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HiFi Walker H2 review: An MP3 player with wide-ranging file support but rough edges
6:00 pm | May 18, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Portable Media Players | Comments: Off

HiFi Walker H2: Four-minute review

The HiFi Walker H2 has carved out a very unique spot itself in the portable media players market. When it comes to MP3 players or digital audio players, the space between the super-cheap Amazon-flooding options and the super-premium bank-account-draining high-end best MP3 players is a no-man’s land. Into that desolate area strides the HiFi Walker H2, which is lovely and premium in some aspects and startlingly rough in others.

HiFi Walker is a Hong Kong-based tech company that, according to its website, only seems to make four products: a bone conduction headphone, an MP3 player carry case, a touch-controlled MP3 player and this, the HiFi Walker H2. I’d put money on the fact that you heard about this device on Amazon, or another shopping website, when looking for a new MP3 player.

So, should you pick up the HiFi Walker H2? Well, that really depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for an alternative to the kinds of feature-flush digital audio player that make up our list of the best MP3 player, then the HiFi Walker H2 might be your best option that doesn’t cost an eye-watering four-figure sum.

The device supports a wide range of audio file types including MP3, WAV, AAC, FLAC and WMA, with a Texas Instruments-made DAC that’s a favorite amongst audiophiles and an on-board equalizer so you can tweak your sounds depending on your tastes and ears.

With two 3.5mm headphone ports, you can plug in headphones or connect the player to your home sound system or vehicle stereo; there’s also Bluetooth compatibility so you can stream wirelessly to other devices or from your smartphone using Qualcomm aptX. The HiFi Walker really ticks as many connectivity options as it can.

If you just care about your listening experience to the exclusion of everything else, then, this is a great device that far undercuts similarly-featured rivals. But that’s at a big expense: in almost every other department, the HiFi Walker is a bit of a dud.

Take the battery life, for example: the device lasts for roughly 10 hours of listening before going flat (a figure which is even lower if you’re listening via Bluetooth). For some people, that’s not even a full working day of listening, and it’s much less than the vast majority of the device’s rivals.

The design is another area that needed a second draft: it’s basically a big bulky block. The glass rear picks up fingerprints quicker than a crime scene investigator and the device weighs down your pocket like a big rock.

Perhaps the most questionable area is the software though, which would be most aptly described as ‘harebrained’. Over the course of my testing the HiFi Walker, I never quite worked out how to get around in a manner beyond ‘pressing random buttons to see what happens’. Sometimes pressing ‘back’ from a song menu will take you onto the music player, other times it’ll take you one step back in the menu list. I could never work out if I should play songs from the ‘explorer’ menu or ‘category’. There are two different settings menus with options randomly scattered between the two.

All of the above is to say, the HiFi Walker H2 has plenty of rough edges, and so it’s really only worth considering if you need great audio and the only cost you care about is the financial one.

HiFi Walker H2 review: Price and release date

The HiFi Walker H2's scroll wheel.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Costs $149 / £129 (roughly AU$230)
  • Not the cheapest, but pretty cheap

The default price of the HiFi Walker is $149 / £129 (roughly AU$230) but you likely don’t need to reach that far into your wallet; at the time of writing, the device is on sale for $120 / £105 (roughly AU$200) and its price seems to fluctuate between these prices, sometimes going even lower.

At that price, this certainly isn’t the cheapest MP3 player we’ve ever tested, and there are options at the mid-two-figures mark that are certainly worth buying if you’re looking for a simple and portable music player.

However some DAPs (digital audio players) on the market go for eye-watering four-figure sums, and a brief perusal of our list of the best MP3 players shows plenty of much more expensive rivals. The HiFi Walker holds its head against some of those, making a decent case as to its place as a budget alternative.

If you see a pricier device on sale, that’s actually the HiFi Walker H2 Touch, a touch-screen version that’s about $20 / £20 more expensive and is different in a few ways. That’s not the device being tested for this review.

HiFi Walker H2 review: Features

The HiFi Walker H2 in a man's hand.

(Image credit: Future)
  • 10-hour battery life max
  • Onboard equalizer is handy
  • Two 3.5mm ports and Bluetooth connectivity options

According to HiFi Walker, the battery life of the H2 is 10 hours of use. Some of you may be wondering something to which the audio-tech-heads already know the answer: no, that’s not very long at all. It’ll be fine for listening at home or on short walks, but don’t expect to take it on long holidays (unless you’ll spend lots of time near a charging port).

I should also mention that users online have reporting a use time that’s somehow even shorter, closer to 8 hours. I tested using wired headphones and 10 felt like a more appropriate estimate, but if you rely on Bluetooth for your listening, this 8-hour figure is probably more apt.

So what features does the HiFi Walker H2 have on board? The first, and perhaps most important, is an onboard equalizer to let you tweak the sound of your music to your ears.

There are various presents including rock, jazz and ‘classic’ (presumably classical), but you can also jump into a custom mode if you dare. This requires an adept understanding of the various navigation hiccups of the H2 (more on that later), but it gives audiophiles a lot of leeway to control their musical experience.

Otherwise, the H2 is distinctly feature-bare. There’s no support for non-musical file formats, no in-device recorder, and relatively little way to customize the device.

The HiFi Walker’s saving grace is its range of connectivity options, which should impress people with lots of gadgets. There are not one but two 3.5mm aux ports, so you can plug in headphones or a jack to connect it to your existing hi-fi systems, and it connects using Bluetooth not just to headphones but to a smartphone as well.

This is done using Qualcomm’s aptX, and it’s meant to let you pull through your phone’s songs onto your HiFi Walker to control it in an extra way… in theory. In practice, the H2 failed to pair with my phone on every occasion, so I never got to test the feature.

  • Features score: 3.5/5

HiFi Walker H2 review: Design

The HiFi Walker H2's ports

(Image credit: Future)
  • Giant black obelisk
  • Heavy, but not too heavy
  • Plenty of buttons across the body

The images that accompany this review aren’t screenshots from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. No, it’s the HiFi Walker H2, which is perhaps cosplaying as the famous monolith, in that it’s a big black rectangle. 

The device measures 5.6 x 1.5 x 8.9cm so it’s about average sized for a DAP: bigger than your cheap MP3 player but not as big as some of the chunky top-end models on the market. However with a weight of 150g it’s really showing its heft; this isn’t gadget you can idly chuck in your pocket or leave on your chest as you doze.

An interesting little design feature is the presence of a gap at the bottom-right of the face of the device, which seemingly looks like it’s for a lanyard or wrist grasp to attach to. One is not included in the box. 

It’s fair to say that the H2 has more buttons in more places than a Bop-It game. The top edge has the power button, the right edge has the volume rocker and an exposed microSD card slot, and the bottom edge has one USB-C and two 3.5mm audio ports.

On the front you’ve got a forward and backward button on the right edge, with a back button below them. To the left you’re looking at an iPad Classic-style scroll wheel with a pause/play button in the middle, and under that is the M button. If you press M during music playback, it brings up a list of options including the equalizer and the option to add the song to your favorites.

The screen measures 2 inches diagonally, with a resolution of 320 x 240. That’s almost fit for purpose – almost but not quite, and so album artwork is generally cropped off for its lower fifth when you’re listening to music. Unlike most rivals it’s not a touchscreen.

Instead, you’re using that scroll wheel to navigate menus. Thankfully it’s nice and responsive, with a little physical ‘click’ at every interval to indicate that you’ve scrolled onto the next option. This may be blasphemous to some, but I think I prefer it to the one on ye olde iPod!

No official IP rating has been provided for the HiFi Walker H2, so don’t take it in the bath with you.

  • Design score: 3/5

HiFi Walker H2 review: Usability and setup

The HiFi Walker H2 memory card

(Image credit: Future)
  • Easy to add files via USB-C
  • Memory card is technically external
  • Confusing interface layout

Adding music the the H2 couldn’t be simpler: you plug it into your computer, drag audio files onto its window and disconnect the device. It couldn’t be simpler!

By default, the HiFi Walker H2 has 64GB memory for storage. I say “by default” instead of “on-board” as there is no on-board storage, and this 64GB is thanks to a microSD card lodged in the side of the device. Remove it and you can’t listen to music; you can swap it for a higher-storage option up to 256GB for more space though.

This could be really useful for people who really want to easily swap between, for example, their jazz cards, or their opera cards, or their pop-rock cards. However for the average user, this is just a potential tiny piece of tech to use — particularly because the card is literally poking out of the H2’s body, and you can eject it by pressing it.

If you find the thought of juggling microSD cards daunting, then maybe click off this review now, because the process of actually navigating the HiFi Walker’s menus is an absolute nightmare.

The user interface layout of this MP3 player is illogical and confusing. It’s easy to sum this up by pointing out one thing: there are four options on the main menu: ‘category’, ‘explorer’, ‘settings’ and ‘system settings’. To make that clear; the first duo are two different ways to scroll through your music library, the second duo are two different lists of settings.

So which of those options do you press in order to explore your library of songs? If you picked ‘explore’ you’re wrong, it’s category. What about to change the system-wide wallpaper? If you picked ‘system settings’, you’re once again wrong, it’s just ‘settings’.

The myriad buttons you have at your disposal are confusing too, not least because they seem to do different things. Sometimes when you’re in a menu, hovering over a song, the M button will add a song to your favorites. Other times it’ll prompt you to start a new playlist, and in some other circumstances it’ll just act like the ‘select’ button. Same as with the back button and foward/backward buttons too.

Honestly, navigation in general is a pain, and it took me a while to figure out how to get around the user interface — after two weeks of testing, I sometimes still get lost. If you own this product, here’s my helpful tip: pressing the power button once just turns off the screen, and you need to press and hold to turn the whole system off.

As a reviewer, I probably shouldn’t also gripe about spelling and grammar mistakes in the user interface… but as a writer, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring that up too!

  • Usability & setup score: 3/5

HiFi Walker H2 review: Sound quality

The HiFi Walker H2 on a metal table.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Neutral sound
  • Plenty of file formats supported

I’m going to give it to the HiFi Walker: this review has been fairly middling, but it’s ticking all the boxes when it comes to sound quality.

The player’s default sound quality is slap-bang neutral: don’t expect any booming basses or shrill trebles here. It’s inoffensive but lovely and balanced.

I say ‘lovely’ because the equaliser is right there: you’ve got a nice blank slate so you can tweak the sound to your heart’s content.

The H2 plays loads of different file formats; whether your library is saved in MP3, WMA, WAV, OGG, AIF, AAC or even DSD, you can play them on this device.

  • Sound quality score: 4/5

HiFi Walker H2 review: Value

The HiFi Walker H2 in a man's hand.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Much cheaper than high-end audio players
  • Pricier than budget MP3 players

If all you care about is listening to a range of audio file types on a range of devices, then the HiFi Walker H2 absolutely offers value for money; its price is a fraction of what you’d pay for many rival devices offering similar feature sets.

However if you just want a simple digital audio player so you can listen to tunes when out and about, the H2’s price just won’t be worth it when you consider all the rough edges in the user interface and design.

  • Value score: 3/5

Should I buy the HiFi Walker H2?

The HiFi Walker H2 on a wooden bench.

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

HiFi Walker H2 review: Also consider

How I tested the HiFi Walker H2

The HiFi Walker H2 power button

(Image credit: Future)
  • Two-week testing period
  • Pop, rock, classical and spoken word music tested
  • Used at home, in the office and on walks

I tested the HiFi Walker H2 using a range of headphones including Bluetooth-connected over-ears, wired in-ears and my running headphones. The testing was done simultaneously to several other MP3 players to give some context to it.

The music I listened to was largely classical but I also tested using rock, pop and hip-hop to get a wide mix of genres. This was mainly done in the H2's default sound state but I fiddled with the equalizer a little too.

I have over five years of experience under the belt testing gadgets for TechRadar which includes, in the audio space, speakers, over-ear headphones, earbuds and radios.

Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 review: the best earbuds prompts in the business with excellent ANC too
11:00 am |

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Earbuds & Airpods Gadgets Headphones | Tags: , | Comments: Off

Cambridge Audio Melomania M100: Two-minute review

The Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 are what the fans were waiting for. Prior to their release, Cambridge Audio's excellent earbuds couldn't join the ranks of the best noise-cancelling earbuds for one simple reason: the UK audio specialist's true wireless buds sounded fantastic, but they didn't have the necessary antiphase noise-nixing tech onboard to offer active noise cancellation. And that is because Cambridge Audio prefers to focus on excellent audio quality (and long may that last by the way). 

But times have changed. While Melomania will never cease to mean 'crazy about music', the British company has conceded that the people are also crazy about active noise cancellation. And if Cambridge is going to offer ANC, it's going to do it right. Although you can't tweak its splendid noise cancelling profile any further than 'On', 'Off' or 'Transparency', when it's on, the ANC here is as effective at cancelling low-level noise as you could wish for, cocooning me in a bubble of near-silence and keeping the footsteps around my desk (plus my own tap-tap-tapping of the laptop keys upon which I bring you this review) barred from that bubble. 

The transparency profile is less useful, with a bit too much audible feedback and a near-constant quiet hiss, even in quiet environments, to be a wholly pleasant experience. But a less-than-perfect transparency mode is a minor shortfall I'm prepared to accept when the noise nixing is this good. 

