JLab unveils $49 alternative to Bose Frames audio sunglasses – CNET

jlab-jbuds-frames-on-sunglasses-with-blue-lenses

The JBuds Frames do not include glasses. They're scheduled to ship this Spring for $49.

JLab Audio
This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

Maybe you've had your eye on Bose's second-gen Frames audio sunglasses, but you looked at the $250 (£240, AU$400) price tag and said no thanks. Well, JLab Audio will be releasing a $49 alternative this spring. The JBuds Frames are essentially open-ear true-wireless earbuds that clip onto your existing glasses.

It's an intriguing concept that JLab describes as a bring-your-own-frame design, although it's clearly a bit kluge-looking and a bit disingenuous to call these earbuds "frames." International prices aren't currently available, but $49 is roughly £40 or AU$70.

JLab says its JBuds Frames are comprised of "two independently operating Bluetooth true wireless audio devices, which can be affixed to the temples of sunglasses, eyeglasses, and similarly styled blue light blocking eyewear." They have 16mm drivers and JLab claims that your music can't be "heard by those close by," though from my experience from using Bose Frames, that only applies when you're listening to audio at more moderate volume levels. 

Battery life is rated at 8 hours and the clip-on devices have an IPX4 water-resistance rating, making them splash-resistant. They charge with a proprietary pogo-pin cable. 

jlab-jbuds-frames-included-accessories

The included accessories.

JLab Audio

You can use them for making calls. "Conveniently located button controls let the user accept or decline phone calls, adjust volume, and switch between JLab's Signature and Bass Boost EQ settings," JLab says.

I have doubt they'll sound as good Bose's Tempo Frames, which feature 22mm drivers -- virtually all of the audio non-Bose audio sunglasses I've tried have sounded mediocre and tend to be lacking in the bass department. (Bose's new Frames 2.0 offer improved bass, and while the sound quality is surprisingly good, it's not on par with a decent set of true-wireless earbuds.) But the JLab Frames cost a fifth of the Bose Frames' price, so if they simply sound decent enough, you may be happy with their performance.

jlab-jbuds-frames-glasses-greyed-out

You can clip them on to any glasses.

JLab Audio

Sound-quality issues aside, the whole audio-sunglasses category appears to be taking off as several other companies, including Amazon and its Echo Frames, have followed Bose with competing products that tend to cost less. They have particular appeal to runners and bikers who don't want anything in their ears so they'll be able to hear traffic for safety reasons.    

Key specs

  • Over 8 hours of play time
  • Two hooks secure the JBuds Frames to almost any type of eyeglasses, with two sets of silicone sleeves ensure a tight fit on styles with smaller temples 
  • 16.2 mm drivers
  • Output: 120 +/- 3dB
  • Codecs: AAC / SBC
  • 20 to 22 kHz frequency response
  • Impedance: 22 ohms
  • Dual connect allows either JBuds Frame device to be used independently 
  • Two different EQ settings
  • Input power: 5V 90mA
  • 120-mAh lithium polymer battery
  • Charge time: 2 hours
  • Standby time: 100 hours
  • Range: 30+ ft. (10m)
  • Weight: 11.7 grams per frame component
  • IPX4 water-resistance rating 
  • Two-year warranty
  • Price: $50
  • Available spring 2021

Now playing: Watch this: Bose Frames 2.0 audio sunglasses review

5:53

Let's block ads! (Why?)

Read More

JBL debuts new Charge 5 Bluetooth speaker for $180 – CNET

jbl-charge-5.png
JBL
This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

JBL has a new Charge Bluetooth speaker for 2021 -- the Charge 5 -- that the company says offers improved audio and an elevated dustproof and waterproof design. The wireless speaker, which features a built-in USB charging port for juicing up your mobile devices, is set to ship in April for $180 (£160) in six color options: black, blue, gray, red, teal and "squad" (which looks like a kind of camo). 

According to JBL, the speaker comes with a "racetrack-shaped driver," with a separate tweeter and dual passive radiators, which help improve both clarity and bass performance over the Charge 4. Battery life is rated at 20 hours at moderate volume levels and you can charge a device while your music is playing, though that will cut into the battery life of the speaker. This model also equipped with JBL's PartyBoost feature that allows you to connect it to other compatible JBL portable speakers to augment their sound.

Read more: Best Bluetooth speakers of 2021

If the past is any indication, this iteration of the Charge will sound fuller than JBL's more compact and less expensive Flip 5 Bluetooth speaker, which is currently available for $100. The significantly larger JBL Extreme 3 ($350) is the step-up model from the Charge 5.

I won't be able to tell you how much better the Charge 5 sounds than the Charge 4 or Flip 5 until I get my hands on a review sample. On the surface anyway, the Charge 4 has similar specs, with 20 hours of battery life and an IPX7 water-resistance rating. However, it doesn't offer the same dustproof rating (the second number in the IP rating refers to the dustproof rating) and presumably has different drivers.

Here are the Charge 5's key features, according to JBL: 

JBL Charge 5 specs

  • IP67 rated waterproof and dustproof design
  • Enabled with JBL PartyBoost
  • Bluetooth 5.1 
  • Built-in 7,500-mAh Powerbank: Rechargeable li-ion battery supports 20 hours of playtime and offers the ability to charge devices via USB-out port
  • Racetrack-shaped driver, with separate tweeter and dual passive JBL Bass Radiators
  • Silicon bumpers
  • Price: $180 (£160)
  • Six color options: black, blue, gray, red, teal and squad
  • Availability: April 2021

Let's block ads! (Why?)

Read More

Earin A-3 earbuds drop the AirPods-style microphone stem – CNET

earin-a-3-in-hand
Earin

Way back in 2015, Swedish company Earin was the first to release a set of true wireless earbuds. Now it's unveiled its third-generation A-3 earbuds. and they look a lot like what the standard AirPods would look ike if you removed their trademark extruding stems. The new buds are set to hit Kickstarter on Jan. 14 for $199 in black and silver colors and will hit Amazon and other retailers in the next few months, Earin says.

Like the AirPods, they have an "open" design, which means there's no silicone ear tip to jam in your ear. The advantage of an open design is that it can be more comfortable. The downside is that sound from the outside world leaks in, making open-design earbuds harder to use in noisy environments, and they can sometimes be a little lacking the bass department. Also, for some people, they might not fit as securely as noise-isolating earbuds. (I have trouble keeping the standard AirPods in my ears but many others don't.)

earin-a-3-with-case

The A-3 earbuds deliver 5 hours of battery life from a single charge.

Earin

I haven't tried the new A-3 buds yet, so I can't tell you how they fit or perform, but they perhaps represent the future of true wireless earbuds, with more companies developing more discreet designs. Apple shrank the stems on the AirPods Pro a bit from the standard AirPods and rumor has it that the company may completely eliminate the protrusions on the next-generation AirPods.

Read more: Best wireless earbuds for 2021

As for specs, the A-3 buds have an IPX52 water resistance rating (they can withstand a sustained spray of water but are not fully waterproof) and deliver 5 hours of battery life with five extra charges from their charging case. They have 14mm drivers, Bluetooth 5.0 and Qualcomm's higher-end QCC5121 chipset. AAC and aptX audio codecs are supported (certain Android devices like Samsung Galaxy smartphones support aptX streaming but iPhones do not). 

earin-a-3-in-ear

An Earin A-3 in an ear.

Earin

AirPods are known for working very well for making calls, partly because of the protruding stems, which sit closer to your mouth and house beam-forming microphones that capture your voice clearly. When you remove the stems, you lose that technological advantage for voice calls. Earin says the company has overcome that by combining an external microphone with technology that detects your voice through your ear with speech-detecting accelerometers. It's possible Apple would use similar technology if it moved to a stem-free design for next-generation AirPods.

Let's block ads! (Why?)

