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Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player review: another huge step forward in energetic, open sound
1:00 pm | June 21, 2024

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

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T: One-minute review

The Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T is just the latest demonstration of the South Korean manufacturer's best-in-class philosophy in action. Astell & Kern makes no apologies where the pricing of its digital audio players is concerned and, more often than not, its products turn out to be well worth their considerable asking price. 

Fortunately, the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T looks and feels like a premium product should and it’s specified to do the audio business in style, too. There are numerous technical highlights to its extremely thorough specification, but the real stand-out is Astell & Kern’s use of your actual, genuine vacuum tubes in the amplification stage. Thought valve amplification was just for massive, and massively expensive, old-school hi-fi separates? Think again.

On top of its technical credentials, the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T is a lovely item in a fairly substantial way. It’s made from silver-plated stainless steel, for instance. Its controls are beautifully implemented. And its operating system is as stable and logical as they come. 

But the best thing about the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T is the sound it makes. Truly, it is one of the best MP3 players around and then some. Listening to hi-res audio through decent headphones and it just sings – it expertly handles every technical aspect of music reproduction, but without losing sight of the fact that it’s supposed to be entertaining. So it’s a delight in pretty much every respect.  

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T review: Price and release date

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player on a white surface

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)
  • Priced at $2,999 / £3,199 / AU$5,299

The Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T is on sale now, and in the United Kingdom it will set you back £3,199. In America it goes for a marginally more reasonable $2,999, while in Australia it will cost you AU$5,299. 

That’s a lot, isn’t it, for something that (on the face of it) doesn’t do anything your smartphone can’t do?

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T review: Features

The Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player displaying left input stage

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)
  • Bluetooth 5.0; SBC, AAC, aptX HD and LDAC codec compatibility
  • 32bit/768kHz and DSD512
  • Vacuum tube amplifications

Well, it doesn’t take long to show that ‘it doesn’t do anything your smartphone can’t do’ nonsense for what it is, does it? Yes, this is a digital audio player and so is your smartphone – but by this rationale a rowing-boat is the same as a yacht.

Perhaps the obvious sign that this is a device specified without compromise to make your portable music experience as enjoyable as possible is the Astell & Kern's three-mode amplification. The A&ultima SP3000T uses a pair of Raytheon JAN6418 miniature vacuum tubes – actually military-valves – in its amplification stage. Each pair is carefully matched, and then equally carefully suspended in a full-on silicone PCB arrangement to guard against noise derived from vibration or minor shocks to the player's chassis. And then you can select ‘Tube Amp’ mode to enjoy what Astell & Kern calls ‘the natural warmth of a vacuum tube amplifier’. Of course, you could go with the more usual ‘OP Amp’ mode (for ‘expansive soundstage and crystal-clear resolution’) or a mix of the two with ‘Hybrid Amp’ mode (‘the richness of analogue blended with high-resolution clarity’). 

Obviously, you’ll investigate the sonic characteristics of each of these options, but it’s worth pointing out here that if you select ‘Tube’ or ‘Hybrid’ mode, the vacuum tubes themselves glow redly through a little window on the rear of the player. Which is disproportionately satisfying.

The Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player in hybrid mode, with red glowing vacuum tubes

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Elsewhere, Astell & Kern has been just as thorough. The audio circuit configuration, for example, calls for two AKM 4191EQ DACs to act as digital delta-sigma modulators to reduce noise from the input stage on the left and right channels independently before a couple of AKM AK4499EX DAC chipsets process the analogue signals. After all this complicated work has been done, the SP3000T offers a choice of six DAC filters to further finesse the eventual sound.

A Snapdragon 6125 octa-core processor with 8GB of DDR4 memory takes care of user interaction. It promises fast system operation and a stable, smooth user interface and the CPU, memory and wireless communication components are all grouped as a single system-on-chip for optimum efficiency as well as minimal heat and digital noise.

The SP3000T uses Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless connectivity and is compatible with SBC, AAC, aptX HD and LDAC codecs. Dual-band Wi-Fi means the player can be Roon Ready (and also means it’s simplicity itself to install your favourite music streaming service apps). It can support digital audio files of every type, and is compatible with file sizes of up to 32bit/768kHz and DSD512. By using Astell & Kern’s DAR (digital audio remaster) technology, sample rates can be increased in an effort to maximise sound quality – 44.1kHz content, for instance, can be upscaled to 352.8kHz and anything below 96kHz can be converted to DSD128.

The 5050mAh battery is good for around 10 hours of playback - although it’s worth bearing in mind that that figure applies to 16bit/44.1kHz content heard at moderate volume. The figure when listening to properly high-resolution stuff at bigger levels is considerably less. Charging the SP3000T from ‘flat’ to ‘full’ takes a leisurely 3.5 hours or thereabouts.

Internal memory is a useful-but-hardly-spectacular 256GB. Happily, there’s a microSD card slot on the bottom of the player that can accept cards of up to 1TB.

Features score: 5 / 5

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T review: Sound quality

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player playing Chick Corea's Return to Forever FLAC file

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)
  • Spacious and well-defined sound
  • Detailed and dynamic in equal measure
  • End-user options don’t impact performance all that radically

It almost goes without saying that the bigger the digital audio file you listen to the better, and the more accomplished the headphones you use the better, too. But unlike quite a few digital audio players at quite a few price-points, the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T doesn’t hold you to ransom. It just makes the best of the situation in which it finds itself.

And what’s equally noteworthy is just how consistent the SP3000T sounds, no matter how you might try to influence it with your amplification and/or DAC filter choices. There are differences to be heard, of course, but they’re far from fundamental. At its heart, and in pretty much every circumstance, the Astell & Kern is an eloquent, entertaining and absolutely wide-open performer. 

A listen to a 24bit/96kHz file of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever using ‘Hybrid’ amplification and ‘short delay slow roll-off’ DAC filtering allows the SP3000T to really show what it’s made of. It’s a spacious, rigorously defined listen, with a huge amount of dynamic headroom available in order to track the numerous changes in volume and intensity the recording indulges in. It allows even the most complex recordings the space in which to operate and manages to tie every individual element of a recording together in order to present it as a whole.

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player displaying adjustable volume levels

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

The tonal balance – naturalistic and convincing, whether you’re listening to processed, electronic music or analogue recordings of analogue instruments – is beautifully judged, too. Low frequency information is deep and textured, straight-edged at the moment of attack and rhythmically positive as a result. The midrange is similarly detailed, which allows vocalists of all kinds the opportunity to describe their character and attitude as well as their technique. The top of the frequency range has shine and substance in more-or-less equal measure and, just as with every other area of the frequency range, is absolutely loaded with detail. It seems unlikely in the extreme that the Astell & Kern is overlooking any information in your favourite recordings, no matter how fleeting or minor – and it puts them into appropriate context with real positivity, too.

Some alternative players that get all this sort of technical stuff right can overlook the simple fact that music = entertainment, though, and indulge in the sort of analysis that makes them sound more like lab equipment. The SP3000T is having none of that. It’s an energetic, entertaining listen that prioritizes the enjoyment of music over the minutiae of how it’s been recorded. Which is why you’ll find yourself listening for longer than you expected, time after time.

Sound quality score: 5 / 5

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T review: Design

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player showing a knurled volume control with light behind the knob

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)
  • Silver-plated stainless steel
  • 142 x 85 x 18mm (HxWxD)
  • 483g

As is standard Astell & Kern operating practice, the A&ultima SP3000T is pointily angular, and is the sort of weight (483g) and size (142 x 85 x 18mm, HxWxD) that manages to feel expensive without ruining its portability. As long as you’ve a nice strong pocket to put it in, anyway.

