Marshall’s Middleton Bluetooth speaker is the company’s new weatherproof flagship

Marshall already launched a few rugged, weatherproof portable Bluetooth speakers, but so far they’ve been relatively small. That changes today with the launch of the Middleton. It’s still portable enough to chuck into a backpack, but has an IP67 rating, 20+ hours runtime at mid-volume, dual woofers and tweeters pushing out 50-watts of 360-degree sound and moves into the bassier 50hz to 20kHz frequency range. It’s available in black starting today and priced at $300.

The Middleton is being pitched as the new flagship for Marshall’s portable Bluetooth speaker line and rightly so. Aside from the Tufton, which isn’t all that rugged and is significantly bigger, the Middleton is now one of the more powerful portables in the company’s stable. It’s the largest IP67 rated speaker they have on offer, measuring 4.3 x 9 x 3.75 inches, and one of the first to pump out sound from all four sides. It also ditches the rubber port stopper seen on other models, since the company has already waterproofed the components.

As mentioned, the Middleton is rated for more than 20 hours of playtime on a single charge, at low to mid volume of course. I haven't had the chance to test this on full blast for long periods of time, but the charge does seem to hold up well. The speaker has three battery cells totaling 9,600mAh, and you can use the speaker as a USB-C power bank if needed. Also, if your charge is running low while you're jamming out, you can always use it while its charging.

The 360-degree sound is driven by two 15-watt woofers, two 10-watt tweeters and a pair of passive radiators that serve to pump music out of the smaller ends of this chunky rectangle. The output from this four-pound device is respectable and it handles low frequencies well. You also get the trademark Marshall sound that gives you a good dynamic range and provides significant depth to whatever sounds you're vibing on.

Just like the Emberton and Willen, the Middleton has a soft-touch exterior composed of 55-percent post-consumer recycled plastic and is 100-percent PVC free. It also has a carry strap you can easily fit your hand through. On the top, you’ll find onboard controls that provide more hands-on adjustment than its siblings. There’s a Bluetooth button (which doubles as the Stack Mode control) and a multi-use joystick for power on/off, volume control and track selection (forward or back). You also get bass and treble controls, which are a welcome addition and a first for one Marshall’s speakers without physical knobs. The level indicator works in conjunction with most of the above. It displays battery level, but also indicates volume, bass and treble levels all with backlit red lighting.

This speaker is also the biggest model to support Marshall’s Stack Mode feature. You can start a session using the Marshall Bluetooth app and pair with any other Middleton, Emberton II or Willen speakers using a double press of their Bluetooth buttons to join. It helps if you aren’t already paired with speakers joining the session. Like most Bluetooth portables, two (or more) sound much better than one and a double dose of the Middleton sound is a pleasure. The company claims you can pair a good deal of compatible speakers together, having tested up to 60 at one time. I've "stacked" two Middletons, an Emberton II and a Willen which worked well — once I unpaired all but the main speaker from my phone, that is.

For reference, the UE Megaboom 3 ($200) and JBL Charge 5 ($180) are good models for comparison in terms of scale, although they all have unique sound profiles. As usual, this puts the Middleton in a slightly higher price bracket than some others out there in its size, but Marshall products have usually been priced at a slight premium. The excellent sound quality and decent low-end capability definitely makes this model worth checking out.

You can order the Marshall Middleton in black from the company’s website starting today for $300. If you prefer the cream-colored option, you’ll have to wait until around Spring this year.

Specifications

  • Frequency Range: 50Hz-20kHz

  • Drivers: Two 15-watt woofers, two 3/5-inch tweeters, two passive radiators

  • Amplifiers: Two 20-watt class D amps for the woofers, Two 10-watt class D amps for the tweeters

  • Battery Type: Built-in rechargeable Li-ion 

  • Power Bank: Charge devices from the speaker with USB-C

  • Play Time: 20+ hours

  • Quick Charging: 20 minutes gives you two hours of play

  • Charging Time: 4.5 hours for a complete charge

  • Weatherproof: IP67

  • Aux: 3.5mm input

  • Bluetooth Version: 5.1

  • Range: 30 feet

  • Size: 4.29 x 9.06 x 3.74 inches

  • Weight: 4LBs

Apple HomePod (2nd gen) review: A smarter smart speaker

When Apple debuted the HomePod in 2018, it was already late to the smart speaker game. Sure, the company has never been worried about tardiness, choosing instead to focus on being the best. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with its first attempt. The HomePod sounded good, but lacked a lot of the basic functionality and voice assistant smarts the likes of Amazon and Google offered. Apple has spent the last five years improving both HomePod and HomePod mini, adding features like multi-room audio, multi-user support and an intercom tool.

In 2021, Apple discontinued the original model in favor of the $99 HomePod mini. But now, the larger version is back with a familiar look, but lots of changes on the inside. Like the first, the new HomePod ($299) is best suited for those who’ve committed to Apple’s ecosystem. So if that’s not you, I understand if you don’t want to go any further. If it is, just know that the company has given its speaker a lot more tools than it had at launch five years ago, including more capable assistance from Siri and more smart home abilities. Plus, the second-generation HomePod is $50 cheaper than the original was at launch.

A familiar design updated on the inside

If you were hoping for a wholesale redesign with the new HomePod, Apple undoubtedly disappointed you. However, there are some noticeable changes upon close inspection. First, the speaker’s touch panel is now slightly recessed like the HomePod mini. On the original version, that panel sits flush with the top rim. When you trigger Siri, lighting for that panel now goes all the way to the edge too. Next, the power cord is now detachable. This means if you have an issue with that very necessary component, it should be easier to get a replacement (via Apple Care). If you have excellent vision, you might also be able to discern the 2023 model is 0.2-inches shorter at 6.6-inches tall (vs. 6.8 inches) if they’re sitting side by side.

On the inside though, Apple made a host of changes. Both versions have an upward facing woofer with a group of tweeters around the bottom. For the second-generation, Apple reduced the number of tweeters from seven to five, angling them slightly upward where previously they were almost perfectly side-firing. The company also cut the number of voice microphones from six down to four. And perhaps the most important change internally, Apple swapped the iPhone 6’s A8 chip for the much more modern S7 – the silicon that powers the Apple Watch series 7.

Software and setup

Despite the lack of changes on the outside, the second-gen HomePod is a better speaker because Apple has been improving it and the HomePod mini over time. The company added stereo pairing and multi-room audio alongside AirPlay 2 a few months after launch of the first generation model. Multi-user support and audio handoffs were added in 2019 and the intercom feature arrived ahead of the HomePod mini in 2020. And in 2021, HomePod gained the ability to play any TV audio via an Apple TV 4K over eARC and both spatial audio and Apple Music lossless streaming. So many of the key features Apple is chatting up on the new HomePod are things it has been slowly adding since 2018. And many of which, I’d argue, should’ve been there from there from the start.

Everything you need to set up and control the HomePod is found in Apple’s Home app. First, you’ll need to add a new speaker like you would any other smart home device with this software, including assigning it a room or location in your home. The app allows you to set up Automations and Scenes along with configuring how you’d like to interact with Siri.

Apple Home app
Billy Steele/Engadget

You have the ability to disable voice cues or the long press on the HomePod’s touch panel in order to activate the assistant (both are enabled by default). You can also have the speaker light up and play a sound when using Siri – or do one or neither. The Home app will let you use Siri for Personal Requests too, where the speaker can recognize your voice for things like messages, calls and reminders so long as your iPhone is close by. The software allows you to disable the HomePod’s intercom feature as well, should you prefer not to use that tool.

