Dyson’s OnTrac headphones ditch the Zone’s air purifier for ‘audio-only’ use

When Dyson revealed its Zone headphones in early 2022, the company had combined its air filtration expertise with noise-cancelling headphones. COVID-19 was still a big part of our lives back then, but the Zone doesn't protect you against the virus. Instead, it's meant to provide less-polluted air as you move about your day, battling things like urban toxins and seasonal allergens. However, extremely short battery life and a $949 price plagued that first model, so it wasn't really a device accessible to the masses.

Now the company is back with its first "audio-only" over-ear headphones, the Dyson OnTrac. There's no Bane-like mask or air filtration system here, just a set of noise-cancelling headphones with a decidedly Dyson design and a $500 premium price tag. Battery life is no longer an issue, and the company is touting both active noise cancellation (ANC) performance and audio quality on the OnTrac. There are also over 2,000 customization combinations for the outer caps and ear cushions, so you can change up the look at you see fit.

The design of the OnTrac headphones certainly looks like something that would come from the same company that built the V12 stick vac, the Airstrait hair straightener and the Cool air purifiers. Dyson combined premium materials with ergonomics to create the appropriate seal for audio and ANC while also keeping things comfortable. The company used aluminum, copper, nickel and ceramics for the outer caps on the ear cups and "ultra-soft microfiber" foam cushions on the ear pads. There are also "multi-pivot gimbal arms" to help increase comfort and relieve pressure. Plus, Dyson relocated the battery to the headband for better weight distribution.

Inside, the OnTrac features 40mm, 16-ohm neodymium speaker drivers that Dyson says are capable of a frequency response of 6Hz to 21kHz. That covers more of the sonic spectrum than he standard 20Hz to 20kHz range most headphones offer. The company also angled the drivers 13 degrees toward your ears for better acoustic performance. All of that combines to provide "deep sub-bass that you can feel, and clear highs at the upper end of the frequency range." Dyson promises the OnTrac will "reveal hidden detail" as well.

Cherlynn Low for Engadget

The ANC setup on the OnTrac is composed of eight microphones that Dyson says sample external sound 384,000 times a second. Those work with a custom noise-cancelling algorithm and "carefully designed internal geometry" for 40dB of noise blocking, according to the company. Battery life won't be a problem either, so long as Dyson's claims pan out. The company says the OnTrac is capable of up to 55 hours of use with ANC on, thanks to two high-capacity lithium-ion battery cells. A 10-minute charge will give you up to 2.5 hours of use while 30 minutes provides 9.5 hours (with ANC on in both cases). During that listening time, onboard playback and volume controls are handled by a "joystick" on the back edge of the right ear cup. You can double tap on the outside of either ear cup to turn ANC on or off.

The OnTrac headphones will be available in aluminum/orange, cooper/blue, black nickel and ceramic red from Dyson for $500. The replacement caps and cushions will be available for $50 for a set of two. Only a few colors will be available from other retailers, so you'll have to buy most of the options directly from Dyson.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/dysons-ontrac-headphones-ditch-the-zones-air-purifier-for-audio-only-use-040044551.html?src=rss

Beats Pill review: A revival worth the wait

When Beats discontinued the Pill+ in early 2022, the company seemed to be done with portable Bluetooth speakers. At that point, it hadn’t debuted a new model in over six years, which is a far cry from the release schedule we’re accustomed to from Beats. But, to the surprise of many, the company has re-entered the crowded market with a redesigned Pill ($150). Taking more aesthetic cues from its older models instead of the most recent Pill+, the company sought a cure by completely re-engineered the inside of the device to improve sound quality. It also made the new Pill more rugged along the way, while doubling the battery life and adding modern features like lossless audio, remedying what ailed the previous aging model.

While there are some visible changes, Beats did most of its overhaul on the inside of the new Pill. Most importantly, the company ditched the dual tweeter and dual woofer setup from the Pill+ in favor of a new design that only uses one of each. A larger, more powerful pill-shaped woofer provides more robust bass with less total harmonic distortion (THD) and a lower frequency range.

That single tweeter has been upgraded, too. The driver for mid-range and treble sits in its own housing and has a larger rear cavity. Beats says this setup decreases the crossover responsibilities for the tweeter and woofer in covering the Pill’s full sonic range. As a result, the two components work more efficiently as the tweeter is only tasked with mids and highs while the woofer cranks out the bass.

