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Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 review: pleasantly warm sound but a weak battery
11:00 am | May 20, 2024

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

Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7: Two-minute review

More so than for most tech products, your experience with the Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 will depend on your taste. Want to listen to borderline warm-sounding higher-res files, after a lengthy time customizing the sound with an equalizer? Step right up. Don’t know what that sentence means? These earbuds aren’t for you.

These latest true wireless earbuds from Japanese audio brand Audio-Technica are called the ATH-TWX7 and they have dumped the gimmicky novelty of their predecessors (the TWX9 had a UV cleaner built into the case) to sell for a lower price as a result. 

Don’t expect these to show up on our list of the best budget earbuds though; Audio-Technica has had its fair share of excellent low-cost audio options (see the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW as proof) but the TWX7 aren’t them. These sell for a mid-range price, which they justify in many ways.

Like many other A-T products, the TWX7 have a slightly mid-to-low-pitched warm sound (it makes sense when you consider that this is a firm famed for its turntable cartridges) that leans into the bass frequencies, and goes even further if you want it to. For hip-hop or grime fans, these earbuds will deliver all you want (or can expect for mid-rangers like these).

The buds are feature-rich too, with an app bursting at the seams with useful extra perks. These range from handy ways to make the most of your listening time (an equalizer, various noise cancellation modes, L/R balance adjustment) to some cool novel additions (soundscapes, call sound testing, an in-bud timer).

We’ve got to commend the build quality too, with attention to detail paid in (almost) every way. There are plenty of eartips included in the box so you’ll find a comfortable fit for you; the buds are lightweight and stick in your ear like they’ve dropped an anchor in them; the charging case has an unusual design that brings with it a functionality improvement too.

So why the ‘long face’ – or 3.5-star review? Well, that’s down to a few quality-of-life annoyances that hinder the experience of using the buds.

The first, and most important, is the battery life – I found that the ATH-TWX7 didn’t reliably scratch five hours of use before needing to be recharged in the carry case (when noise cancellation was turned on, as turning it off will give it some extra lasting power). Five hours isn’t all that much in the grand scheme of things, and many people take regular journeys that are longer than that.

I also found that the max volume didn’t cut it. I’m not asking for ‘head-banging’ levels of sonic force, just to be able to hear my music when I’m standing by a busy road.

And one feature that’ll be sure to divide fans is the touch controls on the bud, often a tricky area for earbuds. The Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7s have two: one sensor and one physical button, allowing for a wide range of options. However, they’re fiddly to use and prone to accidental touches, and that’s if you can even remember all the combinations available to you in the first place.

Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 review: Price and release date

The Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 on a bronze table.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Announced at the beginning of 2024
  • Priced at $199 / £190 / (around AU$299)

The RRP for the Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 is $199 / £190 / (around AU$299), so these are roughly in the mid-range of the consumer wireless earbuds market.

At that price, these are some of the priciest wireless earbuds that Audio-Technica sells, with only the closely-related ATH-TWX9 costing more. Those mostly cost more because of a UV sterilization feature; in terms of specs they’re quite similar.

The ATH-TWX7 have a few similarly-priced competitors on our list of the best noise cancelling earbuds including the Bose QuietComfort 2 (which we call the ‘best overall’ and used to be pricier, but currently cost the same as the ATH-TWX7) and Apple’s AirPods Pro 2. Tough company to keep… 

Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 review: Specs

Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 review: Features

The Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 case being held in a hand.

(Image credit: Future)
  • 6.5-hour battery life
  • Plenty of features via phone app
  • Unreliable touch controls

I nearly ripped the ATH-TWX7 out of my ears on numerous occasions because of one infuriating feature: the touch controls.

The buds have multiple controls: there’s a touch sensor masked as Audio-Technica’s logo, which you can press once, twice, or hold down for different functions, and a physical button on the stem too. You can use the app to map the former, and even control their sensitivity, though I couldn’t find a way to alter what the physical buttons did.

The issue is that the touch sensor is more sensitive than a sleep-deprived toddler – and less reliable than one too. I’d often end up triggering it when trying to press the physical button, and the only time it wouldn’t trigger was when I actually wanted it to. This was at all the different sensitivity options selected in the app, and I ended up turning the feature off to save myself from an enraged breakdown.

When it comes to battery life, Audio-Technica states that the buds will last 6.5 hours of use, which will be bumped up to 20 by using the charging case. Judging by my testing, I’m going to guess that this figure refers to listening with ANC turned off, because I generally kept it on and didn’t come close to this figure.

From testing, I’m going to estimate a rough battery life of 5 hours if you use ANC which, while still a decent amount of time, doesn’t come close to the majority of the competitors on the market. I came close to running out of juice a few times without intending to, which is something I’ve never encountered during review testing before! If you need some lasting power, I’d recommend jumping into the app to turn off ANC.

The Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 on a bronze table.

(Image credit: Future)

I’ve mentioned the app now, so let’s metaphorically boot it up; it’s actually pretty handy as smartphone apps go, well worth installing, even if its simple on-phone title of ‘Connect’ instead of anything with the Audio-Technica name had me constantly losing it in my Android’s menu.

There are a bunch of features brought about by the app: control of noise cancellation, an equalizer (which features a few presets as well as a custom mode), the ability to set yourself an alarm, toggles for low-latency mode, the ability to test your mic quality to see how you sound, a way to balance audio between the left and right buds, toggles for LDAC, the aforementioned ability to map touch control buttons, and even a library of ‘Soundscapes’. The latter is a list of… well, soundscapes, in case you want the calming sounds of nature (Ocean, Stream, Forest), ambient music (Journey, Tranqulity, Serenity) or a brief sojourn into hell (Quiet Office). Just note, you have to download these tracks in the app before you can listen.

A tip: from the main app menu, make sure to press the top-right menu button, as many more tools are hidden in this menu.

Not all earbud control apps justify their place on your smartphone but Connect definitely does, because of how much customization it gives over your listening experience and the way you use your buds. 

The earbuds connect using Bluetooth 5.1, which isn’t the top tier of Bluetooth standard available right now, but if I’m being honest, the functional difference between this and 5.2 or 5.3 is basically nil – although Auracast is one thing that'll be off-menu when it truly arrives (in our airport lounges and so on), since that requires Bluetooth 5.2 or later. You can connect to two devices at once, a feature offered in quite a few earbuds, but the Connect app makes managing them a bit easier than on other Bluetooth Multipoint devices, since you can see and edit the connections.

