Sennheiser Momentum Sport review: Fitness earbuds that lack finesse

Sennheiser could have just trotted out a set of wireless earbuds that were rated IP55 and called it the Momentum Sport ($330), but it went further, adding heart-rate and body-temperature sensors to the made-for-exercise earbuds. These additions give you more insight into workouts, but also feed data to your existing third-party activity apps. Of course, the Momentum Sport also has to excel at the normal earbud stuff, and offer an ergonomic design, active noise cancellation (ANC), touch controls and other common features. Sennheiser has a solid track record with sound quality, but now it has to balance that with the expanded capabilities of the Momentum Sport.

The Momentum Sport’s overall shape is what I wish Sennheiser used for the Momentum True Wireless 4. The former’s rounder profile fits my ears better and feels more comfortable even though they’re slightly larger. Without the fit wing, the Sport version still rests nicely in my ears, though that extra part definitely helps keep them in place during workouts. Simply put, this design feels more refined and I’d love to see the company take a similar direction on its flagship model.

Sennheiser says it aimed for “vivid sound and impressive bass” that would help amp up a workout and it delivered. The stock tuning has noticeably more low-end thump on Justice’s Hyperdrama, bracing the electronic tunes with a thicker layer of tone. That’s definitely something that assists with your energy levels during physical activity. But, as I’ll discuss later, the extra bass isn’t always a good thing.

The Momentum Sport’s marquee features, which are heart-rate and body-temperature tracking, work well. Thanks to the earbuds’ secure fit, you can get constant, dependable readings in Sennheiser’s Smart Control app. Heart rate figures matched those on my Apple Watch, and I confirmed my temperatures with a forehead scan. The Momentum Sport’s readings were consistent with the other devices every time, which means the earbuds are as reliable as other at-home alternatives.

The Momentum Sport earbuds are equipped with body temperature and heart rate sensors.
Billy Steele for Engadget

What’s more, there’s tight integration with apps like Polar, Peloton, Strava and Zwift, so you can use the Momentum Sport with their devices and not just Sennheier’s app, which is mostly designed to tweak settings. However, only Polar’s Flow supports the Momentum Sport’s body-temperature tracking. Sennheiser says this is because Polar is the only company with an ecosystem that keeps tabs on that metric and supports the appropriate sensors. No matter which third-party app you prefer, you’ll probably want to sync the Momentum Sport to one of them, since the Smart Control software only displays real-time readings and won’t keep tabs on trends or monitor stats during workouts.

Although it has to power more sensors, the Momentum Sport still delivers solid battery life. Sennheiser says a single charge offers five and a half hours of playback, and that claim holds up. I didn’t have any issues hitting that figure during my testing of looping audio at about 65-70 percent volume. That’s with ANC on normal mode and heart-rate and body temperature sensors active. The company says you can extend the battery on the Momentum Sport by 30 minutes if you enable Eco Mode in its app. This feature disables aptX audio and both of the body-tracking sensors.

The Momentum Sport lets you tap your cheek for playback and call controls. This is convenient when running, for example, since you don’t have to find the exact location of the touch panel while on the move or if you’re wearing gloves. The downside is that it can be activated by chewing. It is intensely annoying. During my tests, chewing gum or food frequently triggered the controls.

Sennheiser says this is because I have strong jaw muscles (yay?) in close proximity to the sensor, but that doesn’t make it any less maddening. I chew gum during both runs and lifting sessions, so this is a dealbreaker. Just clenching my jaw didn't trigger it, so at least there's that. The only way to remedy the issue is to turn off the onboard controls entirely, which disables both the cheek tapping and more common earbud tapping gestures. 

The Momentum True Wireless 4’s ANC performance is solid but not amazing and that holds true on the Momentum Sport. Both sets of earbuds perform similarly with constant noise sources, lowering the volume of the external roar rather than blocking it completely. Like a lot of the competition (and the True Wireless 4), the Momentum Sport struggles with human voices. Overall, neither of them offer the kind of robust, world-silencing power that Bose and Sony muster.

The Momentum Sport's outer panel accepts taps for onboard controls.
Billy Steele for Engadget

Transparency mode on the Momentum Sport is serviceable, but it’s far from great. The earbuds let in your surroundings well, but don’t pipe in enough of your voice and I found myself getting shouty during a few calls. There’s also an anti-wind mode that comes in handy during outdoor workouts, but it’s a tool nearly all new earbuds are equipped with these days.

Unfortunately, good audio performance isn’t universal on the Momentum Sport. While some albums are detailed and crisp despite the added bass, others are missing punchy highs and a strong mid range. The sound profile compresses things like grungy, distorted guitars and bass lines. Vocals consistently cut through, but the more prominent kick drum in songs like Knocked Loose’s chaotic “Suffocate” relegates guitars to the backseat. In fact, guitars across a range of styles – including alternative, rock and country – lack the depth and detail the Momentum 4 provide. By dialing up the low-end tone, Sennheiser has sacrificed some of the dynamics that usually give its earbuds such great audio. And in a set of earbuds that cost over $300, that’s a shame.

Lastly, let’s discuss the case, which is less sophisticated than Sennheiser’s previous designs. These earbuds cost $330 and the charging case shouldn’t feel this flimsy. The lid closes securely most of the time, but the hinge is just a piece of rubber so the case doesn’t stay open unless you lay it all the way flat. The soft-touch coating feels nice, but compared to the accessories that come with the Momentum line, this case is what I’d expect with a set of earbuds that cost half as much. The good news is, there is wireless charging support and the case is rated IPX4, so it’s not all a loss.

The Momentum Sport presents a dichotomy. On one hand, they’re excellent workout earbuds that reliably track biometric stats for an inside look at your training regime. On the other, they lack the overall sound quality I’ve come to expect from Sennheiser’s Momentum lineup and the overly sensitive controls are an extreme nuisance. The earbuds could improve with some software fine-tuning, but for now, they’re too expensive to buy just for workouts and don’t even perform consistently enough to be your go-to set.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/sennheiser-momentum-sport-review-fitness-earbuds-that-lack-finesse-130036233.html?src=rss

Beats Solo Buds review: Exactly what you’d expect for $80

The idea of Beats wireless earbuds for under $100 is certainly compelling. Until now, the company has operated in the $150-$200 range, except for the $70 Beats Flex, which offers a great collection of features with good sound quality and a comfy fit. However, much of the competition has been keen to offer buds for considerably cheaper prices, doing so by limiting functionality to the basics. With the Solo Buds ($80), Beats has its cheapest true wireless earbuds yet and manages to retain much of its product DNA. But, the company had to dial things back to bring the price down, so don’t expect these earbuds to wow you with performance.