Multi-point connectivity is baked in here, as is aptX Lossless and aptX Adaptive for higher-resolution audio (if you've got a decent, paid-for music streaming subscription and files up to 24bit/96kHz to serve them), and the battery life, at up to 10 hours from the buds and a total of 23 with ANC on, or 16 hours from the buds and 36 with ANC off, is exceptional. The build quality is also bang-on, with a far more ergonomic driver housing than the bullet-shaped Melomania 1 Plus

There's no device-agnostic spatial audio special side-sauce or fit tests and I'm not surprised. I can hear Cambridge Audio's engineers reaffirm the choice to offer "as few opportunities as possible to muck around with your music – we like a clean sound", as they did at the launch of the excellent CXN100 Network Player in January 2024. And you know what? I really don't mind, because the sound in these earbuds is expansive, detailed, nuanced, clean, neutral and immersive enough all by itself. That said, Cambridge will let you select one of six EQ presets, or create a custom one of your own – with a seven-point EQ parametric tab. 

Call handling is also very good, thanks to the Qualcomm's three mic cVc (or Clear Voice Capture) solution, designed to separate your voice from environmental noise, which works very well indeed. 

I should mention that the case is a little big – again, I'm OK with this more substantial box given the excellent stamina, sound quality and ANC. Also, they're perhaps $50 or £40 pricier than the direct competition. Are they worth it? It all comes down to whether you prioritise sound quality above all else in a true wireless design. For me, the Melomania M100 represent sound-per-pound value – but if you want fit tests, tailored otoacoustic hearing profiles and other whistles and bells, you won't want these. 

Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 review: Price and release date

Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 one earbud, held in a hand

The ergonomic earpieces are a hit (Image credit: Future)
  • Released on March 27, 2024
  • Priced at $219 / £169 / AU$299

The Cambridge Audio M100 aren't as cheap as the Melomania 1 Plus earbuds they succeed, which had a launch price of $139.95 / £119.95 / about AU$185 – although their price has dropped significantly since that.

At £169 (about $219 / AU$326) they're still considerably more affordable than AirPods Pro 2, which typical sell for $249 / £249 / AU$399. While you could argue that Apple sets a pretty high bar and most brands undercut that pricing, that's not necessarily true in 2024. Consider Bose's $299 / £299 / AU$449 Bose QuietComfort Ultra, Sennheiser's March 2024 $299 / £259 / AU$479 Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 or Technics' EAH-AZ80, also at $299 / £259 / AU$499. See? For the level, Cambridge Audio has actually priced these earbuds competitively.

What you need to know is that while there's plenty of flagship talent here, they actually come in slightly under flagship money. The Melomania M100 are not as affordable as the excellent Nothing Ear (a), for example, but the Nothing buds are an entry-level proposition – a great proposition, but missing just one or two of the flagship features you'll find in their top-tier Nothing Ear counterparts. 

Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 review: Specs

Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 review: Features

Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 case, held in a hand

The case is a little large, but it's perfectly pocketable and honestly, I don't mind its dimensions one bit (Image credit: Future)
  • Great active noise cancellation and app support
  • Excellent battery life
  • Use the 'Southwark' Audible Feedback profile

The fact that Cambridge Audio has included active noise-cancellation (ANC) plus a Transparency mode is big news, because it's a first for the UK audio outfit's Melomania lineup – but the even bigger news is, the noise nixing works really well. At my desk, I'm living in a bubble of near-silence akin to that afforded by the AirPods Pro 2, and that's not a statement I make lightly. 

You're also getting Bluetooth 5.3 with LE Audio, aptX Lossless for CD-like audio quality, Auracast (for when broadcast audio-sharing comes to our airports and waiting rooms), plus the more efficient LC3 codec. 

Call handling is a breeze using the Melomania M100's three mics per earpiece (kitted out with cVc echo-cancelling and noise suppression tech from Qualcomm) and the battery life here is very impressive, with a possible 52 hours from the buds and charging case combined – because you get 16 hours from the buds alone if you keep ANC turned off. For clarity, the AirPods Pro 2 last 'just' nine hours with ANC off (I know this because I tested it myself). 

Melomania Connect is the M100's capable (and newly updated) companion app, which opens the door to additional features such as the ability to customise the on-ear controls to your liking, six EQ presets plus a seven-band graphic equaliser so you can create your own, wearer detect to pause audio when you remove one, mono audio (if you've given one bud to a friend), a sleep mode (which disables all touch controls and voice prompts until you put them back in their case) a gaming mode to reduce latency when watching videos and my favorite, the chance to select what Cambridge calls 'Audible feedback'. This, it turns out, means the person talking to you in your headphones about pairing status, noise cancellation and so on. Scroll down to 'Southwark' in this tab and you hear none other than the actual Matt Berry (What We do in the Shadows; Toast of London; The IT Crowd). And that, truly, is an ace up Cambridge Audio's sleeve. If you don't believe me, just spend a few moments setting up multipoint.

There’s no special spatial audio processing (which doesn't surprise me given Cambridge Audio's thoughts on keeping music authentic and as the artist intended), but some users may miss the fit tests and even tailored profiles based on your hearing offered by the Denon PerL Pro and Nothing's new Ear (a), to name just two products that offer it – because you won't find these in the M100. 

  • Features score: 4/5

Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 review: Sound quality

Cambridge Audio M100 in their case, held in a hand

It's all about black with more black here, unless you get a limited edition set…  (Image credit: Future)
  • Expansive, detailed presentation
  • Sublime clarity across the frequencies 
  • Just a shade off excellent for dynamic nuance

You can of course listen to lossy Spotify tracks using the Melomania M100, but Cambridge Audio's focus has long been sound quality and as such, you might want to treat these buds to some higher-resolution Apple Music, Qobuz or Tidal streams. Also when you do, there's so much to love. 

When streaming The Bangles' Eternal Flame, Susanna Hoffs' stunningly understated vocal is given a few inches more space to shine than I'm used to at this level, and backing vocals arrive in each ear with surprising texture and clarity through the lower mids. Travis Scott's FE!N is immersive as synths dart between each ear, proving that the M100 aren't afraid to drop low and get grimy either. 

Belle and Sebastian's She's Losing It is another sonic delight for neutrality and detail in each musical passage; you'll feel as if you learned a bit about this Glaswegian indie band's use of strings and additional voices after a session with the Melomania M100. 

Sam Smith's Unholy reveals a minor shortfall in terms of dynamic nuance though. The M100s still serve up a detailed and cohesive mix, but I'm missing an extra ounce of the spirited rise and fall that typifies the track. This is a song that grabs you from the get-go, with a full choral recital of the main theme followed by a moment of silence before the bass-riff drops. It's just not quite as ear-grabbing, zealous or petulant as I've heard prior to now. 

Again, it's a long way from an actual issue – and many listeners will prefer the expansive, integrated, detailed, thoughtful presentation of the Cambridge Audio Melomania M100. I adore listening to Melissa Etheridge's I Want to Come Over with these earbuds, since I can hear her particular method of approaching guitar strings in ballads and the beautiful, imperfect textures in her vocal at times, but if you tend to listen to  hip-hop and grime tracks on the commute, you may just yearn for a little extra oomph. 

  • Sound quality score: 4.5/5

Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 review: Design

Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 held in a hand

(Image credit: Future)
  • Ergonomic, secure and comfortable earpieces
  • On-ear controls work well
  • Case is a little big

These are easily the most comfortable Melomania earbuds ever made. The buds slip easily into my shell-likes with none of the tiresome twist-and-lock screwing them in some earbuds require. At 6.65g per bud, they're not particularly light given the competition (Sony's LinkBuds S weigh just 4.8g, for example), but they're beautifully well-weighted and the design feels like it wants to hug your ear and stay put, which is always helpful.

OK, the case is on the large side, plastic, and other options look a little more premium for the price, but it is perfectly durable and pocketable. Unless you're lucky enough to bag a limited edition How High pair (which comes in a bright yellow and black color scheme – a nod to the music video for The Charlatans' hit How High, in which singer Tim Burgess wore a bright yellow jacket) the M100 is available in black with more black only, so if you wanted something in white or silver, you won't find it here. 

That's not to say I don't like the design; I do. The central touch-capacitive 'button' (you don't actually have to depress it) on the top plate of each driver housing is easy to find has a nice tactile edge to it and is a chic nod to Cambridge Audio's circle-within-a-circle logo. The controls also work very well indeed and each function can be toggled on or off if you won't use it. I like that I can have Matt Berry announcing the ANC profiles when I tap the left earbud, while play-and-pause is a single tap of the right, and the on-ear volume control is handled by a long press of either bud (left to decrease; right to increase) which is always the best solution I find – because perfecting three or four taps so that your earbuds actually understand and respond accordingly is a big ask. 

  • Design score: 4.5/5

Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 review: Voice prompts

Cambridge Audio Melomania M100

'Southwark' is the only English audible feedback you want (apologies to the other, perfectly lovely English voice prompt artist, but Matt Berry is unsuprassed)  (Image credit: Future)
  • Select 'Southwark' and you get Matt Berry 
  • No really, it's actually Matt Berry 

In case it hasn't been mentioned enough (and I feel it can never be overstated, so sub editor, please leave this in), by heading to the 'Audible feedback' tab in the app, scrolling all the way to the bottom and selecting the unassuming 'Southwark' option, the dulcet tones of Matt Berry will greet your ear. He'll serve up delectable vocal morsels such as "Device one, connected" or "Waiting to pair" depending on how you're using them, in addition to the standard "Noise cancelling", "Normal" or "Transparency" and if you're a fan of Matt Berry's sizeable oeuvre, it's priceless. It's almost like having Steven Toast at your beck and call. ("Hello Steven, can you hear me? It's Clem Fandango…")

  • Voice prompts score: 6/5

Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 review: Value

  • As feature-packed as any earbuds has any business being for the money
  • A no-brainer for Tidal members
  • Unbeatable for comfort and sound-quality at the level

For features, noise cancellation and sound quality, these are a compelling set of earbuds – but them and you will not be disappointed with the levels of detail in your music and the near-silence they'll add as a backdrop if you want it.

The AirPods Pro 2 will give you a little more dynamic zeal, and Denon's PerL Pro will offer hearing tests and tailored sonic profiles. That said, both rivals will charge you a little more for it. 

Cambridge Audio's focus here has been on detail, clarity and effective ANC. If those requirements are top of your list, these may well be the buds for you. 

  • Value score: 4/5

Should I buy the Cambridge Audio Melomania M100?

Buy them if...

Don't buy them if...

Cambridge Audio M100 review: Also consider

How I tested the Cambridge Audio Melomania M100

  • Tested for two weeks, listened against the Technics EAH-AZ80, AirPods Pro 2 and Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds
  • Used at work (in the office; walking through London; on a train) and at home
  • Listened to Tidal, Apple Music Lossless, Qobuz tracks and Spotify on an iPhone 12 Pro, a Samsung Galaxy S22 and a MacBook Pro

It will come as no surprise to learn that the Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 became my musical companions for two weeks – after a thorough 48-hour run-in period. How else am I to test them? 

They accompanied me to work on weekdays walking (and on more than one occasion, running) to the station; boarding a train and on the London Underground; at the office. They also stayed in my ears during long walks on the UK's Jurassic Coast, in Dorset – a great way to test any wind-interference from mics during calls.

To better test the battery life and comfort levels of the Cambridge Audio Melomania M100, I wore them throughout the working day and into a yoga class in the evening – and they outlasted my working day by some distance. 

To test the audio quality across the frequencies, I listened to our reference playlist but also my own music (spanning everything from country to classical) on Apple Music, Qobuz and Tidal, but also to podcasts and albums on Spotify – and YouTube tutorials (mostly about silversmithing, if you're curious) 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, fit and the user experience have always taken priority for me personally – but having heard how wonderful ANC can be when done well, I know what to look for. 

Read more on how we test earbuds at TechRadar

  • First reviewed: May 2024
Anker Soundcore Boom 2 review: a Bluetooth speaker that’s heavy on bass, light on weight – and solid bang for your buck
7:32 pm | May 16, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers | Comments: Off

Anker Soundcore Boom 2: Two-minute review

Anker Soundcore Boom 2 offers enough quality to get the party started, especially given its relatively low price. The chunky Bluetooth speaker’s main draw is its ability to plate up impactful deep bass tones, with its BassUp feature able to pump this up further. 

In addition, the Soundcore Boom 2 keeps pace with a number of pricier options among the best Bluetooth speakers when it comes to battery life, offering a playtime of up to 24 hours.

As a lower-cost option, however, the Boom 2 sometimes compromises on quality, with the mid-range and high frequencies lacking crisp definition, especially at louder volumes. It’s not exactly the best-looking Bluetooth speaker either, though its built-in Light Show feature with customizable settings may add a splash of excitement for some. 

One slightly disappointing aspect is the Soundcore Boom 2’s lack of a dustproof rating, despite Soundcore pitching it as a beachside companion. It is, however, waterproof and floatable, making it a worthy candidate for a pool party, and an option for those looking at the best waterproof speakers. Being boyant also means it's quite light in weight for a chunky speaker, which means it's portable – a big plus.

With Bluetooth 5.3 connectivity and simple button controls, the Boom 2 is super-easy to set up and operate. If you want to get more out of it, the free-to-download Soundcore app enables users to flick through Light Show options and calibrate EQ settings to their liking (which can help improve the sonic balance a lot). 

Despite some shortcomings when it comes to how it sounds, the Boom 2 has a decent amount of power. If you’re not overly concerned with top-quality audio and want a powerful Bluetooth speaker that can cut through loud background noise while being more portable than most of its direct competitors, the Boom 2 makes for a solid pick. For those who like a more rounded sound, the JBL Charge 5 is about the same price, and will give you that – but it lacks the same level of bass thump and the useful carry handle.