  • Features score: 3/5

Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 review: Design

The Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 on a bronze table.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Clamshell charging case
  • Lightweight buds
  • Plenty of bud tips included in box

In a world of similar-looking earbud charging cases, Audio-Technica has managed to do something a bit different here; the ATH-TWX7’s case is a bit like an oyster, that opens to reveals the pearls inside.

The case is fairly light, weighing just shy of 50g, and small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. Its only feature of note is the USB-C port that you use to charge it. It took me a while to realize why I like this design so much; it’s because it reveals the entire earbud, not just the tip of it like on your standard charging case, making them much easier to remove from the case with little effort or slipping.

Just like the case, the buds themselves are nice and slight, not even tipping 5g on the scales individually. This is despite having not one but two different button types on each, which we’ll get into later.

You can pick up the buds in black, gray or ‘white’ – we put quote marks around the latter because it’s the version you can see in the pictures and ‘peach’ would be a much better name for it.

Audio-Technica includes eight different pairs of bud tips in the box with the ATH-TWX7; there are four different sizes in ‘soft’ and ‘standard’ materials, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend you opt for the soft ones over the standard ones first. That’s as long as you are able to change the tips, as the small size of the buds makes it a fiddly task – find someone with small, nimble fingers if you’re not up for the task.

The earbuds are IPX4 certified which signifies that they’re protected from splashes of liquid, but not streams or submersion; you can wear these in rain but not for a swim.

  • Design score: 4/5

Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 review: Sound quality

The Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 in someone's ears.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Immersive lower-mids 
  • Decent noise cancellation for size
  • LDAC allows for high-res music streaming

A simple way to summarise the sound quality of the Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 is to recount how I kept going into the app to turn off the Bass Boost EQ mode, only to discover that it wasn’t even on. That is to say, the buds have a sonic profile that’s spent the last week basking on a Caribbean beach: it's rather warm.

If you like your music to be two parts ‘bass’ to one part ‘everything else’, you’ll love the ATH. Whatever genre I tested, from pop to disco to country to classical, instruments that sat in the lower registers were more prominent than I’m used to. Turns out, ABBA's Waterloo has a great bass line!

While this warm sound did extend to the mids to a degree, I often found that treble ended up being lost a little. Vocals were fighting for attention with the bass line, lead guitars could fall behind rhythm guitars in the mix, and AT would have you thinking that backing vocals are largely unimportant.

To a certain extent, you can the Connect app’s EQ to fix these problems, and I enjoyed music a lot more in the V-Shaped mode. None of the modes really escape the ATH-TWX7’s warm trappings, just offset it, so these are definitely buds for people who prefer that to earbuds that lean towards brightness.

Something that isn’t as much a matter of taste is volume; it just isn’t high enough on the ATH-TWX7. Even when turning the app and my phone’s volume to max, and turning on noise cancellation, I still sometimes struggled to hear music when I was walking besides busy roads. And I’m not even a fan of super-loud, ear-damaging music; these earbuds just weren’t loud enough.

The Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 on a bronze table.

(Image credit: Future)

On the topic of noise cancellation: it works. It’s nothing to write home about, but it works. The standard mode manages to strip out annoying background humdrum and noises (take that, loud upstairs neighbours!) but didn’t work as well for louder, constant low-level problems like the aforementioned thrum of traffic. Given that truly great noise cancellation is still the preserve of over-ear headphones, I was pleasantly surprised how well the TWX7 stood up.

There’s another mode called Hear-Through which is supposed to cancel noise but allow people’s voices (including your own) through, so you can maintain conversations without having to turn off the buds. If I didn’t read that on Audio-Technica’s website, though, I’d have no idea what it was supposed to do – it sounded to my ears as though the ambient noises this processing decided to mute (or allow through) were picked totally at random. 

The only consistent unmuted sound was on my own voice, which in fairness was quite useful – if you’ve ever tried having a conversation while you’re wearing earbuds, only to remove them and realize you were talking way louder than you thought, you’ll understand why.

Let’s briefly touch on the tech that keeps the ATH-TWX7 sounding the way they do. They borrow the 5.8mm drivers from the pricier ATH-TWX9, so you’re getting some premium tech here, and support LDAC which lets you listen to 24-bit/96 kHz music (if your music is up to scratch). This isn’t really going to mean anything if you stick to Spotify streams, but if you use premium music streaming services or have a Sony Xperia phone, you’ll be able to hear the difference over rival earbuds.

  • Sound quality score: 3.5/5

Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 review: Value

The Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 on a bronze table.

(Image credit: Future)
  • You're getting what you pay for
  • Keep an eye out for sales

The Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 offer good sound quality and a range of handy extra features… but at their default price, you’re not exactly getting them for a song. Basically, you’re paying for what you get – but the competition at this level is tough.

That’s not to say that the ATH-TWX7 are overpriced; they’re worth exactly what you pay for them. You’re just not getting as much value for money as on some select rivals (see: Apple or Bose). 

Saying that, if you find the earbuds on sale for a lower price (which is more likely here than with much of the competition), that’d sway the value proposition in a good direction.

  • Value score: 3.5/5

Should I buy the Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7?

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 review: Also consider

How I tested the Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7

The Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 on a bronze table.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested for 8 days
  • Tested at home, in the office and on walks

I tested the ATH-TWX7 for over a week to write this review. Testing was done with the earbuds paired to a Xiaomi Mi Note 10 smartphone, though I also paired it to an Apple iPad Pro a few times.

Testing was done in the office, in my home and on several walks, which is what brought me face-to-face with the various noisy roads that interrupted my listening. I tested using a range of musical genres across several music streaming platforms, as well as spoken word and TV shows streamed from BBC iPlayer. 

I've been testing gadgets for TechRadar for over five years so bring lots of experience to this review. Plenty of that was testing audio products.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

  • First reviewed in May 2024
Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 review: the best earbuds prompts in the business with excellent ANC too
11:00 am | May 18, 2024

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
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
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
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
Final VR500 review: unassuming wired in-ear headphones that have it where it counts
1:30 pm | April 20, 2024

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

Final VR500: Two-minute review

The Final Audio VR500 are among the Japanese specialist’s most affordable headphones – but that doesn't mean they’ve missed out on the customary Final Audio attention to detail. The company wants to make the VR500 the default affordable wired headphone for gamers and music-lovers alike – and it’s given them every chance to succeed in the best wired headphones arena. 

Specification is good, inasmuch as the VR500 are fitted with proven full-range dynamic drivers. Build quality is solid, thanks to their neat ABS resin construction. The 1.2m cable a) is long enough for most scenarios, and b) features a one-button in-line remote with mic.