Like the first HomePod, the 2023 model is equipped with room calibration. This detects reflections off of walls and other surfaces to configure the sound for the best performance. The HomePod does this the first time you play music, but it isn’t constant monitoring. Instead, like it did on the previous generation, the setup leverages an accelerometer to determine when it has been moved. If it has, the speaker will then reinitiate the room sensing process when music is played.

A smart home with Siri

Apple HomePod (2nd gen) review
Billy Steele/Engadget

When we reviewed the original HomePod in 2018, one of our biggest gripes was with Siri’s limited abilities. Sure the speaker sounded good, but the lack of polish with the voice assistant made it seem like a work in progress. Apple has done a lot to improve Siri over the last five years, so a lot of those issues with the original have been fixed.

First, the HomePod, like Siri on your iPhone, is capable of recognizing multiple users. Personal Requests can allow it to peek at your Calendar, Notes, Reminders, Messages, Find My and more when you ask. Plus, HomePod can give each member of your family (up to six people) their unique responses from certain iPhone apps. What’s more, Siri can create recurring home automations without you having to pick up your phone and swipe over to the appropriate app.

Even with fewer microphones to pick up your voice, the new HomePod doesn’t suffer any performance setbacks. It’s just as capable as ever at picking out your voice even in a noisy room. And, while playing music with voice commands used to be limited to Apple Music, services like Pandora, Deezer and several others can now be controlled via Siri.

HomePod is also a smart home hub, easily pairing with HomeKit and Matter accessories. The new model is equipped with temperature and humidity sensing, and that info is displayed prominently in the Home app. Of course, you can use that data to create automations with other smart home devices. I don’t have a compatible smart thermostat, but I was able to successfully trigger a smart plug once the HomePod detected a certain temperature in my living room.

Sound Recognition is arguably the most notable new feature that Apple is debuting with the new HomePod, but it’s not ready yet. It can listen for smoke or carbon monoxide alarms and send a notification to an iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch. What’s more, you’ll be able to “check in'' on what’s happening via an audio feed or camera. Sound Recognition won’t arrive until later this spring, so we’ll have to wait to test it.

Sound quality

Thanks to the work Apple has put in over the last five years, the second-gen HomePod is a much better smart speaker than its predecessor. The company has once again delivered stellar sound quality, though it can over emphasize vocals and dialog at times. However, expanded smart home tools and more room to grow shows Apple has learned from its stumbling first attempt.
Billy Steele/Engadget

Audio quality wasn’t an issue with the first-gen HomePod and it’s still great here. But like the first version, Apple’s choice for tuning won’t appease everyone. There’s a continued emphasis on voice, so things like vocals in music or dialog on a TV show or movie take center stage. At times it’s fine though, with some genres and content, it leads to a rather subpar experience.

Don’t get me wrong, for the most part HomePod sounds outstanding, especially when you put it up against other smart speakers. The fact is many of those don’t sound very good at all, so Apple continues its track record for making a device that has serious audio chops and smart features. RTJ4 has ample bass for its bombastic hip-hop beats while Sylvan Esso’s No Rules Sandy gets enough low-end for its synth-heavy rhythms. Thanks to the HomePod’s excellent clarity, detailed styles like bluegrass and jazz shine. Sometimes the bass is a little too subdued for metal (Underoath’s Voyuerist) or full-band country (Zach Bryan’s 2022 live album), and the vocals too forward, but overall, it sets the standard for smart speaker sound. And the HomePod only shines brighter as a stereo pair.

When you add the second HomePod in the Home app, the software asks you if you want to use them together. Once you tell it which side the additional unit is on (left or right), the app completes the setup for you, assigning the appropriate channel to each speaker. Now everywhere you previously saw a single HomePod icon, you’ll see two, constantly reminding you of the stereo arrangement. The double speaker option is great for music. On Béla Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart, the two-speaker arrangement adds a lot of dimensionality to each track. There was already a spatial element to the tunes, but dual HomePods heightens the sensation, making it seem like you’re in the middle of the musicians while they record each song.

Thanks to the work Apple has put in over the last five years, the second-gen HomePod is a much better smart speaker than its predecessor. The company has once again delivered stellar sound quality, though it can over emphasize vocals and dialog at times. However, expanded smart home tools and more room to grow shows Apple has learned from its stumbling first attempt.
Billy Steele/Engadget

When you select a HomePod for use with the Apple TV you still need to deselect your TV speakers. Those aren’t disabled just because you’ve asked the streaming box to also send audio to a HomePod or two. TV audio with stereo pair is fine, but I can’t see using a single unit for the same purpose. In a multi-room setup you might want to send the sound from a live event like the Super Bowl to a solo speaker, but having just one as your lone living room audio from a TV isn’t a great experience. While the HomePod beams sound in all directions, with a single speaker it’s clear the sound is coming from a fixed location – something that’s a lot less noticeable with a pair or with a soundbar.

As is the case with vocals, dialog takes prominence with a HomePod and Apple TV. At times it can seem slightly muffled when watching things like live sports. Otherwise, there’s good clarity, nice bass and great dimensional audio when streaming Formula 1: Drive to Survive or Slow Horses. But, honestly, if you’re looking to improve your living room audio, a soundbar and sub is a better option. The driver arrangement in those speakers does a better job of filling a room completely and evenly. Plus, most companies give you the ability to use adjustments or presets to dial in how much you want those speakers to focus on dialog so you can fine-tune things to your liking.

The competition

Thanks to the work Apple has put in over the last five years, the second-gen HomePod is a much better smart speaker than its predecessor. The company has once again delivered stellar sound quality, though it can over emphasize vocals and dialog at times. However, expanded smart home tools and more room to grow shows Apple has learned from its stumbling first attempt.
Billy Steele/Engadget

Because the HomePod is best suited to people who have married themselves to Apple’s ecosystem, the best alternative to the second-gen HomePod is the cheaper HomePod mini. If all you’re after is some Siri assistance with your smart home and a speaker that’s good enough for casual listening and podcasts, the $99 option will work well for you. Plus, Apple just unlocked the smaller speaker’s inactive temperature and humidity sensor and it’s due to get Sound Recognition.

Wrap-up

Apple has been preparing for a new HomePod for five years, constantly improving both the original version and the HomePod mini. And the fact that the company has made Siri a more capable companion certainly helps. Plus, there’s more smart home abilities than before. Apple hasn’t strayed from its emphasis on the spoken (or sung) word for HomePod’s sound profile, but that’s okay. It’s clear that the company is focused on expanding the toolbox for its smart speakers after their debut, so I’d expect that much like the original HomePod, this is just the beginning for the second generation.

Bowers & Wilkins Px8 review: Incredible sound comes at a cost

When Bowers & Wilkins announced its Px7 S2 headphones last year, the company made it clear that it already had a more premium offering nearly ready for prime time. Three months later, the Px8 arrived. While the Px8 carries a similar look to its predecessor, Bowers & Wilkins crafted this set of headphones out of more luxurious materials and managed to improve what was already great sound quality. However, the upgrades come at a steep price: the $699 Px8 is $300 more than the Px7 S2.

Design

At a glance, the Px8 looks nearly identical to the Px7 S2 Bowers & Wilkins debuted last year. Upon close inspection though, the differences become apparent. The Px8 has a slightly more refined aesthetic, with soft leather replacing the woven fabric on the outside of the headband and ear cups. The outermost panels of the earcups, where the company’s wordmark resides, is now metal instead of plastic. And the arms and headband slider are cast aluminum, further complementing the more premium design.

The Px8 weighs 13 grams more than the Px7 S2, which is probably (at least partially) due to the change in materials. Memory foam ear cushions keep things comfy, but you can feel the extra load if you’re doing a side-by-side comparison. For that reason, I give a slight edge to the S2 if you need something to wear for several hours at a time. After a Vegas to Atlanta flight this month, I was starting to feel the added weight – and also the rings around the ear cups.

