The iOS 15 release brings an added treat if you're a fan of immersive audio: a better soundstage for your tunes. As hinted at WWDC in June, iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 users now have dynamic head tracking for spatial audio in Apple Music. So long as you're using the AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, instruments and vocals will have a fixed-in-place virtual presence — turn your head and that guitar or vocal will pan accordingly.
Apple had promised Apple Music head tracking in the fall, but hadn't directly linked it to iOS 15 at the time. You don't need Apple's higher-end AirPods if you're content with 'regular' spatial audio, although you will need some form of AirPods or Beats earphones if you want automatic Dolby Atmos support.
Yes, it's a not-so-subtle sales pitch for higher-end AirPods. It's only useful for that subset of the Apple Music catalog with spatial audio support, for that matter. All the same, it could be appreciated if you want a more natural-sounding (or at least, less jarring) approach to 360-degree audio.
You won't need Roku's new Streaming Stick 4K to take advantage of its latest software features. The Roku OS 10.5 update, which will roll out to players and TVs in the next few weeks, will be jam-packed with features to make your streaming life easier. There's expanded Roku Voice support, which will let you ask players (with supported remotes) to start playing content from Netflix, Spotify and most other channels. And the company has added a Live TV Channel Guide to help find free TV content (so far there are more than 200 live channels to sift through).
But more importantly for the Roku faithful, there are even more configurations for the company's wireless speakers. Roku OS 10.5 will let you use any of the company's soundbars — the Streambar, Streambar Pro and Smart Soundbar — as a center channel flanked by Roku wireless speakers. Put that setup together with two more rear speakers and a wireless sub, and voila, you've got a full-fledged 5.1 surround solution. Previously, you were only able to use Roku's soundbars as all of your front channels (left, right and center).
From what I recall of Roku's earlier surround solution, it sounded more than adequate for a small room. I haven't heard the company's 5.1 setup yet, but generally having more speakers is always better. At the very least, you can expect clearer dialog and better front channel separation. I can't say if it's worth shelling out up to $630 for all of Roku's speakers ($300 for four wireless speakers, $180 for the StreamBar Pro, and $150 for the wireless subwoofer), but it's nice to have the flexibility to build out a full system if you've already invested in a few of them.
Roku OS 10.5 will also add some audio improvements for headphones. When you connect a wireless headset to the Roku mobile app, it will adjust your sync settings based on the type of headphone you're using. You'll also be able to use your smartphone camera to adjust the audio delay even further. That's a useful feature for anyone using Bluetooth headphones, where audio delay issues are fairly common.
To coincide with expanded Spotify voice support, Roku is also adding a new music and podcasts row to its system search. You'll be able to see results from Spotify's entire library, but more importantly it opens the door for better audio app support on Roku OS.
You'll now have a better choice of microphones if you're eager to start livestreaming or record your first podcast. AKG has quietly released the Ara, a $99 USB condenser mic clearly aimed at streamers and others just upgrading from their earbuds and headsets. You only have two capture patterns (front-only and omnidirectional) versus the $155 Lyra's four, and you're limited to a 96kHz sample rate instead of the pricier model's 192kHz. However, those might not be major issues if you're compressing audio for streams and downloads.
You'll still get some common perks like mounting options and a headphone output for monitoring. The mic works with any computer or mobile device that supports USB audio.
The Ara is available now. Whether or not it's a better buy over its most obvious rival, Blue's Yeti Nano, is a tougher call. You won't have the Yeti Nano's software effects or flashier design (an important consideration as a streamer), but you'll also get a higher sampling rate than Blue's 48kHz offering. It may just be a matter of priorities.
Apple didn't even touch on the HomePod line during its iPhone 13 event, but that doesn't mean the smart speakers will go untouched this fall. 9to5Macnotes an impending version 15 update will make the HomePod considerably more useful, particularly if it's part of a larger smart home. To start, you can set two or more HomePod minis as your default speakers for an Apple TV 4K. You won't have to specify them when it's time to sit down for a movie. They won't exactly produce thunderous audio, but they could save you from buying separate smart speakers or a pricier soundbar.
