Posts with «technology & electronics» label

A new AI voice tool is already being abused to deepfake celebrity audio clips

A few days ago, speech AI startup ElevenLabs launched a beta version of its platform that gives users the power to create entirely new synthetic voices for text-to-speech audio or to clone somebody's voice. Well, it only took the internet a few days to start using the latter for vile purposes. The company has revealed on Twitter that it's seeing an "increasing number of voice cloning misuse cases" and that it's thinking of a way to address the problem by "implementing additional safeguards."

While ElevenLabs didn't elaborate on what it meant by "misuse cases," Motherboard found 4chan posts with clips featuring generated voices that sound like celebrities reading or saying something questionable. One clip, for instance, reportedly featured a voice that sounded like Emma Watson reading a part of Mein Kampf. Users also posted voice clips that feature homophobic, transphobic, violent and racist sentiments. It's not entirely clear if all the clips used ElevenLab's technology, but a post with a wide collection of the voice files on 4chan included a link to the startup's platform. 

Perhaps this emergence of "deepfake" audio clips shouldn't come as a surprise, seeing as a few years ago, we'd seen a similar phenomenon take place. Advances in AI and machine learning had led to a rise in deepfake videos, specifically deepfake pornography, wherein existing pornographic materials are altered to use the faces of celebrities. And, yes, people used Emma Watson's face for some of those videos. 

ElevenLabs is now gathering feedback on how to prevent users from abusing its technology. At the moment, its current ideas include adding more layers to its account verification to enable voice cloning, such as requiring users to enter payment info or an ID. It's also considering having users verify copyright ownership of the voice they want to clone, such as getting them to submit a sample with prompted text. Finally, the company is thinking of dropping its Voice Lab tool altogether and having users submit voice cloning requests that it has to manually verify. 

Crazy weekend - thank you to everyone for trying out our Beta platform. While we see our tech being overwhelmingly applied to positive use, we also see an increasing number of voice cloning misuse cases. We want to reach out to Twitter community for thoughts and feedback!

— ElevenLabs (@elevenlabsio) January 30, 2023

Frontier rolls out 5Gbps fiber internet across the US

You're now more likely to have meaningful choice for fast fiber internet service. Frontier has introduced a symmetrical 5Gbps plan (that is, 5Gbps for uploads and downloads) across all its fiber markets in the US. The company claims it's the first "major" provider to manage the feat. You'll have to pay $155 per month (which includes installation and a router), or $55 more than the 2Gbps tier. However, it might be worth the outlay if you regularly download massive files or share your data with other heavy-duty users in your household.

You'll need a WiFi 6e router and supporting devices, like the Pixel 7 or 2023 MacBook Pro, to make use of the extra speed without relying on 10Gbps Ethernet. Frontier estimates that it takes less than two minutes to download a 100-minute 8K movie.

Whether or not Frontier offers the best deal depends on the rivals in your area. AT&T's 5Gbps plan has been available for a year, but will cost $180. Google Fiber is on the cusp of offering 8Gbps for $150, but it covers only a handful of cities. Frontier may well beat cable companies, though. Comcast already has 6Gbps service in some areas, but the $300 per month pricing and non-symmetric uploads make it less practical.

The higher price for 5Gbps service may not be thrilling if 2Gbps already seemed expensive. Even so, the rollout suggests competition is heating up among multi-gig internet providers. That's good news for customers — you may see more aggressive performance or pricing as telecoms jockey for your business.

Nothing Phone 2 to launch in US later this year

Nothing’s Carl Pei has confirmed the upcoming Phone 2 will launch in the US later this year. The CEO and co-founder described the 2023 flagship as “more premium” than the Nothing Phone 1, which Engadget saw as “an impressive debut” in our review.

Pei dropped several tidbits in an interview with Inverse. First, he says the Ear 1 earbuds’ US launch was a barometer for US demand. “We’re really excited about the US market because it’s a big country,” said Pei. “If you look at our earbuds sales, about one-third comes from the US. And by not launching our phone in the US, we’re leaving potentially a third of the volume on the table.” Pei describes the Phone 2’s US launch as Nothing’s top priority this year.