On-board controls are still physical buttons on the Px8, and they’re in the exact same locations as the Px7 S2. On the right, a power/pairing slider sits above a trio of buttons for volume, playback and calls. Over on the left side, a single control toggles between active noise cancellation (ANC), transparency mode and both off. While some companies have nixed buttons in favor of touch panels, those aren’t always reliable, but what Bowers & Wilkins offers here certainly gets the job done.

Software

The Px8 are some of the best sounding headphones we’ve ever reviewed. Bowers & Wilkins blend of extremely clear sound with a wide open soundstage makes these a joy to listen to. However, they’re lacking in the comfort department and one basic feature still needs refining. Due to the $699 price, the company’s Px7 S2 is a better option for most people.
Billy Steele/Engadget

The Bowers & Wilkins Music app gives you access to all of the settings on the Px8, just like it has for the company’s previous headphones. On the main screen, there’s up-to-date battery status with noise mode selection just below (ANC, Pass-through and off). You can also manage connections here as the Px8 supports multipoint Bluetooth with two devices. Lastly, the company has put media controls (if you link compatible services), tone settings, a quick start guide and product support right on that first panel.

Once you dive deeper into the settings section, battery life percentage and noise mode (or Environmental Control as the company calls it) are prominently displayed once more. Treble and bass sliders are there as well, allowing for very basic EQ tweaks. The company hasn’t provided any presets here, so you’re left with those two variables to adjust. The ability to manage connections is repeated here as well, just above the option to reassign the Quick Action button on the left earcup. By default, it cycles between sound modes. However, if you prefer, you can make it summon a voice assistant.

The last two notable items have to do with power management. First, Bowers & WIlkins offers an automatic standby feature that activates a low power state after 15 minutes of inactivity. You can switch it off if you’d like. The second tool is the ability to activate or disable the wear sensor for automatic pausing. The company says this should pause music when you lift one earcup, but that isn’t always the case. Bowers & Wilkins gives you three sensitivity options to help fine-tune it (low, medium and high), but none of those remedy the fact that the Px8 – like the Px7 S2 – is slow to pause when you lift an ear cup or take them off your head. This could still use some work so that at the very least audio resumes quicker after a break.

Sound quality

The Px8 are some of the best sounding headphones we’ve ever reviewed. Bowers & Wilkins blend of extremely clear sound with a wide open soundstage makes these a joy to listen to. However, they’re lacking in the comfort department and one basic feature still needs refining. Due to the $699 price, the company’s Px7 S2 is a better option for most people.
Billy Steele/Engadget

One key area the Px8 differs from the Px7 S2 is sound quality. Where the latter packs in a pair of 40mm bio cellulose drivers, the former is equipped with two carbon units of the same size. I’ll admit I don’t know enough about headphone construction to tell you if one is technically better than the other, but what I do know is that the Px8 sounds incredible. The Px7 S2 already had great audio quality, but Bowers & Wilkins somehow manages to take things a step further with this model.

There’s a warmth to the sound profile that invites you to sit and listen a while, no matter the genre. An almost extreme clarity to the audio keeps the most chaotic metal perfectly organized, allowing you to pick out individual instruments. And in the case of Underoath’s Voyuerist, it’s easy to distinguish the backing synth even when it’s very subtle or laid underneath the full band going flat out. The amount of detail the Px8 exudes from bluegrass and jazz tracks is staggering, making it seem like you’re in the room with Béla Fleck as he recorded My Bluegrass Heart. It’s not just banjo, guitar, bass, mandolin and fiddle. You can hear the nuance in the sound of each one as they envelope you.

And it’s more than the clarity and detail. The Px8 is a well-tuned powerhouse for bass-heavy electronic music and hip-hop too. When a track demands it, these headphones tap into a stash of low-end that rivals some of the best. And like everything else, you can hear the subtlety in the kick drum, drum machine and bass line. That’s true across the board, whether it’s bombastic beats of RTJ4 or the intricate synth work on Sylvan Esso’s No Rules Sandy.

In terms of active noise cancellation, the Px8 does an admirable job. It’s not miles better than the Px7 S2, but in nearly every circumstance – including on an airplane – these headphones are up to the task. Bose and Sony manage to block out more on the QuietComfort 45 and the WH-1000XM5 respectively, but Bowers & Wilkins didn’t phone it in here. There’s some solid ANC performance, it’s just not the absolute best.

Call quality

Bowers & Wilkins says it moved two of the six on-board microphones closer together and re-angled them to improve voice quality. The company explained that these tweaks should also reduce wind noise. Call audio for the person on the other end was already good on the Px7 S2, but the lack of a natural-sounding transparency mode made me feel a bit shouty during voice and video chats. On the Px8, that pass-through audio is still good, but not great, and not as natural sounding as the AirPods Max.

The Px8 does a great job of cutting down on background noise, though, so the headphones will help whoever is on the other end focus on your voice. However, overall voice quality isn’t great as you’ll still sound like you’re on speaker phone rather than having a decent mic near your face. Are they fine for most video and voice calls? Sure. If you’re doing those things often should you consider these as your primary tool? Probably not.

Battery life

The Px8 are some of the best sounding headphones we’ve ever reviewed. Bowers & Wilkins blend of extremely clear sound with a wide open soundstage makes these a joy to listen to. However, they’re lacking in the comfort department and one basic feature still needs refining. Due to the $699 price, the company’s Px7 S2 is a better option for most people.
Billy Steele/Engadget

Bowers & Wilkins has a track record of under promising and over delivering when it comes to battery life on its headphones. The company consistently outperforms the stated figure by a mile and the same is true on the Px8. Much like the Px7 S2, this model still had 40 percent left in the tank at the 30-hour mark – the company’s official rating. And yes, that’s with active noise cancellation turned on over the course of a few days, plus the occasional use of transparency mode for calls. After 30 hours on the Px7 S2, there was 33 percent left, so the Px8 seems to be slightly more efficient than its more affordable sibling – or perhaps has a slightly bigger battery.

The company has included a quick-charge feature that gives you seven hours of listening time in 15 minutes. That’s nice if you find yourself in a pinch, but with well over 30 hours of ANC use available, I’m only charging once a week after using the Px8 a few hours each day. The battery life here stacks up well against the best you can get in noise-canceling headphones right now.

The competition

At $699, the Px8 is the most expensive set of wireless noise-canceling headphones I’ve reviewed. Even Master & Dynamic’s priciest model is $100 cheaper (the MW75). You have to really dig what Bowers & Wilkins is putting down to dive in here. Simply put, there are great alternatives available for less – some of which offer more features. Heck, I’d argue the company’s own Px7 S2 is a better value at $399.

The Px7 S2 may not have the high-end look of the Px8, but it does have excellent sound quality, solid ANC performance and better-than-advertised battery life. The company’s warm, crisp and clear audio is on display on the more affordable model and it’s more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Aside from the boost in overall sound quality and that refined design, the Px7 S2 has every other feature you get on the Px8 – for a lot less.

At this point, Sony’s WH-1000XM5 is still the best you can buy, mostly for the mix of audio and noise-canceling performance, with a long list of handy features on the side. The two most notable are the M5’s ability to automatically change sound modes based on your location or activity and the Speak-to-Chat tool that pauses the audio when you begin to speak. Simply put, no other company comes close to packing in as much as Sony.

Wrap-up

When a pair of headphones costs $699, I start to expect things. Mainly that they need to be damn near perfect for me to recommend them. The Px8 nearly is when it comes to sound quality, but there are other areas where they fall short of the company’s previous model and some of the competition. Automatic pausing is still in need of refinement, even with the sensitivity settings. And overall, the Px7 S2 is much more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Bowers & Wilkins impresses with this most premium offering, but there are still some rough edges to smooth out.