Read More

Bose’s new ‘open’ sport buds set to ship Jan. 20 – CNET

bose-open-sport-earbuds.png
Bose

Last year Bose released a couple of new sets of true-wireless earbuds -- the QuietComfort Earbuds and Sport Earbuds -- both of which have a noise-isolating design where the ear tips nestle inside your ears, sealing out a decent amount of ambient sound (the QuietComfort Earbuds also have active noise canceling). On Tuesday the company launched its new Sport Open Earbuds, which feature, as their name implies, an open design without a tip, meaning it kind of sits on top of your ear. 

They're available for preorder now for $200 and scheduled to ship Jan. 21. Initially, they'll only be available in the US, so no international pricing is available, but $200 is about £150 or AU$260.

Bose says the earbuds are the first to use OpenAudio technology -- not bone conduction -- the same technology Bose uses in its $250 Frames audio sunglasses. The Frames sound surprisingly good, although not as good as noise-isolating earbuds or full-size headphones. "This unique approach produces clearer, more consistent sound, without the vibrating sensation bone conduction is known for," the company says.

Because of their open design, I suspect the Sport Open Earbuds may be slightly lacking in the bass department. Just like the Frames, they'll appeal to runners and bikers who don't want anything covering their ears for safety reasons. They'll likely also appeal to people who just don't like the feeling of having an ear tip jammed in their ear.

bose-open-sport-earbuds-4

They wrap around your ear but sit on top of it.

Bose

The Bose Frames Tempo employ 22mm drivers, whereas the Sport Open Earbuds have 16mm drivers. You'll probably get some sound leakage at higher volumes, meaning people will be able to hear your music if they are standing near you. That said, with the Frames, when you keep the sound at more moderate volume levels, the sound leakage is fairly minimal.  

The earbuds are IPX4 splash-resistant and battery life is rated at up to eight hours at 50% volume. They come with a charging dock and a protective carrying case, but they don't seem to charge in the case, which doesn't appear to have a battery inside. That's unusual but does allow the case to be lighter and more compact.

The carrying case.

Bose

There are two microphones on the right earbud for making calls. Bose says the advanced microphone system is "designed to focus only on your voice and reduce the sound of wind and other noise around." The Frames are actually very good for making calls, so I'd expect these to work well as a headset, too. 

As soon as I get my hands on a review sample, I'll post a full review of the Sport Open Earbuds and let you know how they sound and fit.

bose-open-sport-earbuds-charging-dock.png

The charging dock.

Bose

Now playing: Watch this: Bose Frames 2.0 audio sunglasses review

5:53

Let's block ads! (Why?)

Read More

Best PC speakers for 2021 – CNET

One of the things usually missing when you buy a computer -- whether it's a laptop or desktop -- is good sound. Yeah, laptops are equipped with a small speaker or two that output decent sound, but it's not exactly full, rich stereo sound. These built-in speakers aren't ideal for listening to music or watching videos -- they only play so loud and tend to be seriously lacking in the bass department.

If you're looking to bypass your laptop speaker and take that sound to the next level, it's time to look for a small or portable speaker to pick up the slack. The good news -- the market is completely saturated with computer speakers that offer quality sound, taking your computer's audio experience to the next level. Even a budget computer speaker can boost sound quality to such an extent that you'll be shocked by the poor quality of your laptop speaker.

There are a multitude of PC speakers to choose from, and you can certainly pair your PC with a Bluetooth speaker to augment the sound. That said, this list comprises the best in the powered speaker arena -- they have their own built-in amplifiers, which means they need to be plugged in.

Some of the speakers on this list have simple analog connectivity options, but the majority offer some form of digital connection -- that means you can plug them right into a computer's USB port. Others have wireless Bluetooth connectivity, which allows you to easily pair the speakers with all your Bluetooth devices, including smartphones and tablets. You can even position a Bluetooth speaker set to mimic surround sound. As you might expect, better connectivity options tend to add some cost to the speakers, but a few moderately priced speakers have excellent connectivity options, in addition to more-than-decent sound.

Note that we haven't fully reviewed many of these picks, but we've listened to all the selected models. If you're on the hunt for great sound, keep reading -- the right speaker for your computer is sure to be here. Also, we'll update this list periodically as more laptop and desktop computer speaker options hit the market.

Amazon

Creative's Pebble speakers have been around for awhile and now come in a V2 version with a USB-C plug (a USB-A adapter is included) that powers the speaker, no extra power adapter required. They're $30, while the earlier V1 version (with USB-A) can be had for $20. Note that this V2 model does play a little louder and sounds better than the V1.

They don't deliver huge sound and they're light on the bass, but they're surprisingly decent for their low price.

A version with a subwoofer that delivers more bass is available for only $40 (see below). 

Amazon

Edifier makes a ton of PC speakers, and they're generally very good. We like the R1280DB because it has all the features you want, including an optical input and Bluetooth capabilities in a fairly compact package that delivers very good sound for a decent price ($130).

Amazon

In terms of sound for the money, it's hard to beat Creative's Pebble Plus 2.1, which includes a sub for less than $40. The 4-inch sub isn't exactly great looking, but it's a black box that you can hide in a corner of your desk or underneath it.

This model is also powered by USB (there's no power adapter), but you do have to connect it to your device with a standard 3.5mm aux-in cable (included). Don't expect huge volume (it is powered by USB after all), but it delivers better sound than you might think for the money.

David Carnoy/CNET

The Logitech Z407 is a compact system with a small subwoofer that doesn't exactly have a premium feel (it's an all-plastic affair and the satellite speakers are quite light), but it's attractive and has some nice features. For starters, it's simple to set up. You can use it wired mode with an auxiliary 3.5mm cable or connect it to your computer via USB. But the majority of people will connect their devices to it via Bluetooth.

It comes with a hockey-puck sized controller (it's powered by two AAA batteries) that doubles as a Bluetooth transceiver between any Bluetooth-enabled audio device and the speaker system. You can skip tracks forward and back by tapping on the top of the puck and turn the dial to control volume. It's also worth noting that the speakers can be stood up vertically or horizontally. It's a nifty design. 

The sound is good at close range but the bass isn't exactly tight (you can only expect so much from an $80 system). This would work fine as an audio system in a small room, but just doesn't have the juice to sound good in a larger room (it's touted as having 80W of power but power ratings don't mean all that much). 

David Carnoy/CNET

The most recent addition to the Audioengine family, the A1 speakers sound very good for their compact size, particularly in terms of their clarity. Like the more expensive A2 Plus (see below), they're a little bass shy, but if you're using these at close range (as one tends to do if you're looking at a computer screen), the bass will seem ample. You can connect a subwoofer to them, but that would substantially raise the price for the package. In a small room, they could work as your main speaker system, but they just don't have enough power for a larger room.

The nice thing about them is that they're nice looking. They're also simple to set up and wireless, so you can connect your computer -- or another device -- via Bluetooth. You just have to hit the pair button on the back to engage pairing mode. A set of speaker wires connects the two speakers (the left speaker has the amplifier and all the connectivity options). You can also use the auxiliary-in port to connect your computer with an included cable.  

Audioengine

If you can't afford Audioengine's $500 A5 Plus Wireless (see below) -- or don't like its somewhat large footprint -- the A2 Plus is a good alternative, albeit one that produces less bass and just isn't as loud or full sounding. Still, it sounds really good for a mini bookshelf-size speaker and has a glossy piano finish that gives it a premium look.

I reviewed an earlier version of the A2 Plus way back in 2013. It now has Bluetooth connectivity with support for AptX streaming (for AptX-compatible devices), but it still uses a standard 3.5mm-to-3.5mm audio cable that you plug into your device's headphone jack or auxiliary output. 

At its $269 price point, it delivers excellent sound in a compact, attractively minimalist design, which is why it appears to be so popular at the moment. Some sites have it back-ordered or not available in certain color options (I personally like the white). 

Amazon

Razer bills its Nommo Chroma speakers as "gaming" speakers, which isn't surprising since it's known for its gaming-oriented accessories. What I like about these speakers is they deliver a decent amount of bass without having a separate subwoofer, and you can adjust the bass with a knob on the left speaker. That ability to produce some bass that has some kick to it should indeed appeal to gamers who like having some visceral impact from in-game explosions to add to the immersiveness of a game. They're also pretty decent for movie watching and sound fine with music.