Pei suggests declining smartphone sales indicate the US market is ripe for innovation. “From a business point of view, [Apple and Samsung] shouldn’t go very niche and try something completely different because they might alienate current users. That’s where smaller companies like us can come in and try and do something different. It’s not that we’re smarter or that they can’t, but it just doesn’t make sense for them to do it.” However, although stagnation may play a part, the biggest reasons for the nosedive have likely been supply-chain problems, inflation and an unpredictable economy.

Carl Pei in 2019.
Steve Jennings via Getty Images

Pei says red tape was the main reason Nothing didn't launch the Phone 1 in the US. American carriers demand Android manufacturers comply with various adaptations and preinstalled apps, which takes significant resources. But the company’s rapid growth and proven ability to move volume has given it leverage. “When you make a smartphone for the US, you need to work with the carriers on certification and adapting some of their features into your OS,” he said. “We didn’t have the resources for that before, and now we do,” Pei adds that Nothing has grown from 200 employees in 2021 to 400 today.

Although Pei doesn’t spill many secrets about the Phone 2, he hints at a higher-end design than its predecessor. “We’re developing a smartphone that’s more premium than the Nothing Phone 1, and software will be a big focus area for us.” However, he stresses that the Phone 1 was also a flagship handset. “Mobile chipsets have really improved over the last seven to nine years. That’s why I want to avoid calling the Phone 2 a flagship because that would mean that the Phone 1 was not a flagship. Within our own portfolio of smartphones, the Phone 1 was very much a flagship in terms of the amount of care we put into the product. That’s why I used the word ‘premium’ [to describe the Phone 2] instead, which signifies that it’s a more premium step up, but it’s still a flagship just like the Phone 1.”

The Morning After: What to expect from Samsung's Unpacked event this week

It’s almost time for Samsung to unveil another generation of its flagship Galaxy S smartphones. Fortunately for us, leaks have revealed a lot of the major beats ahead of the February 1st event. It seems all the show-stopping features will come to the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Rumors have long pointed to the highest-end S23 model sporting a 200-megapixel main camera – and then Samsung revealed a new camera sensor that pretty much fits that specification. You may not see other sweeping changes, design-wise, but according to leaked images, the camera array on the S23 and S23+ may drop the cut-out look of last-gen, making it look more like the Ultra.

Nieuwe Mobiel

Across the whole S23 family, which will probably include the S23, S23+ and Ultra, well-known analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claims Samsung will use the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, rather than its in-house Exynos chips. Exynos-based Galaxy phones have a reputation for worse performance and battery life, so this could be a good thing.

Alongside the phones, we expect Samsung to launch a new ultra laptop, the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra. The company’s mobile president TM Roh even mentioned in a blog post that there will be Ultra products in “more device categories,” so this must be it. Samsung Display said the high-end Galaxy Book line will feature OLED screens with built-in touch, much like smartphones. The Ultra is also expected to arrive in tandem with more conventional Galaxy Book 3 PCs.

– Mat Smith

The biggest stories you might have missed

Watch the latest ‘Super Mario Bros. Movie’ trailer

It pits Cat Mario against Donkey Kong.

Nintendo

Nintendo shared a surprise trailer for The Super Mario Bros. Movie. The 30-second clip shows additional footage from a scene first featured in the trailer Nintendo released last November. More importantly, it marks our first chance to hear Seth Rogen’s take on Donkey Kong.

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Mac mini review (M2 Pro, 2023)

A Mac mini Pro, in all but name.

Engadget

The M2 Pro-equipped Mac Mini is a powerhouse in a small-form-factor disguise. The $1,299 model offers tremendous performance for creators who don’t want to shell out $1,999 for a Mac Studio. But, as is often the case, beware of Apple’s exorbitant upgrade costs for RAM and storage. Check out Devindra Hardawar’s full review.

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Microsoft will continue to ‘support and grow’ Halo, amid layoffs

That’s from Xbox head, Phil Spencer.