Bowers & Wilkins Px8 review: Incredible sound comes at a cost

When Bowers & Wilkins announced its Px7 S2 headphones last year, the company made it clear that it already had a more premium offering nearly ready for prime time. Three months later, the Px8 arrived. While the Px8 carries a similar look to its predecessor, Bowers & Wilkins crafted this set of headphones out of more luxurious materials and managed to improve what was already great sound quality. However, the upgrades come at a steep price: the $699 Px8 is $300 more than the Px7 S2.

Design

At a glance, the Px8 looks nearly identical to the Px7 S2 Bowers & Wilkins debuted last year. Upon close inspection though, the differences become apparent. The Px8 has a slightly more refined aesthetic, with soft leather replacing the woven fabric on the outside of the headband and ear cups. The outermost panels of the earcups, where the company’s wordmark resides, is now metal instead of plastic. And the arms and headband slider are cast aluminum, further complementing the more premium design.

The Px8 weighs 13 grams more than the Px7 S2, which is probably (at least partially) due to the change in materials. Memory foam ear cushions keep things comfy, but you can feel the extra load if you’re doing a side-by-side comparison. For that reason, I give a slight edge to the S2 if you need something to wear for several hours at a time. After a Vegas to Atlanta flight this month, I was starting to feel the added weight – and also the rings around the ear cups.

On-board controls are still physical buttons on the Px8, and they’re in the exact same locations as the Px7 S2. On the right, a power/pairing slider sits above a trio of buttons for volume, playback and calls. Over on the left side, a single control toggles between active noise cancellation (ANC), transparency mode and both off. While some companies have nixed buttons in favor of touch panels, those aren’t always reliable, but what Bowers & Wilkins offers here certainly gets the job done.

Software

The Px8 are some of the best sounding headphones we’ve ever reviewed. Bowers & Wilkins blend of extremely clear sound with a wide open soundstage makes these a joy to listen to. However, they’re lacking in the comfort department and one basic feature still needs refining. Due to the $699 price, the company’s Px7 S2 is a better option for most people.
Billy Steele/Engadget

The Bowers & Wilkins Music app gives you access to all of the settings on the Px8, just like it has for the company’s previous headphones. On the main screen, there’s up-to-date battery status with noise mode selection just below (ANC, Pass-through and off). You can also manage connections here as the Px8 supports multipoint Bluetooth with two devices. Lastly, the company has put media controls (if you link compatible services), tone settings, a quick start guide and product support right on that first panel.

Once you dive deeper into the settings section, battery life percentage and noise mode (or Environmental Control as the company calls it) are prominently displayed once more. Treble and bass sliders are there as well, allowing for very basic EQ tweaks. The company hasn’t provided any presets here, so you’re left with those two variables to adjust. The ability to manage connections is repeated here as well, just above the option to reassign the Quick Action button on the left earcup. By default, it cycles between sound modes. However, if you prefer, you can make it summon a voice assistant.

The last two notable items have to do with power management. First, Bowers & WIlkins offers an automatic standby feature that activates a low power state after 15 minutes of inactivity. You can switch it off if you’d like. The second tool is the ability to activate or disable the wear sensor for automatic pausing. The company says this should pause music when you lift one earcup, but that isn’t always the case. Bowers & Wilkins gives you three sensitivity options to help fine-tune it (low, medium and high), but none of those remedy the fact that the Px8 – like the Px7 S2 – is slow to pause when you lift an ear cup or take them off your head. This could still use some work so that at the very least audio resumes quicker after a break.

Sound quality

The Px8 are some of the best sounding headphones we’ve ever reviewed. Bowers & Wilkins blend of extremely clear sound with a wide open soundstage makes these a joy to listen to. However, they’re lacking in the comfort department and one basic feature still needs refining. Due to the $699 price, the company’s Px7 S2 is a better option for most people.
Billy Steele/Engadget

One key area the Px8 differs from the Px7 S2 is sound quality. Where the latter packs in a pair of 40mm bio cellulose drivers, the former is equipped with two carbon units of the same size. I’ll admit I don’t know enough about headphone construction to tell you if one is technically better than the other, but what I do know is that the Px8 sounds incredible. The Px7 S2 already had great audio quality, but Bowers & Wilkins somehow manages to take things a step further with this model.

There’s a warmth to the sound profile that invites you to sit and listen a while, no matter the genre. An almost extreme clarity to the audio keeps the most chaotic metal perfectly organized, allowing you to pick out individual instruments. And in the case of Underoath’s Voyuerist, it’s easy to distinguish the backing synth even when it’s very subtle or laid underneath the full band going flat out. The amount of detail the Px8 exudes from bluegrass and jazz tracks is staggering, making it seem like you’re in the room with Béla Fleck as he recorded My Bluegrass Heart. It’s not just banjo, guitar, bass, mandolin and fiddle. You can hear the nuance in the sound of each one as they envelope you.

And it’s more than the clarity and detail. The Px8 is a well-tuned powerhouse for bass-heavy electronic music and hip-hop too. When a track demands it, these headphones tap into a stash of low-end that rivals some of the best. And like everything else, you can hear the subtlety in the kick drum, drum machine and bass line. That’s true across the board, whether it’s bombastic beats of RTJ4 or the intricate synth work on Sylvan Esso’s No Rules Sandy.

In terms of active noise cancellation, the Px8 does an admirable job. It’s not miles better than the Px7 S2, but in nearly every circumstance – including on an airplane – these headphones are up to the task. Bose and Sony manage to block out more on the QuietComfort 45 and the WH-1000XM5 respectively, but Bowers & Wilkins didn’t phone it in here. There’s some solid ANC performance, it’s just not the absolute best.

Call quality

Bowers & Wilkins says it moved two of the six on-board microphones closer together and re-angled them to improve voice quality. The company explained that these tweaks should also reduce wind noise. Call audio for the person on the other end was already good on the Px7 S2, but the lack of a natural-sounding transparency mode made me feel a bit shouty during voice and video chats. On the Px8, that pass-through audio is still good, but not great, and not as natural sounding as the AirPods Max.

The Px8 does a great job of cutting down on background noise, though, so the headphones will help whoever is on the other end focus on your voice. However, overall voice quality isn’t great as you’ll still sound like you’re on speaker phone rather than having a decent mic near your face. Are they fine for most video and voice calls? Sure. If you’re doing those things often should you consider these as your primary tool? Probably not.

Battery life

The Px8 are some of the best sounding headphones we’ve ever reviewed. Bowers & Wilkins blend of extremely clear sound with a wide open soundstage makes these a joy to listen to. However, they’re lacking in the comfort department and one basic feature still needs refining. Due to the $699 price, the company’s Px7 S2 is a better option for most people.
Billy Steele/Engadget

Bowers & Wilkins has a track record of under promising and over delivering when it comes to battery life on its headphones. The company consistently outperforms the stated figure by a mile and the same is true on the Px8. Much like the Px7 S2, this model still had 40 percent left in the tank at the 30-hour mark – the company’s official rating. And yes, that’s with active noise cancellation turned on over the course of a few days, plus the occasional use of transparency mode for calls. After 30 hours on the Px7 S2, there was 33 percent left, so the Px8 seems to be slightly more efficient than its more affordable sibling – or perhaps has a slightly bigger battery.

The company has included a quick-charge feature that gives you seven hours of listening time in 15 minutes. That’s nice if you find yourself in a pinch, but with well over 30 hours of ANC use available, I’m only charging once a week after using the Px8 a few hours each day. The battery life here stacks up well against the best you can get in noise-canceling headphones right now.