And in practice, the VR500 work very well indeed. Some listeners might hanker after more outright punch, but where detail retrieval, spaciousness, precision and fidelity are concerned, the Final Audio outperform their asking price quite comfortably. In fact, the VR500 are good enough that they give the established  go-to affordable wired in-ears from SoundMagic (namely the SoundMagic E11C) plenty to think about. 

Final VR500 on a wooden table, in the sunlight

Demure build, but the Final VR500 aren't shy about sound  (Image credit: Future)

Final VR500 review: Price & release date

  • Released February 20, 2024
  • $34.99 / £29.99 / AU$49.99

The Final Audio VR500 wired in-ear headphones have been on sale since February 20, 2024, and in the United Kingdom they’re a penny under £30. In America they’re a touch less than $35, and in Australia you get a tiny amount of change from AU$50.

This, it hardly needs pointing out, is not very much money for a pair of headphones from a company as auspicious and high-achieving as Final Audio – you only have to look at the price of the sort of headphones TechRadar routinely reviews to realise that. 

But everything’s relative, of course; there’s no point in spending this sort of money on a pair of wired earbuds if they don’t represent decent value for money. So let's get to that… 

Final VR500 review: Specs

Final's VR500 supplied ear tips, on a table

The level of care Final has delivered at this price point is unmatched (Image credit: Future)

Final VR500 review: Features

  • 6.4mm dynamic drivers
  • Oxygen-free copper cable
  • Five sizes of eartip included

Final Audio is keen to present the VR500 as ideal for gaming, and consequently has plenty to say about the earbuds’ ability to create a big, three-dimensional soundstage and place sound effects precisely on it. I’ll discuss the veracity of these claims in the ‘sound quality’ section, but what’s already for certain is that Final Audio has definitely specified the VR500 to do the business.

The cable connecting the earbuds to the three-pole 3.5mm jack is of oxygen-free copper. The earbuds themselves house a couple of 6.4mm dynamic drivers – they’re the same high-precision devices that feature in a couple of the company’s more expensive in-ear designs and offer full-range frequency response. And by including five different sizes of high-quality silicone eartip in the packaging, Final Audio has done its utmost to ensure your VR500 fit snugly and comfortably.  

  • Features score: 5/5

Final VR500 on a wooden table

The single button in-line remote feels good to use (Image credit: Future)

Final VR500 review: Sound quality

  • Open, spacious sound
  • Impressive levels of detail
  • Not the outright punch you might be after

In almost every respect, Final Audio has it the bull’s-eye where the sound of the VR500 is concerned. Its drive for clarity, spaciousness and good location of effects when gaming has been a complete success. By the standards of profoundly affordable wired in-ear headphones, the VR500 are basically as good as it currently gets.

In ultimate terms they’re fractionally lightweight, and short of the sort of low-frequency heft and impact that some genres of music can rely on. The bass presence they generate is swift and detailed, which allows rhythms good expression and keeps the sensation of momentum high – but if it’s out-and-out wallop you’re after, you may find the VR500 just slightly tentative.

In every other respect, though, they’re a straightforward pleasure to listen to. The soundstage they generate is big and well-organised, so both music and games are convincingly laid out. They retain and contextualise an impressive amount of detail, locate every element of a recording or a soundtrack confidently in respect to every other element, and unify even complex information into a persuasive whole.

There’s plenty of drive and attack available when it’s required, and more than enough headroom to give dynamics decent expression. But they’re also able to do ‘small-scale’ and ‘quiet’ very well too, keeping silences nice and dark while giving as much emphasis to spaces as is required. 

  • Sound quality score: 4.5/5

Final VR500 on a wooden table

Bijou branding and a compact design (Image credit: Future)

Final VR500 review: Design

  • 15g
  • ABS resin housing
  • 1.2m cable

I’m going to say it for the umpteenth time during the course of this review: everything’s relative. So while there’s nothing, really nothing, unusual about the design of the Final Audio VR500, it’s nevertheless a considered product where design is concerned and all the better for it.

An all-in weight of just 15g is a strong indication of how comfortable the earbuds are when they’re in position. The cable is tangle-resistant, and at 1.2m is long enough for all likely applications. The ABS resin the earbud- and 3.5mm jack housings are built from is smooth, nicely finished and seems helpfully resistant to scratching. The single button of the in-line mic feels positive in its action.

That’s it as far as ‘design’ is concerned, and I’m tempted to ask “what else were you expecting?”, because there’s nothing about the VR500 to suggest Final Audio has paid anything less than full attention.    

  • Design score: 5/5

Final VR500 review: Value

  • Properly built and finished
  • Impressively specified at the money
  • Enjoyable sound quality

There aren’t many products on the pages of techradar.com that cost less than £30, and fewer still that don’t feel like they’ve been overtly built down to a price. The care Final Audio has taken with the physical and performance aspects of the VR500 is really quite impressive.

  • Value score: 5/5

Should I buy the Final VR500?

Buy them if...

Don't buy them if...

Final VR500 review: Also consider

How I tested the Final VR500

  • Plugged into a laptop…
  • ...and a smartphone 
  • Used for games and for music

I used the VR500 for well over a week, and in a variety of situations. At home, connected to a laptop and a smartphone, where I listened to music and played a few games. And on an aeroplane, where they were again attached to my laptop but also to the in-flight entertainment system. 

And at no point was I anything less than impressed.

Nothing Ear (a) review: mellow yellow earbuds to herald Nothing’s purple patch
1:24 pm | April 18, 2024

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

Nothing Ear (a): Two-minute review

When it comes to Nothing's earbuds output, it's hard to stop oneself from playing a game of Spot the Difference. That's quite a fun game here, though, since almost all of the differences are vast improvements over anything Nothing has achieved before. All these incremental gains become especially impressive when you consider that this entry-level option from Nothing comes in at $50 / £30 cheaper than the company's last effort. 

For the money, these are some of the best noise-cancelling earbuds of the year thus far. Their closest rival? That would be Sony's class-leading WF-C700N. While there's no 360 Reality Audio support in the Ear (a) and a few Sony-specific features are, of course, off the menu, the Nothing earbuds look more premium and feel more foxy. Their noise cancellation is a touch more robust and the sound is every bit as energetic, detailed and zealous, and (dare we say it?) a tad more expansive to boot. Did I mention that the battery life is also impressive, although admittedly it's a lot better without the superb ANC processing deployed? 

