The best Father’s Day gift ideas under $50

Buying a good Father’s Day gift can be tough if you’re on a budget, especially if your dad is already on the tech-savvy side. Sometimes they may claim they don’t want anything, other times they might buy the thing you’re looking to gift without telling anyone. If you need help jogging your brain, we’ve rounded up a few of the better gadgets we’ve tested that cost less than $50. From mechanical keyboards and security cameras to luggage trackers and power banks, each has the potential to make your dad’s day-to-day life a little more convenient.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-gifts-for-dad-under-50-113033738.html?src=rss

The best password managers for 2023

You might’ve seen password managers in the news recently because of the breach affecting LastPass customers. We need to trust that all of our logins, banking credentials and other sensitive information has been neatly locked away, only accessible by us when we need it. Yes, most tech is fallible, but the benefits of unique, strong passwords across your online presence outweigh the risks. Password managers remain an excellent way to securely store all of the credentials you need on a regular basis.

They're also some of the most useful tools you can invest in — your passwords are not secure if they're all written down on a stick note near your computer, and if you lose that physical record, you'll have a hard time logging into your most used accounts. Password managers, with their various apps and plugins, not only keep your information secure but also remove the guesswork around remembering credentials and make it easier to log in from almost anywhere. We tested out nine of the best password managers available now to help you choose the right one for your needs.

How do password managers work?

Think of password managers like virtual safe deposit boxes. They hold your valuables, in this case usually online credentials, in a section of the vault only accessible to you by security key or a master password. Most of these services have autofill features that make it convenient to log in to any site without needing to remember every password you have, and they keep your credit card information close for impulse purchases.

But given that passwords are one of the top ways to keep your online identity secure, the real value of password managers is staying safe online. “It's just not possible without a password manager to have unique, long and hard-to-guess passwords,” Florian Schaub, an associate professor of information and of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan, said.

Common guidance states that secure passwords should be unique, with the longest number of characters allowed and uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. This is the exact opposite of using one password everywhere, with minor variations depending on a site’s requirements. Think of how many online accounts and sites you have credentials for — it’s an impossible task to remember it all without somewhere to store passwords safely (no, a sticky note on your desk won’t cut it). Password managers are more readily accessible and offer the benefit of filling in those long passwords for you.

Are password managers safe?

It seems counterintuitive to store all your sensitive information in one place. One hack could mean you lose it all to an attacker and struggle for months or even years to rebuild your online presence, not to mention you may have to cancel credit cards and other accounts. But most experts in the field agree that password managers are a generally secure and safe way to keep track of your personal data, and the benefits of strong, complex passwords outweigh the possible risks.

The mechanics of keeping those passwords safe differs slightly from provider to provider. Generally, you have a lengthy, complex “master password” that safeguards the rest of your information. In some cases, you might also get a “security key” to enter when you log in to new devices. This is a random string of letters, numbers and symbols that the company will send you at sign up. Only you know this key, and because it’s stored locally on your device or printed out on paper, it’s harder for hackers to find.

These multiple layers of security make it difficult for an attacker to get into your vault even if your password manager provider experiences a breach. But the company should also follow a few security basics. A “zero-knowledge” policy means that the company keeps none of your data on file, so in the event of an attack, there’s nothing for hackers to find. Regular health reports like pentests and security audits are essential for keeping companies up to par on best practices, and other efforts like bug bounty programs or hosting on an open source website encourage constant vigilance for security flaws. Most password managers now also offer some level of encryption falling under the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). AES 256-bit is the strongest, because there are the most number of possible combinations, but AES 128-bit or 192-bit are still good.

Who are password managers for?

Given their universal benefit, pretty much everyone could use a password manager. They’re not just for the tech-savvy people or businesses anymore because so much sensitive information ends up online behind passwords, from our bank accounts to our Netflix watch history.

That’s the other perk of password managers: safe password sharing. Families, friends or roommates can use them to safely access joint accounts. Texting a password to someone isn’t secure, and you can help your family break the habit by starting to use one yourself, Lisa Plaggemier, executive director at National Cyber Security Alliance, said. Streaming is the obvious use case, but consider the shared bills, file storage and other sites you share access with the people around you as well.

Are password managers worth it?

You likely already use a password manager, even if you wouldn’t think to call it that. Most phones and web browsers include a log of saved credentials on the device, like the “passwords” keychain in the settings of an iPhone. That means you’ve probably seen the benefits of not having to memorize a large number of passwords or even type them out already.

While that’s a great way in, the downfall of these built-in options are that they tend to be device specific. If you rely on an Apple password manager, for example, that works if you’re totally in the Apple ecosystem — but you become limited once you get an Android tablet, Lujo Bauer, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and of computer science, at Carnegie Mellon University, said. If you use different devices for work and personal use and want a secure option for sharing passwords with others, or just don’t want to be tied to one brand forever, a third-party password manager is usually worth it.

How we tested

We tested password managers by downloading the apps for each of the nine contenders on iPhone, Android, Safari, Chrome and Firefox. That helped us better understand what platforms each manager was available on, and see how support differs across operating systems and browsers.

As we got set up with each, we took note of ease of use and how they iterated on the basic features of autofill and password generators. Nearly all password managers have these features, but some place limits on how much you can store while others give more control over creating easy-to-type yet complex passwords. From there, we looked at extra features like data-breach monitoring to understand which managers offered the most for your money.

Finally, we reviewed publicly available information about security specs for each. This includes LastPass, which more experts are shying away from recommending after the recent breach. For the sake of this review, we’ve decided not to recommend LastPass at this time as fallout from the breach still comes to light (The company disclosed a second incident earlier this year where an unauthorized attack accessed the company’s cloud storage, including sensitive data).

Password managers we tested

Best password manager: 1Password

Many security experts trust 1Password with their private information and, after testing it out, it’s clear why. The service includes industry standard encryption, a “secret key” that only you know on top of your master password, a zero-knowledge policy that means it keeps no data, and other security features like frequent audits and a bug bounty program. 1Password now also supports passkeys, which are credentials stored in your most used devices that are protected by biometric authentication (like fingerprints or facial recognition) or PINs.

1Password has a pretty intuitive user interface across its mobile and desktop apps. A tutorial at download helps you import passwords from other managers onto 1Password so that you don’t feel like you’re starting over from scratch. It also clearly rates the strength of each password and has an “open and fill” option in the vault so that you can get into your desired site even more quickly. We also liked the user-friendly option to scan a set up code to easily connect your account to your mobile devices without too much tedious typing.

At $3 per month, the individual subscription comes with unlimited passwords, items and one gigabyte of document storage for your vault. It also lets you share passwords, credit card information and other saved credentials. If you upgrade to the family plan for $5 each month, you’ll get to invite up to five people (plus more for $1 each per month) to be a part of the vault.

  • Number of tiers: 4

  • Pricing: $3/month for Individual, $5/month for Families, $20/month for Teams Starter Pack, $8/month per user for Business

  • Compatibility: macOS, iOS, Windows, Android, Linux, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Brave, Edge, Command Line

Best free password manager: Bitwarden

Bitwarden’s free plan includes unlimited passwords on an unlimited number of devices, which is more than we’ve seen from some of its competitors. There are drawbacks like you can only share vault items with one other user, but we think that’s a fair tradeoff.