The added gaming touch is that the bases light up on the bottom with Razer's Chroma lighting tech. You can program the colors or sync the lighting up with your gameplay to create an ambient effect.

As for connectivity, there's USB-A cable that delivers digital audio to the speakers from your PC or Mac. You can connect to the analog auxiliary port on the back of the left speaker (there's also a headphone jack on back), but the digital connection sounds significantly better.

David Carnoy/CNET

Harman Kardon's SoundSticks have been around for 20 years and have always been a favorite of Mac users because, well, they -- and their transparent aesthetics -- were marketed from the get-go to owners of the early iMacs. Revealed back in January, the latest models haven't quite shipped yet, but they're available for preorder (I got an early sample). 

There have been some design changes, particularly to the subwoofer, which has a cleaner, sleeker look without the plastic funnel inside. The SoundsSticks 4 are rated for 140 watts of power -- the previous version was rated for 40 watts. Also, Bluetooth connectivity now comes standard (with the SoundSticks 3, there was a step-up model you had to buy to get Bluetooth). The speaker comes in two color options -- one with white trim and one with black.

The system is a little more compact than you'd think seeing some of the pictures, and it does deliver strong sound with bass that will rattle a table at higher volumes if you leave the sub on your desk (the sub is actually slightly smaller at 5.25 inches compared to 6 inches for the SoundSticks 3). From what I remember of the SoundSticks 3, this new model does sound fuller.

The only fault I found with it was the lack of a wired digital connection. Like the previous version, there's an analog cable that you plug it into the headphone jack or auxiliary output on your computer or another device. As a result, I tended to just use the Bluetooth, which gives you more flexibility with the placement of the sub (the power cord is a little short). That said, you do have to connect the elegant mini tower satellite speakers to the sub with cables that are color-labeled for easy hookup, so the sub has to stay pretty close to the satellites.

It's also worth noting that you don't have to be a Mac user to buy these speakers. They're compatible with any audio device that has Bluetooth or a 3.5mm audio-out port. If you can't wait for the SoundSticks 4 or just don't want to spend $300 on PC speakers, you can pick up the SoundSticks 3 for $200 or less. 

Amazon

Audioengine's powered A5 speakers have been around for several years and have received some technology upgrades over time. The wired-only version is $400, but if you want to add a Bluetooth option, the price goes up to $500. You can connect to your PC either with a cable or via Bluetooth, but having Bluetooth is nice if you want these speakers to double as standard bookshelf speakers.

As you might expect, they have significantly more bass than Audioengine's smaller A2 Plus, and they resemble traditional monitor speakers. With a built-in 150W amp, they deliver clean, dynamic sound with lots of volume, and will rock a medium-size room without a problem.

Let's block ads! (Why?)

Read More

Best portable mini Bluetooth speaker for 2021: JBL, Bose, Sony and more – CNET

Audio technology has advanced over the years. Not only have prices dropped on portable wireless Bluetooth speakers, but we've also seen an improvement in the quality of products. Regardless of the cost, the sound quality across the board is pretty darn good. True, some limitations might be set by the size of the speaker (typically an inferior bass quality), but the convenience offered by a portable speaker offsets these minor quibbles.

We'd have to say that a portable Bluetooth speaker is the best way to take your music with you anytime and anywhere you want. Not only can you stream your tunes from a phone, tablet or computer, but you can also use a small speaker as a speakerphone for calls or meetings where you actually want to tune in with that all-important Bluetooth connection.

We continue to review mini Bluetooth speakers at a steady clip here at CNET, so we update this list often. This buyer's guide offers a look at our current favorites, with a focus on small and lightweight models that are well-suited for travel and still have excellent sound output. We're also highlighting the models that produce great sound, have a solid battery life, and don't cost too much. If you're looking for the best portable Bluetooth speaker for you, read on.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Bose's SoundLink Micro is arguably the best-sounding Bluetooth speaker for its tiny size. Seriously, your audio will sound amazing. Although this Bose speaker is a little pricey for a Bluetooth speaker, Bose did shave $10 off its list price, bringing it down to $99. It's fully waterproof -- not just water resistant -- and available in three color options. Read our Bose SoundLink Micro review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Tribit's StormBox Micro is one of the best sounding pocket-sized Bluetooth speakers I've tested, with bigger bass and volume than most other tiny speakers. 

Aside from its great design, Bose's SoundLink Micro stood out because it was able to deliver more bass than every Bluetooth speaker in its size class, and it also managed to have limited distortion at higher volumes. And it's the Tribit's bass and overall volume level for its tiny size that allows it to stand out. 

It's IP67 dustproof and water-resistant (it can be fully submerged in shallow water for a short time) and has up to eight hours of battery life at moderate volume levels with USB-C charging. Like the Bose, this portable Bluetooth speaker has an integrated strap so you can clip it to your backpack or bike's handlebars. 

David Carnoy/CNET

Anker's Soundcore Motion Plus came out in 2019 and managed to slip beneath my radar, which is a shame because it's arguably one of the best-sounding speakers under $100, if not the best. A little larger than many mini Bluetooth speakers, it's still compact and manages to sound quite a bit fuller than much of the competition under $100, with bigger bass, more volume and better clarity. It's also fully waterproof (IPX7 rated) and has support for the aptX streaming codec for devices like Samsung's Galaxy phones that support it. Read our Anker Soundcore Motion Plus review.

David Carnoy/CNET

With its new canister-like design, perfectly sized to fit in a chair cup holder, Sony has created a portable Bluetooth speaker that has a design you're probably familiar with from popular speakers like the UE Boom and JBL Flip, which have been upgraded over the years with improved bass and battery life. 

An Extra Bass model, the SRS-XB23 definitely has a warmer sound. It delivers better sound with more bass and volume than many of the cheaper generic Bluetooth speakers you can find on Amazon in the $40-$70 range on Amazon. It's also a sleeker looking Bluetooth speaker that's available in five different color options: black, taupe, coral red, light blue and olive green. Some colors are available for $10 less.

Equipped with two new full-range drivers and passive bass radiator, it delivers 12 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels and is waterproof, dustproof, rustproof and shockproof with an IP67 rating. It has USB-C charging and can connect with up to 100 other Sony speakers using Sony's Party Connect feature.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Not only does this fully waterproof Bluetooth speaker (IPX7) have improved battery life and better sound than the Clip 2, this compact bluetooth speaker is more durable, according to JBL, thanks to the integrated carabiner framing the entire perimeter of the speaker, acting as a bumper. This little speaker has a built-in rechargeable li-ion battery, which lasts up to five hours on a single charge, and is one of the top speakers for its tiny size. It sells for $40. Read our JBL Clip 3 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Tribit MaxSound Plus is about 30% bigger than its sibling XSound Go and costs about $25 more, but it performs substantially better and is one of the best sounding speakers in its size and price class. It has a long-lasting rechargeable battery and superior audio quality for a Bluetooth speaker. Read our Tribit MaxSound Plus review.

David Carnoy/CNET

JBL's Flip 5 is slightly bigger than the Flip 4, with improved audio sound with a little more bass. It has an IPX7 waterproof certification, which means it can be submerged in a meter of water for up to 30 minutes and survive. Tribit's StormBox is cheaper and plays louder, but I like the tonal balance of the Flip 5 better. Its rechargeable battery uses USB-C charging, which is better for future-proofing.

David Carnoy/CNET

The Sony XB01 is a splashproof mini wireless speaker (that doesn't mean that it's a waterproof bluetooth speaker -- don't take this one in the shower or anything), and is available in multiple colors. And it offers great sound for the price. (It lists for $35 but is regularly discounted to less than $25 and sometimes even less than $20.) Read our Sony SRS-XB01 review.

David Carnoy/CNET

We liked Ultimate Ears' original Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker, which sounded good for its compact size and was also waterproof. Now the company has released the Wonderboom 2, which is a touch bigger than the original and sounds slightly better, with more bass and a special Outdoor Boost mode that boosts treble.