I have to admit that the Nothing Ear (a) performed far more admirably than I'd anticipated. I enjoyed them more and more as the listening tests cruised by. Gone is the fidget spinner case idea: my review sample might be a fun English mustard-yellow hue, but the Ear (a) is serious about bringing you music – proof that Carl Pei's 2020 startup finally hit its purple patch. The sound is incrementally better than the Nothing Ear (2), and it's backed up by a Nothing X app that's easier to navigate and offers plenty of scope for tweaking things to your liking, including via the newer pinch-control stems. 

OK, let's get that moniker out of the way, shall we? I advise you to view Nothing's naming structure with a simple shrug and the raise of an eyebrow, but I'll try to explain it succinctly. Ear (a) is the model you're reading about now, Nothing's 2024 entry-level offering released in conjunction with the more expensive (by $50 / £30) Ear. Nothing tells me that the Ear (a) is effectively the upgrade for the Ear (Stick), while the Ear is the upgrade on the Ear (2). Good intel, but I'd say it does Nothing's newest entry-level earbuds a disservice because the Ear (a) are streets ahead of the Ear (Stick) in every regard. 

Both the Ear (a) and Ear were unveiled simultaneously in April 2024. They supersede the inaugural July 2021 Nothing Ear (1), the October 2022 follow-up Nothing Ear (Stick), and the March 2023 Nothing Ear (2). So, aside from a few minor updates (including a Nothing Ear (1) Black Edition, which fared much better than the troublesome originals) the Ear (a) can also be considered the company's joint-fourth Nothing-branded release. That is, if we're not counting the super-cheap CMF by Nothing Buds, which arrived barely a month before the model we're reviewing here. Got it? Well done. (You're doing great, by the way.)

If you take nothing else away from this Nothing Ear (a) review, know that at $99 / £99 (or around AU$192) you'll not be disappointed with these lovely little yellow earbuds.

Nothing Ear (a) next to the Nothing Ear (2) earbuds

Nothing Ear (a) on the left, Ear (2) on the right. Yes, there are key differences (Image credit: Future)

Nothing Ear (a) review: Price & release date

  • Released on April 18, 2024 (hitting shelves on April 22, 2024)
  • Priced $99 / £99 / around AU$192

If the price above made you think 'Hang on, isn't that less than the older Ear (2)?' well done for paying attention. The Nothing Ear (a) are priced to sell – and sure as eggs is eggs, sell they will. 

The Ear (a) earbuds come in three colorways – a warm yellow alongside the more ubiquitous shiny black or white finishes. Why go with yellow? It's a primary color, which Nothing says aligns with its stripped-back, transparent-wherever-possible design language (yes, the stems still feature see-through plastic too). 

At this level, the Ear (a)'s closest competition aside from Sony's WF-C700N is perhaps the slightly more expensive Sony LinkBuds S, because remember, the class-leading Technics EAH-AZ80 come in at $299 / £259 / AU$499, and Apple's AirPods Pro 2 retail for $249 / £249 / AU$399. 

Of course, that's hardly a fair comparison, since those two options offer premium perks, including triple device connectivity (Technics) and remarkably accurate head-tracked spatial audio from an iOS device (Apple). 

That said, Nothing's relatively humble asking price is tempting, particularly when you consider the expressive sound quality and solid noise-nixing they can serve up. 

Nothing Ear (a) held in a hand, with the case in the background

Hello, yellow!  (Image credit: Future)

Nothing Ear (a) review: Specs

Three screenshots of the Nothing X App

The Nothing X App is a fuss-free, wholly positive experience  (Image credit: Nothing)

Nothing Ear (a) review: Features

  • Bluetooth 5.3 with LDAC support
  • Greatly improved ANC
  • Pinch-to-speak ChatGPT integration coming, with Nothing Phones

The nominal price of these earbuds is listed above, so I won't keep banging on about it. But if you want listening gear that does the basics – good sound, great noise cancellation, clear calls, easy comfort, a bit of EQ wizardry, and reliable on-ear controls – and does them very well indeed, these are that gear. Also, they're a bit of a conversation starter if you want that, miles away from the black and gray pebble-like options often seen at their level.

Want something better than the basics? Well, Nothing's got an ace up its sleeve here too. Although I was unable to test it in my not-yet-public version of the Nothing X app (rollout will be gradual across Phone (2) followed by Phone (1) and Phone (2a) for the Nothing Ear and Ear (a) in the weeks after April 18, 2024) Nothing tells me it has integrated both Nothing earbuds and Nothing OS with ChatGPT, to offer users instant access to the chatbot directly from its devices. What this means is that users with the latest Nothing OS and ChatGPT installed on their Nothing phones should soon be able to pinch-to-speak to the popular consumer AI tool, directly from these entry level Ear (a) earbuds. However comfortable you feel with AI, it certainly adds value at the level. 

Nothing X app screens showing AI voice integration using Nothing earbuds

Voice AI using ChatGPT is coming using Nothing Ear (a) using your Nothing smartphone…  (Image credit: Nothing )

Back to the Ear (a) specifically and call handling is far better this time around, with recipients telling me my voice was unusually clear, which checks out when you see that the Clear Voice Technology has been upped from v2.0 in the Ear (2) – or 1.0 with Bass Lock software in the Ear (Stick) – to 3.0 here. 

You're getting Bluetooth v5.3 and LDAC support for hi-res audio (the Sony-developed codec that lets you stream high-resolution audio up to 32-bit/96kHz over Bluetooth at up to 990kbps, if your device supports it and the file is up to scratch), which is a valuable inclusion at this level. 

There's no onboard spatial audio wizardry and you don't get the Ear (2)'s splendid personalized hearing tests. However, you do get in-ear detection (to pause music when they're out and resume it when they're in), a low lag toggle for gaming, issue-free multipoint to two devices, an ear tip fit test and a Find My Earbuds feature, which issues a rattlesnake-style sound from whichever bud you're trying to locate. 

Now, the noise cancellation. After deploying ANC (rather than 'Transparency' or 'Off'), you can select from High, Mid, Low, and Adaptive profiles. High is very good: the hairdryer we use in our meticulous and methodical testing was largely nixed. I can see why it drops the battery life from 9.5 hours without ANC to 5.5 with it, but when the near bubble-of-silence outcome is this good, it's a hit I'm willing to take. The quoted improvement is 45dB over 40dB of ambient noise nixing and if that's hard to quantify, let me tell you that when I sat down to do some work at home wearing Ear (a) with ANC on High, I didn't realize the oven extractor fan was on (my other half was making breakfast), but as soon as I switched to Ear (2) it became perceptible. 