Xbox CEO Phil Spencer says Microsoft remains committed to the Halo franchise and its developer, 343 Industries. In an interview following this week’s Xbox and Bethesda Developer Direct showcase, Spencer told IGN “the heart and soul of Halo is with 343, and I have the utmost confidence in the team that's there.” The Halo studio was reportedly “hit hard” by Microsoft’s recently announced company-wide layoffs. The number of employees Microsoft let go at the studio is unknown, but according to Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, Halo Infinite’s campaign team saw significant cuts.

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Meta’s pricey Quest Pro VR headset is $400 off right now

It's a hefty first-time discount.

Meta’s pricey Quest Pro headset is on sale for the first time. After a hefty 27 percent discount, the headset is currently $1,100 – that’s $400 off – through Amazon and other retailers. Thanks to its Snapdragon XR2+ chipset and 12GB of RAM, the Quest Pro is 50 percent more powerful than the Quest 2. It also features solid built-in speakers with support for spatial audio. That said, the Quest Pro isn’t for everyone. There are still few apps and games that take advantage of all this advanced hardware.

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Samsung’s entry model Galaxy S23 could feature slower storage

How much storage you decide to configure the Galaxy S23 with could be a more meaningful decision than with some of Samsung's past phones. According to frequent Samsung leaker Ice Universe (via Android Police), the 128GB variant of the base model S23 will make use of a UFS 3.1 chip instead of Samsung’s newer UFS 4.0 standard. Consumers will need to pay extra for the 256GB version if they want the company’s latest storage technology. Ice suggests the reason for this is that Samsung doesn’t produce a 128GB UFS 4.0 chip.

Samsung has made big claims about UFS 4.0 since announcing the standard last year. The company says the new chips are twice as fast as its older UFS 3.1 memory. UFS 4.0 offers sequential read and write speeds of up to 4,200MB/s and 2,800MB/s, respectively. The new silicon is also 46 percent more power efficient, an upgrade that could lead to longer battery life on phones that make use of the technology.

I’ll note here Ice Universe’s information isn’t definitive. A handful of leaks have suggested all S23 models will start with 256GB of storage. Yet other reports have said that Samsung will offer a storage upgrade to people who preorder the Galaxy S23. Either way, UFS 4.0 should be a meaningful upgrade, but if you decide to save a bit of money by going for a potential 128GB model, don’t overthink things. It’s not like Samsung is reportedly planning to outfit the base Galaxy S23 with eMMC or UFS 2.1 storage.

The Meta Quest Pro is $400 off right now

Less than three months after arriving on store shelves, Meta’s pricy Quest Pro headset is on sale for the first time ever. After a hefty 27 percent discount, the headset is currently $1,100 or $400 off through Amazon and other retailers. That’s an all-time low for a device that typically costs $1,500.

Even with its price tag cut by nearly a third, the Quest Pro isn’t for everyone. Thanks to its Snapdragon XR2+ chipset and 12GB of RAM, the Quest Pro is 50 percent more powerful than the Quest 2. It also features solid built-in speakers with support for spatial audio, meaning you don’t necessarily need to reach for a pair of headphones when using the Quest Pro.

Additionally, it adds a variety of advanced sensors designed to facilitate more lifelike virtual meetings in Horizon Workrooms. However, all of those features come in a package that weighs over a pound and a half, making it less comfortable to wear for extended periods of time than the Quest 2. Battery life also suffers due to those more advanced components, and if you’re looking for a VR headset for gaming, the Quest Pro doesn’t offer a significantly better experience than its more affordable predecessor. Engadget’s Sam Rutherford gave the Quest Pro a score of 83 when he reviewed the headset last October but said the device’s $1,500 price tag made it too pricey for all but the most enthusiastic VR users. At $1,100, that’s still true.

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Apple could limit WiFi 6E availability to iPhone 15 Pro models

The feature gap between the iPhone and iPhone Pro could widen with the 2023 models. According to a leaked antenna design document obtained by MacRumors, the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max will include WiFi 6E connectivity, while their more affordable siblings will not. The document, a schematic outlining the iPhone 15 line’s antenna architecture, shows iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus will continue to use the older WiFi 6 standard.