Another item Beats added on the new Pill is lossless audio over USB-C. The speaker can handle higher-quality tunes up to 24-bit/48kHz via a wired connection. This is my favorite way to listen to the Pill as the audio is more immersive with better clarity. Billy Strings’ Live Vol. 1 in Hi-Res Lossless on Apple Music is noticeably improved over listening via Bluetooth, for example. Of course, the speaker will also charge in this scenario since you’re physically connected to the laptop or whichever device it’s streaming from.

The redesigned Pill is rugged enough for a day at the beach or pool.
Billy Steele for Engadget

All of this creates much-improved sound quality on the new Pill. The Pill+ was no slouch by 2015 standards, but portable Bluetooth speakers have come a long way in nine years. The rebuild under the hood provides great clarity with punchy highs, full mids and booming bass for much of the volume range. At maximum loudness though, things are more of a jumbled mess as the speaker can’t maintain the crisp, clear detail it offers at around 85 percent and below.

For Balance and Composure’s “Cross To Bear,” the Pill accurately replicates the snappy kick drum and snare combo with the droning bass line over top. Guitars weave through in a layered fashion and the vocals cut clean in the mix. The low-end tone provides depth to this alternative rock track that many speakers this size can’t. The Pill also does a respectable job with boomy hip-hop songs from Run The Jewels and Kaytranada, although the speaker does start to struggle when the bass is super deep, like on RTJ4’s “Out Of Sight.” The tone isn’t as clean as most other songs I tested from the genre.

Amplify and Stereo modes return from the Pill+ to expand the capabilities of the Pill – if you have two of them. The first simply offers bigger, louder sound since you’re using the power of two speakers. The second creates a true stereo pair with dedicated left and right channels. Both work well, but if you’re only using the onboard controls to activate Stereo mode, you have to remember to join the speakers in Amplify mode first. There’s no option in the iOS settings to do this, but you can activate the modes inside the standalone Beats app for Android.

Black and Gold are two of the color options for the new Pill.
Billy Steele for Engadget

One visible design change is the drivers now sit at a 20-degree angle. Beats says it did this to improve sound projection and it delivered. The new Pill does a better job of beaming audio in the direction of your ears when it’s sitting on a shelf or a table, rather than just blasting it straight out the front. I was especially struck by how well the Pill projects low-end tone on boomy hip-hop and electronic tracks.

Four buttons line the top of the Pill for a complete suite of physical controls. The power button, which is on the left, also handles pairing, battery status, voice assistant, USB-C audio and reversing the charging direction. In the middle, the redundantly named Center button offers the media controls while also playing a role in activating Amplify and Stereo modes. And on the right sit the two volume buttons. These are all dimpled circle buttons that work reliably and are easy to find by touch.

The new Pill is also built for the great outdoors. Beats engineered this speaker with IP67-rated dust and water resistance, while the Pill+ didn’t have an IP rating at all. This number means the Pill is fully dust tight and can survive full immersion up to 30 minutes in depths of one meter (just over three feet). That’s plenty of protection for a day at the beach or the pool without having to worry about terminal damage. Beats also included a loop strap that attaches to the end of the speaker for easy carrying or hanging up the unit.

Something Beats is hyping on the new Pill is the ability to use it as a speakerphone. This functionality has been available on Bluetooth speakers before, but the company says its combination of a noise-learning algorithm and full duplex capability (both sides can hear clearly without being cut off) leads to a better experience. I found this to be true during my testing as the Pill sounds much better than most earbuds in quiet spaces. The audio quality on calls suffers when the speaker is trying to battle background noise; however, it’s still your voice that comes through clearly rather than a loud fan or some other distraction.

Beats says the new Pill will last up to 24 hours on a charge, which is ample power for a few days. During my testing, I noticed that the speaker could actually muster more. It might be because I kept volumes around 35 to 40 percent most of the time, since the Pill is really loud at 50 percent. After 14 hours of listening to music on both my laptop and iPhone, I still have 70 percent battery left.

If you do find yourself in a pinch, the Pill is equipped with Beats’ Fast Fuel feature that gives you two hours of use by plugging in for 10 minutes. What’s more, the speaker will charge while connected to another device, like your laptop, via a USB-C cable. The Pill has a charge-out feature that can top up your phone or other small devices too, and you can reverse the charging direction with a triple tap on the power button.