Heading over to the Transparency option, this is signified by a woman exhaling, which is fun. Although there's no slider to tweak the level of ambient sound you're letting in, it's perfectly acceptable and means voices can be heard without removing the Ear (a). 

The Nothing X app takes the reins and it too is much improved, never faltering and always serving me what I need, without going round the houses to get there. The EQ tab is essentially a three-band offering presented in what I like to call a splodge, rather than sliders for each – think Nura True Pro's visual depictions rather than a mixing desk, with four presets for more bass, more treble, voice focus or a balanced sound – but of course, you can create your own. It's not the most fully-featured offering Nothing has in its arsenal (for that you'd have to opt for the Nothing Ear) but it certainly works. 

Anything missing where it should be? Nothing. No sir. 

  • Features score: 5/5

Nothing Ear (a) next to the Nothing Ear (2), on a brown sofa

The new Ear (a) next to the Ear (2): a fun game of Spot the Difference  (Image credit: Future)

Nothing Ear (a) review: Sound quality

  • LDAC handled very well indeed 
  • Fun and zealous sound
  • Unusually expansive for this type of in-ear

If you've read the star rating at the top of this review and come this far (thank you for sticking with me), it will come as no surprise to learn that the Ear (a) doesn't lack in the sonic department.

Those with a Sony smartphone (I used the Sony Xperia 1 IV) will find LDAC codec files are delivered with expanse and pinpoint accuracy when it comes to the placement of each sonic article. In Aerosmith's Going Down / Love In an Elevator, a shaker sits comfortably in the well of my right ear as backing vocals come in through the left. When the heavily processed "Going down" vocal bridge sweeps across the soundstage like a freight train, it grazes the back of my brain en route. 

Even when I stream lossy Spotify tracks (or much better Apple Music songs) the Nothing Ear (a) buds handle them admirably, with ample texture and space around Elton John's Rocket Man vocal, in a cohesive mix that brings forward the synths and bass plucks other earbuds at this price can't reach. 

For dynamic build and nuance, the Nothing Ear (a) are best described as meaty and arresting. It's not that they lack refinement exactly, just that they prioritize fun and energy over that integrated hi-fi listen some might prefer. For me, there's so much here to celebrate sonically that I cannot pick fault. No, they're not better than something at nearly three times the price (such as the Technics EAH-AZ80, for example), but for the money, Nothing has tweaked its recipe to near perfection here. 

Want to see what I mean? Play the intro of The Who's Substitute. Tell me those guitar strings and shaker aren't every bit as jangly and expressive as you could ever wish for at $99… 

  • Sound quality score: 5/5

Nothing Ear (a) earbud on the left, Nothing Ear (2) on the right

See how Ear (a) is just slightly bigger than Ear (2), across the board?  (Image credit: Future)

Nothing Ear (a) review: Design

  • Smaller and more pocketable case
  • Pinch stems work really well, even when wearing gloves
  • Nothing's design language is beautifully realized 

Holding the Nothing Ear (a) earpiece next to the Nothing Ear (2) is a fresh surprise. Nothing has tried hard to keep its popular design language constant, but these two earpieces are actually very different beasts. I've placed the Ear (2) next to the new Ear (a) in the images below to prove that the earpiece is just slightly bigger across the board – 1.5mm taller, 0.2mm wider, and 0.8mm deeper, to be exact. The Ear (a) earbud is also 0.3g heavier than the Ear (2), although the case is 12.3g lighter and quite a bit shallower.

I mention these facts and figures only to highlight that it is emphatically not a case of 'same buds, different box' from Nothing. They're different. They're better. Perhaps the only potentially disappointing stat here is the size of the driver, which is now 11mm – down from 11.6mm in the Ear (2) and 12.6mm in the Ear (Stick) – and the 11mm driver in the flagship Ear is ceramic, while this one isn't. Not so fast, though, as Nothing tells me that through tweaks to the dual chamber design under the hood, which now includes two extra vents for improved airflow, it's extracted 10%-15% more from Ear (a)'s driver. However Nothing has achieved it, I certainly agree that the sound from said driver is greatly improved.

After switching out to the smaller ear tips (you get three in total), I find the Ear (a) a breeze to wear – although if you've particularly small ears you may need to try before you buy, and my guide to the best earbuds for small ears is worth consulting. 

The new case makes a lot of sense. It flips open as easily as it slips into and out of my pocket, and the earbuds are some of the easiest to retrieve I've ever tested – Nothing's right-red, left-white dots also help you match the colors for charging. You don't get wireless charging support at this price, but the IPX2 rating of this charging nest (for mild water resistance) is more than you get with plenty of pricier options. The earbuds themselves boast an IP55 rating, which is the same as Nothing's new Ear earbuds, although the Ear's case has an IP55 rating – so it's essentially dust- and water-resistant. 

Nothing's pinch stems also work really well. You can customize what the morse code short- and long-press combinations do for each stem – yes, including volume. These stem-squeeze controls also work with gloves on, unlike many touch-capacitive solutions. 

  • Design score: 5/5

Nothing Ear (a) earbuds on a brown sofa, in their closed case – with transparent lid

Rarely have I had so many colleagues strike up a conversation with me over a set of earbuds  (Image credit: Future)

Nothing Ear (a) review: Value

  • As good-looking as any earbuds can be for this money
  • Winning ANC at the level 
  • LDAC for extra sound-per-pound value 

I've sprinkled this liberally throughout the review, but I'll say it again, design-wise there's nothing better at the level. But don't be mistaken, these aren't style over substance: the sound quality is very good, and for noise-cancellation specifically, they're extremely hard to beat for the money. 

As always, it's important to state that if you're prepared to spend $299 / £279 / AU$429 (aka three times the money) there's better noise-cancellation available in the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, but that's hardly fair. 

Prior to testing the Nothing Ear (a), for this price point, I would nudge you towards the Sony WF-C700N, but in my honest opinion, these entry-level Nothings give those a solid run for their money, across the board. And for premium looks for budget money, there's really no contest… 

  • Value score: 5/5

Should I buy the Nothing Ear (a)?

Buy them if...

Don't buy them if...

