Posts with «speakers & headphones» label

The best smart speakers you can buy

When Amazon first introduced Alexa and the Echo speaker years ago, the idea of talking to a digital assistant wasn't totally novel. Both the iPhone and Android phones had semi-intelligent voice controls — but with the Echo, Amazon took its first step toward making something like Alexa a constant presence in your home. Since then, Apple and Google have followed suit, and now there's a huge variety of smart speakers available at various price points.

As the market exploded, the downsides of having a device that's always listening for a wake word have become increasingly apparent. They can get activated unintentionally, sending private recordings back to monolithic companies to analyze. And even at the best of times, giving more personal information to Amazon, Apple and Google can be a questionable decision. That said, all these companies have made it easier to manage how your data is used — you can opt out of humans reviewing some of your voice queries, and it's also less complicated to manage and erase your history with various digital assistants, too.

The good news is that there's never been a better time to get a smart speaker, particularly if you're a music fan. For all their benefits, the original Amazon Echo and Google Home devices did not sound good. Sonos, on the other hand, made great sounding WiFi-connected speakers, but they lacked any voice-controlled smarts.

That's all changed now. Sonos is including both Alexa and Google Assistant support in its latest speakers. Google and Amazon, meanwhile, made massive improvements in sound quality with recent speakers. Even lower-end models like the Echo Dot and Nest Mini sound much better than earlier iterations. With the growing popularity of these speakers, there are now more options than ever. Let’s walk through the best choices at different price points and for different uses.

Picking an assistant

The first thing most people should do is decide what voice assistant they want to use. Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa are both well-supported options that are continually evolving, with new features added at a steady clip. A few years ago, Alexa worked with more smart home devices, but at this point, basically any smart device worth buying works with both.

It's mostly a matter of personal preference. If you already use Google Assistant on your Android phone, it makes sense to stick with that. But while Alexa isn’t quite as good at answering general knowledge questions, it syncs just fine with things like calendars from your Google account. And it works with perhaps the widest variety of smart home devices, as well. If you’ve never used Alexa or Google Assistant, you can download their apps to your smart phone and spend some time testing them out before buying a speaker.

As for Apple, you won’t be surprised to learn its HomePod mini is the only Siri-compatible speaker on the market, now that Apple has discontinued the larger HomePod. Siri has a reputation for not being as smart as Alexa or Google Assistant, but it’s totally capable of handling common voice queries like answering questions, controlling smart home devices, sending messages, making calls and playing music. Technically, Siri and Apple’s HomeKit technology doesn’t work with as many smart home devices as the competition, but it’s not hard to find compatible gear. And since the HomePod mini arrived last fall, Apple has added some handy features like a new Intercom tool. Apple is also starting to support music services besides Apple Music. Currently, Pandora is the only other option, but Apple has confirmed that Amazon Music will eventually work natively on the HomePod mini as well.

Best smart speaker under $50: Amazon Echo Dot


Most people's entry point into the smart speaker world will not be an expensive device. Amazon's fourth-generation Echo Dot and Google's Nest Mini are the most obvious places to start for two important reasons. One, they're cheap: Both the Nest Mini and Echo Dost cost $50. Two, they're capable. Despite the low price, these speakers can do virtually the same things as larger and more expensive devices.

Buy Echo Dot at Amazon - $50Buy Nest Mini at Walmart - $50

The Nest Mini was released in late 2019, but Amazon just refreshed the Echo Dot in 2020. After testing both devices, I think the Echo Dot is the best small smart speaker for most people. Amazon keeps improving the audio quality across its Echo line, and the Echo Dot is no exception. It produces much louder and clearer audio than I’d expect from a $50 speaker. The Nest Mini doesn’t sound bad, and it’s perfectly fine for listening in the bedroom while getting ready for the day, but the Echo Dot is a better all-purpose music listening device.

From a design perspective, Amazon broke the mold with the latest Echo Dot. Instead of a small puck like the Nest Mini, the new Dot is shaped like a little globe. It’s much bigger than the Nest Mini, but that size gives it room for higher-end audio components. The Dot keeps the handy physical volume buttons and mute switch on top, along with a button to activate Alexa. While the Dot doesn’t look as sleek as the Nest Mini, having physical buttons makes it easier to adjust volume and mute the mic. I do wish the Dot had a way to physically pause music; on the Nest Mini, if you tap the middle of the device, the music stops.

Another benefit the Echo Dot has over the Nest Mini is its 3.5mm audio out jack, which means you can plug it into other speakers and instantly upgrade the audio quality. When you do that, you can ask Alexa to stream music, and it'll output to whatever speaker you have connected. That'll help you get more mileage out of the Dot in the long run. The Nest Mini answers with a handy wall mount, for people who want to keep their counter or shelf clear. The Echo Dot’s new bulbous form is definitely not suited to this, so if you want a speaker you can really hide, the Nest Mini is probably the better choice.

Overall, the Dot is the best choice for most people, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Nest Mini, either. I generally prefer using Google Assistant over Alexa, and anyone who feels the same should go ahead and get the Nest Mini. The Dot does sound notably better, so if you plan to listen to audio on a regular basis, that’s probably the way to go. But if you only plan to use it for a quick song or podcast when you’re getting ready in the morning, just pick your favorite assistant and go from there.

Best smart speaker under $100: Amazon Echo


Amazon, Apple and Google all have $100 smart speakers: the fourth-generation Echo, the HomePod mini and the Nest Audio, respectively. All three companies claim superior audio quality, so for lots of people these speakers will be the sweet spot between small speakers like the Echo Dot and Nest Mini and bigger, more expensive models like the Sonos One.

Buy Echo at Amazon - $100Buy HomePod mini at B&H - $100Buy Nest Audio at Walmart - $100

Once again, Amazon punches above its weight. Like the Dot, the new Echo is totally redesigned and the new internals were made with music in mind. It combines a three-inch woofer with two 0.8-inch tweeters — a more advanced setup than either the Nest Audio or HomePod mini. (The Nest Audio uses a three-inch woofer but only a single 0.75-inch tweeter, while the HomePod mini makes do with a single “full range” driver and two passive radiators.)

In practice, this means the Echo is noticeably louder than either the Nest Audio or HomePod mini and much better suited to filling a large room than the competition. It also delivers an impressive bass thump and powerful mid-range frequencies. In fact, my main complaint with the speaker is that highs aren’t quite crisp enough. Compare the Echo to a Sonos One and the One sounds much more lively, while the Echo comes off a bit muddy. Then again, the Sonos One costs twice as much as the Echo.

While the Echo may beat the Nest Audio and HomePod mini on volume and bass, Google and Apple’s speakers are not bad options. The HomePod mini is the quietest of the three speakers, but it still sounds balanced across the entire audio spectrum. The bass isn’t too assertive, but there’s more presence than I would have expected given its tiny size (it’s by far the smallest of these three speakers).

And it has a few nice perks if you’re using an iPhone 11 or newer. Thanks to the U1 “ultra-wideband” chip in recent iPhones, the HomePod mini can tell when there’s a phone near it, which makes handing off music from your phone to the speaker (or vice versa) quite simple. Playback controls for the HomePod mini will automatically pop up as well, and your phone’s lock screen will display music suggestions if the speaker isn’t currently playing. Setup is also dead-simple — just bring an iPhone or iPad near the speaker and it’ll automatically start the process.

Google’s Nest Audio is also quite pleasant to listen to. It’s a little louder than the HomePod mini, and has stronger bass, to boot. It doesn’t have the same overall power and presence that the Echo does, but for $100 it’s a well-balanced speaker that should serve most people’s needs.

All three of these speakers support stereo pairing as well, if you want more volume or crave a more immersive experience. For $200, two Echoes will fill a large room with high-quality sound and enough bass to power a party. A pair of HomePod mini or Nest Audio speakers aren’t quite as powerful, but it makes for a great upgrade if you’re a more avid listener. A pair of Nest Audio or HomePod mini speakers sounded great on my desk during the workday. I don’t need overwhelming volume but can appreciate the stereo separation. And two of those speakers together can easily power a larger living space, although the Echo is the better choice if volume is a priority.