Soundcore Boom 2 standing on granite surface

(Image credit: Future)

Anker Soundcore Boom 2 review: Price and release date

  • Released on March 6, 2024
  • Price: $129.99 / £119.99 / AU$219.99

The Soundcore Boom 2 is well-priced for a larger portable wireless speaker, carrying an asking price of $129.99 / £119.99 / AU$219.99. That’s just $30 more than its predecessor, the Soundcore Motion Boom, despite the newer model offering double the output power (without BassUp enabled), new drivers, and more versatile multi-speaker pairing (via PartyCast 2.0).

By comparison, our highly recommended JBL Charge 5 can sometimes be found at around $10 more, so there are similarly affordable alternatives out there. For $70 / £42 (about AU$80) more, you could pick up the Tribit Stormbox Blast speaker, which is a bit bulkier, but offers awesome sound quality and still with buckets of bass.

Anker Soundcore Boom 2 review: Specs

'Soundcore' is written on the handle of the Soundcore Boom 2

(Image credit: Future)

Anker Soundcore Boom 2 review: Features

  • BassUp bass-boosting feature
  • 24 hours of playtime
  • Adjustable Light Show settings

The Soundcore Boom 2 houses a 50W subwoofer alongside two 15W tweeters, meaning that its output can hit 80W. However, this 80W output is only achievable when the Boom 2’s BassUp feature is activated, which serves up a “punchy bass” according to Soundcore. I’d agree here, to a degree; the Soundcore Boom 2 is clearly designed around delivering a solid deep bass listening experience – more on this later.

Utilizing the BassUp function doesn’t come without a downside, however, as it causes the Soundcore Boom 2’s playtime to deplete faster. For reference, the model has a playtime of up to 24 hours per charge, which is a good amount of time for a speaker of its size. I found that it took over five hours of playing music at 30% volume for it to drop 20% of its battery (as rated by the app, using its crude system of five battery bars – I would much prefer an actual percentage). It certainly appears to live up to its battery claims.

As is the case with BassUp, users should be warned that the Soundcore Boom 2’s Light Show option also drains battery faster – a feature which may not be to everyone’s tastes, although there is an option to switch it off entirely.

Light Show has seven settings: Energy, Fireworks, Flame, Flash, Lightning, Rainbow, and Wave. Each setting syncs with bass audio, which is more apparent with options such as Flame than with others, like Fireworks. The Soundcore app enables you to alter the colors used in each Light Show configuration, adjust brightness levels, or turn the LED lights off entirely. You can also switch between Light Show settings by holding the speaker’s BassUp button, which is a slightly hidden design choice, but works well regardless. 

Anker's Soundcore Boom 2 supports Bluetooth 5.3, which ensured that it was quick and easy to connect with both my Android phone and one of the best portable music players. Like many other similar Bluetooth speakers, the Soundcore Boom 2 also offers charging of a phone or other device through a USB-A port hidden beneath a rubber tab on its reverse side. Next to this is a USB-C port, which can be used to charge the speaker – note that you can’t charge another device from the USB-C port, which is a shame. The model comes with a USB-C to USB-C cable, which can fully recharge the Boom 2 in approximately 5.5 hours.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to connect more than 100 Soundcore speakers at the same time, you’re in luck. The Soundcore Boom 2 has a PartyCast 2.0 feature, enabling it to sync its audio and light output with various other Soundcore speakers.

  • Features score: 4/5

Rainbow-colored light panel on side of Soundcore Boom 2

(Image credit: Future)

Anker Soundcore Boom 2 review: Sound quality

  • Impressive, booming bass
  • Various vocal and instrumental elements can lack definition
  • ‘Balanced’ EQ setting provides decent all-round experience 

The heavy kick of the Soundcore Boom 2’s deep bass means that it can hold its own at events with lots of background noise, such as outdoor parties or gatherings. When listening to Young Blood by The Naked and Famous, the Boom 2 delivered deep bass tones with substantial power, even without BassUp enabled.

Though it's still good value, the Boom 2’s low-end output isn’t perfect. When I listened to Black Eye by Allie X, the energetic bass bounce you’d anticipate from the opening is slightly lacking, especially when I compared it to the JBL Xtreme 4. The Boom 2 reaches deep, but it doesn’t connect the bass to the mid-range so well out of the box, leaving it feeling thin as it moves through the range of low-end frequencies.

Unfortunately, the Boom 2’s prominent bass can sometimes be overbearing, and at times the speaker’s deep bass output slightly drowned out vocal elements, for instance. This was apparent when listening to Moloko’s I Want You, when I was once again impressed by the bass output, but felt that it overshadowed the impact of several other instruments too heavily, preventing the complexity of the track from being fully realized. Unsurprisingly, this is exaggerated further with volume cranked up high, and even more with BassUp turned on, so I’d only recommend using this feature if you're really going for that pounding beat for a party, and aren't really worried about fidelity.

The Soundcore Boom 2’s clarity isn’t going to wow, with higher-pitched vocals and lower-toned guitars often lacking a touch of sharpness and definition. With a bit more sweetness to its sound, it could've been a really great speaker.

In fairness, some of these issues can be remedied somewhat via the Soundcore App, which enables users to switch from the default ‘Soundcore Signature’ EQ settings (where the midrange is given precious little limelight) to a ‘Balanced’ option, which delivers a decent all-round listening experience. The Soundcore app also has ‘Voice’ and ‘Treble Boost’ presets, as well as an option to adjust EQ levels manually. 

But while this all improves their balance in the mix, it doesn’t solve the deeper lack of detail. Voices and strings are simply less sweet, less real, than pricier large speakers.

  • Sound quality score: 3.5/5

Button controls of the Soundcore Boom 2

(Image credit: Future)

Anker Soundcore Boom 2 review: Design

  • Plastic exterior looks on the cheaper side
  • Nice and lightweight
  • Lacks a dustproof rating, although it’s waterproof and floatable

When it comes to style points, the Soundcore Boom 2 doesn’t score too highly, with its plastic casing looking a little on the basic side. The speaker is available in Adventure Green (the version I tested, and it's a nice color), Explorer Blue, and Phantom Black, all of which look clean enough, though may not appeal to those seeking a touch of pizzazz. The Boom 2’s drivers are protected by a rather budget-looking plastic covering decorated with the Soundcore logo. 

For the price, however, the Soundcore Boom 2 still looks the part for any outdoor event or party, sporting a solid attached handle and minimalistic yet simple button controls, which enabled a quick and easy setup. It also has four rubber feet at the base to provide grip, protect the speaker’s base from scratching against rough surfaces, and stop the bass vibration from moving it around.

Something I really liked about the Boom 2 is that it’s relatively light for its size, weighing in at 3.66lbs / 1.67kg. That’s far less hefty than comparable models such as the Tribit Stormbox Blast, which comes in at a weighty 11.6lbs / 5.3kg.

There’s something about the Soundcore Boom 2 that I found almost perplexing, however. The speaker’s packaging specifically bigs up its use at a beach setting, with much of the model’s online marketing similarly highlighting this. However, the speaker is only IPX7 certified, meaning it does not have a dustproof rating, unlike an IP67-rated model such as the JBL Charge 5.

This means the Soundcore Boom 2 may not be a prime pick for the beach after all, although the IPX7 rating does promise that the speaker can withstand being under 1m of water for 30 minutes without suffering any damage. The Boom 2 is also floatable, making it easily accessible in a pool (or maybe even a large bath). 

Naturally, I gave it a dunking – it floated well (on its side), and after being submerged underwater for around a minute it was still able to play audio to the same standard as before.

USB-A and USB-C ports on reverse side of the Soundcore Boom 2

(Image credit: Future)
  • Design score: 3.5/5

Anker Soundcore Boom 2 review: Value

  • Low-priced for a larger Bluetooth speaker
  • Despite imperfect sound, it will do the job for parties
  • Large competitors often have higher list prices

The Soundcore Boom 2 may not be revolutionary, it may not deliver earth-shatteringly good audio, and it may not even woo the masses with elite design, but one thing’s for sure – it performs well in the value category. 

It’s not the cheapest Bluetooth speaker available, but given its larger size and solid bass output, it’s easily worth its $129.99 / £119.99 / AU$219.99 price tag. The Boom 2 provides everything essential for the average listener, especially when accounting for the adjustments available via the Soundcore app. 

Indeed, many speakers of a similar size go for much closer to the $200 / £150 / AU$300 mark. For instance, the JBL Charge 5 has an official price of $179.95 / £169.99 / AU$199.95 and the Sonos Roam comes in at $179 / £179 / AU$299. If you want a speaker with powerful, pumping outdoor sound at a lower cost, the Boom 2 is worth considering.

  • Value score: 4/5

Should you buy the Anker Soundcore Boom 2?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Anker Soundcore Boom 2 review: Also consider

Anker Soundcore Boom 2 review: How I tested

  • I used the speaker over the course of a week
  • Mostly used in our music testing room in the TechRadar office
  • I listened to a wide variety of music genres during each listening session

I spent hours testing the Soundcore Boom 2 with music, checking how easy the speaker was to set up and operate, tinkering with its various Light Show settings, and of course tuning into the quality of its audio output. 

While using the speaker, I listened to a range of tracks, including songs from TechRadar’s testing playlist. I had other speakers available to compare against, including the similarly sized JBL Xtreme 4. I connected both a Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 using Spotify and a Fiio M11S hi-res music player using Tidal, to put the Boom 2’s audio abilities to work.

Read more about how we test

  • First reviewed: May 2024
OnePlus Buds 3 review: more than just a gift to receive with a OnePlus phone
12:00 pm | May 15, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Earbuds & Airpods Gadgets Headphones | Comments: Off

OnePlus Buds 3: Two-minute review

Like many smartphone companies, OnePlus makes true wireless earbuds to go alongside its smartphones, that it will ship as a pre-order bonus or as a handy extra purchase for die-hard fans of the brand. The OnePlus Buds 3 arrive as another pair of fairly affordable buds in this spirit, but they’re among the better such options.

So are they some of the best budget earbuds around? They're not far off. You’re probably considering the OnePlus Buds 3 if you own one of the best OnePlus phones already, but you’ll be able to enjoy them if you own any other brand of mobile smartphone too; unlike Apple, OnePlus doesn’t lock its tech to pre-existing customers.

At a glance, the OnePlus Buds 3 bear more than a passing resemblance to their predecessors, the OnePlus Buds 2 Pro. And while it’s true, these aren’t exactly wild revisions on the 2023 models, they’re more affordable and have some improvements across the board. 

In some areas, OnePlus may have gone too far, and the sound quality is something of a sore spot. In our Buds 2 Pro review we said bass was “not especially heavy” and the Buds 3 have overcorrected, taking inspiration from the RWE Bagger 288 (which Google tells me is the heaviest vehicle in the world) because it’s heavy.

The bass on the Buds 3 is just too much, no matter how much playing around you do in the equalizer, blowing the treble into the distant corners of the sound mix. You shouldn’t buy these if you like a balanced or neutral sound.

Did I say equalizer? Yes I did, because that’s one of the many cool features packed into the smartphone tie-in app. Other features include spatial audio, ear canal scanning to get a tailor-made sound, the ability to change to different active noise cancellation (ANC) modes and more. For not-really-that-expensive earbuds, the feature range on display is really something.

You’ll have to enjoy these features in small bursts, though, because the OnePlus Buds 3 will only last for 6.5 hours of listening in one go when ANC is turned on. Turning it off boosts that to 10 hours, but that’s still nothing to write home about – thankfully the case is generous with extra charges.

That ANC is pretty good, too, and it’s got to be one of the best I’ve tested in the sub-$100 / £100 / AU$200 price range. There are a range of strength levels and a transparency mode, to let you fully customize how much sound comes through, but at any level the buds are a dab hand at getting rid of annoying unwanted noises.

While they’re not quite fantastic enough to make it into our ranking of the best wireless earbuds, the OnePlus Buds 3 do have a lot going for them. If you receive them as a gift alongside a OnePlus phone, you should count yourself lucky, and they’re well worth considering even if you have to buy them on their own. 

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Price and release date

The OnePlus Buds 3 earbuds in a hand.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Unveiled in January 2024
  • Costs you $99 / £89 / AU$179

The OnePlus Buds 3 were officially unveiled at the end of January 2024, in lieu of the new smartphone the company sometimes unveils at the beginning of the year.

You’ll pay $99 / £89  AU$179 to pick up the buds – in theory, though these are the kind of earbuds that you’re more likely to acquire through pre-order bonuses or as a free gift with a OnePlus phone, rather than as a chosen purchase.

That price shows these as being more affordable (read: lower-end) than 2023’s OnePlus Buds 2 Pro, despite being similar in terms of design and the feature set. Unless you find those dramatically marked down, the OnePlus Buds 3 will be a much more tempting purchase.

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Specs

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Features

A OnePlus Buds 3 bud in the case

(Image credit: Future)
  • 10-hour buds battery, 44-hour with case
  • Absolutely loads of features thanks to app
  • Buds are slow to pair 

The OnePlus Buds 3 earbuds have a middling battery life: 10 hours with ANC turned off, which drops to 6.5 hours when it’s on. That’s not amazing, though some rivals last an even shorter amount of time. The charging case rockets that figure up to 44 hours (with ANC off, 28 with it on) which is a much bigger jump-up than cases often provide, so people on long journeys can rely on this case. 