Some of Apple’s latest devices, including the recently announced M2 variants of the Mac mini, MacBook Pro and iPad Pro, sport WiFi 6E connectivity, but the company has yet to roll out the feature more broadly. Provided there’s a compatible WiFi 6E router for your device to connect to, the standard promises faster connectivity speeds and lower latency than WiFi 6. The potential omission of WiFi 6E from the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus probably won’t hurt most consumers given that the majority of homes and businesses are running older WiFi 5 and WiFi 6 routers.

As MacRumors notes, in the past Apple hasn’t restricted the availability of new WiFi standards to iPhone Pro models. Before the iPhone 14 line, the differences between the Pro and standard models were fairly negligible unless you had an interest in photography. However, as of last year, only the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max came with Apple’s new A16 Bionic chip, Dynamic Island cutout and ProMotion display. It now appears the company is trying to find even more ways to differentiate its Pro models from their more mainstream counterparts. Per past reports, other features that could be exclusive to the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max include Apple’s upcoming A16 chipset, a titanium frame and more RAM for multitasking. The phones could also sport solid-state volume and power buttons.

Mac mini review (M2 Pro, 2023): Just call it a Mac mini Pro

Since the Mac mini's debut in 2005, it's been Apple's affordable small form factor trooper. Need something cheap to pair with an old monitor? Just get the Mac mini! Want to start a low-power media server, or a computer right near your TV? Mini, baby. The line has had its share of ups and downs — the 2014 refresh was criticized for replacing a quad-core model with a dual-core chip, the 2018 update had notoriously weak graphics — but it made a full recovery with the M1-powered model in 2021.

This year, though, the Mac mini is different. The $599 model remains an entry-level champ, especially since it's $100 less than the M1 version (maybe we'll see the $499 option return eventually). But you can also pay over double that — $1,299! — for a Mini with a slightly stripped down M2 Pro chip and 16GB of RAM. That might have sounded crazy a few years ago, but now it sits neatly into Apple's desktop ecosystem. Not all creatives need the power of a $1,999 Mac Studio with an M1 Max, but those same folks may feel limited by the base M2 chip. At last, there's a mighty Mini to serve them. (And no, the now-dead $1,099 Intel model never really filled that role.)

Just like with Apple's new MacBook Pros, the Mac mini doesn't look any different than before. It's still a squat little aluminum box with a ton of ports on the back, and a slightly raised black base underneath to allow for airflow. The $599 model features an M2 chip with eight CPU cores, 10 graphics cores, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage — that's about as basic as you can get with PC hardware these days. The $1,299 M2 Pro Mini offers 10 CPU cores, 16 GPU cores, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. For an additional $300, you can also upgrade to the full-powered M2 Pro chip with a 12-core CPU and 19-core GPU (but that's probably not a wise idea, as I'll discuss later).

On the rear, the base Mac mini offers two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C connections, HDMI 2.0 (with 4K 240Hz and 8K 60Hz output), two USB-A ports, a headphone jack and gigabit Ethernet (upgradeable to 10 gigabit). The M2 Pro model adds two additional USB-C ports, making it even more useful for creatives with a ton of accessories.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Most striking about the Mac mini is its combination of simplicity and functionality. Unlike the taller and more domineering Mac Studio, the Mini is meant to disappear into your desk, a sliver of power that doesn't need to be seen. That could be a bad thing if you need to access its rear ports frequently, though. The Studio, in comparison, offers two USB-C ports and an SD card slot up front. You'll need a separate adapter to use SD cards with the Mini — a cheap fix, but one that also leads to more desk clutter.

Our review model, which featured the pricier 12-core M2 Pro chip, performed as well as I expected. It's slower than the M2 Max in the 14-inch MacBook Pro in GeekBench's CPU benchmark, but it also beats the M1 Max in the Mac Studio. The M1 Ultra-equipped Studio is far faster, not surprisingly, because that's essentially two M1 Max chips joined together. What's most important for some creatives though is its potential rendering performance. The Mac Mini scored 2,000 points higher than the M1 Max Studio in the Cinebench R23 benchmark, and it was on-par with the MacBook Pro 14-inch with M2 Max.

