I have just kept the PlayStation controller aside after a fierce game of FIFA with my bud. My thumb’s aching and I’m wondering, what if I could disjoin the controller to use the joystick on either side so the pressure could be distributed between both the thumbs? Well, if there was a controller to suffice this demand, it ought to do a little more than just disjoining for user comfort.
A designer believes the average DualShock should be able to rip apart and double up as a Virtual Reality game controller, and we’re intrigued! The Wireless VR controller that gamers would be using with Sony’s fully immersive PS VR headset, potentially in the future, has been modeled after the PS gaming controller’s design language. The artistically pleasing controller is called the “Unreal Control” and it by virtue is an innovative iteration of the Sony gamepad lineup.
Designer: Evgenia Burmistrova
VR game controller, Unreal Control, is not just about the looks and its uncompromising inclination to Sony’s design aesthetics. The controller in fact is built in with VR sensors. The ground intention thus is to combine a regular gamepad with a VR controller. Simply so the gamers don’t have to let go of their session and shift flawlessly from a regular game to a playful real-life adventure in VR. In addition to allowing the gamer to immerse in the world of VR gaming without distraction, the controller also allows one to play games with elements of augmented reality. It is therefore fathomed for an unforgettable emotion across the platform or technology you’d like to interact in.
The wonderful bit about the Unreal is its two-fold design – figuratively! Two controllers are created to play in augmented reality which can be connected together in a frame as a single unit to give you a modern gamepad. The independent controllers with built-in VR sensors can be used individually or connected to function in tune as one controller so you can switch on the fly from unreal game mode to real or vice versa.
No matter the functionality the controller can pull off, its design: look and feel are of equal consideration to a gamer. Combining elements of Sony’s design philosophy, the controller exhibits soft shades and has smooth curves. This makes it really ergonomic to hold and comfortable to play with. This is essentially made possible with the construction material. The controller is made from matte eco-friendly plastic, which makes the accessory slip resistant in the hands and completely recyclable at the end of life. Designed in colors to appeal to both women and men gamers, the VR game controller is progressive and stylish, bound to attract gamers with its brevity, minimalism and simplicity.
Can’t get your hands on a PS5 quite yet? Well, Backbone has a workaround of sorts. Partnering with Sony to release Backbone One PlayStation® Edition controller, this little gizmo lets you play all your PS games on your smartphone without needing a console nearby. Earlier in 2020, Backbone Labs debuted the original Backbone One, a universal gaming controller designed to bring a controller-based gaming experience to the smartphone. The PlayStation Edition of the controller, however, comes with the PS-style action buttons and a new version of the Backbone app tailormade for playing PS titles. I’ll be honest, I’m loving the black and white colorway too.
While it seems like Sony really missed the train on giving the PSP a refresh (and there’s speculation that Google’s about to kill Stadia), Backbone gives us a pretty remarkable taste of being able to play triple-A titles on a handheld console (or a smartphone, specifically).
The Backbone One controller really channels the DualSense’s theme and visual language with matching palettes and even the same action buttons. However, the Backbone One is more than just a snap-on controller for the iPhone… it turns your smartphone into a streaming rig too. A dedicated ‘Capture’ button lets you capture your gameplay and send it directly to social media platforms like Instagram, iMessage, or even YouTube. The Backbone app lets you edit your clips too, creating showreels of your best moments in-game, while even being able to chat with friends and fellow gamers.
The Backbone One comes in iPhone and Android varieties (although strangely enough, the PlayStation Edition version of the controller is iPhone only), with lightning and USB-C ports respectively built right into the controller. This effectively lets you game for long hours without the battery woes since the Backbone One uses passthrough charging to keep both your controller and phone juiced at all times. Oh, and my favorite part? The Backbone One controller also sports its own 3.5mm audio jack so you can plug your gaming headphones in for an immersive session!
With the explosion of TikTok and the growth of video on YouTube, Twitch, Instagram and other platforms, interest in vlogging has increased exponentially since we last updated our guide. If you’re one of those creators and a smartphone is no longer good enough, it may be time to upgrade to a purpose-built vlogging camera.
Some models are specifically designed for vlogging, like Sony’s ZV-E10 mirrorless camera that launched last year, or Panasonic’s compact G100. Others, like the new Panasonic GH6, Sony A7S III and Canon EOS R6 are hybrid cameras that offer vlogging as part of a larger toolset.
All of them have certain things in common, like flip-around screens, face- and/or eye-detect autofocus and stabilization. Prices, features and quality can vary widely among models, though. To that end, we’ve updated our guide with all the latest models designed for every vlogger from novice to professional, in all price ranges. Engadget has tested all of these to give you the best possible recommendations, and we’ll even discuss a few rumored upcoming models.
One caveat to this year’s guide is that a parts shortage has limited production of many cameras, causing shortages and higher prices. Sony, for one, halted production of the aforementioned ZV-E10 for a time, and models from Fujifilm and others are also hard to find. The good news is that the shortage appears to be easing, so hopefully we’ll see normal supply levels in the near future.
What do you need in a vlogging camera?
Vlogging cameras are designed for filmmakers who often work alone and either use a tripod, gimbal, vehicle mount or just their hands to hold a camera. It has to be good not just for filming yourself, but other “B-roll” footage that helps tell your story.
The number one requirement is a flip-around screen so you can see yourself while filming. Those can rotate up, down or to the side, but flipping out to the side is preferable so a tripod or microphone won’t block it.
Continuous autofocus (AF) for video with face and eye detection is also a must. It becomes your camera “assistant,” keeping things in focus while you concentrate on your content. Most cameras can do that nowadays, but some still do it better than others.
If you move around or walk a lot, you should look for a camera with built-in optical stabilization. Electronic stabilization is another option as long as you’re aware of the limitations. You’ll also need a camera with a fast sensor that limits rolling shutter, which can create a distracting jello “wobble” with quick camera movements.
4K recording is another key feature. All cameras nowadays can shoot 4K up to at least 24 fps, but if possible, it’s better to have 4K at 60 or even 120 fps. If you shoot sports or other things involving fast movement, look for a model with at least 1080p at 120 fps for slow-motion recording.
Video quality is another important consideration, especially for skin tones. Good light sensitivity helps for night shooting, concerts, etcetera, and a log profile helps improve dynamic range in very bright or dark shooting conditions. If you want the best possible image quality and can afford it, get a camera that can record 4K with 10-bits (billions) of colors. That will give you more options when you go to edit.
Don’t neglect audio either — if the quality is bad, your audience will disengage. Look for a camera with a microphone port so you can plug in a shotgun or lapel mic for interviews, or at least one with a good-quality built-in microphone. It’s also nice to have a headphone port to monitor sound so you can avoid nasty surprises after you’ve finished shooting.
You’ll also want good battery life and, if possible, dual memory card slots for a backup. Finally, don’t forget about your camera’s size and weight. If you’re constantly carrying one while shooting, especially at the end of a gimbal or gorillapod, it might actually be the most important factor. That’s why tiny GoPro cameras are so popular for sports, despite offering lower image quality and fewer pro features.
The best action and portable cameras
If you’re just starting out in vlogging or need a small, rugged camera, an action cam might be your best bet. In general, they’re easy to use as you don’t have to worry about things like exposure or focus. Recent models also offer good electronic stabilization and sharp, colorful video at up to 4K and 60 fps. The downsides are a lack of control; image quality that’s not on par with larger cameras; and no zooming or option to change lenses.
DJI Pocket II
Last time around we recommended the original Osmo Pocket, but the Pocket II (no more “Osmo”) has some big improvements. As before, it’s mounted on a three-axis gimbal and has impressive face tracking that keeps your subject locked in focus. However, the new model has a larger, much higher resolution 64-megapixel sensor, a faster lens with a wider field of view and improved microphones. As before, you can get accessories like an extension rod, a waterproof case and more.