The frame of the player is made from 316L stainless steel, plated with 99.9 per cent pure silver, which looks and feels about as luxe as you might imagine. The bottom edge features a USB-C socket alongside that microSD card slot, and the left side has four little playback control buttons. The right side, meanwhile, features the company’s trademark knurled volume control in a deep, interestingly shaped recess. There’s a light behind the control – its colour depends on the type and size of the digital audio file that’s playing. 

On the player’s top edge there’s a power on/off button and all the outputs. There are 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced headphone sockets and a 3.5mm unbalanced alternative which also doubles as a digital optical output.

The front of the machine is almost entirely touchscreen. It’s a big (5.5in) number of 1080 x 1920 resolution, it’s bright and crisp, and it’s responsive, too. Navigating menus, investigation playback options, loading apps and what-have-you can all be done easily and quickly.

It's also worth nothing that – for reasons best left to Astell & Kern itself – the case is made from calfskin. Vegans, and anyone opposed to using animal products in general, should look away now.

Design score: 5 / 5 

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T review: Value

Top of an Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player, showing microSD port

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Obviously this is a madly expensive device by prevailing standards ($2,999 / £3,199 / AU$5,299). And obviously it’s not easy to make a product that is, by necessity, small enough to be realistically portable. But the SP3000T is beautifully made, from premium materials, is specified like there’s no tomorrow and is able to deal with each and every file type and size you might consider listening to. 

And, most significantly of all, it’s an uncomplicatedly delightful listen. Does it represent ‘value’? To those who want the best around and are able to pay for it, the answer has to be ‘yes’.  

Should I buy the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T?

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player aux out ports

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Buy it if... 

Don't buy it if... 

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T review: Also consider

How I tested the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player side view controls

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)
  • Tested for over a week
  • Tested with streamed and downloaded content
  • Tested with wired and wireless headphones

I installed my Qobuz and TIDAL accounts and I loaded the player with a lot of high-resolution content, too, from 24bit/96kHz stuff up to DSD128. I used expensive over-ear and in-ear headphones via the 4.4mm and 2.5mm outputs, as well as considerably less expensive true wireless earbuds connected via Bluetooth. 

I investigated amplification, DAC filter and EQ options. And then I listened to a variety of music, for several hours a day for well over a week. And then, rather tragically, I had to return the SP3000T to its owners… 

  • First reviewed in June 2024
Bose SoundLink Max review: a punchy Bluetooth speaker to make your party pop
6:30 pm | June 20, 2024

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

Bose SoundLink Max: Two-minute review

The Bose SoundLink Max has delivered the biggest, burliest model in the company's already well-stocked and well-reviewed SoundLink concept that has served it pretty well lately. The Bose SoundLink Max has a rugged, go-anywhere design with the stamina to keep you entertained right around the clock. Well, very nearly…

It’s robust, as the IP67 rating indicates, and the liberal use of silicone means it’s happy to withstand the odd knock or bump. The carry-handle can be swapped out for a shoulder-strap (it’s a cost option, mind you), and overall the Bose SoundLink Max is as outdoors-y as they come.

And when you’re out and about, the Bose SoundLink Max is a very enjoyable companion. The sound it makes is as big and heavy as the speaker it comes from, but it’s by no means a blunt instrument. It’s quite a deft and agile listen for something with as much out-and-out punch as this, and can gesture, albeit only slightly, towards a truly stereo presentation, too. 

In fact, if it were able to retrieve and reveal a little more of the fine detail in a recording, it would be approaching ‘ideal’ and one of the best Bluetooth speakers out there. 

Bose Soundlink Max review: Price and release date

  • Released June 4, 2024
  • Officially priced at $399 / £399 / AU$599

The Bose SoundLink Max was released in early June, 2024, and sells for $399 / £399 / AU$599.

That’s proper money for a wireless speaker with no smarts and no Wi-Fi connectivity, no two ways about it. But, as will become apparent, the Bose SoundLink Max has compensations for its relative lack of functionality… 

Bose SoundLink Max Bluetooth speaker on wooden table

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Bose SoundLink Max review: Specs

Bose SoundLink Max Bluetooth speaker displaying carry handle

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Bose SoundLink Max review: Features

  • 2 x 89mm transducers, 1 x 23mm transducer, 2 x 104x79mm ‘racetrack’ passive radiators
  • Bluetooth 5.3 with SBC, AAC and aptX Adaptive codec compatibility
  • Class D amplification

It’s possible, of course, to use the 3.5mm analogue input to get audio information on board the Bose SoundLink Max – but obviously this is first-and-foremost a Bluetooth speaker. It uses Bluetooth 5.3 for wireless connectivity, and is compatible with SBC, AAC and aptX Adaptive codecs.

No matter how you get it there, though, once the audio information is on board it’s amplified by Class D power – Bose, as per usual, is not saying how much. Then it’s served to a speaker driver array that consists of a couple of 89mm transducers and a 23mm partner arranged across the front of the chassis, supported by a couple of 104 x 79mm ‘racetrack’ passive balanced mode radiators – there’s one at either end, behind the perforated aluminium grilles.

Thanks to Bose’s ‘SimpleSync’ technology, the SoundLink Max can quickly and easily become part of a rudimentary multiroom system, provided you’re using other compatible Bose speakers, naturally. Got a Bose soundbar or smart speaker? It’ll connect to the SoundLink Max without fuss.

There’s a USB-C on the rear of the speaker. It’s used for charging the battery, obviously, but if you’ve plenty of power on board your speaker and your phone is running low, it can also be used as a power output. 

  • Features score: 5/5

Bose SoundLink Max Bluetooth speaker showing AUX and USB-C ports

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Bose SoundLink Max review: Design

  • IP67 rating against dust and moisture
  • 20 hours of battery life
  • Available in two finishes

At 120 x 265 x 105mm (HxWxD) and 2.13kg, the SoundLink Max is relatively big and heavy by prevailing ‘portable wireless speaker’ standards. But thanks to a particularly judicious combination of materials – mostly aluminium and silicone and an extremely tactile, and easily swapped, rope-and-silicone carry-handle – the Bose is easy to shift from place to place. Differently coloured versions of the ‘twist-to-fit’ handle are available (for £25, roughly $31/ AU$47), and an over-the-shoulder alternative can be yours (for £45, about $58 / AU$85).

The silicone element of the design is certainly tactile, and it helps the Bose absorb bumps and shocks. But it’s very willing to collect dust and greasy fingerprints, and an absolute bugger to keep clean.

The quoted 20 hours of battery life is eminently achievable (unless you’re absolutely caning the volume), which is just as well, because to go from ‘flat’ to ‘full’ takes a leisurely five hours via the USB-C socket on the rear. On the plus side, you can be pretty sure those 20 hours can be spent in any realistic environment, thanks to a chunky IP67 rating against moisture and dust.

There are some nicely positive controls on the top of the speaker – power on/off, Bluetooth pairing, play/pause and volume up/down are all available, and there’s also a ‘shortcut’ button. In the (exemplary) Bose control app you’re able to choose between two functions for this control – either switch to the 3.5mm analogue input that’s positioned next to the USB-C, or resume Spotify playback (provided your Spotify app is up-to-date).

The app also includes some EQ adjustment along with a few presets, a volume control, connection management (the SoundLink Max can connect to two sources at a time) and a volume control. Plus, of course, access to software and firmware upgrades, voice-prompt adjustments and what have you.