None

Geekbench 5 CPU

Geekbench 5 Compute

Cinebench R23

3DMark Wildlife Extreme

Apple Mac Mini (Apple M2 Pro, 2022)

1,826/13,155

43,241

1,647/14,598

12,769

Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (Apple M2 Max, 2023)

1,970/15,338

71,583

1,603/14,725

18 ,487

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch, (Apple M2, 2022)

1,938/8,984

27,304

1,583/8,719

6,767

Apple Mac Studio (Apple M1 Max)

1,715/12,642

61,412

1,534/12,314

10,017

Apple Mac Studio (Apple M1 Ultra)

1,785/23,942

85,800

1,537/24,078

10,020

In a more practical test, the Mac Mini transcoded a minute-long 4K clip into 1080p in 37 seconds with pure CPU power using Handbrake — the same job took 32 seconds with the GPU. Both figures narrowly surpassed the M1 Max Studio, which took 43 seconds with a CPU encode and 34 seconds using the GPU.

Beyond benchmarks, the Mac Mini was an absolute dream for my typical workflow (dealing with dozens of browser tabs, batch image processing, and practically every chat app out there). But I’d expect a similar result from the $599 model, so long as I cut down on demanding browsers to survive with 8GB of RAM. The computer remains a solid entry for mainstream users, and it’s potentially a great home theater PC if you wanted something more customizable than an Apple TV.

As I tested the Mac Mini, I started to wonder if it was even worth having a giant mid-tower PC as my daily driver. Realistically, though, I could never become a fulltime Mac guy because I like games. There are a few modern titles like Resident Evil Village that natively support Macs, but there simply aren’t enough titles out there. That game, by the way, easily reached 60fps while playing in 1,440p on the Mac Mini.

To reiterate, though, you'd have to pay $1,599 for the upgraded M2 Pro to get the same performance figures. I didn't have the slower Mac Pro model to compare it to, but based on what we're seeing with Apple's M2 chips, it would still be a noticeable step up from comparable M1 hardware. Stepping back a bit, I can’t help but think that the $1,299 M2 Pro Mini makes more sense for creatives. If you upgraded our review model to 32GB of RAM, it would come to the same $1,999 as the base Mac Studio. And given that the Studio is almost a year old, it's due for an M2 refresh in the coming months. 

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

My advice? Get the $1,299 Mac mini if you're looking for a beefier Mac desktop, but try to avoid upgrading any hardware if possible. I could see stomaching the $200 upcharge to get 1TB of storage, but spending an additional $400 just to get 32GB of RAM isn't worth it. Apple has always been notorious for expensive upgrades — remember the $999 monitor stand? — let's not encourage them.

Apple might as well have just called this computer the Mac mini Pro – but I can see how that would have been confusing. Now the Mini exists in two forms: A cheap computer for most people, and a secret powerhouse for creators. It’s close to being the ideal small-form factor PC, if only it didn’t cost so much to get more RAM.

Like users, app developers are fleeing Twitter for Mastodon

When Twitter quietly updated its developer policies to ban third-party clients from its platform, it abruptly closed an important chapter of Twitter’s history. Unlike most of its counterparts, which tightly control what developers are able to access, Twitter has a long history with independent app makers.

Now, the developers of some Twitter clients are turning their attention to another upstart platform: Mastodon. This week, Tapbots, the studio behind Tweebot, released Ivory, a Mastodon client based on its longtime Twitter app. Matteo Villa, the developer behind Twitter app Fenix, is testing a Mastodon client of his own called Wooly. Junyu Kuang, the indie developer behind Twitter client Spring is working on a Mastodon app called Mona. Shihab Mehboob, developer of Twitter app Aviary, is close to launching a Mastodon client called Mammoth.

The one-time Twitter developers join a growing group of independent app makers who have embraced Mastodon, the open-source social network that’s seen explosive growth since Elon Musk took over Twitter. The decentralized service now has more than 1.5 million users across nearly 10,000 servers. That, coupled with Mastodon’s open-source, “API-first” approach, has attracted dozens of developers eager to put their own spin on the service.