Bitwarden is based on open-source code, meaning anyone on GitHub can audit it, which is a good measure of security. On a personal level, it includes security audits of your information, like a data breach report, that can keep you in the know about when your passwords have been leaked and when it's time to change them. Plus, it’s widely available across the platforms we tested, including Windows and iOS, with a level of customization, options to access your password vault and more.

Bitwarden may be the best free password manager, but it does have a paid version and we do think it’s worth it. At $10 annually for individuals or $40 for families, you unlock encrypted file storage, emergency access, unlimited sharing and more additional features. But the free version comes with the basics that can get anyone set up on password management easily.

  • Number of tiers: 3

  • Pricing: Free, $3/month per user for Teams Organization, $5/month per user for Enterprise Organization

  • Compatibility: macOS, iOS, Windows, Android, Linux, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Brave, Edge, Vivaldi, Opera, Tor, DuckDuckGo for Mac, Command Line

Best password manager for cross-platform availability: NordPass

Across password managers we tested, cross-platform availability was relatively similar. Most are widely available across web browsers and different operating systems, including our other top picks on this list. But we wanted to give a nod to NordPass here because of how easy the service makes it to access your vault from any platform while keeping your data safe.

NordPass has a free option with unlimited passwords and syncs across devices. A $2-per-month premium plan keeps you logged in when switching devices, comes with security notifications and allows for item sharing. A family subscription comes with six premium accounts and only costs $4 per month. This makes it an excellent budget option as well. Besides the pairing code to connect accounts, NordPass is a pretty standard password manager. Scanning a code gets me from my laptop to mobile device to work computer super easily. If you’re constantly switching devices and those extra few seconds save your sanity, it’s worth considering.

  • Number of tiers: 3

  • Pricing: Free, $2/per month for Premium, $4/month for Family

  • Compatibility: macOS, iOS, Windows, Android, Linux, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Edge

Best password manager for shared access: Dashlane

Dashlane has four subscription options: A free user gets access to a single device with unlimited passwords; an advanced user pays $3 per month to get upgraded to unlimited devices and dark web monitoring; for $5 per month, a premium user also gets VPN access and an $7.49-per-month family plan includes access for up to 10 subscribers.

It met all the criteria we looked for, but with a clear emphasis on sharing credentials. Dashlane highlights “secure sharing” starting at its free level, which is a functionality that some competitors keep behind a paywall. Access for up to 10 members in a family plan is one of the bigger plans we’ve seen as well. While we were testing it, password sharing seemed front of mind with a tab dedicated to it in Dashlane’s browser extension. Arguably the biggest caveat here, though, is lack of Linux support.

  • Number of tiers: 4

  • Pricing: Free, $3/month for Advanced, $5/month for Premium, $7/month for Friends and Family

  • Compatibility: macOS, iOS, Android, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Brave, Edge, Opera

FAQs

Why use a password manager?

Using a password manager can enhance your online security. They store all of your complex passwords and autofill them as needed, so that you can have unique, strong passwords across the web without remembering each of them yourself. In many cases, unique passwords are your first defense against attack, and a reliable manager makes it easier to keep track of them all.

How secure are password managers?

Password managers are a secure way to store your credentials. Experts in the field generally agree that the benefits of accessibility when storing complex passwords outweigh the possibility of attack, like what happened with LastPass. But with any service, it can vary from provider to provider. You should look out for zero-knowledge policies, regular security audits, pentests, bug bounty programs and encryption when choosing the right secure password manager for you.

What if I forget my master password?

Forgetting a master password won’t necessarily lock you out for good, but the recovery process varies from provider to provider. Some services give you a “security key” at sign up to enter when you log into new devices. It can also be used to securely recover your account because it’s a random string of keys stored locally that only you have access to. Other services, however, have no way to recover your vault. So creating a master password that you won’t forget is important.

How can I make a good master password?

A good master password should be unique, with the longest number of characters allowed and uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Experts often recommended thinking of it like a “passphrase” instead of a “password” to make it easier to remember. For example, you can take a sentence like “My name is Bob Smith” and change it to “Myn@m3isB0b5m!th” to turn it into a secure master password that you won’t forget.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-password-manager-134639599.html?src=rss

The best gifts for new dads

We get it, new dads (like new moms) just need a break. Aside from volunteering for babysitting duties, there’s an easy way to help: Get them some new gear. Perhaps some wireless earbuds to listen to podcasts as they put the baby to sleep, or something that could help to distract the youngins so he can rest his back for a few minutes. Here are the products we think would be most useful to tired new dads.

10.2-inch iPad

Apple's 9th-gen iPad is one of the most useful devices for any new parent. It can be your child's gateway to video chatting with their grandparents (and with the new Center Stage cameras, they’ll always be in frame), or a life-saving distraction during long car rides. It could be a new dad's way to catch up on their favorite show while stuck dealing with mealtime. Or it could be a way for growing kids to read interactive stories and play games. The iPad can be whatever you want it to be. And paired with a decent case, it can be durable enough to survive life with tiny humans. (And if it does break, at least it's far cheaper to replace than an iPad Air, or a typical laptop.)

Jabra Elite 85t earbuds

There's no question that we love Jabra's lineup of wireless earbuds. The Elite 85t delivers solid active noise canceling, a slim and light design, and excellent sound. And best of all, they cost around $200 and you can often find them for around $150. No matter which smartphone you have, the 85t are an excellent way to catch up on podcasts while trying to rock a baby to sleep. And they'll be even more useful during the rare bit of downtime for new parents. They're perfect for rocking out to your favorite tunes, or pair them to your TV or set-top box to enjoy late-night movies without making much noise.

Apple AirPods Pro

The first AirPods Pro were a much-needed improvement over the original AirPods, thanks to a more secure bud design and noise canceling. The second-generation AirPod Pros are even better, with significantly improved sound and far more powerful ANC. They’re perfect for drowning out a crying infant as they’re being rocked to sleep, or quieting the cacophony of house noise while preparing dinner. Pop in one AirPod Pro, and it can help dad catch up on his podcasts while pushing a stroller around town, or chasing kids through a playground. And once the kids are asleep, they can deliver surprisingly powerful tunes. They also easily pair with Apple TVs to deliver immersive sound at night without waking the kids.

SmartNoggin Nogginstik

This relatively cheap rattle is deceptively useful. It has a light-up face to keep babies interested, multiple textures for them to explore, and a mirror on the bottom for them to learn their own faces. It was a secret weapon during my child's first-year tantrums, so much so that I've gifted it to every new parent I know. It's not high tech at all, but it's a reminder that they’re called classics for a reason.