The Solo Buds carry the same overall earbud design that Beats has favored for a while now. A key difference between these and the Studio Buds +, though, is that the Solo Buds are slightly larger to accommodate its bigger batteries. The new model still offers the onboard controls on an angled flat panel, complete with the company’s trademark “b” branding. The good news is that this earbud shape has always been comfortable to wear for long periods of time and that hasn’t changed here. And despite the closed acoustic architecture of the Solo Buds, added micro vents relieve that plugged feeling that can plague earbud wearers after several minutes of use.

Where the Solo Buds deviate from Beats’ previous models is the case. This thing is tiny. In fact, according to the company it’s 40-percent smaller than the Studio Buds + case, which wasn’t enormous by any means. This is because Beats removed the battery from the case. The company claims that doing so makes the Solo Buds more environmentally friendly and it’s one less battery to worry about degrading over time.

If you're into the clear version of the Studio Buds +, you're in luck. There's a transparent red option for the Solo Buds. But, there’s also some bad news: only the case is transparent; the buds themselves are opaque

Like other recent Beats products, all of the software for iPhone owners is baked into iOS. On Android, you’ll need the Beats app to customize the touch controls or download software updates. On both platforms, you’ll get one-touch pairing, fast pair and location-tracking help for lost earbuds. iOS users get the benefit of iCloud pairing with other devices, Apple Watch hand-offs, as well as audio sharing with AirPods and Beats products. On Android, you’ll be able to automatically pair with any device on your Google account and take advantage of multipoint Bluetooth pairing.

Since the Solo Buds only have the most basic features, there’s not much else to list out. However, the company does allow you to reconfigure the press-and-hold control to adjust volume. By default, this action summons your device’s voice assistant on both earbuds. And that’s really the extent of things. There’s no hands-free Siri, no transparency mode, no active noise cancellation (ANC), no wear detection and no support for Apple’s Adaptive EQ.

The Studio Buds + vs. the Solo Buds.
The Studio Buds + vs. the Solo Buds.
Billy Steele for Engadget

For a set of $80 earbuds, the best sound quality you can expect is slightly above average. Most of the time, you get something that’s serviceable, but not necessarily tuning you’d use to listen to the finer details of an album. Beats is on a good run with sound quality on the Studio Buds line and the Beats Fit Pro, but it understandably had to cut corners in places to slash the price on the Solo Buds. It turns out that audio performance is one of those areas.

The Solo Buds still retain some decent detail in the sound profile, but overall, the tuning doesn’t offer the dynamics of the Studio Buds +. Songs are flat and the mix is subdued, lacking punchy highs or booming bass at times. Bilmuri’s “Emptyhanded,” for example, has some loud, distorted guitars that provide the rhythm of the track. Those instruments typically soar and have plenty of texture on pricier earbuds, but here they lack dimensionality and stand out less from the rest of the mix than usual. These aren’t the earbuds in the company’s lineup you’ll want to choose if sound quality is of utmost importance. Instead, the Solo Buds get the job done in a workman-like fashion, without much flash or excitement.

One advanced sound feature that Beats did include is Spatial Audio. It’s automatic and works with songs from Apple Music that are available in Dolby Atmos. Albums like Justice’s Hyperdrama and Wyatt Flores’ Half Life have more robust bass and clarity, sounding less compressed than some other “regular” albums on the Solo Buds. It’s still not flagship-level audio performance, but it’s noticeably improved compared to non-Atmos content.

When it comes to calls, Beats only employs one microphone on each side on the Solo Buds. This definitely impacts voice quality and you’ll sound like you’re on speaker phone more so than on pricier sets of earbuds. The company does a great job of blocking background noise, but during my tests in loud environments, that battle against distractions further degraded call performance. In a room with a loud fan, my voice was choppy compared to in a quieter spot with minimal environmental roar.

The Solo Buds carry a similar overall design to other recent Beats earbuds.
Billy Steele for Engadget

Beats claims the Solo Buds will last up to 18 hours on a charge, which is double or, in some cases, triple what much of the competition offers. The company opted for larger batteries in the earbuds and removed the one from the case, so there’s no extended time to be gained from docking the buds. When they’re dead, you have to put them in the case and plug the case into an outlet with a USB-C cable.

During my tests, I came in one hour shy of Beats’ stated figure. This isn’t too much of a disappointment since I still got 17 hours, and it’s likely due to my setting the volume at 75 percent and leaving the Solo Buds unused for over 24 hours. If you find yourself in a pinch, you can get an hour of playback in five minutes of charging. What’s more, you can use your phone to get the tunes going again with charging via a USB-C connection on both iPhone (15 and up) and Android devices.

Since there’s no battery in the case, there isn’t an LED indicator to show you the charging status of the Solo Buds. You can get that info on your phone by tapping the onboard controls while the earbuds are in the case and close by. It’s inconvenient, but you do get an exact figure instead of just a green or red light.

Beats has entered an increasingly crowded market for earbuds under $100. Not only are big names like Bose or Sony dropping new flagship models every year, but the likes of Anker, JLab and Jaybird are also debuting more ultra-affordable options on a regular basis. And some of them cost less than $50. The current best budget earbuds, according to my colleague Jeff Dunn, is the Anker Soundcore Space A40. Currently available for $50, the A40 offers solid ANC, multipoint Bluetooth and respectable sound quality. Battery life is 10 hours and the buds are rated IPX4 for water-resistance, but there’s no wear detection and the A40 isn’t great for calls, either.