You also won't have to approach your HomePod to use Siri. The update enables Siri voice control through supporting HomeKit accessories. While Apple's smart home ecosystem isn't nearly as large as Amazon's or Google's, that could be handy if you want to quickly turn the lights on.
Other improvements are subtler, but could be valuable in the right circumstances. You can ask Siri to turn on your Apple TV, play a title and control playback. You'll automatically see playback controls on your lock screen if a nearby HomePod mini is playing music. You'll get notifications if compatible HomeKit Secure Video cameras and doorbells detect a package at your door. This is also a big update if you've ever woken your partner or neighbors by mistake — Siri will adjust its speaking volume based on both the room and your own voice, and you can specify a lower bass level to avoid irritating people in the apartment below.
Apple didn't outline the HomePod update's release timing, but it's likely to arrive on September 20th alongside iOS 15 and watchOS 8. Don't assume you'll get the vaunted spatial audio or Apple Music lossless updates, however. The release notes don't indicate support will be available with version 15, so you'll likely have to wait for a follow-up patch to experience more immersive HomePod sound.
Sony has a second color option for its Pulse 3D headset: Midnight Black. It complements the Sony released for PlayStation 5 in June — the products share the same color scheme.
The headset's original white and black colorway matches the PS5's design. Here's hoping Sony is working on first-party black plates for the console to mirror the look of the newer peripherals.
The latest version of the headphones will be available on October 22nd. Pre-orders for the $100 headset are open on PlayStation Direct.
The company created the headset to take advantage of the PS5's spatial audio tech, which aims to place sounds in places that match what you're seeing on screen. There are dual microphones built in, which will come in useful for speaking with your teammates or if you're streaming your gameplay (though a dedicated mic is probably a better option).
The headphones are primarily designed for PS5 and will work with PS4, PCs and Macs via the wireless USB transmitter. There's no Bluetooth, but you can connect the headset to other devices through a 3.5mm headphone port or by using an adaptor.
Sony is today that not only unlocks the console's expansion slot, but adds equalizer settings for Pulse 3D. There are three presets: Standard, Bass Boost and Shooter. The latter puts more emphasis on shots being fired and footsteps. You can craft your own presets and save up to three for easy access. You'll be able to change the equalizer settings through the Control Center, so you don't need to access the console's main menu system to switch things up.
Meanwhile, the latest PS5 system software adds support for 3D audio through built-in TV speakers. So, if you prefer to play without headphones and don't have a surround sound audio system, you may still get some of the effects of spatial audio.
You can finally use wireless headphones and earbuds with the Nintendo Switch. The gaming giant has quietly announced on Twitter that it has rolled out a software update, which gives the Switch the ability to pair with Bluetooth devices for audio output. After updating, you'll now see a Bluetooth Audio section under Settings, as well as a new status indicator that shows whether a pair of headphones is connected.
The latest #NintendoSwitch update is now available, including the ability to pair Bluetooth devices for audio output.
The new feature only works with devices for audio output only, though, and doesn't support microphone input via Bluetooth. You can only pair your Switch with two controllers at once while using Bluetooth audio, so you'll have to disconnect your device if you want to get into wild eight-player battles with friends. And while up to 10 Bluetooth devices can be saved on the system, only one can connect to the console at any one time. In addition, you can't use wireless headphones or earphones when you play local wireless multiplayer games — Switch would automatically cut your connection.
Wireless audio has been conspicuously missing from the Switch since it first launched. Over the years, several third-party manufacturers released accessories that added support for wireless audio devices, while a previous update also added support for USB headphones. This update, however, will finally make it a lot easier to go wireless, considering it will allow you to connect the Bluetooth earphone you use with all your other gadgets.
Jabra has built quite a reputation for true wireless earbuds. Over the last few years, the company has continued to refine its mix of features and functionality, consistently creating some of the most reliable buds that do nearly everything well. The one item still left on the agenda was a low-cost model: a set of earbuds that gave users good sound, handy tools and solid battery life for under $100. With the Elite 3, the company does just that, and in the process it designed arguably its best true wireless product yet.