What really makes the Pocket II great for vlogging are the follow modes combined with face tracking. If you’re working solo, you can simply set it up and it’ll rotate and tilt to follow you around. That also applies for walk-and-talk vlogging, so you don’t have to worry about focus or even pointing the camera at yourself. For $346, it’s not only good for beginners, but is a handy tool for any vlogger.
The Hero 10 Black is what we called a “big, invisible upgrade” over the Hero 9, itself a much improved camera over the Hero 8 Black we recommended last time. That’s largely due to the new processor that unlocks features like higher-resolution 5.3K 60p and 4K 120fps video, much improved Hypersmooth 4.0 stabilization, an improved front-screen and more. All of that makes it ideal to mount on a drone, vehicle, helmet, bicycle and more, at a very manageable $350 price with a 1-year GoPro subscription.
DJI took a much different approach compared to GoPro with its latest Action 2 camera – no with more Osmo branding. Rather than being a standalone camera, it’s a modular system with a magnetic mount that lets you add a touchscreen module with a secondary OLED display and three additional microphones, or a battery module for longer life and an extra microSD slot. As with the Pocket 2, it offers tons of accessories like a 3-in-1 extension rod and more. It’s a versatile option if you do more than just action shooting, and is priced well starting at $399.
Compact cameras are a step-up option from smartphones or action cameras, with larger sensors and much better image quality. At the same time, they’re not quite as versatile as mirrorless or DSLR cameras (and not necessarily cheaper) and they lack advanced options like 10-bit video. For folks who want the best possible quality without needing to think too much about their camera, however, it’s the best option.
Sony’s ZV-1 came out in 2020 and it’s still the best compact vlogging camera available. Based on the RX 100 V, it has a decently large 1-inch 20.1-megapixel sensor and fixed 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8mm equivalent lens. Based on the RX100 V, it has a 1-inch 20.1-megapixel sensor and fixed 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8mm (equivalent) lens. It also offers a lightweight body, built-in high-quality microphone (plus a microphone port), flip-out display, best-in-class autofocus and excellent image quality. It also has vlogging specific features like “product showcase” and background blur.
While the $799 ZV-1 can’t shoot 10-bit video, it comes with Sony’s S-Log picture profiles that give you increased dynamic range for shooting in challenging lighting conditions. The flaws include a lens that’s not quite wide enough when you’re using electronic stabilization, mediocre battery life and the lack of a true touch display and headphone port. That aside, if you’re looking to step up from a smartphone, it does the job nearly perfectly.
Canon’s G7 X Mark III should also be front of mind for vloggers looking for a compact option. It also packs a 20-megapixel 1-inch sensor, but has a 24-100 mm f/1.8-2.8 35mm equivalent zoom — quite a bit longer than the ZV-1 at the telephoto range. It can shoot 4K at up to 30 fps, while offering optical image stabilization, a microphone input (though no headphone jack) and even the ability to livestream directly to YouTube. The downsides are contrast-detect only autofocus and a screen that tilts up but not to the side. For $749, it’s still a great option, though.
This is the class that has changed the most over the past couple of years, particularly in the more affordable price categories. Interchangeable lens cameras give you the most options for vlogging, offering larger sensors than compact cameras with better low-light sensitivity and shallower depth of field to isolate you or your subject. They also offer better control of your image with manual controls, log recording, 10-bit video and more. The drawbacks are extra weight compared to action or compact cameras, extra complexity and higher prices.
Fujifilm’s X-S10 has displaced the X-T4 as the best vlogging camera out there, thanks particularly to the more affordable price. It ticks all the boxes for vloggers, offering in-body stabilization, 10-bit 4K external video with F-Log recording (at up to 30fps) along with 1080p at a stellar 240 fps, a screen that flips out to the side and easy-to-use controls. It also comes with a headphone jack and USB-C port that doubles as a headphone jack. The main downside is the limited touchscreen controls, but you get a lot of camera for just $1,000.
The best Sony APS-C camera for vlogging is now the ZV-E10. While using many of the same aging parts as the A6100, including the 24.2-megapixel sensor, it has a number of useful features for self-shooters. High on the list is Sony’s excellent autofocus, which includes the same background defocus and Product Showcase features found on the ZV-1 compact. It also offers electronic SteadyShot, a fully articulating display and more. The biggest drawback is rolling shutter that can get bad if you whip the camera around too much. If you can find one, it’s priced at $700 for the body or $800 in a bundle with Sony’s 16-50mm F/3.5-5.6 power zoom lens.
Panasonic’s GH5 was an incredibly popular vlogging camera for a very long time and was actually replaced by two cameras, the $2,200 GH6 and more budget-oriented $1,700 GH5-II. The GH6 is a large upgrade in nearly every way, offering 5.7K at 60 fps and 4K at up to 120 fps, along with ProRes formats that are easy to edit. It also comes with the best in-body stabilization on any camera and great handling. The downside is sub-par contrast-detect autofocus and battery life that’s not amazing.
It’s also worth a look at the GH5 Mark II, which is not only $500 cheaper but particularly well suited for live-streamers. It’s not a huge upgrade over the GH5, but does more than most rival cameras for the price, offering 4K 10-bit 60p video, a fully articulating display and excellent in-body stabilization. As with the GH6, the main drawback is the contrast-detect autofocus system.
Panasonic’s G100 is purpose built for vlogging like the ZV-1, but also allows you to change lenses. It has a fully-articulating flip-out screen, 5-axis hybrid (optical/electronic) stabilization, 4K V-Log-L video at up to 30 fps (though sadly cropped at 1.47X for 4K video), 1080p at up to 60 fps, and contrast detect AF with face/eye detection. The coolest feature is the Nokia OZO system that can isolate audio to a specific person via face-detection tracking — something that can theoretically improve audio quality. Best of all, you can grab it right now with a 12-32mm lens for $750.
Another good buy if you’re on a budget is Canon’s EOS M50 Mark II, particularly if you’re okay with 1080p video only. While not a huge upgrade over the original M50, Canon has made it more compelling for vloggers with a fully-articulating display, continuous eye-tracking in video and live streaming to YouTube. It does support 4K, but with a heavy 1.5 times crop and contrast-detect autofocus only. Still, it’s a good option for folks on a budget, selling for $699 with a 15-45mm lens.
If you’ve got the budget for it, Canon’s EOS R6 offers nearly every feature you need in a vlogging camera. You can shoot 10-bit 4K video at up to 60 fps, and the Dual Pixel autofocus with eye and face tracking is incredibly reliable. It also offers 5-axis optical stabilization, a flip-out display and a relatively compact size. As you may have heard, overheating can be an issue, but firmware updates have improved that issue and it only applies to the more demanding video settings.
The Fuijfilm X-T4 is a great all-around mirrorless camera for vlogging. It has everything you need, including a fully-articulating display, continuous eye- and face autofocus, 10-bit 4K log recording at up to 60 fps, 5-axis in-body stabilization, microphone and headphone jacks (the latter via USB-C) and lower noise in low light.
Image quality, especially in the skin tones, is lifelike and the sensor has minimal rolling shutter. It also offers good battery life and comes with dual UHS-II card slots. Finally, it’s fairly light considering all the features, and Fujifilm has a good selection of small lenses ideal for vlogging. What I don’t like is an autofocus system not quite as fast or accurate as Sony’s and the fairly steep $1,700 asking price for the body only.
If you want to look great while vlogging, check out Nikon’s stylish Z fc. It’s largely identical to the Z50, with features like a 20.9-megapixel APS-C sensor, 4K at 30 fps and a reliable phase-detect autofocus system with face detection. However, the Z fc brings a vari-angle touchscreen to the party and has a beautiful vintage body covered with convenient manual controls. It doesn’t have built-in optical stabilization, but you can get that via a lens. The best feature, though, is the price – you can get one for $1,100 with a 16-50mm lens.