The Solo Buds are a smart play for Beats, and I have no doubt the company will sell a lot of them. They’re good enough for most people, even without features like active noise cancellation, transparency more and wear detection. There’s some solid audio performance with songs in Apple Music, but overall sound quality is flat and lacks the oomph on the Studio Buds + or Beats Fit Pro. However, long battery life and a comfy fit mean you can wear these all day long, and those two things alone might be enough to make up for the Solo Buds’ sonic shortcomings – especially for $80.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/beats-solo-buds-review-exactly-what-youd-expect-for-80-170742296.html?src=rss

So long, Jabra earbuds, it’s not your fault

Jabra has been a mainstay in the true wireless earbuds category since 2018, but it won’t be any longer. Shortly after revealing two new products in its Elite lineup this week, parent company GN announced that it was shutting down its consumer earbud business to focus on other audio devices. The news was a shock given the timing and quickly put a damper on any excitement around the second-generation Elite 10 and Elite 8 Active.

“This announcement by GN is in an effort to concentrate resources and efforts on Jabra's enterprise products within audio, including enterprise-grade true wireless earbuds, as well as video and OTC hearing devices,” a Jabra spokesperson told Engadget. “While this puts a stop to the long-term development of the Elite and Talk product lines, it does not mean product names will cease to exist and the existing products will continue to be available. Customers will be able to buy them in the usual online and retail channels, as well as Jabra.com, and products will be supported throughout their lifetime, as normal.”

Jabra wasn’t the first company to make true wireless earbuds, but it was among the first to make a lasting impression. In 2018, it debuted the Elite 65t, the first set of its kind that I felt was truly compelling. Jabra’s version was smaller and therefore more comfortable than its rivals. They also offered better sound quality and more reliable connectivity than a lot of their existing competition.

With subsequent releases, the company revised its formula, assisted consistently by its parent company. GN’s decades of expertise in hearing aids provided helpful insights for Jabra’s true wireless products, especially when it came to ergonomic design. Jabra was among the first to drastically reduce the size of its buds, while some of the competition still struggles to balance size and fit even today.

A much-improved follow-up to last year’s great Elite 65t true wireless earbuds.
Jabra Elite 75t and Elite 65t.
Billy Steele for Engadget

Jabra seemed to carve out a niche for itself with earbuds that offered a full set of features at prices below its main rivals like Apple, Bose and Sony. And until around 2020, the company was successful in offering a compelling alternative to the big-name brands. At that time, many earbud companies were still trying to fine-tune their formulas to offer the most complete set of buds with the best performance. Jabra’s follow-up, the Elite 75t, was what I described as “the leap from good to great.” But even then, the 75t lacked active noise cancellation (ANC) despite a smaller, more comfortable design, improved sound and longer battery life.

Ultimately, Jabra could never quite match the likes of Bose and Sony on ANC performance and overall audio quality. Despite this, Jabra was positioned fourth in the earbud market at the end of 2023, according to Global Market Insights. This put it behind Apple, Samsung and Sony in terms of overall market share.

Jabra continued to expand its lineup with affordable alternatives that went as low as $80. Perhaps this extension contributed to its downfall: the company currently offers five different models as part of its lineup with significant overlap between some of them.

GN explained this week that its “re-focusing” towards more premium true wireless products in 2023 with the Elite 10 and Elite 8 Active had led to “a stronger profitability than before.” However, it saw the writing on the wall: the earbud market is becoming increasingly crowded and competitive. The company knows that the investment required to develop enough “future innovation” that would maintain its position wasn’t sustainable. So, even on the heels of its latest Elite product launch, Jabra is bowing out.

“We have demonstrated that we can compete in even the most challenging categories,” CEO of GN Store Nord Peter Karlstromer said in a statement. “The markets, though, have changed over time, and it is today our assessment that we cannot generate a fair return on investment compared to the many other opportunities we have within our hearing, enterprise, and gaming businesses.”

Jabra's second-gen Elite 10 earbuds come with a wireless transmitting charging case that will come in handy on flights.
Jabra Elite 10 (2nd gen)
Jabra

In what should be an exciting time for the company following the introduction of new models, Jabra is instead heading towards the end. The company has committed to supporting the products “for several years,” but I wouldn’t expect any new features. Instead, we’re likely to see subtle updates aimed at maintenance rather than significant improvements. It’s going to be a tough sell for your newly announced product when you’re already packing up shop.

Now, the company will focus on enterprise, over-the-counter hearing assistance and gaming devices. But that doesn’t mean Jabra will stop making earbuds entirely. The company still believes in true wireless earbuds, even though it has realized the consumer market isn’t a sustainable area for future investment. “True wireless innovation is still at the core of many of Jabra's products, so the company will remain in the earbuds market through other product lines,” a spokesperson explained.

But, it’s time for the company to move on. Several releases after the Elite 65t, Jabra still isn’t on par with Bose and Sony when it comes to noise-canceling abilities or overall sound quality. Not that it was ever far off, but it wasn’t nipping at their heels either. 

Jabra may have been one of the first to actually deliver a reliable set of true wireless earbuds, but it squandered that lead by failing to surpass the competition. It introduced conveniences like multipoint Bluetooth connectivity way ahead of its rivals, a feature that is now common among new products. Even its latest two models come with an LE Audio-transmitting case that will allow you to send sound from devices with a USB-C or 3.5mm jack. Not an industry first, but another area where the company is an early adopter.

At some point along the way though, Jabra’s earbuds went from great to good. Not because they actually declined in quality, but because they just no longer stand out from the competition.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/so-long-jabra-earbuds-it-wasnt-your-fault-190039565.html?src=rss

How AirPods Pro will know when you’re trying to silently interact with Siri

In addition to revealing its initial plans for AI and annual updates to iOS, macOS and more at WWDC 2024, Apple also discussed new capabilities coming to the second-gen AirPods Pro. Siri Interactions will allow you to respond to the assistant by nodding your head yes or shaking your head no. Apple also plans to introduce improved Voice Isolation that further reduces background noise when you're on a call. Both of these items are exclusive to the most recent AirPods Pro, because they rely on the company's H2 chip like existing Adaptive Audio, Personalized Volume and Conversation Awareness features. 

Like those advanced audio tools that are already available on AirPods Pro, Siri Interactions and Voice Isolation use the processing abilities of the H2 chip in tandem with the power of a source device — an iPhone or MacBook Pro, for example. Using the processing power on both sides, while being able to do so with very low latency, is what will continue to unlock these types of features on AirPods Pro. The pairing will also ensure that the system doesn't respond when you don't intend for it to, partially because it's able to reliably predict what you're doing. 