Here too, I think that picking the assistant that works best in your house and with your other gadgets is probably the most important factor — but given Alexa’s ubiquity and the new Echo’s superior sound quality, I think it’s the best smart speaker at this price point.

Best midrange smart speakers: Sonos One, Amazon Echo Studio

If you have more than a passing interest in music, the Echo Dot and Nest Mini aren't really going to cut it. Spending more money to upgrade to a speaker designed with audio in mind is one of the best decisions I've made. For years, I didn't have a proper home music solution, but in the end the modest investment has made my life much more pleasant.

For a long time, my default recommendation was the $219 Sonos One. It hits a sweet spot of size and convenience, and it's a huge upgrade in sound quality over the Nest Mini or Echo Dot, not to mention the larger Echo and Nest Audio. You can use either Alexa or the Google Assistant with it, and Sonos supports a huge variety of music services. But most importantly, it simply sounds great, especially if you tune the speaker to your room using the Sonos iOS app. It takes just a few minutes and makes the One sound lively, with punchy bass and clear highs.

Buy Sonos One at Sonos - $219Buy Echo Studio at Amazon - $200

But Amazon flipped the script in 2019 with the Echo Studio, a $200 Alexa-powered smart speaker that can stand up against the Sonos One. Yes, it's larger than nearly every other speaker in this guide, but the bang-for-the-buck factor is extremely high with the Echo Studio. Naturally, it's a full-fledged member of the Alexa ecosystem, which means you can do multi-room playback with other Echo speakers or set up two Studios in a stereo pair. All of Alexa's features are on board here, and it has a built-in Zigbee smart home hub, if you happen to need that.

The Echo Studio has a few other unique features for music lovers. If you sign up for Amazon's hi-def music service, you can play a (very limited) selection of songs in Sony's 360 Reality Audio format; Amazon refers to this as "3D music." It may sound great, but the selection is so sparse that we can't recommend it as a reason to buy into the Echo Studio — but it will be nice as Amazon expands its catalog over time. That said, the Echo Studio’s five-speaker, 360-degree design naturally provides a more 3D effect than a speaker like the Sonos One, which has a more traditional forward-firing design.

The Studio also supports Dolby Atmos, making it a candidate for a home theater setup — but it only works with Amazon's own Fire TV devices. And using a single speaker for watching movies is odd; it may sound great, but it's not the immersive experience you'll get with a dedicated soundbar and surround speakers. A stereo pair plus Amazon's Echo Sub should sound notably better, but we haven't been able to get that setup yet.

Given the quality of the Studio, the speaker shines when used with a high-def streaming service, like Amazon Music HD or Tidal's HiFi tier. The downside is that you'll pay for those — but if you want to stick with standard Spotify or Apple Music, the Studio still sounds great.

While the Studio is comparable to the Sonos One in terms of pure audio quality, the Sonos ecosystem does have a few advantages over Amazon. Sonos speakers that support voice commands, like the One, work with either Alexa or Google Assistant. So if you prefer Google, Sonos is probably the way to go. And Sonos speakers work with a much broader set of music services. I’ve spent a lot of time recently comparing the One to the Echo Studio, and I go back and forth on which is superior in terms of music quality. They definitely have different profiles, and while I have come to prefer Sonos over Amazon, I know plenty of people (including my colleague Billy Steele) who find the opposite to be true.

If you have a smaller home and aren't concerned with multi-room playback, the Echo Studio should be your pick. But if you're interested in building out a multi-room setup over time, Sonos currently provides a greater variety of speakers for that mission. But either way, you'll end up with a setup that puts something like the Echo Dot or Nest Mini to shame.

Best smart speaker for music lovers: Sonos Five

As nice as the Echo Studio and Sonos One are, there's only so much you can get out of them. If you crave more bass, clarity and stereo separation, the Sonos Five is one of our favorite pure music speakers. It has all the conveniences of the One (except for one, which we'll get to) and sounds significantly better than any other Sonos speaker. It also sounds much better than the Echo Studio and anything Google is currently selling.

Buy Sonos Five at Sonos - $549

That said, the Five stretches our definition of a smart speaker here because it doesn't have a built-in voice assistant. But it's so good at music playback that it's worth recommending you pick one up along with an Echo Dot or Nest Mini. Both of those speakers work with Sonos, so you can use voice commands to control the Five just as you would a dedicated Alexa or Google Assistant device. It’s also easier to recommend than it was a year ago, because Sonos refreshed the speaker last spring with a new wireless radio as well as more memory and a faster processor. This means it should stay current and work with future Sonos software updates for years to come.

Since we're talking "best" here, I'm going to go ahead and recommend that true music junkies splash out on two Five speakers and pair them in stereo. Put simply, it's the most enjoyable experience I've had listening to music in years; I found myself picking up new details while listening to albums I've heard over and over again. It's a wonderful experience and worth saving for if you're a music lover. Put simply, I didn't know what I was missing until I tried the Five.

Best portable smart speaker: Sonos Roam


While many people will be happy with a few speakers strategically placed throughout their home, you might want something that works outside as well as inside. Fortunately, you can find speakers that pair voice controls and strong music playback performance with portable, weatherproof form factors. For my money, it's hard to beat the Sonos Roam for sheer versatility, not to mention audio quality.

Buy Sonos Roam at Sonos - $179

When used inside the home, the Roam works like any other Sonos speaker. It fits in with an existing multi-room Sonos setup, or you can get a pair for stereo playback. Like most other Sonos speakers, it works with either the Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, and it supports essentially every major music service available. It sounds very good given its tiny size; it’s quieter and not quite as clear as the Sonos One, but it still packs a surprising bass thump and distinct highs.

Since it was designed with on-the-go usage in mind, the Roam has a battery and Bluetooth so you can take it anywhere and use it far away from your WiFi network. And its diminutive size makes it easy to take it everywhere, both around the house and out and about. It’s also the first Sonos speaker that is fully waterproof, as well as dust- and drop-resistant, so you shouldn’t worry about taking it to the pool or beach.

The Roam gets about 10 hours of battery life, whether you're on WiFI or Bluetooth. There are other portable speakers that last longer, so if you’re really going to push the battery you might be better served by another option.

Sonos also has another portable option, the Move. Like the Roam, it’s a full-fledged Sonos speaker when on WiFi and works with Bluetooth when you’re away from home. But it’s $400 and much larger than the Roam, and even bigger than the Sonos One. This means it is very loud and has better audio quality than all the other speakers I’ve mentioned, but it’s not something you can toss in a bag and bring with you anywhere. When I reviewed it, I liked having a speaker I could tote around the house with me and out to my porch, but the Roam does that all just as well in a much smaller package. The Move is a good option if you want a high-quality speaker for a living room with the option to occasionally drag it to the backyard.

While this guide is all about smart speakers, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention all of the solid portable speakers out there that either have limited smart features or none at all. We have an entire guide to the best portable Bluetooth speakers, and some of our favorites that support smart voice commands come from Bose. The $149 SoundLink Flex supports Siri and Google Assistant commands, plus it has an IP67 design that's roughly the size of a small clutch bag. It pumps out bright, dynamic sound and can pair with other speakers for stereo sound, too.

On the higher end of the spectrum, the $399 Bose Portable Smart speaker supports Alexa and Google Assistant commands, and since it can connect to WiFi, you can ask your preferred assistant to play music from Spotify, Amazon Music and other services. On top of that, it produces well-rounded sound, sports an IPX4 design with a convenient carry handle and will last up to 12 hours on a single charge.

Sony's new portable speakers are waterproof and better with calls

As it does every year around this time, Sony has introduced new entries in its wireless speaker lineup. The company debuted three new models today, all of which are designed to be used outside thanks to both portable sizing and the proper dust and moisture protections (IP67). The trio is also a part of Sony's X-Series, which features non-circular "X-Balanced" speakers for more sound pressure and less distortion.