Mastodon

Paul Haddad, one of the developers behind Tweetbot and Ivory, says Tapbots started working on a Mastodon client late last year as they started to grow nervous about the future of Twitter’s developer platform.

“They [Twitter] had absolutely been making huge strides and opening up their API platform, but clients like ours were always going to be second- or third-class citizens,” says Haddad. “Whereas with Mastodon, that's absolutely not the case.”

Thomas Ricouard, the developer behind Ice Cubes, a Mastodon app that launched earlier this month, says that he had considered building an app with Twitter's API in the past, but decided against it because it was “looking more and more limited as the days passed.” At the same time, he says he noticed fewer and fewer familiar faces on his Twitter timeline. “Loving open source software,” he says, “I quickly saw the opportunity [for Mastodon].”

Today a new third-party #Mastodon app, Ice Cubes, launched on iOS. At least two more, Ivory from @tapbots and Mona from @theSpringApp, are being developed. Third-party apps are where the innovation happens!

— Mastodon (@Mastodon@mastodon.social) (@joinmastodon) January 20, 2023

Ice Cubes launched in the App Store January 19th, and it has already won the praise of reviewers and has dozens of contributors on GitHub. Even Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, who has been more active on Mastodon lately, uses the app.

On its part, Mastodon has welcomed developer interest even though it maintains its own mobile apps. “It's exciting because it means that a lot of very talented people are investing their time and resources into building on the platform and ecosystem that we have built up,” Mastodon founder and CEO Eugen Rochko tells Engadget. “Third party applications are incredibly valuable for a platform because that's where the power users go … it benefits everybody because the power users are the people who create the content that everybody reads.”

Developers’ contributions also have the potential to influence the direction of the platform itself. Just as Twitter’s earliest developers had an outsize impact on the service, some developers now see an opportunity to similarly influence Mastodon.

Both Ricouard and Haddad noted that official Mastodon apps currently don’t support quoting — the Mastodon equivalent of a quote tweet — but some clients, like Ice Cubes and Mona, do. “I think the client developers are able to implement that feature within the app, we're probably going to push it to go higher up on the radar of the Mastodon server developers,” Haddad predicts. Mastodon so far hasn’t publicly committed to adding quotes but Rochko, who was once adamantly against the feature, recently said he’s considering it.

Mastodon developers have experimented with other unique additions, too. Ice Cubes has Chat GPT-powered prompts that will spice up the text of your post (or "toot" as they are known to longtime Mastodon users). Wooly groups notifications in batches, similar to Twitter. Tapbots is working on a Mac app that will sync with Ivory’s iOS app, much like Tweetbot did across platforms.

I’ve experimented with integrating #OpenAI#ChatGPT right into my open source Mastodon client, I’ve added 3 prompts for now, to correct your toot, shorten and emphasise it! pic.twitter.com/41XEC3w8Bv

— Thomas Ricouard (@Dimillian) January 13, 2023

“Mastodon is in the [same] early phase Twitter was, where third party apps will have a big impact on the future product focus and development,” says Ricouard.

Rochko says that while he’s happy to see the growing number of Mastodon clients, he’s not in a hurry to try to replicate their features. Mastodon is still a nonprofit with a small team and a lengthy product roadmap. “It's definitely interesting to see different ideas tested out and experimented with and I think that long term, there's probably going to be influence over the official apps,” he says.

Still, not every former Twitter client developer is eager to start over on Mastodon. “I’m not sure if I want to create a Mastodon app but you should definitely check out those other developers who have,” Tweetings said in a farewell post on Twitter. Twitterrific’s developers are also unsure if Mastodon fits into their future plans.

Much will likely depend on if Mastodon is able to maintain its current growth and continue to attract new users. And as much as many former Twitter users see it as a replacement, Mastodon is structured very differently, and not everyone finds it as user-friendly as Twitter. Rochko, who started Mastodon in 2017, says he’s optimistic because the site continues to add influential users.

“What's exciting to me about the latest wave of users on Mastodon is not the numbers but the who. The people who have joined from various journalist organizations, media organizations, politicians, actors, writers, and just you know, famous internet people — like the olden days.”