For Siri Interactions, Apple employs several sensors in addition to the H2 chip to detect a nod yes or a shake no. The company hasn't divulged any specifics on those, but the motion-detecting accelerometer inside AirPods Pro likely plays a role. Those sensors work alongside an advanced set of transformer models to accurately predict whether you are trying to confirm or dismiss Siri's alert. They can also distinguish between normal head movements, with the goal of AirPods Pro not being tricked by a quick glance to the side or some other action. Overall, the intent is for Siri Interactions to work just as well when you're stationary as when you're moving or during a workout. Of course, Apple has an AI-infused update coming for Siri, so making exchanges with the assistant more natural and convenient means you might use it more. 

Despite the unchanged design, Apple has packed an assortment of updates into the new AirPods Pro. All of the conveniences from the 2019 model are here as well, alongside additions like Adaptive Transparency, Personalized Spatial Audio and a new touch gesture in tow. There’s room to further refine the familiar formula, but Apple has given iPhone owners several reasons to upgrade.
Billy Steele/Engadget

Call quality was already a key aspect of AirPods Pro. But, like it has for Siri Interactions, Apple is using the combined power of H2 and a source device to improve voice performance. More advanced computational audio models are being used than what's currently at work on AirPods Pro, with the goal of further reducing background distractions from everyday scenarios. Those include wind noise, the clamor of a busy city street, construction site racket and potential interruptions at home — like cooking, kids, pets or a vacuum. Additionally, Apple is improving the overall voice quality, not just the real-time noise reduction, and the company is doing so with very low latency. This means you should also sound better on calls in general, but not just because background noise is reduced.

Since these features rely so heavily on the processing power of the H2 chip, any future AirPods models would need to be equipped with the component in order to offer them. They would either need the H2 or something with even more computational horsepower. Of course, Apple doesn't comment on future products, but the company is clear that H2 is foundational to unlocking these types of advanced audio tools. And if the rumors are true, we won't have to wait long to see if the new "regular" AirPods will also allow you shake your head to dismiss a call. 

Catch up here for all the news out of Apple's WWDC 2024.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/how-airpods-pro-will-know-when-youre-trying-to-silently-interact-with-siri-180614981.html?src=rss

Jabra updated its Elite earbuds with an LE Audio case, improved ANC and more

Jabra's Elite 10 and Elite 8 Active earbuds debuted in August, but the company isn't waiting for an annual update to unveil a second-generation model for both of those sets. Neither of them will look different, except for some new color options, but there are big upgrades to both. The company has taken this opportunity to make changes to noise cancellation, audio features, spatial sound and other areas.

First, both the new Elite 10 and Elite 8 Active will come with what Jabra calls "the world's first LE Audio smart case." This will allow you to plug the charging case into any USB-C or 3.5mm jack to wirelessly transmit sound to the earbuds. While in-flight entertainment might be a primary use case here, other possibilities abound, including audio from workout equipment, TVs and more. The company says the revamped cases are equipped with a new chip to transmit LE Audio with lower latency than similar options already on the market. Jabra also promises better overall sound quality when using the feature, including "Hi-Fi" playback.

Next, Jabra says it also improved the active noise cancellation (ANC) performance on both the new Elite 10 and Elite 8 Active. The company is promising to block "up to twice as much noise" as the previous generations. To do so, Jabra explains that it fine-tuned the internal feedback microphones to provide better noise blocking for mid- and low-frequency sounds. What's more, ANC algorithms have been updated to better utilize their adaptive capabilities, so the earbuds should handle things like airplane noise and the roar of the gym more effectively. 

Jabra also did some fine-tuning to its HearThrough mode. The ambient sound feature on both the new Elite 10 and Elite 8 Active has been tweaked for enhanced sound outdoors with a dedicated Natural HearThrough mode. This new setting offers increased wind noise reduction that's twice as effective as that of the previous generation, according to the company. Algorithms expand the frequency range of the regular HearThrough mode to make this possible.

Jabra Elite 8 Active can stream sound from cardio equipment thanks to its LE Audio-equipped case.
Jabra Elite 8 Active (2nd gen)
Jabra

While the Elite 8 Active had Dolby Audio and and the Elite 10 offered Dolby Atmos with head tracking, Jabra says the second-generation models both offer improved tuning for spatial sound. The company explains that during testing, 95 percent of its "expert panel" preferred the new audio profile to that of the previous gen. Lastly, Jabra is promising improved call quality on both the new Elite 10 and Elite 8 Active thanks to updated noise-reduction algorithms that provide enhanced voice recognition in subpar environments. 

All of the other stats on both sets of earbuds are holdovers from the previous generation. That includes the IP68 rating on the Elite 8 Active (case is IP54) and the IP57 rating on the Elite 10 (no case rating). You can also still expect up to six hours of battery life with ANC on for the Elite 10 (27 hours total with the case) and up to eight house of noise-cancelling use on the Elite 8 Active (32 hours total with the case). Bluetooth multipoint connectivity is still here, as are Fast Pair, Swift Pair and Spotify Tap. The second-gen Elite 10 can also still connect directly to smartwatches, so long as they support HFP, A2DP and AVRCP Bluetooth profiles. 

The Elite 10 (2nd gen) will be available in titanium black, gloss black, brown, blue and white for $280. The Elite 8 Active (2nd gen) comes in navy, black, coral and olive green for $230. Both of those prices are $30 more than the first versions that debuted last year and these two upgraded models will be available mid-June.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/jabra-updated-its-elite-earbuds-with-an-le-audio-case-improved-anc-and-more-090046844.html?src=rss

AirPods Pro update adds head-nodding gesture to silently respond to Siri

At WWDC 2024, Apple revealed a few key updates coming to AirPods this year. First, the company is adding new head-nodding gestures called Siri Interactions on AirPods Pro that allow you to respond in crowded places where you'd rather not speak. You'll be able to nod affirmatively to silently say "yes" or shake your head for "no" and the voice assistant will react accordingly. In a demo, Apple showed a man in a crowded elevator shaking his head to tell Siri he didn't want to take a call from "Gam Gam." Siri Interactions aren't just for calls though. You'll also be able to interact with messages, manage notifications and more without uttering a sound.