First, the largest option in the group is the SRS-XG300. The combination of a tapered cylinder shape and a retractable handle give this speaker more of a boombox-like design in a much smaller package. To give you multiple sound options, the XG300 packs a Mega Bass feature that boosts the low-end response, ClearAudio+ for "the most balanced sound" and Live Sound Mode that simulates the effect of being at a venue. Plus, Sony's Music Center app gives you the ability to adjust the EQ how you see fit and the option of connecting multiple speakers for Party Connect or Stereo Pair modes 

Inside, two X-Balanced speakers, two tweeters and two passive radiators handle the audio while the company's trademark customizable light rings shine on either end. Sony says the XG300 will last up to 25 hours on a charge and you can get up to 70 minutes of use after plugging in for 10 minutes. The company has also included Echo Noise Cancelling for more natural sounding calls should you need the speaker for that purpose. This technology allows two people to talk at the same time without cutting each other off. The XG300 will be available July 12th in gray and black color options for $350. 

Sony SRS-XE300

Next up is the SRS-XE300. Sony opted for a pentagon shape for this mid-size model, or as the company describes it, an ergonomic "grab and go" design. The XE300 is equipped with what Sony calls a line-shape diffuser that gives the speaker a wider listening area for those X-Balanced drivers by blasting sound more evenly. Sony's Party Connect and Stereo Pair features allows you to sync multiple speakers for more sound and the on-board controls include a microphone mute button for calls. Echo Noise cancelling is onboard, too. In addition to the dust and waterproof IP67 rating, this speaker is also shockproof, adding another later of protection against drops. This speaker gives you up to 24 hours of battery life on a charge and plugging in for 10 minutes will give you 70 minutes of listening time. The XG300 will be available July 12th in gray, black and blue color options for $200.

Lastly, the most compact option of the three is the SRS-XE200. It's smaller than the XE300, but features the same shape and overall design. The only aesthetic difference is the XE200 has an attached carrying strap. Like the XE300, this model packs in a line-shape diffuser for a larger listening area and it's also shockproof in addition to its IP67 protections. You can link up multiple speakers via the company's Party Connect and Stereo Pair setups. Sony says you can expect up to 16 hours of listening and, once again, a 10-minute charge offers 70 minutes of use. For calls, Echo Noise Cancelling is here too, as is a handy mute button among the other on-board controls. The XG300 will be available July 12th in gray, black, blue and orange color options for $130.

Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 review: A lot of upgrades at no extra cost

Bowers & Wilkins might be a name many associate with high-endhome audio gear, but the company has been steadily chugging along with headphonestoo. Its latest model, the Px7 S2 ($399), is a completely overhauled version of the PX that debuted in 2019. Bowers & Wilkins tweaked the design while enhancing the active noise cancellation (ANC) and re-tuning the audio for new 40mm drivers. At every turn, this new model is a worthy upgrade over its predecessor, and you won’t have to pay more for the improvements either.


For the Px7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins borrowed elements of both the original PX and the Px7 that contribute to the refined look. The company also slimmed down the overall shape and opted for more cushion in the earpads – all while trimming the overall weight. Finer touches like a silver rim where the earcup meets the earpads gives the S2 a more premium look than its predecessor. The textured surface on both the earcups and across the top of the headband enhances the aesthetic as well.

Physical controls remain, which garners no complaints from me. The truth is buttons are still more reliable than touch controls, even on the headphones that get the swipes and taps nearly perfect. The best touch controls are never 100%, but a button you have to press always is. On the back of the right earcup, there’s a power slider that doubles as the Bluetooth pairing control. Just below, a multi-function button is flanked by the volume controls. This center button accepts single, double and triple presses for play/pause, playing the next track and playing the previous track respectively. When you’re receiving a call, one press accepts while a press-and-hold for two seconds will reject it. Pressing this center button once will end a call as well.

On the left side, there’s a single Quick Action button. By default, it cycles between noise cancellation, Pass-Through (ambient sound) and off. However, if you don’t mind using the company’s app to make that change, you can reassign this button to activate your voice assistant of choice. Unlike a lot of headphones, holding the multi-function button won’t trigger Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant.

When it comes to fit, the Px7 S2 are among some of the more comfortable headphones I’ve tested recently. I have a big head: I take my New Era caps in 7 ⅝. So, it can be tough for a set of cans to remain comfy after an hour or two of wear. The S2 fit tightly on me, which is essential for effective noise cancellation, but it never became too much. Not once did I feel like the rim of the earcup was leaving a mark around my ears, thanks to the updated cushion on the earpads. This isn’t always the case.


Billy Steele/Engadget

The Px7 S2 are Bowers & Wilkins first set of headphones to work with its Music app. Previous models are compatible with its Headphones app, but that software only offers access to basic settings, displayed battery life and provided a collection of soundscapes for relaxing. The Music app has much more to offer as it supports B&W’s speakers: the Formation line, the Panorama 3 soundbar and the Zeppelin.

First and foremost, the software allows you to tweak the EQ settings on the Px7 S2. Unfortunately, the options here are very limited. There are sliders for treble and bass, but nothing for mids or any further fine-tuning. Like the Headphones app, this one still displays a battery percentage and gives you the option of using the software to select ANC, ambient sound or to turn both of those off. You can also manage the priority of the two devices Px7 S2’s multipoint connectivity allows to sync with. As I mentioned, there’s the option to make the “Quick Action” button on the left earcup summon your voice assistant rather than switch between noise settings.

Then there are a couple of handy power and audio management options. First, there’s an automatic standby control that puts the headphones in a “low power state” after 15 minutes of inactivity. Next, there’s automatic pausing powered by the Px7 S2’s built-in wear sensor. The company says you can activate this simply by lifting one earcup, and it gives you the ability to tweak the sensitivity with three settings (Low, Normal and High). During my tests, I actually had to rotate the earcup down towards my neck to trigger this. Completely removing the headphones worked just fine, but the other method could use some fine-tuning. Both the automatic pausing and the standby feature can be turned off if you don’t want to employ them, so there’s no pressure to use either one.

Bowers & Wilkins is already planning an update to the software that will add an in-app music player. This is already a thing for the company’s speakers that are compatible with the Music app, but soon you’ll be able to link a number of streaming services to spin your audio from the same app that organizes your headphones settings. Currently, the app supports Tidal, Deezer,, TuneIn Radio, Qobuz, Soundcloud, NTS Radio and Dash Radio.

Sound quality

Billy Steele/Engadget

Among the big improvements on the Px7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins says it built an “all-new acoustic platform” powered by fresh 40mm drivers. The company says these custom-designed units offer low distortion and more accurate reproduction, positioned at an angle in the earcups to keep things sounding as natural as possible. Indeed, Bowers & Wilkins has constructed a truly immersive soundstage that envelopes your ears. The bass is nice and punchy while highs provide depth and vocals cut through even the most chaotic genres.

The Px7 S2 excels with hard rock like Gojira’s Magma and Deftones Ohms. When either band is going all out, you still get finer details like texture in the distorted guitars and the subtle nuances of the drum kit. And it remains a wall of sound throughout, never seeming compressed down to a mess of noise. Softer genres meet a similar fate as Chris Stapleton’s combo of southern rock growl and bluesy guitar picking are nice and thick on top of his backing band. Even 1999’s emo classic Clarity from Jimmy Eat World sounds atmospheric and full. Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers showcases the S2’s bass response well, providing some low-end punch while vocals remain crisp and clear among synths, piano, snare and other sounds. Kick drum and deep synthesizer tones get equal room to operate on songs like “N95.” It will be interesting to see if Bowers & Wilkins further refines its sound profile on the upcoming Px8 because what’s here is already impressive.

When it comes to ANC performance, the Px7 S2 is quite good there as well. We’re not talking Bose or Sony levels, but Bowers & Wilkins isn’t far off. The company made big changes to noise cancellation on the S2, using its in-house tech to do the heavy lifting without affecting overall sound quality. It also upgraded the microphones that monitor both the output of the drivers and any environmental noise. The result is some impressive blocking ability, even with things like human voices, which some headphones struggle to counter. I had no problem tuning out the clamor of two kids at home for the summer when it came time to work. Ditto for constant noise like a sound machine or the dishwasher.

Pass-Through, the company’s moniker for ambient sound or transparency mode, gets the job done, but it could use some refinement. Compared to the best natural sound for this feature, Apple’s AirPods Max, the Px7 S2 allows you to hear some of the outside world, but there’s no mistaking that you still have headphones on. Environmental noise is muffled and even when there’s no audio playing it’s not the best for trying to have a conversation.