Nothing Ear (a) review: Also consider

How I tested the Nothing Ear (a)

Nothing Ear (a) held in a hand, on brown background

USB-C for juicing up, but there's no wireless charging (Image credit: Future)
  • Tested for two weeks, listened against the Sony WF-C700N, Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 and Technics EAH-AZ80
  • Listened at work (in the office, walking through Dorset, on a train) and at home
  • Listened to Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless tracks and Spotify on an iPhone 12 Pro, MacBook Pro and Sony Xperia 1 IV

The Nothing Ear (a) became my primary musical companions for five days – after a thorough 48-hour run-in period. 

They accompanied me to work (walking brusquely to a train into our Paddington office or on the London Underground to various events) and on a flight to Copenhagen (I know, get me).

To better test the comfort levels (and battery life claims), I followed TechRadar's meticulous methodology testing. 

To check the audio quality across the frequencies, I listened to TechRadar's reference playlist (spanning everything from pop to classical) on Apple Music and Tidal, and also my own musical selections and podcasts. I also wore them to watch YouTube tutorials (mostly about silversmithing: finessing bezel settings and working with art clay silver, since you ask) from my MacBook Pro. 

I’ve been testing audio products for well over five years. As a dancer, aerialist and musical theater performer in another life, sound quality, fit, and user experience have always taken priority for me personally, but having heard how wonderful ANC can be when done well, I know what I'm listening to here also. 

Read more about how we test earbuds at TechRadar

  • First reviewed: April 2024
CMF By Nothing Buds review: stylish budget earbuds with a vibrant flair
1:00 pm | April 14, 2024

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

CMF Buds: Two-minute review

The CMF By Nothing Buds are very cheap for what they offer. At just $39 / £39, it’s predictably too good to be true to expect great Active Noise Cancellation, exceptional sound quality, and all the other things that come from much pricier earbuds. However, there’s a charm to the CMF By Nothing Buds with their minimalist yet attractive case and that extends to use.

They certainly won’t rival most of the best wireless earbuds but among budget buys, there’s a temptation here. The CMF By Nothing Buds sound reasonable if not exceptional. There’s a crispness here but bass is pretty weak and understated. Music won’t stand out here and even the soundstage is a little lackluster but they’re fine for listening on the move.

Similarly, ANC is more about dampening background noise rather than taking a proactive approach, but it’s better than nothing. You’re left being merely impressed that the CMF By Nothing Buds even attempts ANC at this price. There’s also app support, although it’s temperamental. 

Dual-device connectivity and reasonable battery life all add up to make the CMF By Nothing Buds a nice pair of budget buds, even if not the pair you’ll want to live with forever. That’s not bad at all for under $50 / £50, although in an ideal world, you’ll want to invest more into the best noise-cancelling earbuds.

CMF Buds review: Price and release date

The CMF Buds on carpet

(Image credit: Future)
  • Released in March 2024
  • Officially price dat $39 / £39

The CMF By Nothing Buds was released in March 2024 for $39 in the US and £39 in the UK. The Nothing site directs you exclusively to Amazon for online purchases while UK customers can go to the Nothing store in London if they prefer.

The earbuds are available in orange, dark gray, and light gray. Orange is the most eye-catching color and it’s already proving to be the most popular. Typically, the best budget wireless earbuds are usually black or white so being able to get something more distinctive is a nice perk. 

The biggest rival at this price is the JLab Go Air Pop, which is slightly cheaper but lacks ANC. Other than that, you’ll have to pay more for options like the Sony WF-C700N with the budget wireless earbuds market fairly limited when you go this low.

CMF Buds review: Specs

The CMF Buds being held

(Image credit: Future)

CMF Buds review: Features

The CMF Buds control app

(Image credit: Future)
  • Up to 35.5 hours of battery life with ANC disabled
  • Companion app
  • Dual-device connection 

Perhaps surprisingly for the price, the CMF By Nothing Buds cover all the bases for essential features. There’s what Nothing calls dual-device connectivity so you can switch between your devices. There’s app support, ANC, and decent battery life.

The app is a little bit of a mixed bag. It’s simple to use and clearly laid out with options for adjusting the equalizer, activating Ultra Bass which makes things a bit more bossy, along with ANC controls. The issue with the app is that I found it would sometimes forget my earbuds. My phone would happily pair with the CMF By Nothing Buds and then switching over to the app would report an issue so I’d have to re-pair them. It’s not the end of the world but it can be mildly irritating if you just want to change the ANC settings briefly.

The ANC is also pretty poor. It dampens down surrounding noises but never to the point where it isn’t entirely obvious that the noise is there. That goes for whether you have the Transparency mode enabled or you go ‘full’ ANC. I’m not exactly complaining though as efforts are made and at this price, any kind of attempt of blocking out noise is a welcomed thing.

Nothing promises a battery life of up to 35.5 hours via the charging case and 6.5 hours on one 10-minute charge. That seemed about right in my time with it and I had no complaints at all. Diving into the app can always help you see what’s going on with power. As is often the way, Bluetooth 5.3 means no chance of dropouts. 

Features score: 3 / 5

CMF Buds review: Sound quality

A single CMF Bud

(Image credit: Future)
  • Weak ANC 
  • Little quiet 
  • Small soundstage

The CMF By Nothing Buds’s strong point definitely isn’t audio quality. They don’t sound awful but it’s very run-of-the-mill stuff. These aren’t hidden gems to rival the best earbuds

Instead, you get a fairly weak aural experience that you’ll have to crank up to enjoy. That’s fine for going for a walk but if you want to hear every crisp note of your favorite songs, you’ll be a bit disappointed. I worked my way through David Guetta’s discography and nothing truly caught my attention. Bass is fairly flimsy and trebles and mids are distinctly weak. Better however was listening to podcasts. Sound is reasonably crisp so voices come through clearly. 

That’s less the case when you’re walking near busy traffic as the CMF By Nothing Buds’s ANC doesn’t do much to block things out. The soundstage also feels pretty narrow so you won’t feel wrapped up in the magic of a hit through these. Even when using the ultra bass setting on the Nothing app, the likes of Muse’s Hysteria struggled to truly grip me.

Sound quality score: 3 / 5

CMF Buds review: Design

The CMF Buds on carpet

(Image credit: Future)
  • Super smooth case
  • Touch controls 
  • Room for a lanyard 

The CMF By Nothing Buds’s case feels like a minor work of art. It’s angular yet smooth and it looks so much cooler on your desk than regular earbud cases. It has a silver sliding circle that moves around to reveal holes for a lanyard. I received a lanyard with my earbuds but these don’t come as standard. Still, it’s easy enough to get hold of your own.