Apple Watch Series 8

The Apple Watch Series 8 is the perfect companion for any iPhone-toting dad. It’s not as flashy as the Apple Watch Ultra, but it’s still filled with useful features like automatic car crash detection. And then there are all the other great things dads can do with an Apple Watch: Keep tabs on notifications without pulling out their phone; check out with Apple Pay in a few seconds; and live out their sci-fi fantasies by taking calls on their wrist. It’s perfect dad tech: A little dorky, but eminently practical.

Kindle Paperwhite

We all wish we could read more, and sometimes it’s just nice to stop staring at a phone’s bright screen. Enter the Kindle Paperwhite, one of our favorite e-readers on the market. It has a large 6.8-inch E-Ink screen that’s purpose built for reading. The backlight is easy on the eyes, and the most recent model even features warmer lighting to avoid disrupting sleep patterns. It’s also waterproof, making it a great bath, beach or pool companion. After dealing with kids for the whole day, it may be worth just locking up your notification and social media infested phone to dive into a good book. And if you're not an Amazon person, you have plenty of good e-reader options from Kobo to consider, like the Clara 2E.

Theragun Mini 2.0

Keeping up with a new baby can lead to aches and pains in muscles that dad never knew he had. The Theragun Mini can give him the opportunity to get a massage without leaving the house. While there are much bigger and more powerful Theragun machines, the Mini is a good size for beginners and those who want to take its muscle relief power wherever they go. It has a single button that dad can use to change the massage gun’s speed and its ergonomic design makes it easy to reach different parts of the body. And arguably the best part is its 150-minute battery life — while that might not seem like a long time, it truly is when you consider the fact that you don’t need to use it for more than a few minutes each day to feel the results. With that schedule, dad could use the Theragun Mini every day for a month or more before needing to recharge it.

Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Game controller

A perfect gift for any gamer dads in your life, the Laugh and Learn Controller is basically a baby-proofed version of a modern gamepad. There's a joystick, directional pad, and array of buttons for kids to fiddle with. But like any good distracting toy, it also lights up and makes sounds to keep them entertained. It's not exactly complex, but it's inexpensive and effective. That's particularly true for parents of little ones who always gravitate to their expensive console controllers.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-gifts-for-new-dads-110049541.html?src=rss

The best password manager for 2024

We use passwords for everything. From our bank accounts to free social media sites, our password footprints spread all over our digital landscape. But that means if you’re reusing the same ones over and over again, you’re opening yourself up to hackers potentially finding one in a leak and getting into your most sensitive accounts.

That’s where password managers come in. They store all your credentials in one place, taking the burden off of you to remember them all, and even offer stronger password options to help prevent reuse in the future. Yet, it’s a confusing space filled with extra features and security gaps that can make it hard to navigate. We tested out nine of the best password managers available now to help you choose the right one for your needs. 1Password remains our top pick for the best password manager, thanks to its zero-knowledge policy, numerous security features and general ease of use, but there are other solid programs out there to consider as well.

It seems counterintuitive to store all your sensitive information in one place. One hack could mean you lose it all to an attacker and struggle for months or even years to rebuild your online presence, not to mention you may have to cancel credit cards and other accounts. But most experts in the field agree that password managers are a generally secure and safe way to keep track of your personal data, and the benefits of strong, complex passwords outweigh the possible risks.

The mechanics of keeping those passwords safe differs slightly from provider to provider. Generally, you have a lengthy, complex “master password” that safeguards the rest of your information. In some cases, you might also get a “security key” to enter when you log in to new devices. This is a random string of letters, numbers and symbols that the company will send you at sign up. Only you know this key, and because it’s stored locally on your device or printed out on paper, it’s harder for hackers to find.

These multiple layers of security make it difficult for an attacker to get into your vault even if your password manager provider experiences a breach. But the company should also follow a few security basics. A “zero-knowledge” policy means that the company keeps none of your data on file, so in the event of an attack, there’s nothing for hackers to find. Regular health reports like pentests and security audits are essential for keeping companies up to par on best practices, and other efforts like bug bounty programs or hosting on an open source website encourage constant vigilance for security flaws. Most password managers now also offer some level of encryption falling under the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). AES 256-bit is the strongest, because there are the most number of possible combinations, but AES 128-bit or 192-bit are still good.

You likely already use a password manager, even if you wouldn’t think to call it that. Most phones and web browsers include a log of saved credentials on the device, like the “passwords” keychain in the settings of an iPhone. That means you’ve probably seen the benefits of not having to memorize a large number of passwords or even type them out already.

While that’s a great way in, the downfall of these built-in options are that they tend to be device specific. If you rely on an Apple password manager, for example, that works if you’re totally in the Apple ecosystem — but you become limited once you get an Android tablet, Lujo Bauer, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and of computer science, at Carnegie Mellon University, said. If you use different devices for work and personal use and want a secure option for sharing passwords with others, or just don’t want to be tied to one brand forever, a third-party password manager is usually worth it.

We tested password managers by downloading the apps for each of the nine contenders on iPhone, Android, Safari, Chrome and Firefox. That helped us better understand what platforms each manager was available on, and see how support differs across operating systems and browsers.

As we got set up with each, we took note of ease of use and how they iterated on the basic features of autofill and password generators. Nearly all password managers have these features, but some place limits on how much you can store while others give more control over creating easy-to-type yet complex passwords. From there, we looked at extra features like data-breach monitoring to understand which managers offered the most for your money.

Finally, we reviewed publicly available information about security specs for each. This includes LastPass, which more experts are shying away from recommending after the recent breach. For the sake of this review, we’ve decided not to recommend LastPass at this time as fallout from the breach still comes to light (The company disclosed a second incident earlier this year where an unauthorized attack accessed the company’s cloud storage, including sensitive data. Since then, hackers have stolen more than $4.4 million in cryptocurrency using private keys and other information stored in LastPass vaults.)

These are the password managers we tested:

For a while, security experts considered LastPass a solid choice for a password manager. It’s easy to use, has a slew of helpful extra features and its free version gives you a lot. But we decided not to include LastPass in our top picks because of the high profile data breaches it has experienced over the past couple of years.

Keeper met a lot of the basic criteria we tested for, like autofill options and cross-platform availability. We liked its family plan options, too, that can keep your whole household secure. But we didn’t think its extra features, like the encrypted messaging app, added much value. Plus, it has a self-destruct feature after five incorrect login attempts which, despite adding extra protection, could be a recipe for disaster for casual users.

Enpass works well as an affordable password manager. That includes an inflation-beating “lifetime” access pass instead of a monthly payment for users really committed to the service. Still, it was confusing to set up across devices and because Enpass stores data locally, as opposed to in the cloud, we struggled to get started with it on mobile.

A familiar name in security, we were excited to test out Norton’s password manager. While it’s free, its features seem underdeveloped. It lacked password sharing, account recovery and complex form-filing tools that come standard in many of the other password managers we tested.

LogMeOnce comes with a wide range of premium tiers, from professional to family, that include different levels of storage and features. But when we tested, it lacked some basic cross-platform availability that other password managers had already, like compatibility with Mac and Safari.

Using a password manager can enhance your online security. They store all of your complex passwords and autofill them as needed, so that you can have unique, strong passwords across the web without remembering each of them yourself. In many cases, unique passwords are your first defense against attack, and a reliable manager makes it easier to keep track of them all.