Call quality

Nearly every headphone company touts improved call quality on new models these days, but the actual results can be hit or miss. For the Px7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins changed both the positioning and the angle of the two voice microphones while boosting noise suppression. The company says these tweaks will allow for better performance “even in the noisiest environments.” Thankfully, those claims mostly hold true.

The person on the other end said I sounded as if I were holding my phone up to my face rather than wearing headphones or earbuds. More often than not, headphones make you sound like you’re on speaker phone, but that’s not the case here. They also noticed the Px7 S2 was adept at cutting background noise, like a blaring TV I had on. Even with all of that, I still wouldn’t recommend these as a great choice for regular video or voice calls due to the fact that the ambient sound isn’t that great and I could feel myself getting a bit shouty at times.

Battery life

Bowers & Wilkins promises 30 hours of battery life on the Px7 S2, but the company doesn’t specify if that’s with active noise cancellation turned on or not. With ANC active, that figure would put this model on par with a lot of the best noise-canceling headphones you can currently buy. Some do more and some less, but the Px7 S2 doesn’t woefully miss the mark on its stated figure. What’s more, at the 30-hour mark of what I’d consider regular use – a mix of ANC and transparency mode for music and calls – these headphones still had 33 percent in the tank according to both the company’s app and the Bluetooth menu in macOS.

The company improved its quick charge feature on the S2, adding two more hours worth of play time when you plug in for 15 minutes. That’s now seven hours compared to five hours on the original Px7. A full charge from zero will take two hours, so if you find yourself empty, this short top off will get you quite far.

The competition

Billy Steele/Engadget

Price-wise, the Px7 S2 stacks up with the latest flagship model from Sony, the WH-1000XM5. However, Sony’s new gem offers a lot more features for the money, including handy Speak-to-Chat that automatically pauses the audio when you talk and both activity- and location-based sound settings that tweak the audio without you lifting a finger. Sony also outperforms Bowers & Wilkins when it comes to noise cancellation, though the gap narrows when it comes to overall sound quality. I still give the edge to Sony for its pristine details and support for both 360 Reality Audio and LDAC on top of its DSEE Extreme upscaling tech. Bowers & Wilkins upcoming Px8 will probably be better competition for the M5 when it arrives later this year, but the company has already confirmed a $549 price tag for that set.

If you’re looking to save some money, and design isn’t a primary concern, you might consider the Bose QuietComfort 45 as an alternative. Last year, Bose finally released an update to one of the most popular headphone models. Improved ANC is the star, but clear and balanced audio, long battery life and trademark comfort are there as well. The QC45 lacks some polish – there’s no automatic pausing and the multipoint connectivity wasn’t seamless during my review. They’re $329 at full price though, which is a considerable savings over the Px7 S2.


When most companies update an existing set of headphones, the refresh is modest at best. With the Px7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins has basically created an entirely new product. This is no iterative update as the S2 showcases considerable improvements to both ANC and overall sound. A design overhaul takes things a step further, and though these headphones could use a bit of polish, they stack up well with flagship models from other companies. You won’t get a truckload of features here, but Bowers & Wilkins has nailed most of the basics, including the two biggest challenges for headphones. And it did that without raising the price, which is always an excellent finishing touch.

Marshall debuts the Willen, its first ultra-compact Bluetooth speaker

Marshall has just announced two new Bluetooth options to its stable of portable speakers, along with a few new features. The Willen is the company’s first ultra-compact portable and it’s joined by the Emberton II, which improves on the previous model in a few ways. Both will now work with the Marshall Bluetooth app, which hasn’t been available on any of the portable speaker models before. It was also inevitable that the company would launch a feature called Stack Mode – a throwback reference to “Marshall stacks”. This simply catches them up with the rest of the speaker world and lets you wirelessly expand your music to other Willen or Emberton II speakers. Also worth noting is that Marshall has increased the battery life of the Emberton II from 20 hours of runtime to 30 or more on a single charge (at modest volumes I’m sure).

The Emberton II.
Marshall Headphones

As we alluded to in our recent Bluetooth speaker buyer’s guide, Marshall speakers (in general) have a wonderful warm sound, chunky bass and dynamic highs. We found the best value in both sound and price when you opt for the larger and relatively less portable Tufton model ($450). Although still priced at a slight premium, the smaller models have a scaled down version of the same sound.

Now that the Emberton II supports Stack Mode, 30 or more hours of runtime and offers an app for EQ tweaks and firmware updates, there’s more value tucked into that price tag. The Willen fills the gap for people looking to get a personal portable and save a few bucks, although we still have yet to give it a listen. Both speakers have Bluetooth 5.1, an IP67 weather-proof rating and are compatible with each other for Stack mode, which takes a triple press of the Bluetooth button to host and a double press on secondary speakers to join or disconnect.

Both are available for pre-order today with the ultra-compact Willen priced at $119 and the Emberton II for $169.

The best portable Bluetooth speakers you can buy

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about today’s Bluetooth speakers, it’s that for general consumers, the options are pretty good. However, that doesn't make the process of sifting through the dozens of choices any easier. So I set out to test out some of the most popular models in different price ranges. Most of the speakers I tried sounded good on first listen; it was only through side-by-side comparisons that I began to suss out the nuances. Just reading the spec sheets only goes so far. As such, we’re focusing a bit more on audio quality and dynamic range, while also taking into consideration other factors like utility and price. Ultimately, there isn't one best Bluetooth speaker out there, but we've found plenty of good options that will fit a range of use cases and price points.

What to consider


Ingress protection, or IP ratings, are the alphanumeric indicators you often see in a product’s spec sheet that define the tested resistance of a product to both solid objects (dirt, dust, fingers?) and water. It’s usually a combo of two numbers with the first indicating solid object ingress and the second being water. The former goes from 0 (no protection) to 6 (dust tight). Water protection goes from 0 (no protection) to 9 (protected against immersion and high pressure jets). When an X is used instead of a number, that means the product wasn’t tested for resistance. If it’s waterproof, it may have some innate resistance to solids, but there’s no guarantee.

IP67 is a common rating these days indicating highly resistant and potentially rugged speakers. These are safe for quick dunks in the pool or tub and should be more than OK in the rain or in the shower. They’re also good options for the beach, playground and other rough environs.

Additionally, speakers with ports and a high rating will often include a tight-fitting cover over the charging or auxiliary ports. If you plan on using the ports, that may limit the product's rated ability to fend off the elements.

Consider the IP rating and also how you plan to use your Bluetooth speaker when making your decision. It may be worth splurging on a better sounding model with a lower IP rating if you’ll mostly be using it indoors, for instance.

Battery life

The focus of this guide is on portable Bluetooth speakers, and while “portable” can be a relative term, these devices are generally for people who are likely to find themselves far from a power outlet. These days, around 12 hours of runtime seems to be the baseline but obviously, the more battery life you can get out of a speaker, the better.

That said, be careful when looking at battery specs, as they frequently list a maximum runtime (“up to” x amount of hours). This usually means they tested at a low to mid volume. If you like your tunes loud, it can often end up cutting the expected usage time in half or more. Luckily, some manufacturers also list the expected battery life when used at full volume and that transparency is appreciated.

Additionally, if your Bluetooth speaker also happens to have WiFi connectivity, they're usually designed for always-on functionality. Unlike normal Bluetooth speakers that go to sleep after a short period without use, these will usually stay awake (to listen for your commands) and slowly run down the battery. If you're out and about, you'll want to remember to turn these speakers off manually when not in use to maximize battery life.


Bluetooth range is tricky business. Some companies list their product’s longest possible range, usually outdoors and in an unobstructed line-of-sight test environment. Other companies stick with a 30-foot range on the spec sheet and leave it at that, even though they may be running Bluetooth 4.x or 5.x. That’s likely underselling the speaker's potential, but unpredictable environments can affect range and there’s little point in promising the moon only to get complaints.

I’ve seen signal drop issues when crouching down, with my phone in the front pocket of my jeans, and barely 30 feet away from a speaker inside my apartment. I ran into this issue across several devices regardless of their listed range.