Bowers & Wilkins Px8 review: Incredible sound comes at a cost

When Bowers & Wilkins announced its Px7 S2 headphones last year, the company made it clear that it already had a more premium offering nearly ready for prime time. Three months later, the Px8 arrived. While the Px8 carries a similar look to its predecessor, Bowers & Wilkins crafted this set of headphones out of more luxurious materials and managed to improve what was already great sound quality. However, the upgrades come at a steep price: the $699 Px8 is $300 more than the Px7 S2.

Design

At a glance, the Px8 looks nearly identical to the Px7 S2 Bowers & Wilkins debuted last year. Upon close inspection though, the differences become apparent. The Px8 has a slightly more refined aesthetic, with soft leather replacing the woven fabric on the outside of the headband and ear cups. The outermost panels of the earcups, where the company’s wordmark resides, is now metal instead of plastic. And the arms and headband slider are cast aluminum, further complementing the more premium design.

The Px8 weighs 13 grams more than the Px7 S2, which is probably (at least partially) due to the change in materials. Memory foam ear cushions keep things comfy, but you can feel the extra load if you’re doing a side-by-side comparison. For that reason, I give a slight edge to the S2 if you need something to wear for several hours at a time. After a Vegas to Atlanta flight this month, I was starting to feel the added weight – and also the rings around the ear cups.

On-board controls are still physical buttons on the Px8, and they’re in the exact same locations as the Px7 S2. On the right, a power/pairing slider sits above a trio of buttons for volume, playback and calls. Over on the left side, a single control toggles between active noise cancellation (ANC), transparency mode and both off. While some companies have nixed buttons in favor of touch panels, those aren’t always reliable, but what Bowers & Wilkins offers here certainly gets the job done.

Software

Billy Steele/Engadget

The Bowers & Wilkins Music app gives you access to all of the settings on the Px8, just like it has for the company’s previous headphones. On the main screen, there’s up-to-date battery status with noise mode selection just below (ANC, Pass-through and off). You can also manage connections here as the Px8 supports multipoint Bluetooth with two devices. Lastly, the company has put media controls (if you link compatible services), tone settings, a quick start guide and product support right on that first panel.

Once you dive deeper into the settings section, battery life percentage and noise mode (or Environmental Control as the company calls it) are prominently displayed once more. Treble and bass sliders are there as well, allowing for very basic EQ tweaks. The company hasn’t provided any presets here, so you’re left with those two variables to adjust. The ability to manage connections is repeated here as well, just above the option to reassign the Quick Action button on the left earcup. By default, it cycles between sound modes. However, if you prefer, you can make it summon a voice assistant.

The last two notable items have to do with power management. First, Bowers & WIlkins offers an automatic standby feature that activates a low power state after 15 minutes of inactivity. You can switch it off if you’d like. The second tool is the ability to activate or disable the wear sensor for automatic pausing. The company says this should pause music when you lift one earcup, but that isn’t always the case. Bowers & Wilkins gives you three sensitivity options to help fine-tune it (low, medium and high), but none of those remedy the fact that the Px8 – like the Px7 S2 – is slow to pause when you lift an ear cup or take them off your head. This could still use some work so that at the very least audio resumes quicker after a break.

Sound quality

Billy Steele/Engadget

One key area the Px8 differs from the Px7 S2 is sound quality. Where the latter packs in a pair of 40mm bio cellulose drivers, the former is equipped with two carbon units of the same size. I’ll admit I don’t know enough about headphone construction to tell you if one is technically better than the other, but what I do know is that the Px8 sounds incredible. The Px7 S2 already had great audio quality, but Bowers & Wilkins somehow manages to take things a step further with this model.

There’s a warmth to the sound profile that invites you to sit and listen a while, no matter the genre. An almost extreme clarity to the audio keeps the most chaotic metal perfectly organized, allowing you to pick out individual instruments. And in the case of Underoath’s Voyuerist, it’s easy to distinguish the backing synth even when it’s very subtle or laid underneath the full band going flat out. The amount of detail the Px8 exudes from bluegrass and jazz tracks is staggering, making it seem like you’re in the room with Béla Fleck as he recorded My Bluegrass Heart. It’s not just banjo, guitar, bass, mandolin and fiddle. You can hear the nuance in the sound of each one as they envelope you.