Password managers are a secure way to store your credentials. Experts in the field generally agree that the benefits of accessibility when storing complex passwords outweigh the possibility of attack, like what happened with LastPass. But with any service, it can vary from provider to provider. You should look out for zero-knowledge policies, regular security audits, pentests, bug bounty programs and encryption when choosing the right secure password manager for you.

Think of password managers like virtual safe deposit boxes. They hold your valuables, in this case usually online credentials, in a section of the vault only accessible to you by security key or a master password. Most of these services have autofill features that make it convenient to log in to any site without needing to remember every password you have, and they keep your credit card information close for impulse purchases.

But given that passwords are one of the top ways to keep your online identity secure, the real value of password managers is staying safe online. “It's just not possible without a password manager to have unique, long and hard-to-guess passwords,” Florian Schaub, an associate professor of information and of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan, said.

Common guidance states that secure passwords should be unique, with the longest number of characters allowed and uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. This is the exact opposite of using one password everywhere, with minor variations depending on a site’s requirements. Think of how many online accounts and sites you have credentials for — it’s an impossible task to remember it all without somewhere to store passwords safely (no, a sticky note on your desk won’t cut it). Password managers are more readily accessible and offer the benefit of filling in those long passwords for you.

Given their universal benefit, pretty much everyone could use a password manager. They’re not just for the tech-savvy people or businesses anymore because so much sensitive information ends up online behind passwords, from our bank accounts to our Netflix watch history.

That’s the other perk of password managers: safe password sharing. Families, friends or roommates can use them to safely access joint accounts. Texting a password to someone isn’t secure, and you can help your family break the habit by starting to use one yourself, Lisa Plaggemier, executive director at National Cyber Security Alliance, said. Streaming is the obvious use case, but consider the shared bills, file storage and other sites you share access with the people around you as well.

Forgetting a master password won’t necessarily lock you out for good, but the recovery process varies from provider to provider. Some services give you a “security key” at sign up to enter when you log into new devices. It can also be used to securely recover your account because it’s a random string of keys stored locally that only you have access to. Other services, however, have no way to recover your vault. So creating a master password that you won’t forget is important.

A good master password should be unique, with the longest number of characters allowed and uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Experts often recommended thinking of it like a “passphrase” instead of a “password” to make it easier to remember. For example, you can take a sentence like “My name is Bob Smith” and change it to “Myn@m3isB0b5m!th” to turn it into a secure master password that you won’t forget.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-password-manager-134639599.html?src=rss

The best gifts for grads under $50

Gifting can be difficult at any time, but it’s been particularly hard over the past couple of years. You may still be working with a tight budget, but you also want to give that grad in your life something that can help make the transition to post-school life a bit easier (and more fun). The tech gifts that come to mind immediately — iPhones, smartwatches, game consoles and the like — are not exactly budget-friendly. But there are handy gadgets out there that won’t drain your wallet. Here’s Engadget’s list of the best tech gifts under $50 for new graduates.

Anker Nano Pro 20W

Anker’s latest 20W charger will be a handy gift for any grad. More often than not, the new gadgets we buy today don’t come with AC adapters, so having an extra on hand can’t hurt. The Nano Pro can fast-charge the latest iPhones to 50 percent in only 25 minutes, plus it’s smaller than Apple’s own 20W adapter. It also has advanced features like a Dynamic Temperature Sensor, which keeps the charger from overheating, and a power tuner chip, which adjusts power output depending on the connected device. It may not be the trendiest graduation gift, but it’s one that your grad will likely take with them to work, on vacations and elsewhere.

Blink Mini

New graduates moving out into a new apartment will feel a certain peace of mind knowing they can keep an eye on their abode while they’re out all day. That’s especially true for any that have pets patiently waiting for them at home. A Blink Mini security camera has all of the features they’d need to check in every once in a while, and it’s footprint is so small that they’ll easily be able to find a place for it. The camera will record 1080p video when it senses motion, and it’ll send an alert to your grad’s phone so they can view the footage. It also supports two-way audio, so they can comfort their furry friends with their voices as needed. And while Blink does have a subscription plan that lets you store video clips to the cloud, it’s not necessary if you’re just using the camera as a second pair of eyes. Plus, you can download any video clips you want to save to your phone for safe keeping.

8Bitdo Pro 2

We’ve been fans of 8Bitdo’s affordable, multi-platform controllers for quite some time, and the $50 Pro 2 is no exception. You can use it with the Nintendo Switch and on Windows, macOS, Android and Raspberry Pi, and you’re able to map functions to buttons using its companion smartphone app. The Pro 2 also adds new bumper buttons under each arm, something the previous version did not have. In general, 8Bitdo’s controllers are more ergonomic than, say, relying on a keyboard and mouse when playing PC games. They’re also a dramatic improvement over the Switch’s Joy-Cons which, if we’re honest, aren’t the most comfortable controllers to use for long stretches of time. The Pro 2 charges up via USB-C, but you can also remove the battery pack and replace it with AA batteries if you know you won’t be able to charge up frequently.

Cosori Stainless steel electric kettle

Multitaskers are crucial in the kitchen, especially when you’re fighting with your countertops for space. One of the best kitchen gadgets with many uses is an electric kettle, and you don’t have to spend a ton to get a decent one. Cosori makes a few good models, including this stainless steel one that comes in at only $40. It has a six-cup capacity and claims it can boil water in less than three minutes, which means new graduates won’t have to wait long to make a cup of coffee or tea, cook some ramen noodles or get broth ready for soup. We also like that it has an automatic shutoff safety feature that powers down the machine 30 seconds after water comes to rolling boil.

Chipolo One

Help your grad keep track of their things by getting them a gadget like the Chipolo One. This Bluetooth tracker is one of our favorites because its separation alerts are top-notch. What that means in practice is if your grad leaves their keys or wallet with the One attached to it somewhere, say at a coffee shop, they’ll get a notification to their phone quickly after they leave, telling them they left something behind. Chipolo’s tech will even give you directions via your maps app to the precise location of your lost stuff, in the event that you miss the original notification. The Chipolo One is also a good pick for anyone, really, since it works on iPhones and Android devices.

Anker 511 Power Bank

The Anker 511 Power Bank is something everyone should keep with them at all times, but new graduates will find it particularly useful. The last thing they want to worry about is their phone dying on them in the middle of a busy day of job interviews, side hustle work and adulting chores. Only slightly larger than a tube of lipstick, the 511 Power Bank will slide easily into most bags and backpacks, and they could probably get away with sticking it in their pocket if they’re rushing out the door. It has a 5,000mAh capacity that can easily top up a phone that’s inching closer and closer to zero-percent battery life. Plus, it has a built-in foldable plug for use as a power adapter if they happen to be near an outlet. They’ll have to provide their own USB-C cable for charging, but they probably have one of those lying around already anyway.