If you’re not quite ready to buy, there are some interesting options on the horizon. Canon just announced the EOS R7, a mirrorless EOS R version of its popular EOS 7D DSLR. It has an APS-C sensor and all-new RF-S lenses, meaning that it might replace Canon’s current M-series cameras. Specs include a 32.5-megapixel APS-C sensor, 4K 60 fps video, an articulating display and more. All of that will make it a top vlogging option, if our upcoming review confirms the hype.
On top of that, Canon also announced a cheaper EOS R10 model with a 24.2-megapixel sensor that could also be an ideal vlogging camera. Both cameras are coming out towards the end of 2022.
In addition, Fujifilm just launched the X-H2S, its new $2,500 flagship mirrorless camera. With a 26.2-megapixel stacked and backside-illuminated sensor, it offers a raft of impressive features. Some of the highlights include 40 fps blackout-free burst shooting, faster autofocus, 6.2K 30fps video, a flip-out display and 7-stop in-body stabilization. If you’ve got the budget, this could be a solid vlogging choice when it arrives on July 7th.
Not everyone seems to like the PlayStation 5 design. It’s either too alien-looking, or too large for people (even though it’s the most popular gaming console in the world)… so engineer and YouTuber DIY Perks decided to scale it down. The PS5 Slim is one of his many strange DIY creations, but probably his most ambitious one yet. He pulls apart the console, strips it of its parts, and repurposes the deconstructed PS5 to make it about as thick as a DVD case. The end result measures less than 2 centimeters, making it the slimmest console ever made. Yes, it’s even slimmer than the Nintendo Switch, which measures over an inch, if you include the height of the analog joysticks.
The process isn’t as simple as you’d think. In fact, it isn’t simple at all, and Matt Perks (yes, Perks is actually his surname!) even recommends you don’t try this one at home. In the process of making this build, he even irreparably damaged one PS5 unit and had to ditch it for another console that was given to him by D-Brand. The entire process involved carving out a new thermal solution for the PS5 by creating a special water-cooled chamber for it, separating the power management system, and ditching the fan and heat sink on the original. A lot of cutting, gluing, welding, soldering, machining, and polishing later, Perks unveiled the new PS5 Slim. It’s MUCH thinner than the original (although its power brick is SIZEABLE), and here’s the best part – It’s more efficient than the original too, reading drastically lower temperatures on the components! This is a one-off build and you’ll probably never get your hands on it, although if anyone from Sony’s watching, here’s a marketing pitch for you – MAKE THE PS5 SLIMMER!
This rebuild has to be one of Matt’s most impressive ones so far, because it wasn’t as simple as rearranging components. Matt literally had to redesign the entire console’s architecture from scratch. The result is beyond impressive, as you see both consoles side by side (below).
The PS5 Slim, as Matt calls it, clocks in at under 2 centimeters, or about 3/4th of an inch. It uses copper not just for its interiors but also the outside, resulting in better thermals while maintaining that low thickness – something that wouldn’t be possible with plastic.
The project started with ripping a PlayStation 5 apart to take out its motherboard (below).
The motherboard, with its power management and heat sinks clocked in at just under 6 centimeters, which just wouldn’t do for what Matt was trying to achieve. He stripped away everything except the motherboard, which he then proceeded to construct his version around.
To make his build slim meant revisiting how the PS5 cooled. Water cooling seemed like the most efficient alternative, and it started with creating a special copper brick that would pull heat away from the SoC.
Above, Matt shows off his water-cooling chamber, which will be attached to the motherboard. The hollow channels will help direct water to all the right places, allowing it to keep the PS5 Slim cool.
Managing the water and the power unfortunately meant the PS5 Slim would need a massive brick at the other end. Luckily this could be hidden away near the power source, so the overall PS5 still retained its incredibly slim avatar.
The result even saw a performance boost, singe the PS5 Slim registered much lower temperatures while operating under the same conditions. An estimated reduction in 20°C meant the PS5 Slim could push peak performance without the dangers of overheating!
When it comes to wireless headphones, the over-ear noise-cancelling models typically offer the most comprehensive set of features we want. The best options combine stellar audio with powerful active noise cancellation (ANC) and other handy tools to create as complete a package as possible. Of course, some companies do this better than others. For this guide, we’ll focus primarily on the over-ear style and offer a range of prices so you can decide how much you’re comfortable spending.
Best overall: Sony WH-1000XM5
Sony’s 1000X line has been our top pick for a long time now. Until another company can manage to pack in as many features as Sony, and do so with a stellar mix of sound and effective ANC, the crown is safe. With the WH-1000XM5, Sony redesigned its flagship headphones, making them way more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The company also made noticeable improvements to the active noise cancellation, adding a separate V1 chip in addition to the QN1 that was inside the M4. There are now eight total ANC mics as well – the previous model only had four. This all combines to better block high frequencies, including human voices.
The 1000XM5 still has all of the features that typically make Sony’s top-of-the-line headphones showstoppers. That includes 30-hour battery life and crisp, clear sound with balanced tuning and punchy bass. A combo of touch controls and physical buttons give you on-board access to music, calls and noise modes without reaching for your phone. Speak-to-Chat automatically pauses audio when you begin talking, and like previous Sony headphones, the M5 can change noise modes based on your activity or location. Plus, this model offers better call quality than most of the competition. The only real downside is that they’re $50 more than the WH-1000XM4.
The Bose 700 was one of our top picks last time around, but the company recently revived a workhorse with the QuietComfort 45. The design is mostly unchanged from the previous QC models, which could be a deal breaker for some. Once you get past that though, the QC45 combines Bose’s excellent active noise cancellation with clear and balanced audio. You can expect up to 24 hours of battery life on a charge and a comfortable fit that doesn’t get tiresome during long listening sessions. We’ve already seen them on sale for $50 less than full price, which makes the QuietComfort 45 even more compelling.
If you want capable noise cancellation that won’t break the bank, Sony’s WH-CH710N is a solid bet. These headphones are much less than a flagship model at $150 — and they're often on sale for even less — but you will sacrifice a few things. The biggest place these fall short is overall sound quality. There’s decent range and good clarity, but they lack deep, punchy bass that would help create a fuller sound. For casual listeners who want a decent set of headphones that still have ANC, these will likely offer enough in the sonic department.
In terms of noise cancellation, the WH-CH710N exhibits enough sound-blocking power to minimize distractions. Thanks to Sony’s dual noise sensor technology, these headphones pick up a lot of that unwanted noise and automatically select the best noise cancellation for your environment. There’s also an ambient-sound option should you need to keep tabs on what’s going on around you. With 35 hours of battery life, a quick-charge feature and handy onboard controls, the WH-CH710N offer a glimpse of flagship headphone luxury for less than $200.
After months of rumors, we finally discovered that Apple successfully built a set of premium over-ear headphones. The AirPods Max combine the best features of AirPods earbuds with noise-cancelling, including spatial audio and easy access to Siri. Right now, spatial audio is limited and there’s no high-res music streaming. However, even with work to be done, the overall audio quality, stellar ambient sound mode and the all-Apple aesthetics are enough to recommend the AirPods Max. That is, if you’re willing to splurge.
Back at CES, Panasonic announced the EAH-A800: a new set of ANC headphones under the iconic Technics brand. While most of the features are what you see on any number of headphones, one figure stood out. The company says you can expect up to 50 hours of battery life on the A800, and that’s with active noise cancellation enabled. These are currently in my stable of review units for detailed analysis, but I have already tested them on a long flight. The ANC is impressive and they’re comfortable enoughto avoid becoming a burden after several hours. Sound quality is also quite good (there’s LDAC support, too) and there are enough features here to justify the premium price tag.