  • Design score: 4.5/5

Bose SoundLink Max Bluetooth speaker top panel controls on wooden table

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Bose SoundLink Max review: Sound quality

  • Punchy, full-scale sound
  • Agile rather than musclebound, though
  • Could conceivably sound more detailed

Bose, it seems fairly safe to say, has given low-frequency grunt and presence a proper think where the SoundLink Max is concerned. ‘It’s going to be used outdoors,’ is how I imagine the thinking going, ‘and so it needs as much punch as it’s possible to extract.’ And there’s no two ways about it, this speaker is about as robustly assertive with low-end stuff as seems possible. 

It’s far from being a blunt instrument, though. Given a reasonably big file of Aphex Twin’s Isoprophlex (Slow) to deal with, the Bose hits good and hard, without question, but it controls the low end well, attacking with straight-edged positivity and ensuring bass sounds stay strictly in their lane rather than bleeding all over the midrange. This speaker hits with determination, but with accuracy, and as a consequence there’s far more to its presentation than simple muscle. 

It offers quite an open, distinct midrange that’s more than capable of holding its own against all the ructions beneath it. At the top of the frequency range there’s authentic bite and shine, and just as much attack as the speaker exhibits at the opposite end – but, again, control is such that even if you listen at considerable volume (and be in no doubt, the Bose SoundLink Max is capable of considerable volume) treble sounds are never hard or in-your-face.  

The Bose is tonally consistent from the top of the frequency range to the bottom, and it unites the entire range smoothly. Focus is good, too, and the SoundLink Max creates a reasonably convincing soundstage – although the notion that it’s capable of creating anything other than the tiniest hint of stereo separation is fanciful. It’s quite dynamic where the broad quiet/LOUD aspects of recordings are concerned, too, although the distance it puts between the two states could be wider. That’s almost certainly a consequence of the fact that the Bose gives every impression of playing quite loudly even when it’s playing quietly.

The most significant area where the Bose might conceivably up its game concerns detail retrieval. The SoundLink Max has no problem retaining and revealing the most significant details in a recording, but when it’s playing something like The Spark That Bled by The Flaming Lips it lets a lot of the finer details (of which this recording has plenty) go astray. It doesn’t impact on the enjoyably forceful nature of the overall presentation, of course – and if you’re listening to content for the first time it seems likely you wouldn’t even twig that anything is missing. But when you listen to stuff you’re properly familiar with, there’s no denying the Bose struggles to extract the finer detail that you know is there.

  • Sound quality: 4/5

Bose SoundLink Max review: Value

Yes, pennies short of £400 / $400 / AU$600 is a lot of money for a wireless Bluetooth speaker without a hint of smart functionality. But the Bose SoundLink Max makes a very strong case for itself if you take it on its own terms – it’s properly built and finished, from materials that look good, feel good and suggest longevity. 

It’s specified to perform in pretty much any realistic environment. It’s capable of big, burly and convincing sound – and can churn it out for hour after hour. So, as long as you accept its restricted functionality, the SoundLink MAx represents very good value indeed. 

  • Value score: 4.5/5

Bose SoundLink Max Bluetooth speaker on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Should I buy the Bose SoundLink Max?

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

Bose SoundLink Max review: Also consider

How I tested the Bose SoundLink Max

  • Tested for about a week, mainly indoors but also in a back garden
  • Played a variety of music types
  • Listened the TIDAL app on iPhone and Android smartphones

I listened to the Bose SoundLink Max indoors and out. I listened to it via an iPhone and an Android smartphone, each running the TIDAL app. I listened to it at discreet volumes (while indoors) and thoroughly indiscreet volumes (while in my garden, before I became concerned about upsetting my neighbours). 

And I listened to it with a variety of music types and a variety of digital audio file sizes. This all went on for about a week – mostly indoors because, the weather was bloody awful in the U.K., and while the Bose is happy to work outdoors in the rain, I am not. Not sorry.  

Read more about how we test

  • First reviewed: June 2024
Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless earbuds review: big on features, light on sound
11:00 am | June 9, 2024

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

Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless: Two-minute review

The Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless form part of what appears an increasingly important trend for true wireless in-ear headphone manufacturers to have a range of products that cover a fairly wide spread of prices – that is, at least, where the more established and high-profile manufacturers are concerned. Sennheiser has enjoyed a reasonable amount of success with its midrange(ish) ‘Accentum’ range, so this variant seems a logical move.

Initial impressions are, it’s fair to say, mixed. On the page, the Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless look specified to compete with the best noise-cancelling earbuds in the business (even if the most up-to-the-minute codec they’re compatible with is plain-vanilla aptX). In the hand, they don’t look or feel anything special at all. Once you’re wearing the earbuds, though, you’ll appreciate the carefully ergonomic shape and the long-term comfort provided.

But while there’s plenty to enjoy about the sound the Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless make, performance is just as mixed as the first impressions. The presentation is spacious, confidently organized and tonally balanced, with smoothly realized frequency response, too. A lack of animation and energy undermines this good work, though, and noise-cancellation that doesn’t do all that thorough a job seals the Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless’ fate…    

Gray Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless earbuds on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless review: Price & release date

  • Released in May 2024
  • List price: $179 / £169 / AU$349

The Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless are on sale now – they officially launched on 21 May 2024. They’re priced at $179 in the United States, £169 in the United Kingdom, and AU$349 in Australia. Which, let’s not pretend otherwise, puts them up against some pretty stiff competition…

Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless review: Specs

Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless review: Features

  • Up to 28 hours of battery life (earbuds plus charging case)
  • 7mm ‘TrueResponse’ dynamic drivers
  • Bluetooth 5.3 with SBC, AAC, aptX and LC3 codec compatibility

As far as wireless connectivity is concerned, the Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless have plenty going on. They use Bluetooth 5.3 as a base, and there’s compatibility with aptX and LC3 codecs as well as the more common SBC and AAC alternatives. Meanwhile, a firmware update is promised that will bring Bluetooth LE and Auracast to the party, too. 

No matter the specifics of how you get your digital audio information on board, though, it’s delivered by a couple of Sennheiser’s TrueResponse dynamic drivers. They’re 7mm each in this application, and they’re good for a frequency response of 5Hz to 21kHz – at least according to the manufacturer.

As long as you don’t get carried away where volume levels are concerned, you should be able to eke as much as eight hours' performance from the earbuds before they need recharging. That’s with noise-cancellation switched off, of course – switch it on and you’re looking at more like six hours. The palm-sized little charging case holds more than two further full charges, which means you’re looking at a best-case scenario of, Sennheiser says, 28 hours before you have to visit any mains power. Recharging is available via the USB-C slot on the case, and the Accentum True Wireless are also compatible with Qi-certified charging pads.

Gray Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless earbuds case on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

The active noise-cancellation that’s available here is a hybrid system that can be set to ‘off’, ‘on’ or ‘anti-wind’ – there are three ‘transparency’ positions, too (‘low’, ‘mid’ and ‘high’).

Control of the ANC, and plenty more besides, is available in Sennheiser’s exemplary Smart Control app that’s free for iOS and Android. It may not be much to look at, Smart Control, but it’s stable, logical and reliable – which puts it ahead of any number of nominal rivals. Here’s where you can manage your connections (the earbuds can connect to two devices at the same time), create custom EQ settings using a five-band equaliser (with presets for ‘podcast’, which forces the midrange forward, and ‘bass boost’, which does exactly what you’d expect), and rearrange the layout of your touch controls.