When setting up the OnePlus Buds 3, I was perturbed to find no tie-in app available on the Google Play Store. Instead, I was prompted (both by the recommended suggestions, and OnePlus’ own website), to install a third-party app called HeyMelody which has a pretty low rating on the Play Store. It seems this is how people without a OnePlus phone control the buds – handsets from the company seemingly have a first-party control app.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the buds worked well without the app, and I only downloaded it to access extra features. You can enjoy music and noise cancellation without HeyMelody, you just can’t control your sound, or access certain extras you’re paying for.

The app lets you play with an equalizer (more on that later) and adjust noise cancellation, with an impressive range of options in terms of strength and efficacy (a Transparency mode cancels some sounds but maintains important ones). It’s actually mildly handy once you’ve set it up, though it’s definitely not required.

The OnePlus Buds 3 buds in the case

(Image credit: Future)

You can also use the app to set up the touch controls: the two buds can have individual commands mapped for one, two or three taps, as well as a long hold or a slide gesture. That’s a lot of potential, though I found that the almost-imperceptible button area meant I frequently missed the correct area when trying to use the touch controls.

The OnePlus Buds 3 are among the better earbuds at this price that I’ve tested when it comes to noise cancellation, using a deft hand to remove annoying background noises. I tested in Max mode, although there are degrees of intensity if you’d rather only strip out a middling amount of sound.

HeyMelody brings two extra features I’d like to flag: first off is Golden Sound, which lets the buds scan your ear canal in order to calibrate your music. The instructions on the test are poorly worded and it took me a few tries to figure out what it was actually asking, but it’s a cool additional feature, even if the results are barely audible.

Then there’s OnePlus 3D Audio, which had a much more palpable effect. This is basically spatial audio, and it really creates a sense of dynamic (though artificial) soundstage, really improving music. It’s only available on certain apps so I’m not going to take it into account for the music quality section later, but luckily the super-niche music app Spotify (you may have heard of it) is one of the compatible apps.

One thing I should note is that the OnePlus Buds 3 had a pretty slow average phone pairing time compared to most rivals I’ve tested. When I put the buds on, they’d take up to ten seconds to connect with my phone, and almost always over five, which is slower than basically every other alternative I’ve tried.

This was also the case when I first set up the earbuds, and my phone took a good while to detect them.

  • Features score: 4/5

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Design

The OnePlus Buds 3 bud in an ear.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Lightweight and barebones case
  • Small buds with touch controls
  • IP55 certification

I’ve got to say, I’m a big fan of the look of the OnePlus Buds 3.

The carry case is a tiny lightweight pebble, measuring just 5.9 x 5 x 2.6 cm and weighing 40.8g – that’s the kind of case you can easily lose in your bag or pocket, it’s more svelte than the majority of its competitors. It has naught but the essentials – space for the earbuds, and a USB-C charging port.

I did find that the smooth material of the buds made them a tad hard to remove from the case though – every removal required roughly three slips before a successful attempt.

The case is made from plastic, hence its lightness, though it does feel like it’d snap if you clenched it in your fist too hard. Our smartest gadget-reviewing minds have a suggestion: don’t do that.

Like their carry case, the buds themselves are incredibly lightweight, with their 4.8g barely registering on scales (or your ear). As wireless earbuds go, they’re pretty barebones: no OnePlus branding, no obvious sensor or buttons, just a tip and a stem.

There is, in fact, a sensor on each earbud, but it’s denoted just by a slightly matted area on the stem, so you’d be forgiven for missing it. It’s so subtle that it avoids detection not just by your eyes, but by your fingertips too – but I've already discussed that above.

The buds have IP55 certification, which means they’ll survive splashes or bursts of water, but shouldn’t be submerged in liquid.

  • Design score: 4/5

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Sound quality

  • Bass-heavy sound
  • Treble is lacking
  • Equalizer lets you tweak sound to an extent

The OnePlus Buds 3 bud on a log.

(Image credit: Future)

You can’t exactly expect precision-tuned sound on earbuds that cost this little, and you won’t get that on the OnePlus Buds 3. That said, they’re nothing to turn your nose up at either for this money.

These earbuds will appeal to people who like their bass-heavy sound, because that’s exactly what they provide. Whatever kind of music I tested, from pop and house to acoustic singer-songwriter tracks, the lower range of instruments and notes was always a lot more prevalent.

Some people might like that, but it was a little overbearing in plenty of songs – you don’t listen to rock to only hear the guitar’s lower E string, after all. Treble is all but blown out, meaning vocal lines lose their clean sparkle and harmonies and countermelodies were often harder to hear than I’d like.

The OnePlus Buds 3 earbud in a hand.

(Image credit: Future)

The mids within my reference music tracks often stood up to the brutal barrages from the bass, but treble was almost always less prominent than I’d like. Saying that, sometimes when it was palpable, peaking made me wish it was buried even further…

The in-app equalizer lets you tweak your sound to a certain extent, with a few presets, a customization option and also a bass boost option, but honestly I found all of my tweaking was for naught. The equalizer is very light touch, and you might not notice changes unless you’re really (really) listening for them.

  • Sound quality: 3/5

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Value

The OnePlus Buds 3 charging case on a log.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Great value if received as gift
  • Decent for the price, but a shade off fantastic

As mentioned before, it’s hard to envision someone buying the OnePlus Buds 3 full-price, given that they’re likely designed to be bundled with a new OnePlus phone.

If that’s how you’re acquiring these buds, they’re a great little gift; they’re solid all-around wearables that’ll save you from having to buy a separate pair to use with your brand new shiny smartphone.

If you’re paying full-price, the value proposition is different. The OnePlus Buds 3 are fine for their price (and you’re certainly getting some flagship fit and spatial audio features), but there are other sub-$100/£100/AU$100 rivals that’ll give you more sonic bang for your buck.

  • Value: 3.5/5

Should I buy the OnePlus Buds 3?

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

OnePlus Buds 3 review: Also consider

How I tested the OnePlus Buds 3

The rear of the OnePlus Buds 3 case

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested for 10 days
  • Tested at home, in the office and on walks

The OnePlus Buds 3 were tested over the course of the week, with the review writing period rounding the testing period out by a few extra days. The main device I paired with was a Xiaomi Mi Note 10 smartphone, but I also tested it alongside a Windows laptop and an iPad. I did not test it with a OnePlus phone.

I listened to a range of music genres in different places including my office, my home and on various walks around my neighborhood. I mostly tied with the strongest noise cancellation mode and the EQ set to the default setting.

I've been testing gadgets for TechRadar for over five years, and in that time I've reviewed many OnePlus phones and headphones like this.

  • First reviewed in May 2024
Sony ULT Field 7 review: a great wireless party speaker that can handle its big bass
8:59 pm | May 14, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers | Tags: | Comments: Off

Sony ULT Field 7: Two minute review

The Sony ULT Field 7 is the company’s latest addition to the world of weatherproof portable speakers – gone are the days when listening to music outside meant trailing an extension cord precariously through the house and watching the skies with trepidation. The ULT Field 7 is a seriously large, seriously powerful party speaker, ready for big spaces.

Priced at $499 / £399, the Sony ULT Field 7 is available for purchase in the US and the UK and will be available in Australia at some point, but Sony hasn’t shared the price or release date there just yet. However you look at it, this is a big outlay if you’re only looking for an occasional party speaker, but if you like to entertain a lot, or are generally just a fan of heavy bass and want one of the best Bluetooth speakers that can deliver this, the price may not be so off-putting to you.

In a bid to make the Sony ULT Field 7 the perfect party companion, it’s been designed to be waterproof and dustproof, with an IP67 rating backing this up, which is about as good as you get from the best waterproof speakers. This means that you’re all good to use this speaker whether you’re entertaining during a rainy BBQ, or having a beach party. While Sony has attempted to jazz things up with colorful lighting, it is a shared opinion in the TechRadar office that this speaker does, unfortunately, look a bit like a trash can when standing vertically. 

While you may be correct in thinking that a super-charged party speaker like the Sony ULT Field 7 isn’t going to provide the most delicate of listening experiences, it’s surprisingly well-rounded. Not only do bass-heavy tracks sound exciting and dynamic, but mids and trebles are handled well across all genres. Podcasts and talk shows are even pleasant to listen to, and speech is clear.

One aspect that let the ULT Field 7 down is the Sony Music Center app. Its design is reminiscent of a pre-2010 website, it’s laggy, and has some connection issues. At least with the ULT bass and lighting modes easily adjustable on the speaker, you should only need to use the app every now and then, unless you spend a lot of time fiddling with the finer details (which I did, but such is the life of a reviewer).

The size and weight of the ULT Field 7 is something worth considering carefully. The speaker is marketed as being easy to carry – which is somewhat true thanks to the solid integrated carry handles – but, at a size of about 20 x 9 x 9 inches / 512 x 224 x 222 mm, and weight of about 14lb / 6.3kg, you aren’t going to want to carry it long distances.

So, should you spend $499 / £399 on this speaker? If you don’t mind the aesthetics and the disappointing app, the quality of the sound is impressive, and could be exactly what your next party or gathering needs.

Sony ULT Field 7 speaker logo close-up

Covered in fabric, the Sony ULT Field 7 is a bit of a black hole. (Image credit: Future)

Sony ULT Field 7 review: Price and release date

  • Released April 2024
  • Priced at $499 / £399 (about AU$770)
  • 'Coming soon' to Australia

The Sony ULT Field 7 launched in April 2024 as part of the new ULT-series lineup. The lineup also included four other models, the ULT Wear headphones, the ULT Field 1, and the ULT Tower 10.

The ULT Field 7 costs $499 / £399. This translates to about AU$770, but it's listed as unavailable on Sony’s Australian website at the time of writing. It does state “available soon”, so hopefully the official pricing will be added shortly.

This is fairly high in the world of portable speakers, but is far from unusual – the JBL Xtreme 4 and UE Hyperboom come in at a similar kind of price, though both are a little cheaper.

Sony ULT Field 7 review: Specs

Sony ULT Field 7 speaker ports

The flap on the back opens to reveal buttons and connections galore. (Image credit: Future)

Sony ULT Field 7 review: Features

  • ULT presets for powerful and deep bass
  • Waterproof and dustproof
  • 30 hours stated battery life

The Sony ULT Field 7 has a load of features that help to make it a good choice for parties or outdoor gatherings. Firstly, and most importantly for this speaker to be worth its salt, is the powerful ULT sound. There are two preset bass EQ settings, ULT1 and ULT2. The ULT1 setting is intended for tracks with especially low-frequency sounds, delivering impressively deep levels of bass. ULT2 is for delivering louder and punchier bass, better suited to house parties where the lack of detail won’t matter, as you’ll be focussing more on dance-offs. 

The ULT Field 7 also has a Sound Field Optimization feature, which is designed to detect the sounds in the surrounding environment before automatically adjusting the audio settings to improve how it sounds in reaction to them. 

The ULT Field 7 promises to provide 30 hours of playtime, and can build up three hours worth of playtime after charging for 10 minutes. This stated 30 hours battery life is based on having ULT 1 or 2 on, and the lighting (which is just in the ends of the speaker) off. 

I found that the battery dropped 20% over about five and a half house with the lighting and Sound Field Optimization on. This suggests that this speaker could run for about 27 hours with these features enabled, which is good going considering Sony says that’s basically the worst-case scenario.

The design of the ULT Field 7 is a feature in itself. It has integrated carry handles that make it easy to maneuver, plus it has an IP67 waterproof and dustproof rating and is salt water resistant, so you can feel confident in the speaker's durability whether you’re having a party at home, in the garden, or on the beach. 

To further add to the party vibe, hidden behind the rear panel is an input for a microphone or guitar so you can use the ULT Field 7 as a karaoke machine, or a guitar amp, which is a nice bit of versatility. 

Speaking of amping up the sound, the Party Connect feature means that you can link this speaker to a wide range of other compatible speakers in the Sony range, so you can sync up the sound and lighting.

In other wireless tricks, it has LDAC higher-quality Bluetooth support, plus multi-point pairing so you switch between devices it's connected to easily.

Features score: 4.5/5

Sony ULT Field 7 speaker bass reflex port with lights showing

There's plenty of power from these bass reflex ports. (Image credit: Future)

Sony ULT Field 7 review: Sound quality

  • Impressively deep bass
  • Satisfying vocal clarity
  • Don’t expect a lot of detail

Despite this speaker focusing its efforts on heavy bass levels, it still delivers a balanced and pleasant listening experience across the board, as you’d expect from Sony. Yes, some delicate details are overshadowed by the amplified basslines, but anything aimed at parties was never going to be the audiophile's ideal choice.

By default, the speaker is set to the ULT2 mode. There is a noticeable difference when switching to ULT1 because, as promised, this setting does indeed deliver more depth. I am impressed with the way it handles low frequencies, giving much-needed definition to the low-end of tracks like Angel by Massive Attack, which is lost amid the amped-up bass of ULT2 mode. 

A good level of softness and detail are still detectable in vocals in ULT1 mode – and even in the punchier ULT2 mode, voices still sound clear. It doesn’t sound like you’re listening from outside the venue, which can be the case with cheaper and smaller speakers when you crank up the bass power. 

ULT2 mode succeeds in still delivering dynamic sound that makes you want to bounce along to the beat while being more refined. The bass isn’t overpowering when listening to Von Dutch by Charli XCX; the balance is there between the clear vocals and the energetic bassline.

The important thing with outdoor speakers is that they are able to carry big bass and clear vocals across the open air, battling breezes and other interferences, across a potentially long distance. The ULT Field 7 has no trouble with this – and unlike some, it actually sounds good while doing it. 

Listening to podcasts is a surprisingly detailed experience too. When listening to The Unbelievable Truth there was a good balance between the speech, buzzer sounds, and audience laughter and applause. 