If you’re hosting a patio party and duck inside, it’s wise to have the source device remain close by just in case. It’s hard to gauge what aspects of any environment may interfere with a Bluetooth signal. In general, take range specs around 100 feet or more as a perfect-world scenario.


This is a minor mention for those out there who use a speaker for their computer output, or as a mini soundbar solution for setups like a monitor and streaming box. It’s annoying to find that your speaker’s latency isn’t low enough to avoid lip sync issues. Luckily, it seems that most speakers these days don’t often have these problems. Only a handful of the few dozen speakers I tried had persistent, noticeable lip-sync issues. Aside from occasional blips, all of our picks worked well in this regard.

If you plan to frequently use a speaker for video playback, look for devices with the most recent Bluetooth versions (4.x or 5.x) and lower latency codecs like aptX. Also make sure the speaker is close to the source device as distance can play a factor. To avoid the issue altogether, though, consider getting one with a wired auxiliary input.

Price: $50 to $200

Tribit StormBox Micro 2 ($60)

Bluetooth: 5.3
Battery life: Up to 12 hours
Rating: IP67
Aux inputs: N/A
Frequency range: 70Hz - 20kHz
App: No

If you’re just looking for an ultra-portable speaker that can kick out some decent volume, the Tribit StormBox Micro 2 fits the bill. The audio quality here is fine; it doesn’t stand out in terms of fidelity, but the volume you get from this affordable little speaker is what makes it a good choice. If you’re bopping about outdoors on your bike or chilling in the park, it’s usually more about portability and volume anyway. The rubbery rear strap works well on relatively thin things like belts, backpacks and bike handlebars.

While it’s small and affordable, the speaker doubles as a USB-C powerbank to charge your devices in a pinch and you can wirelessly connect two of them for party mode or stereo sound. It also supports voice assistants for both iOS and Android users.

Buy StormBox Micro 2 at Tribit - $60

UE Wonderboom 2 ($100)

Bluetooth: N/A
Battery life: Up to 13 hours
Rating: IP67
Aux inputs: N/A
Frequency range: 75Hz - 20kHz
App: No

The UE Wonderboom 2 is a tiny yet powerful portable, delivering the biggest sound in its size range that we tested. This cute, barrel-shaped speaker has a nubby little strap that probably needs a carabiner to help attach it to most things. And with an IP67 rating on top of the company’s 5-foot drop test durability, it can go with you almost anywhere and survive to tell the tale.

The audio quality, meanwhile, is punchy and bright enough for what you’d expect at this scale and price range. Although there’s no app support or connectivity with the rest of the UE speaker lineup, you can easily pair it with a second Wonderboom for stereo sound. There’s also an outdoor mode button on the bottom that boosts the mid and high range to help the audio carry over a greater distance.

Buy Wonderboom 2 at Amazon - $100

Soundcore Motion+ ($107)

Bluetooth: 5.0
Battery life: Up to 12 hours
Rating: IPX7
Aux inputs: 3.5mm
Frequency range: 50Hz - 40kHz
App: Yes

This nondescript wedge of a speaker could easily slip under your radar, but it’s worth a listen. It has a bright and bassy output, which is helped along by Qualcomm aptX support for hi-res audio. This device has a solid, slightly heavy build with a metal front speaker grille, a soft-touch rubberized exterior (that loves your greasy fingerprints) and IPX7 water resistance. While it’s not the lightest or most portable, the sound is respectable, especially for the price. Plus the app offers EQ customization, so you can fine tune to your liking.

There’s also a 3.5mm aux input for wired connections. That’s fortuitous, as we found that this speaker works well as a mini soundbar alternative and the wired input offers a foolproof connection.

Buy Soundcore Motion+ at Amazon - $107

Soundcore Trance Go ($105)

Bluetooth: 5.0
Battery life: Up to 24 hour
Rating: IPX7
Aux inputs: 3.5mm
Frequency range: 55Hz - 20kHz
App: Yes

If you have a large indoor space, backyard or similar and want something with powerful long-throw sound in an affordable package, the Soundcore Trance Go may surprise you. This barebones speaker is bigger than most others in this price range and would weigh down a backpack a bit at about six pounds, but offers a carry strap, up to 24 hours runtime, a port for charging your devices and an aux input.

If you’re close by, you’ll hear the thump of its low-end and some decent highs. It's generally tuned for covering big spaces, though, and its sound won't work for every situation. This performs like a mini loudspeaker, putting out up to around 98dB, albeit with a slightly thinner sound that won’t overpower the environment. You can also use Soundcore’s app to apply EQ presets or customize as you see fit. If you have two of these, they can pair for stereo sound, or connect 100 or more Trance Go speakers via the app’s PartyCast feature.

Buy Soundcore Trance Go at Amazon - $105

JBL Flip 6 ($130)

Bluetooth: 5.1
Battery life: Up to 12 hours
Rating: IP67
Aux inputs: N/A
Frequency range: 63Hz - 20kHz
App: Yes

JBL’s Flip 6 deserves high marks for overall sound quality, durability and volume considering its size. As with most JBL speakers, it has a good dynamic range from solid lows to crisp highs with volume tipped towards higher registers. The cylindrical shape works well on its side or even standing on its end to save desk space. It has a capable carrying (or hanging) strap and raised buttons you can discern in the dark.

The JBL Portable app gives you a 3-band EQ to customize the sound profile if desired and if you have two Flip 6 speakers, you can run them in stereo mode. If you happen to have a mix-and-match assortment of different PartyBoost-enabled JBL speakers, you connect them all for a bigger sound.

Buy JBL Flip 6 at Amazon - $130

Bose SoundLink Flex ($149)

Bluetooth: 4.2
Battery life: Up to 12 hours
Rating: IP67
Aux inputs: N/A
Frequency range: N/A
App: Yes

While the $99 SoundLink Micro is half the size, we found that it's definitely worth the extra $50 if you trade up to the Bose SoundLink Flex. While it’s still not a room filler, the speaker offers some bright, dynamic finesse to your tunes, along with a significant amount of bass for its size. It’s similar to the scale of a small clutch bag, with a very small strap for carabiner-type hanging. Much of the exterior is sheathed in soft-touch silicone, except for the powder-coated steel speaker grilles. Like others in this range, the speaker is IP67 rated so it can handle the elements and sound good doing it.

Setup and connecting to the speaker should be done from within the aptly named Bose Connect app. You can also turn off voice prompts (which can become annoying) and pair with similar speakers for either party mode or stereo.

Note: Some users running Android 12 may encounter connectivity issues with the Bose Connect app. The company is working to resolve the problem.

Buy Bose SoundLink Flex at Amazon - $149

JBL Charge 5 ($180)

Bluetooth: 5.1
Battery life: Up to 20 hours
Rating: IP67
Aux inputs: N/A
Frequency range: 60Hz - 20kHz
App: Yes

If you’re willing to spend a little more for bigger sound, longer battery life and a USB-C port to charge your devices, the JBL Charge 5 is a great upgrade over the Flip 6. It has the same bright output and capable low end, but in a slightly larger package that also includes a USB charging port for your devices. If you’re looking for a smallish portable, but something capable enough to entertain a few guests, this works.

Buy JBL Charge 5 at Amazon - $180

Price: $200 to $450

Bose Portable Smart ($399)

Bose Revolve+ II (left) and Bose Portable Smart (right)

Bluetooth: 4.2
Battery life: Up to 12 hours
Rating: IPX4
Aux inputs: N/A
Frequency range: Undisclosed
App: Yes

We did test a couple smart home speakers, including the Bose Portable Smart and decided to compare it with its closest Bluetooth equivalent: the Revolve+ II. While that’s best suited for portability, has a loud bright sound that will carry outdoors and long battery life, its low end is a little less pronounced than its smart companion. If you’re willing to spend more and appreciate bass, the Bose Portable Smart speaker is a big improvement. It has a well-rounded low end and a bright dynamic sound with plenty of nuance that makes for a great listening experience.