The wireless version of Audio-Technica’s M50 headphones may not have ANC, but that’s okay. The ATH-M50xBT quickly became one of my favorite sets when it debuted in 2018 thanks to the warm, natural sound profile and a very comfy fit. The company revamped the wireless model in 2021, adding multipoint connectivity, quick access to Alexa and a low latency mode in the M50xBT2. Everything else from the previous model is still here and that’s excellent news. If you spend most of your time listening to music in a spot where you don’t need active noise cancellation to block out the world, the M50xBT2 is an excellent choice at $199.
Sony remains a popular brand in consumer electronics. It’s one of those few tech giants that has entered multiple industries, from entertainment to gaming to appliances to mobile devices.
Sony hasn’t left the smartphone arena, and we believe it will continue to do so until people patronize the Xperia line. This smartphone series is a favorite among mobile photography enthusiasts for its professional and DSLR-level features. The latest is the Xperia 1 IV, another powerful premium phone running on Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor.
The Xperia phone series’ aesthetics have not changed much, but this new model reminds us a bit of an iPhone. There is no more of that familiar pointed boxy form because the corners are now curved. If you know the Sony Xperia 5 III, this new phone looks more like it, especially with the same pill-shaped camera module.
The Xperia 1 IV is expensive compared to the latest flagship phones in the market. It costs $1,600, which is about the same price as a premium foldable smartphone. This flagship device has a 6.5-inch 4K OLED screen 120Hz refresh rate and a 21:9 aspect ratio. It uses Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset with 512GB storage and 12GB of RAM. The onboard memory is expandable up to 1TB with a microSD card.
The Xperia 1 IV boasts a triple camera system on the rear when it comes to imaging. All lenses are 12MP but come with 16mm ultra-wide 16mm + 24mm wide-angle 24mm+ telephoto with 85-125mm true optical zoom. This means shooting with zoom will yield improved results.
The phone runs on a 5000mAh battery with wireless and fast charging support. Mobile security is accessible via the power button with an embedded fingerprint scanner. Other features include a dedicated camera shutter button, dual front-facing speakers, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The Music Pro enhances the audio experience as it can record songs studio-style. The phone can capture 4K HDR 120fps video on all cameras. There’s also live video streaming, Eye AF, and Object tracking technologies. The latter can be helpful to videographers as the camera features are easy to understand and operate. Object Tracking helps in tracking a moving subject automatically. The feature helps keep objects in sharp focus even if they are not still.
The phone also features built-in live streaming features for mobile gamers and videographers. Specifically, the Videography Pro features are for creative control in video streaming and recording. The display is protected by a Corning Gorilla Glass VictuS and IP65/68 water resistance. There’s also the standard Bluetooth connectivity, 3.5mm headphone jack, and full-stage stereo speakers. The 360 Reality Audio support is also available and very evident with the full-stage front-facing stereo speakers.
Sony is still one of the most trusted brands for consumer electronics. It may be overshadowed by several other companies in different industries, but many audiophiles can agree that Sony audio products are the best.
After the launch of the Sony Xperia 1 IV, the latest from the company is this pair of wireless headphones: the Sony WH-1000XM5 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones. The pair can be the next industry-leading noise-canceling headphones. The latest pair is available in either Black or Silver. It offers a true distraction-free and immersive audio listening experience to every user. Like the previous model, this one brings the already industry-leading audio quality and noise canceling. In addition, Sony updated the system with a new design for added comfort and newer technology.
The new pair from Sony uses two processors: an Integrated Processor V1 and a 30mm driver unit. The first one uses the HD Noise Canceling Processor QN1 to enhance bass production and sound clarity. The 30mm driver unit is for the noise canceling. With these improvements, the headphones offer incomparable noise cancelation. You can switch off the world around you with this thing.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones’ two processors control eight microphones. The latter reduces the frequency and optimizes noise cancelation. High-quality audio can be expected from the headphones as Sony thought of everything to improve on this model. For example, the pair uses carbon fiber composite material that allows high-frequency sensitivity. This also results in a more natural sound.
Other features of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones are High-Resolution Audio, whether wired or wireless and DSEE Extreme 4 for real-time enhancement of digital music files. There’s also a 360 Reality Audio support for a more immersive audio listening experience. The brand’s Voice Pickup technology makes use of our beamforming microphones. In addition, an AI-based noise reduction structure helps them. To minimize noise, there’s also a new wind-noise reduction structure.
The pair boasts a sleek design and a lightweight structure. It uses synthetic leather for the primary headphones, fitting around the head snuggly but with comfort. The design allows external noise to be entirely blocked out but still offers the user comfort even after hours of use.
The new Sony headphones offer Adaptive Sound Control. This means the pair can adjust to a specific environment or location. The pair knows where you are, so it can set the sound. Management is easy with the Sony Headphones Connect app. It can tell you if the audio volume or listening levels are high or are going beyond the average level. The pair allows you to talk to Alexa or Google with its numerous intelligent features.
Surviving years of college is no small feat, so the graduates in our lives deserve rightful praise and celebration. Whether your graduate is going out into the world to get their first job or continuing with their education, there are a number of gadgets you can gift them that will make them smile and also come in handy on a daily basis. If you’re stumped on what to give to the tech-savvy grad in your life, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite tech for you to consider.
Chromecast with Google TV
Recent graduates moving into a new place may not want to shell out money for cable or a satellite subscription. But just because they’ve cut the cord doesn’t mean they can’t watch quality content. Thanks to streaming sticks like Chromecast with Google TV, watching content on various streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and more is super easy, regardless of what kind of TV they have.
The latest Chromecast with Google TV works especially well for those with a YouTube TV subscription as its “Live TV” tab works as a channel guide for the service. Just like previous Chromecasts, they can also use it to “cast” their computer screen to the TV, too.
Another benefit over other streaming sticks is that it has Google Assistant integration. Your grad can ask it to display the five-day weather forecast, show the live feed from their Nest camera, turn their Philips Hue lights on or off, or play their favorite Spotify playlist. As a bonus, they can use Google Assistant to find shows to watch or to launch apps. — Nicole Lee, Commerce Writer
Regardless of whether you gift a Chromecast with Google TV, we think a YouTube TV subscription will make an excellent present for them. The service essentially replaces cable or satellite, and your graduate can easily use their phone, laptop or connected TV to access it. The platform offers pretty much all the standard network and cable offerings including sports channels like ESPN, so they won’t have to worry about missing their favorite team’s game. You can either pay for the subscription directly or buy them a Google Play gift card. — N.L.
Watches make great graduation gifts, and the Apple Watch is arguably the best one to get for the iPhone fan in your life. As Apple’s latest flagship wearable, the Series 7 is packed with features both basic and advanced. On a daily basis, most will use the Watch for tracking activity, recording workouts, buying coffees with Apple Pay and checking iMessage alerts on the fly. But the Watch also has perks like blood oxygen tracking, ECG measurements and fall detection that your grad may only use now and again, but will appreciate in crucial moments. Plus, the Series 7 has the largest screen of any Apple Watch to date, as well as the best battery life and a faster charging time, too. And if your grad prefers the style of more traditional timepieces, they can customize their Watch with bands that give them that look. — Valentina Palladino, Commerce Editor
Once they leave dorm life behind, graduates should learn how to make something other than instant ramen. For newbies, we recommend an appliance like the Instant Pot Duo Plus. This trendy kitchen device can be used as a slow cooker, yogurt maker, rice cooker and, of course, a pressure cooker.
Not only is it easy to use, it can be a huge time saver: just set it, do other chores (or just rest up) and your meal will be ready when it beeps. It’s a wonderful solution if your grad has a tiny stovetop in their first apartment, and it cuts down on dishwashing if you use the Instant Pot for a lot of one pot meals.
