen 2 are almost impossible to equal.

The battery level is more than sufficient at 45 hours, the build is classy, the companion app is excellent and the multipoint pairing experience has never let me down. 

The flies in the ointment? Occasionally the treble is a little forward in the mix and the ANC is a shade off excellent. Depending on your priorities, this either doesn't matter or is a deal-breaker. It's up to you. 

  • Value score: 4.5/5

Should I buy the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2?

Buy them if...

Don't buy them if...

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: Also consider

How I tested the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2

Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 worn by TechRada'r's Becky Scarrott, in profile, in a garden

Wear headphones while the sun shines. (Image credit: Future)
  • Bulk of testing done using an iPhone 12, running ShurePlus PLAY app, firmware version
  • Tested over two weeks, listened against the Edifier Stax Spirit S3, Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless 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 via USB-C connection on 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. These cans became my daily musical companion – after a thorough run-in period. And just as Shure is a trusted name in audio, I now trust these headphones to work every day, regardless of how you're connecting to your music source, without fail. 

The Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 accompanied me to work on busy weekdays (walking brusquely to the station; boarding a train and the London Underground; at the office) and walking along the blustery seafront on the UK coastline – 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 my car's brake light, mostly) 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. 

Sony WH-1000XM5 Wireless Headphones review
7:00 pm | May 12, 2022

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Headphones Wireless Headphones | Tags: , , , | Comments: Off

Editor's Note

• Original review date: May 2022
• Still Sony's flagship headphones
• Launch price: $399 / £380 / AU$649
• Regular price now: $329 / £319 / AU$549

Update: February 2024. The Sony WH-1000XM5 remain as Sony's best-ever headphones in terms of what they can do: rich and detailed sound, superb active noise cancellation, great smart features and a comfortable fit. However, their competition has grown more fierce over time, and while they've had a general price cut that helps keep them competitive, they're no longer our absolute first choice among the best noise-cancelling headphones in their range. The Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless offer better sound quality, double the battery life, great noise cancellation, some some even smarter app-based features, usually for a cheaper price than the Sony. If noise cancellation is your priority, spend a little more on the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, which are the best in class for this, and also sound clearly better than the Sony. To be clear, we love the Sony WH-1000XM5, and if you like to stick with Sony cans, as many do, we recommend them – but they've been pipped in the headphones race. The rest of this review remains as previously published.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones have one of the most revered family trees in modern audio history. Following two best-in-class over ear noise cancelling predecessors, the WH-1000XM5 land with a level of anticipation that is unusual in the world of personal audio.

TechRadar deservedly awarded the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Sony WH-1000XM4 top marks in their respective reviews, and so the expectation is that the WH-1000XM5 will follow in those perfect audio footsteps. 

In terms of specs and performance, they mostly do follow in their predecessors' footsteps (a little too closely) but in terms of design, the Sony WH-1000XM5 cans represent the biggest departure that the line has seen since its conception. Still, we enjoyed reviewing them, which is why they're one of our top picks in our best wireless headphones guide. 

So are the differences in design enough to raise the already-high bar Sony has set for itself? Read on for our full Sony WH-1000XM5 review.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Price and release date

  • Price: $399 in the US
  • Price: £380 in the UK
  • Price: AU$649 in Australia
  • Released in May 2022

On sale now, the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones will begin to ship from May 20, 2022, priced at £380 / $399 / AU$649 – a significant step up above the £350 / $349 / AU$549 asking price of the previous-generation Sony WH-1000XM4. 

At launch, you’re looking at around a £30 / $50 savings by choosing the older – and still very good – Sony WH-1000XM4. It’s a sizable chunk of change and, more importantly, it’s a gap that could widen as the year goes on and we drift towards the big shopping holidays like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. At some point in the future, we’re likely to see the Sony WH-1000XM4 dip below the $300 mark before plummeting to half-price – and, at that price, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is a no-brainer.

They're still a fair sight cheaper than Apple’s alternative though, with the AirPods Max still commanding a $549 / £549 / AU$899 price tag when bought direct from Apple.

The noise-cancelling Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

(Image credit: Future)

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Design

  • All-new design
  • Comfortable for long listening sessions
  • Design prevents wind distortion – but no longer folds into a compact shape
  • Still no water resistance

After two generations of largely-identical over-ear headphone designs, the WH-1000XM5 headphones are a significant departure from their predecessors.