This 360-degree portable comes as a combo WiFi/Bluetooth speaker primarily geared toward smart home use with the occasional outing. It’s rated IPX4, so not the most weatherproof, but good for casual outdoor listening. The battery is rated for up to 12 hours, but since this is an always-on smart device, you’ll need to be more attentive at keeping it topped up. There’s a charging dock accessory for use around the house, but as an away-from-home portable, you should power it down when not in use.

Smart features: WiFi, voice and app control, support for Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Spotify Connect, Amazon Music, Chromecast (built-in), Apple AirPlay 2 and SimpleSync connectivity with Bose Bluetooth speakers.

Note: Some users running Android 12 may encounter connectivity issues with the Bose Connect app. The company is working to resolve the problem.

Buy Bose Portable Smart at Amazon - $399

JBL Xtreme 3 ($380)

Bluetooth: 5.1
Battery life: Up to 15 hours
Rating: IP67
Aux inputs: 3.5mm
Frequency range: 53.5Hz - 20kHz
App: Yes

If you’ve enjoyed any of the smaller JBL speakers out there and are willing to spend a bit more, the Xtreme 3 is a good all-around choice. It’s big enough to warrant a shoulder strap, but still only about the size of a football. There’s a pleasant dynamic sound here with hefty lows and a lively high end that seems slightly better balanced at this size than the smaller options from JBL in this range.

This is easily a favorite if you want something under $400 with a little more gusto than your average portable, but still being IP67 weatherproof. It has enough output to breathe life into a small soiree or backyard hang, although while it’s quite loud, it’s best when it’s close by or indoors where the bass can resonate to its fullest.

Buy JBL Xtreme 3 at Amazon - $380

Sony SRS-XP700 ($400)

Bluetooth: 5.0
Battery life: Up to 20 hours
Rating: IPX4
Aux inputs: 3.5mm, USB thumb drive listening, Guitar, Mic
Frequency range: N/A
App: Yes

Sony’s big SRS-XP700 Bluetooth speaker is a great deal for fans of loud, thumping beats given its current extended sale price of $400. The unit has the look of a futuristic stereo speaker at 2.25 feet tall and about 37 pounds, with pleasing lighting effects on the inside of both top and bottom grab bars. You’ll also find USB charging ports and LDAC support, while the app offers customization including light controls.

The XP700 remains portable enough for many people to shuffle around without too much effort and its IPX4 rating means it can handle spills and splashes. The exterior is hard plastic with some rubberized feet, but it’s not the type of speaker you want to treat carelessly. It’s mostly a homebody that can fire up parties in lofts, garages, basements or backyards. You can also wirelessly pair two for a more powerful experience.

While the sound is big and bassy, it comes up short on handling the lowest registers well. Also, the high end isn’t as pronounced as it could be, so it may not be for everyone. It’s more of a loudspeaker style, so it's better in bigger rooms and shines at louder volumes. But in terms of power for price, the $400 Sony XP700 works.

Buy Sony SRS-XP700 at Amazon - $400

UE Hyperboom ($450)

Bluetooth: 5.0
Battery life: Up to 24 hours
Rating: IPX4
Aux inputs: 3.5mm, Optical
Frequency range: 45Hz - 20kHz
App: Yes

The UE Hyperboom is an all-arounder with good looks, portability, plenty of connectivity options and a loud and punchy (albeit compressed) output. The technical fabric exterior lets it live among your furniture without screaming “party box,” while the optical input offers a possible TV speaker alternative. The large capacitive buttons on top let anyone adjust the volume, pause or play the music and select from two concurrent Bluetooth connections or a hardwired input (3.5mm or optical). On the edge with the silicone carrying handle there are the wired ports, plus one for charging USB devices and another for power. Battery life is rated for up to 24 hours and the Hyperboom is good at holding a charge on standby.

This capable and loud (roughly 100dB) speaker will please most people as long as the party is of primary concern over fidelity. The ability to remotely power your device on or off using the UE app is also a welcome feature. Plus you can easily expand the sound to other Boom speakers (except Wonderboom) using the PartyUp feature. The IPX4 rating means a few spilled drinks won’t hassle it, but it’s not the best choice for all-weather adventures.

Buy UE Hyperboom at Amazon - $450

Marshall Tufton ($450)

Bluetooth: 5.0
Battery life: Up to 20 hours
Rating: IPX2
Aux inputs: 3.5mm
Frequency range: 40Hz - 20kHz
App: No

If you didn’t know about Marshall’s history in amplifiers and rock music, the design should clue you in. The Tufton is the largest portable Bluetooth speaker from the company, looking much like an amp itself (as do most of them). It has physical knobs at the top and a carry strap to help move it about. While it may appear as rugged as concert gear, it’s less impervious to the elements as some with just an IPX2 rating, so it’s protected from light splashes from above.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the brand, the rich and distinctly thumping output may make you one. We felt pulled into the sound while listening to the Tufton, a bit more than most other speakers we tested at this scale. It’s dynamic, warm and, dare we say, analog in its audio presence. It’s also multi-directional with a supplemental driver on the back along with a bass port.

There’s no app to adjust the EQ, just the physical controls including a Bluetooth connect button, a power/volume knob and two for bass and treble. Once powered on, you can use the volume knob to set a max headroom and adjust volume on the fly from your source. The bass and treble knobs help you choose the tone of your adventure, from a purely flat soundscape to an enhanced one. We just wish you could see the dial indicators in the dark. Other features include aptX support and quick-charge capabilities that provide four hours of listening time in just 20 minutes, plus great standby battery life.

Buy Marshall Tufton at Amazon - $450

Price: $450 and higher

JBL Boombox 2 ($500)

Bluetooth: 5.1
Battery life: Up to 24 hours
Rating: IPX7
Aux inputs: 3.5mm
Frequency range: 50Hz - 20kHz
App: Yes

If you’re keen to up your speaker game without – at least visibly – crossing over into loudspeaker territory, the JBL Boombox 2 is more than up to the task. This 160-watt big brother to the Xtreme 3 provides that familiar JBL sound design but in an even louder profile. The output has bright and dynamic highs and floor shaking sub-bass that may benefit more from an indoor environment (with surfaces to bounce off) to really shine. This is a dance party tool for your basement rumpus room, garage hangout or poolside craziness.

The integrated handle, IPX7 waterproofing and 13-pound weight offer a convenient grab-and-go speaker for most occasions when you want the music to be the star of the show (or at least not disappear into the background). With a battery that boasts up to 24 hours runtime, you can expect to party at full volume for several hours, at least.

One thing to keep in mind is that the newer JBL Boombox 3 is slated to arrive this summer 2022. If you’re interested in the Boombox, I’d keep an eye out for sales on the current version unless you want to wait for the newest release, which promises full IP67 weather-proofing, Bluetooth 5.3 and a slight uptick in all aspects of the sound.

Buy JBL Boombox 2 at Amazon - $500

Soundboks Gen 3 ($999)

Bluetooth: 5.0
Battery life: Up to 40 hours
Rating: IP65
Aux inputs: 3.5mm (in/out), 2x ¼-inch mic/instrument
Frequency range: 40Hz - 20kHz
App: Yes

The Soundboks 3 is a top performer if you’re looking for a portable, yet more professional Bluetooth option for big sound and big spaces, although it comes at a price. This unpretentious black rectangle packs in two 10-inch woofers and one 10-inch tweeter powered by three 72W RMS amps for massive sound and chunky bass. While big, this 34-pound loudspeaker is fairly easy to lug around. It has large steel handles on either side right next to a large bass port that runs through the whole unit. It’s a reinforced poplar cabinet with a steel speaker grille, aluminum framing and silicone ball corners for durability. The IP65 rating also marks it as a resilient device in most environments.

The sound and connectivity make a big statement here, adding value for your money. Output levels are rated at 96 to 104dB, with dynamic mids and highs projecting clearly to cover long distances. The low end also has a significant presence at a distance, matching up with 40Hz frequency response capability. It's definitely capable enough to support large gatherings.

The speaker is easy to connect to via Bluetooth and the partner app allows EQ customization and firmware updates. You can plug into the Soundboks Gen 3 via 3.5mm stereo in and even daisy chain to others through a 3.5mm stereo out. You don’t need to, though, since you can connect up to five more Soundboks 3 speakers wirelessly using the built-in SKAA wireless support at the touch of a button. There are also two combo (XLR or ¼-inch) microphone/instrument inputs. You get EQ control for these additional inputs inside the app.