Apple explained that it will also improve Voice Isolation on the AirPods Pro this year. As you might expect, this should improve how the earbuds pick up your voice in noisy places. During a demo, a person on a call during their commute passing a loud construction site remained clear on the other end. Apple says this update brings the "game-changing" Voice Isolation from Mac, iPhone and iPad to AirPods Pro.

Both Siri Interactions and Voice Isolation are powered by the Apple H2 chip that's inside the second-gen AirPods Pro. Rumors have speculated that the component will make its way to other AirPod models this year, but for now, the Pro version is the only option for the advanced earbud features that the company has developed. Those include Adaptive Audio, Personalized Volume and Conversation Awareness.

Lastly, Personalized Spatial Audio is expanding to gaming. Available on AirPods (3rd generation), AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, Personalized Spatial Audio with dynamic head tracking will deliver the immersive sound that has previously been available for TV shows, movies and music. Apple says you can expect 16-bit, 48kHz voice performance for chatting during gaming sessions on the AirPods Pro, in addition to "the best wireless audio latency Apple has ever delivered" for playing on mobile devices with that AirPods model.

All of these new AirPods features will likely arrive this fall alongside iOS 18.

Catch up here for all the news out of Apple's WWDC 2024.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/airpods-pro-update-adds-head-nodding-gesture-to-silently-respond-to-siri-174141928.html?src=rss

Weber Slate griddle review: A smash burger machine with clever features

Flat-top griddles are insanely popular. Even if an aspiring grill master prefers charcoal or pellets for their main machine, chances are they’re packing a griddle for smash burgers, breakfast and other items that need an even surface. Or, at the very least, they have an insert that transforms a grill into a flat top. Griddles are versatile and they keep a lot of the mess of cooking things like cheesesteaks, fajitas and fried rice out of your kitchen. However, they all basically offer the same premise: a large metal slab on some sort of cart that runs on propane. Since there’s not a ton of variation in the general design, the devil is in the details for companies like Blackstone, Traeger and Weber.

The Weber Slate ($649 and up) is the company’s second attempt at grabbing a foothold in the popular griddle market. With a more refined design and tons of clever features that make the flat-top cooker more fun to use, Weber is trying to set itself apart from the competition in a few key areas. But, even the most affordable Slate is pricier than some of the other options on the market, so those finer points will likely determine if this griddle is right for you.

On the Weber Slate, the company developed a more sophisticated look than its first griddles that debuted last spring. Those had more of a cart design akin to Weber’s most affordable gas grills, while the Slate has almost a hybrid cart/cabinet stand where the storage varies based on the model. Some configurations have semi-closed space while others have weather-resistant storage bins or a fully enclosed area underneath the cooking surface. Every version has a mid shelf directly under the cooktop, where you can place tools and other supplies for quick access.

Weber flanks the cooking area with sizable side tables, with some versions offering a fold-down extension for even more work space. The top of the side table on the right is removable, which allows the remaining frame to accommodate a line of accessories known as Weber Works. You can move those storage bins up to this area and the company has a convenient caddy/serving tray combo that also fits this space nicely. With either of these, you can put seasonings, oils, sauces and more within reach at all times. You can also replace the table top with a cutting board if you want to do your prep or slicing outside. Weber Works also includes items that clip onto the edges of the Slate’s side shelves, including a cup holder, condiment bin and an “organizer kit” that comes with a paper towel rack, tool hooks and a trash bag holder.

The digital temperature display is easy to read and comes in handy during every cook.
Billy Steele for Engadget

The Slate has an attached, hinged lid like most premium griddles. This component pays homage to previous Weber grills as it has the company’s signature black and silver scheme like you’ll see on Genesis and other grills. The one area of this griddle that feels slightly cheap are the wheels. The four casters do the job, but they’ve obviously plastic with little polish. Even something slightly more robust like the sturdier rollers that come on the Genesis series would’ve been nice.

I’m also constantly frustrated by the grippy texture inside the Slate’s cover. It has two handles on the top so you should be able to lift it straight off the griddle easily, but the cover’s interior coating catches on the side tables, making what should be an easy task more of a chore.

A key feature of the Slate is its digital display, which sits between two of the burner control knobs. It runs on two AA batteries and shows the temperature of the cooking surface based on data from a probe underneath the cooktop. I like that the screen is easy to read, thanks to its high contrast and large numerals, and it handily shows how much juice is remaining on the batteries, too.

The Slate is a smash burger machine.
Billy Steele for Engadget

I’ll admit I didn’t see the utility in a griddle until I actually used one. I’ve been smashing burgers and sizzling other things on a full-size insert for a Weber Genesis for a while now. But the Slate is actually better since it's purpose-built with a grease chute that’s in a better position along the front so it takes up minimal cooking space. You have free rein to use the back and the sides of the cooktop to help you flip and move foods.

I’ve cooked smash burgers, hibachi chicken, fajitas and a full breakfast with hash browns on the Slate. My wife, the pancake pro in our house, also used it and loved having the extra space to cook enough for the four of us in less than half the time it takes indoors. The Slate distributes heat edge to edge, so things like pancakes cook evenly. The 30-inch version I tested has ample space for my needs, and Weber says the 30-inch x 18-inch cooking area on this unit can hold up to 22 burger patties.

Once you fire up the propane burners, the 30-inch Weber Slate takes about eight and a half minutes to reach a maximum temperature of around 565 degrees Fahrenheit. It takes just over five minutes to hit 450 degrees, which is what you’d want for smash burgers and what I prefer for fajitas. For more delicate things like pancakes, you’ll want to turn it down to the burners’ lowest setting, which is around 350-355 degrees.

The Weber Works accessories make cooking with the Slate much easier. I primarily used the caddy with a lid/serving tray, which allowed me to take various seasonings, sauces, tools and more to the griddle in one trip. It’s also nice that the caddy can replace the side table for quick access, with the lid/tray beside it to rest tools or foods when they’re done. Those larger side tables also ensure you have enough space for supplies and food, with the mid shelf underneath and the side table extension providing more places to rest things if needed. Not once did I panic wishing I had another spot to put something while using the Slate. It’s great that the Weber Works storage bins can remain outdoors without much worry about weather. I wouldn’t store ingredients there, but it’s a good place to keep cleaning supplies and towels, for example.