The best way to quickly describe the WH-1000XM5 headphones is that they’re a bit curvier than their predecessors. It’s all a bit tidier, a bit sleeker – there are fewer visible points of articulation, more discreet noise-cancelling mic ports, and a slimmer headband with additional leather-look covering to hide away its joins and extension points. The cavity for your ears to sit in is a slightly different shape too – a more squat ovoid than the oval of the WH-1000XM3 and WH-1000XM4. Though we’ve not stress tested them to their absolute limits, the slide-out extension points feel sturdier than earlier designs too, with fewer pressure points that could snap away – a complaint of well-used previous models.

The noise-cancelling Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

The XM5 headphones on the left, and the older XM3 headphones (which have a near-identical design to the XM4 headphones) on the right. (Image credit: Future)

But there are some changes that may not be so welcome. Frustratingly, there’s still no water resistance of any kind featured here. As the headphones can no longer fold in on themselves, they’re not quite as portable as they once were. And while the headband is better hidden and integrated into the overall design aesthetic, it feels as if it has less padding than previous Sony headphones in the line. 

That may be a slightly moot point though – in our experience, they’re no less comfortable as a result, and will happily sit on your head for long listening sessions. There’s ample padding around the ears, and the cups twist and pivot to suit all sizes, with just the right amount of clamp pressure exerted from the band to keep them in place without squeezing your brain out through your ears. That headband now smoothly extends too, rather than using the stepped extension of earlier versions.

The noise-cancelling Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

(Image credit: Future)

Controls are largely the same as the 1000XM4 headphones. Smart context-aware auto controls aside (which we’ll discuss in the ‘Features’ section of this review), there are two physical buttons on the left ear cup edge. The first cycles between noise cancelling and ambient awareness settings, and you can now use a couple or trio of taps of the ANC button to activate Spotify Tap, letting you fire up and play from the music streamer without getting your phone out of your pocket. The second is the power button, which you can keep held down to activate Bluetooth pairing mode. You’ll also find the exterior to the right ear cup is touch sensitive: swipe up and down on it to change the volume, double tap it to pause audio and answer calls, and cover it with your palm to instantly jump to an ambient awareness mode that funnels in exterior sound. There’s also still a USB-C charging port on the right cup, and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the left cup.

The noise-cancelling Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

(Image credit: Future)

So, of the obvious exterior changes and additions, what’s going on and why? 

First up, that curvier design is intended to reduce wind-drag across the headphones, which can cause that annoying distortion in noise-cancelling performance when out and about on a windy day. A more aerodynamic design here should help reduce that effect, and while we’ve not run head on into the path of a hurricane, that claim held up on a breezy London day exploring Greenwich park.

The second obvious addition is a doubling of the amount of microphone points housed on the headphones. This provides the onboard noise cancelling processors (yes, there's two inside the headphones) more audio data to to anaylze and improve active noise cancelling performance with, as well as doubling the amount of beamforming mics near a user’s mouth for calls up from two on the WH-1000XM4s to four on the WH-1000XM5s. Call quality, according to our critical buddies, was crystal clear.

Despite these additions, the headphones are actually lighter than the previous model, weighing just 250g – 4 grams lighter than the last version. On top of this, they use ABS plastics in their construction (as does the packaging), made of recycled car parts to up their green credentials.

The noise-cancelling Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

(Image credit: Future)

Again, there’s a much-welcome included carry case with these latest Sony over-ears. Made of a grey fabric, it’s somewhat collapsible, offering a little more bag space when you’re using your headphones. Just don’t expect it to flatten down to a paper-thin size, as an inner pocket for cable storage keeps it a little beefier. It’s not a like-for-like assessment, but the surface area of the new case is larger than that of the earlier models, even if you can squeeze its cubic area down.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Features

  • The best active noise-cancelling in the business
  • Smart ambient awareness options
  • Allows a connection to two devices at once
  • App has features to protect your hearing

Active noise-cancellation features have long been the hallmark of the Sony WH range, and the WH-1000XM5 headphones continue in that fine tradition. It must have been difficult to top the superb performance of previous generations and, admittedly, it’s not a world apart from the WH-1000XM4 model. But there is a definite, if slight, improvement.