The competition

At $699, the Px8 is the most expensive set of wireless noise-canceling headphones I’ve reviewed. Even Master & Dynamic’s priciest model is $100 cheaper (the MW75). You have to really dig what Bowers & Wilkins is putting down to dive in here. Simply put, there are great alternatives available for less – some of which offer more features. Heck, I’d argue the company’s own Px7 S2 is a better value at $399.

The Px7 S2 may not have the high-end look of the Px8, but it does have excellent sound quality, solid ANC performance and better-than-advertised battery life. The company’s warm, crisp and clear audio is on display on the more affordable model and it’s more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Aside from the boost in overall sound quality and that refined design, the Px7 S2 has every other feature you get on the Px8 – for a lot less.

At this point, Sony’s WH-1000XM5 is still the best you can buy, mostly for the mix of audio and noise-canceling performance, with a long list of handy features on the side. The two most notable are the M5’s ability to automatically change sound modes based on your location or activity and the Speak-to-Chat tool that pauses the audio when you begin to speak. Simply put, no other company comes close to packing in as much as Sony.

Wrap-up

When a pair of headphones costs $699, I start to expect things. Mainly that they need to be damn near perfect for me to recommend them. The Px8 nearly is when it comes to sound quality, but there are other areas where they fall short of the company’s previous model and some of the competition. Automatic pausing is still in need of refinement, even with the sensitivity settings. And overall, the Px7 S2 is much more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Bowers & Wilkins impresses with this most premium offering, but there are still some rough edges to smooth out.

IK’s iRig Stream Mic Pro is a do-it-all microphone for musicians and content creators

IK Multimedia has launched the iRig Stream Mic Pro designed to be more versatile than typical multimedia mics from Blue and others. It combines a multi-pattern condenser microphone with a 24-bit, 96 kHz audio interface for iOS, Android, Mac and PC. That lets creators do things like marry their voice with music from a phone or tablet or connect easily to a media player, keyboard or other device. 

The company promises "crisp, clear and detailed" sound thanks to dual mic capsules that let you select from cardioid, figure 8, omnidirectional or stereo pickup patterns. The 24-bit, 96kHz converters allow for high quality output, which you can check through a headphone output with direct monitoring.

As for the audio interface, you can connect devices like a turntable, soundboard or keyboard directly using the stereo 3.5mm audio input. With the monitoring mix control, you can blend the director or recorded audio via the headphone output. 

IK's iRig Stream Mic Pro aims to make music and content creation easier
IK Multimedia

It also features the company's Loopback+ that lets you not only add music from a smartphone or other device, but route the mic signal to a separate app to add reverb, EQ or noise-reduction. From there, you can send the signal to an app like TikTok, allowing for easier output "on apps that don't normally allow audio processing or adding background music," IK Multimedia said in a press release.

Settings can be selected and operated with a single control knob, and levels monitored via LED level indicators. It can run in stereo or multichannel modes , and includes cables for iPhones, iPads, Android devices and Macs/PCs. It's powered by its host and is MiFi certified.

All of the features are reflected in the price. Where Blue's Yeti is $100 and there are a bunch of good streaming mics under $100, the iRig Stream Mic Pro costs $170. That could actually be cheaper than the cost of a mic and interface together, however. It ships with some free apps including iRig Recorder 3 LE for mobile devices as well as MixBox CS (iPad) and MixBox SE (Mac/PC). It's now available for $170 at IK Multimedia's online store and select retailers

IK’s iRig Stream Mic Pro is a do-it-all microphone for musicians and content creators

IK Multimedia has launched the iRig Stream Mic Pro designed to be more versatile than typical multimedia mics from Blue and others. It combines a multi-pattern condenser microphone with a 24-bit, 96 kHz audio interface for iOS, Android, Mac and PC. That lets creators do things like marry their voice with music from a phone or tablet or connect easily to a media player, keyboard or other device. 

The company promises "crisp, clear and detailed" sound thanks to dual mic capsules that let you select from cardioid, figure 8, omnidirectional or stereo pickup patterns. The 24-bit, 96kHz converters allow for high quality output, which you can check through a headphone output with direct monitoring.

As for the audio interface, you can connect devices like a turntable, soundboard or keyboard directly using the stereo 3.5mm audio input. With the monitoring mix control, you can blend the director or recorded audio via the headphone output. 

IK's iRig Stream Mic Pro aims to make music and content creation easier
IK Multimedia

It also features the company's Loopback+ that lets you not only add music from a smartphone or other device, but route the mic signal to a separate app to add reverb, EQ or noise-reduction. From there, you can send the signal to an app like TikTok, allowing for easier output "on apps that don't normally allow audio processing or adding background music," IK Multimedia said in a press release.

Settings can be selected and operated with a single control knob, and levels monitored via LED level indicators. It can run in stereo or multichannel modes , and includes cables for iPhones, iPads, Android devices and Macs/PCs. It's powered by its host and is MiFi certified.

All of the features are reflected in the price. Where Blue's Yeti is $100 and there are a bunch of good streaming mics under $100, the iRig Stream Mic Pro costs $170. That could actually be cheaper than the cost of a mic and interface together, however. It ships with some free apps including iRig Recorder 3 LE for mobile devices as well as MixBox CS (iPad) and MixBox SE (Mac/PC). It's now available for $170 at IK Multimedia's online store and select retailers

What to buy if you want to start producing music at home

These days it’s not necessary to go to a giant studio with overpriced, pro-grade gear to record a Grammy-winning record. You can do it right from the comfort of your own bedroom in fact, using tools priced for even the most casual of hobbyists. It's not news that the tools of creation or the avenues for distributing art are accessible to more people than ever. But the cultural institutions that have dominated popular music for so long can no longer ignore the bedroom producer or budding Soundcloud star.

Maybe you've been inspired to build your own home recording studio. And maybe, you're not quite sure where to start. Well, an audio interface, a good mic and a decent set of headphones will get you pretty far. But the first thing you'll need is probably staring you right in the face: a computer.

Computer and a DAW

An overhead view of Ableton Live 10 on a laptop surrounded by home studio gear.
Ableton

Justin DeLay, Director of Product and Category Marketing at Reverb, drives home just how important the computer is: "You can strip away everything else and as long as you have a computer you can still create music," he told me. He suggests you "spend the money on a good computer and get other gear — such as audio interfaces, mics, headphones, etc. — used or at reasonable price points."

But, truthfully, you can do quite a lot with whatever computer you have on hand. Joe Pecora, the engineer and producer at Red Room Studio, says your set up "could be as simple as an iPhone/iPad with Garage band." (I know someone who recorded an entire album this way.) While he agrees that the most important part is your computer, he argues it doesn't have to be super powerful. It doesn't even have to be a desktop. JDilla famously created many of his beats on a Roland SP303, and you can basically recreate that experience with an iPad and the $4 Koala Sampler for iOS. And don't forget that Gorillaz recorded an entire album on an iPad.

Which leads us to the next thing you'll need: a DAW, or digital audio workstation. If you're a Mac user, then you're lucky enough to have access to Garage Band, a surprisingly capable free option. And upgrading to Logic Pro X is only a $200 investment. If you're on Windows (or just don't like Logic), I often recommend Ableton Live (starting at $99). But honestly there are plenty of great options out there, like FL Studio, BitWig and Cubase all of which start at $99. And often, stripped down versions come free as part of a software bundle when you buy music-making hardware like MIDI controllers and audio interfaces.

Assuming you already have a computer and you just need the accessories to get recording, you can pick up everything you need for under $500 new. But, if you’re patient, you could build a well equipped bedroom studio with used gear for as little as $250.