And it’s more than the clarity and detail. The Px8 is a well-tuned powerhouse for bass-heavy electronic music and hip-hop too. When a track demands it, these headphones tap into a stash of low-end that rivals some of the best. And like everything else, you can hear the subtlety in the kick drum, drum machine and bass line. That’s true across the board, whether it’s bombastic beats of RTJ4 or the intricate synth work on Sylvan Esso’s No Rules Sandy.

In terms of active noise cancellation, the Px8 does an admirable job. It’s not miles better than the Px7 S2, but in nearly every circumstance – including on an airplane – these headphones are up to the task. Bose and Sony manage to block out more on the QuietComfort 45 and the WH-1000XM5 respectively, but Bowers & Wilkins didn’t phone it in here. There’s some solid ANC performance, it’s just not the absolute best.

Call quality

Bowers & Wilkins says it moved two of the six on-board microphones closer together and re-angled them to improve voice quality. The company explained that these tweaks should also reduce wind noise. Call audio for the person on the other end was already good on the Px7 S2, but the lack of a natural-sounding transparency mode made me feel a bit shouty during voice and video chats. On the Px8, that pass-through audio is still good, but not great, and not as natural sounding as the AirPods Max.

The Px8 does a great job of cutting down on background noise, though, so the headphones will help whoever is on the other end focus on your voice. However, overall voice quality isn’t great as you’ll still sound like you’re on speaker phone rather than having a decent mic near your face. Are they fine for most video and voice calls? Sure. If you’re doing those things often should you consider these as your primary tool? Probably not.

Battery life

Billy Steele/Engadget

Bowers & Wilkins has a track record of under promising and over delivering when it comes to battery life on its headphones. The company consistently outperforms the stated figure by a mile and the same is true on the Px8. Much like the Px7 S2, this model still had 40 percent left in the tank at the 30-hour mark – the company’s official rating. And yes, that’s with active noise cancellation turned on over the course of a few days, plus the occasional use of transparency mode for calls. After 30 hours on the Px7 S2, there was 33 percent left, so the Px8 seems to be slightly more efficient than its more affordable sibling – or perhaps has a slightly bigger battery.

The company has included a quick-charge feature that gives you seven hours of listening time in 15 minutes. That’s nice if you find yourself in a pinch, but with well over 30 hours of ANC use available, I’m only charging once a week after using the Px8 a few hours each day. The battery life here stacks up well against the best you can get in noise-canceling headphones right now.

The competition

At $699, the Px8 is the most expensive set of wireless noise-canceling headphones I’ve reviewed. Even Master & Dynamic’s priciest model is $100 cheaper (the MW75). You have to really dig what Bowers & Wilkins is putting down to dive in here. Simply put, there are great alternatives available for less – some of which offer more features. Heck, I’d argue the company’s own Px7 S2 is a better value at $399.

The Px7 S2 may not have the high-end look of the Px8, but it does have excellent sound quality, solid ANC performance and better-than-advertised battery life. The company’s warm, crisp and clear audio is on display on the more affordable model and it’s more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Aside from the boost in overall sound quality and that refined design, the Px7 S2 has every other feature you get on the Px8 – for a lot less.

At this point, Sony’s WH-1000XM5 is still the best you can buy, mostly for the mix of audio and noise-canceling performance, with a long list of handy features on the side. The two most notable are the M5’s ability to automatically change sound modes based on your location or activity and the Speak-to-Chat tool that pauses the audio when you begin to speak. Simply put, no other company comes close to packing in as much as Sony.

Wrap-up

When a pair of headphones costs $699, I start to expect things. Mainly that they need to be damn near perfect for me to recommend them. The Px8 nearly is when it comes to sound quality, but there are other areas where they fall short of the company’s previous model and some of the competition. Automatic pausing is still in need of refinement, even with the sensitivity settings. And overall, the Px7 S2 is much more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Bowers & Wilkins impresses with this most premium offering, but there are still some rough edges to smooth out.