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B&O’s BeoPlay H4 headphones offer great looks and comfort, but no noise canceling

It’s easy to be smitten with the H4 at first sight. They’re a great-looking pair of headphones — one of the best I’ve seen. They sport a simple, streamlined design that feels both like an homage to older models, but modern enough to avoid the nostalgia trap.

They’re comfortable, too. Like crazy comfortable. I say this as someone who is prone to dull earaches after wearing most models of over-ear headphones for an extended period. Since Bang & Olufsen sent me a pair to test a while pack, I’ve been wearing them for hours on end, prepping for a write-up during Work From Home Week.

The headphones sport an abundance of padding on the rim of their perfectly round cups. My ears sit snuggly inside, with none of the padding pressing on the ear — something that’s often a source of pressure after extended wears. They’re fairly lightweight — that helps. At 8.3 ounces they fall in between the Bose QuietComfort 35 II (8.2 ounces) and Sony WH-1000XM4 (8.96 ounces).

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The cups are covered in leather — either matte black or limestone (kind of a cream) — coupled with a large brushed metal plate sporting the B&O logo. It complements the concentric circles. The right cup sports a volume rocker, power/pairing switch and a port for an auxiliary cable. The ear cups sport a nice, smooth swivel that should work well with a variety of different head sizes.

The sound is good. It’s nice and full — though B&O leans a bit too heavily on the bass for some tests. They’re not quite as egregious as other units, but it’s very noticeable, particularly with traditionally bass-heavy genres like hip-hop. If you’re looking for fuller, more true-to-life music replication, you’re going to want to look elsewhere.

The absence of active noise canceling is a pretty big blind spot for a pair of $300 headphones in 2020. Even if you think you don’t need the feature, trust me, there are plenty of times you’ll be glad you have it. Take my working from home adventures over the past six months: They just started construction directly outside of my window, and it’s the worst. The Bluetooth, too, is decent, but walking around my apartment, I found them quicker to cut out than, say, the Sonys.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

There are units with longer battery life, too. Given that the H4’s are collapsible and don’t have ANC, though, I’m guessing the company isn’t really targeting frequent fliers here. With a rated battery life of up to 19 hours, though, they’ll get you through a day of home use, no problem.

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‪CBP seized a shipment of OnePlus Buds thinking they were “counterfeit” Apple AirPods‬

U.S. Customs and Border Protection proudly announced in a press release on Friday a seizure of 2,000 boxes of “counterfeit” Apple AirPods, said to be worth about $400,000, from a shipment at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

But the photos in the press release appear to show boxes of OnePlus Buds, the wireless earphones made by smartphone maker OnePlus, and not Apple AirPods as CBP had claimed.

Here’s CBP’s photo of the allegedly counterfeit goods:

And this is what a box of OnePlus Buds looks like:

(Image: @yschugh/Twitter)

We reached out to OnePlus and CBP but did not hear back.

According to the press release: “The interception of these counterfeit earbuds is a direct reflection of the vigilance and commitment to mission success by our CBP Officers daily,” said Troy Miller, director of CBP’s New York Field Operations.

If only it was.

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Bose’s music-playing sunglasses are back

Glasses/sunglasses with built-in speakers have been a thing for a shockingly long time now. They’ve never been particularly popular, mind, but at the very least, they’re an interesting enough concept for companies to continue taking a sporadic stab at the category, whose primary appeal seems to be not being forced to purchase both glasses and headphones.

Bose may have put its AR ambitions on the back burner, but the company is still very much into the idea of sunglasses that play headphones. In fact, it’s back with three new models: the Tempo, Tenor and Soprano. The new additions follow the original Frames launched back in 2018.

Image Credits: Bose

The Tempo is the more premium of the trio, with a bulky temple/earpiece that also sports the charging port. The music is designed to fire toward the ear, while keeping it unobstructed, so you can hear the world around you. That’s good for alertness, obviously, but a mixed bag when it comes to actually, you know, being able to hear what the speakers are playing. Especially in an urban environment.