With its three new Elite models, Jabra introduced an all-new design and made all of them smaller than its previous offerings. Until now, the Elite 75t was the company’s smallest set of earbuds. But the even more compact Elite 3 makes them more comfortable than the Elite 75t and the new shape, which Jabra is also using on the Elite 7 Pro and Elite 7 Active, better mimics the curves of your ear. Jabra says it used over 62,000 ear scans to create the shape by mapping the details of the average human ear. Instead of being more circular, the Elite 3 and its pricier siblings have a rounded triangular shell.
Previous Jabra earbud models, up through the Elite 85t, all had a circle button for the on-board controls. A small triangular elbow that pointed down towards your face housed microphones. With the Elite 3, the button is a triangle now and covers the entire outer surface. All of the microphones are around the edge — one close to your face and the other up top. The inside of the earbuds are still the nozzle-like design Jabra has used in the past. So like a lot of the competition, there’s a good portion of each bud resting in your ear canal.
Like previous Jabra models, the on-board controls are physical buttons as opposed to touch panels. This means you actually have to press them, but it also means they’re more reliable. On the right side, you can play/pause (single press), skip tracks forward (double press), skip tracks backwards (triple press) and turn the volume up (press and hold). On the left, the same actions cover turning ambient sound on/off (single), activating your voice assistant (double) and volume down (press and hold). There’s nothing assigned to the triple press on the left earbud. Android users can also opt for quick access to Spotify, but you’ll have to replace the ability to summon your assistant.
Everything that’s available as an on-board control is right on the buds already, so you don’t need to pick up your phone for the basics. And that means that during workouts, for which the Elite 3’s dust and water resistance is well-suited (IP55), you can quickly press a button and get right back to your exercise. The one key thing that is missing here is automatic pausing. It’s annoying, but lots of earbuds in this price range omit that feature so I wouldn’t consider it a dealbreaker.
The included charging case is almost identical to the one that came with the Elite 75t. It too is quite compact, easily tucking into a small pocket for transport. The Elite 3 case is noticeably lighter though and the materials used to make it feel a bit cheap. The lid in particular is a bit flimsy. Of course, if the case protects your earbuds and consistently keeps them charged, I’m willing to bet there won’t be many complaints.
When it comes to audio quality with sub-$100 earbuds, you typically get muted, muffled sound that lacks any kind of depth or bassy thump. Anker’s Soundcore line is an exception to this, and now you can add Jabra to that list as well. I was immediately impressed with the Elite 3’s sound quality. The tuning is well-balanced, but the low-end tone booms when it's needed. The kick drum is deep and dynamic across rock tracks, and beats are energetic with hip-hop and electronic styles. Songs that were recorded to sound open and airy, like CHVRCHES’s “How Not To Drown” or John Mayer’s “Last Train Home,” are just that. Even the best-tuned cheap earbuds can have sound that feels compressed, and that’s far from the case on the Elite 3.
Jabra’s sound profile here is also adept at highlighting details. On the aforementioned CHVRCHES track, you can easily hear finer touches like the rattle of the snare drum. Little things like string noise and gritty guitar distortion throughout Chris Stapelton’s Starting Over add another dimension to the album. Even though Jabra only gives you a few presets to adjust the EQ with, it doesn’t matter: the Elite 3 outshines pricier competition with sound quality thanks to a mix of balanced tuning, punchy bass, great clarity and inviting depth.
The Elite 3 is equipped with ambient sound, or HearThrough as Jabra calls it, but the audio quality here isn’t as good as some more expensive sets. Don’t get me wrong, it does its job piping in the noises around you when you activate it. Things are muffled though, and the earbuds only pick up your voice when you’re on a call (sidetone). So for all the times you might want transparency, you still feel shouty when you’re having a quick chat IRL.
Like a lot of headphones companies, Jabra promises “crystal-clear calls” with the Elite 3. And like much of the competition, that claim doesn’t pan out. These earbuds are perfectly serviceable for phone and video calls, but they’re far from “crystal clear.” You end up sounding like you’re on speakerphone, and there’s a dull roar in the background at all times. Does it get the job done? Yes. Do you sound great? No. Jabra does make up for its shortcomings with a few handy features, though.
First, the Elite 3 automatically switches to HearThrough mode on calls and you can enable sidetone to pipe in even more of your voice so you don’t feel the need to yell. There’s also a handy mute control on the earbuds, disabling the mics with a single press on either side. Lastly, Jabra has enabled a mono mode on this set, so you can use a single earbud at all times, even while the other is charging.