The case isn’t a wireless charging case which is hardly surprising at this price, but it means it’s lightweight and easy to store. The buds themselves are fairly standard and they fit snugly in your ears with a selection of silicone eartips included to get things how you like them.

Each earbud has a touch-sensitive area for controlling things like skipping tracks, answering calls, switching between ANC and Transparency mode. No complaints here. For a change for touch controls, it wasn’t overly easy to activate the controls.

Design score: 4 / 5 

CMF Buds review: Value

The CMF Buds in their case

(Image credit: Future)
  • Cheap for what they offer 
  • Not perfect but appealing 

The CMF By Nothing Buds aren’t perfect at anything but they’re incredibly cheap for earbuds that offer ANC, even if it’s not great. 

In an ideal world, you’d want to spend more and enjoy ANC that actually works well, of course. The likes of the Sony WF-C700N and the JLab Go Air Pop sound better but the former cost a lot more and the latter lack ANC. It all depends what’s most important to you.

Value score: 3.5 / 5

Should I buy the CMF Buds?

Buy it if... 

Don't buy it if.. 

CMF Buds review: Also consider

How I tested the CMF Buds

A CMF Bud being held

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested over seven days 
  • Compared to Soundpeats Air4 Pro and Apple AirPods (Pro 2 and 3rd Gen)
  • Listened to Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube videos and Twitch 

Over the lasts even days, I’ve replaced my usual AirPods Pro 2 with the CMF By Nothing Buds. Of course, the price difference is huge so I also reacquainted myself with the more affordable Soundpeats Air4 Pro that I was using fairly recently. 

I used the CMF By Nothing Buds on my daily morning walks. I know the route well enough that I can tell you all the worst places for traffic noises, so it was a good way of seeing how well the buds fended off distractions.

I also used them on a run to see how well they coped with wind and speedy (ish) movement. It was a good test of the Transparency mode in particular so I didn’t have to worry about missing hearing a bike ride past me.

At home, I used the CMF By Nothing Buds to watch Twitch videos and content on YouTube. That went well with my podcast listening to check out how clear voices sounded on them. 

For music, I predominantly listened to Apple Music and Spotify. The iPhone 14 Pro was driving most of that with a MacBook Pro entertaining me with videos. My taste is fairly varied so there was a lot of spoken word content but also Linkin Park, David Bowie, Foo Fighters, and David Guetta.

I’ve reviewed audio products for over 10 years. I might usually use pricier earbuds as my main option but I regularly use cheaper earphones and headphones for work and so I can keep up with the biggest work-related question I’m asked by friends -- ‘do you know of any good cheap earbuds?’.

Jabra Elite 10 review: Dolby Atmos sound in first class comfort
5:24 pm | April 13, 2024

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

Jabra Elite 10: One-minute review

The Jabra Elite 10 is the Danish brand’s flagship premium wireless earbuds. They're its most expensive pair of headphones to date, borrowing smarts from the company's headset and hearing aid businesses to help it deliver incredibly clear call quality and effective Active Noise Cancellation. 

As its most advanced pair of buds yet, the Elite 10s pack in a lot of premium features, like Dolby Atmos with head tracking and multipoint pairing, in a unique new oval design that sits on the outside of your ears, making them incredibly comfortable – even when wearing them for long periods. 

But being a premium pair of buds means that the Elite 10 has a lot of competition among the best wireless earbuds. When compared to rivals like Sony's, Bose's or Apple's top earbud offerings, it falls short of being the absolute best for sound quality. That said, it's priced slightly less than its closest competitors so if you want comfortable spatial audio while on the go and are not bothered by best-in-class ANC and hi-res audio quality, the Elite 10 could be a great alternative.   

Jabra Elite 10 review: Price and release date

A hand holding the Jabra Elite 10

(Image credit: Future)
  • Announced on August 31, 2023 
  • Became available to buy in September 2023
  • Priced at $249 / £229 / AU$379

Jabra first announced the Elite 10 back in August 2023 alongside a more fitness-focused model called the Jabra Elite 8 Active, which sells for $199 / £199 / AU$329. As its flagship earbuds, the Elite 10 costs more than its sporty offering at $249 in the US, £229 in the UK and AU$379 in Australia. This means it's also more expensive than its predecessor’s, the Elite 7 Pro, launch price of  $199 / £199 / AU$299.    

The jump in cost means the Elite 10s are going head-to-head with the biggest players, but they undercut the competition in the premium market on price. They’re less than both Sony’s WF-1000XM5 ($299 / £259 / AU$499) and the Technics EAH-AZ80 ($299 / £259 / AU$499) that launched at the end of 2023. And they are squarely in line with two premium releases from 2022: Apple’s AirPods Pro 2 and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, which cost $249 / £229 / AU$399 and $199 / £199 / AU$299, respectively, at the time of writing. 

Jabra Elite 10 review: Specs

A pair of headphones on a table next to a DAP

(Image credit: Future)

Jabra Elite 10 review: Features

Three iPhone screenshots of the Jabra Sound+ app

(Image credit: Future)
  • Immersive Dolby Atmos with head tracking 
  • ANC is decent but not best-in-class
  • Crystal clear call quality 

Since launching its first pair of wireless earbuds in 2016, the Elite Sport, Jabra has released seven generations of buds, and the Elite 10 is its most advanced yet. It's the step-up from the Elite 7 Pro, which had targeted the lower to mid-range market but still had premium features like ANC, adjustable EQ settings, an IP57 rating and wireless charging. The Elite 10 builds upon all of its predecessor's features, and Jabra has a few more tricks up its sleeve to make sure it can hold its own among the market’s premium offerings. 

The newest feature to be included in the buds is also a first for Jabra earbuds: support for Dolby Atmos with head tracking. This makes the buds have a wider soundstage when turned on and listening to Atmos content that's like hearing each instrument in a track as if they’re placed all around you. When head tracking is turned on, this virtual soundstage moves with you but I found this to have a slight delay when you readjusted your head to a new position. I found it worked better when watching a show or movie rather than listening to music. Conveniently, you can toggle both spatial audio and head tracking on and off in the Jabra Sound+ app as well as adjust the HearThrough mode, Advanced ANC, EQ settings and more. 

Outside of the app, you can also control the Jabra Elite 10 by pressing the buttons on the buds themselves. Pressing the surface of the left bud will rotate through HearThrough and ANC, while pressing the right can pause and play a song (you can switch to different variations of this in the app). Tapping the right bud twice skips tracks, while holding down either button increases (right) and decreases (left) the volume. Holding down both at the same time also activates pairing mode. 