Like its predecessor, the fully waterproof Wonderboom 2 is a compact speaker that carries a list price of $100 but often sells for less. What's different is the IP67 rating that means it's dustproof, more shock-resistant and also able to float. It also has 30% better battery life -- up to 13 hours at moderate volume levels, according to Ultimate Ears -- and you can link two together to create a stereo sound pairing by simply pressing a button on each speaker.

Sarah Tew/CNET

At $37, the Tribit XSound Go is one of the top speakers with Bluetooth connectivity for the money. Besides sounding decent, it's also fully waterproof. It also has incredible battery life, able to play continuously for up to 24 hours with its lithium-ion battery. Read our Tribit XSound Go review.

Sony

Last year, Sony made some small improvements to its little canister-style speaker, one of the smallest in its Xtra Bass line. The SRS-XB12 puts out surprisingly big and great sound for its small size and boasts 16 hours of battery, as well as IP67 waterproof and dustproof rating (if you accidentally drop it in water it floats). You can add another speaker to get stereo sound. While it lists for $58, it's on sale at Amazon for $33. Available in multiple color options.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Tribit's StormBox speaker looks like a cross between a UE and a JBL speaker. We suspect that's not an accident. Fully waterproof, it costs about $30 less than the JBL Flip 5 and produces bigger sound and has up to 20 hours of battery life. Tribit's XSound speakers are probably a better value, but the Stormbox is more stylish. It also has a rechargeable li-ion battery able to power up to 20 hours of continuous playtime.

Sarah Tew/CNET

1More is known for its well-priced in-ear headphones. But its first Bluetooth speaker is also quite decent. Its strength is its bass performance for a speaker this size. While this mini speaker doesn't have the clarity of the Flip 5 or UE Wonderboom, its bass has a bigger sound. It can be laid flat or hung vertically using a built-in lanyard. I preferred its sound when the speaker was facing me (not up). 

Full disclosure: This is the only product on this list we didn't test in person. But we found much to admire in its predecessor, the Oontz Angle Plus, back in 2017. This one has marginally better battery life, slightly bigger sound and is more water-resistant than the Plus, and it offers stereo pairing, too. We'll have a hands-on evaluation soon, but we're including it here based on our positive experience with the Plus and the enthusiastic 4,800-plus user reviews on Amazon, where it sells for $35 to $40. Plus, it has all the hallmarks of a best portable Bluetooth speaker.

More audio recommendations

Let's block ads! (Why?)

Read More

Get this sweet 100W USB-C MacBook or Windows PC charger for only $30 – CNET

aukey-100w-usb-c-pd-charger
David Carnoy/CNET

Looking for a cheaper and more compact replacement charger for your USB-C charging Apple MacBook or Windows laptop? Aukey's 100W PD Charger is normally $40, but after you apply the instant $10-off coupon on Amazon (just check the box), the price drops to $30. Back in July the list price was $55, and Aukey was offering a CNET-exclusive deal on it for $41, so this deal is $11 better than that. Additionally, the newer Aukey 90W 3-port PD charger with 2 USB-C ports and a USB-A port is only $40 with an instant 25%-off coupon. Both are equipped with the GaN fast-charging chipset, which allows the charger to be smaller than many competing models. 

Read more: Best iPhone 12 chargers starting at $10

While it's designed to be able to charge larger laptops like the MacBook Pro 16-inch, it will charge any laptop that charges via USB-C, as well as smartphones and tablets, at their maximum charging rate (it automatically adjusts its charging output for the device). 

Apple's 96W USB-C charger costs $79 so this Aukey is almost half its price and also significantly smaller.    

This article was first published earlier this year.     

Now playing: Watch this: MacBook Air vs. 13-inch MacBook Pro vs. 16-inch MacBook...

7:54

Let's block ads! (Why?)

Read More

AirPods Max review: The price hurts but these headphones are excellent – CNET

airpods-max-baby-yoda

The AirPods Max fit a wide variety of head types.

David Carnoy/CNET

When Apple first revealed its new AirPods Max noise-canceling headphones, many people naturally balked at their $549 price tag (they're £549 in the UK and AU$899 in Australia) -- and their oddly shaped Smart Case. Personally, I wasn't surprised by their high price tag -- and yes, for most folks, it is high. That's because back in January I'd heard through a reliable source that over the years the engineers and designers working on Apple's long-running over-ear noise-canceling headphone project had produced some "spectacular looking" prototypes that were too expensive to manufacture without charging upwards of $1,000. So I kind of shrugged when I heard they were $549, figuring plenty of people would buy them anyway. And so they have: The first batch of AirPods Max sold out in all five color options, with online wait times stretching out to three months or more. (You may have more luck at individual Apple Stores, however.)

Read more: AirPods Max: 8 things new owners need to know

Like

  • Surprisingly comfortable for their weight
  • Impressive sound and build-quality
  • Adaptive noise canceling is top-notch and so is transparency mode
  • Good headset performance for calls
  • Spatial audio virtual surround for iPhones and iPads is a sweet bonus feature
  • Automatic switching between iOS devices on your iCloud account (multipoint Bluetooth)

Don't Like

  • Expensive, heavy and the smart case may be too smart for its own good
  • No manual way to power off and no cable included for wired use
  • Android users lose a couple of key features
  • People around you can hear what you're listening to if you have the volume up (they leak some sound)

Are they worth $549? Ultimately, that's going to be up to you to determine. All I can do is describe my experience using them and let you know that they're excellent (though not perfect) headphones, with top-notch sound, rock-solid wireless connectivity and noise canceling that's arguably a touch better than what you find on competing models at the high end. 

I can also give you my impressions about how they stack up against those same headphones, specifically the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, as well as some other high-end Bluetooth headphones. But in a world where Audeze, Grado and Focal (to name a few) have long had audiophile headphones priced well north of $1,500 -- and few people are outraged that the latest Adidas Yeezy sneakers go for $200 or more -- I don't think it's fair to get too worked up about the price of the AirPods Max. Based on what they're fetching on reseller sites like eBay and StockX, they too seem on their way to becoming status symbols. 

This review is based on several days with the headphones. I'm still evaluating battery life and wired audio performance (among other things), which may or may not alter the final rating.

Read more: AirPods Max: 14 tips to master Apple's latest wireless headphones

Full metal jacket

The first thing you notice when you open the box is that their build quality is like nothing that's out there in the $300 to $400 range. OK, there's some stuff that's close: The Bowers and Wilkins PX7 (down to $340 from its list price of $400) is sturdily built with an eye-catching design. I also like Sennheiser's Momentum 3 for its build quality (down to $280 from its list price of $400). Master & Dynamic's MW65, currently on sale for $400 (it lists for $500), is also unique-looking and made of premium materials. All those models feature strong sound quality but fall a little short on noise-canceling performance.   

The one thing people may have a problem with is the weight of the AirPods Max. These are definitely heavy headphones, weighing 385 grams (13.6 ounces). By comparison, the Sony WH-1000XM4 weigh 254 grams, while the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 weigh 249 grams. Big difference.

airpods-max-stockx.png

On the street in New York City. 

David Carnoy/CNET

They've got a lot of metal -- a stainless steel frame and aluminum earcups that are reminiscent of Apple's MacBooks -- and metal weighs more than plastic. I didn't drop them because you avoid dropping $549 headphones, but it's quite possible they could come away with a dent if they fell onto pavement (they might do OK with a wood floor). Of course, you don't want to drop any headphones on pavement. 

For heavy headphones they're surprisingly comfortable, but I don't expect that they'll be super comfy for everyone, particularly those with neck problems. Personally, I thought It'd be nice if they were 20% lighter, but the way the headband is designed, with its mesh canopy, it takes a good amount of pressure off the top of your head, though I did find myself making small adjustments, moving the headband forward off the crown of my head. While they're big -- and some people just don't like to wear big headphones -- they seem to fit a good range of head types. 