The WH-1000XM4 already effectively wiped out low-frequency sounds (the din of public transport, or a plane’s rumbling engines), but the XM5s work harder at the higher frequency zone. That’s in part thanks to the new 30mm driver design that, while smaller than the 40mm design of old, makes use of a high rigidity dome and soft edge to take some of the bite off of higher-pitched sounds. Indeed, walking through London’s Paddington Station, a hive of scum and villainy (and sounds of all kinds), I could barely hear a thing, even with the volume of my music dialled back to a minimum. It was very impressive.

The noise-cancelling Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

(Image credit: Future)

Active noise cancellation is the headline act among a whole bunch of smart features Sony includes with the WH-1000XM5 headphones, many of which automatically kick in without you needing to do anything, improving the overall listening experience without you having to lift a finger.

First up is location awareness. By pairing with your smartphone, the WH-1000XM5 headphones can learn your daily routine, and adjust Ambient Sound Control settings according to your location. If the headphones spot that you’re sat still at home, they might jump to a less intense level of noise cancellation compared to while you’re sat in the office, based on your preferences. And if you’re out for a walk, it may pipe in more exterior audio to keep you safe while crossing the street.

Speak-to-Chat is another handy feature. As its name suggests, if you begin talking while listening to the headphones, they’ll halt playback and pump in ambient sound so you can have a conversation without taking the cans off. But like the WH-1000XM4s before them, they come with an unfortunate side effect – it’ll stop playback if you begin singing when the feature is switched on. Thankfully, it’s an optional feature, so if you too are a wannabe Pavarotti, you’ll still be able to stretch those lungs when listening.

A more immediately useful and intuitive feature is the fact the WH-1000XM5s will automatically pause audio when removed from your head, thanks to a hidden sensor in the ear cup. Leave them off for a little longer, and they’ll automatically switch off completely, saving your battery life. You’ve also got the option of connecting to two devices at once, switching between the two depending on what’s happening on each, such as to prioritise a notification.

Finally, there’s better support for voice assistants and their wake words. Alexa and Google Assistant can be activated hands-free by their respective trigger commands, and can then be used to do everything from place and answer calls to reading incoming text messages and notifications, as well as controlling music.

The noise-cancelling Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

(Image credit: Future)

Lots of these features can be tweaked an customised by the accompanying app, which is far more useful than similar supporting software of this ilk. There’s a responsive EQ, with a bass boosting function, that makes a genuine impact on the sound profile of the headphones (though we were very happy with the default tuning), an ear analyzer for optimising the effect of Sony’s proprietary 360 reality audio spatial sound format), and lots of options when it comes to customising noise cancelling levels and the location-aware settings that the app can be set to automatically configure based on your usage and surroundings.

A nice touch which I never realised I’d appreciate before having it presented to me was the “Safe Listening” section of the app. The headphones are constantly logging the decibel level and sound pressure of your listening sessions and lets you know how close you’re coming to the recommended weekly loud noises allowance as defined by WHO. For someone who regularly enjoys drowning out the world at ear-blistering levels, it was a wake up call to have the potential damage I was doing to my ears visualised. The app also tracks the amount of time you’ve spent listening to the headphones too, which is a nice touch for life-loggers, and awards gamified for badges for using the different features of the headphones over time. It’s a shame then that it seems only possible to log time used when connected to a device with the app running, rather than keeping this data onboard the headphones – you won’t get a log of time spent listening to a connected laptop, for instance. 

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Audio quality

  • Spacious soundstage
  • Spatial audio support
  • LDAC and DSEE Extreme perform well
  • Well balanced, with powerful bass and eye-opening detail 

The jump from a 40mm driver in the WH-1000XM4 headphones to the new 30mm driver in the latest WH-1000XM5 headphones had us initially raise our eyebrows – would the signature dynamism and space of the WH line be lost with the smaller driver? Thankfully those fears were unfounded – they sound pretty much just as good as the exemplary XM4s, though we must admit they don’t sound dramatically better, either.

Sony’s again leaning on a one-two punch of both LDAC codec and DSEE Extreme support here to offer the best possible sound quality from your connected devices. LDAC is your hi-resolution audio option, compressing and decompressing tracks on the fly to deliver much greater wireless bandwidth than a standard Bluetooth connection could conjure. But even if you’re on a lowly standard-resolution streaming service over Bluetooth, DSEE Extreme ekes out a little more detail by using AI upscaling techniques to restore some of the audio data which would otherwise be lost. Both do a great job.  