MIDI controller

An overhead view of four different midi keyboards on a wooden desktop.
Engadget

Speaking of which, one of the first additions to your studio should be a MIDI controller. DeLay says this is a piece of gear often overlooked by beginners. "It's not just for playing keyboard sounds," he explained, "it can be used to write drums and percussion, to control mixes and more. It's the creative interface of music production, and you don't have to play the piano in order to harness its power."

We've covered plenty of affordable and portable options before. But if you don't plan to make music on the go, I can't recommend the Arturia MiniLab 3 enough. It punches well above its weight, and even the pros love this thing. And if you have the space, it's not much more to upgrade to something like the Keylab Essential 49 ($269) or Novation Launchkey 49 ($229), which will give you a lot more controls to play with.

Microphone

An Audio-Technica AT2020 condenser mic is on a stand above a coffee table with a laptop, with a leather couch in the background.
Audio-Technica

Unfortunately there's no gear that will magically turn you into a breathy pop goddess, but a decent mic and audio interface can at least help you sound your best. Now, you could get a USB microphone, like Blue Microphones’ $130 Yeti, and it will certainly get the job done. Heck, that album I mentioned earlier was recorded using the wired headset that came with the iPhone.

But, honestly, your better bet is to get a regular XLR mic and an audio interface. Pecora specifically warns against splurging too much here. "People will look at their favorite artist and see that they use a certain mic or preamp or plugin and want to use the same thing thinking it will get them the same sound." On early singles like "Ocean Eyes" Billie Eilish used an Audio-Technica AT2020 condenser mic, which costs just $100. And I’ve stuck almost exclusively with cheap Shure SM58s and 57s ($100 new, $50-$75 used) whether I was recording demos with my band in college or voice over for review videos at Engadget.

If you fancy yourself a future pop sensation and want to make sure your vocals are the star of the show, you could consider using a significant chunk of your budget on something like the Rode NT1-A ($229) or Shure SM7B ($390). You will get better results with more flexibility for post production, but you can clearly get excellent results with more affordable options.

Audio interface

Focusrite Scarlett Solo
Scarlett

As for the interface, there are tons of great options out there. Companies like Focusrite, Arturia and Tascam make excellent ones. But our new favorites in the budget interface space are Universal Audio’s Volt series. If your budget allows for it we strongly recommend the $299 Volt 276. Though, the $189 Volt 2 is also excellent, it just doesn’t standout from the crowd quite as much.

If you’re trying to save a few bucks, it's hard to beat the Scarlett series from Focusrite (just make sure to get the second- or third-gen models). You can get the latest Scarlett 2i2 for around $130 used, but it's just $180 new (and includes a huge bundle of very useful software).

The reason to opt for an audio interface instead of a simple USB mic is because it offers you a lot more flexibility and room to grow. For one, it offloads a lot of the audio processing from the CPU. Second, it will allow you to connect not just mics (and swap in different ones for different purposes), but also instruments, turntables or anything with an audio-out jack. An audio interface is also necessary if you plan to connect a pair of studio monitors.

Studio monitors and headphones

The Sony MDR-7506 headphones suspended in the air in front of a dark background dotted with bright light spots.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

This is an area that DeLay advises caution. While a good set of studio monitors will obviously be better than the speakers on your laptop and will result in a better mix, it's too easy to get caught up in what he calls monitor envy. "The reality is that monitors at a $300 price point are going to work just fine in most spaces," he says. Plus, your bedroom probably doesn't have the space to really make the most of large, powerful monitors. So, save your money.

And if you're just starting out, you're probably better off getting a decent set of headphones. There're tons of amazing and affordable studio quality headphones out there for under $200, like the $179 Beyerdynamic DT990PRO (currently down to just $179 on Amazon). But one of our favorites is an old workhorse from Sony, the MDR-7506. They're well under $100 and actual pros have used them for decades to mix music.

One tip DeLay offers for novices: Double check your mixes in the real world. Headphones can over emphasize bass, while smaller studio monitors can have trouble delivering accurate bass response. So make sure to listen to your track on laptop speakers or in a car to get a sense of how it will sound in the wild.

And that's really the key — have the patience to develop your skills and make the most of the gear you have. It's really easy to catch a bad case of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) when you're first starting out — trust me, I know. But there's no need to shell out thousands of dollars for high-end gear to start making music. You don't even need to buy new gear. Pecora suggests the only thing you absolutely should buy new are headphones. And, presumably, that's just because you don't want to be wearing years worth of someone else's sweat on your ears.

What to buy if you want to start producing music at home

These days it’s not necessary to go to a giant studio with overpriced, pro-grade gear to record a Grammy-winning record. You can do it right from the comfort of your own bedroom in fact, using tools priced for even the most casual of hobbyists. It's not news that the tools of creation or the avenues for distributing art are accessible to more people than ever. But the cultural institutions that have dominated popular music for so long can no longer ignore the bedroom producer or budding Soundcloud star.

Maybe you've been inspired to build your own home recording studio. And maybe, you're not quite sure where to start. Well, an audio interface, a good mic and a decent set of headphones will get you pretty far. But the first thing you'll need is probably staring you right in the face: a computer.

Computer and a DAW

An overhead view of Ableton Live 10 on a laptop surrounded by home studio gear.
Ableton

Justin DeLay, Director of Product and Category Marketing at Reverb, drives home just how important the computer is: "You can strip away everything else and as long as you have a computer you can still create music," he told me. He suggests you "spend the money on a good computer and get other gear — such as audio interfaces, mics, headphones, etc. — used or at reasonable price points."

But, truthfully, you can do quite a lot with whatever computer you have on hand. Joe Pecora, the engineer and producer at Red Room Studio, says your set up "could be as simple as an iPhone/iPad with Garage band." (I know someone who recorded an entire album this way.) While he agrees that the most important part is your computer, he argues it doesn't have to be super powerful. It doesn't even have to be a desktop. JDilla famously created many of his beats on a Roland SP303, and you can basically recreate that experience with an iPad and the $4 Koala Sampler for iOS. And don't forget that Gorillaz recorded an entire album on an iPad.

Which leads us to the next thing you'll need: a DAW, or digital audio workstation. If you're a Mac user, then you're lucky enough to have access to Garage Band, a surprisingly capable free option. And upgrading to Logic Pro X is only a $200 investment. If you're on Windows (or just don't like Logic), I often recommend Ableton Live (starting at $99). But honestly there are plenty of great options out there, like FL Studio, BitWig and Cubase all of which start at $99. And often, stripped down versions come free as part of a software bundle when you buy music-making hardware like MIDI controllers and audio interfaces.

Assuming you already have a computer and you just need the accessories to get recording, you can pick up everything you need for under $500 new. But, if you’re patient, you could build a well equipped bedroom studio with used gear for as little as $250.

MIDI controller

An overhead view of four different midi keyboards on a wooden desktop.
Engadget

Speaking of which, one of the first additions to your studio should be a MIDI controller. DeLay says this is a piece of gear often overlooked by beginners. "It's not just for playing keyboard sounds," he explained, "it can be used to write drums and percussion, to control mixes and more. It's the creative interface of music production, and you don't have to play the piano in order to harness its power."

We've covered plenty of affordable and portable options before. But if you don't plan to make music on the go, I can't recommend the Arturia MiniLab 3 enough. It punches well above its weight, and even the pros love this thing. And if you have the space, it's not much more to upgrade to something like the Keylab Essential 49 ($269) or Novation Launchkey 49 ($229), which will give you a lot more controls to play with.