Lastly, the battery pack is removable, swappable and also long-lasting for a speaker this size; at low to mid volume, it’s rated at up to 40 hours runtime. For transparency, Soundboks also lets you know to expect around five hours of play at full volume.

It’s no-nonsense, big sound in a rugged box with lots of connection options for real-world applications. The price is rather high, but the product is worth it for those who fit the use case. You can also keep an eye out for the company’s newly announced Soundboks Go, which halves the size and doubles the runtime, but we have yet to test it out.

Buy Soundboks 3 at Soundboks - $999

JBL PartyBox Series

JBL PartyBox 710

You may be surprised that JBL’s PartyBox series, one of the more ubiquitous loudspeaker-style devices out there, isn't properly represented in this guide. The company had sold out of most mid-sized speakers in this line and there were none for us to test. However, we did check out one of JBL’s larger models: the PartyBox 710. It’s neither battery powered nor really ‘portable’ considering its two tiny wheels, lack of carrying handles and roughly 69-pound weight. That said, if you don’t need something to go very far (ideally without stairs) and will always have a power outlet nearby, this thing is a beast.

Buy PartyBox 710 at JBL - $800

The PartyBox 710 has a bit of flare with lighting effects surrounding its dual 2.75-inch tweeters and 8-inch woofers. It's also a karaoke-focused device with guitar and mic inputs and line volumes, along with dedicated effects and controls on top. While it looks good, the real star here is its capable audio output. It has 800 watts of power and you can tell. This is a party rocker you can feel, helped along by its rear bass reflex port. It's competitively priced at $800, although as we said, this isn’t a portable Bluetooth speaker.

Some of the mid-sized models like the PartyBox 110 ($400) and PartyBox 310 ($550) seem to be worth a listen — if you can find them — considering what we’ve heard from this larger sibling.

Buy PartyBox 110 at JBL - $400Buy PartyBox 310 at JBL - $550

Denon's Home Subwoofer lets you create a wireless 5.1 surround sound system

High-end HiFi manufacturer Denon has unveiled the wireless Denon Home Subwoofer that adds a big bass boost to its wireless Home speaker lineup. When paired with those devices, you can get a true wireless 5.1 surround sound experience for your home theater system.

The Home Subwoofer has a large 8-inch woofer "cleverly fitted to a sleek, compact enclosure" that matches the design of the Home wireless speakers and Home Sound Bar 550, the company said. The aim is to bring a lot of extra bass to surround-encoded music or movies.  

It uses Denon's HEOS system, so you can easily pair it wirelessly with the Denon Home Sound Bar and/or Denon Home wireless speakers. The HEOS smartphone app lets you adjust settings for output level, low-pass filter and phase, to optimize sound for your room's acoustics. 

As with Denon's other Home products, you get access to Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music HD and other services, along with audio files via WiFi, AirPlay 2 or Bluetooth. It looks like a solid audiophile option, provided the pricing doesn't give you pause —it's now available for $599.  

This portable Bluetooth speaker is powered by light

Last month, Exeger and Mayht announced a partnership to create a portable Bluetooth speaker that's powered by light. At CES, they offered a glimpse at the prototype. 

Swedish company Exeger makes Powerfoyle, a material that can turn natural and ambient light into power. Dutch startup Mayht, meanwhile, is behind a type of audio tech called Heartmotion. It claims to have reinvented "the core of the speaker driver" to allow for speakers that can be more than 10 times more compact than other models without sacrificing sound quality or bass output. According to TechCrunch, Mayht's drivers need less energy than similar audio devices, so solar cells are a seemingly sufficient power source for the speaker.

Details about the speaker's specs remain unclear, such as what percentage of the device's surface is covered in Powerfoyle material. We've seen some headphones that use this tech, including Urbanista’s Los Angeles headphones. Based on our time with those, the speaker will need a decent proportion of solar cells to meet Exeger and Mayht's claim that it has "unlimited battery life" — at least if you don't live in eternal darkness.

Whether the speaker can deliver solid sound quality remains to be seen. The physical size of a driver and the depth of a cabinet are key factors in how speakers generate bass, so it'll be intriguing to hear how Mayht compensates for that.

Follow all of the latest news from CES 2022 right here!

Sony is bringing 360-degree sound mapping to its latest soundbars

When Sony debuted its premium home theater gear for 2021, the company's pricey HT-A9 speaker set had a key feature that its soundbars didn't. It's called 360 Spatial Sound Mapping and it creates "phantom speakers" to help the actual speakers produce room-filling sound. Today at CES, Sony announced that it will offer an upgrade to both the HT-A7000 (7.1.2) and HT-A5000 (5.1.2) soundbars that adds the 360-degree audio mapping later this spring. 

360 Spatial Sound Mapping first uses a combination of Sound Field Optimization tech and built-in microphones to measure the height and position of both a soundbar and rear speakers. Once that's done, the setup creates virtual speakers by positioning sound waves based on the collected location information. Sony says the result is a "wide spatial sound field" capable of filling a room and it promises that everyone will get "the same sound experience" no matter where they're sitting. The company also reminded us that an Acoustic Center Sync feature on Bravia XR TVs will work with the sound mapping to become a center speaker that enhances dialogue. Both the A7000 and A5000 already support Sony's 360 Reality Audio for more immersive music listening. 


To help you make the most out of the soundbars' new ability, Sony is debuting a new set of wireless rear speakers. Unlike most rear satellites that connect wirelessly but rely on a cord for power, the new SA-RS5 speakers are totally wireless and can be charged out of sight. The company says you can expect up to 10 hours of use when they're fully charged and 10 minutes will give you 90 minutes of play time if you forget to replenish the batteries. They also feature up-firing speakers, wide directional woofers, dome tweeters and dual passive radiators for a more robust soundstage and better clarity. The SA-RS5 can run Sony's Sound Field Optimization with the press of a button so they're easily calibrated with your soundbar each time you reposition them. Lastly, the cylindrical speakers have a flat back side so they'll sit nicely against a wall. 

You'll need a set of rear speakers to employ the forthcoming 360 Spatial Sound Mapping upgrade on the aforementioned soundbars — hence the new model. If you can live without all the bells and whistles of the SA-RS5, the SA-RS3S is also compatible. They're a plain ol' set of two-way rear satellite speakers in comparison, but they'll save you some money over the upcoming model at $350. And based on my experience, they should get the job done just fine. 

The new SA-RS5 wireless rear speakers will be available this spring for $600. That's $250 more than the SA-RS3S that debuted alongside the HT-A7000 last year. 

Follow all of the latest news from CES 2022 right here!

Yamaha YH-L700A review: When premium features aren’t enough

When it comes to noise cancelling headphones, there are several effective options that will get the job done. It’s putting together great audio quality with powerful noise blocking abilities and other handy features that cause many companies to stumble. The likes of Bose and Sony have damn near perfected the craft while the rest of the pack attempts to usurp them. Yamaha is the latest to throw rocks at the throne by adding a collection of 3D sound options of its latest headphones with active noise cancellation (ANC). The YH-L700A has unique qualities, but $499.95 is a high price for Yamaha’s latest blend of design and features.

Yamaha created a unique aesthetic for the YH-L700A. Opting for square earcups over the typical oval shape. They’re immediately striking – for better or worse. But, the combination of leather, fabric, matte black plastic and silver accents create a refined look. The company also decided to attach the headband at the front of the earcups rather than at the center. This doesn’t make a massive difference in terms of comfort, but it does mean the headband sits further forward on the top of your head. Earcups swivel flat and fold in for easy storage, which makes the YH-L700A a decent option for travel.

There are no touch controls here,Yamaha chose to go with physical buttons instead. On the back edge of the right earcup are power and 3D Sound Field buttons, with the former doubling as the Bluetooth pairing control and the latter allowing you to cycle through presets. On the outside of the right earcup, a small leather-covered panel holds buttons for volume, track controls, play/pause and activating a voice assistant. Those last two options are in the middle (single and double press, respectively) while the two outside arrow buttons adjust volume with a single press or skip tracks with a press and hold. Unfortunately these are difficult to find; they're not embossed deep enough to feel them easily. Over on the left, there’s a single button on the back edge for noise cancelling mode. A single press cycles between ANC, ambient sound and off.