The Tenor and Tempo feature smaller 16mm speakers in each ear and a stated five hours of battery. They’re otherwise distinguished from one another based on size and design. There’s UV protection on all of the models. They’re available today, priced at $249.

Image Credits: Bose

Bose also announced two pairs of fully wireless earbuds. The more notable of the two are the QC Earbuds, which adopt the company’s flagship QuietComfort banner, owing to the company’s on-board noise canceling. Between that and the $279 price tag, the buds are positioned to take on the AirPods Pro and Sony’s own excellent noise-canceling models.

Image Credits: Bose

The simply named Sport Earbuds, meanwhile, are priced at $179 and feature a new locking mechanism to stay in place while working out. Both models are up for pre-order starting today and will begin shipping before the end of the month.

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Sony WH-1000XM4 headphone review

There was a mixed reaction among the TechCrunch staff when Sony’s WH-1000XM4 were announced the other week. There was excitement among those looking for new headphones and disappointment for those who’d recently purchased a different pair. The product’s predecessor are pretty universally regarded as some of the best over-ear headphones you can get for the price point, so the biggest question, really, was what the new ones bring to the table.

So let me just say this off the bat. If you own the WH-1000XM3, congrats. You purchased a very good pair of headphones — ones that rightfully helped unmoor Bose from its long-standing position as the default frequent traveler purchase. And no, you don’t need to rush out and upgrade if yours are still hanging in there.

The original headphones entered the world pretty fully formed, and after two years, this refresh is more of a refinement of an excellent product. But the additions do go a long ways toward maintaining Sony’s spot as the reigning champion of noise-canceling, over-ear Bluetooth headphones. The 1000XM4 are hard to beat.

The new headphones more or less look exactly the same as their predecessors. They’re not the most striking pair of over-ear headphones for your money (that award may well go to Sennheiser or Bang & Olufsen). I appreciate the relative simplicity versus the comparable Bose Quiet Comfort model. Honestly, when it comes to things like long-haul flights, the less flashy, the better.

The headphones are surprisingly light — something I noticed the first time I had the opportunity to try the M3 during a meeting in some board room with Sony execs a couple of years back. The new units have a bit more padding and are extremely comfortable. I say that as someone who has a tough time with over-ear headphones for whatever reason. As I write this, I’ve been wearing the headphones for the better part of four days.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

There have been breaks in the marathon, of course. The nature of the form factor means they’re not really ideal for, say, going for a walk or falling asleep. The former is especially the case of late here in New York, where it has routinely hit temperatures in the 90s. For noise canceling all of the annoyances of home, however, they’re terrific. And when we all start flying in planes again, they’ll be excellent for that, too (thanks in no small part to the inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack for that seat-back entertainment).

The other element that has allowed for nearly uninterrupted usage is the ability to pair the system with two devices simultaneously. This has, frankly, been a big pain point for a number of headphones I’ve been using of late, requiring the user to get into the device settings and manually select the headphones. Using the iOS app, I paired the M4 to my phone and desktop top, and I’m able to switch seamlessly between sources. You’d be surprised by how liberating that feels. Just make sure your sound level is comparable on each device or you’ll be in for an unfortunate blast.

Like the M3, the sound quality is excellent, offering a full audio picture, regardless of genre. The sound is honestly pretty comparable to the previous model, and that’s perfectly fine. Nura’s truly excellent sound profile technology retains the top spot for me, but these new Sonys offer excellent audio for a pair of everyday headphones.

Once again, the real centerpiece, however, is Sony’s truly excellent noise canceling. The feature was the M3’s real secret weapon against Bose dominance in the category. The new models take things up a notch by detecting ambient sound some 700 times per second via the system-on-a-chip and actively adapting to counteract this. The system also features the addition of Noise Canceling Optimizer. On the face of it, the feature works similarly to noise optimization on other systems. Hold the button down and it sends an audio signal into your ear, meowing things like seal quality and atmospheric pressure (for planes, primarily) to offer up a more customized found profile. It adds up to some truly excellent noise canceling and an overall great audio experience.

