As they say, everything that’s old is new again. This is particularly true when it comes to the world of music and, specifically, portable listening experiences. The vinyl record led to the cassette tape, led…
Maybe the Best Impulse Buy?
Everybody should carry a affordable pair of wired earbuds on their person. Whether it’s for when your AirPods die or when you inevitably forget in-flight entertainment systems don’t support Bluetooth headphones, these cheap beats always come in handy. And because they’re super cheap, you won’t really care if they break or you lose them.
For me, my go-to pair are these Panasonic ErgoFit earbuds. They’re comfortable and cheap, and I’ve owned a few pairs over the years. Amazon is selling them for a few bucks off today, so it’s as good as time as ever to grab a pair or two. So long as your go-to device has a headphone jack, at least.
The Gear Patrol Commuter, made in tandem with Priority Bicycles, was inspired by — and tested on — the streets of New York City. Streamlined for your everyday grind, it a pairs a durable, easy-to-maintain feature set with an understated colorway you won’t find anywhere else. Buy Now:
Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Sony has a long history of developing products no one thought they needed, and the new Sony SRS-LSR200 Portable TV Speaker is the perfect example of that. Equal parts remote control and far-flung listening device,…
The Sony WF-1000XM3 are the company’s newest wireless earbuds with active noise-cancellation. They normally cost $230, but right now you can get them for $198 on Amazon. It’s the most affordable that they’ve ever been.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 are essentially wireless earbud versions of Sony’s WH-1000XM3 over-ear noise-canceling headphones. They both have the same color palette and utilize the same app, which lets you adjust the EQ of the music as well as toggle with the noise-canceling settings. They also are some of the best-sounding wireless earbuds you can buy.
In my opinion, the Sony WF-1000XM3 sound better and have better noise-canceling abilities than the AirPods Pro. However, they fit differently which some people may or may not like. (For example, I like the fit of both AirPods and AirPods Pro better.)
That said, if you don’t have an iPhone or you don’t like the way the AirPods Pro or regular AirPods fit, are some of the best wireless earbuds out there — are right now they’re at their lowest price ever.
Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
If you’re looking for a solid pair of wireless noise-canceling headphones, but don’t want to fork over MSRP prices – we’ve got you covered. Below, you’ll find four great deals on some of our favorite noise-canceling headphones by Sony, Bose, Sennheiser and Jabra.
Sony’s flagship noise-canceling headphones typically cost $348, which is what they’re going on Amazon and Sony’s website, however you can get a pretty sweet deal if you shop on eBay. It’s selling new, black or silver models for $270
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Even though these aren’t Bose’s flagship noise-canceling headphones anymore (that title now belongs to the Headphones 700), the QuietComfort 35 II are excellent and arguably more comfortable and travel-friendly than the above Sony’s. They’re also on sale on eBay.
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2
The price is a little bit of a misnomer, here. That’s because Sennheiser just released a newer version of this headphone, the Momentum Wireless 3, and is likley trying to phase out these new-year-old models. That said, these are great-sounding noise-canceling headphones with a great industrial design.
Jabra Elite 85h
Jabra’s noise-canceling headphones have been getting rave reviews online. In his review, David Carnoy of CNET wrote that “The Jabra Elite 85h is a good alternative Bose and Sony noise-canceling models for slightly less money, particularly if you value call quality.” And now Amazon is selling these headphones for an extra $50 off.
Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
As much as we’ve grown to rely on the convenience and the myriad of features available with Amazon Echo devices–you know what we’re talking about if you’ve ever attempted to yell at Alexa to set…
One of the star products to be announced at Amazon’s big hardware event today was the Echo Buds ($130), the company’s first true wireless earbuds. Not only do they undercut the cost of most true wireless earbuds, including AirPods, by a ton but Amazon revealed that they’ve partnered with Bose to integrate its noise-reduction technology (which is a little different than its noise-canceling technology) into the Echo Buds. And these earbuds cost just $130.
After the event, I was able to get a little hands-on time with Echo Buds and was even able to listen to two songs (“Trampoline by Shaed” and Bruce Springsteen’s “For You”) and here are my initial impressions.
First and foremost, they sound great, especially for $130 earbuds. It was loud with good mids and strong bass. I’ve tested a boatload of true wireless earbuds in the past two-plus years and these are right in the mix with the better ones.
The noise-reduction ability also seems good at first blush, but I’m not ready to say its perfect just yet. I tested the Echo Buds in a crowded room, and while I could barely hear the noise around me, these earbuds fit really snug, and it’s hard to tell which of these two things was primarily responsible for the effect. Still, there’s plenty to be hopeful for here so far. (It’s also worth noting that, to my understanding, noise-reduction technology isn’t as Bose’s full-fledged noise-cancellation technology.)