The Elite 3 works with Jabra’s Sound+ app that supports a lot of its earbuds, headphones and headsets, but the options this time around are very limited. On the main screen, there’s the usual battery level percentage up top, a HearThrough (ambient sound) control and a collection of six audio presets. Unlike other Jabra models, there’s no manual EQ and obviously no noise cancellation control. HearThrough mode is also all or nothing, there’s no slider like there is for some of the company’s other earbuds.
If you dive further into the settings, the Elite 3 is compatible with Find My Jabra if you misplace an earbud and you can also activate sidetone during calls so you can monitor your own volume. When you’re on a call sidetone control will appear on the main screen for quick access. The on-board controls, however, are set and you can’t reconfigure them. Thankfully, Jabra covers the basics there, so you don’t really need to change anything. As I mentioned, you get a few additional options for the on-board controls with Android, but that’s the only difference from the iOS app. On Android devices, the Elite 3 also supports Google Fast Pair, which makes connecting to your phone a breeze.
Jabra promises up to seven hours of battery life on the earbuds themselves with an additional three charges in the case. This is slightly better than a lot of the competition these days, where many of those options hover around the five-hour mark. The case isn’t equipped with wireless charging, but there is a fast-charge feature that gives you an hour of use in 10 minutes. During my tests, one of the Elite 3 buds died 15 minutes short of seven hours, while the other lasted 20 minutes past the stated time limit. If you’re docking these in the case a couple times, you should have no trouble getting a full workday and then some.
At $80, Jabra has undercut much of the big-name true wireless competition. The cheapest AirPods are $159, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 2 will cost you $150 and Sony’s WF-XB700 is $130. Unless, of course, you can find any of those on sale. At full price though, affordable options from what I’d consider “the big three” are all more expensive than Jabra.
A worthy alternative to the Elite 3 is Anker’s Soundcore Spirit Dot 2. They’re the same price as Jabra’s latest in a tiny, comfy form factor with punchy bass, on-board controls and an IPX7 rating. The Spirit Dot 2 offers five and half hours of battery life, though I only managed about four and a half during my review. There’s also no on-board volume controls, which could be a dealbreaker for some. The good news is Anker has a literal ton of other affordable true wireless options, including the newer noise-cancelling Liberty Air 2 Pro with a more AirPod-like design.
After covering the audio beat for years, it’s rare that I’m surprised by a set of earbuds. I typically have a good idea of what to expect before buds are in-hand and spec sheets rarely undersell products like these. With the Elite 3, I can honestly say Jabra exceeded my expectations. These are an incredible value for the price, mostly due to sound quality that is better than some of the competition that costs twice as much and an all-new design that’s both tiny and comfy.
Sony debuted its latest flagship Dolby Atmos soundbar in July. The HT-A7000 is also the first of the company's soundbars to support 360 Reality Audio. The device is premium in every way, from connectivity options that include both 8K and 4K/120fps passthrough right down to the $1,300 price tag. If you don't want to spend that much, but still crave the same features, Sony announced another home theater speaker today. The HT-A5000 is a 5.1.2-channel soundbar that offers nearly all of the same bells and whistles as the A7000, but for $400 less.
In addition to Dolby Atmos, the A5000 also supports DTS:X, and Sony's Vertical Surround Engine simulates audio above your head thanks two a pair of upward firing drivers. S-Force Pro Front Surround creates a wider soundscape horizontally, using the company's X-Balanced speakers and "digital sound field processing" tech in an attempt to make things more immersive. In terms of the actual speakers, the A5000 has seven of those X-Balanced drivers: two up-firing, three front-firing, two built-in subwoofers. The soundbar also packs in a pair of beam tweeters situated on the front corners of the device. If you happen to own a compatible Bravia TV, Sony offers a Center Speaker Mode that uses the television speakers to boost the center channel. The company says that this can help with things like dialog and a secondary wired connection to the TV ensures sound and visuals are in sync.
To properly calibrate the A5000 to your living room, Sony's Sound Field Optimization feature uses built-in microphones to measure speaker position in relation to the walls and the ceiling. This tool can also assess the position of any satellite speakers or a subwoofer to ensure the system is properly adjusted for the space.