Yeti Rambler water bottle

Everyone needs a good water bottle they can take with them almost everywhere and Yeti’s 18-ounce Ramber will be a good pick for most people. It has a simple design made of 18/8 stainless steel, plus double-wall vacuum insulation that keeps cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot for longer. It’s shatter resistant so it can take an accidental beating, and it’s dishwasher safe for easy cleanup and care. We like the “chug cap” that comes with it — it’s best used with cold drinks, so maybe that will encourage your grad to use this Yeti for all-day hydration instead of all-day caffeination. This Ramber also comes in more than a dozen different colors, so you should be able to find one that fits in with the rest of your giftee’s stuff.

Baggu Standard Set of 3 reusable bags

Reusable tote bags are handy to have whenever you leave the house. New graduates may find themselves in need of one when they stop to get ingredients to make dinner on their way home from work, or when they unexpectedly buy something while out with friends. Baggu’s reusable totes are some of our favorites, not only because they come in a ton of fun colors and designs, but also because they’re durable and machine-washable. They’re made from ripstop nylon that’s easy to fold up into a small square and toss into any backpack or purse, so there’s really no excuse not to keep one with you at all times. Plus, each bag can hold up to 50-pounds worth of stuff, so they shouldn’t buckle under the weight of a week’s worth of groceries.

Logitech Signature M650 Mouse

We generally recommend Logitech mice to most people and the Signature M650 is a great one for a new graduate to toss in their bag to use both at home and work. It has a relatively small profile along with a precision scroll wheel and buttons that are quieter than those on other mice. Whether they’re working in an office with an open floor plan or next to their roommate at their WFH desk, they won’t distract anyone with the sounds of constant clicking or scrolling. This model has two customizable side buttons that allow them to really make the accessory their own, plus it connects to computers via Bluetooth or USB receiver. But the best part is that it should last up to two years on one AA battery before they need to change it; one less gadget they need to remember to recharge regularly is a great thing.

Roku Streaming Stick 4K

New grads are pretty cash-strapped, so most of them are not going out to buy a new TV immediately after getting their diploma. Regardless of if their old set is smart or not, you can give it a refresh by gifting them a streaming device like the Roku Streaming Stick 4K. This one in particular gives them access to Roku’s operating system, which is easy to use. Not only does it provide access to all the heavy hitters — Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Apple TV+ and others — but Roku also has its own channels that let you watch some news, movies and TV shows for free. The Streaming Stick 4K supports 4K content, as its name suggests, plus HDR10+, long-range WiFi, AirPlay and input from a few voice assistants.

Lyft gift card

You may not want to think about all the nights your grad has been out until 4am, but it’s likely they’ve clocked a few of those by now. Giving them an easy way to get home will not only be a welcomed convenience, but also a safety measure. Hopping in a Lyft or an Uber as soon as they’ve made the decision to bounce will make it so they don’t have to wait for public transit that may not arrive on time (or at all), or beg a friend of a friend for a ride. Not to mention, they’ll feel a huge sense of relief knowing that, the next time they go out, their ride home is already taken care of.

Repel Windproof Double Vented travel umbrella

Hear us out — a good umbrella is an unexpected yet invaluable gift. Few things are worse than getting stuck in a downpour on your way to work, especially if you use public transit to get there. Repel’s windproof travel umbrella is just the right size — not too big or too small at 11.5 inches in length — and its nine reinforced fiberglass ribs prevent it from being blown inside-out easily. We also like its single-button design, allowing you to open or close it with one hand. Repel’s umbrella is one of those practical gifts that your grad will be glad to have at the most crucial times, and they’ll save money in the long run by not needing to buy a new, cheap umbrella every time the skies open up.

Tribit Stormbox Micro 2

We wanted to give a nod to the Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 here even though it’s normally priced at $60 (but you can find it on sale for around $50). The portable speaker world is vast and that can make it hard to pick a decent one as a gift for a graduate that you may not fully understand their listening habits. The Micro 2 is a good all-around pick because it’s small enough to toss in most bags and it packs a ton of volume. Whether they are hosting a party at home or listening with friends outside, the Micro 2 has enough volume for all types of settings. We like its onboard controls as well, along with its rubbery rear strap that makes it easy to attach to things like belts and bike handlebars.

Instant Vortex Mini air fryer

While technically priced at more than $50, we wanted to include the Instant Vortex Mini here in part because it’s often on sale for around $45. Also, it’s a powerful little air fryer that any new graduate should be able to fit into even the most cramped of kitchen setups. It has an easy to use touchscreen with a few different cooking modes, but we expect most graduates will use it to cook snacks like mozzarella sticks and reheat leftovers to crispy perfection. We recommend checking out our air fryer guide if you want to give them something a little bigger that can cook more food at once — but if you’re only looking out for your grad and maybe their partner or favorite roommate, the Instant Vortex Mini will feed them well.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-gifts-for-grads-under-50-114506320.html?src=rss

The best grills and grill accessories in 2023

Cookout season is here, so now's the time to make sure you have everything you need for your ultimate grilling setup. To help you prepare to spend more time outside, we’ve compiled a list of the best grills and grill accessories for culinary adventures on the porch, deck, patio or backyard. We’ve reviewed and tested a wide range of grills and other devices, and we’ve selected our top picks to help you stay on top of your BBQ game. There are other outdoor cooking items too, with selections that should help you become a grill master, serving up delicious food all year long and expanding your skills in the process.

Traeger Timberline and Timberline XL

Last year, Traeger went all out for its smart grills. The company completely redesigned its high-end Timberline series, turning its premium pellet grills into outdoor kitchens. While the cooking chamber may look like any other Traeger grill, the company decided to put these new models on a rolling cart instead of four legs. Of course, this gives you more storage, but it also makes it easier to empty the pellet hopper. There’s a rail system on the front and sides of the grill to hold a range of accessories from paper rolls, to sauce, tongs and rub compartments.

In terms of tech, Traeger swapped out the basic controls from its previous WiFi-equipped D2 grills in favor of a color touchscreen. There are more sensors inside to keep tabs on the cooking process and added lighting to help you see the cooking surface better after dark. The new Timberlines will also work with a specially-designed version of the wireless Meater probes (Traeger bought Meater in 2021), so you’re not reliant on the corded version that comes standard. Perhaps most importantly, the company added what it says is the first outdoor-rated induction burner for sauces, sides and searing.

All of those upgrades lead to a starting price of $3,500. If you can forgo some of those niceties (I’d argue your grill doesn’t need a touchscreen, for example), the first-gen Ironwood has been a workhorse for me since I reviewed it in 2019. It still runs like a champ and works well with the company’s full-featured app. It’s a great option for someone looking to dive into pellet grills, offering a bit more than the entry-level Pro series from Traeger. The company still sells the original Ironwood even though it updated the model for 2023, and you can get the larger size for $2,000 less than the smallest of the new Timberlines.