But there are a couple of catches. The biggest is that the Echo Buds require you to download and use the Alexa app to get the most out of them, which is at best a hassle. You need the Echo Buds setup properly in your Alexa app to enable the noise-reduction technology and the “Hey Alexa” features, and Amazon still has a ways to go in proving that these added Alexa features will actually be useful. If you don’t want to deal with the app, you can use them as standard Bluetooth buds, but you’ll be missing out on the noise-reduction technology.
They also charge with micro-USB, a style of charger that’s rapidly phased out and can’t deliver the kind of quick charge power that USB-C can. But mostly it’s frustrating you won’t be able to charge your earbuds with the same charger you use with a new laptop, Nintendo Switch or Android phone.
Lastly, the plastic Echo Buds do feel a little bit cheap compared to headphones like Master & Dynamic MW07s or Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless. But at the price point, you can’t really complain too much.
All in all, Amazon’s first buds are certainly impressive, and it’s a real surprise that they’ve got a type of Bose’s noise-canceling tech before Bose’s true wireless buds have even come out. But with Bose is gearing up to release the Bose Noise Cancelling Earbuds 700 in early 2020, it seems more that the headphone maker has plenty more in store for its own product, which will no doubt cost a lot more.
The Echo Buds ($130) are available for pre-order right now, for a ship date of October 30th.
The Sonos Move ($399) represents a bunch of “firsts” for Sonos. It’s the company’s first Bluetooth speaker, its first portable speaker and, thus, its first speaker to have a built-in battery (which Sonos had to build from scratch). Unlike all other Sonos speakers before it, the Move is designed to be listened to in, around and outside the home. And if you’re wondering, yes, the Move is weatherproof and drop-resistant, making it Sonos’s first truly rugged speaker, too.
Of course, the Move is still a Sonos speaker and it’s designed to work as such. It can connect to your home’s Wi-Fi network and, via the Sonos app, be grouped with other Sonos speakers in a multi-room system. It’s also a smart speaker, just like the Sonos One, so you can speak to Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant and request a song, adjust the volume or ask about the weather.
There are a couple of big questions surrounding the Move. In terms of sound quality, how does it compare to other Sonos speakers? And how should the Move be used? Is it more of a traditional Sonos speaker that, instead of being tethered to the wall, can be carried from room to room? Or is it more a portable Bluetooth speaker, designed to be listened to outside?
The biggest question, at least for me, has to do with the “Sonos experience.” The audio company is so beloved because its speakers sound great and work with almost every music streaming service, but, most importantly, they’re easy enough for anybody to use. So the fact that the Move can be constantly be moved around, switched between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modes – does that negatively impact that Sonos experience?
The Good: The Sonos Move has that “Sonos sound” – it sounds warm, lively and punchy, both inside and outside, just as you’d expect from a Sonos speaker. Sonos specially designed it with a downward-firing tweeter and forward-firing woofer, and the result is that the Move has more of a 360-dree sound than any other speaker. (Fun fact: even though the Play:1 and Sonos One speakers have a dotted grill the wraps sound most of the speaker, both are still forward-firing and not omnidirectional speakers.) In terms of sound quality and power, the Sonos Move sounds more closely to the Sonos One ($199) rather than the larger and more expensive Play:5 ($499); but it’s definitely in-between the two.
The other neat thing about the Move is that Sonos rejiggered TruePlay technology so that it works with the Move. TruePlay is the in-app feature that helps tune each Sonos speaker so that it sounds best for the room it’s in; it’s a typically a one-time process that requires you to wave your smartphone around while the speaker makes some strange noises. Sonos knew this would be a pain in the ass with the Move, to have listeners set up TruePlay every time they moved the speaker, so they developed Automatic TruePlay.
Instead of going through the app and waving your phone around (typical TruePlay behavior), the Move uses its built-in microphones and automatically tunes itself ever time you move it. It’s convenient and you can hear the difference. For example, when you move the Move from an open space to a closed-in space, like a media cabinet, you can hear the speaker lower its bass and crank up its mids and treble. All this happens in the space of a few seconds and, again, it requires nothing out of the listener (the microphones have to be on, though). Pretty cool.
When it’s not on its charging dock, or charging via USB-C, the Move has a ten-hour battery life – which is decent. That said, it has a pretty neat trick to save battery life. Anytime the speaker is not powered and it’s not playing music, meaning it could be in either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth modes, the Move will automatically turn off after a few minutes. According to Sonos, the Move can stay in this “Suspend mode” for up to five days before needing a visit back to the charger.