While laptops’ built-in webcams are getting better, most of them still don’t quite cut it for all of the Zoom calls many of us continue to have nowadays. Your graduate will likely have to take calls like this on a regular basis and the Logitech Streamcam is a gadget that can help them put their best face forward. The webcam shoots sharp video in 1080p/60fps and its handy auto-exposure feature helps make dark rooms less cave-like on screen. It also has built-in microphones with noise reduction, so your grad should sound as good as they look on these calls. Additionally, the Streamcam was designed with game streamers and content creators in mind, and that makes it a great all-purpose webcam that your graduate can use for both work and play. — V.P.
There’s a good chance that your graduate will be working from a few different locations when they start their first job. Maybe they’ll spend half of their time in an office and the other half at home, but you can help them stay focused anywhere by gifting them the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones. These are our current favorite high-end cans thanks to their excellent sound quality and equally stellar active noise cancellation. Their Adaptive Sound Control feature automatically changes the level of noise cancellation depending on your location and what you’re doing, blocking out as much of the world as necessary without the user needing to do much work. With this iteration, Sony also added multi-device connectivity, too, so your graduate can seamlessly go from listening to music on their laptop to taking a call from their smartphone. — V.P.
Who doesn’t want a caffeine hit in the morning before they head into work? For that we recommend the OXO Brew 8-Cup Coffee Maker. OXO typically makes excellent tasting coffee, and since this one is certified by the Specialty Coffee Association, it will certainly meet your grad’s standards as well. This model is easy to use, has a thermal carafe to keep their brew hot for hours, and has an option to brew directly into a mug. — N.L.
Why settle for a boring ol’ alarm clock when you can gift your grad a smarter option? The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential comes in both Google Assistant and Alexa varieties, and does a lot more than just tell time. These compact gadgets can give them the weather forecast, play a Spotify playlist or simply display their appointments for the day.
Which you choose depends on the virtual assistant your grad prefers – we generally recommend the Google version for Android users and those that rely on Google services like Calendar and Drive for their personal and professional duties. Everyone else is likely safe getting the Alexa version. And if you want to step it up a bit, the $90 Lenovo Smart Clock 2 comes with a docking area with a wireless charging pad, so they can power up their phones more easily overnight. — N.L.
We could all use a little help finding our stuff sometimes – new graduates especially. With new internships, jobs, side hustles and more, grads have a ton to keep track of and an AirTag can give them peace of mind by digitally locating their most important items. AirTags can attach to keys, wallets, handbags and more with the right accessories, and then your grad can check out the location of their stuff using the Find My app on iOS. They can program their contact information into the AirTag, in case a stranger needs to return their things, and those with newer iPhone can use the Precision Finding feature to be led directly to their stuff. For those who often misplace their belongings, Bluetooth trackers like these can be crucial. — V.P.
Voracious readers will appreciate an e-reader like Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite. The latest model has a larger, 6.8-inch display that has 17 front lights and an adjustable warm light setting that reduces eye strain. The design is compact and sleek, and the robust battery lasts for weeks between charging. And if they like reading in the tub or by the pool, the Paperwhite is also waterproof.
If you want to give your grad something even more special, however, consider gifting them the Paperwhite Signature Edition. It has 32GB of storage, wireless charging support and a light sensor that can automatically adjust the screen brightness according to their surroundings. It’s about $50 more than the regular Paperwhite, but they will certainly appreciate it. — N.L.
One of the great things about Beats’ Studio Buds is that both Android and iOS users can wear them and get a fairly similar experience. These Beats aren’t just for iPhone users, as those with Android devices have access to convenient features like Find My and fast pairing. The brand has come a long way when it comes to sound quality, too. These buds are well-tuned with a punchy bass, and iOS users will be able to get Spatial Audio on select tracks. The Studio Buds also have solid ANC with transparency mode, plus a compact, comfortable design that transitions well from study sessions to workout routines. — V.P.
Anker’s MagGo 2-in-1 wireless charging station is the gadget to give if you want to set your grab up with basically everything they’d need to never run out of power again. The bundle includes a wireless charging stand that can power both a phone and a pair of earbuds at the same time, and the phone portion detaches into a portable, magnetic, 5,000 mAh battery pack. The MagGo lineup is MagSafe-compatible, so if your grad has a newer iPhone, they’ll be able to take the slim pack with them by snapping it to the back of their smartphone. Also included is a 25W USB-C adapter, which can power the whole system with the proper speed. — V.P.
If your grad needs coffee or tea to stay productive throughout the day, a Yeti Rambler is an excellent gift for them. These classic tumblers have a double-walled, insulated design that keeps hot drinks hot for hours, while also being BPA-free. The latest versions have Dracut color coatings, which won’t fade, peel or crack with age (or when you put them in the dishwasher), so their favorite color will come through for years to come. Plus, the Ramblers now come with MagSlider lids, which, while not spill-proof, use magnets to make opening and closing (and cleaning) the lid super easy. — V.P.
As some of you might know, I’m a runner. On occasion I review sports watches, and outside of work I’m a certified marathon coach. So when Engadget wanted to round up the best wireless workout headphones, I raised my hand.
In addition to fit and battery life, I considered factors such as style; ease of use; the charging case; the strength of the Bluetooth connection; support for assistants such as Siri and Alexa; water resistance ratings; and audio features such as noise cancelation and ambient sound modes. You’ll notice I don’t have much if anything to say about audio quality. Engadget’s resident expert Billy Steele has written about this plenty in his standalone reviews, which I’ve linked throughout, but for my purposes the differences were too subtle to make or break a purchasing decision.
In the end, I never quite mastered some of the over-complicated controls, but at no point did an earbud fall out while I was exercising. I also never came close to running out of juice. So, participation trophies for everyone? Ha: The companies wish. I do indeed have some favorites, while some fell short in key areas.
How we tested
Even if earbuds aren’t marketed specifically as workout headphones, a durable, water-resistant design will, by default, make them suitable for exercise. To avoid repeating myself throughout this guide, I’ll drop a quick primer here on durability, or ingression protection (IP), ratings. The first digit you’ll see after the “IP” refers to protection from dust and other potential intrusions. That spec is measured on a scale of 1 to 6. The second refers to water resistance or even waterproofing, in the best cases. Higher numbers mean more protection, while the letter “X” means the device is not rated for protection in that regard. The ratings for water resistance are ranked on a scale of 1 to 9.
All but one of the models we tested for this guide is rated IPX4. That means there’s no dust protection, and the buds can withstand splashes from any direction but probably shouldn't be submerged. The most durable set of earbuds we tested, Jabra’s Elite Active 4, is rated IP57, which means a high level of both dust and water protection. Whereas the IPX 4 models can handle splashes, the Elite Active 4 can be immersed for up to 30 minutes in up to a meter (or about 3.2 feet) of water.
For a detailed breakdown of all the possible permutations, I recommend checking out this guide published by a supplier called The Enclosure Company.
Earbuds we tested
Beats Powerbeats Pro
Beats Fit Pro
Jabra Elite Active 4
Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro
Active noise cancelation
For the 2022 update to this guide, I decided to add a note up top about active noise cancelation (ANC), simply because most of the available models now offer it. And since the user experience is actually pretty similar across different brands, I thought it would be easier to share what they have in common, rather than repeat myself.
First of all, no noise cancellation is perfect. If you’re looking for earbuds that you can continue wearing even after you’re done working out, you might still hear some background noise, whether it be your robot vacuum or cars honking. The difference in quality with ANC enabled is undeniable; just don’t take these companies’ marketing claims too literally. Besides, I don’t recommend active noise cancellation while exercising outdoors; it’s not safe. And even if you are working out indoors, I still think a noise cancellation horse race is probably beside the point for the purpose of this guide.