There are so many alternatives to the Beats Pill, with plenty of them available for $100 or less. I would recommend reading our in-depth guide on the best bluetooth speakers that has some suggestions as well as what to look for when you’re shopping. I will point out the JBL Charge 5 from that list, primarily due to its sound quality. It’s just as durable as the Pill and you can use two for a stereo setup or sync it with any PartyBoost-enabled JBL devices. The Charge 5 also has up to 20 hours of battery life and a built-in power bank to top off your phone, making it a great deal at under $150.

I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t have a new Beats speaker on my 2024 Bingo card. But, I’ll also be quick to confess that I enjoyed my time with the new Pill, mostly due to its much-improved sound quality. Doubled battery life, lossless audio over USB-C and a more rugged build set the Pill up to compete with popular models from Ultimate Ears, JBL and others. Plus, Beats took a chunk out of the price, making this new model a much more palatable offering at $150. While the audio isn’t as good at extreme volumes and the bass tone isn’t as consistent on some tracks, overall audio quality is the best aspect of the Pill. And that makes it a solid addition to your music regimen.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/beats-pill-review-a-revival-worth-the-wait-160056269.html?src=rss

Apple replaces the black HomePod mini with a black HomePod mini

If you were hoping for new colors of the HomePod mini, Apple just announced one. But, there's not much to get excited about. The company revealed a Midnight hue for its tiny speaker, replacing the Space Gray version that had been available since the mini debuted. So, yes, Apple replaced the black HomePod mini with another black HomePod mini that looks so similar it's hard to tell the difference. Even in the photo below, the shadows are likely to account for some variation in the color. 

However, the material for the new color, is different. Apple says the Midnight version is made with 100 percent recycled mesh fabric. All of the rest of the HomePod mini lineup, including the Space Gray option, has a cover made with 90 percent recycled plastic. Everything else about the new option is identical to the existing speaker, from the edge-to-edge illuminating touch panel to smart home controls and decent audio quality. 

Space Gray vs. Midnight
Apple

Aside from the higher recycled content in the mesh cover, this provided Apple an opportunity to bring the HomePod mini's color scheme up to date with some of its other products. The regular HomePod's black is already dubbed Midnight. What's more, the company ditched Space Gray for Midnight when the iPhone 13 debuted. It has carried it over to the Apple Watch, but there hasn't been a wholesale swap throughout all devices. The iPhone 15 lineup, for example, has Black Titanium and plain ol' Black as its darkest hues. 

The Midnight HomePod mini is now available to order from Apple. It will be at the company's stores and other retailers on July 17.  

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/apple-replaces-the-black-homepod-mini-with-a-black-homepod-mini-162647248.html?src=rss

Bose adds multipoint Bluetooth to its QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds and Ultra Open Earbuds

Multipoint Bluetooth connectivity is typically a core feature for the best wireless earbuds and headphones these days, but that's not always the case. When Bose introduced its QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds and its Ultra Open Earbuds, neither model offered the tool. This meant that you couldn't connect to more than one device at a time and you couldn't quickly switch from your computer to your phone when you were getting a call. Well, the company has released a software update for both sets of earbuds that will add the convenient functionality via the Bose app. This addresses a key complaint from both of my reviews and will improve the overall experience of using either of these earbuds.

Additionally, Bose says it's rolling out improvements to voice pick-up and connectivity on the Ultra Open Earbuds as part of the software update. The company explains that there are some general bug fixes for that model in this release as well. 

Bose says the update for the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds and the Ultra Open Earbuds will be begin rolling out today and will reach customers worldwide over the next two weeks. You can look for the new firmware version under the Product Update section in the Settings menu of the Bose app. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/bose-adds-multipoint-bluetooth-to-its-quietcomfort-ultra-earbuds-and-ultra-open-earbuds-143830749.html?src=rss

Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 3 have an AirPods-esque design and a dash of AI

Samsung's new Galaxy Buds lineup is hardly a surprise thanks to a recent leak, but the company still had to officially debut its latest audio accessory at its Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event. Alongside new folding phones, watches and even a smart ring, Samsung revealed the Galaxy Buds 3 series. The new models have a more AirPods-like look thanks to their stickbud or "blade" design, and Samsung is playing catch-up with new features like an Interpreter tool, Adaptive EQ and others. 