For connectivity, a single HDMI eARC output allows for 8K HDR, 4K/120Hz and Dolby Vision passthrough, making the A5000 a worthy option for gaming in addition to movies and television. The soundbar also offers AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth and WiFi for wireless connections, in addition to Alexa and Google Assistant for voice control via a separate device. The A5000 is compatible with Hi-Res Audio content and it employs Sony's AI-powered DSEE Extreme technology to upscale compressed files in real time, restoring someof the detail that's otherwise lost. 360 Reality Audio is available for use here via Amazon Music HD, Deezer, Tidal or nugs.net.
There are a few key differences between the A7000 and the A5000. First, the former is a 7.1.2-channel soundbar while the latter is 5.1.2. Depending on your sonic preferences, those two extra channels and two extra speakers may make a difference in immersive sound. Typically, more channels and more speakers means better audio quality and more detail, but some folks may be just fine with a 5.1.2 setup. On the A7000, the tweeters are positioned in a way so that they bounce sound off the side walls to help with the overall immersion. Lastly, the A5000 only has one HDMI 2.1 (eARC) input and the A7000 has two. From supported audio formats to Sony's various home theater tech, nearly all of what the A7000 has to offer is available on the A5000.
Like the A7000, the A5000 works with Sony's latest arsenal of satellite speakers and subwoofers. The company announced two subwoofer options, the SA-SW5 and SA-SW3, and a pair of rear satellite speakers (SA-RS3S) as separate add-ons when it debuted the A7000 in July. All three connect to the HT-A5000 wirelessly. The difference between the two subs is the SW5 packs 300 watts of booming bass via a 7-inch driver and the SW3 offers 200 watts of low-end tone with a 6-inch speaker.
The HT-A5000 will go on sale "in early fall" for $900 at Sony retailers. The SA-SW5 and SA-SW3 subwoofers are $700 and $400 respectively, while the SA-RS3S satellite speakers are $350. All three of those expansion items should be available in September or October alongside the A7000. Sony hasn't yet announced exact dates for any of this new home theater gear just yet.
The company claims the Soundbar 900 goes beyond the overhead spatial audio offered by most Atmos soundbars. It says Bose PhaseGuide tech can create horizontal audio effects as well. The Soundbar 900 blends Bose's spatial audio knowhow with custom arrays, dipole transducers and low-profile transducers to create "a layer of realism," according to the company. Even if the show or movie you're watching doesn't support Dolby Atmos, Bose says its tech can still create effective spatial audio effects by remixing signals.
Bose is promising strong bass performance with almost no distortion with the help of its QuietPort tech. The Adaptiq feature, meanwhile, calibrates audio for your space.
The speaker includes decent connectivity, including HDMI eARC for hooking it up to your TV, as well as WiFi, Bluetooth, Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Spotify Connect and AirPlay 2 support. You can link the device to other Bose smart speakers, including as part of a multi-room system, and expand your home theater setup with a subwoofer or rear satellite speakers. The Soundbar 900 is also compatible with the company's new QuietComfort 45 headphones.
The device has rounded corners and it's 2.3 inches tall, a little over four inches deep and 41 inches long (a couple of inches longer than the Soundbar 700). It's designed primarily for 50-inch and larger TVs; it might look out of place below a smaller screen.
When it comes trade show time, JBL typically debuts an entire truckload of newproducts. Although IFA isn't happening in Berlin this year due to COVID-19, the company is still ready to show off all of the new audio gear that will arrive this fall. That list includes four new models of true wireless earbuds, two new portable speakers, a set of noise-cancelling headphones for kids and a wireless gaming headset.
All of the true wireless earbuds
Sitting atop JBL's latest true wireless earbuds list is the Reflect Flow Pro. This sporty model is rated IP68 waterproof with the company's Powerfin fit wings to help keep them in place during a run or workout. Active noise cancellation (ANC) can help you block out unwanted distractions while a Smart Ambient feature allows you to be aware of your surroundings with audio transparency.