The best all-purpose option: Jabra Elite 4 Active
What you get: A stylish, compact pair of wireless earbuds with a lightweight charging case to match.
Pros: Reasonably priced for the feature set; sleek, compact design; one of the lightest charging cases we tested (and some of the longest battery life); more durable than most; active noise cancelation, a transparency mode and customizable equalizer; works with Spotify Tap on Android.
Cons: Onboard controls aren’t intuitive, but Jabra offers helpful instructions in its app; less comfortable after prolonged use than other brands.
Much like the Elite Active 75t we tested in 2020, the newer Elite Active 4 earbuds ($120) make a strong first impression, with a compact, stylish design and a lightweight charging case to match. Available in three colors, the earbuds aren’t just small and light, but they look especially sleek given that they don’t have any wingtips. Though they felt comfortable when I first put them in, my ears did feel a little sore by the end of a run.
Meanwhile, the 37.5-gram case is also among the lightest we tested, but still offers some of the longest battery life, promising a total of 28 hours. (Each individual earbud on its own is rated for seven hours. Jabra says you can return to an hour’s worth of juice after a 10-minute charge.)
In my testing, the earbuds were easy to insert and pair. Less easy is learning how to use the things. As you might expect, you press the right earbud once to stop and resume playback. You can also double-press the right bud to skip a track, and triple press it to play it again. But some of the other onboard controls are less obvious. To increase the volume, hold down the right earbud for a second; to lower it, long press the left earbud. Meanwhile, single-pressing the left earbud allows you to toggle between active noise cancelation, HearThrough mode, or neither. Lastly, double press the left bud to use a voice assistant.
The good news is, you don’t have to commit all those finger gestures to memory: Jabra’s Sound+ App for iOS and Android contains a helpful illustrated tutorial, which I recommend keeping open on your phone as you get settled in with your new earbuds.
I mastered the controls quickly enough, but the physical buttons on the earbuds require a little more pressure and coordination to get an accurate press in. I found myself waiting until I had slowed to a walk before I started fiddling with the tracks. Even then, I needed to be very deliberate to make sure I got it right. And usually I did. That said, given there’s no physical volume rocker, I did wish there were an aural cue confirming I had moved the volume up or down a notch; the progression from louder to softer (or vice versa) is very subtle.
After a roughly 35-minute run the battery was still at 90 percent – a similar showing to what I saw on the Beats Fit Pro, also featured in this guide. Like the Elite Active 75t I tested previously, the Elite 4 Active uses Jabra’s HearThrough technology. With that enabled, I could hear cars along my running route, though on an especially windy day the gusts drowned out softer noises like footsteps behind me. That’s despite the earbuds having four built-in mics with what Jabra calls a “mesh covering” for added wind noise reduction.
Although I tested the Elite 4 Active on an iPhone 12, the earbuds have some additional features on Android, including support for Spotify Tap, which resumes where you last left off listening to your Spotify account on any device. Android users also get support for Alexa and Google’s Fast Pair tech.
While I recommend the Elite 4 Active for most people, it’s also worth quickly mentioning the $180 Elite 7 Active, which adds Jabra’s ShakeGrip technology for what the company claims is a more secure fit. You also get slightly better battery life – eight hours per bud, or 30 hours with the case – and even faster charging (an hour of playback after a five-minute charge). Lastly, choosing the Elite 7 Active over the Elite 4 Active gives you the option of either Google Assistant or Alexa, as well as voice guidance. However, you’d be giving up call controls, which you do get on the Elite 4 Active.
The most comfortable option: Beats Powerbeats Pro
What you get: A comfortable, behind-the-ear hook design that’s easy to use and is deeply integrated with iOS.
Pros: Comfortable, stable fit; pairs seamlessly with iOS devices; intuitive controls with mirrored access on the left and right sides; tied with Sony for the longest earbud battery life.
Cons: Ear-hook design isn’t the most discreet, and doesn’t fit so well with sunglasses; relatively heavy charging case; no active noise cancelation, transparency mode or customizable EQ; speaking to an assistant is slightly less convenient if it’s not Siri.
For the purposes of this guide I tested two pairs of Beats headphones: the $200 Beats Fit Pro earbuds, and the $200 Powerbeats Pro, earbuds with an over-the-ear hook design. I’ll start with the Powerbeats Pro, which I like better for exercising.
Other than being slightly conspicuous, the Powerbeats Pro comes in four colors and fits comfortably, though it doesn’t play as nicely with glasses and face masks as more compact in-ear designs. Compared to the other earbuds I tested, though, I felt especially confident the Powerbeats Pro would stay put during workouts.
Like Apple’s newest AirPods, the Powerbeats Pro use Apple’s H1 chip, which allows for particularly deep integration when you pair the earbuds with an Apple-made device. In addition to a fast, seamless pairing process, you can activate Siri by saying “Hey Siri,” without having to press a button. You can also share audio with other AirPods or Beats headphones, and can enjoy automatic switching between Apple devices.
For better and worse, the integration is so complete, in fact, that there’s no companion app; instead you check the earbuds’ and cases’ battery via other methods, such as a homescreen widget or by asking Siri.
The earbuds themselves are rated for nine hours of use, which is among the highest we’ve seen. The case is rated for a total of 24 hours of use, which isn’t bad, but given that it's not best in class you have to wonder why the case is as heavy as it is. (Heavy enough that my purse feels a little lighter without it.) iOS users won’t mind that the case charges via a Lightning cable and not USB-C, but others might be slightly put out.
If you’ve ever used AirPods or Apple’s old-school wired headphones, these should be pretty easy to master. Double-press the physical button on the earbud to skip tracks and triple-press it to go backward. I quickly came to love the physical key; it’s less finicky than a touch surface. I was also grateful for the mirroring of controls between the left and right earbuds — both left- and right-handed people should be happy.
Having tested other wireless earbuds that either lack onboard volume controls, or make it tedious, I have come to particularly appreciate the Powerbeats Pro’s onboard volume rockers – one for each earbud. I don’t know of any other workout earbuds that make it easier to adjust the volume, not even the Beats Fit Pro.
While it’s nice to have easier volume access, the audio experience is otherwise basic. There is no active noise cancellation or transparency mode. Not a dealbreaker for workouts, but something to consider if your goal is to get one pair of earbuds you can wear for everything.
Other features include support for voice assistants (yes, Google and Amazon too), but only Siri can be summoned by a voice command. You can also wear just one bud if you like (the right one) if all you need to do is talk on the phone, or if you want to keep an ear open to what’s going on around you.
Honorable mention: Beats Fit Pro
What you get: Many of the benefits of the Powerbeats Pro, with a more discreet design, a lighter charging case and the addition of ANC.
Pros: Comfortable, stable fit; pairs easily with iOS devices; compact, lightweight charging case; adds ANC and transparency modes, which the Powerbeats Pro lacks.
Cons: A smaller design than the Powerbeats Pro means shorter battery life and the loss of a physical volume rocker; no customizable EQ.
One of my main complaints about the Powerbeats Pro is that they don’t fit as well if you’re wearing sunglasses (or, in pandemic times a mask). This is where the Beats Fit Pro have the advantage: Their discreet design that promises to stay out of the way and safe even during sweaty workouts.
Available in four colors, the buds are easy to insert and comfortable to wear – just twist the bud to fold the wingtip into your upper ear. And, because the earbuds are smaller than the Powerbeats Pro, the case is markedly lighter and more compact (55g versus 80g on the Pro). Between the lightweight case and the less dorky design, the Beats Fit Pro make a strong case for themselves as earbuds you can wear not just during workouts, but everywhere.