The biggest thing, at least for me, is that the Move doesn’t really complicate or change the Sonos experience. Because it’s the first Sonos speaker that has automatic TruePlay, it arguably makes the Move even easier to set up than other speakers. If there’s one caveat to this “Sonos experience,” it’s that the Move will automatically connect back to your home’s Wi-Fi when switching back from Bluetooth mode, but it won’t regroup with your other Sonos speakers. Basically, you’ll have to visit the Sonos app if you want to regroup your speakers after using the Move as a Bluetooth speaker. Not the end of the world, but something to watch out for.
Who It’s For: The Sonos Move won’t be for everybody. In fact, it’s a speaker with a hint of irony about it. Sonos designed it so that it could work for anybody in any situation – whether that’s indoors or outdoors, in your home or far from it – but it’s actually a speaker that’s optimal for a select few people. It’d be a great addition to somebody’s household who just wants a great-sounding speaker in every room of their house, but only wants to buy one speaker. If the person has a Sonos system and has an outdoor space (backyard or patio) that’s covered by Wi-Fi, then the Move would be a great way to extend your home’s sound outdoors. Finally, if the person is just a die-hard Sonos enthusiast, they really can’t go wrong with the Move.
Watch Out For: The Sonos Move loses many of its best features when being used as a Bluetooth speaker. It can’t function as a smart speaker, so you can’t access Alexa or Google Assistant. Its automatic TruePlay doesn’t work, so it won’t sound as good as it possibly could. It’s can’t operate as a stereo pair with another Sonos Move (both speakers have to be connected to Wi-Fi for stereo pairing).
It’s also the first Sonos speaker that you’ll have to worry about replacing its battery (because it’s the only one to have a battery). Sonos claims that its battery should last roughly three years or 900 charges, but this will be an extra cost down the road; Sonos will sell the replaceable batteries, but they have yet to announce pricing. It’s worth noting that even if the Move’s battery does die, as long as it’s connected to power it will still function as a typical Sonos speaker.
At $399, the Sonos Move definitely feels expensive for what it is. It’s also not a small speaker and even though Sonos claims that it’s a great portable Bluetooth speaker (which I feel it definitely is), I have a hard time picturing many people lugging this 6-pound speaker to the beach.
Alternatives: As far as getting an entry-level Sonos speaker, you could buy two One ($199/ea) or two One SL ($179/ea) speakers, each of which has almost the same audio quality as the Move. If you don’t care about the versatility of the Move, just the audio quality, the Play:5 is a little bit more expensive and definitely is the superior-sounding speaker.
If you’re not committed to the Sonos ecosystem, there are plenty of alternatives. For instance, the UE Blast ($100) and UE Megablast ($170+), both of which are smart Wi-Fi speakers that work with Alexa and they are two of the best portable Bluetooth speakers, too.
It’s worth point out that Bose, arguably Sonos’s biggest speaker rival, recently released the Bose Portable Home Speaker ($349), which is a very similar speaker to the Sonos Move. The Bose Portable Home Speaker works with both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, and can be grouped with Bose’s other multi-room speaker.
Verdict: The Sonos Move is a completely different kind of Sonos speaker, yet it still manages to feel…like a Sonos speaker. It sounds great, truly, and in some respects, it’s actually easier to set up and get playing than any other new Sonos speaker. That said, it feels a little expensive for what it is and unless you’re really going to take advantage of its versatility – take it from room to room, take it outdoors, and use it as true Bluetooth speaker – Sonos makes several other more affordable speakers that you’ll probably enjoy just as much.
What Others Are Saying:
• “For a lot of serious Sonos fans, the Move will be a no-brainer. Folks have been wondering for years when Sonos will make the jump to Bluetooth and make its famously exceptional multi-room wireless speaker systems more versatile. A lot of those people have invested hundreds if not thousands of dollars into their Sonos systems, and the idea of adding one more—one that has Bluetooth, that can go anywhere—is exciting. The Move sounds like a Sonos speaker. It works with all the other Sonos speakers. Sure, a Sonos diehard will love this thing. The average consumer just looking for a portable speaker, however, might not be so enthusiastic.” — Adam Clark Estes, Gizmodo
• “The Move also cannot connect to multiple phones or devices at a time either, so you only get to have one DJ at your party. Oh, and though Sonos is known for its ability to group multiple speakers into ad-hoc zones, this isn’t possible on Bluetooth. And that’s despite many competing speakers, like that Megaboom we keep mentioning, having the ability to daisy-chain together. For now, it’s clear that Sonos still sees Bluetooth as an add-on, not a core focus. Sonos could add more Bluetooth features in the future via app updates (something it does frequently), but the company’s heart still lies with Wi-Fi..” — Jeffrey Van Camp, Wired
• “The biggest question that most people seem to have about the Move is about whether it’s worth the nearly $400 price tag. Frankly, it’s a tough price to swallow for what largely amounts to a $200 Sonos One with a battery bolted to the bottom of it. It’s also a lot more money than the typical Bluetooth speaker costs. But the Move also does things that no other Sonos speaker nor any other Bluetooth speaker can do, and it does it all without compromising on sound quality, volume, or features.” — Chris Welch, The Verge
Drivers: One downward-firing tweeter, one mid-woofer; two Class-D digital amplifiers
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay 2
Battery: up to 10 hours
Water Resistance: IP56 rating
Weight: 6.6 pounds
Sonos provided this product for review.