Weber Genesis II EPX-335

In 2021, Weber introduced its first smart gas grills. After developing its Weber Connect platform for the SmokeFire pellet grills and the Smart Grilling Hub, the company brought its Wi-Fi-connected cooking to a more widely used fuel source. Last year, the company refined things a bit with PureBlu high-heat burners, sear zone, side table, expandable top cooking grate and "Nightvision" LED lighting. If the 2022 EPX-335 doesn’t suit your needs, there are other options that come in three- and four-burner configurations with porcelain enamel or stainless steel finishes. Plus, there are both propane and natural gas models, and some come with a side burner if you need it.

Of course, the main attraction here is the Weber Connect integration. Just like it does on the SmokeFire pellet grills and the Smart Grilling Hub, the technology can guide you through every step of the grilling process. A mix of instructions and videos inside the Weber Connect app offer assistance to grillers of all skill levels, right down to when to flip your steak. What’s more, the system offers real-time food temperatures and estimated readiness countdowns right on your phone so you can better time side dishes like veggie skewers (and keep the hangry crowd at bay). On its gas smart grills, Weber Connect can also keep tabs on fuel level so you’ll know when it’s time to swap tanks.

Weber has also introduced a host of grill tool sets and accessories that expand the capabilities of its gas grills. The company makes grilling gloves, searing grates, a grilling basket, rotisserie items and a pizza stone, as well as grill cleaning tools, like a scraper and brush. There’s also a griddle insert that allows you to make everything from breakfast to smash burgers. And if you want to transform the entire grilling area, Weber has a full-size griddle accessory that will do just that.

Ooni pizza ovens

Ooni has built a stellar reputation for its pizza ovens, and rightfully so. The company’s gear is easy to use and it helps you create restaurant-quality wood-fired pies at home. Its latest oven, the Volt 12, is an electric model that can be used indoors but still has the capability we’ve grown to count on from Ooni. In terms of solely outdoor ovens, the Karu 16 can accommodate multiple fuel sources and has room for larger pizzas. Out of the box this model can burn wood or charcoal, but Ooni sells gas burners for $120 and $150 (propane and natural gas versions).

In addition to overall size, the Karu 16 also has some conveniences that differentiate it from Ooni’s other ovens. First, a hinged door allows you to see what you’re cooking through a glass window. Second, there’s a front-mounted digital thermometer that shows the ambient temperature inside of the oven. Like other Ooni pizza cookers, the Karu 16 heats quickly, reaching 950 degrees Fahrenheit in about 15 minutes. And of course, the larger cooking area will allow you to make things besides pizza. If you can stand a smaller oven and analog thermometers, the company recently introduced the Karu 12G that still has the glass door, increased fuel efficiency and can be outfitted with a gas burner add-on ($100).

Thermoworks Thermapen One

Over the years, a Thermapen has become my most-used BBQ grill tool. I rely on it like a sous chef to make sure I’m cooking things to the correct internal temperature, especially chicken. It’s a versatile and sturdy tool at the grill and in the kitchen. ThermoWorks' Thermapen One is the follow up to its best-selling Thermapen Mk4. This new model shows temps lightning quick, giving you a reading in one second. ThermoWorks also improved accuracy and used a brighter display than the previous model. An automatically rotating screen makes the numbers easy to see no matter how you hold it, plus an auto-wake and sleep feature preserves battery life and IP67 rating protects it from accidental spills.

Meater Plus

A wireless meat thermometer may seem like overkill when there are so many great (and affordable) wired options available. I too was skeptical at first, but I can assure you that not having to avoid those metal cables when you’re flipping or wrapping a large cut of meat is definitely worth the investment. For the Meater Plus, the Traeger-owned company extended the Bluetooth range from the original model. Each probe has two sensors, so you can keep tabs on both internal food temp and the ambient temperature of your grill. Stats are sent to the company’s app, and you can set target temps, view an estimated completion time or get some help with a cook if you need it.

Anova Precision Cooker Nano 3.0

The latest version of Anova’s Precision Cooker Nano still offers sous vide in a compact form factor. It’s an updated version of the cookware device I’ve been using for a long time thanks most to its accuracy and reliability. The company has swapped Bluetooth connectivity for dual-band WiFi so you can venture further away from the Nano 3.0. This model also has a two-line touchscreen display, so time and temperature can be viewed simultaneously. Manual controls are ever present here too, if you want to bypass the iOS or Android apps. That software will provide you with recipes and step-by-step guidance, so it’s good to consult it even if you’re experienced with this cooking method.

In order to make the most of your sous vide setup, you’ll want to also invest in a vacuum sealer. I have the FoodSaver FM2000. It doesn’t have some of the flashy features of more expensive units, but it covers the basics just fine. If you prefer something more robust with options like automatic bag detection, retractable handheld sealer and a dry/moist setting, I’d recommend the FoodSaver V4400. With both, you can use them to seal leftovers for the freezer or store other goods you don’t want air to get to in addition to sous vide cooking. I’ve also found vacuum-sealed packs handy for reheating things like pulled pork. When you reheat with a sous vide, the meat doesn’t dry out like it would in the microwave. Sure, you could just use Ziploc bags, but I’ve done that, and a FoodSaver is worth the investment.

Stanley IceFlow Tumblers

I’d argue one of the most important grilling tools is a cold beverage. And as the days get hotter, you’ll need to plan your drinkware carefully so your monster cocktail or water supply remains at a frigid temperature. I’ve tried a number of insulated aluminum cups over the years, but Stanley has been the best. The company is known for its classic thermos, but its lineup of cups, bottles and more are affordable and do a great job of keeping drinks cold for hours at a time.

Stanley has a ton of options that serve as alternatives to popular brands like Yeti, but the IceFlow Tumblers have been my go-to this spring. The larger 30-ounce cup can keep drinks cold for up to 12 hours while the 20-ounce version can do so for up to seven hours. There’s a solid handle and the built-in flip-down straw means the drinking area isn’t exposed to the elements quite as much. At $25 and $30 each, these are a fraction of the cost of the most expensive options, and they have better ice retention than some of those too.

Brumate Hopsulator Duo and Trio

Brumate’s Hopsulator products are warm weather essentials for me. I originally got one for the beach, but it has become a staple in my grilling tool kit. The company’s Hopsulator Trio is a 3-in-1 option that holds 16-ounce cans or 12-ounce cans with a cold insert you keep in your freezer. It also comes with a lid so you can use it as a travel mug. The Hopsulator Duo also doubles as an insulated cup, but it’s designed for 12-ounce cans and doesn’t come with any cooling accessories. What’s more, Brumate has a third model for slim cans. So if hard seltzers are more your thing, there’s an option for you too.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-grilling-gear-143011296.html?src=rss

A beginner’s guide to smart sous vide

Cooking via “sous vide” might sound complicated and intimidating, but it’s actually a lot easier than you might think. French for “under vacuum,” “sous vide” simply translates to immersing vacuum-sealed food in a temperature-controlled water bath until the food is cooked to your liking. Instead of worrying about whether a steak is medium rare or whether that chicken breast will be dry, you can just dial in your desired temperature, wait a few hours, and you’ll get perfect results without the guesswork.