Each earbud has a capacitive touch surface, and different numbers and/or lengths of presses can put you in charge of play/pause, skip forwards/backwards, volume up/down, answer/end/reject call, summoning your voice assistant and cycling through your ANC options.

  • Features score: 4.5/5

Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless review: Sound quality

  • Controlled, open sound
  • Nicely even frequency response
  • Rather flat and undemonstrative

In quite a few ways, the Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless are an engaging and enjoyable listen. But there are some areas in which they lag behind the best of their rivals somewhat.

They’re certainly an open, spacious listen – even when playing something as dense and multi-layered as Paul’s Boutique by Beastie Boys. The soundstage they create is large and easy to understand, and there’s just as much attention paid to spaces and silences as to the actual occurrences in the recording. The Accentum True Wireless are properly organised and take charge of recordings – their authority and control is never in question. If you need a complex recording opened up and made easy to comprehend, you won’t go far wrong here.

It’s a similar story where tonality and frequency response are concerned. There’s very little coloration to the tonality of the Accentum True Wireless – they’re basically neutral, and don’t really stick their oar into the sound of a recording all that much. And while claims for a frequency response down to 5Hz are predictably optimistic, there’s no arguing with the depth or substance of the bottom end the Sennheiser are capable of generating. The fairly iron-fisted control of bass sounds means rhythms get decent expression, too.

Gray Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless earbuds on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

And the good news continues from higher up the frequency range. The midrange takes advantage of the Sennheiser's open nature, allowing voices plenty of space in which to operate, and at the top end there’s a fair amount of substance if not quite as much bite and shine as is ideal. The Accentum True Wireless are even-handed and unified, so no area of the frequency range is underplayed or overstated. Detail levels are reasonably high at every stage, too.

Where these earbuds come up noticeably short, though, is where the demands of both the broad and fine dynamics are concerned. There’s a rather one-level, undemonstrative quality to the way the Sennheiser present recordings that robs them of a lot of animation – so even if you’re listening to something as energetic and upbeat as King of the Jungle by Ezra Collective, there’s a fixed level of intensity at which the recording operates. The Sennheiser are reluctant in the extreme to deviate from this, aren’t all that interested in making an especially big leap from ‘quiet’ to ‘loud’ and, in the crudest terms, drain much of the entertainment from what really ought to be a spirited and upfront listen. This matter-of-fact presentation doesn’t suit the material in the slightest.

The noise-cancellation that’s on offer here is a little less than inspiring, too. On the plus side, there’s no alteration to the actual sound the Accentum True Wireless make when ANC is switched on, but the downside is that the Sennheiser do only a partial job on external sounds. High frequencies, in particular, seem able to evade the noise-cancellation algorithms with ease.

  • Sound quality score: 3.5/5

Gray Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless earbuds on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless review: Design

  • 5.5g per earbud, 41g charging case
  • Available in three finishes
  • IP54 rating

It’s possible for true wireless earbuds to be perfectly well constructed and flawlessly finished, and yet look and feel not remotely special – and that’s what’s happened here. The Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless are built and finished to the manufacturer's long-established standard, and quite obviously will stand up to all sorts of careless treatment. And yet they don’t look or feel in any way premium. The plastics from which they’re constructed are hard, unyielding and slippery. In all honesty, the Sennheiser present as less expensive than they are. 

That’s not to say they’ve been thoughtlessly designed, you understand. They’re gratifyingly compact, for starters: the charging case is just 29 x 49 x 52mm (HxWxD), and the slender earbuds are just 5.5g each. In combination with a choice of four sizes of silicone ear tip, the design of the earbuds means they fit snugly and comfortably and will stay that way for hours on end.

An IP54 rating means they can safely be used in pretty much any realistic circumstance, and a choice of three finishes (white, black or blue) helps their desirability quotient, too. Just a little, mind you.

  • Design score: 4/5

Gray Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless earbuds on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless review: Value

  • Thorough specification and stamina for the money
  • Solid (if uninspiring) build quality
  • Against tough rivals, they don't win for sound or ANC

There’s value to be had here in the thoroughness of specification, quality of build and finish, battery life and cachet that comes from owning a product from a brand with a big reputation. 

You’re not exactly short of choice where true wireless in-ear headphones at this sort of money are concerned, though, and when held up against the best of their rivals the Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless don’t represent great value – the sound they make is compromized, the noise-cancellation they offer isn’t amazing, and the look and feel is nothing special either. 

  • Value score: 3.5/5

Should I buy the Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless?

Buy them if...

Don't buy them if...

Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless review: Also consider

How I tested the Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless

  • With iOS and Android devices
  • Using a variety of codec standards
  • With all sorts of music

During a good week or so of constant use, my Sennheiser Accentum True Wireless were connected to a MacBook Pro, an iPhone 14 Pro and a Samsung Galaxy S23 in order to investigate different codecs and sources of music. The music itself was of many different file types and sizes, and many different styles. And I made sure to take the Sennheiser with me while I was out and about, in order to check out comfort and ANC as well as claims for battery life.  

Read more about how we test

  • First reviewed: June 2024
Klipsch The Three Plus review: more than the sum of its parts
1:00 pm | May 27, 2024

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

Klipsch The Three Plus: One-minute review

The Klipsch The Three Plus is a slightly awkwardly named wireless speaker with ambition. Despite being the rough size and price of some of the best wireless speakers and looking quite like a wireless speaker too, The Three Plus is, in fact, an all-in-one audio system. An all-in-one system with quite impressive functionality and specification, what’s more.

A selection of wired and wireless connection options means the Klipsch can support quite an array of sources, up to and including a turntable. It’s able to deal with fairly hi-res content without alarms (as long as it’s via an appropriate source). It’s a good-looking, well-made and quite tactile device, and it’s happy to sit more-or-less anywhere that it’s not too boxed in. It’s even got a pretty decent control app.

And in almost every circumstance, it’s an enjoyably upfront and lively listen. Detail levels are fairly high, determination to attack a tune from the bottom up is obvious – but the Klipsch is not blunt or lacking in finesse. Heard through any of its inputs other than the phono stage, it confidently combines attack with dexterity. The phono stage itself, though, is not the most accomplished when it comes to drive or detail retrieval – which means it’s a ‘nice to have’ rather than your go-to input. Anyone after a single-box system to accompany their turntable might have to save up for just a little longer… 

Klipsch The Three Plus on a gray table

Q Acoustics' music system know-how, all the way to the floor…  (Image credit: Future)

Klipsch The Three Plus: Price and release date

  • $399 / £379 / AU$529
  • Announced September 25, 2023

The Klipsch The Three Plus is on sale now, and in the United Kingdom it’s priced at £379. In the United States it sells for $399, while in Australia the going rate is AU$529. They were first announced on September 25, 2023.

On one hand, in terms of form and function there’s a lot of stuff here for that money here. On the other hand, the Klipsch is attempting to muscle in on territory already hotly contested by brands as credible as Denon, Panasonic and Ruark (to name just three). There’s only one way to find out if The Three Plus makes any sense or not…

Klipsch the Three Plus on white background, in a kitchen

(Image credit: Future)

Klipsch The Three Plus review: Features

  • 120 watts of power
  • 2 x 57mm full-range drivers, 1 x 133mm subwoofer, 2 x 133mm passive radiators
  • Bluetooth 5.3 with SBC and AAC codec compatibility

On the outside, The Three Plus might seem to be featureless at first glance. The extraordinarily brief control interface on its top surface, which consists of an ‘input selection’ button and little coloured confirmatory LED light plus a nicely tactile volume control wheel, is pretty much your lot — until you look at the back of the box.