Hot takes and in-depth reviews on noteworthy, relevant and interesting products. Read the Story
Whether you’re talking about smarthome speakers, multiroom audio or TV soundbars, there’s no denying that Sonos makes some of the most stylish and advanced audio options on the market. The one thing the brand was…
It’s exciting times for Sonos. The multi-room speaker giant just announced three new products at IFA, Europe’s biggest consumer tech trade show. There’s the Sonos Move, the company’s first-ever portable speaker; the Sonos Port, which is the next-generation version of the Sonos Connect; and there’s the Sonos One SL, a new entry-level Sonos speaker. We’ve given you a brief rundown on all three new products below.
The push for new products shouldn’t be a surprise if you’ve followed Sonos. Patrick Spence, the company’s CEO since 2017, is actively moving the company to be more open and forward-thinking, as well as pushing it to expand its product line. Since Spence took over, Sonos has released its first smart speaker, partnered with IKEA to make the most affordable Sonos speakers (Symfonisk), and now it has entered a completely new market: portable audio.
The Sonos Move is the company’s first-ever portable speaker. It has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, allowing it to be way more versatile than any other Sonos speaker to date; you can use it like a Sonos One smart speaker – yes, the Move can be integrated with either Alexa or Google Assistant – or you can use it as a portable rugged Bluetooth speaker. There’s a new three-button array on the back of the speaker that allows you to toggle between modes. The Sonos Move costs $399 and is available for preorder now; you’ll be able to pick it up in stores or buy online on September 24.
The Sonos Port is the next-gen Connect ($349) you’ve been waiting for. It works the same way, hooking up to your existing stereo or receiver and turning your non-Sonos sound system into one that works just like it, but the Port adds some big things. First, it supports AirPlay 2. Second, it has 12-volt trigger, which enables the Port to automatically turn on your connected receiver when signaled through the Sonos app. And third, it’s matte black and actually looks like it will blend in with your other stereo components. The Sonos Port costs $399 and is available for preorder. A select number of models will starting on September 12, but they’ll be available everywhere starting in January 2020.
Sonos One SL
The Sonos One SL is essentially a Sonos One speaker without the built-in mics that allow you to talk to Alexa or Google Assistant. Or you can think of it as a Play:1 speaker but in the body of a Sonos One. Either way, the Sonos One SL is the company’s new most entry-level speaker – aside from the Ikea x Sonos Symfonisk speakers – and it costs $179. It’s available for pre-order right now in either white or black. Sadly, the introduction of the Sonos One SL means that Sonos will be phasing out its original Play:1 speaker.
adidas–aka the three stripes, aka the maker of some of the most comfortable shoes we wear on a regular basis–has decided to get into the headphones game with not one but two different stylish options…
The headphone industry has reason to be happy in 2019. With Q1 sales of over $5.9 billion, consumer appetite for the personal audio category has never been stronger. Wireless headphones have led the charge, outperforming all other categories with a staggering 40-percent increase in global sales. The news, however, for on-ear and over-gear headphones has not been as rosy with single-digit levels of growth; the silver lining for manufacturers of luxury headphones is that the average sale price has risen to almost $130 pair.
Consumers are buying more expensive headphones from brands like Audeze, Sennheiser, HiFiMan, Grado and Beyerdynamic, but the market remains focused on brands like Sony, Bose and Apple who are commanding significant market share with their wireless IEM products. An outlier in this mix of global brands has been upstart 1More with their affordable Triple-Driver IEMs and Triple-Driver Over-Ear model that made our recent luxury headphones buying guide.
The Triple Driver Over-Ear have been favorably reviewed by every major headphone publication; their overall performance for $200 makes them a tremendous value in a category dominated by similar products that are 2x or 3x the price. Like many brands, 1More manufactures all of its products in China which has made it possible for them to keep their products affordable.