There are a bunch of other nice features throughout that may or may not be helpful in your specific scenario. For instance, I found myself  immediately disabling Speak to Chat, which pauses playback when you speak. A nice feature in theory, but I live alone, so the only time it would trigger is if I coughed, laughed or unconsciously found myself singing along to the music. More useful for my own needs however is a feature that lets in ambient sound when you cover the right ear cup with your hand. Ambient sound fed into headphones through a mic still sounds a bit unnatural, but it does the trick.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

I also found myself turning off location tracking, because, quite frankly, enough of my gadgets already know where I am. Also, the addition of noise that adapts based on familiar locations is nice, but not really worth the trouble for me — especially these days when I’m leaving my apartment significantly less than I’d care to admit. And besides, I just really don’t like seeing that location tracking icon in the corner of iOS 11.

Google Assistant and Alexa are built in, as well, but again, not features I tend to use much in a pair of headphones. I’d say I shut them off to save battery, too, but with a stated life of 30 hours, I’ve honestly been fine on that front. Charging via USB-C, meanwhile, will get you an impressive five hours of playback in around 10 minutes.

At $350, they’re priced the same as their predecessors — which is to say, they’re not cheap. But you’d be hard pressed to find a better pair of wireless over-ear headphones in their class.

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Jabra’s Elite Active 75t earbuds offer great value and sound for both workouts and workdays

Technology improvements over the past few years mean that most fully wireless earbuds are a lot better than they used to be. That has led to something of a narrowing of the field among competitors in this arena, but some of the players still stand out – and Jabra have definitely delivered a standout performer with its newest Elite Active 75t fully wireless earbuds.

Basics

Jabra’s Elite Active 75t is a successor to its very popular 65t line, with added moisture resistance designed specifically for exercise use, as indicated by the ‘Active’ in the name. At $199.99, these are definitely premium-priced – but they’re a lot more affordable than many of the other offerings in the category, especially with their IP57-water and sweat resistance rating.

The Elite Active 75t also feature an esteemed 7.5 hours of battery life on a single charge, and their compact charging case carries backup power that adds up to a total of 28 hours potential run time across a single charge for both. The case charges via USB-C and also offers a fast-charge capability that provides 60 minutes of use from just 15 minutes of charging.

While they don’t offer active noise cancellation, they do have passive noise blocking, and an adjustable passthrough mode so that you can tune how much of the sound of the world around you you want to let in – a great safety feature for running or other activities.

They use Bluetooth 5.0 for low power consumption and extended connection range, have an auto-pause and resume feature for when you take out one earbud, and include a 4-mic array to optimize audio quality during calls.

Design

Jabra has accomplished a lot on the design front with the Elite Active 75t. Their predecessor was already among the most compact and low-profile in-ear wireless buds on the market, and the Elite Active 75t is even smaller. These are extremely lightweight and comfortable, too, and their design ensures that they stay put even during running or other active pursuits. In my testing, they didn’t even require adjustment once during a 30-minute outdoor run.

Their comfort makes them a great choice for both active use and for all-day wear at the desk – and the 7.5 hours of battery life doesn’t seem to be a boast, either, based on my use, which is also good for workday wear.

Another key design feature that Jabra included on the Elite Active 75t is that both earbuds feature a large, physical button for controls. This is much better and easier to use than the touch-based controls found on a lot of other headsets, and makes learning the various on-device control features a lot easier.

Finally in terms of design, the charging case for the Elite Active 75t is also among the most svelte on the market. It’s about the size of two stacked matchboxes, and easily slides into any available pockets. Like the earbuds themselves, the case features a very slightly rubberized outer texture, which is great for grip but, as you can see from the photos, is also a dust magnet. That doesn’t really matter unless you happen to be tasked with photographing them, however.

One final note on the case design – magnetic snaps in the earbud pockets mean you can be sure that your headset buds are seated correctly for charging when you put them back, which is a great bit of user experience thoughtfulness.

Performance

It’s easy to see why the Jabra Elite Active 75t is already a favorite among users – they provide a rich, pleasant sound profile that’s also easily tuned through the Jabra Sound+ mobile app. Especially for a pair of earbuds designed specifically for active use, these provide sound quality that goes above and beyond.