This speaker delivers a satisfying well-rounded listening experience with a light touch when needed, which is particularly impressive considering it’s a beast of a speaker (in a good way) when it comes to its thumping bass registers.

Sound quality score: 4/5

Sony ULT Field 7 speaker standing upright on a stone floor

You can have the speaker flat or standing up. We'll talk about the latter option a bunch in the next section… (Image credit: Future)

Sony ULT Field 7 review: Design

  • Ashtray vibes
  • Collects dust and debris easily
  • Robust and durable

I’m sorry to say that I’m a little less positive when it comes to the looks of the Sony ULT Field 7. It has been designed to sit horizontally on a surface or to stand vertically on one end. I don’t have particularly strong feelings when it is sitting horizontally. The control panel is easy to access, and the ULT Field 7 looks like what it is: a big speaker. But when it’s standing on one end, I can’t lie, it’s giving me the feeling of a public ashtray outside a hotel or conference venue.

On a brighter note, the button controls feel substantial and are easy to press. Sony has a habit of using a satisfyingly soft silicone material, and this is what’s used here too. The control panel houses the power, Bluetooth, play/pause, volume, and ULT mode buttons printed in pale grey. When the illumination is on, the ULT button lights up in sync with the circular ring lights that sit on either end of the speaker. These lights are more subtle than seems ideal, because they’re set quite far into the sides of the speaker – I feel like if you’re going to do this in a big speaker, you should really go for it, otherwise why bother with the battery drain? – but they make a nice touch. There are nine different lighting effects available, as well as the option to turn the lights off.

There is a hatch on the back of the speaker that conceals a number of additional controls, including a light button, which cycles through the illumination effects, a battery care button to protect against over-charging, an echo button, and key control buttons. This is also where the inputs live for a microphone or guitar, USB-A, aux-in, and the plug for charging (a figure-eight cable – no USB-C here).

Sony markets the ULT Field 7 as easy to transport, designed with convenient carry handles built into either end. While these handles do make picking it up a lot easier, it doesn’t change the fact that this speaker is on the large side, measuring about 20 x 9 x 9 inches / 512 x 224 x 222 mm and weighing about 14 lbs / 6.3kg. I’m quite a petite person, and while I can carry the speaker between rooms, it would be a struggle for me to wander down to the beach with it.

While the speaker itself has a good dustproof rating, the outer fabric and silicone ends and feet pick up dust and debris easily. So it'll definitely work happily wherever you take it (within reason), but you will probably find that it starts to look less-than-pristine quite quickly, and fabrics like this aren’t super easy to clean.

Now, I know I bashed the appearance earlier, and I still stand by my opinion that it looks like somebody attempted to jazz up an office trash can with some RGB lights – but ultimately, this speaker is designed to be durable, so it makes sense that it looks somewhat utilitarian.

So while I’m not happy about how quickly it starts to look dirty, the intention is to have the ability to listen to music in wet, dusty, or sandy environments, without worrying about it taking its toll on the hardware. At least the rating means that it’s somewhat washable, so all is not lost even if it gets a little grubby.

Design score: 3.5/5

Sony ULT Field 7 speaker controls

There's a row of controls on top – including the ULT bass control, which changes color, to emphasize how extreme it is. (Image credit: Future)

Sony ULT Field 7 review: Usability and setup

  • Quick setup
  • Disappointing app

Setting up the Sony ULT Field 7 was simple. The speaker powered on easily, and I just had to press the Bluetooth button and my iPhone spotted it straight away.

The appearance of the Sony Music Center app feels low-budget, which is disappointing for an established brand like Sony. My less-than-positive opinions were further proven when switching between apps, as each time I left the app it appeared to disconnect from the speaker, so it takes a moment to reconnect each time I move away from the app. I found this particularly frustrating when fine-tuning the settings, as every time I hopped onto the Apple Music app to change tracks and get a feel for the changes I’d made, I had to start from the home menu again when I returned to the Sony app. 

In addition to the delay from switching between apps, it took over a minute – sometimes longer – for the app to connect with the speaker after powering it on, whereas other Bluetooth speakers I’ve tested will reconnect to an app in seconds. Perhaps this will be improved by software updates in the future, but just note that it might be frustrating if you try it soon.

When tapping on My Library, the app is able to access Apple Music and my media library, so I can get straight to my chosen media through the app, if I choose to. (Obviously, like 99% of people, I mostly choose to just use whatever app I usually use.)

Tapping on Music took me straight to the Apple Music section within the app. There is a tab for audio input, for those times that you might want to use it as an amp for playing guitar, or to blare out some karaoke. There’s also a tab for USB input, so you can play music from a storage device. There’s a dedicated tab to take you straight to Spotify, if that’s your service of choice. 

Alongside the ULT1 and ULT2 modes, you can also alter the EQ settings manually in the Settings tab. Frustratingly, you need to head back to the Sound Effect tab to select Custom mode before the app will let you alter the EQ. Generally, other apps will intuitively switch off other modes when you customize settings, but this is just another example of the Sony Music Center app being disappointingly clunky.

Usability and setup score: 3.5/5 

Sony ULT Field 7 speaker's handle held in a man's hand

The handles at each end make it easy to grab and move, though you wouldn't want to go too far. (Image credit: Future)

Sony ULT Field 7 review: Value

  • Good audio quality for the price
  • Great for parties (if not audiophile listening sessions)
  • Over-priced for an occasional speaker

This speaker may not equate to being good value for the money if you only throw a party every once in a blue moon, but if you enjoy blasting tunes outdoors on the regular, then you’ll be getting what you pay for here, thanks to the durability and sound quality. I think it’s a sound investment for the right person.

That feeling of value is partly helped by the good range of features offered here, from two bass-boosting modes, to the sound adaptation based on audio around it, to karaoke and guitar plugs, to multi-point pairing.

I think the overall versatility is harmed slightly by it being as large and heavy as it is, which may bring down the value for some – its value as a beach speaker is reduced if you don't want to carry it to the beach because it's large and heavy – but that's balanced by it being well-built and having a good IP waterproofing rating.

Value score: 4/5 

Should I buy the Sony ULT Field 7?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Sony ULT Field 7 review: Also consider

How I tested the Sony ULT Field 7

Sony ULT Field 7 speaker power and ports close-up

(Image credit: Future)
  • I tested the speaker for one week
  • I played music continuously to determine battery usage
  • I listened to music and podcasts

I tested the Sony ULT Field 7 over the course of a week – after a thorough run-in. I listened to a range of different music genres, and podcasts, listening out for how the speaker handled bass, mid-tones, treble, and so on. 

I mostly used the speaker in TechRadar's music testing room, where I could really get a feel for what it's capable of – but obviously I used this portable speaker in other locations as well.

To determine how fast the battery would run down, I played music continuously at 25% volume, and continuously checked to see how quickly the battery indicator changed, tracking the time along the way.

I played music to it from an iPhone, a MacBook Air, and a Fiio M11S music player with LDAC support. My main music sources were Apple Music and Tidal, but I also used Spotify and podcasts.

Majority MP3 Player review: one of the best cheap music players to consider
3:00 pm | May 12, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Portable Media Players | Tags: | Comments: Off

Majority MP3 Player: Two-minute review

The Majority MP3 Player shines for its simplicity in a world where MP3 players are trying hard to be your replacement smartphone, radio and Kindle all wrapped into one. 

The Majority MP3 Player is not trying to be the best MP3 player ever invented; it’s trying to be a simple music device for people who don’t have degrees in sound engineering. Created by British audio company Majority, this is basically the cheapest MP3 player on the market that you should seriously consider buying, found on Amazon by searching 'MP3 player' and sorting 'price: low to high'. And it wears that budget badge with pride.

The Majority MP3 is absolutely tiny, and very lightweight too, so it’s not going to drag a hole in your pocket like many of its rivals. Its plastic shell may seem ‘cheap’ to some, but it'll take drops and knocks better than delicate premium options, and contributes to its lovely lightness.

My favorite feature is the sports clip on the back, which firmly clasps the MP3 player to your clothes, bag or anything else. This was so handy for keeping the player held still while keeping it within arms’ reach (ie, not in a pocket), and also means you can take the player for a run or workout and clip it to your clothes, to exercise hands-free.

Design aside, there’s more to like here too: the player is simple to use (well, once you’ve got your head around some user interface quirks) and has a battery life that outstrips lots of the competition.

As you can imagine from the price, the Majority MP3 doesn’t exactly have all the trappings of its pricier rivals. You’re not getting a touchscreen, so you’ll have to rely on a fairly rudimentary button system to get around, and don’t expect to fiddle with an on-device EQ, watch videos or read audiobooks, or download any more than 128GB of music (or 16GB, without an SD card).

However if you’re simply buying a nice lightweight little gadget that lets you outsource your music listening to a non-smartphone device, sometimes you don’t need bells and whistles; you just need simplicity. And simplicity is something the Majority MP3 delivers in spades.

The Majority MP3 Player in a man's hands.

(Image credit: Future)

Majority MP3 Player review: price and release date

  • Costs $35 / £30 (about AU$60)
  • Available since March 2023 (according to Amazon)

As stated in the introduction, the Majority MP3 is one of the cheapest MP3 players on the market at the time of writing. How cheap? Uh – that’s a good question.

At the time of writing, Majority has two separate listings for the device on Amazon UK: £29.95 and £34.95, and I can’t for the life of me tell what the difference between the two is. I’d hazard a guess that there isn’t one. The expert tech minds at TechRadar have come to the conclusion that you should buy the cheaper one.

What about outside the UK? It's available on Amazon US for $35, in mercifully just one entry. There's no Australian availability, but these prices would translate to around AU$60.

The Majority MP3 Player on a wooden bench.

(Image credit: Future)

Majority MP3 Player review: Features

  • 16GB memory, expandable to 128GB
  • Limited list of extra tools
  • 34-hour battery life, lower if using Bluetooth

You can fit up to 16GB of music onto the Majority MP3 player, which the company estimates will take 4,000 songs to fill. If you buy a compatible SD card you can expand that by 128GB which will fit countless hours of music in MP3 format. The only file format officially supported is MP3 – no AAC or WAV support is listed here.

Despite being a simple device, the Majority does have a few extra tools that may come in handy. You can record audio notes, change your background, use a stopwatch or check a calendar (though I couldn’t find a way to add anything to it) and create folders and playlists on the device.

Some features that many other MP3 players have are missing here. You can’t streaming over Wi-Fi, sync with audiobooks services, watch videos, or tune into the radio, so you'll have to rely on whatever MP3 files you manually download. There’s also no way to customize your listening experience, beyond picking your chosen headphones carefully.

There's a 3.5mm jack for wired listening, or you can ditch cables and set up a Bluetooth connection, which lets you stream the MP3 files through some of the best wireless earbuds or one of the best Bluetooth speakers – though it’ll harm your battery life of course.

That battery life is 34 hours by default if you’re using wired audio, which is a fair bit longer than some competitors (many of our favorite MP3 players last between 15 and 20 hours). Charging takes three hours, done with an in-box USB-C cable.

  • Features score: 2.5/5

The Majority MP3 Player on a wooden bench.

(Image credit: Future)

The Majority MP3 Player in a man's hands.

(Image credit: Future)

Majority MP3 Player review: Sound quality

  • Quality depends on audio files and headphones
  • No extra features to improve quality

The Majority MP3 Player isn't one to buy if you're looking for a device that ekes all the sound quality it can out of your tunes.

Unlike some pricier rivals, the device doesn't come with an on-board equalizer and doesn't support higher-quality music file types, so this isn't a portable music player for audiophiles – MP3 only here. You could probably tell that from the price.

Music played on the device will depend a lot more on the files you upload and the headphones you use than the pedigree of the Majority, then.

For what it's worth, I tested with a range of music files and they sounded effectively as good on the Majority MP3 as on pricier audio players, my computer and my smartphone. 

The bass and treble were bright and distinct, though the mid-range was a little lost compared to on some rival devices. The sound quality will best suit runners, but won't impress people who care about high-quality music.

  • Sound quality score: 2.5/5

Majority MP3 Player review: design

  • Tiny and light plastic body
  • Small touchscreen and buttons for controls
  • Plastic 'sports clip' holds 

The Majority MP3 Player is a small plastic rectangle, with a teensie screen and control panel on the front.

The player is absolutely tiny; it’s the smallest of its ilk that I’ve tested by a fair amount. It measures 4.4 x 6.8 x 1.9cm / 1.7 x 2.7 x 0.8 inches (ignore Majority’s website or Amazon, which both offer the dimensions of the shipping box as that of the device itself!). To give you a sense of that size, you’d need to put three and a half in a row to cover up a dollar bill.

It weighs only 33g too, so it’s slight enough that you can pop it in a pocket or on your clothes and forget it’s there. This lightweight form is partly thanks to the small size but likely mainly thanks to the fact it’s plastic, a material that’s often associated with ‘cheap’ tech but is also very hardy. I dropped the MP3 player a fair few times and there’s not a scratch or mark upon it.

A distinctive design feature is the use of a ‘sports clip’ on the back of the body, which you can use to clip it onto anything you want. As per the name, I used it a lot when going for a run so I could go hands-free, and it stayed attached despite all the associated jostling and bouncing. When not running, I also liked to attach the player to my clothes instead of drop it in a pocket, which made for easy access when I wanted to change the tune or turn it off.