Though sous vide cooking was once the province of professional cooks with expensive equipment, affordable options are now widely available. Wand-like immersion circulators have made sous vide cooking accessible to home chefs for several years now. And, like a lot of kitchen tools now, many sous vide devices even have companion apps and WiFi connectivity that make the process even more automated. If you’re curious about giving sous vide cooking a go, we’ll walk you through the process of choosing the right machine for you and share some of the tips and tricks we’ve learned through our own experiments.

How to pick a smart sous vide machine

If you’re going to choose a sous vide machine, we definitely recommend getting a smart one, which means it either has Bluetooth or WiFi capabilities (or both). That’s because this often adds a whole lot more features than you might otherwise have. We suggest getting models with a companion app that will help you set up and monitor your sous vide temperature remotely. Bluetooth-only models work when you're within 30 to 40 feet of the cooker, while those with WiFi let you supervise your food from anywhere in your home, or as long as you're on the same network. We also tend to prefer apps that come with recipes already on it, especially if you’re new to sous vide cooking and need some help getting started.

Anova

Other factors to consider

At a minimum, the other items you need to cook sous vide are a large metal pot (big enough to fill with water) and zipper-lock freezer bags to put the food in. Alternatively, you can use reusable silicone bags such as these from Stasher. Rather than using a vacuum sealer to get rid of air, you would use the water displacement method: Immerse the bagged food in the water while partially unsealed, and water pressure will push the air through the opening. Once everything is mostly underwater, you can seal the bag and it'll stay submerged.

If it still floats, you can stick one or two spoons in the bag, and that will hopefully weigh things down. (J. Kenji Lopez-Alt from Serious Eats also suggests using a large binder clip attached to the bottom of the bag along with a heavy spoon.) If you're concerned about water getting in the bag, you can attach the bag tops to the pot with binder clips, thus keeping the bag upright.

If you're really serious about sous vide, you might want to invest in some specialty equipment. Instead of pots, for example, you could opt for large restaurant-grade plastic containers by Cambro or Rubbermaid. Not only is plastic a better insulator than metal, but there's generally more space for more food, which is handy when you're cooking for a crowd.

Whether you use a pot or a plastic container, it's best to cover the vessel with plastic wrap when cooking for long periods, to keep evaporation to a minimum. Some companies, like Chefsteps, offer custom silicone pot lids that are made specially to accommodate their sous vide cookers. Alternatively, Lopez-Alt offers a much cheaper and more ingenious solution: cover your water in ping pong balls. They'll slow down evaporation.

Rubbermaid

Additionally, while zipper-lock bags work well for most tasks, it's still not a bad idea to get a vacuum sealer along with thicker plastic bags designed specifically for sous vide. For one, this lets you sous vide vegetables or braised meats, which typically require a higher temperature. (Zipper-lock bag seams might fail when it's that hot.) This also lets you freeze a bunch of food, vacuum seal them and sous vide packets straight from the freezer, which is convenient for batch cooking.

You likely already have this at your disposal, but another handy tool is a good skillet to sear your meat. That sous vide device might be able to cook your steak to medium rare, but it won't be able to brown it. A cast iron skillet, on the other hand, will. You could also consider a torch like the Bernzomatic TS8000, and we've seen others use a Searzall — but a cast iron skillet is far more affordable than either option. Of course, if you have a grill, you can use that too.

There are other miscellaneous items that could prove useful. Lopez-Alt likes having a pot lid organizer immersed in the container to help separate several submerged bags. If you want to make custard, yogurt or breakfast cups with your sous vide cooker, you should get yourself some mason jars too.

One more indispensable item worth considering: a trivet to rest your water vessel on so you don't destroy your countertop.

Sous vide recipe resources

Since affordable sous vide cookers have been in the market for a few years now, there’s no shortage of recipes and guidelines online to help you figure out what to do with your newfangled kitchen gadget. The links below are some of our favorites, though bear in mind that a lot of this is based on personal taste. Your mileage may vary.

Anova

It only makes sense that the maker of one of the most popular sous vide machines also has a deep library of sous vide recipes. If you're ever at a loss as to what to make via sous vide, simply peek at this website, where you can search for recipes from professionals and amateurs alike.

Serious Eats

We've mentioned it several times here already in this guide, but Serious Eats truly is a remarkably useful resource for all things sous vide. Its guide to sous vide steak is a favorite among Engadget staffers, as is its take on slow-cooked sous-vide style eggs, which results in some of the best eggs I've ever had.

Chefsteps

Years before making the Joule, Chefsteps made a name for itself as a cooking school with a heavy emphasis on food science, tech and molecular gastronomy. That's probably why the sous vide recipes from Chefsteps are some of the more creative ones we've seen. One recipe, for example, teaches you how to make that perfect chicken breast along with the perfect accompaniment for said chicken breast — perhaps a crunchy apple fennel salad and a buttery carrot puree. Other favorite recipes include wonderfully tender salmon filets, juicy pork chops and Chefsteps' own interpretation of the "sous vide egg bites" you sometimes find in certain Starbucks shops.

Sous Vide at Home

This is actually a cookbook from the people behind the Nomiku WiFi sous vide machine (which has since been discontinued), but the recipes in it will work with any sous vide device. Not only does it have beautiful photographs, but it also offers fantastic recipes like jerk chicken wings, duck confit and chocolate pots du creme.

Other noteworthy recipes:

Sous vide alternatives

Instant Pot Smart WiFi
Instant Pot / Best Buy

Aside from immersion circulators like the ones mentioned here, you could also opt for multi-purpose appliances that offer sous vide-like functions. Several Instant Pots, for example, offer such a feature. Unfortunately, however, they do not circulate the water like the aforementioned immersion circulators, and the temperatures aren’t quite as precise (which is a definite downside if you need something cooked to a specific temperature). But if you don’t really care about that, or you just want to dabble occasionally in sous vide, this might be a viable option.

If you’re dead set on a multi-tasking appliance and you have the money to spend, consider the Anova Precision Oven. Thanks to its use of steam, you can indeed use it to cook foods via sous vide but without the need for plastic bags. It also uses a fan to circulate the moist air around the food and a probe thermometer helps keep foods at a precise temperature. And, of course, the Precision Oven can be used as a regular oven as well, and is great for baking breads and bagels. It is, however, quite expensive at $700 and takes up a lot of counter space.

Images: Will Lipman for Engadget (Anova / holiday light background)

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/smart-sous-vide-guide-151821790.html?src=rss

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 wireless earbuds for 2024

New Bluetooth earbuds are arriving nearly every week nowadays, and while all of that variety can be good for your wallet, deciding which pair is best can also be tricky. After considering things like active noise cancellation (ANC), sound quality and design, the next deliberation is over unique features that big companies like Sony, Bose, Apple and Samsung put in their products. I test dozens of sets of earbuds a year for Engadget, constantly pitting new models against the previous best across all price ranges to keep this list of the best true wireless earbuds up to date. This guide explains why my current selections for the best wireless earbuds made the cut, and offers some shopping advice in terms of everything you need to know before choosing the best true wireless earbuds for your needs.