Plenty of room to cook on the 30-inch Weber Slate.
Billy Steele for Engadget

The primary concern when you own a flat-top griddle is rust. The best way to prevent it is to clean the cooking surface soon after use, but that’s not always possible because maybe you’re hosting guests or any number of other reasons. So, rust is a constant battle when the steel or cast iron component is exposed to moisture, oil and food residue for an extended period. Not all griddles have lids or covers, and even if they do closing one up when the cooking surface is still warm can lead to condensation drips even if you’re on point with the cleaning.

Weber is addressing this with a “rust-resistant” cooktop. As the company describes it, “the carbon-steel gets transformed under extreme heat and pressure that case hardens and bonds the surface, reducing the ability for moisture to collect and rust to form.”

Rust-resistant doesn’t mean rust-proof, though. To test Weber’s claim, I left the Slate cooktop dirty for 36 hours after making hibachi chicken , only lightly pushing larger chunks to the grease tray and leaving sauce and oil. When I did go to clean it, there were small spots of rust, but nothing like I’ve seen on the company’s older griddle inserts for its gas grills (Weber now sells inserts that are rust-resistant too). This was also a messier meal, so it didn’t just leave behind a typical amount of muck.

The good news is that, while annoying, the rust comes off easily with vinegar and coarse sea salt. After leaving white vinegar on the surface for a few minutes and adding salt to help lift the stuck-on grime, I had no trouble restoring the Slate’s cooking surface to a unblemished state. It took some elbow grease, but wasn’t too tough of a task. So while the Slate does buy you some time on the cleanup, you probably don’t want to leave residue any longer than overnight if you’re looking to avoid any extra work.

The Slate's fold-down side table extension adds more work space.
Billy Steele for Engadget

Weber offers three versions of the Slate griddle, all with slightly different features. While they share the same overall design, including rust-resistance and the attached lid, the most affordable model is the 30-inch Slate that doesn’t come with the two weather-resistant, outdoor storage bins (sold separately for $40 each). It also lacks the digital temperature gauge or the folding side table extension, but does have a partially closed storage cabinet. You’ll save some money as this unit is $649. As you’ll see, though, that price is actually low.

For $150 more, you get the same 30-inch Slate I tested with a handy temperature display, extendable side table and a pair of weather-resistant storage bins. Those bins are fully exposed, but there’s a track system that allows you to slide them out like a drawer. Plus, the outdoor-friendly design keeps dust and debris from ruining your supplies. There’s also a natural gas version of this model that’s $829. What’s more, there are two retailer-exclusive 30-inch options. At Home Depot, you’ll get the digital temperature display and an enclosed storage cabinet for $699. Ace Hardware offers the 30-inch Slate with digital temperature display, fully enclosed storage cabinet, extendable side table and the Weber Works caddy for $749.

The priciest option is a 36-inch version with four burners instead of three. It still has the digital temperature gauge and fold-down side table extension, along with the modular side table for all of those Weber Works accessories, but the storage area underneath is a fully enclosed cabinet. If you want that extra cooking space, the grand total here comes to $999.

Blackstone is the most popular name in griddles and the company has loads of options in several different configurations. Heck, you can even get one that has an air fryer underneath. The model that’s closest to the base Weber Slate is the 28-inch XL with a “hood.” It sits on more of a bare-bones cart, though, so there’s no enclosed storage under the cooktop and the side tables are smaller. It typically costs $549, but it’s currently on sale for $399.

In competition with Weber’s most expensive option, Blackstone has the 36-inch Iron Forged griddle. It too has a “hood” (attached lid or cover) and four burners with a more refined cart design with a storage shelf. There’s also an extendable side shelf, paper towel holder, garbage bag holder and side shelf rail system that accommodates even more accessories. This one is usually $649, but it’s currently on sale for $499.

Then there’s Traeger. Yes, the company that made its name on wood pellet grills has a single gas-burning model and it’s a griddle. The Flatrock takes several design cues from the company’s latest Ironwood and Timberline series, including the wrap-around PAL (Pop And Lock) accessory rail and so-called EZ-Clean grease keg. The Flatrock’s side tables are similar in size to those on the Slate and its U-shaped burners put direct flame under more of the 33-inch cooktop. Traeger says its FlameLock design is more wind-resistant and fuel-efficient than the competition and a sensor keeps tabs on how much propane you’ve got left in the tank. The Flatrock does come with a Traeger-esque price tag though: $899.

After several weeks with the Weber Slate, I’ve fully experienced the grilling potential that standalone griddles provide in the backyard. With the addition of a rust-resistant cooktop, the company gives you an extension on the precious cleanup window. The digital temperature display is handy and easy to read from a distance while the Weber Works accessories can transform the griddle into a proper outdoor cooking station. Some details could be refined, but overall, the Slate would be a solid addition to any grilling arsenal. And even if it’s the only grill you own, the flat top allows you to cook a wide variety of foods.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/weber-slate-griddle-review-a-smash-burger-machine-with-clever-features-163023562.html?src=rss

Sonos Ace headphones review: An impressive but incomplete debut

When Dolby made a play for the headphones market in 2018, its tech-packed Dimension model offered excellent sound quality, but the $599 price was too high to take hold. Now Sonos, another key player in living room audio over the last decade, has entered similarly uncharted territory. After years of hints and rumors, the Sonos Ace ($449) arrives this week, and the company is delivering the refined design you’d expect along with some impressive audio quality. The way these headphones integrate with its speakers isn’t what many expected, but the feature works well. However, one thing that may mire an otherwise stellar debut is limited support for the Ace at launch.

Given Sonos’ sonic prowess, I had high expectations for sound quality on the Ace. Indeed, the company’s first set of headphones offers audio quality on par with its high-end speakers, with some home theater features thrown in. 40mm dynamic drivers deliver both power and clarity that put the Ace near the top of our list of best wireless headphones when it comes to sound performance. Bass is big and boomy for kick drum thumps on Bilmuri’s post-hardcore “Talkin’ 2 Ur Ghost,” but it's appropriately restrained on Wyatt Flores’ country foot-tapper “Milwaukee,” where there’s still plenty of detail in the more subdued rhythm section.