Here’s where your physical inputs live. There’s a digital optical input (good for resolutions of up to 24bit/96kHz), a stereo RCA input that’s switchable between line-level and phono level (so the Klipsch is ready to deal with a turntable if you so desire) and a USB-C input that lets smartphones, thumb-drives, PMPs and what-have-you join your system. The socket can be used for reverse charging, and Klipsch specifically suggests it’s capable of powering a WiiM Mini in order to facilitate network streaming too.

Wireless connectivity, meanwhile, is handled by Bluetooth in 5.3 guise – it’s compatible with SBC and AAC codecs. And the Bluetooth chipset Klipsch has deployed means The Three Plus features ‘Broadcast’ mode – which means the speaker can transmit (as well as receive) Bluetooth information. Transmissions are limited to mono, true, but as many as 10 ‘Broadcast’-enabled speakers can receive and play the signal; the scope for a simple, and extensive, multi-speaker system is obvious. Bear in mind the speaker(s) receiving the signal cannot broadcast it any further, so the range of your system will depend entirely on the primary speaker.       

Once your audio information is on board, the digital stuff is pored over by a digital-to-analogue converter that can definitely deal with 24bit/96kHz content – whether or not it needs to downscale this resolution of content is a question Klipsch seems unwilling to answer. The analogue stuff, of course, needs no such attention. Once it’s in the analogue domain, it’s amplified by an all-in total of 120 watts of Class D power before delivery to what Klipsch describes as a 2.1-channel speaker driver array. This consists of a couple of 57mm full-range drivers, bolstered by a 133mm subwoofer that’s supported by a pair of 133mm passive radiators. 

Features score: 5/5

Klipsch the Three Plus from above

(Image credit: Future)

Klipsch The Three Plus review: Sound quality

  • Assertive, upfront and enjoyable sound
  • Maintains its sonic characteristics in most circumstances
  • Considers ‘loud’ to be a total virtue

Quite a lot of this review is spent discussing how usefully compact and elegant a device the Klipsch The Three Plus is. But now the talk turns to sound quality – and it’s safe to say there’s nothing compact or especially elegant about the way it sounds. This is a big, bold-sounding device, and while it’s not lacking the poise that might make the description ‘inelegant’ seem appropriate, I get the strong impression that decorum is not uppermost in its mind.

With one notable exception, The Three Plus maintains its attitude across any of its inputs. No matter if you’re streaming a FLAC of John Cale’s Fear is a Man’s Best Friend via Tidal, listening to a 24bit/96kHz file of Weyes Blood’s And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow via the USB-C input or a CD of Double Drums by Peace Orchestra, the Klipsch is consistent. It came to get down, and it wants to take you with it.

The easiest way to create an impression of sonic ‘excitement’ is via the lower frequencies, of course, and the Klipsch is far from shy here. Bass presence is considerable – but it’s properly controlled and carries a lot of information regarding the details of tone and texture, so The Three Plus stops short of being a blunt instrument. If it’s frankly unlikely punch you want from your unassuming little tabletop device, though, you came to the right place. The Klipsch absolutely motors through low-frequency stuff, keeping momentum levels high and rhythms on the front foot.

The midrange just about manages to keep its head above water, though, and here just as elsewhere The Three Plus extracts a very worthwhile amount of detail. It’s able to grant vocalists the emotional weight and character they require, and it’s actually quite communicative. The presentation is spacious enough to allow the midrange to operate without too much hassle from the bottom end and, while there’s a fairly obvious point-source of sound, the Klipsch never sounds crowded.

Integration through the frequency range is good, and at the top end there’s just about enough bite and shine to balance out the enthusiasm of the bottom end. Tonality is on the warm side of neutral, but not fatally so – and despite the number of drivers and radiators at work here, there’s very agreeable togetherness and singularity about the way The Three Plus presents even quite complex recordings.

The Klipsch is one of those devices that sounds quite loud even when it’s playing quite quietly – its upfront attitude and generally assertive nature are always apparent. But there’s still a fair amount of dynamic headroom available, even if it doesn’t so much go from ‘quiet’ to ‘loud’ but rather from ‘loud’ to ‘louder still’. Even at quite oppressive volume, though, it’s quite composed and doesn’t sound stressed.

The one outlier here is the phono stage. A vinyl alternative of Fear is a Man’s Best Friend lacks a fair bit of the streamed version’s drive and attack – it’s strangely matter-of-fact and lacking both dynamism and insight by comparison. It’s by no means a disaster, the phono stage here. But it doesn’t take all that much of a listen to establish that it’s the input through which The Three Plus sounds least confident and least engaging.

Sound quality score: 4.5/5

Klipsch the Three Plus closeup

(Image credit: Future)

Klipsch The Three Plus review: Design

  • 178 x 355 x 213mm (HxWxD)
  • Walnut or matte black real wood veneer finishes
  • 4.8kg

Obviously you’ll make your own mind up about the way The Three Plus looks – but for my money, the combination of a surface that’s covered in a real wood veneer (matte black as well as the walnut of my review sample is available), acoustic cloth tightly wrapped around all four sides, and a little metal strip housing the product’s few physical controls is very nice indeed. The Klipsch, I reckon, looks and feels like a premium item.

At 178 x 355 x 213mm (HxWxD) it’s nicely proportioned, and can be as discreet just as readily as it can be a feature of your decor. Despite the way its drivers and passive radiators are arranged, it’s relaxed about positioning (up to a point – it won’t thank you for being slotted into a space where it’s boxed in on all sides). And the standard of build and finish is certainly up to the sort of  level the asking price demands.

Obviously, if you want to exploit its wider connectivity rather than just use it as a Bluetooth speaker, you’ll need to give it a bit of room – all its physical connections are at the rear, after all. Other than these practical considerations, though, the design of the Klipsch is as accommodating and as gratifying as can be.

Design score: 5/5

Klipsch triptych of the app screen grabs

(Image credit: Klipsch)

Klipsch The Three Plus: Usability and setup

  • Klipsch ‘Connect’ control app
  • A (very) few physical controls
  • Self-contained simplicity

It’s difficult to know how the Klipsch The Three Plus could be any friendlier or more straightforward. As long as you take a moment’s care when positioning it (make sure surfaces to the left and right aren’t too close), it’s an absolute piece of cake to live with.

You can control volume using the wheel on the top of the cabinet, and you can cycle through your input options here too. Otherwise, it’s all about the Klipsch ‘Connect’ control app that’s free for iOS and Android. The app is clean and logical, reasonably responsive and useful – here’s where you can check for updates, control playback, select input, fiddle with a three-band EQ (and its five presets) and deploy ‘night mode’ (in order to squash dynamic range and subdue low-frequency response).

Usability and setup score: 5/5 

Klipsch The Three Plus: Value

Obviously there are the few little issues with ultimate sound quality, but taken on the whole it’s difficult to argue with the value that’s on offer here. Consider the quality of build and finish of The Three Plus, its decorative nature, its extended functionality and its generally very agreeable sound – and then consider how much Klipsch is asking.