When it comes to shopping for earbuds, the first thing to consider is design or wear style. Do you prefer a semi-open fit like AirPods or do you want something that completely closes off your ears? If you’re shopping for earbuds with active noise cancellation, you'll want the latter, but a case can be made for the former if you want to wear them all day or frequent places where you need to be tuned in to the ambient sounds. The overall shape of earbuds can determine whether you get a comfortable fit, so can the size and weight, so you’ll want to consider all that before deciding. And remember: audio companies aren’t perfect, so despite lots of research, the earbud shape they decided on may not fit you well. Don’t be afraid to return ill-fitting earbuds for something that’s more comfortable.

As wireless earbuds have become the norm, they’re now more reliable for basic things like consistent Bluetooth connectivity. Companies are still in a race to pack as much as they can into increasingly smaller designs. This typically means a longer list of features on the more premium sets of earbuds with basic functionality on the cheapest models. Carefully consider what you can’t live without when selecting your next earbuds, and make sure key items like automatic pausing and multipoint connectivity are on the spec sheet. You’ll also want to investigate the volume controls as you’ll often have to sacrifice access to something else to make that adjustment via on-board taps or swipes.

When it comes to battery life, the average set of earbuds lasts about five hours on a single charge. You can find sets that last longer, but this is likely enough to get you through a work day if you’re docking the buds during lunch or the occasional meeting. You’ll want to check on how many extra charges are available via the case and if it supports wireless charging.

Companies will also make lofty claims about call quality on wireless earbuds. Despite lots of promises, the reality is most earbuds still leave you sounding like you’re on speakerphone. There are some sets that deliver, but don’t get your hopes up unless reviews confirm the claims.

Sound can be subjective, so we recommend trying before you buy if at all possible. We understand this isn’t easy at a time when we’re doing most of our shopping online. But trying on a set of earbuds and listening to them for a few minutes can save you from an expensive case of buyer's remorse. If a store doesn’t allow a quick demo, most retailers have return policies that will let you take earbuds back you don’t like. Of course, you have to be willing to temporarily part with funds in order to do this.

We also recommend paying attention to things like Spatial Audio, Dolby Atmos, 360 Reality Audio and other immersive formats. Not all earbuds support them, so you’ll want to make sure a perspective pair does if that sort of thing excites you.

The primary way we test earbuds is to wear them as much as possible. We prefer to do this over a one- to two-week period, but sometimes embargoes don’t allow it. During this time, we listen to a mix of music and podcasts, while also using the earbuds to take both voice and video calls. Since battery life for earbuds is typically less than a full day, we drain the battery with looping music and the volume set at a comfortable level (usually around 75 percent).

To judge audio quality, we listen to a range of genres, noting any differences in the sound profile across the styles. We also test at both low and high volumes to check for consistency in the tuning. To assess call quality, we’ll record audio samples with the earbuds’ microphones as well as have third parties call us.

When it comes to features, we do a thorough review of companion apps, testing each feature as we work through the software. Any holdovers from previous models are double checked for improvements or regression. If the earbuds we’re testing are an updated version of a previous model, we’ll spend time getting reacquainted with the older buds. Ditto for the closest competition for each new set of earbuds that we review.

I really like the overall shape of the Momentum Sport earbuds. They’re more comfortable than the Momentum True Wireless 4 and fit in my ears better. What’s more, the body temperature and heart rate sensors work well, sending those stats to a variety of apps. However, that sport-tracking feature works best with Polar’s app and devices, so there’s that consideration. Also, the audio quality and ANC performance isn’t as good as the MTW4, and these earbuds are pricey.

There’s a lot to like about the Solo Buds for $80. For me, the primary perk is they’re very comfortable to wear for long periods of time thanks to some thoughtful design considerations. You only get the basics here in terms of features and, as expected, the overall sound quality isn’t as good as the pricier models in the Beats lineup. You will get 18 hours of battery life though, since the company nixed the battery in the case and beefed up the listening time in the buds themselves.

Bose created something very unique for this set of earbuds that allows you to stay in-tune with the world while listening to audio content. The clip-on design is very comfortable, but sound quality suffers due to the open-type fit, especially when it comes to bass and spatial audio.

These stick buds have a compact design that’s comfortable to wear and the warm sound profile is great at times. However, overall audio performance is inconsistent and there’s no automatic pausing.

Retooled audio, better ambient sound mode and reliable multipoint Bluetooth are the best things the MW09 has to offer. They’re expensive though, and you can find better ANC performance elsewhere.

Updates to sound, ANC and battery life top the spec sheet here, and the new clear color option has some throwback energy I love. But there are some basic features missing, and Beats doesn’t come close to Apple’s natural audio quality in transparency mode.

These earbuds are feature-packed, including a touchscreen “smart case.” They aren’t the most consistent in terms of overall performance though, and I’m not convinced that case provides a lot of utility just yet.

Most wireless earbuds will last five hours on a single charge, at the least. You can find some pairs that have even better battery life, lasting between six and eight hours before they need more juice. All of the best wireless earbuds come with a charging case, which will provide additional hours of battery life — but you'll have to return each bud to the case in order to charge them up.

Comparing sound quality on earbuds and headphones is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. There are a lot of variables to consider and the differences in components make a direct comparison difficult. Personally, I prefer the audio quality from over-ear headphones, but I can tell you the sound from earbuds like Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 3 is also outstanding.

With new models coming out all the time, tracking the hours of battery life for each this can be difficult to keep tabs on. The longest-lasting earbuds we’ve reviewed are Audio-Technica’s ATH-CKS5TW. The company states they last 15 hours, but the app was still showing 40 percent at that mark during our tests. The only downside is these earbuds debuted in 2019 and both technology and features have improved since. In terms of current models, Master & Dynamic’s MW08 offers 12 hours of use on a charge with ANC off (10 with ANC on) and JBL has multiple options with 10-hour batteries.

There are plenty of options these days when it comes to increased water resistance. To determine the level of protection, you’ll want to look for an IP (ingress protection) rating. The first number indicates intrusion protection from things like dust. The second number is the level of moisture protection and you’ll want to make sure that figure is 7 or higher. At this water-resistance rating, earbuds can withstand full immersion for up to 30 minutes in depths up to one meter (3.28 feet). If either of the IP numbers is an X, that means it doesn’t have any special protection. For example, a pair of wireless earbuds that are IPX7 wouldn’t be built to avoid dust intrusion, but they would be ok if you dropped them in shallow water.

A secure fit can vary wildly from person to person. All of our ears are different, so audio companies are designing their products to fit the most people they can with a single shape. This is why AirPods will easily fall out for some but stay put for others. Design touches like wing tips or fins typically come on fitness models and those elements can help keep things in place. You’ll likely just have to try earbuds on, and if they don’t fit well return them.

PlayStation 5 doesn’t support Bluetooth audio without an adapter or dongle. Even Sony’s own gaming headsets come with a transmitter that connects to the console. There are universal options that allow you to use any headphones, headset or earbuds with a PS5. Once you have one, plug it into a USB port on the console and pair your earbuds with it.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-wireless-earbuds-120058222.html?src=rss