Their battery life appears to line up with manufacturer estimates, which also makes them class-leading in terms of single charge battery life. That’s a big advantage when using these for longer outdoor activities, or, as mentioned, when relying on them for all-day desk work. Their built-in mic is also clear and easy to understand for people on the other side of voice and video calls, and the built-in voice isolation seems to work very well according to my testing.

In my experience, their fit is also fantastic. Jabra really seems to have figured out how to build a bud that stays in place, regardless of how much you’re moving around or sweating. It’s really refreshing to find a pair of fully wireless buds that you never have to even think about readjusting them during a workout.

Bottom Line

Jabra has done an excellent job setting their offering apart from an increasingly crowded fully wireless earbud market, and the Elite Active 75t is another distinctive success. Size, comfort and battery life all help put this above its peers, and it also boasts great sound quality as well as excellent call quality. You can get better sounding fully wireless earbuds, but not without spending quite a bit more money and sacrificing some of those other advantages.

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How to Fix your Headphones Yourself: A Step-by-Step Guide

If the music from your headphones sounds only in one ear — don’t rush to throw them out. Most people have experienced getting a pair of headphones only to have them stop working — especially on one side. You’ll find that your headphones are easy to fix and it’s …

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Can a $30 pair of wireless earbuds actually be any good?

2019 was the year wireless earbuds went mainstream. The category has been around much longer, of course, and Apple really broke the whole thing open a full three years ago with the release of the first AirPods, but sales exploded in 2019. The category experienced a 183% YOY increase in shipments last quarter, according to a new study.

The space continues to be driven by Apple, which currently controls 43% of the market (a number that will likely increase with the arrival of the AirPod Pros), but its near future seems destined to be defined by a race to the bottom. With Apple, Samsung, Sony and Google battling it out for the high end of the market, other players are determined to undercut the competition on price.

At $30, JLab’s Go Air True Wireless Earbuds (the first and last time I’m going to type that full name) are positioned right around Xiaomi’s category-defining AirDots. The Chinese manufacturer controls around 7% of the market (a notch above Samsung’s more premium offerings), and it seems well-positioned to repeat its fitness band market share success with such offerings.

So, where does that leave JLab? Well, there’s a lot of market to be had. As more phone manufacturers eschew headphone jacks on even mid-range handsets, there’s bound to be a rush on low-price wireless earbuds. The Go Air are, well, nothing if not that. Price is their defining characteristic. And honestly, that’s fine.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been walking around with the AirPods Pro in my ears for a while now. I was less hot on the original AirPods, but these really feel like the category done right. But it’s not fair to any party involved to compare the two. You can buy eight and a third pairs of these for the price of the Pros. Different price points, different markets, different consumers.

And while it’s true that JLab has already gone a ways toward saturating the market with different models, low cost is the defining characteristic. The company claims to be the top manufacturer of sub-$100 wireless earbuds in the U.S. And the Go Airs are the lowest of the low. On paper, it’s certainly a good deal. The earbuds are light, get five hours on a charge (plus 15 from the case) and are sweat resistant.

I’ve only been playing around with them for the day, and I’ve got a smattering of complaints. The sound isn’t what you would deem “good.” In fact, they’re pretty reminiscent of that $10 pair of earbuds you bought at Walgreens in a pinch. The earbuds and the charging case both feel cheap (and I certainly can’t speak to how long they’ll last), while a USB C or even microUSB port has been traded for a half-USB connector dongle.

Also, unlike most models, the earbuds don’t automatically shut off when they leave your ears. Though that might be more feature than bug for some. Mostly, you just have to remember to pause playback on your phone. The headphones can operate independently of one another, so you can keep one bud in at a time.

Honestly, any quibble I have here comes with the giant, red-lettered caveat that the things are only $30. If nothing else, it shows how quickly such products have gone from luxury to commodity. It’s kind of crazy, honestly. If you want premium headphones, look elsewhere, obviously. For something serviceable and more than anything, cheap, the Go Airs scratch that itch.

They’ll hit retail in March.

Source: TechCrunch