The noise-cancelling Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

(Image credit: Future)

Even with the driver change, the soundstage remains spacious and capable of giving all elements of a mix room to breathe and shine. Take the mighty solo section of Metallica’s classic One, for instance – all thrash metal riffing and double bass drum madness, but Kirk Hammett’s blistering high-register finger tapping cuts through and shines. In a more sedate but layered tune like Jeff Buckley’s Grace, the acoustic strum percussively rattles below the harmonised vocals and chorus-pedal guitar line, but there’s room for a walking bassline to sit alongside soaring strings too. Everything finds its place with the Sony WH-1000XM5s, and the effect is a wonderful enveloping of sound, even outside of the 360 Reality Audio spatial settings.

If you’re looking for a test of the tightness of the bass, there’s little better than Rage Against the Machine’s Bullet in the Head, where the bass work of Tim Commerford runs like a… well a piston-powered machine through the track. The WH-1000XM5s let the bassline kick behind the trebley guitar riff with real power without flattening everything else. If you want to see how low the cans can go without losing definition, Massive Attack’s brooding Angel sees the WH-1000XM5s retain musicality and detail at even the lowest frequencies.

At the other end of the mood spectrum, jumping into Prince’s joyous Raspberry Beret revealed details previously missed. It’s Prince’s 80s “more-is-more” production at its pomp, with snapping snares and hand claps piercing the wizard-like mix of synths, strings and guitars. I may be mistaken, but is that a harpsichord sitting beneath it all? If it is, it’s the first time I’ve noticed it in my 35 years of listening to the song.

The noise-cancelling Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

(Image credit: Future)

And, if you want to listen to the clarity of a wonderfully realised vocal performance while having a good cry, pop on the Prince-penned, Sinead O’Connor-performed Nothing Compares 2 U – she might as well be in the room with you, from forceful chorus to trembling bridge, O’Connor runs the gamut from anger to heartbreak, with the Sony cans picking up each inflection and sibilant cry with wondrous effect.

There’s very little sound leakage too. Sat in the office next to a colleague, they didn’t register any sound even with the volume ramped up to its highest setting, which is an improvement over last year’s version based on what those around me said at the time.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Battery life

There weren’t many areas that the Sony WH-1000XM5s could have improved over their 1000XM4 predecessors, so many had hoped that one area that could have seen a jump in performance was battery life. Sony is claiming a slight improvement here – while the 30 hours with noise cancelling activated matches the predecessor, 40 hours with noise cancelling switched off is a two hour improvement over the WH-1000XM4s. That may be a little disappointing for some readers, as competitors are beginning to squeeze out more battery life per charge. But the quality of the other features offset any loss to the competition here, particularly in terms of noise-cancelling abilities, and 30-40 hours of playback is more than respectable enough regardless.

Do Sony’s playback estimates hold true? From our experience, we’d say they’re broadly true – we appeared not to quite reach the advertised 30 hours with ANC switched on, but also tend to crank the volume up louder than the average person would (or the recommended safe level is, even), and thus would expect to see the battery drain faster in line with the high volume.

Sony’s definitely put effort into the charging experience generally though – using the USB-PD standard, you’ll get three hours of playback from just a three minute charge of the headphones, getting you out the door and into your tunes as quickly as possible.

The noise-cancelling Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

(Image credit: Future)

Should I buy the Sony WH-1000XM5?

Buy them if…

Don’t buy them if…

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Also consider

First reviewed: May 2022

How we test

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.

Read more about how we test

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones review
7:37 pm | February 16, 2022

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Headphones Wireless Headphones | Tags: , , , | Comments: Off

Editor's Note

• Original review date: August 2020
• Newer Sony WH-1000XM5 now out
• Launch price: $349 / £349 / AU$549
• Target price now: $249 / £199 / AU$399

Update: February 2024. The Sony WH-1000XM4 might be getting on these days, but because you can regularly find them for so much cheaper than their launch, we think these still rule the roost in terms of bang for your buck. The 'target' price above is what you should aim to pay for these headphones, and we've seen them for cheaper than those prices, so they're not unrealistic at all. The Sony WH-1000XM5 have now been launched, but with a much higher price than the XM4 and without feeling like a huge leap in terms of sound or noise cancellation. So the WH-1000XM4 really hit the sweet spot if you can get them for our recommended prices, which isn't hard. We still rate them as the best headphones for most people – they've been bettered in many ways, don't get us wrong… but not for this kind of price. Plus the new version doesn't have the handy folding design for traveling! The rest of this review remains as previously published.