Until now, Samsung has opted for the more common, rounded earbud design most companies favor for their products. The stick-based look has become increasingly popular though, and much of Apple's competition have debuted their own takes on the style. Now we can count Samsung among the fold. The company says its new "blade" design is based on "a variety of collected statistical data" and offers "a more intuitive physical experience" thanks to pinch and swipe controls — another aspect of the AirPods Pro. The key difference is the "regular" Galaxy Buds 3 are an open fit like the "regular" AirPods while the Galaxy Buds 3 Pro have a tip that completely seals off your ear canal. Despite that variance, both offer active noise cancellation (ANC), but only the Pro model has ambient sound/transparency mode. 

Another big difference between the two models is the two-way speakers on the Galaxy Buds 3 Pro. Samsung has paired a 10.5mm dynamic driver with dual amplifiers and a 6.1mm planar tweeter that offers "precise high range sound production." Both Galaxy Buds 3 models support ultra high quality (UHQ) sound up to 24bit/96kHz and 360 Audio when paired with a compatible Samsung device. The two models vary on battery life as well. The Galaxy Buds 3 will last up to five hours with ANC on (24 hours total with the case), but you'll get an hour more of noise-canceling performance on the Galaxy Buds 3 Pro (26 hours total with the case). 

As you might expect, Samsung is sprinkling AI on its new earbuds. Both models offer an Interpreter feature that works with compatible Galaxy devices, a tool that relies on artificial intelligence to do its translating. It's similar to what Google has been doing on its Pixel Buds for a while now and all of the work is done by the connected device rather than the earbuds. 

The company says microphones on the Galaxy Buds 3 series monitor external noise in real time and apply tweaks with both an Adaptive EQ and Adaptive ANC. On the Galaxy Buds 3 Pro, the noise cancellation setup can also detect sirens and your voice, and when it picks up the latter, it automatically reduces the volume and activates transparency mode. That feature, known as Voice Detect, was available on the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, but it's nice to see the feature return. 

Samsung has also added hands-free controls for music and other content with what it calls Voice Command. To improve overall voice quality, the company added a Super Wideband calls tool that allows Galaxy Buds 3 to transmit voice up to 16kHz. Samsung says previous earbuds only utilize up to the 8kHz band, but the Pixel Buds Pro supports Super Wideband too. Of course, the company also employs machine-learning models to battle background noise when you're speaking.

The Galaxy Buds 3 and Galaxy Buds 3 Pro are available for pre-order now for $180 and $250 respectively. Both models come in silver and white color options, and if you buy them from the company's website before July 23, Samsung will throw in a free protective "clip case." 

Catch up on all the news from Samsung's Galaxy Unpacked 2024 here!

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/samsungs-galaxy-buds-3-have-an-airpods-esque-design-and-a-dash-of-ai-130019399.html?src=rss

JLab’s Flex Open Earbuds are a $50 version of the Bose Ultra Open

Bose surprised everyone when it debuted its clip-on Ultra Open Earbuds early this year. The premise was part fashion and part function, leaving your ears open to ambient sounds while you listen to tunes or podcasts. That model is $299 though, a price that's prohibitive for anyone looking to give the unique wear style a try. Enter JLab, the budget audio company with a solid track record for sound quality and features for under $100, and its new model: the Flex Open Earbuds. At just $50, it's much easier to take a gamble on the clip-on design, especially if you don't want make these your all-day buds. 

The Flex Open Earbuds offer the same basic premise as the Bose model. They clip onto the back of your ear while situating a speaker just outside of your ear canal. This leaves your ears open to outside noise you actually want to hear while also keeping your ears unplugged and comfy. JLab promises that the Flex Open Earbuds are suitable for calls, and multipoint Bluetooth allows you to switch devices with ease. Google Fast Pair is available on Android devices, so you can connect as soon as you take the buds out of the case.

Where the Flex Open Earbuds actually surpass the Ultra Open Earbuds is durability and battery life. The $50 JLab version is IP55 rated where the Bose model is IPX4. The Flex Open Earbuds will also last over seven hours on a charge, according to the company, which is at least two hours more than I got on the Ultra Open Earbuds during my tests. 