Around the edges of the device you’ve got a USB-C port for charging and plugging into a computer, a 3.5mm audio jack (headphones are included in the box but you can use your own), an SD card slot that supports up to 128GB expandable memory, a volume rocker and a ‘hold’ button which deactivates any of the other controls so you don’t accidentally press them. On the front of the Majority is the screen and five buttons: the main selection one, ‘M’ (for ‘music’), previous track, next track and back. These are all you’ll have when navigating the menus.

That screen is 4.8cm across with a resolution of 240 x 240, and it’s bright enough that you can see it in direct sunlight. With those specs, it’s fit for purpose but won’t wow you with its fidelity, so I’m not exactly heartbroken that you can’t watch videos on the device. When you’re listening to music, a clock sometimes appears to tell you the time, but I could never figure out the rhyme or reason for it showing up or the Majority simply defaulting to a black screen; it felt pretty random.

  • Design score: 4/5

The Majority MP3 Player clipped to a blue hoodie.

(Image credit: Future)

Majority MP3 Player review: usability and set-up

  • Plugs into PC using USB-C cable
  • Navigate with physical buttons
  • User interface can be a little confusing

Downloading music onto the Majority MP3 Player is incredibly easy. You don’t need to fuss over different folders or settings; plug the player into your computer, select ‘Transfer’ on the player, and simply drag any of your music you want into the player’s folder. No, you don’t need to put it in a certain place on the folder or upload it in a certain way; throw it all in there and it’ll sort itself out. Easy!

Finding the music on the device itself may be a little trickier. You can use the forward and backward buttons to scroll forward and backward in the list, and the central one to select an option. 

Back, as you imagine, takes you back, but only one menu, so if you want to return to the player’s main menu then you’ll just have to smash the back button loads of times. And want to pause or switch tracks while you’re listening to music? You’ll have to navigate all the way back to the main menu, and then forward into the music options to find ‘Now Playing’, as there’s no simple way to jump to the music player.

I got used to the navigation after a while, but it did take a little learning. Another gripe I had is that the player takes a few seconds longer to turn on or off than I’d have liked (both are performed by pressing and holding the central button). That’s also true of turning on and off the controls hold option; you have to wait a few seconds for an animation to play out, so changing volume or skipping tracks isn’t as quick as you’d hope.

  • Usability & setup score: 3.5/5

The Majority MP3 Player on a wooden bench.

(Image credit: Future)

Majority MP3 Player review: value

  • MP3 player right at the lowest of the low end of the market
  • Does what it promises, and only a little more
  • Faults are easily forgiven at this price

If you’re looking for value for your money, you can’t find a better device than the Majority MP3 Player, and that’s simply because it’s so cheap.

You can spend literally thousands on an MP3 player if you want top-end features and audio, but Majority has gone for the opposite side of the spectrum, and you know what? You still get the same core function of playing MP3 files. 

Being unable to play hi-res music or watch videos really won't be an issue for anyone looking for something this cheap, and the storage is sufficient for its purpose. I really can't fault it for its value.

  • Value score: 5/5

The Majority MP3 Player on a wooden bench.

(Image credit: Future)

Should you buy the Majority MP3 Player?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Majority MP3 Player review: Also consider

Majority MP3 Player review: how I tested

  • Two-week testing period
  • Pop, rock, classical and spoken word music tested
  • Used at home, in office, on walks and on runs

I tested the Majority MP3 Player using its provided headphones (though obviously you can upgrade to some of the best wired headphones for an improvement), and I paired it using Bluetooth to the Earfun Wave Pro and the OneOdio OpenRock S headphones to see how it measured up.

Musically, I loaded it up with a testing playlist of rock, pop and post-rock, and also used it to stream lots of running music and classical. As you can tell I used it on runs as well as when at home, in the office and on walks.

The testing period for the Majority MP3 Player was roughly two weeks, and I was able to compare it directly with two other similar devices: the Mechen 64GB and HIFI Walker.

Beats Solo 4 review: a solid update to an iconic pair of wireless headphones, but the competition is now too hot
7:00 pm | May 5, 2024

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

Beats Solo 4: Two-minute review

The Beats Solo 4 are long-awaited on-ear wireless headphones that aim to improve on the company's 2016 Solo 3 with an increased battery life and additional features, including a USB-C port for simultaneous charging and lossless hi-res audio playback, and Spatial Audio – as well as some new color options.

When wearing the Beats Solo 4, I was pleasantly surprised at how well isolated I was from my immediate environment, despite the lack of active noise cancellation (ANC). The claimed 50-hour battery appeared to hold true during my tests too, which is great for such comparatively small and light headphones.

As with most of the best Beats headphones, style is at the forefront, and the Slate Blue variant I tested certainly makes a statement (they are also available in Matte Black and Cloud Pink). Some parts of the plastic build and headband padding feel cheap, though, and certain aspects of its engineering, such as the folding mechanism, don’t inspire much confidence.

They offer a secure fit that’s impressively solid for on-ear headphones, withstanding the rigors of physical activity without shifting, which is important considering that Beats is promoting these headphones for exercise. However, on-ear headphones don’t really work for my ear comfort, and these did nothing to change that – and long-term comfort is made worse by the lack of adequate padding on the headband; I couldn’t use them for more than an hour at a time. 

The controls also provide issues: the main 'b' button is easy to accidentally press when hanging Solo 4 around the neck, and I found the volume buttons hard to locate while wearing. Pressing them also puts undue pressure onto the ears, which, as you can imagine, is an uncomfortable sensation. 

The sound is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Solo 4. The bass response can be impactful at times but wooly at others, while the mids sound muddy and lack punch compared to more of the best wireless headphones at the same price. These problems aren’t solved if you listen via any of the higher-quality wired options. The upper mids are where the Solo 4 sound their best, but the highest frequencies don’t have enough sparkle and clarity in comparison to the competition.

The Sony ULT Wear WH-ULT900N, for example, are the same price in the US (and cheaper in the UK), and beat the Solo 4 on pretty much all fronts: they have much better sound, comfort levels, and come with ANC. The Sennheiser Accentum Plus is another superb option for those who want something more audiophile-friendly, with impressive ANC and wireless hi-res support.

Beats Solo 4 held in hand

(Image credit: Future)

Beats Solo 4 review: Price & release date

  • Priced $199 / £199 / AU$329
  • Launched in May 2024
  • Available in Matte Black, Slate Blue and Cloud Pink

The Beats Solo 4 are priced at $199 / £199 / AU$329 officially, and were available to buy from May 2nd, 2024.

This is lower than today's flagship headphones – the Beats Studio Pro are $349 / £349, while the Sony WH-1000XM5 officially cost $349 / £299. Both of these are larger, over-ear models with ANC. 

For basically the same price as the Solo 4, you could also get the Sony ULT Wear WH-ULT900N or the Sennheiser Accentum Plus. Both of these are over-ear rather than on-ear, which usually improves low-end frequency response, and feature ANC and some other features lacking here. The Sennheiser headphones also match the Solo 4’s 50-hour battery, even with ANC on.

Beats Solo 4 review: Specs

Beats Solo 4 close-up of left driver

(Image credit: Future)

Beats Solo 4 review: Features

  • Apple and Android smart features
  • Lossless wired playback via 3.5mm and USB-C
  • No active noise cancellation

The feature set for the Beats Solo 4 is what you would expect from a modern pair of wireless headphones. One-touch Bluetooth connectivity made it easy for me to connect to Android, iPhone and Windows PCs, and lossless audio playback is supported via a wired USB-C connection. This means you can listen to sources that provide superior quality to MP3 or AAC file formats, imparting more detail across the entire frequency range, theoretically. Simultaneous charging is also possible when connected to devices that provide power. 

However, there is no high-resolution audio support when connected via Bluetooth, as the Beats Solo 4 only support AAC and SBC wirelessly, which are both compressed formats; there’s no aptX or LDAC.

There is also a 3.5mm analog input and included cable so you can use them just like a traditional pair of wired headphones, meaning you can enjoy unlimited playback without using any battery power. Again, this can offer higher-quality audio than Bluetooth, and is useful on planes.

The Beats app is responsive, easy to use, and offers options to easily manage privacy controls, such as location permission, notifications and analytics, and battery optimization settings. It also provides the battery level as a percentage that actually updates for all 100 numbers, which is very useful (and not something all headphones provide – some just note when they've dropped by 20%, for example). 

There's fast pairing and auto-switching between compatible devices for both iOS and Android ecosystems – and the Find My system for both platforms in supported. However, Apple users get a few extra features, such as hands-free 'Hey Siri' access and Audio Sharing, which lets users share playback with multiple pairs of AirPods or Beats headphones at a time. Better than these, though, is that Apple users get Personalized Spatial Audio for movies or Dolby Atmos music. There’s no support for this on Android.

I mentioned auto-switching between devices above, but be warned that this only worth within the Apple or Android systems. So, it auto-switches between iPhone and Mac; or it switches between Android and Chromebook. There's no standard multi-point pairing, so you can't switch between, say, an Android phone and Windows laptop seamlessly.

True to their minimalist aesthetic, the Beat Solo 4 headphones only have four buttons, and all of them are pretty well hidden. The main 'b' button is on the left hand side and integrated with the company logo, and controls main functions, such as play/pause and skip track, depending on the number of times it is pressed. The button is tactile and operates smoothly, although I did find it easy to press accidentally, especially when they’re hung around the neck.

The volume controls are located on the ring around the 'b' button, with the top half increasing volume and the bottom decreasing. Again, these function well, but they require too much force to register, which meant I was pressing the entire left driver into the side of my head, which isn't comfortable.

The power button is perhaps the most hidden of all, being a tiny little dot finished in the same color as the rest of the headphones. Locating this blindly when wearing the Solo 4 isn’t easy. It also has to be held down for a few seconds, but hold for too long, and you enter pairing mode. Getting the timing right is tricky, and the only audio prompt you get is when the Bluetooth connection is established. The only indication that the Solo 4 are turned on is a small LED on the outside. Basically, make sure you turn them on before they're on your head.

The microphone is also high quality, although perhaps too eager to pick up extraneous noises. When making a test call with the Solo 4, my interlocutor commented that, although I was coming through clearly and loudly despite the considerable amount of wind outside, other background noises also came through prominently, such as people talking around me in the street.

Beats quotes the battery life as being a generous 50 hours of playback. And during my test, this figure seemed to live up to reality.

I tracked them as generally losing around 5% battery per 2.5 hours (without Spatial Audio turned on), which puts them right in line for the 50-hour claims from Beats. I also observed them drop around 10% after a 6.5 hours of playback too, so you may get a little over 50 hours – but as usual with headphones, it can depend on volume and other factors.

  • Features score: 4/5

Beats Solo 4 wireless headphones close-up of ear pads

(Image credit: Future)

Beats Solo 4 review: Sound quality

  • Bass is hit-and-miss
  • Boxy lower mids, clear upper mids
  • Great passive noise isolation

Despite Beats having a reputation for bass-heavy headphones, the Solo 4 are pretty controlled on this front. The low frequencies are deep without being overbearing, although they don’t have the precision and control I would hope for. There are times when the bass is too boomy and wooly, especially noticeable in songs with sustained low notes.

The lower mids are also disappointingly muddy, but the upper mids are pleasantly crisp without being harsh. Songs with detailed percussive arrangements, for instance, come across well in the Solo 4. But the highest frequencies don’t sparkle as much as they could, lacking the finer details at the top end of the spectrum.

When connected via USB-C rather than Bluetooth, you get access to lossless audio, which, in theory at least, should provide a listening experience fit for audiophiles. During my audio test via USB-C with our special TechRadar playlist on Tidal – which provides lossless music streaming – the results weren’t radically different to Bluetooth. The bass was still amiss, and while the mids were more punchy, they still weren’t as clear as I would have liked. Using the 3.5mm analog input seemed to marginally improve the quality of these frequencies, but not by much.

In comparison to the Sony ULT Wear headphones and Sennheiser Accentum Wireless that I've already mentioned in this review, there's no competition really – these both offer more detail, a better balance across the frequencies, and a clearly richer experience overall.

Where the Solo 4 shine, though, is the noise isolation. Despite not having any active noise cancellation profiles, external sounds are blocked out well. This helps songs with heavy reverb and a strong sense of space to be comprehensively conveyed. Spatial Audio experiences are also improved by the isolation, making the illusion of the surround sound theater experience more compelling. The dynamic head tracking meant that whichever way I turned my head, even slightly, the audio panned to always match the direction of the source. 

At this price, it’s hard to get a better movie sound experience on headphones than Apple's Spatial Audio tech provides. This is a nice bonus if you'll watch a lot of movies, but really still has limited appeal for those who will only listen to music with them. 

  • Sound quality score: 3/5

Beats Solo 4 wireless headphones in their case

(Image credit: Future)

Beats Solo 4 review: Design

  • Snug and secure fit
  • Uncomfortable for sustained periods
  • Nice colors, but limited selection

The case that comes with the Beats Solo 4 is made from a soft fabric material, which makes for a lighter carrying weight. However, it does make me more concerned about their safety when buried at the bottom of a backpack or stuffed in a suitcase than if they had a hard case.

The opening for the case is also quite small, so using it isn’t exactly a seamless experience: it’s near-impossible to take them out without sliding the headband adjustments, and putting back the included 3.5mm analog and USB-C cables in their own pouches within the case is also quite the chore, since the openings for those are very small as well.

And despite being smaller than over-ear headphones, the depth of the case means that they aren't that much smaller to carry around, if at all. The Sony ULT Wear WH-ULT900N over-ear wireless headphones, for instance – which are bigger than the Solo 4 – have a case which is longer and wider, but thinner, which is something I personally prefer, as I find such cases easier to pack away. 