Sony WH-1000XM5: One-minute review

The Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones are a wonderful pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones in every way. That's why they're still up there among our pick of the best headphones of 2022, even though they were released in 2020 – and even though they've recently been superseded by the new WH-1000XM5. 

We love that they deliver exactly what they promise and then some, thanks to their exceptional noise cancellation and cutting-edge codec support.

Granted, they haven’t seen a massive overhaul aesthetically from the Sony WH-1000XM3 that were released back in 2018. However, the WH-1000XM4 headphones pack in a number of new improvements, including DSEE Extreme audio upscaling and multipoint pairing.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 support Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format, which enables spatial audio on stereo headphones, plus the LDAC codec that can send a bitrate of up to 990 kbps. The unfortunate bit there, though, is that it no longer supports aptX or aptX HD, so your hi-res audio support mileage may vary.

Thanks to their extremely comfortable fit and great noise cancellation, we highly recommend the Sony WH-1000XM4 as the best headphones and the best over-ear headphones for most people, but particularly travelers or those with long commutes. However, they’re not great for workout enthusiasts who need a secure fit and water-resistance – or business people who require a best-in-class microphone for phone calls. For nearly everyone else, however, these are some of the best wireless headphones you can buy from a brand with an excellent track record in audio devices.

Since their release in August 2020, the Sony WH-1000XM4 have been given a few updates. For starters, Sony released a limited edition white colorway with a gold finish. The company also releases a firmware update to improve Bluetooth stability when the headphones are paired to multiple devices and to fix a bug which saw users struggle to connect the Sony WH-1000XM4 to Windows computers.

Read on for our full Sony WH-1000XM4 review, with everything you need to know about the best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy today.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Price & release date

  • Price: $349 in the US
  • Price: £349 in the UK
  • Price: AU$549 in Australia
  • Released in August 2020

The Sony WH-1000XM4 were announced on August 6, 2020 and while they come from Sony's flagship line, they are no longer Sony’s top-tier go to proposition simply because they've now got a younger XM5 sibling. These over-ear cans sit above the mid-range Sony WH-CH710N and true wireless Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds.

In terms of price, you’re looking at $350 / £349 / AU$549 or thereabouts – which is exactly what the Sony WH-1000XM3 launched in 2018 in the US, and £50 more expensive in the UK. 

That puts the Sony WH-1000XM4 in the same price range as the Bose Noise-Cancelling 700 Headphones that come in at $339.99 / £349.95 / AU$599.95, and slightly less than the more upscale Bowers and Wilkins PX7 that cost $399.99 / £349 / AU$600 – but let's not forget, that model has now been superseded too, thanks to the arrival of the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2, which can be yours for a cool $399 / £379 / approx. AU$575.

They're also far cheaper than the Apple AirPods Max, which cost $549 / £549 / AU$899 – and since the Sony XM4s are now a slightly older model, we wouldn't be surprised if there are some tasty deals to be had soon…

the Sony WH-1000XM4 headband

(Image credit: Future)

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Design

  • Imperceptible design changes since the 1000XM3
  • Sturdy build and comfortable padding
  • New SoC for improved noise cancellation
  • Lack any sort of water-resistance

Though the Sony WH-100XM4 have a slew of new components inside the headphones themselves, there’s not a major difference between them and their predecessors in terms of aesthetics. In fact, put them next to each other and you’d have a hard time telling the 1000XM3 apart from the 1000XM4. 

That’s not the end of the world, though, as the design of the 1000XM3 is refined and subtle, allowing it to blend in on subway stations, planes and offices without drawing any attention. 

In terms of materials, you’re mostly looking at a high-quality plastic build with supple pleather padding. The result is a product that feels mostly durable while remaining extremely comfortable to wear for an extended period of time.

Around the outside of the earcups you’ll find two physical control buttons for power/pairing and a button that cycles through noise-cancelling modes, as well as a 3.5mm aux. jack and a USB-C port for charging. The outer part of the earcups act as a touch-capacitive control panel that can be used to play, pause or skip music, and raise or lower the volume.

Inside the headphones is where the magic happens, though. Sony has swapped out the old system-on-a-chip (SoC) for a new one that promises better noise cancellation. Key to that, of course, is the Sony QNe1 Processor that constantly samples ambient audio to reactively adjust the level of noise cancellation. It’s an ingenious setup and design that separates it from the one-size-fits-all noise cancelling algorithm from other manufacturers.