Like many Sonos speakers, the Ace excels with Dolby Atmos content. And that goes for both music and TV/movies. There's an Apple Music Live set from Luke Combs that was filmed at a country venue while most of those sessions are in a studio. With the Ace, you get a strong sense that you’re at the show. The reverb, singing crowd, loudness of the venue mix and the natural qualities of a live band are all enhanced on these headphones. When I watched Drive to Survive or the final siege in Rogue One, the Ace shone with the directional zooms of F1 cars and spacecraft.

The Sonos Ace supports lossless audio in two ways. The first is via a wired USB-C connection. The second is exclusive to recent Android devices. If you have one of those, you’ll be able to use aptX Lossless from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sound platform that allows higher-quality sound over Bluetooth. This second option wasn’t available during the review period so I wasn’t able to test it, but Sonos says it will be ready when the Ace ships on June 5.

There aren’t many companies that come close to Apple with their ambient sound mode, but Sonos gives the AirPods Max some competition. Apple has mastered natural-sounding transparency audio and the Ace nearly attains that, providing one of the few setups where I could adequately hear my voice without feeling the need to shout. This is great when you need to have a quick conversation or use the Ace for a call. It also means you have a firm grasp on your surroundings, not a somewhat muted version of them.

Active noise cancellation (ANC) is another area where Sonos doesn’t have much experience, and it’s one of few stumbles on the Ace. Constant noise, while muted, is still discernible unless the volume is turned up. You’ll also need to set it at a considerable level to drown out human voices. It’s probably enough to get the job done in many scenarios, but it’s not on par with Bose or Sony.

Noise control button and the multi-function
Billy Steele for Engadget

Where the Ace flexes its Sonos muscle is the ability to receive audio from one of the company’s soundbars. The feature, called TV Audio Swap, allows you to do so with the press of a button – either on the headphones or inside the Sonos app. Basically, the tool creates private listening in your living room when your family has gone to bed or at other times you don’t want to disturb them. After a quick setup to link the Ace with your Sonos soundbar, TV Audio Swap really is as quick and easy as pressing a button. And because a Sonos soundbar is connected to your TV via HDMI ARC, this works with streaming devices and game consoles that are routed through the speaker.

When you activate the TV Audio Swap, a Wi-Fi chip inside the Ace takes over to receive signals from the soundbar. Low-energy Bluetooth remains connected to your phone for controls and settings, but you won’t get device swapping like you would with multipoint Bluetooth. This means if you get a call, you have to un-swap for Bluetooth to reconnect (it also means your phone won’t ring in the headphones if TV Audio Swap is active).

Spatial audio and Dolby head tracking are only available when TV Audio Swap is on. You can disable one or both of those, but spatial audio does a good job of upmixing stereo content into something more immersive. A prime example is TNT’s broadcasts of the NBA playoffs. Regularly, the commentary trio is clear with a bit of crowd noise in the background, but after Sonos does its tricks, the announcers are more prominent and dynamic. Plus, the cheers of the crowd envelope you so it feels more like you’re in the arena.

Dynamic head tracking works well on the Ace, and Sonos uniquely implements it to make it less annoying when you need to move around. First, it’s not overly sensitive, so subtle movements like looking down at your phone won’t rejigger the sound positioning. Second, if you walk away from the connected soundbar, head tracking will deactivate until you’re back in close proximity. This means whatever you’re listening to is not stuck behind you when you walk away and it doesn’t constantly rotate around your head during a quick jaunt to the kitchen.

Inside of the Sonos App is where you'll set up TV Audio Swap with a compatible soundbar.
Billy Steele for Engadget

The main caveat here is that TV Audio Swap only works with the Sonos Arc soundbar for now. Sonos says support for both generations of the Beam and the Ray is on the way, but there’s no definitive timeline for it yet. What’s more, there aren’t any plans to allow a similar feature for users who have a pair of speakers for home entertainment purposes. The company didn’t rule it out as part of a future update, but for now if you have two Era 300 units flanking your TV, you’re out of luck. Audio swap is also only available in the iOS version of the app for now, so Android users will have to wait.

If you were hoping to send audio to the Ace as if it were a speaker in your Sonos multiroom setup, you’re going to be disappointed. There isn’t a hand-off feature to easily transition from your commute to home listening on a speaker either. Some iteration of those would’ve relied more heavily on Wi-Fi and thus impacted battery life, according to Sonos. Instead, the company opted for this clever sound swapping that only uses Wi-Fi when you’re piggybacking off of a soundbar.

Chances are if you’ve used a Sonos speaker, you’re familiar with TruePlay, which maps the acoustics of a room with the microphones in one of the company’s devices. There’s a version of that for the Ace, called True Cinema, but it works differently. True Cinema virtualizes surround sound for a room inside the headphones to make it seem like you’re not wearing the Ace at all. Sonos argues that if you replicate the acoustics of your living room for the headphones, it enhances the immersion. Unfortunately, this is one more thing that’s not ready yet, so I wasn’t able to test it.

Sonos hid the hinge on the Ace inside of the ear cups.
Billy Steele for Engadget

Given Sonos’ attention to detail on its speakers, it's no surprise that it also obsessed over the design of its first headphones. The shape of the ear cups takes inspiration from devices like the Move 2 and the company opted for a mix of matte finishes, stainless steel and vegan leather to complete the high-end look. To me, the white version looks a bit more premium given the contrast of the silver metal accents compared to the tone-on-tone aesthetic of the black option.

A key design choice that contributes to the Ace’s chic is the hidden hinge. Whereas a lot of headphones fold in on themselves for storage, Sonos chose to simply have the ear cups rotate flat to fit in their carrying case. It’s a move Apple employed for the AirPods Max and one that companies like Sony have used in the past as well. Thanks to the svelte silhouette of the ear cups, and really of the Ace overall, these headphones don’t take up much space in a bag. What’s more, Sonos included a magnetic cord pouch for the case and both USB-C and USB-C to 3.5mm cables in the box. Your move, Apple.

The Ace is also very comfortable. Memory foam ear pads, a cushioned headband and a shape that fits well on big heads like mine really help. They feel lightweight and there’s no clamping pressure around my ears. And while I wasn’t able to test these on a flight, I could see the Ace being a great companion on a long-haul trip, especially since they remained comfy for the entirety of a movie using TV Audio Swap.