Their almost gel-like memory-foam earpads also stand out. They adhere magnetically to cover Apple's 40mm custom drivers and have a fabric covering, which makes them more breathable than your typical leather or faux leather earpads like those found on the Sony WH-1000XM4. As a result, your ears steam up less in warmer environments. You'll be able to replace those earpads for $69 (yes, that's expensive, too) and the AirPods Max's battery should also be replaceable, although you'll have to have Apple do it.

Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention the swanky design touches like the telescoping arms and springy, pivoting hinges. There's no plastic creaking here. This is a well-oiled machine, minus the oil.

airpods-max-with-bose-and-sony

The AirPods Max (left) next to the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (center) and Sony WH-1000XM4.

David Carnoy/CNET

Are they as comfortable to wear as the Sony WH-1000MX4 or Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700? In a lot of ways, yes. Like any headphones, certain people might have a problem with the Sony's or Bose's fit, but most folks find them to be very comfortable. I could wear the AirPods Max as long as both those headphones -- an hour straight wasn't a problem. But you are aware you have a pair of substantial headphones on your head. On the plus side, I do think the fabric earpads really give the AirPods Max an advantage in preventing your ears from getting steamed up, and they also do just fine as earmuffs in colder weather, though the aluminum is quite cold to the touch. 

'High-end' sound

The AirPods Max do sound impressive, like high-end headphones, with tight bass, natural mids, crisp highs and a wide soundstage for a closed-back headphone. Apple does have EQ settings (under Music in Settings) -- for Apple Music anyway -- and you can make some slight customizations to the sound profile. But I mainly went with the default sound profile across multiple music services which suited my eclectic music tastes just fine. 

Apple's intention with the AirPods Max is to serve up a "high-end" audio experience or at least an approximation of one. The problem, of course, is serious audiophiles tend not to bother with wireless Bluetooth headphones or noise-canceling headphones. Bluetooth streaming has gotten better and better over the years and noise canceling doesn't impact the sound nearly as much as it once did. But to get the most accurate, pure sound, which is what high-end headphones are all ultimately about, wired headphones coupled with a properly amplified source that plays lossless audio is going to get you to the real promised land. 

The AirPods Max are missing some audiophile features. They currently stream only AAC and not aptX, aptX HD or Sony's LDAC codecs, which are compatible mostly with Android devices. It's possible that support for additional codecs -- and additional features -- could be added in the future with a firmware upgrade, but for now there's just AAC. That's just fine for owners of Apple's devices, which these headphones are optimized for, but although Android devices support AAC streaming, there's been reports that they don't handle it as well as iOS devices. These do work with Android phones and Bluetooth-enabled devices, but you lose some extra features -- more on that in a minute.

That said, plenty of $50 earbuds support aptX, and just listing it as a spec doesn't mean all that much. There are other factors that are far more important to producing good sound, but it would be nice if $549 headphones did support more codecs. As it stands, Apple has something called "Apple Digital Masters" in Apple Music that are supposed to offer the best audio quality. A lot of the top hits in Apple Music are created under the program. You may be able to recognize very subtle differences when listening to the same track (at the highest bit rate) in Spotify versus Apple Music, but most people can't, or the difference isn't enough to care too much about. 

airpods-max-mesh-canopy

The mesh canopy.

David Carnoy/CNET

You can easily tell the difference between the sound of the AirPods Max and that of the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, both of which are excellent sounding wireless noise-canceling headphones. The Bose actually has more of an audiophile profile than the Sony. It's a little better balanced and has smooth, even-handed sound and a little tighter bass. There are times when I like it better than the Sony. But the Sony has a lot of energy in the bass and that kind of energy works better with certain tracks. 

What you get with the AirPods Max is just clearer, more refined sound and basically no distortion at higher volumes -- note that while they play loud, they don't play incredibly loud. I'm not ready to say that the sound measures up to what you get from a pair of high-end wired headphones, say something with a planar magnetic driver (one of Hifiman's cans, for instance, the best of which are open back and leak more sound than the AirPods Max, which do leak some sound at higher volumes). But it's certainly a level up in terms of clarity from the Sony and Bose. They are more revealing, articulate headphones. After switching back and forth, I sometimes felt like I was listening through a screen door with the Sony. The AirPods Max also is more open sounding -- by that I mean it has a wider soundstage.

Now, as I said, with certain tracks, you could very well prefer the sound of the Sony, which has all that energy in the bass, even if it lacks some definition, compared to the AirPods Max anyway. If you listen to a lot of hip hop, electronica and other pop hits, you just don't really need the AirPods Max. That's not to say that there isn't a lot of energy in the bass on the AirPods Max -- you can literally feel it at times in the form of vibration -- but if you're used to a little boomier bass and like the sound of a warmer headphone, the Sony is going to seem great.

The AirPods Max are more akin to the Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless but have more bass. The Amiron Wireless also costs around $500, though it lacks noise canceling. The AirPods Max are a little richer sounding, but the Beyerdynamic has nice tonal balance and good clarity for Bluetooth. It's improved with some firmware upgrades but is a little too neutral sounding for some.  

You take a track like Kane Brown's Be Like That and you'll immediately notice that the bass on the Sony WH-1000XM4 dominates the track. It sounds comparatively boomy compared to the bass on the AirPods Max. Now, if you're into bass, that could be a good thing. But the track comes across as more balanced and detailed on the AirPods Max, with a little more openness and texture.

airpods-max-buttons

The AirPods Max only has two buttons, neither of which is a power button, and no touch controls.

David Carnoy/CNET

Billie Eilish's track Bury a Friend features very deep bass. Again, lots of energy with Sony, but the bass feels a little loose compared to the AirPods Max. 

With higher-end headphones you find yourself visualizing fingers plucking guitar strings and you can distinctly hear each instrument. You get a little more of that with the AirPods Max, along with a more intimate sound, by which I mean you feel closer to the music. That may not be everybody's cup of tea, but you hear the difference on tracks like Bob Dylan's Man in the Long Black Coat, Marvin's Gaye's Inner City Blues and Stereolab's Metronomic Underground. I found the AirPods Max were the better headphones for rock: Rage Against the Machine's Take the Power Back and the Foo Fighters' Everlong come across cleaner and more textured.  

And no, the AirPods Pro, which sound just fine for most people -- they're good but not great -- just aren't in the same ballpark. But they're obviously a hell of a lot more discreet and fit in your pocket, even in a pair of tight jeans. 

Noise-canceling king?

I got a little grief on YouTube for calling the AirPods Max "the noise-canceling king" without putting a question mark after the headline. A lot of people simply won't believe that Max's noise canceling could be any better than the noise canceling on the Sony WH-1000XM4, which I also declared the king of noise canceling when it came out earlier this year (no one seemed to complain about that).

I'm going to stand by that assessment. The AirPods Max's noise canceling is arguably the best I've experienced, slightly edging out the noise canceling on both Sony's WH-1000XM4 and Bose's Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. To be clear, these are very subtle differences, and the majority of time people aren't sitting around with noise canceling on without listening to anything, which is how you have to test noise canceling.

Now playing: Watch this: AirPods Max hands-on: New noise-canceling king

9:06

All three headphones are very close in terms of their noise-canceling performance. Where the AirPods Max have a slight advantage is with how much of a hiss they produce when canceling out noise. It's just a little bit cleaner sounding. There's a faint hiss usually associated with noise canceling and it's barely noticeable with the AirPods Max. I also thought the AirPods Max do a slightly better job with relieving the pressure sensation that some people get with noise canceling. The AirPods Pro do well with that -- they're vented to relieve pressure -- and so too are the AirPods Max. 

Another observation: The AirPods Max adaptive noise canceling seems better than Sony's adaptive noise canceling. With the Sony, I often switch to fixed noise-canceling in Sony's companion app because when the noise-canceling mode switches (adapts to your surroundings) the shift can be jarring and noticeable. The adaptive noise canceling of the AirPods Max just seems smoother and less intrusive.