As for other features, there's also in-ear detection, automatic muting settings, Bluetooth Multipoint pairing for listening to two devices at the same time, voice assistant support that lets you control your buds with voice commands and FindMy for when you've misplaced them. And while the Elite 10's six hours of battery life (21 hours with the case) does outlast Bose's QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, it's beat by Sony's WF-1000XM5s.      

One of the biggest standout features for me is the Elite 10's exceptionally clear call quality, especially while out and about, and that’s down to the six mics inside them. Jabra says that the external mics are active all the time, while the internal mics activate when wind is detected. The extra mics make the Elite 10’s call quality far better than the AirPods Pro 2, which only has two mics. Jabra’s Advanced ANC is also on by default during calls to help cancel out unwanted background noises, which is a feature that was improved on in a March 26 software update (Jabra claims that the update helps cancel background noises twice as easily). There's also an adjustable sidetone setting so you can hear your voice more, which is not something we see a lot of. 

Just like Apple’s Adaptive Noise Control, Jabra’s Advanced ANC uses scanning tech and noise leakage detection to automatically adjust the ANC to your surroundings. It’s the brand’s most advanced ANC mode, and is claimed to deliver two times more noise cancellation than its standard ANC. And it does work, cancelling out the screeching banshees along the Northern Line of the London Underground. However, compared to the Sony WF-1000XM5 and Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, it doesn't quite match up. 

Features score: 4 / 5

Jabra Elite 10 review: Sound quality

The Jabra Elite 10 buds outside their case

(Image credit: Future)
  • A balanced listen, with some minor adjustments 
  • No hi-res support (only AAC and SBC)
  • Immersive Dolby Atmos tracks 

There’s a strong confidence to the Jabra Elite 10’s sound performance. If I were to summarize it in one word, I’d say it was effectively balanced. From the trebles to the mid-range and through to bass, the sound is tonally steady when streaming via Apple Music on a FiiO M11S (keep in mind there's only support for AAC and SBC). 

But when listening with a keener ear to a more bass-heavy track like Black Eye by Allie X, there was a lack of oomph that I'm used to hearing. This was easily improved upon by adjusting the EQ settings but for an out of box listen, the Elite 10 wasn't completely ready to go. I found this again when testing the bud's treble. Again, tracks like Rains Again by Solji benefited from a slight EQ adjustment to really come alive for me personally. 

As a whole, I'd say the earbud's audio quality is still generally great, it's just not exceptional, especially when compared to the likes of the AirPods Pro 2, which offers a more dynamic listen. Even with smaller drivers, the Sony WF-1000XM5 can deliver an "agile, meaty and fun listen" that's packed with enthusiasm. If you're an audiophile looking for flawless hi-res sound quality, I'd recommend looking to its rivals for a more detailed listen. 

Sound quality score: 3.5 / 5

Jabra Elite 10 review: Design

A hand holding the Jabra Elite 10

(Image credit: Future)
  • Proprietary ‘ComfortFit’ technology
  • Ergonomic, uniquely designed earpieces

Jabra found during the research and development of its latest earbuds range – the Elite 10 and Elite 8 Active – that comfort was the most valued feature by most people. A survey conducted by the company saw 47% of participants valued comfort over all else, with sound quality and battery life coming next. For this reason, Jabra has developed what it calls ‘ComfortFit’ technology, which is a new type of unique oval-shaped design. 

Jabra calls it "EarGels" and the best way I can describe the semi-open fit is that instead of sitting completely inside your ear canals – like the in-ear monitors in our best wired headphones guide – the buds sit in the outside of your ear, snugged up inside the middle part of your ear. Jabra says it scanned 62,000 ears to get the unique shape and the results are effective, as they're some of the comfiest earbuds I've worn to date (the silicon is softer than the plastic used in the AirPods Pro 2).   

The design of the buds' earpieces is similar to that of the Sony WF-1000XM5, which we’ve found to fit most people – and the same is true for the Elite 10s. The only time I briefly had trouble with the fit was while out, when I could feel them coming loose from walking around and moving my head, but a quick readjust made them feel secure again.  

Aside from the unique oval shaped buds, the Elite 10s have a simple design that you can personalize by choosing from one of five different colors, including cocoa, cream, black, matte black and titanium black. The case is slightly bulkier than the likes of the AirPods Pro 2 but this is quickly outweighed by the softer materials used for the buds. The Elite 10s also don't have poky stems that dig into the bottom of your ear, making them a lot more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.   

Design score: 5 / 5 

Jabra Elite 10 review: Value

A hand holding the Jabra Elite 10

(Image credit: Future)
  • Cheaper than premium rivals  
  • ANC and sound quality can be beaten 

There are trade-offs when it comes to earbuds. If you want ANC, don't expect flawless sound quality. If you want a portable earbud design, then they're not going to be as comfortable as a pair of over-ear headphones. And so it goes without the Elite 10. 

The ANC is by no means the best in the business (instead we’d recommend looking at the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds) but the comfort is the best I’ve experienced in a while and the call quality was far better than the AirPods Pro 2 I tested them against. The sound performance is also not going to beat the Technics EAH-AZ80 but if you value other features like spatial audio and a good control app more highly, the Jabra Elite 10 offers a great middle ground.    

Value score: 4 / 5

Should I buy the Jabra Elite 10?

A hand holding the Jabra Elite 10

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if… 

Don't buy it if... 

Jabra Elite 10 review: Also consider

How I tested the Jabra Elite 10

The Jabra Elite 10s on a Mac next to an iPhone and DAP

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested for more than two weeks and compared to AirPods Pro 2 
  • Streamed music from Apple Music, Spotify and Deezer
  • iPhone 13, MacBook Pro and FiiO M11S as source players

I tested the Jabra Elite 10s for more than two weeks, during which time I alternated between connecting them to my phone, laptop and a digital audio player. I used them mostly at home to listen to music, make phone calls and watch the odd show, but also took them out with me while commuting to test the ANC.  

To test the sound quality, I listened to a playlist that we test earbuds with at TechRadar. I did this with both the ANC on and off. In addition to music, I also listened to podcasts and watched a YouTube video to see how the audio quality compared between sources. 

To keep my overall judgement of the earbuds fair, I also conducted a blind listening test, comparing them to the AirPods Pro 2 while streaming music via two iPhones on Apple Music and Spotify simultaneously.

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