Value score: 4.5/5

Klipsch The Three Plus review: Should you buy it?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Klipsch The Three Plus review: Also consider

Klipsch The Three Plus review: How I tested

  • Tested every available input
  • Played all sorts of music and different file types
  • Tried it out in a range of locations

I tested the Klipsch The Three Plus over the course of a working week, and listened to it pretty much all day every day. I positioned it on an equipment rack, on a bookshelf and on a chest of drawers. I used each of its physical inputs at some point (to listen to a turntable, a CD player and a portable music player) as well as connecting a smartphone and the same portable music player via Bluetooth. I played all sorts of music, and in terms of digital audio I listened to many different types and sizes of file. I listened to it at big volumes, and as quietly as it is prepared to go (which is not, as I mentioned, perhaps as quiet as it might be).

Technics EAH-AZ80 wireless earbuds review: feature-rich but up against tough rivals
4:27 pm | June 2, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Tags: , | Comments: Off

Technics EAH-AZ80: Two-minute review

The Technics EAH-AZ80 earbuds outside their case

The units look bulky, but they fit well (Image credit: Simon Lucas)

There are a lot choices when it comes to picking the best wireless earbuds. So in a move of either supreme corporate confidence or utter corporate hubris, Technics has decided to join the fray with the EAH-AZ80.

And in virtually every respect, the EAH-AZ80 make a strong case for themselves. The triple-point connectivity (a first in a product of this type) proves stable and useful, and thanks to ‘Just My Voice’ technology these earbuds are far less prone to wind-noise interference than any number of rivals. The sound they make is also accomplished – it's both swift and accurate, as well as balanced and detailed.

It’s not the most energetic sound you've ever heard though. And marginal shortcomings related to battery life and the effectiveness of the active noise-cancellation confirm that Technics has missed the bull’s-eye by a tiny margin with the EAH-AZ80. They will be absolutely perfect for some customers looking for the best noise-cancelling earbuds, mind you…  

Technics EAH-AZ80: Price and release date

  • Release date: on sale now
  • Price: $299; £259; AU$499

The price of the Technics EAH-AZ80 is that of a premium product, for sure – but happily, so is the specification. They have Bluetooth 5.3 with LDAC compatibility, triple-point connectivity, big and serious drivers doing the audio business, sound telephony functionality and noise-cancellation, a thoughtful and comfortable design. Honestly, it’s hard to know what more Technics could have done.

The issue is this: at that price, their closest competition is the Sony WF-1000XM4 (which launched at $279 / £250 / AU$449.95 but are slightly discounted these days owing to a 2021 release date) and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 ($299 / £279 / AU$429). Anyone familiar with either product will know that to call these earbuds stiff competition is an understatement. 

Technics EAH-AZ80: Specs

Technics EAH-AZ80: Features

Technics EAH-AZ80 app triple screens on gray background

Technics' Audio Connect app is clean, stable and logical, with plenty of functionality and no flashy graphics to distract you (Image credit: Future)
  • Bluetooth 5.3 with triple-point connectivity
  • SBC, AAC and LDAC codec compatibility
  • 10mm full-range dynamic drivers

When it comes to the business of a) getting audio information on board and b) making the best of it, Technics has gone to considerable lengths with the EAH-AZ80. Really, it’s hard to identify a gap in the specification here.

Wireless connectivity, for example, is handled by Bluetooth 5.3, and there’s high-resolution LDAC codec compatibility as well as the more prosaic SBC and AAC alternatives. And in what the company confidently claims is a world’s first, the AZ80 have triple-point connectivity, which means that for those of us who can’t possibly manage without our earbuds being simultaneously connected to our laptop, smartphone or tablet, can switch seamlessly between them.

No matter the source of your digital audio information though, Technics delivers the sound to your ears via a pair of 10mm full-range, free-edge aluminium dynamic drivers. These work in conjunction with an internal acoustic control chamber and harmoniser to serve up a frequency response of 20Hz to 40kHz. And thanks to an IPX4 rating, you should be able to enjoy these full-range sounds in any realistic environment.

Each earbud is fitted with four mics: ‘talk’, ‘voice detection’ ‘feed back’ and ‘feed forward’. Technics wants the EAH-AZ80 to be your go-to earbud when it comes to communication. Its ‘Just My Voice’ technology is designed to enhance vocal clarity in unhelpful environments and suppress those external sounds that can impact on in-call intelligibility. The mic array also deals with the ‘dual hybrid’ active noise-cancellation, of course - and in addition to the ‘feed forward’ and ‘feed back’ noise-cancellation, the AZ80 have a software filter dealing with digital signal processing and a hardware filter for the analogue equivalent.

The charging case has a USB-C slot for connection to mains power, and the Technics are compatible with any Qi-certified charging pad too. From ‘flat’ to ‘full’ takes around two hours, and 15 minutes in the juice should be good for more than an hour’s action. Battery life can be anything from a quite acceptable seven hours in the ‘buds and 25 in the charging case (if you’re listening to AAC files with the ANC switched off) to a rather less impressive four hours (earbuds) and 16 hours (charging case) if you switch the ANC on and stream hefty LDAC files.

Where control is concerned, you’ve a number of options. The capacitive touch surface on each earbud is large and responsive, and you can reliably control ‘play/pause’, ‘volume up/down’, ‘skip forwards/backwards’, ‘answer/end/reject call’ and ‘cycle through ANC options’ this way. The fact that the number of taps or presses each function requires can be user-defined is very welcome, too.

You can define the controls in the ‘Audio Connect’ app that’s free for iOS and Android. It’s a clean, stable and logical app, with plenty of functionality and no flashy graphics to distract you – altering the intensity of the active noise-cancellation (or dialling the amount of ambient noise you hear up or down), setting custom EQ levels, and checking for firmware updates are among the highlights.

That quite complex arrangement of mics comes into its own where voice-control is concerned. The EAH-AZ80 are compatible with all native voice-assistants except Bixby, and your interactions with the assistant are reliable and responsive. 

  • Feature quality score: 5/5

Technics EAH-AZ80: Design

The Technics EAHAZ80 inside their case with the lid closed

The case is compact; the branding suitably understated – and we'd expect nothing less (Image credit: Simon Lucas)
  • 7g per earbud 
  • Careful ergonomic shape
  • Milled aluminium touch surface 

Obviously Technics didn’t tear up the rulebook where the design of true wireless in-ear headphones is concerned when it finalised the EAH-AZ80. But as well as giving a necessarily small and discreet product a hint of ‘premium’, it’s also created an earbud that manages to be both more comfortable and more stable than the norm.

The basic look is good – the fairly large milled aluminium touch surface on each earbud looks and feels good. The same is true of the charging case in which they travel in. Each part of the product has a confidently understated ‘Technics’ logo stamped on it, which isn't too obstructive. 

The plastics that constitute the majority of the product are sturdy and feel robust, despite the earbuds weighing a svelte-enough 7g each – the charging case is an equally trim 50g. Build quality hasn’t been compromised in order to keep the weight down though – the EAH-AZ80 feels like a product that will last for the long haul.

Technics has included a moulded extrusion into the otherwise-unremarkable drop-shaped body of each earbud. The company calls this shape ‘concha-fit’, and it’s designed to fit as naturally and unobtrusively as possible into the ear. It also distributes the weight of the earbuds as evenly as possible once they're in situ. And to further maximise the comfort of the AZ80, Technics provides seven different sizes of silicone earbud in the packaging – the accuracy of the fit is all-important when wearing in-ear headphones, of course, and Technics isn’t shy about pointing out your ears may not be identically sized. That’s why it’s given you as good a chance as possible to get the ideal fit for both your ears. 