The Solo 4 stay true to the Beats aesthetic, looking almost identical to the Solo 3. The look is minimal and the Beats logo is displayed prominently on the sides of each can, so everyone knows what you’re wearing. The Slate Blue finish I had is vibrant without being garish, although Matte Black and Cloud Pink are other color options you can choose from. It's a little disappointing there are only three options, since the Solo 3 came in five colors, but I'm sure more will become available over time.

The adjustments on the headband are smooth and relatively easy to make – although this was trickier while wearing them, as they were fairly tight on me. The hinge mechanisms for folding the earcups feels quite loose, and so doesn’t hold them in folded position with much support. The plastic used for the overall construction doesn’t especially premium either when compared to the likes of Sony and Bose headphones.

The fit is very snug and secure, despite being an on-ear design, and so having less surface area on the pads to grip your head. Having used them for exercise, I can say that they stay on without the slightest deviation. Beats has mentioned exercise as a key use case for the Solo 4, and even in a world of fitness-focused earbuds, they do this job very well.

The price I paid for this secureness, however, was a lack of comfort overall. Despite the particularly plush ear pads, the Solo 4 felt the same as any other pair of on-ear headphones I have tried – which is to say, painful after long sessions. Not everyone feels the same but, if you’re someone with sensitive ears to pressure, like me, then these aren’t going to be the on-ear headphones that change your mind. Glasses wearers will also be in even more potential pain – but again, I will concede this is something I am personally quite sensitive to.

But with the Beats Solo 4, the more universal issue is the feeble headband padding, which meant that the top of my head felt the strain as well. The rubber coating also feels cheap and offers too much grip if anything, often sticking to my hair, causing issues when sliding them on and off. 

The upshot is that I couldn’t wear the Solo 4 for more than an hour at a time before I had to give my cranium a break. But when you do take them off and hang them around your neck, I encountered another problem: since the earcups don’t swivel, the edges can rest uncomfortably between the chin and collarbone. It may seem like a small point, but other headphones at this price point do have rotating cups to rectify this problem and make life more comfortable.

  • Design score: 3/5

Beats Solo 4 held in hand face on

(Image credit: Future)

Beats Solo 4 review: Value

  • Rivals offer better sound for the same price
  • No ANC is disappointing
  • Smart features for both Android and iOS is rare

The Beats Solo 4 are priced at $199 / £199 / AU$329, and the competition at this point is quite stiff. The Sony ULT Wear WH-ULT900N, for instance, are currently available for the same price, if not cheaper, and best the Solo 4 in virtually every aspect. I tested them directly against the Solo 4, since we had both in for review at the same time.

The Sony headphones have superior sound and comfort levels, as well as having more features, including ANC. The Beats Solo 4 almost get away with this omission thanks to their frankly excellent natural noise isolating capabilities, but it’s still far perfect, and other headphones at this price point feature ANC too.

In no small part, you'll be paying for the specific styling and the unique mix of Android- and iOS-friendly features. A lot of people will feel that's worth it, but I'm not sure it's quite enough. These features, plus Apple's top-tier Spatial Audio, good battery life and USB-C audio mean they're reasonable for the price overall – but you can spend your money better.

  • Value score: 2.5/5

Should I buy the Beats Solo 4?

Buy them if...

Don't buy them if...

Beats Solo 4 review: Also consider

How I tested the Beats Solo 4

  • Tested on Android, iPhone and PC
  • Streamed music from Tidal and used stored MP3 tracks
  • Tested over 10 days

I tested the Beats Solo 4 over the course of a week, in various scenarios. I tried them with an Android phone and an iPhone, as well as a laptop and a Fiio M11S high resolution music player. I made use of all their supported features, including wireless playback via Bluetooth, and wired via 3.5mm analog and USB-C. 

I listened to music directly from lowly MP3 files in 320kbps quality, as well as via hi-res streaming service Tidal. I tested them with a variety of genres, including rock, pop, electronic, classical and jazz. I listened both in quiet indoor environments and noisy outdoor ones. I also tried exercising with them to test how secure the fit was.

I also made phone calls and recorded voice memos with the Solo 4 to test the microphone quality too. 

I also tested the battery life by leaving the headphones connected to a mobile device via Bluetooth to play through a playlist at a typical listening volume.

Read more about how we test

  • First reviewed: May 2024
iFi GO Bar Kensei review: the stylish steel swordsman of portable DACs
7:00 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi | Comments: Off

iFi GO Bar Kensei review: Two-minute review

The iFi GO Bar Kensei is another reminder that iFi knows precisely what’s what when it comes to headphone amps and DACs of all shapes, sizes and prices. More often than not, it’s among the leaders in any given market. And so it’s decided what the humble USB DAC/headphone amp needs is a bit of glamour to go along with performance. Hence, the GO Bar Kensei.

On paper and in the palm, it makes a lot of sense. The specification is extensive, the finish – all tactile Japanese stainless steel that catches the light – is unarguably upmarket. If you want to put an absolute rocket up the sound of your smartphone and enjoy ownership of a premium product as you do so, it would seem to be just the ticket.

And in practice, the GO Bar Kensei makes good on a lot of what it promises. It’s a deft, rhythmically adept and impressively spacious listen, able to retrieve a huge amount of detail and put it all into the proper context. It has plenty of dynamic headroom, and is able to apply its talents to any digital audio file no matter where you source it from. 

It overplays its hand somewhat at the top of the frequency range, though – ‘brilliance’ is not always a positive when it comes to treble sounds, especially when there’s not the substance to balance it out. And there’s a periodic glitch in the way the GO Bar Kensei performs that sends an unpleasant burst of noise to your headphones at the start of a new file, too. Both of these things undermine the iFi somewhat when compared to the best portable DACs, and make it a fair bit less compelling than it otherwise would be.

iFi GO Bar Kensei review: Price and release date

the iFi GO Bar Kensei on top of a wooden box

(Image credit: Future)
  • Released in March 2024
  • Priced at $499 / £449 / AU$769

The iFi GO Bar Kensei portable headphone amp/DAC is on sale now for $449 in the United States, £449 United Kingdom and in Australia, it will set you back AU$769 or thereabouts.

The world is not short of portable USB headphone amp/DACs, of course. What it is slightly shorter of is really quite expensive USB headphone amp/DACs, and shorter still of really quite expensive USB headphone amp/DACs that have gotten completely carried away with Japanese sword master analogies. So this iFi has quite a bit to prove… 

iFi GO Bar Kensei review: Features

iFi GO Bar Kensei

(Image credit: Future)
  • 32bit Cirrus Logic DAC
  • ‘K2HD’ audio processing technology
  • Balanced and unbalanced outputs

The GO Bar Kensei is necessarily compact, but that hasn’t prevented iFi from cramming it with features.

On the inside, iFi has sourced components from companies as well-regarded as muRata, Panasonic, TDK and Tantalum. These all serve to facilitate a 32bit Cirrus Logic DAC chipset that supports digital audio files of up to 32bit/384kHz PCM and DSD256 resolution, with full MQA decoding on board too. The DAC uses a 16-core XMOS microcontroller to process the audio data received at the USB-C input. 

And iFi has deployed technology derived from JVCKenwood too – ‘K2’ was originally developed to try and bring an ‘organic quality’ and ‘sound quality correction’ (JVCKenwood’s words, not mine) to digital recordings. iFi has breathed on it to the point that JVCKenwood asserts that it’s ‘the original ideal K2 sound’. Which is why, presumably, iFi has decided to refer to it as ‘K2HD’. 

Further finessing of the sound is available via four digital filters and a couple of analogue processing modes, all of which will be familiar to anyone who’s paid any attention to iFi products released over the last few years. ‘Bit-perfect’, ‘GTO’ (which stands for Gibbs Transient Optimised, of course), ‘minimum phase’ and ‘standard’ are all, supposedly, able to make particular genres of music sound, well, more genre-ish. ‘XBass+’ intends to accentuate the lower frequencies, and ‘XSpace’ wants to expand the sound field. 

No doubt you’ll investigate all of these options at your leisure. But no matter what your eventual preference(s), getting sound out of the GO Bar Kensei happens using either the 3.5mm unbalanced or 4.4mm balanced output at the opposite end of the device to the USB-C slot.  

Features score: 5 / 5

iFi GO Bar Kensei review: Sound quality

iFi GO Bar Kensei

(Image credit: Future)
  • Rapid, detailed and spacious sound
  • Positive and dynamic attitude
  • Overplays its hand with treble sounds

The sound quality the GO Bar Kensei delivers is, I reckon, a game of two slightly lop-sided halves plus a bit of extra time. And everything I’m about to say applies no matter which of the many filter and/or processing options you deploy. It’s possible to fiddle around the edges of the iFi’s sound, but its fundamental character is always apparent.

The first of the halves centres on just how rapid, detailed, open and organised a performer the GO Bar Kensei is. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a 24bit/96kHz FLAC file of David Bowie’s Low, a Dolby Atmos stream of De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising or a 24bit/192kHz copy of Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? - every time, the iFi extracts and contextualises a huge amount of both broad and fine detail. No occurrence is too felting or too far back in a mix to escape its attention – and as a result, the sensation that you’re getting a complete picture is always present.

It digs reasonably deep at the bottom of the frequency range, and controls the low end to the point that rhythmic expression is good and momentum is undeniable. The big, open and well-defined nature of its soundstage allows every element of a recording the space it needs to properly express itself, and it allows vocalists in the midrange to communicate explicitly. There’s real eloquence and directness to the way the GO Bar Kensei delivers a singer, a sensation of positivity that feeds into the overall idea of ‘performance’ and ‘unity’.

Dynamic expression is good too, whether it’s the shifts in volume and intensity that many recordings indulge in or the more subtle (but no less significant) harmonic variations in a solo voice or instrument. The iFi can be muscular when needs be, but it’s just as capable of being tender and delicate.

The second half concerns the way the GO Bar Kensei deals with the top of the frequency range. To put it bluntly, it’s altogether too confident where treble sounds are concerned – they’re overstated in every circumstance, and tonally they lack substance and body. The top end here is crashy and splashy, hard-edged and thin – and these unhappy traits are only compounded by increases in volume. If you pair the iFi with similarly treble-centric headphones then your teeth will constantly be on edge.

And there’s extra time, which has nothing to do with the way the GO Bar Kensei sounds but everything to do with the way it performs. On occasion, when one file ends and the next begins, the iFi will let loose a very short burst of utterly startling electrical noise, a sort of exclamation of white noise that is, of course, entirely unwelcome and obviously unintentional. It doesn’t happen every time, but it happens often enough. And it’s not as if it’s provoked by switching from one streaming service to another or anything like that – simply hitting ‘play’ on a playlist can goad it. As I say, this is by no means a constant – but in some ways, it’s even more upsetting because it doesn’t happen every time. It seems to happen (to me, anyway) more often when using iFi’s USB-C/Lightning connector attached to an iPhone than when using the USB-C/USB-C cable with a Samsung smartphone… but either way, I’m not a fan. 

Sound quality: 3.5 / 5 

iFi GO Bar Kensei review: Design

iFi GO Bar Kensei

(Image credit: Future)
  • 65 x 22 x 13mm (HxWxD)
  • Japanese stainless steel
  • Very, very small user interface

At 65 x 22 x 13mm (HxWxD) the GO Bar Kensei is certainly pocket-sized, but at almost 66g it feels quite dense. The fact that it’s built almost entirely from Japanese stainless steel is probably to blame – but while it puts a little more strain on your pocket that most USB DACs, there’s no denying the iFi feels (and looks) like a premium product.

At one end of the stick there’s a USB-C slot, and at the other you’ll find the 3.5mm and 4.4mm outputs. Along one side there are a few controls – a multi-function button that allows you to check out the various digital filters and analogue processing modes, a button each for ‘volume up’ and ‘volume down’ and the ‘IEMatch’ switch. This last has three positions: ‘off’, ‘3.5’ and ‘4.4’.

On the rear of the stick, etched into the steel surface and consequently only visible when a) very close, and b) in favourable light, are a strip of miniscule LEDs that let you know what’s what (if your eyesight is up to it) in terms of mode, file type and file size. And on the top surface, there’s a company logo and some Japanese characters reading ‘Kensei’ – which apparently translates as ‘sword saint’.  

Design score: 4 / 5 

iFi GO Bar Kensei review: Usability and setup

iFi GO Bar Kensei on top of a phone

(Image credit: Future)
  • Plug your source into the USB-C input…
  • Plug your headphones into the 3.5mm or 4.4mm output…
  •  …and select your ‘IEMatch’ position

‘Setup’ is to overstate what’s required here. The GO Bar Kensei attaches to your source player via its USB-C slot (iFi provides short, good-quality USB-C/USB-C and USB-C/Lightning cables for this purpose) and to your headphones using either its 3.5mm unbalanced or 4.4mm balanced output. 

Then you simply need to decide if you need to deploy the ‘IEMatch’ switch, and whether or not you enjoy the effect of the ‘XBass+’ and/or ‘XSpace’ settings – and that’s about everything. Audio equipment doesn’t get any more straightforward.

Usability and setup score: 5 / 5 

iFi GO Bar Kensei review: Value

  • Priced in line with rivals
  • Comparative to the cost of a digital audio player

iFi GO Bar Kensei

(Image credit: Future)

It depends which way you look at it, really. The iFi GO Bar Kensei is among the more capable USB-sized headphone amp/DACs around – although it’s far from perfect – and is able to turn your smartphone into a far better source of music than it’s capable of being by itself. 