I haven't used the headphones in a lot of environments due to the pandemic (I haven't been on a plane in a while), but I tested it on the streets of New York -- yes, there's still plenty of street noise -- and by a loud air-conditioning unit in my apartment, as well as near running water from a faucet. Again, the Sony's noise canceling is great overall, but from my testing, I'm giving the slight nod to the AirPods Max for reasons beyond their muffling powers.

If you're wondering how the noise canceling compares to the surprisingly good noise canceling on the AirPods Pro, it's not as big a difference as you might think, but it is a significant difference -- again, the nod goes to the AirPods Max -- and I do use foam tips with my AirPods Pro to try to get a tighter seal.

Only two buttons

The controls are really well implemented. There are only two buttons, both on the right earcup. The front button allows you to toggle between noise canceling and a transparency mode that lets sound in and makes you feel like you're not wearing headphones. It sounds natural, similar to the transparency mode on the AirPods Pro.

The second button is a bigger version of the digital crown that's on the Apple Watch. You use that to control volume and click it to pause your music, answer and end calls, and double-click to advance tracks. It's smooth and responsive and in cold weather, you don't have to worry about touch controls that don't always work, though, as I said, the aluminum on the earcups does feel quite cold to the touch. Apple doesn't list any water-resistance rating, but they survived just fine after I wore them in a snow shower for five minutes.

I'm not going to go into too much detail on the specs. You can read about all that on Apple's website. They have a total of nine microphones, two of which are inside the ear cups to assess how you're wearing them on your head, with glasses or not, for instance (the noise canceling adapts accordingly, a feature that's found on the Sony WH-1000XM4). The ninth microphone is a beam-forming mic dedicated to picking up your voice with two other microphones during calls.

They do work quite well as a headset for making calls and are particularly good at reducing wind noise (callers did notice some background noise when I was on the streets of New York but it wasn't too intrusive and they could hear my voice well). Also worth noting: When you're in headset mode, you can hear your voice in the headphones so you can modulate your voice and not end up shouting. They're similar in that regard to the AirPods Pro, though those smaller earphones may be a tad better for making calls, at least outdoors.

airpods-max-sensors

The optical sensors inside the earcups.

David Carnoy/CNET

There are sensors that can tell when you have the headphones on your head, and automatically pause your audio when you take them off or put them around your neck. Plenty of other headphones have this feature, including those from Sony and Bose, but Apple's version seems pretty high-tech. Apple says the AirPods Max have optical sensors, position sensors, case-detect sensors and accelerometers in each ear cup, and a gyroscope in the left ear cup.

Like the AirPods Pro, these have Apple's H1 chip that allows for easy pairing and automatic switching with iOS devices you have on your iCloud account, as well as always-on Siri, so you can issue voice commands without touching any buttons. Apple says the H1 has lots of processing power for the on-board adaptive noise canceling and making your digital music sound better. These do pair with Android devices, but you lose some of the features, like always-on Siri and Apple's spatial-audio virtual surround feature with head tracking. 

Battery life is rated at 20 hours (at 50% volume) with noise canceling on, which is pretty good, though not superb (expect more like 16-17 hours if you play your music loud). And you get 90 minutes of playback from a 10-minute charge via the Lightning port. I kind of wish it charged via USB-C, but that's a small gripe. As with Apple's iPhones, you need to provide your own USB-C power adapter now -- there isn't one in the box.

My bigger gripe is that no cable is included for wired use. Like Apple did with the Beats Solo Pro, you have to buy a $35 Lightning-to-3.5mm cable if you want to go wired, say to use an in-flight entertainment system. I did play around with some cabled listening, plugging it into Sony NW-ZX100 Walkman and Sony NWZ-A17 Walkman with high-res audio on them. The audio does seem slightly more "pure" and uncolored (I mainly listened to Beatles and Talking Heads tracks for comparisons), but the headphones play louder in wireless mode and the Walkmans had a harder time driving the headphones than I thought they would.

The easiest way to listen to to high-res audio is to plug into a Mac or Windows PC and load up some FLAC files, which I did. Obviously, you can also listen to streaming services this way (and any other audio). The volume levels were plenty high on the MacBook Pro I was using and I did experince a noticeable bump up in audio quality going the wired route. The more I started plugging into devices, the more irritated I got that no cable was included. The fact is sometimes it's easier to plug into a device than pair with it wirelessly, particularly if you've got non-Apple devices that aren't on your iCloud account.  

Note, too, that the AirPods Max still needs battery power to deliver audio, even in wired mode; there's no "passive mode" available here. Also the cable does eliminate any latency, which might be a factor while gaming or with music production. I didn't experience any latency with video watching when streaming wirelessly. 

Like the AirPods Pro, these have Apple's spatial-audio virtual surround sound feature with head-tracking that creates a sensation of being in a theater (it's not a true surround experience but for faux surround, it's well done and fun to try). It's definitely an added bonus and differentiator from those aforementioned competitors from Sony and Bose. These have more kick than the AirPods Pro, so the virtual surround experience seems a little more visceral, but it's largely the same. Spatial audio remains impressive, but it's disappointing that it doesn't, at present, work with Apple TV -- only iPads and iPhones for now.

airpods-max-case-as-purse.png

The controversial case.

David Carnoy/CNET

Controversial case

I don't know quite what to say about the protective cover that comes with the headphones. The best part about it is that it's easy to get on and off the headphones, and adds almost no bulk to them -- so yes, the headphones take up a little less room in a bag compared to the Sony WH-1000XM4, which includes a traditional hard case. You can also charge the headphones when they're in the case, which is nice. And finally, the magnet inside the clasp puts the headphones into a deep sleep mode to save battery life, though there's some controversy about the headphones not having a power button that turns them off. I'm still testing battery life and how much battery drains when you just leave the headphones sitting somewhere without their case on and whether they actually go into a sleep mode in that state. I'll update the review once I have more concrete info.

The case does make your high-end headphones look like a purse or futuristic bra -- you've probably seen the memes by now -- which is kind of bizarre, and if you're a stickler for protection, the mesh headband remains exposed. It's pretty sturdy mesh but you probably want to keep sharp objects away from it. I don't hate the case as much as some do -- remember, people made fun of how the AirPods looked when they first came out -- but it seems easier to lose than standard cases and I suspect we'll see plenty of alternative third-party cases.

Final thoughts

If you equate weight with value, which was once the case for audio products (speakers in particular), the AirPods Max certainly feel like they're worth more than the Sony or Bose. The AirPods Max's weight, however, may also be viewed as their biggest weakness, even if, as I said, they may be the most comfortable heavy headphones you'll try.

For most, the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 are the more practical choices and better values, particularly the Sony, which have dipped as low as $278. The Sony are warmer sounding headphones compared to the AirPods Max, but they still have great sound (as do the Bose), particularly for wireless noise-canceling headphones. It's lighter as well, and some people may find it more comfortable.

So, too, are the AirPods Pro. A lot lighter. And while they don't sound as good as the AirPods Max, lacking their overall clarity and bass energy (with better definition), for the majority of people, they're still the better bet. At least until Apple comes out with a more affordable over-ear noise-canceling AirPods model, which it inevitably will do, though it may take a while.

But if you are looking for a high-end experience, the AirPods Max deliver one. Say what you will about the price, at least they're different, and stand out in a very crowded field of wireless headphones. 

Editor's note, Dec. 15: This story updates the original hands-on impressions that posted here on Dec. 10 with more in-depth testing and a full rating.

Let's block ads! (Why?)

Read More

AirPods Max hands-on: Apple’s $549 headphones raise the noise-canceling bar – CNET

aple-airpods-max-1

The AirPods Max come in five color options. I got the silver.

David Carnoy/CNET

When Apple first revealed its new AirPods Max noise-canceling headphones a lot of people balked at their $549 price tag. But lo and behold the initial batch of AirPods Max, which went on presale on Dec. 8 and ship Dec. 15, has already sold out in all five color options -- blue, green and pink were back-ordered in a matter of hours -- and as I'm writing this, you're seeing them go for upwards of $850 on reseller sites like eBay and StockX. So maybe Apple isn't even charging enough for them.