The bad news here, however, is that the Sony WH-1000XM4 aren’t water-friendly - they’re not splash-proof, water-proof or even very water-resistant. Sony recommends keeping them dry and far away from any source of water that might damage them. That sounds like common sense - and fairly easy to achieve - but that does limit the places you can bring them: if you’re looking for a pair of running headphones, these aren’t them.

a closeup of the Sony WH-1000XM4 earcup

(Image credit: Future)

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Features

  • Class-leading noise cancellation
  • Situational and conversational awareness
  • Multi-point pairing to connect to two devices
  • May pause the music if it hears you singing along

The Sony WH-1000XM3 were feature-rich upon release, full of inventive control schemes and intelligent applications of their noise cancellation technology. All that was great about the WH-1000XM3 headphones has carried over to the WH-1000XM4 successors, and with some all-new tricks, too. These aren’t just gimmicks either – they’re useful additions that actually work as advertised.

So let’s kick off with the brand-new stuff. First, and perhaps most importantly, Sony has refined its wireless noise-cancelling approach. Like all good design, it’s subtle to the point where you may not notice it at first (such was the strength of the previous system, anyway). 

Key specs

Acoustic design: Closed

Weight: 253g

Frequency response: 4Hz to 40kHz

Drivers: 1.57-inch dome-type

Battery life: 30 hours

Active noise cancellation? Yes

Extra features: Speak to Chat, DSEE Extreme, 360 Reality Audio

But with the WH-1000XM4, you’re getting a much greater sense of noise cancellation in the mid-ranges – those sorts of areas where you get a low-level humming kind of sound that you could attribute to a fan, or air conditioning unit, or engine noise. It’s never fully silenced, but it’s remarkably quiet, and as soon as you have actual audio playing through the cans, you can’t hear the outside world at all. 

Though high wind can still cause a bit of extraneous noise to come through, it’s otherwise among the best (if not, the best) noise-cancelling system we’ve heard from a pair of wireless headphones.

These noise-cancelling modes are intelligent, too – with your permission, the WH-1000XM4 headphones can learn where you are using geo-location access, and apply your preferred level of noise-cancellation or ambient sound passthrough depending on where you are. So, at home you may prefer a fully cancelled noise mode, while in the office you may want voices to come through. 

With the feature activated, the Sony headphones play a small chiming tone when it’s reached one of your set locations, and dials the noise-cancellation up or back appropriately. Though GPS requirements mean it won’t be able to work during a subterranean commute, you can preset your station or travel hub in the accompanying Headphones Connect app, and have it activate your preferred noise cancelling settings whilst above ground before descending. 

The best of the WH-1000XM4 features though are those that pander to convenience. They’re simple and effective additions. A sensor in the earcups will recognize when you take the headphones off, and pause music accordingly, resuming playback automatically when you replace them. If they’re paused for a few minutes (at a delay of your choosing), they’ll automatically switch off to save battery life. A new multipoint connection lets the headphones connect to two devices at once, intelligently switching between both as the requirement of each device dictates – say, to deliver a notification or answering a call. 

Most impressive is a new Speak-to-Chat feature. With this option switched on, the headphones’ microphone will intelligently recognize when you’ve started talking, and pause your music while ramping up ambient noise being funneled into the cans. It’ll let you have a chat naturally without taking your headphones off, with a short pause occurring after you stop chatting before resuming music playback. 

However, it’s a double edged sword, as it’s almost too effective – if you decide to break into song and sing along with your tunes with the feature activated, it’ll pause your track, ending your karaoke session. Convenient then – so long as you’re restrained with your vocal gymnastics.

a man wearing the Sony WH-1000XM4 wireless headphones

(Image credit: Future)

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Audio quality

  • Circumaural 40mm drivers
  • Warm and balanced, clear and powerful bass
  • Support for 360 Reality Audio for spatial audio
  • LDAC and AAC but not aptX or aptX HD

Sony’s using the same 40mm drivers in the WH-1000XM4 as it had in the WH-1000XM3, so tonally and in terms of mix, there’s not much to separate the WH-1000XM4 from the WH-1000XM3 headphones that preceded them. It’s a warm and balanced sound that does well to offer a wide soundstage when required and detail that can pierce through a powerful bass performance.