Because the Beats Fit Pro were released more recently than the Powerbeats Pro, they have active noise cancellation, a feature older Powerbeats and AirPods products are lacking. At the same time, Apple built in a transparency mode – ideal for runners like me who would feel safer if they could still hear ambient cues like footsteps and car horns. Lastly, it supports Apple’s Spatial Audio format for a more immersive sound and will automatically kick in if you’re playing a compatible track.
For working out, the audio is fine. But if you can only afford one pair of earbuds, my colleague Billy Steele indicated in his review that the sound quality is mediocre. He found calls could be patchy and, as he notes, Beats is one of the few brands that doesn’t offer users a customizable EQ.
Out of the box, the earbuds are set to active noise cancellation. There are two ways to adjust this: You can hold down the physical button on either earbud to cycle through audio profiles. Or, you can find the earbuds in your Bluetooth settings menu and click further to see a more detailed menu of options. Not only can you adjust the mode there, but you can also change what those physical buttons do. By default, they’re for toggling audio profiles, but you can also set them up so that one earbud controls volume up, and the other volume down. Personally, I preferred having the option of adjusting the volume from my earbuds mid-workout; it’s easy to just pick an audio mode before your run and stick with it.
Other than the slightly limited volume controls, the Beats Fit Pro works much like other Beats- and Apple-branded headphones. Press the physical button once to play or pause tracks; double press to skip forward; and triple press to replay a track. For anyone upgrading from an older pair of Beats or Apple earbuds, the transition should be easy. My only word of caution is that I found the physical button on the Beats Fit Pro harder to find by feel, as it’s smaller and less indented than the button on the Powerbeats Pro.
Apple rates the Beats Fit Pro for six hours of listening time per earbud, plus an additional 18 hours from the USB-C charging case. You can also wear just one bud if you like, to squeeze out even more runtime. In my testing, the battery on the buds dropped down to 89 percent after a 35-minute run. Extrapolate that, and the math comes close to Apple’s six-hours-per-bud claim. If you’ve managed to completely exhaust both the earbud and case, Apple says its “Fast Fuel” feature will get you back to one hour of use after five minutes of charging, the same claim Jabra makes for the comparably priced Elite Active 7. (Note: Apple’s one-hour estimate assumes you won’t be using ANC.)
Under the hood, the earbuds have the same Apple-made H1 chip as the Powerbeats Pro and Apple’s newer AirPods, allowing for hands-free “Hey Siri,” audio sharing with other AirPods or Beats headphones, and automatic switching between devices. The headphones also work with the Find My app, even on Android.
The best budget workout earbuds: Sony WF-C500
What you get: Reasonably priced earbuds that prioritize a light design and good audio quality.
Pros: Lightweight; reasonably priced; support for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format; the earbuds themselves claim relatively long battery life; customizable EQ; supports Google Fast Pair.
Cons: No ANC or transparency mode; slightly trickier to pair on iOS than other earbuds we tested; the charging case has lower capacity than competing models; they have a larger, more bulbous design than others we tested (but are no less comfortable).
With the $100 WF-C500 earbuds, Sony is really emphasizing the small design: The earbuds themselves weigh 5.46 grams, while the charging case is 35g. That would be the lightest case we tested, and nearly the lightest pair of earbuds, barring the much pricier Elite Active 7. It’s worth noting that a lighter charging case means shorter case battery life (a relatively low 20 hours). Even then, the earbuds themselves offer some of the longest battery life of the bunch: 10 hours per bud. If you do run low on charge, you can get back up to an hour’s worth of capacity in 10 minutes, Sony says.
The earbuds, available in four colors, were larger than I was expecting given their light weight, but they’re easy to insert and fit comfortably. They are slightly trickier to pair on iOS than other buds I tested for this guide, though Android users will benefit from support for Google Fast Pair.
By default, a robotic voice will tell you the earbuds’ battery charge as you’re putting them in. I found this useful, though it meant that there was a delay in getting to hear whatever I had been listening to. You can always disable voice guidance in Sony’s Headphones app if that bothers you.
The truth is, I rarely had range anxiety with these headphones anyway: Unlike other earbuds, which took a roughly 10 percent hit after my usual 35-minute run, these were still at 100 percent. It’s unlikely I’ll ever wear out both the buds and charging case before getting to a wall charger.
The controls were also easy to master without having to consult Sony’s companion app. On the right earbud, press once to play or pause audio playback, or to answer or end a call. Double press to skip tracks, and triple press to go to the previous song. Long-pressing the right earbud launches or cancels a voice assistant. You can also long press to decline a call. On the left earbud, some of the controls are mirrored: you can press once to receive/end a call, and long-press to reject it. The left bud is also where the volume controls live: press once to raise it, and hold the button down to lower it.
As one of the cheaper options in this guide, the WF-C500 are the only ones without active noise cancellation. Which to me, isn’t a dealbreaker. The eartips already do a good enough job passively blocking noise, to the point where I was startled when a group of runners ran up from behind in the park and passed me. If anything, I wished the earbuds had a transparency mode that would allow more ambient noise through. Fortunately I could still hear louder noises like nearby traffic.
The lack of ANC aside, the audio quality is quite good – which makes sense, given Sony’s heritage in audio and home theater gear. Like other models listed here (barring Beats, anyway), you can adjust the EQ in the companion app. And, as you might expect, the earbuds support Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format, which is similar to Apple’s spatial tech, which in turn is built on the Dolby Atmos format.
The most customizable: Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro
What you get: Comfortable ANC earbuds with long battery life and customizable controls.
Pros: The only buds we tested with wireless charging; long battery life, especially on the charging case; active noise cancelation, a transparency mode and customizable equalizer; lots of options for setting up the controls to your liking.
Cons: Larger and a little harder to insert than competing models; touch-sensitive controls can be finicky; worse sound quality than the competition; in-app battery indicator doesn’t give you a percentage.
The $170 Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro earbuds are available in four colors, and carry a big emphasis on ergonomic fit. That includes air-filled wings, silicone ear tips (similar to other brands) and a promise of air-pressure relief, per Anker. The earbuds don’t come with the eartips or wingtips attached, which adds some friction to the setup process but, on the plus side, you get a choice of four ear tip sizes, compared with three from most other headphone makers. Inside the Soundcore app you’ll find a fit test, but I actually ended up with a more comfortable fit by just following my gut. But it’s certainly worth playing around with.
The Liberty 3 Pro is right up there with the Sony CF-500 in terms of being some of the larger earbuds I tested for this guide. That said, they fit comfortably and stay put. I will say, however, that these were consistently harder to insert than some other brands I tested, even after I’d had a bit of practice.
When I originally published this guide, in September 2020, I ruled out Anker’s $55 Soundcore Spirit Dot 2 earbuds on account of their fussy touch controls and the fact that you couldn’t adjust the volume from the buds themselves. I’m happy to report that the situation has improved – mostly. First, the bad news: The controls are still finicky, and especially difficult to get right while moving. But, they do offer volume control. (Thank goodness.) The controls are also programmable inside the Soundcore app. So you can at least customize the long press and single, double and triple taps in a way that feels intuitive. In addition to music and volume playback, you can also use the controls to toggle audio modes or to activate a voice assistant (Google or Alexa).
Just as you can modify the earbud controls, you have options as far as sound quality, too. There are ANC and transparency modes, along with a “normal” setting in between. Also, like Sony and Jabra, Anker allows you to customize the EQ from within the app. Interestingly, wind reduction is a feature you have to actively opt into. Anker says this is because the wind reducing mode dings ANC performance, and since it’s unlikely people will often find themselves in strong winds, it may as well not be turned on by default. Later this year, Anker will push out a software update that will add “enhanced vocal mode,” which promises to increase vocal pickup in the area around you, according to an Anker spokesperson.