I got a silver unit yesterday and have put in several hours using them. While demand has outpaced the limited supply of AirPods Max in the wild, I'm still going to try to answer whether they're really worth their high price -- and yes, for most folks, it is high. Note that these are merely my first impression after one day of use -- I'll be following up with a more in-depth review.

The first thing you notice when you open their box is that their build quality is like nothing that's out there in the $300-$400 range. And when you first hear them, well, they do sound impressive, like high-end headphones, with tight bass, natural mids, crisp highs and a wide soundstage -- for a closed-back headphone anyway.

airpods-max-stockx.png

AirPods Max are already commanding a steep mark-up in the secondary market.

StockX/Screenshot by CNET

On top of that, their noise-canceling is arguably the best I've experienced, slightly edging out the noise-canceling on both Sony's WH-1000XM4 and Bose's Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (I haven't yet compared them closely to Bose's QuietComfort Earbuds, which offer the best noise-canceling for true-wireless earphones). They don't completely silence the world around you, but I was out on the streets of New York, and they did a bang-up job muffling noise -- I could barely hear the traffic around me. Finally, they work quite well as headset for making calls and are particularly good at reducing wind noise. Also worth noting: When you're in headset mode, you can hear your voice in the headphones so you can modulate your voice and not end up shouting. Their similar in that regard to the AirPods Pro.  

The one thing people may have a problem with is the weight of the AirPods Max. These are definitely heavy headphones, weighing 384.8 grams. By comparison, the Sony WH-1000XM4 weigh 254 grams while the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 weigh 249 grams. So big difference.

airpods-max-with-bose-and-sony

The AirPods Max next to the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4.

David Carnoy/CNET

Like I said, the AirPods Max's build quality is impressive. They've got a lot of metal -- a stainless steel frame and aluminum  earcups that are reminiscent of Apple's Macbooks -- and metal weighs more than plastic. And then there are the swanky design touches like the telescoping arms and pivoting hinges. I also liked how their almost gel-like memory foam earpads adhere magnetically to cover Apple's 40mm custom drivers. They have a fabric covering, which makes them more breathable than your typical earpads with a leather or faux leather covering. As a result, your ears steam up less in warmer environments. Apparently, you'll be able to replace those ear pads for $69 and the AirPods Max's battery should be replaceable, although you'll have to have Apple do it.

For heavy headphones they are comfortable, but not necessarily super comfy. It'd be nice if they were 20% lighter, but the way the headband is designed, with its mesh canopy, it takes a good amount of pressure off the top of your head. They might look and feel a little big for people with smaller heads, but they do seem to fit a good range of head types.

airpods-max-mesh-canopy

The mesh canopy.

David Carnoy/CNET

I did find myself making small adjusts, sliding the headband forward on my head a bit to get a more comfortable, secure fit. If it sits right on the crown of your head -- or at least the crown of my head -- it can get a little uncomfortable. 

The controls are really well implemented. There are only two buttons, both on the right earcup. The front button allows you to toggle between noise canceling and a transparency mode that lets sound in and makes you feel like you're not wearing headphones. It sounds natural, similar to the transparency mode on the AirPods Pro. The second button is a bigger version of the digital crown that's on the Apple Watch. You use that to control volume and click it to pause your music, answer and end calls and double click to advance tracks. It's smooth and responsive and in cold weather, you don't have to worry about touch controls that don't always work, though the aluminum on the ear cups does feel quite cold to the touch. (The headphones don't list any water-resistance rating, but they survived just fine after I wore them in a snow shower for 2 minutes).   

I'm not going to go into too much detail on the specs. You can read about all that on Apple's website. They have a total of 9 microphones, two of which are inside the ear cups to assess how you're wearing them on your head, with glasses or not, for instance. The 9th microphone is a beam-forming microphone dedicated to picking up your voice with two other microphones during calls.

airpods-max-sensors

The optical sensors inside the earcups.

David Carnoy/CNET

Also, there are sensors that can tell when you have the headphones on your head, and automatic pause your audio when you take them off or put them around your neck. Plenty of other headphones have this feature, including those from Sony and Bose, but Apple's version seems pretty high-tech. Apple says the AirPods Max have optical sensors (each ear cup), position sensors (each ear cup), case-detect sensors (each ear cup), accelerometers (each ear cup) and a gyroscope in the left ear cup.

Like the AirPods Pro, these have Apple's H1 chip that allows for easy pairing with iOS devices and always-on Siri, so you can issue voice commands without touching any buttons. Apple says the H1 has lots of processing power for the on-board adaptive noise-canceling and making your digital music sound better. These do pair with Android devices, but you lose some of the features, like always-on Siri and Apple's spatial-audio virtual surround feature with head tracking.

Now playing: Watch this: AirPods Max: New noise-canceling king (hands-on)

9:06

Battery life is rated at 20 hours with noise-canceling on, which is pretty good, though not superb. And you get 90 minutes of playback from a 10-minute charge via the Lightning port. I kind of wish it charged via USB-C but that's a small gripe.

My bigger gripe is that no cable is included for wired use. Like Apple did with the Beats Solo Pro, you have to buy a $35 Lightning to 3.5mm cable if you want to go wired, say to use an in-flight entertainment system. The headphones should sound the same for wired listening, Apple says, but the wire eliminates any latency, which might be a factor while gaming, but I didn't experience any latency with video watching.

I only spent a little time watching movies. Like the AirPods Pro, these have Apple's aforementioned spatial-audio virtual surround sound feature with head-tracking. It's definitely an added bonus and differentiator from competitors from Sony and Bose. These have more kick than the Airpods Pro, so the virtual surround experience seems a little more visceral, but it's largely the same. 

airpods-max-case-as-purse.png

The controversial case.

David Carnoy/CNET

I don't know quite what to say about the protective cover that comes with the headphones. The best part about it is that it's easy to get on and off the headphones and adds almost no bulk to the headphones (so yes, the headphones take up a little less room in a bag compared to the Sony WH-1000XM4, which includes a traditional hard case. Also, the magnet inside the clasp puts the headphones into a deep sleep mode to save battery life. The case does make your high-end headphones look like a purse or futuristic bra -- you've probably seen the memes by now -- which is kind of bizarre, but someone might appreciate that vibe. I suspect we'll see plenty of alternative cases.

I spent some time comparing these to Sony's WH-1000XM4 and Bose's Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, which aren't cheap but they cost a lot less than the AirPods Max. As I said, the AirPods Max offer better sound and noise-canceling. They're just a more articulate headphone than both the Sony and Bose, with more refined, richer sound. It's not a huge difference, but they do perform better overall.

That said, the Sony is still the best over-ear value when you consider that it often sells for less than $300 and has dipped as low as $278. It's a warmer sounding headphone compared to the AirPods Max, but it still has great sound (as does the Bose), particularly for a wireless noise-canceling headphone. It's lighter as well, and some people may find it more comfortable.

So, too, are the AirPods Pro. A lot lighter. And while they don't sound as good as the AirPods Max, lacking their overall clarity and bass energy (with better definition), for the majority of people, they're still the better bet.

But if you are looking for a high-end experience, the Airpods Max, deliver one. Just don't spend $850 on them. Or even $600. $549 is enough.

Let's block ads! (Why?)

Read More

Cyber Monday 2020: The best wireless workout headphones deals – CNET

Deal

Savings

Price

Show more (9 items)
This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2020, CNET's gift picks with expert advice, reviews and recommendations for the latest tech gifts for you and your family.

One of the most popular categories in wireless headphones is so-called sport or workout headphones. Some models actually carry the "sport" designation and might have special features like fins or wings that help keep the earbuds in your ears more securely. But plenty of other headphones are perfectly fine for working out because they're water- and sweat-resistant and fit snugly and comfortably. I've also included a few on-ear and over-ear sports headphones for those who don't like having anything in their ears. 

Here are the best workout headphone deals available right now. We'll continue updating this list as more models go on sale and other deals expire. We expect to see some of these discounts to fluctuate over the next few days, and some will extend past Cyber Monday into December.