The main attraction on the YH-L700A is Yamaha’s 3D Sound Field feature, complete with head tracking. Basically, the company has developed a collection of seven audio presets for music and movies or shows: cinema, drama, music video, concert hall, outdoor live, audio room and background music. Each one “transforms stereo sound into three-dimensional listening,” according to Yamaha, adjusting the parameters for each virtual environment in an effort to make things sound more immersive. Another aspect of this setup is dynamic head tracking, which gives the illusion of the audio coming from a stationary point in space when you move. It’s a bit weird for music, in my opinion, but it does add something to more cinematic viewing sessions.

It’s obvious that 3D Sound Field significantly tweaks the audio on every preset. However, all of the filters are very heavy handed, drastically changing the EQ and other parameters to the point that none of them work well across genres. Outdoor live, for example, accurately creates the feeling of being at a festival, with the heavy bass and subdued vocals you’d experience in real life. It’s okay for things like metal and rock, but for softer more acoustic styles it’s not great. If you listen to a wide range of music you’ll need to change presets when you venture to a new genre. Oddly enough, the cinema preset is the best all-around setting for tunes. Almost all of the music presets are loaded with reverb, which works for something like the concert hall preset, but it becomes exhausting elsewhere. All of the options recreate their stated venue, it’s just that none of them are really pleasant to listen to for an entire album’s worth of tunes.

When it comes to movies and television, the cinema and drama options are quite nice. There’s no content that highlights this prowess better than Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive. With a mix of spoken interviews, auto racing and dramatic overtures, there’s a lot for headphones and speakers to handle. The YH-L700A does well with the dimensional sound that’s typically best served by a Dolby Atmos setup in your living room. Everything sounds spacious, and the directional roar of the cars comes through nicely.

Without 3D Sound Field, the YH-L700A is an average sounding set of noise cancelling headphones. There’s good clarity and detail, but the mid-range can be overbearing when you’re listening to a full band. There’s decent, punchy bass but a shot of treble would go a long way here to round out the sound and cut through the chaos of songs like Underoath’s “Damn Excuses.” At times, the lack of highs creates an unpleasant muddy mess. Even with more acoustic genres like bluegrass, upright bass dominates with the other strings taking a backseat. That’s the case throughout much of Sturgill Simpson’s The Ballad of Dood & Juanita. It’s obvious Yamaha was intent on making its 3D audio feature sound good, it’s too bad the “regular” listening experience is mediocre at best.

The YH-L700A packs active noise cancellation, complete with an ambient sound mode that allows you to tune into your surroundings as needed. Like Apple and others, Yamaha outfitted its ANC setup with tech that can adjust the audio to changes in wear. The so-called Listening Optimizer takes measurements every 20 seconds to pick up any variances in seal and air leakage. The headphones can then adjust the sound to account for any issues. While I don’t have any way to measure how effective this is, I can tell you that overall, the ANC gets the job done. It’s not as powerful as the likes of Bose or Sony, but most of the time it’s good enough.

Lastly, there’s a Listening Care feature that attempts to maintain decent sound quality even when you listen at lower volumes. Typically, and to the detriment of our collective hearing health, headphones sound the best at medium high to high volumes. With the YHL700A, Yamaha says Listening Care analyzes sound to keep a full range at low volume. It accounts for changes in background noise during the process, to offer the best possible audio no matter how loud. And while it’s not as consistent as the company would have you believe, rock tunes maintain a decent frequency range well below 50 percent volume. You do lose some detail, as expected, but it’s still perfectly listenable at those levels.

Billy Steele/Engadget

The marquee features can be enabled or disabled from Yamaha’s headphones app. There are options for 3D Sound Field, head tracking, Listening Care, Listening Optimizer and noise cancellation. You can also select your preferred 3D preset from your phone as well as adjust (or disable) the auto power-off timer. The software displays your battery percentage too, so you’re not left wondering what the “battery level high” voice prompt means when you power up the headphones.

Battery life is a major sticking point with these headphones. During my initial tests, I managed just ten and half hours with both ANC and 3D sound enabled and head tracking off. That’s 30 minutes shy of the company’s 11-hour projection. Sure, that’s a lot of tech at work simultaneously, but most flagship noise-cancelling headphones are pushing 30 or more hours of use on a charge. Yamaha says this is possible if you disable the Sound Field tech, extending the expected battery life to 34 hours. The range with the YH-L700A at full strength should be at least 15 hours to justify the asking price. The company released a firmware update ostensibly to improve battery life during the course of my review, but the results didn’t change with ANC and 3D sound both active.

In terms of the movie- and 3D-focused competition, a few options come to mind. Apple’s AirPods Max feature dynamic head tracking and support spatial audio through Dolby Atmos and Atmos Music. It doesn’t have a selection of presets to help you fine-tune things ready at the press of a button, but there is an adaptive EQ that maintains sound quality as conditions and external noises change. AirPods Max also offers the most natural sounding transparency mode out of any headphones I’ve tested. However, they’re still $479, although we’ve seen them as low as $429 recently.

Billy Steele/Engadget

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 is another excellent alternative. The company’s flagship model is packed with handy features like pausing when you speak, quick attention mode and the ability to automatically adjust noise cancelling settings based on activity or location. The 1000XM4 equally impresses in the sound and ANC departments, including support for 360 Reality Audio via supported streaming services, making them our top overall choice for headphones right now. They don’t pack in dynamic head tracking, but they will save you significant money at the current going rate of $248 (full price: $350).

Yamaha has crafted an interesting proposition with its YH-L700A headphones. The company attempted to equally cater to both cinephiles and music nerds with features that work for both movies and television alongside options for casual listening. Battery life with the most attractive tools enabled is disappointing for a set of $500 headphones and the presets would benefit from some restraint. A fully customizable EQ and a slight bump in the battery department would go a long way to justifying the high price here, but for now, Yamaha has a solid set of headphones in need of some fine tuning.

Apple's colorful new HomePod mini is on sale for the first time ahead of Black Friday

Apple expanded its HomePod mini lineup with three new colors back in October, and now we're seeing the first discount on the entire family. B&H Photo has all of the HomePod mini colors, including the new orange, blue and yellow configurations, for $95 each. That's $5 off their normal price and, while a modest discount, it's one of the best we've seen on the tiny smart speaker.

Buy HomePod mini at B&H - $95

The HomePod mini is Apple's main smart speaker now that it discontinued the original HomePod (although the company still supports that speaker with software updates). It's also the most compact of the $100 smart speakers, its competition being the Amazon Echo and the Google Nest Audio. It's a capable device and, like other Apple accessories, arguably best for those who have many Apple products and use services like Apple Music. In addition to its cute design, we liked it for its easy setup and Siri's prowess with music controls. The voice assistant promptly plays Apple Music albums, playlists and tracks when you ask it too, and you can AirPlay audio from almost any other app (like Spotify and Prime Music) to the HomePod mini. So while the speaker is most convenient for Apple Music subscribers, anyone can use it pretty easily.

Despite being the smallest of the $100 smart speakers, the HomePod mini holds its own against the Nest Audio when it comes to sound quality. Mids and highs are clear and the speaker's passive radiators help deliver forceful bass. Its "computational audio" feature helps out by adjusting sound accordingly based on what type of music you're playing. You can also pair two HomePod minis together for stereo sound, and they sound even better this way.

However, if you're looking for the best sounding device at $100, we recommend going for Amazon's Echo instead. Siri also lags a bit behind Amazon's Alexa and the Google Assistant when it comes to smart home control — it's harder to find HomeKit-supported gadgets than it is to find devices that support either Amazon's or Google's voice assistants. But those are relatively small cons if you're looking for a solid, compact smart speaker, particularly one that shines with Apple Music and works well with Apple devices. And if you've been holding out for one of the latest colors, we expect B&H's sale to be one of the better options this holiday shopping season.

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