In terms of audio, JLab employs 12mms drivers that it says are tuned to satisfy both bass lovers and listeners who love crisp, clear treble. The JLab app also provides a Bass Boost feature that leverages an algorithm for "astonishing" performance and "a truly immersive audio experience." I wouldn't expect sound quality on the level of Bose here, but JLab's reputation is solid enough that these will probably get the job done audio-wise. Plus, I mean, you're saving $250 in the process. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/jlabs-flex-open-earbuds-are-a-50-version-of-the-bose-ultra-open-173339211.html?src=rss

JLab’s Flex Open Earbuds are a $50 version of the Bose Ultra Open

Bose surprised everyone when it debuted its clip-on Ultra Open Earbuds early this year. The premise was part fashion and part function, leaving your ears open to ambient sounds while you listen to tunes or podcasts. That model is $299 though, a price that's prohibitive for anyone looking to give the unique wear style a try. Enter JLab, the budget audio company with a solid track record for sound quality and features for under $100, and its new model: the Flex Open Earbuds. At just $50, it's much easier to take a gamble on the clip-on design, especially if you don't want make these your all-day buds. 

The Flex Open Earbuds offer the same basic premise as the Bose model. They clip onto the back of your ear while situating a speaker just outside of your ear canal. This leaves your ears open to outside noise you actually want to hear while also keeping your ears unplugged and comfy. JLab promises that the Flex Open Earbuds are suitable for calls, and multipoint Bluetooth allows you to switch devices with ease. Google Fast Pair is available on Android devices, so you can connect as soon as you take the buds out of the case.

Where the Flex Open Earbuds actually surpass the Ultra Open Earbuds is durability and battery life. The $50 JLab version is IP55 rated where the Bose model is IPX4. The Flex Open Earbuds will also last over seven hours on a charge, according to the company, which is at least two hours more than I got on the Ultra Open Earbuds during my tests. 

In terms of audio, JLab employs 12mms drivers that it says are tuned to satisfy both bass lovers and listeners who love crisp, clear treble. The JLab app also provides a Bass Boost feature that leverages an algorithm for "astonishing" performance and "a truly immersive audio experience." I wouldn't expect sound quality on the level of Bose here, but JLab's reputation is solid enough that these will probably get the job done audio-wise. Plus, I mean, you're saving $250 in the process. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/jlabs-flex-open-earbuds-are-a-50-version-of-the-bose-ultra-open-173339211.html?src=rss

Beats Pill speakers are back and have been redesigned from the inside out

In 2022, Beats discontinued the Pill+, the company's last remaining Bluetooth speaker. Prior to the move, Beats had decent run of smaller, portable speakers, including its original Pill and Pill XL models. Of course, that period wasn't without some headaches and there hadn't been a new model since 2015. Now it's time for a revival. Beats reintroduced its Pill speaker today with a new design that's been re-engineered from the inside out.

The first change you'll likely notice is the 20-degree upward tilt of the new Beats Pill, which the company says gives the unit improved sound projection. Beats is promising "more powerful, room-filling sound, bigger bass and improved tonality" thanks to an updated woofer and tweeter combo that should also minimize distortion. The new Pill is 10 percent lighter than the Pill+ and comes with a removable lanyard for carrying. The speaker is also IP67 rated for dust and water resistance, which should be good enough to protect the device if it accidentally takes a quick dip in the pool. 

The redesigned Beats Pill comes in red, black and gold.
Beats

Similar to previous models, you can sync two Pill speakers together for more robust sound. The company gives you the option of Amplify Mode, which is louder, or Stereo Mode that divides the left and right channels. Beats explains that it improved the speakerphone capabilities of the Pill, mostly thanks to the company's noise-learning algorithm. By combating environmental noise, the company says it can better pick up your voice during calls. 

The Pill still has on-device controls for music, volume, pairing and power, and the speaker charges via USB-C. That wired connection can also be used to charge your phone from the speaker's battery or to send lossless audio from a laptop or other device. Beats says you can expect up to 24 hours of battery life, plus there's a Fast Fuel feature that gives you two ours of use in 10 minutes. One-touch pairing is available on iOS and Android and there's compatibility for both Find My and Find My Device when you need it. 

The new Beats Pill is available for pre-order today in black, red and gold color options for $150. Beats says it will start shipping the speaker on June 27. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/beats-pill-speakers-are-back-and-have-been-redesigned-from-the-inside-out-140055874.html?src=rss

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