On the noise-cancelling front, Sony’s using its Dual Noise Sensor tech, making use of two mics in each earcup to suck in sound and analyse it with the QN1 noise cancelling processor. This allows the headphones to adjust its noise cancellation response imperceptibly quickly, at more than 700 times a second. It’s fantastically powerful, and never gets in the way of your tunes.

While aptX HD support would have been welcome, the Sony’s LDAC codec, present here, does a good job with devices that support it, pushing lots of detail through wirelessly. The introduction of DSEE Extreme, an AI-driven process that looks to restore detail from lossy compressed formats, does well to bring clarity to even the lower quality formats and files you may throw at the WH-1000XM4. 

Sony’s still pushing its 360 Reality Audio offering too, which is its homegrown immersive audio format, putting you in the middle of a surround-sound mix, and it’s still impressive – even if actually accessing its library is limited to just a few streaming services, and the catalogue’s growth has been slow.

As ever, we put the headphones through their paces with a mixture of streaming services, file formats and spoken word clips, and the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones impressed across the board.

Jeff Buckley’s elegiac Last Goodbye shimmers into action, its slide guitar giving way to a warm bass groove and layers of acoustic guitars, jangling electrics and orchestral strings. It’s a complicated mix, but the WH-1000XM4 headphones do it justice, soaring with Buckley’s falsetto comfortably sitting at the fore.

Putting the bass to the test by jumping over to Bjork’s Army of Me, you can hear the can’s masterful management of bass frequencies, with the arpeggiated bass line walking through the song as the machine-like snare snaps through.

For something a little softer, Bright Eyes’ First Day of My Life has a great warmth – great vocal clarity is paired with sparkly finger picked guitars and a comforting, guiding double bass that never sounds flabby.

At the other end of the spectrum, Janelle Monae’s absolute banger Make Me Feel sounds supremely powerful on the WH-1000XM4 headphones. From the bop of the percussion to the wall of sound that accompanies the pre-chorus, it sees the Sony WH-1000XM4s firing on all cylinders, with expressive dynamics and clear and distinct separation between each instrument. It’s a pleasure at the best of times, and Sony’s cans bring out the best of the track.     

From the perspective of a work-at-home, share-the-kitchen-table-with-a-flatmate user scenario, those around us did notice a substantial amount of noise leakage from the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones – enough to distract at even half their maximum volume level. You may not be able to hear the outside world, but it can hear what you’re listening to, so keep that in mind if you’re planning on taking these to a quiet office or library.

the Sony WH-1000XM4 with their case

(Image credit: Future)

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Battery life

  • No improvement on battery life compared to predecessors
  • 30 hours with noise cancelling on / 38 hours with it off
  • Quick charging (five hours of charge after just 10 minutes)
  • Last just as long or longer than the competition

While the Sony WH-1000XM4 didn’t get a boost in battery life compared to their predecessors, you're getting a substantial 30 hours with noise cancelling turned on and around 38 hours with noise cancelling turned off. 

At first, that number somewhat disappointed us – how could a product not improve battery life year-on-year? But then it dawned on us that now the headphones have speech detection, a new SoC and algorithm, plus new sensors, too. The fact that it remained the same in spite of adding a host of new features is actually kind of impressive.

Although the Sony WH-1000XM4 don't come with a battery life improvement compared to their predecessors, they do stretch their playback time as far as possible thanks to the new auto-on/off and play/pause sensor inside the earcup that can tell when you’ve taken the headphones off. It’s a huge boon to folks who might forget to turn off their headphones at the end of the day only to find that they’re dead 24 hours later.

The 30 hours should be enough to get you through multiple international flights or a few days to the office, but it’s also good to know that the headphones can be charged in a matter of minutes thanks to fast-charging. According to Sony, you can get about five hours of charge from 10 minutes of power and a full charge after about three hours. 

So how do the Sony WH-1000XM4 compare to the competition? Quite favorably. The Bose Noise-Cancelling 700 only clocked in at around 20 hours of battery life with noise cancelling turned on, while the Bowers and Wilkins PX7 matches the Sony at 30.

Should I buy the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones?

the Sony WH-1000XM4 in their carrying case

(Image credit: Future)

Buy them if...

Don't buy them if...

Sony WH-1000XM4 review: Also consider

First reviewed: August 2020