JBL promises "perfect voice clarity" on calls with the Reflect Flow Pro thanks to six microphones: two beamforming with a third for wind suppression on each side. Companies make lofty claims about voice performance all the time, so it will be interesting to see how close JBL actually gets to perfection. The Reflect Flow Pro will last up to eight hours on a charge with ANC on, with an additional two charges in the wireless charging case. You can also expect hands-free access to Google Assistant, customizable touch controls and compatibility with JBL's Headphones app. The Reflect Flow Pro will go on sale November 14th for $179.95 (€179).
For more affordable options, JBL is debuting follow-ups to the Tune 125 TWS and Tune 225 TWS earbuds. The new Tune 130NC and Tune 230NC have nearly identical spec sheets that include features like Pure Bass Sound, ANC, eight-hour battery life (ANC on), IPX4 water resistance, touch controls and a four-microphone array for calls. The differences are mostly in the designs: the Tune 230NC has an AirPods like stickbud look while the Tune 130NC is a more compact round shape. The latter also has larger 10mm drivers compared to the former's 5.8mm components. Both versions will arrive on October 17th and they're both $99.95 (€99).
Last but not least, JBL's fourth new true wireless model will only be available in the US. The Endurance Race joins the company's lineup of sport-themed Endurance products that include the Run, Sprint, Jump, Dive and Peak audio options. Like previous installments, the Endurance Race is IP67 waterproof, designed to mix durability with comfort to withstand workouts and weather. JBL's Pure Bass Sound is here as well, on top of 10-hour battery life, touch controls and ambient sound. There's no active noise cancellation or wireless charging here, but the price is affordable at $79.95. The Endurance Race is set to go on sale October 17th.
JBL JR 460NC headphones
Let's face it: most wireless headphones aren't designed to be used by kids. They're not nearly durable enough to withstand the constant drops and tosses into backpacks, plus you have to worry if your little ones are listening too loud. JBL says its new JR 460NC should address both of those concerns. The company's Safe Sound feature keeps volume under 85dB and the headphones are made with "child-friendly, safe materials." ANC will help block out distractions for homework or travel, controls should be easy for kids to master and 20 hours of battery life ensures lots of use between charges. The JR 460NC is scheduled to arrive in the US this month for $79.95.
JBL Flip 6 and Partybox 710 portable speakers
For your portable speaker needs, JBL has two very different new options. First, the Flip 6 is a compact Bluetooth model designed for the outdoors with an IP67 dust and waterproof rating and 12 hours of battery life. The company says its dual passive radiator speaker configuration offers "deep bass" and "stunning detail," thanks in part to a "racetrack-shaped" woofer and separate tweeter. The Flip 6 can also be used in PartyBoost mode where you can connect it to other compatible JBL speakers for more volume. This model will arrive in the US in December for $129.95 after debuting in Europe in November for €139. Grey, teal, blue, black and "squad" color options will be available at launch.
The JBL PartyBox 710 is, as the name suggests, a single speaker large enough to power a whole dang party. This model joins the company's other options that are built for more than just casual listening. With 800 watts of power and an on-board light show, this quickly becomes an all-in-one entertainment machine. That's especially true when you factor in the guitar and microphone inputs. There's also Bluetooth and USB connectivity for music and one-touch stereo pairing with another PartyBox 710. The JBL PartyBox app allows you to control everything from tunes to the light show and more. Lastly, the massive speaker is IPX4 splashproof to evade accidental spill damage and its built-in handle and wheels help with transport. The 710 will debut in Europe in October for €749 before arriving in the US in November for $799.95.
JBL Quantum 350 wireless gaming headset
If you're looking for a new wireless gaming headset, the JBL Quantum 350 checks a number of boxes. The headphones support "gaming-grade" lossless 2.4G wireless connectivity with a USB dongle, according to the company. JBL says 40mm drivers inside are powered by its QuantumSound Signature and QuantumSurround handles the immersive audio. The company's QuantumEngine PC software will enable you to customize the EQ, sidetone, mic settings and more. JBL promises comfort with a lightweight design and memory foam ear pads with up to 22 hours of battery life to keep you going well into the night. The company says the Quantum 350 is Discord certified and also compatible with both Skype and TeamSpeak. Most importantly, the headset goes on sale later this month for $99.95 (€119).