Microphone

An Audio-Technica AT2020 condenser mic is on a stand above a coffee table with a laptop, with a leather couch in the background.
Audio-Technica

Unfortunately there's no gear that will magically turn you into a breathy pop goddess, but a decent mic and audio interface can at least help you sound your best. Now, you could get a USB microphone, like Blue Microphones’ $130 Yeti, and it will certainly get the job done. Heck, that album I mentioned earlier was recorded using the wired headset that came with the iPhone.

But, honestly, your better bet is to get a regular XLR mic and an audio interface. Pecora specifically warns against splurging too much here. "People will look at their favorite artist and see that they use a certain mic or preamp or plugin and want to use the same thing thinking it will get them the same sound." On early singles like "Ocean Eyes" Billie Eilish used an Audio-Technica AT2020 condenser mic, which costs just $100. And I’ve stuck almost exclusively with cheap Shure SM58s and 57s ($100 new, $50-$75 used) whether I was recording demos with my band in college or voice over for review videos at Engadget.

If you fancy yourself a future pop sensation and want to make sure your vocals are the star of the show, you could consider using a significant chunk of your budget on something like the Rode NT1-A ($229) or Shure SM7B ($390). You will get better results with more flexibility for post production, but you can clearly get excellent results with more affordable options.

Audio interface

Focusrite Scarlett Solo
Scarlett

As for the interface, there are tons of great options out there. Companies like Focusrite, Arturia and Tascam make excellent ones. But our new favorites in the budget interface space are Universal Audio’s Volt series. If your budget allows for it we strongly recommend the $299 Volt 276. Though, the $189 Volt 2 is also excellent, it just doesn’t standout from the crowd quite as much.

If you’re trying to save a few bucks, it's hard to beat the Scarlett series from Focusrite (just make sure to get the second- or third-gen models). You can get the latest Scarlett 2i2 for around $130 used, but it's just $180 new (and includes a huge bundle of very useful software).

The reason to opt for an audio interface instead of a simple USB mic is because it offers you a lot more flexibility and room to grow. For one, it offloads a lot of the audio processing from the CPU. Second, it will allow you to connect not just mics (and swap in different ones for different purposes), but also instruments, turntables or anything with an audio-out jack. An audio interface is also necessary if you plan to connect a pair of studio monitors.

Studio monitors and headphones

The Sony MDR-7506 headphones suspended in the air in front of a dark background dotted with bright light spots.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

This is an area that DeLay advises caution. While a good set of studio monitors will obviously be better than the speakers on your laptop and will result in a better mix, it's too easy to get caught up in what he calls monitor envy. "The reality is that monitors at a $300 price point are going to work just fine in most spaces," he says. Plus, your bedroom probably doesn't have the space to really make the most of large, powerful monitors. So, save your money.

And if you're just starting out, you're probably better off getting a decent set of headphones. There're tons of amazing and affordable studio quality headphones out there for under $200, like the $179 Beyerdynamic DT990PRO (currently down to just $179 on Amazon). But one of our favorites is an old workhorse from Sony, the MDR-7506. They're well under $100 and actual pros have used them for decades to mix music.

One tip DeLay offers for novices: Double check your mixes in the real world. Headphones can over emphasize bass, while smaller studio monitors can have trouble delivering accurate bass response. So make sure to listen to your track on laptop speakers or in a car to get a sense of how it will sound in the wild.

And that's really the key — have the patience to develop your skills and make the most of the gear you have. It's really easy to catch a bad case of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) when you're first starting out — trust me, I know. But there's no need to shell out thousands of dollars for high-end gear to start making music. You don't even need to buy new gear. Pecora suggests the only thing you absolutely should buy new are headphones. And, presumably, that's just because you don't want to be wearing years worth of someone else's sweat on your ears.

The best soundbars for 2023

It's no secret that the built-in speakers in most TVs are trash. They don't project enough sound out to the front so you can hear well — especially subtle details. Thankfully, you don't have to splurge for a five-speaker (or more) surround-sound setup to fix the problem. In most living rooms, a single soundbar and maybe a subwoofer will suffice. To help guide your shopping spree, we've compiled a list of everything to look for when searching for the best soundbar for you, along with a list of the top picks for a range of budgets.

What to look for in a soundbar

Features

When it comes to features, the more you pay the more you're going to get. Most affordable options ($150 or less) will improve your television's audio, but that's about it. Step into the $300 to $400 range and you'll find things like built-in voice control, wireless connectivity, Chromecast, AirPlay 2 and even Android TV. They're all helpful when you want to avoid looking for the remote, but the best audio quality is usually only in the top tier and the formats those premium devices support. I’m talking about things like Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and other high-resolution audio standards. These are what you'll want to look for if truly immersive sound is what you crave for your living room setup. And not all Atmos soundbars are equal, so you'll need to look at the finer details carefully before you break into the savings account.

Ports

Sony HT-A7000 soundbar, SA-SW5 subwoofer, SA-SW3 subwoofer and SA-RS3S speakers.
Sony

This is a big one. A lot of the more affordable soundbars have limited options when it comes to connectivity. They either offer an optical port or one HDMI jack and, if you're lucky, both. Things get slightly better in the mid-range section, but that's not always the case. The Sonos Beam, for example, is $449, but only has a single HDMI port. If you want to connect your set-top box, gaming console and more directly to your soundbar for the best possible audio, you'll likely want to look for an option with at least two HDMI (eARC) inputs. HDMI connections are essential for things like Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and other high-res and immersive audio formats. And with the HDMI 2.1 spec, soundbars can support HDR, 8K and 4K/120 passthrough to make these speakers an even better companion for a game console.

Channels

Another big thing you’ll want to pay attention to is channels. That’s the 2.1, 7.1.2 or other decimal number that companies include in product descriptions. The first figure corresponds to the number of channels. A two would just be left and right while a more robust Atmos system, especially one with rear satellite speakers, could be five or seven (left, right, center and upward). The second number refers to the subwoofer, so if your soundbar comes with one or has them built in, you’ll see a one here. The third numeral is up-firing speakers, important for the immersive effect of Dolby Atmos. Not all Atmos-enabled units have them, but if they do, the third number will tell you how many are in play.

Wireless

Sony HT-A7000 soundbar, SA-SW5 subwoofer, SA-SW3 subwoofer and SA-RS3S speakers.
Sony

Most soundbars these days offer either Bluetooth, WiFi or both. When it comes to WiFi, that connectivity affords you luxuries like voice control (either built-in or with a separate device), Chromecast, Spotify Connect and AirPlay 2. Depending on your preferences, you might be able to live without some of these. For me, AirPlay 2 and Chromecast are essentials, but the rest I can live without. Those two give me the ability to beam music and podcasts from my go-to apps without having to settle for — or struggle with — a Bluetooth connection.

Size

This one might seem obvious but humor me for a minute. Nothing is more soul-crushing than getting a pricey soundbar in your living room only to discover you have to rearrange everything to find a spot for it. This was my plight when the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar arrived at my door. Yes, that speaker is absurdly large (and heavy), and most soundbars aren't nearly as big. I learned a valuable lesson: Make sure the space where you want to put a soundbar will accommodate the thing you're about to spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on.

Basically, it all comes down to the TV you have (or are planning to get) and what the primary goal is for your living-room audio. Is it ease of use? Do you want the best possible sound from a single speaker or speaker/sub combo? Do you just want to be able to actually hear your TV better? Or do you want to turn your living room into an immersive home theater with surround sound?

By paying attention to each of those areas, you should have a good idea of what to look for in a soundbar, soundbar/sub combo or a more robust setup. With that said, we've put numerous products through their paces at Engadget and have a few favorites for best soundbar at various price points to get you started.