Read more: Best Cyber Monday Bluetooth speaker deals

Jason Outenreath/CNET

Say what you will about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live's bean-shaped design, but they might just be the most innovative new true wireless earbuds of the year. Like the standard AirPods, they have an open design -- you don't jam an ear tip into your ear -- and they're quite comfortable to wear and fit my ears more securely than the AirPods. These wireless buds are discreet and basically sit flush with your ear, which reduces wind-noise while biking. I regularly use them for running and biking, and they're great for sporting activities if they fit your ears well, but one warning: Some people won't get a secure fit, so buy them from a retailer that has a good return policy.

$40 isn't a huge discount but it is almost 25% off their list price of $170. Read our Galaxy Buds Live review.

Now playing: Watch this: Galaxy Buds Live are the most innovative true wireless...

6:35

David Carnoy/CNET

Jabra's Elite Active 75t earbuds are the more rugged version of the Elite 75t. Both models are among the best true wireless earbuds out there and now can be upgraded with active noise canceling via a software upgrade. (New models that shipped to stores recently may already be equipped with the upgrade.)

The Elite Active 75t buds look nearly identical to the Elite 75t, but upon closer inspection, you'll notice the finish on the case and earbuds is different. Instead of the hard smooth finish of the Elite Active 75t, the Active 75t has a soft-to-the-touch finish with a touch of grip to it. Or, as Jabra put it, the earbuds are "built with a durable coating for dust and sweat resistance and features an increased IP water-resistance rating from IP56 (of the Elite Active 75t) to IP57, making them waterproof." Read our Jabra Elite Active 75t review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Both Bose's new QuietComfort Earbuds and Sport Earbuds make good workout headphones, thanks to their StayHear Max tips and secure fit, but the Sport Earbuds are more compact and lighter and also more affordable (the QuietComfort Earbuds do have excellent active noise canceling, however). This is the first time we've seen them discounted.

Unlike their step-up sibling, they have no active noise canceling and an hour less of battery life -- five hours instead of six -- as well as no wireless charging. While they do stick out from your ears, they're noticeably smaller and lighter than the QuietComfort Earbuds and their case is about 30% to 40% smaller. The case still isn't as small as the cases for such competitors as the AirPods Pro, Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, Galaxy Buds Live and Jabra Elite 75t. But it feels reasonably compact. Read our Bose Sport Earbuds review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're looking for a cheap set of wired wireless sport earbuds, the Jaybird Tarh, which is getting phased out, is on sale for $30. That's the lowest price we've seen for them. 

David Carnoy/CNET

The Beats Powerbeats Pro (list price $250) remains a top true-wireless sports model with many of the same features as Apple's standard AirPods but in a water-resistant design with better sound. You can get certain colors for as low as $160 (spring yellow, red). Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review.

David Carnoy/CNET

If you can't afford the Beats Powerbeats Pro, the Powerbeats 4 feature a similar design, features and sound quality with one key difference: They have a wire between the buds (that said, they are wireless). I thought they were expensive at $150, but at $99, they're a lot more enticing. They're available in 3 color options.

Read more: Best Cyber Monday 2020 wireless headphones deals

David Carnoy/CNET

The Earfun Free Pro earbuds are brand new to the market. I've been using them for a week or so and have run with them a few times (they're lightweight and fit securely). While they list for $60, there's an instant 10%-off coupon,. Then you can apply the extra 10%-off code FREEPRO10 at checkout at Amazon, which gets you a total discount of $12. They sound very good for the money. 

From a design standpoint, they seem identical to the Fiil T1XS, which is also on sale for $48. However, the Earfun Free Pro has better features, including active noise cancellation with a transparency mode, wireless charging and Bluetooth 5.2. They're rated for 7 hours of battery life without the noise-canceling function on (or about 6 hours with it on). They're IPX5 water-resistant, which means they can withstand a sustained spray of water. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Companies like Under Armour (with the help of JBL) have released sporty on-ear models designed for people who want that type of secure-fit workout headphone that covers their ears. This Adidas RPT-01 is a bit too expensive at its list price of $170, but it's a good deal at $100. Designed by the same Swedish company that makes Urbanears headphones, it sounds quite decent, with well-balanced sound that doesn't push the bass too much. 

I found them comfortable for on-ear headphones, which tend not to be as comfortable as over-ear headphones, but those with larger heads may feel they clamp down a little too snugly on both your head and your ears. This set of headphones is sweat-resistant with an IPX4 certification. Also, the ear cushions and inner headband are removable and washable (there are instructions for how to do this, but Adidas should do a how-to video). The RPT-01 is available in three colors.

Sarah Tew/CNET

This is a great price for the Jaybird Vista, one of our top picks for runners. It's a good set of true wireless sports earbuds that lock in your ears and are fully waterproof. The Vista has been out a while, so it's due for an upgrade -- maybe that's why it's on sale -- but if a new model comes out any time soon, it'll probably cost around $180. Read our Jaybird Vista review.

Amazon

JBL's Live 300 true-wireless earbuds have been out since last year and have sporadically been on sale for $100. Now $75 is the lowest price we've seen for them. They're a good sounding set of earbuds that are suitable for sports use with their included sport fins and IPX5 water-resistance rating (they can withstand a sustained spray of water). Battery life is rated at six hours and they have an "ambient aware" mode that lets some sound in for safety purposes. 

David Carnoy/CNET

The AfterShokz bone conduction wireless headphones deliver sound to your ear through your cheekbones. The big benefit of this technology is that, thanks to its open design, you can hear what's going on around you while listening to music or having a phone conversation through the wireless headphones. That openness allows runners to hear traffic sound, an important safety feature for sport headphones. Also, some race coordinators don't allow runners to wear anything in their ears, which is where over-ear headphones like this come in handy, particularly for people who need to listen to music while they run.

The Aeropex, which AfterShokz describes as its "lightest, highest-quality headphones yet," were released in 2019. The sound quality in this pair of headphones is definitely better than the company's previous flagship model, the Trekz Air -- or the Air, as it's now called. It's also slightly more comfortable to wear with a comfortable fit. However, while AfterShokz continues to make small improvements to performance with each new iteration of its wireless headphones, the sound quality still can't match that of traditional headphones. Read our AfterShokz Aeropex first take.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The price for the AirPods Pro went as low as $170 for Black Friday, but that deal is gone. Woot had been selling them for $190. Now the best price is $200. With their lightweight design and IPX4 water-resistance (they're splashproof), they make for good workout headphones. They should fit most ears securely, but if you want an even more secure fit, invest in a pair of foam tips specially made for the AirPods Pro.  Read our AirPods Pro review.

Although they've been out for over a year, Plantronics's BackBeat Fit 6100 over-the-ear wireless headphones are a solid choice for both the gym and everyday use. The adjustable sport-fit headband has an IPX5-rated water-resistant and sweatproof design. The headphones are equipped with 40mm angled drivers and noise-isolating earcups with an Awareness mode. Battery life is rated at 24 hours. I thought they were a bit expensive at $180, but they're a good value at $90. Last year for Black Friday they were on sale for $110.

David Carnoy/CNET

It took a while, but now we finally have a new true wireless noise-canceling sports model from Sony: the WF-SP800N. Funnily enough, I wrote at the end of my mostly positive review that I'd like to see them more in the $160-$175 range. They were recently down to $127, but the current $148 price is still $50 below list, and $20 below their usual street price.

This isn't quite the WF-1000XM3 with a water-resistant body. It's missing Sony's QN1e processor, but there's still a lot to like about it, including excellent sound, solid noise canceling and good call quality. It's definitely a significant upgrade over the WF-SP700N, which came out in 2018, and its "arcs" (sports fins) lock the buds in your ears. Just make sure you get a tight seal from one of the included ear tips or else both the sound and noise canceling will be lackluster. Read our Sony WF-SP800N review.

More headphone recommendations

Let's block ads! (Why?)

Read More
Page 1 of 912345»...Last »