Sonos promises 30 hours of use with the Ace with ANC active. That’s on par with flagship models from the likes of Bose and Sony, and it’s 10 hours more than AirPods Max. During my test with looping audio at 60 to 70 percent volume, I managed 30 minutes more than the company pledges. Sonos is clear that TV Audio Swap impacts its stated figure, so you’ll want to keep that in mind if you have a binge session coming up. But, I didn’t notice any drastic drain during my evaluations. If you do find yourself at zero, a quick-charge feature gives you three hours of listening time in just three minutes.

Design is a key aspect of premium headphones, and the Ace certainly looks the part.
Billy Steele for Engadget

At this price, the primary competition for the Ace is the AirPods Max. Apple’s over-ear headphones are $100 more at full price, but we’ve seen them drop to $450 as recently as this month. Since they’re AirPods, they sync with iPhone, iPad and Mac to offer more convenience than the Ace. That includes automatic pairing with devices you’ve linked to iCloud, seamless switching when you get a call, hands-free Siri and Adaptive EQ sound tweaks. Spatial audio with head tracking is available on the Max too, and they’re comfortable to wear for long periods of time despite the premium materials.

A cheaper option, and the best ANC headphones for most people looking for active noise cancellation, is the Sony WH-1000XM5. Simply put, no other company offers the long list of features that Sony does on its flagship model. In addition to great sound and powerful ANC, the company’s tools like Speak-to-Chat, Adaptive Sound Control and DSEE Extreme audio upscaling expand the capabilities of the 1000XM5. Spatial sound via 360 Reality Audio is limited to certain services, but Sony built a comfy device that’s easy to enjoy for hours at a time for any content. Of course, the 1000XM5 is also considerably cheaper than the Ace at the current price of $330.

After a years-long wait, Sonos delivered an impressive headphone debut with the Ace. There’s room for improvement in some areas and it’s disappointing that updates to the Android app, support for all of the company’s soundbars and a key home theater feature are arriving at a date that’s yet to be determined. There’s no doubt that Sonos built a great-looking set of headphones that sound excellent, but a bit more polish could’ve gone a long way.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/sonos-ace-headphones-review-an-impressive-but-incomplete-debut-130040041.html?src=rss

Ooni’s larger, dual-zone Koda 2 Max pizza oven is now available for pre-order

In April, Ooni revealed its largest pizza oven yet, but the company was clear that you wouldn't be able to order one until May. Well, the time has come. Starting today, you can pre-order the Koda 2 Max pizza oven for $999. The outdoor beast is scheduled to start shipping in July, which means you'll still have to wait a few weeks to take advantage of this unit's upgrades. In addition to a larger cooking area, the new features include dual-zone temperature controls, improved heat distribution, a new digital display and Bluetooth connectivity to your phone. 

None of these items are a surprise as they were part of the initial reveal, but Ooni's full spec sheet for the Koda 2 Max does offer more info on how the Bluetooth feature will work. The company explains that the Digital Temperature Hub takes readings from "various spots" inside the oven and shows them on both the color display and the Ooni app. There are also two meat probes, similar to what you'd see on the best smart grills, that allow you to monitor internal temps during the cooking process. Via Ooni Connect, which is the name the company is using for the wireless setup and the app, you can see an average ambient temperature, individual zone temps and the status of the two food probes on your phone. What's more, the app can send you alerts along the way, just in case you venture away from the onboard display.

Aside from the new smart connectivity, the main appeal of the Koda 2 Max is its size. The 24-inch cooking area is enough for larger, 20-inch pizzas. Of course, you can also bake two smaller ones at the same time to increase your efficiency during a pizza party. And thanks to the dual-zone temperature controls, you can roast meats and veggies side-by-side at different temps to help complete your meal in a timely fashion. This is an Ooni oven after all, which means it can hit temperatures of 950 degrees Fahrenheit and cook certain pizza styles in as little as 60 seconds. As always, there's no final judgement on this making the list of best pizza ovens until several pies are stretched, baked and consumed, which will hopefully happen before the Koda 2 Max starts shipping to backyard pizzaiolos this summer. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/oonis-larger-dual-zone-koda-2-max-pizza-oven-is-now-available-for-pre-order-183424519.html?src=rss

Ooni’s larger, dual-zone Koda 2 Max pizza oven is now available for pre-order

In April, Ooni revealed its largest pizza oven yet, but the company was clear that you wouldn't be able to order one until May. Well, the time has come. Starting today, you can pre-order the Koda 2 Max pizza oven for $999. The outdoor beast is scheduled to start shipping in July, which means you'll still have to wait a few weeks to take advantage of this unit's upgrades. In addition to a larger cooking area, the new features include dual-zone temperature controls, improved heat distribution, a new digital display and Bluetooth connectivity to your phone. 

None of these items are a surprise as they were part of the initial reveal, but Ooni's full spec sheet for the Koda 2 Max does offer more info on how the Bluetooth feature will work. The company explains that the Digital Temperature Hub takes readings from "various spots" inside the oven and shows them on both the color display and the Ooni app. There are also two meat probes, similar to what you'd see on the best smart grills, that allow you to monitor internal temps during the cooking process. Via Ooni Connect, which is the name the company is using for the wireless setup and the app, you can see an average ambient temperature, individual zone temps and the status of the two food probes on your phone. What's more, the app can send you alerts along the way, just in case you venture away from the onboard display.

Aside from the new smart connectivity, the main appeal of the Koda 2 Max is its size. The 24-inch cooking area is enough for larger, 20-inch pizzas. Of course, you can also bake two smaller ones at the same time to increase your efficiency during a pizza party. And thanks to the dual-zone temperature controls, you can roast meats and veggies side-by-side at different temps to help complete your meal in a timely fashion. This is an Ooni oven after all, which means it can hit temperatures of 950 degrees Fahrenheit and cook certain pizza styles in as little as 60 seconds. As always, there's no final judgement on this making the list of best pizza ovens until several pies are stretched, baked and consumed, which will hopefully happen before the Koda 2 Max starts shipping to backyard pizzaiolos this summer. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/oonis-larger-dual-zone-koda-2-max-pizza-oven-is-now-available-for-pre-order-183424519.html?src=rss