Best premium soundbar: Sony HT-A7000

Sony has a long track record of excellent high-end soundbars and its latest is another great-sounding product. The A7000 is a robust Dolby Atmos soundbar, capable of immersive 7.1.2 audio thanks to Sony’s 360 Sound Mapping, Sound Field Optimization, vertical surround technology and S-Force Pro front surround. There’s a lot of tech at work here, and I haven’t even mentioned 360 Reality Audio or DSEE Extreme upscaling, both handy when it comes to listening to music. Speaking of audio, you’ll have the option of using Chromecast, Spotify Connect or AirPlay 2 to send your tunes to the A7000.

Two HDMI eARC inputs mean you can hook up multiple streaming boxes or gaming consoles. And thanks to HDMI 2.1 support, you can expect 8K and 4K/120 passthrough to your television, so the A7000 is a great option for gamers. This soundbar is expensive at $1,198 and it doesn’t come with a separate subwoofer (though it does have one built in). However, Sony does give you multiple options for both a sub and rear satellite speakers. The SA-SW3 sub is $298 while the SA-SW5 is $699. For rear speakers, the SA-RS3S is $350 while the truly wireless (and much better looking) SA-RS5 set is $598. If you’re looking to save some money on the soundbar itself, Sony offers the HT-A5000 for $999 (although we’ve seen it on sale for $798 recently). It packs nearly all of the same bells and whistles as the A7000, only in a 5.1.2-channel configuration.

Runner-up premium soundbar: Sonos Arc

The top end of Sonos’ home theater lineup was well overdue for a refresh by the time the company introduced the Arc in 2020. This unit replaced the Playbar that debuted in 2013, offering directional sound via Dolby Atmos as the main upgrade. The Arc sports a more modern design, stellar sound and all of Sonos’ smarts – including the ability to automatically calibrate to your living room and when you add more speakers.

The $899 price doesn’t include a sub, but the Playbar didn’t come with one either. And sadly, Sonos doesn’t include a second HDMI jack for directly connecting devices other than your TV. As is typically the case with the company’s wares, expansion gets expensive quickly as the wireless sub is $749 and satellite One speakers are $219 each. However, the combination of the Arc and a sub will get you pretty far sound-wise, even if they are separate purchases. Plus, the smaller and more affordable Sub Mini works well with the company’s most premium soundbar, and it clocks in at $429.

Another premium option: Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3

Bowers & Wilkins introduced its first Dolby Atmos soundbar back in March, filling a void in the company’s existing home theater lineup. The Panorama 3 has a 3.1.2-channel configuration, but it packs 13 total speakers – including two subwoofers – and 400 watts of sonic power. For that reason, the company doesn’t think you’ll need a dedicated sub. Indeed, the Panorama 3 does offer ample bass, but it’s not nearly on the level as a standalone unit. This soundbar does have a low-profile, refined design alongside voice capabilities, “hidden until lit” touch controls and support for aptX Adaptive, AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect. Most importantly, it’s currently available for $200 less than the original MSRP at $799.

Best midrange soundbar: Sonos Beam

Solid sound quality? Check. Dolby Atmos? Yep. Compact and easy to set up? Uh huh. Compatible with other Sonos products for a more robust system? You betcha. The first-gen Sonos Beam has been one of our favorites since it arrived in 2018, but there was one thing it didn’t have: Dolby Atmos. That was the big addition to the 2021 model, though it’s a bit limited since the Beam doesn’t have any upward-firing speakers. Sonos manages to make things seem more directional by tweaking audio timing and frequency instead of adding more drivers. The new Beam still only has the one HDMI port which means you won’t be connecting a gaming console or set-top box directly to this. It also means that if you have an older TV with an optical jack, you’ll need an adapter.

Runner-up midrange soundbar: Samsung HW-Q700B

Samsung’s mid-range Q700B will cost you $700, but it comes with a bundled subwoofer. This model also supports wireless Dolby Atmos connectivity with the latest Samsung smart TVs over WiFi and the 3.1.2-channel configuration includes up-firing speakers for proper immersive sound. The Q700B supports Q-Symphony which allows you to use both the soundbar and your TV speakers for a more robust setup on some 2021 and 2022 Samsung TVs. SpaceFit Sound automatically calibrates the soundbar/sub combo to a room, Adaptive Sound optimizes audio for specific content types and Tap Sound allows you to send tunes from a Samsung phone to the Q700B with a simple tap. HDMI eARC connectivity is here as well, and so is voice control, AirPlay, Chromecast and a gaming-specific audio mode.

Another midrange option: Sonos Ray

Sonos’ latest soundbar may be its most affordable to date, but at $279, it’s not exactly a budget pick. Especially when you consider there are cheaper options that come with a subwoofer. Still, the compact design doesn’t command a lot of space in front of your TV, making it a great option for smaller living spaces. The Ray is easy to set up and provides great sound quality for both TV and music. There are some trade-offs when it comes to the immersive nature of the audio, but it’s a good option for upgrading your TV sound with minimal fuss.

Best budget soundbar: Vizio V21t-J8

If you’re looking for a way to improve your TV sound on a budget, Vizio has some solid options. With the V21t-J8, you get a 2.1-channel setup in a compact soundbar and 4.5-inch wireless sub combo for $160. This would be a great choice if you don’t want your add-on TV speaker to take up a lot of space. There’s no WiFi connectivity, but that’s really the only sacrifice when it comes to the basics. HDMI ARC/eARC and optical connections link to your television while a 3.5mm aux jack and Bluetooth allow you to play music from your phone or another device. DTS Virtual:X compatibility offers some of the effect of surround sound without a bigger unit or additional speakers.

Bowers & Wilkins updated its Pi7 and Pi5 earbuds with better battery life

Bowers & Wilkins debuted its first true wireless earbuds in the spring of 2021. In fact, it announced two models at that time: the Pi7 and Pi5. Today, the company revealed updated versions for both which will carry the S2 label Bowers & Wilkins typically uses for retooled but not entirely brand new products. While the Pi7 S2 and Pi5 S2 aren't rebuilt from the ground up, there are still some notable upgrades to both.

The Pi7 S2 and Pi5 S2 now both offer five hours of battery life on a charge. That's up from four hours on the Pi7 and Pi5. A 15-minute quick-charge feature still gives you two hours of use and the included cases carry an additional 16 hours for the Pi7 S2 and 19 hours for the Pi5 S2. Both still have wireless charging capabilities, though the case for the Pi7 S2 is equipped with Wireless Audio Retransmission. Like it did for the Pi7, the case can connect to can external audio source — like in-flight entertainment — and wirelessly send sound to the earbuds. This isn't novel to Bowers & Wilkins earbuds, but it is a handy feature nonetheless. Bowers & Wilkins says it also updated the antenna design on the Pi7 and Pi5 to increase Bluetooth range up to 25 meters. 

The key difference between the two models is audio quality. The Pi7 S2 supports aptX Adaptive with 24-bit/48kHz streaming from compatible devices and services. 9.2mm balanced armature dynamic drivers are paired with Bowers & Wilkins' digital signal processing tech for higher quality audio that what the Pi5 offers with CD-quality sound and regular aptX. The Pi7 S2 also packs one additional microphone per earbud which should make it the preferred option for calls. And while both feature active noise cancellation (ANC), the Pi7 S2 has an adaptive setup that automatically monitors your surroundings to adjust the audio as needed for "the best possible, uninterrupted listening experience." 

Both the Pi7 S2 and Pi5 S2 are available starting today, replacing the Pi7 and Pi5. The $399 Pi7 S2 comes in black, white and dark blue color options while the $299 Pi5 S2 offers light grey, dark grey and purple. A green version of the Pi5 S2 is slated to arrive later this spring.

Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2
Pi5 S2
Bowers & Wilkins