  • Design quality score: 5/5

Technics EAH-AZ80: Sound quality

The Technics EAHAZ80 earbuds one facing up and the other down

That 'concha-fit' shape might look a little big, but the weight distribution is bang on (Image credit: Simon Lucas)
  • Detailed, natural and neutral (though not the most exciting sound)
  • Excellent telephony 
  • Average active noise-cancellation 

Where audio quality is concerned – and let’s face it, that’s what most of us are here for most of the time – the Technics EAH-AZ80 are a vexatious combination of really impressive and slightly underwhelming.

A track that played to their strengths was a Tidal Masters file, Grapevine by Weyes Blood, which offered lots to admire. The whole frequency range is really nicely balanced and coherent from top to bottom and very even-handed from the (deep, nicely textured) bass to the (clean, politely attacking) treble. The midrange is eloquent and informative, thanks to impressively high detail levels, and the journey from floor to ceiling and back again is smooth and seamless.

Control of the lowest frequencies is good, with nice straight edges to the attack of sounds and no discernible overhang to the decay. This helps the AZ80 remain nice and positive when it comes to rhythmic expression, and it means that the midrange is never in any danger of being swamped or dragged at by overconfident bass. The opposite end of the frequency range is equally well controlled, though in ultimate terms the Technics could do with a little more substance and shine to those treble sounds.

The sky-high detail levels means no harmonic variation or minor dynamic discrepancy goes astray, and the AZ80 are just as capable when it comes to barrelling through the big dynamic shifts in a recording too. Their soundstage is spacious and well organised, so even complicated or instrument-heavy recordings are solidly laid out and easy to follow. And even though every element of a recording gets sufficient space in which to express itself, the Technics properly unify recordings into a convincing whole, into an actual performance.

They’re not the most exciting sounding earbuds you ever heard though, it has to be said. For all of their precision and insight, the AZ80 are just a little short of the sort of drive and animation that can turn listening into an invigorating, exciting experience. There’s no denying the admirable nature of their even handedness and realism, of course – but some music demands the sort of bite and attack that the Technics don’t seem especially comfortable with delivering.

And there’s a similar diffidence to the way their active noise-cancellation is implemented. The problem for the EAH-AZ80, of course, is the problem that all true wireless in-ear headphones have when it comes to ANC: the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II. Compared to the best in class, the AZ80 can rescue overall noise, do an especially worthwhile job on high-frequency stuff – but they’re unable to do a complete job on all the external distractions you might encounter. In the opposite direction, though, their amplification of external sounds when using ‘ambient sound’ is impressive.

The way they handle connectivity and communication needs no caveats, though. The triple-point system provides seemingly unbreakable connections to your three nominated devices, and multitasking is a breeze as a result. And the ‘Just My Voice’ technology works well too - wind-noise is dramatically reduced, and voices are far more prominent as a result. They sound slightly less than ‘natural’, it’s true - but that’s infinitely preferable to wind interference when you’re trying to hold a conversation. 

  • Sound quality score: 4/5

Technics EAH-AZ80: Value

The Technics EAHAZ80 inside their case

Shiny, jewel-like buds which look pricey – and they are (Image credit: Simon Lucas)
  • Properly built with premium materials
  • Many performance positives
  • But not an across-the-board success

Around the edges, the Technics EAH-AZ80 represent great value. They look and feel every bit of the asking price, all their clever functions are implemented flawlessly, and they give that ineffable pride of ownership that so many alternative designs strive in vain for. And in many ways, they sound great too, especially if you value accuracy and neutrality of sound above all else. But their slight lack of animation is compounded by second-tier ANC and battery life, which means they can’t quite score full marks. 

  • Sound quality score: 4/5

Should you buy the Technics EAH-AZ80?

Buy them if...

You intend to wear your earbuds all day
Some carefully considered design, along with a lavish selection of silicone ear tips, means the EAH-AZ80 should stay comfortable no matter the size or shape of your ears.

You want to switch between devices
Triple-point connectivity is a world-first in a product like this, and it’s brilliantly convenient for those of us who surround themselves with sources of audio.

You prefer a neutral, lifelike sound
There’s nothing artificial about the way the Technics EAH-AZ80 sound, they offer convincingly realistic and coherent listening in all circumstances.

Don't buy them if...

You intend to wear your earbuds all day
Even at its best, the battery life available here is nothing special – long-haul flights are a non-starter, unless you want to recharge halfway through.

You have a lot of external noise to block out
While it’s true to say there are less capable noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds around, it’s equally true to point out that there are more capable alternatives too. 

You prefer an animated, exciting sound
For all of their poise, balance and accuracy, the Technics EAH-AZ80 don’t produce the most out-and-out animated sound you ever heard.

Technics EAH-AZ80: Also consider

How I tested the Technics EAH-AZ80

The Technics EAH-AZ80 inside their case

(Image credit: Simon Lucas)
  • Tested for a week or more
  • Used in a home office, on the street and on public transport 
  • Apple iPhone 14 Pro and Nothing Phone (1) as source players

The benefits of the Technics EAH-AZ80 are obvious. They stay comfortable for easily as long as their battery lasts, they connected to all the sources of music I could stash on me at once and they’re simple to use for phone calls even in a wind-tunnel. 

If it wasn’t for the fact that I could hear some of the sounds around me, especially on the train, and the fact that I know some of the music I listened to should sound fiercer, I’d give them a wholehearted five star recommendation.   

Read more about how we test

First reviewed June 2023

Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal review
1:33 pm | February 8, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Tags: , , , | Comments: Off

Two-minute review

Those people and businesses that are protective of their liquid assets will probably exclude the Danish luxury brand Bang & Olufsen from their product choices.

Bang & Olufsen has a long and impressive history of delivering excellent audio technology for those that care more about quality than price, and its new Beocom Portal headphones haven’t strayed from that path.

However, compared with gaming-orientated or audiophile-luring headphones, these have been designed more with hybrid workers in mind. And are being promoted by Bang & Olufsen as “the next big step in our efforts to grow our business-to-business portfolio which is an important strategic focus area for Bang & Olufsen”, according to John Howard, Head of Enterprise at Bang & Olufsen.

In service to those objectives, these Bluetooth-connected headphones are Zoom-certified out of the box and come with support for all the commonly used communication platforms.

Therefore, irrespective of the particular standardisation of the purchasing business, these should be suitable.

One caveat of deploying these types of devices away from the office is resolving technical issues without onsite support. The Beocom Portal headphones come with Beocom link USB wireless Bluetooth adapters (with aptX Adaptive Codec), pre-paired for use and supporting both USB Type-A and USB Type-C ports on the host device.

If the connecting technology is already Bluetooth enabled, Bang & Olufsen has apps, Apple and Android, that can establish the pairing easily with the minimum of fuss.

These headphones aren’t exclusively Bluetooth, as they include the cables to connect them to both USB and 3.5mm audio systems. The USB-A to USB-C cable also doubles to charge the Portal headphones, although no charger is included for those that don’t have access to a USB-A system.

Once these are connected, the user can experience the “uncompromised Bang Olufsen signature sound”, or clear communication and audio rendering for those who don’t speak PR.

It achieves this by using an array of beamforming microphones to isolate and amplify the voice of the user while cancelling out background noise, though cancelling can be disabled if required. A prerequisite for those that spend their days calling others, along with long-wear comfort, these are things that business headphone designers can no longer ignore.

While these might look very similar to the previous Beoplay 500 design, plenty of business-friendly changes make these more suitable for hybrid workers.

Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)

Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal price and availability

The Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal isn’t cheap or even attractively priced, and those expecting otherwise aren’t familiar with this brand.

The only choice here is that they come in Black Anthracite, Navy or Grey Mist colour schemes.

Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)
  • Value score: 3/5

Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal design

  • Designed by Jakob Wagner
  • Stylish and lightweight
  • Simple to operate

For those unfamiliar with the name, Jacob Wenger is an American industrial designer and entrepreneur that founded his own design firm, Jacob Wenger Design, LLC, and it specializes in high-end custom furniture and product design.

Therefore, while it might be a leap to suggest that he designed the Beocom Portal headphones, his design team was responsible for their ergonomics and visual styling.

Unsurprisingly, these have all the hallmark deference of a product design exercise where every sharp edge has been eliminated and replaced with a sweeping curve.

What makes these stand out from other headphone makers' products are some simple refinements that elevate the user experience.

Where most headbands have a notched connection to the driver covers, on the Beocom Portal, they move smoothly, allowing for a great degree of positioning. It’s a tiny thing, but it makes for even greater comfort. The breathable fabric used for the headband is another factor in making these easy to wear throughout a working day.

In other respects, the control mechanisms of the Portal follow a pattern that anyone who has experience with B&O Bluetooth headphones will be familiar with.

Each of the metal surfaces on the cup faces operates as a touch input, but the subtle nuances of this design are that strictly what gestures do entirely depends on the mode of operation.

For example, if the wearer is taking a call, then tapping on the left cup will end the call. But the same action will pause a track playing over Bluetooth. Some actions overlap, and some are entirely different. These peculiarities might take some learning by the user, but it’s logical.

However, the controls assume oddly that music lovers never repeat tracks or fast forward.

Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)

What the designers avoided was using touch on the cups for volume controls, instead using a rocker/slider on the left cup to control noise cancellation and one on the right side to adjust volume levels.

Each side also has a single pressable button, with the right one doubling as the power and Bluetooth pairing control and the left side mute.

The physical controls have their limits, and we’d strongly recommend installing the Bang & Olufsen Beocom app on your phone, as this allows you to easily switch between different modes and levels of noise cancellation. And, this tool can also update the onboard firmware should the makers release updates.

Both the USB-C connection and 3.5mm audio jack is placed on the right side, assuming that the computer will be on that side of the user if they’re using wired technology.

Bang & Olufsen opted for a design that doesn’t have a boom microphone, instead a beamforming array to identify the wearer from other sounds and focus exclusively on that source. The quality is more than acceptable and well within the spec required for making and receiving calls, but it isn’t the clarity needed for broadcast work, like a podcast.

Overall, these are exceptionally classy headphones that work well in a business context, although some audiophiles might take exception to the inability to reverse skip tracks and move through audio accurately.

Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)

Design score: 4/5

Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal features

  • AAC and aptX Adaptive
  • Google Fast Pair and Microsoft Swift Pair
  • Good battery life
Specs

The Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal that was sent to us for review came with the following hardware:
Frequency range: 20 – 22,000Hz
ANC: Adaptive ANC with Transparency Mode plus Dolby Atmos
Drivers: Electro-dynamic driver w/ Neodymium magnets
Drive diameter: 40mm
Driver sensitivity: 95dB @ 1kHz / 1mW
EQ: Presets and custom settings via Bang & Olufsen App
Designer: Jakob Wagner, LLC
Fit: Circumaural
Dimensions (WxHxD): 167.3 x 178.7 x 92.6mm

The Bluetooth technology in the Portal is version 5.1, which goes beyond the standard ABC codec with both AAC and aptX Adaptive.

Due to the audio compression used, variable between 5:1 and 10:1, the aptX Adaptive is the preferred method of connection for best audio fidelity, as it offers up to 420 kBits of data at 48 kHz.

That’s for a single source, but it is possible to have multipoint connections for those transitioning from a PC to mobile phone use.

By default, the headset will automatically try to connect to the last device that was paired, and it supports both Google Fast Pair and Microsoft Swift Pair technologies.

Ironically, the best audio quality available is undoubtedly over USB. When connected using the provided cable, these will be seen by the connected PC as rated for Dolby Atmos playback.

Another high-quality sound option is the audio jack mode, but it has a few limitations since it won’t work if the Portal isn’t powered by the battery or through USB. But with power available, even when using audio jack input, the noise cancelling and some controls will work as expected.

Noise cancelling on these is good, but not quite as amazing as we’ve experienced on some of the more expensive options from Sony. The effect is that low-frequency rumbles are all but eliminated, but higher ranges are muffled. This allows you to realise someone alongside is speaking to you in person but removes most unwanted background sounds that you might experience in an office. There are five levels of ANC, enabling the user to find the one that makes them less distracted by those around them while not entirely deaf while wearing them.

You can also adjust the level of your own voice feeding back into the headphones, which can be helpful if you are raising that to cope with a bustling environment.

Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal

The B&O Android application provides full control over the features of these headphones (Image credit: Mark Pickavance)

The similarities between the Beocom Portal and Beoplay 500 series headphones might lead some to think they are the same product, but some distinct differences exist, especially in respect of the battery.

Where the Beoplay 500 offer 19 hours of talk time with Active Noise Cancellation, the Portal has extended that to 23 hours and listening to music at a moderate volume level offers 47 hours with Active noise cancellation (connected to the Beocom Link A or C dongle).

That extra time should make the Portal last through at least three working days, as they turn off after 15 minutes without an active audio stream.

The quoted times are dependent on the sound being relayed through the headphones, as high-impact audio, like rock music, will use more power to output compared to a flute solo.

Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal

Both USB-A to USB-C and 3.5mm audio cables are included (Image credit: Mark Pickavance)
  • Features score: 4/5

Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal Sound

  • Best over USB
  • Balanced soundscape

When phones get more than 10,000 mAh, they’ve got enough battery for extended use without a recharge, and this one has 10800 mAh of battery inside.

According to Doogee, the V30 should operate for more than three days of typical use without needing a recharge, and it might make it to a fourth.

The included 66W charger can recover 50% of its battery capacity from empty in around 30 minutes, although if you use the 15W wireless charging, it will take four hours to reach the same level.

There are rugged designs that offer more battery, but they trade weight for that advantage, and the physical mass of the V30 isn’t so great that it becomes impractical.

The available capacity is enough for a camping holiday, and the power efficiency of the platform makes the most of it.

  • Sound score: 4/5

Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal

(Image credit: Bang & Olufsen)

I could wax lyrical about the balanced frequency response, how they feel after you’ve been wearing them for hours and the generally wonderful build quality, but none of these things obscures the fiscal elephant in this room.

If you want some high-quality headphones that are equally impressive user for work or play and carry this logo, then be prepared to open your wallet wide.

Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal score card

Should I buy a Bang & Olufsen Beocom Portal?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Also consider 

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

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

Editor's Note

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

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

Sony WH-1000XM5: One-minute review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Price & release date

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

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

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

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

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

the Sony WH-1000XM4 headband

(Image credit: Future)

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a closeup of the Sony WH-1000XM4 earcup

(Image credit: Future)

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Features

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

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

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

Key specs

Acoustic design: Closed

Weight: 253g

Frequency response: 4Hz to 40kHz

Drivers: 1.57-inch dome-type

Battery life: 30 hours

Active noise cancellation? Yes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a man wearing the Sony WH-1000XM4 wireless headphones

(Image credit: Future)

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Audio quality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the Sony WH-1000XM4 with their case

(Image credit: Future)

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Battery life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the Sony WH-1000XM4 in their carrying case

(Image credit: Future)

Buy them if...

Don't buy them if...

Sony WH-1000XM4 review: Also consider

First reviewed: August 2020