Additionally, Anker touts three mics per earbud, along with AI noise reduction. I can’t prove that there’s a connection here, but I did notice they sounded a little tinnier compared with other headphones. Sometimes, some random buzz even crept in. It’s hard to know if that slight distortion is a result of the AI doing its work, but I wonder.
As for battery life, the Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro has the distinction of being the only earbuds we tested for this guide with a case that can charge wirelessly. The buds themselves are rated for eight hours apiece, or 32 hours with the case, making this the longest-lasting charging case we tested for this story. Anker also says that you can return to three hours of capacity after 15 minutes of charging. After a 35-minute run, the battery indicator in the app showed a mostly full charge, though unfortunately Anker doesn’t give you a percentage.
Starting a podcast is easy. Making one that actually sounds good is another story entirely. We can't help much with the bigger problems facing would-be podcasters — finding a good topic and getting people to listen — but we can point you to the best gear to get started. With a few smart purchases, you too can sound like a podcast pro.
Get a decent microphone
You need a good microphone. There's no arguing with this. It doesn't matter if you're starting your own show or planning to guest on someone else's podcast. A great microphone will elevate your voice to help you get the sort of depth and richness you hear on the radio and popular shows like Radiolab. While you could record with your phone or your PC's webcam mic in a pinch, nobody wants to hear that every week.
We strongly suggest starting with a solid USB microphone. They can connect easily to any computer (or even phones and tablets with a dongle), and they'll offer a huge leap in sound quality. Previously, we’ve recommended the Blue Yeti as the ideal beginner mic. It’s easy to use and sounds great for the price. But it’s also a condenser microphone, which means it’s not great for the noisy environments most newfound podcasters are recording in. So this year, we’re suggesting you jump straight to an inexpensive dynamic microphone like the Audio Technica ATR-2100X.
Dynamic microphones do a better job of isolating your voice and cutting out background noise — the only downside is that you need to speak close to it like a radio host. The ATR 2100X also has USB-C and XLR connections, which means you can easily bring it over to a more professional audio interface down the line, or drag it along to a friend’s studio.
There are cheaper USB microphones out there like Blue's Snowball ($80) and AmazonBasics' Mini Condenser ($45), but you’ll pay for going cheap with noisier recordings. If you're serious about podcasting, it's worth spending a bit more up front: There's a good chance you'll end up chucking a cheaper mic once you hear the difference.
You should actually read the instructions and make sure you know what every dial and button does. Most importantly, make sure you're speaking in the right direction! With most microphones, including the Blue Yeti, you want to aim at the side with the brand label. Some models, like the ATR2100X and other dynamic mics, need to be addressed from the top. Yes, I know this all sounds basic, but I've encountered dozens of people who end up aiming for the wrong part of their mics when they're getting started.
It's also worth picking up a few accessories to make your recordings sound great. Get a pop filter or foam cover to avoid plosives (that annoying titutal pop when you make "p" sounds). If you're going to be recording regularly, it's worth investing in a tabletop arm to hold your mic in an optimal position (and also avoid the extra noise you get from desktop stands).
You could, of course, start exploring more-expensive microphone options, but I'd suggest holding off on those until you're more committed to the podcasting life. The next big level up from USB options is the world of XLR microphones, the same interface used for professional audio gear. You'll also need a USB audio interface, like the Tascam US-2x2 or FocusRite Scarlett 2i2 ($170), to connect those mics to your computer. At that point, you can start looking at higher-end options like the Rode Procaster ($224). It sounds noticeably richer than the Yeti, and since it's a dynamic microphone, it's also better at cutting out unwanted noise.
Here's some advice: You can save quite a bit by buying all this equipment used or refurbished. I saved $100 on the excellent Shure PG42 USB microphone years ago by going through eBay.
Now that you have the hardware, you need some software to put your show together. There's no avoiding this part: You need to learn the basics of audio editing. Luckily, there's Audacity, a free, open-source audio editor that works across every computing platform. Its UI is ugly and a bit archaic, but it's also pretty powerful once you get a handle on it. I've edited all of my shows with Audacity, and aside from a few annoying crashes and quirks, it suits my needs well.
If you're looking for something more robust or you grow tired of Audacity, the free version of AVID's Pro Tools is worth a look, and there's Reaper by Winamp creator Justin Frankel. They're both full-fledged digital audio workstations (DAW), and Reaper also has the bonus of working with plenty of tools and plug-ins. At the high end of the spectrum, there's Adobe Audition, but at $21 per month, or $240 for the year, it's not worth considering until podcasting has become your life.
Get good headphones
Headphones are the best way to monitor your recordings — that is, to hear yourself as you're recording — as well as to make sure they sound great once completed. You'll definitely want something better than the earbuds that came with your phones. We recommend starting with something like Sony's MDR-7506 ($98), a pair of over-the-ear headphones that have been studio mainstays for decades. They offer a neutral sound and a light fit, exactly what you'll need for hours of editing. If you've already picked up a pair of great headphones, those will work fine. (Be sure to turn off any noise-canceling features, though, as they can color what you're hearing while monitoring recordings.)
We're not going to go down the rabbit hole of recommending large speakers like you'd find in a real studio. They're not worth it for podcast editing, and most people will be listening to your show with headphones anyway. Of course, if you make something that sounds great on headphones, it'll probably be fine on speakers.
You can't just set up your fancy new microphone anywhere! You'll want to find a room that's as quiet as possible, or even a small closet. If both of those options are out, carve out some space in the corner or along a wall of a larger room. Wherever you set up, you'll need to treat your space a bit with some foam wedges or other sound-absorbing objects. You can always go the simple route: Drape a curtain or blanket over your desk to create an isolated sound-dampened spot.
Learn how to record with friends
So now you're all set to record a podcast on your own. But how do you bring in a co-host or guest? That's where things get a bit complicated. You could chat with a friend over Skype and record their audio using something like Total Recorder on Windows or Soundflower on Mac. You'll want to make sure the other person is also aiming for the best audio quality with a high-quality mic. In a pinch, you can have a guest record a voice memo on their phone (but be sure to follow NPR's phone-recording guidelines).
To simplify remote group recordings, you could consider web-based services like Zencastr and Cast, which automatically capture high-quality local audio. They’ll get you better quality than a Skype recording, since you’re not dealing with compressed audio from your guests. These services let you quickly edit and process recordings online as well. While they may sound like podcasting heaven, there are issues to watch out for. Network interruptions could easily render a session useless, and they’re demanding on systems with minimal RAM. If you go this route, be sure to have backup recordings.
For the most control, your co-host can record their side of the conversation on their end and send it to you afterward. This obviously introduces additional layers of complexity, like making sure your audio stays synchronized throughout the whole recording. It's also tougher to edit, since you're juggling multiple files on a timeline instead of one. But honestly, the quality bump is worth it. If you're looking to hone your audio-editing skills, there are online tutorials like this Udemy course or YouTube instructional videos.
Recording with another person physically near you is a bit tougher. Some mics like the Blue Yeti have modes for shared recording. Otherwise, you'll need to get a USB audio interface to plug multiple XLR mics into your computer. If you're going that route, you'll have to be extra careful about avoiding crossover recordings on those mics. If you're looking to record interviews on the go, nab a digital audio recorder like the Zoom H1n ($120) and a few mics like Rode's Lavalier Go ($79). Since it won't sound nearly as good as a home setup, I wouldn't recommend this as your main recording method (unless you invest in a powerful recorder with support for pro-grade XLR mics).
Once you've locked in an episode or two, it's time to start exploring podcast hosts. These will host your files, give you a feed you can subscribe to in any podcast app and usually help you list your show on iTunes, Spotify and other services. Most important, you can get some detailed analytics from hosts, and if you get popular enough, they can also help you nab some sponsorships. You can get started for free with Acast, $5 per month with Libsyn, or $10 per month with Audioboom.