But it costs the sort of money that can get you close to buying a very decent dedicated portable music player… but if you decide to spend the money on one of the best MP3 players instead, you have to take two phone-sized devices out with you… decisions, decisions…   

Should I buy iFi GO Bar Kensei?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

iFi GO Bar Kensei review: Also consider

How I tested the iFi GO Bar Kensei

iFi GO Bar Kensei

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested for a week 
  • Used with iPhone 14 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S23
  • Listened with Grado SR325x headphones

On and off, I spent maybe a week listening to the GO Bar Kensei. I used it with Apple iPhone 14 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S23 smartphones. I connected it to Sennheiser IE900 in-ear monitors via its 4.4mm balanced output and to a pair of Grado SR325x over-ears using its 3.5mm connection. 

I used it while at home, on the street, and on the train. I mostly listened to music from TIDAL and Qobuz (because these streaming services are full of high-resolution content of MQA and 24bit/192kHz standard), and I checked out its various digital filters and analogue processing modes as I did so.

Speck Gemstones Play review: comfy cheap earbuds, but you can do better
2:00 pm | April 28, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Earbuds & Airpods Gadgets Headphones | Tags: | Comments: Off

Speck Gemtones Play: Two-minute review

The Speck Gemtones Play true wireless earbuds are a step out of the comfort zone for Speck, which is better known for its range of phone cases, and it shows. While the sound quality of these earbuds deliver is as you might expect for $49.99 (about £40 / AU$75), the Speck Gemtones Play earbuds don’t offer as much value as the Earfun Air 2 earbuds, which retail for roughly the same price, but have additional features like wireless charging and longer battery life. 

I’d be tempted to say that you get what you pay for from the Speck Gemtones Play, but since there are alternatives among the best budget wireless earbuds at the same price with additional features, that wouldn’t be strictly accurate. This is not to say that these earbuds are noticeably bad, because they aren’t. If you’re not an audiophile who focuses on output and dynamic range then you’ll be happy enough with the sound quality that’s on offer here. One noticeable issue, however, is the audible strain around the vocals, which is apparent when listening to both music and podcasts. This can be remedied by switching to the Vocal Range EQ preset, but it’s a shame that the default EQ settings don’t offer better vocal clarity. 

While the earbuds are easy to keep track of thanks to the Find your Earbuds function and the inclusion of a push-to-release button on the case, the lack of quality in the materials quickly becomes apparent. The hinged lid of the case feels flimsy, and the matte black finish scratches and shows fingerprints easily; the case of my review sample looked like it had been through an ordeal after just a few days of use.

If you’re looking for a better-quality finish and more features without spending extra, we recommend the 1More PistonBuds Pro Q30 or the Earfun Air 2 earbuds.

The speck Gemtones Play earbuds are pictured lying on a white tabletop in front of their charging case. The ear buds are black, with the left one having the Speck logo printed in white. The case is also black, with white inside the earbud cavities.

(Image credit: Future / Cesci Angell)

Speck Gemtones Play review: Price & release date

  • Released in January 2024
  • Priced at $49.99 (about £40 / AU$75)
  • Only available from Speck within the US, may be available from third-party retailers

The Speck Gemtones Play earbuds were released at the start of 2024. At present, Speck only sells its earbuds within the US, but you may be able to find them at third-party retailers elsewhere. 

Better known for its production of phone cases, Speck has taken a leap into audio tech, and at $49.99 (about £40 / AU$75), these earbuds are the cheapest offering in the Gemtones range, coming in below the $69.99 Gemtones Sport (with earhooks for a secure fit) and the $79.99 Gemtones Pro. 

While these are relatively cheap and cheerful earbuds, they have stiff competition from the likes of the 1More Piston Bud Pro Q30s, which have the added benefits of Spatial Audio, Low Latency mode, and ANC, which the Gemtones Play unfortunately lack.

Speck Gemtones Play review: Specs

Speck Gemtones Play review: Features

  • 28 hours max playtime
  • Four EQ profiles
  • Find your Earbuds function

The Speck Gemstones Play lack some of the features you might expect at this price point in 2024, but the easy-to-use app and a couple of novel features help bump up their score.

The Speck Gemtones app is basic, but its lack of complexity and ease of use will appeal to some. When I launched the app it spotted my earbuds straight away, and once I’d paired them via Bluetooth in my phone's settings, it only took a tap of the icon in the app to sync them.

The app provides a range of useful features, including four different equalizer presets: Default, Balanced, Dynamic Bass, and Vocal Range. It doesn’t offer the ability to create custom EQ settings, though, which is a shame, but it does have a feature that could prove particularly useful for the forgetful among us – a Find your Earbuds feature, which you can use to get either the left or right earbuds to emit a loud beeping to help you hunt them down. This only works when they’re not in the case, however – and obviously you need to be close enough to be connected to them.

A Volume Limit feature can also be found in the app, which is still not too common in headphones apps. As someone with sensitive ears, I was reassured to know that it wouldn’t be possible to accidentally hit the volume keys on my phone and raise the volume too high – and it’s also great for making sure kids don’t harm their hearing by cranking up the sound. In practice, however, this feature doesn’t work as I’d anticipated. Instead of stopping the volume from going any higher than 85dB at full volume, it reduces the sound at all levels, so 50% volume is no longer 50%. This concerns me, because once you turn the limiter off – albeit this can’t be done accidentally, as you need to enter a code – the volume shoots back up to whichever volume you’re set to. It’s also worth mentioning that even with the volume locked, the volume at which the buds announce that they’re connected is quite loud.

The app also shows you how much charge is left in the earbuds. I found that the battery life performed a little better than advertised, lasting around eight hours and 20 minutes while playing music continuously at 50% volume. I listened to music and chatted on work calls while working from home without needing to charge them, and between the charge in the buds themselves and in the case, I could do the same in the office, plus listen to music on my commute home, without running out of battery.

The Speck Gemtones Play's dual microphones didn’t impress me when compared, again, to the similarly-priced 1More PistonBuds Pro Q30 earbuds. When I listen back to a recording of myself, I sound distant and unnatural. They’d be adequate for making phone calls indoors, but the low volume and lack of clarity may prove problematic when making calls out and about, or with a rocky connection.

It’s a shame that these earbuds offer no active noise cancellation. This may seem understandable considering the price point, but as mentioned, there are alternative options on the market in this price range that offer this feature – the 1More that I've mentioned just above, or the Earfun Air Pro 3, which often fall to this kind of price. 

A further small but frustrating niggle is that you can’t start listening on another device without disconnecting the buds from the current device first – i.e., there’s no multipoint pairing – which can be a pain if you often switch between listening on phones, tablets, laptops, etc. Again, the 1More and Earfun offer this.

  • Features score: 3/5

The Speck Gemtones Play earbuds sitting inside their charging case with the lid open, on a white tabletop.

(Image credit: Future / Cesci Angell)

Speck Gemtones Play review: Sound quality

  • Acceptable sound quality for the cost
  • Good tonal range, but lacks clarity
  • Capable of delivering clear vocals, but with sacrifices

As expected for the price, the Speck Gemtones Play don’t deliver the most dynamic sound. They’re pleasant to listen to, but if you have an ear that can appreciate rich bass through to sparkling and natural treble, they may fall a little flat. On the other hand, these earbuds could pick up delicate touches, such as background synths in sections of Black Eye by Allie X, so they score points for their general clarity.

While they can be forgiven for not being as dynamic as the likes of the Marshall Motif II A.N.C earbuds, which are priced at $199.99 / £179.99 / AU$349, they also lag a little behind the sound quality of the similarly priced 1More PistonBuds Pro Q30 – and this is hard to ignore considering that the 1More earbuds also offer extra features including ANC, spatial audio, and Low Latency mode.

I found myself regularly changing the EQ presets to get the most out of different songs. While I can hear that the sound quality is improved after choosing the appropriate setting, I do wish the default preset performed a little better to make for a more effective listening experience when out and about. When left on default, music can sound flat, with an edge of strain on the speakers from vocals. Although cycling between EQ settings can improve the listening quality, it sometimes feels like you’re having to sacrifice an element such as vocal clarity or bass quality, and I found it hard to achieve a good balance. That’s especially true when the Vocal Range preset isn’t selected, as it can sound like the vocals are being dampened, as if I’m listening through a curtain.

When listening to I Want You by Moloko with the Vocal Range equalizer preset selected, the raw vocals come through beautifully. You do, however, lose the impact of the percussion hitting. The Dynamic Bass equalizer preset was a good middle ground on this occasion, softening the vocals without sacrificing that depth.

The Default equalizer preset made Justin Hawkin’s vocals in The Darkness’ I Believe in a Thing Called Love lack impact, making the listening experience fall flat. Selecting the Balanced EQ preset once again sounded muffled, as if I wasn’t in the same room as the band. I’d go as far as to say that you’ll feel like you’re listening from outside the venue when it comes to this song. The most satisfying preset for this particular track was Vocal Range, which delivered the drama lost with the other presets.

When listening to podcasts on the Default settings, voices had a tinny edge to them, but they came through with more clarity when the Vocal Range equalizer preset was selected. The same was true when listening to content on YouTube.

  • Sound quality score: 3/5

The Speck Gemtones Play earbuds sitting on a white table top. They are matte black with the Speck logo printed on the top of the left earbud in white.

(Image credit: Future / Cesci Angell)

Speck Gemtones Play review: Design

  • Useful press-to-release button
  • Comfortable fit for smaller ears
  • Light-but-cheap materials

The Gemtones Play case feels lightweight at just under 1oz / 29g. It appears more cheaply made than some other earbuds in this price bracket, with a thin, transparent black frosted flip lid and matt black body that marks easily from fingerprints. It scratches easily, too – I have long gel nails, and it was instantly clear where they’ve made contact with the case. 

The case would probably be useful for you if you plan to keep it in your pocket or hanging from its fabric loop on the outside of your bag, as it won’t open unless you push the release button, which is a feature that I appreciate. The hinge feels sturdy, but the plastic is very thin and looks like it could be easily broken. I have questions about the longevity of this case, although aside from the aesthetic issues it hasn’t let me down just yet. 

The design of the earbuds themselves isn’t anything to get excited about. Similarly to the case, they’re made from cheap-looking matte black plastic, with the left-hand bud having the Speck logo printed on it. There’s a small indicator light on each bud, and another in the space between them on the case which indicates when the earbuds are prepared for Bluetooth pairing, whether the earbuds or case are charging, or whether either are fully charged. These lights are a little on the subtle side, as the LEDs are deep-set, so it’s not clear what the lights are showing unless you’re looking down the barrel at them.

The buds feel comfortable in my ears, and I wore them for long periods with no issues. I was able to wear them straight out of the case, without needing to switch to another pair of silicone tips, which Speck includes in sizes from extra small to extra large, and this was a new experience for me, as I have smaller ears and often need to switch to smaller tip sizes. Helping them to feel comfortable is the fact that the earbuds are light at just over 0.15oz / 4g each.

While the touch features are basic, they are simple to use. A single tap on either bud will play or pause the track, and triple tapping will trigger your device's voice assistant. I quite liked that skipping past or going back to songs is triggered by a double tap on the right or left bud respectively, although if you’re in a situation where you need to settle for just one bud it’s a little annoying that you’re limited to either skipping or returning. The same issue is present with volume control too, as pressing and holding the left earbud turns the volume down, and pressing and holding the right earbud turns it up. It shouldn’t be a big deal most of the time, though.

The touch controls aren’t always responsive, and there were a few instances where the music would play or pause, or the voice assistant would be triggered, when I was trying to double tap, but this was only a small niggle. If you’d rather assign different functions than the default offering, you can customize what each touch control triggers within the app. 

The earbuds I’ve been testing were in the Back in Black finish, but they’re also available in other colors, including Pop Purple, Bop Blue, and White Album.

  • Design score: 3/5

A face on view of the Specks Gemtones Play earbuds sitting in their charging case, clearly showing the press-to-release button.

(Image credit: Future / Cesci Angell)

Speck Gemtones Play review: Value

  • Reliable battery life, delivering the promised 8 hours of playtime
  • More features available for the same price from competitors
  • Useful app, but cheap-feeling hardware

As previously mentioned, the sound quality of the Gemtones Play isn’t bad for the price. It would be unfair to expect a premium listening experience from these earbuds; however, the presence of the similarly priced Earfun Air 2, which offer more features, and the incredibly cheap but good-quality JLab Go Air Pop earbuds, which offer a better user experience and wear-detection, does lead me to question whether these are truly worth the $49.99 (about £40 / AU$75) price tag given the current competition.

Ignoring the competition, though, the app works well, and offers useful features that increase the appeal of these earbuds. In addition, the press-to-release button on the case certainly comes in handy, but the quality of the materials does let these buds down.

  • Value score: 3/5

Should I buy the Speck Gemtones Play?

Buy them if...

Don't buy them if...

Speck Gemtones Play review: Also consider

How I tested the Speck Gemtones Play

A view from directly above the Speck Gemtones Play earbuds are shown sitting in their charging case sitting on a white table top

(Image credit: Future / Cesci Angell)
  • I tested the earbuds for 7 days
  • I tested at home, in the office, on walks, and commuting
  • I listened to music, podcasts, and YouTube content

I subjected the Speck Gemtones Play earbuds to a week of testing. I tested the wearability, sound quality, and features by listening to music for hours at home, in the office, on walks, and while commuting. In addition to listening to music, I watched YouTube videos and listened to my usual podcasts.

I also followed TechRadar’s standardized testing process for earbuds, including listening to a particular set of tracks to make it easy to compare different buds, and real-world measurement of the battery life. Read more about how we test earbuds at TechRadar.

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
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