If you want a pair of audiophile-level headphones that works well with your smartphone and doesn’t need a separate headphone amplifier, the Triple-Driver Over-Ear are a great pair of over-ear headphones — especially for the value.
1More has built a pair of travel headphones that are built to last; my personal pair have survived dozens of plane trips and weekly train commutes from New Jersey to New York and Maryland. The Over-Ear have a stainless-steel and leather headband, along with rotating leather cushioned ear cups, that fits comfortably and then folds compactly when you’re done listening to them.
If you have a large head (like myself), the adjustability of the headband is a major plus. The closed-back design makes them a smart choice for commuting and airplane travel; the ear cups achieve an above-average seal so the level of leakage is acceptably low (you don’t want people to hear what you’re listening, too. On the downside, the earcups aren’t replaceable and the size might be an issue for those with large ears.
Detachable headphone cables are more common with more expensive headphones and 1More provides an excellent sounding copper detachable cable with the Over-Ear model; a feature that has saved them on numerous occasions from my less than elegant arm movement. The 52-inch length of the headphone cable is longer than what is supplied by most manufacturers and gives you some slack if your playback device is tucked away. One negative is the absence of an in-line mic and controls on the supplied cable; which is somewhat ironic as 1More includes this feature on their less expensive Triple-Driver IEMs.
The Triple-Driver have three advanced drivers including a 40 mm titanium dynamic driver, ceramic tweeter, and bass reflector. The 32-ohm impedance makes them smartphone-friendly, and while they certainly sound better connected to the new DragonFly Cobalt DAC/Headphone amplifier from AudioQuest, the 1More offer a very balanced sounding presentation that is consistent with most smartphones via their 3.5mm stereo connection.
While not the last word in bass response, the Triple-Driver Over-Ear offer a fairly detailed sounding presentation with a slight bump in the mid-bass. Vocals are clean sounding thanks to a neutral midrange and their overall tonal balance makes them a solid option for most types of music. If you’re looking for analytical sounding studio headphones, the 1More will not be your cup of tea; they are also not as warm sounding as the Master & Dynamic MH40 ($249).
In a market filled with over-achieving audiophile headphones like the HiFiMan Sundara ($349), and sub-$300 wireless earbuds from Sony and Bose, the 1More Triple-Driver Over-Ear headphones offer a lot of performance for only $200.
The high-end British audio company Naim Audio makes some of the best audiophile-grade wireless speaker systems you’re likely to find. Its Mu-so range, consisting of the Mu-so and smaller Mu-so Qb, is also notable for the huge glowing volume dial on top of both speakers. If you’re a big fan of volume dials and love some great “knob feel,” then the Mu-so speakers and their associated dial are simply as good as it gets.
Earlier this year, Naim Audio announced the Mu-so 2 ($1,599), which is second-generation version of the original Mu-so ($999) that was released roughly five years ago. Though the two speakers look strikingly similar the Mu-so 2 has been totally gutted and revamped. It has six, new, individually amplified drivers, a new processor with 10 times the power, the ability to stream tracks up to 32bit/384kHz, support for AirPlay 2 and Chromecast, support for Tidal, Spotify Connect, Roon, and Bluetooth, all topped off with HDMI ARC and optical connections so you can use it as a soundbar. And yes, also a new volume dial.
The new dial on the Mu-so 2 has an entire new interphase and more functionalities, including 15 touch sensitive buttons to quickly play favorite playlists or switch inputs. Its famed “halo” light that forms a ring around the dial now has a proximity sensor and automatically lights up when you hover your hand over it. It’s undoubtedly the coolest thing on the whole speaker.
On the Mu-so’s volume dial, the new interphase allows you to save playlists from Spotify or Tidal, or even radio stations. This way you can play music without needing to pull out your smartphone or open your computer.
Simon Matthews, the design director at Naim Audio, is one of the main brains behind all of Naim Audio’s products. I was able to chat with him about the new Mu-so 2, as well as what makes what I consider to be one of the coolest volume dials in all of speakers, so special.
The below interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: How did you look to improve the volume dial on Mu-so 2?
A: Well, firstly, it’s important to say that we certainly set the bar high with the original Mu-so’s volume dial. Customers have really expressed with enthusiasm that they love our tactile, well-executed volume dial and that it delivers precision and pleasure in equal measure in use. There is a very funny and equally disturbing Youtube review of the volume know of gen 1 Mu-so called ‘knob feel review.’ It’s had 100,000 hits. Watch it at your own discretion, here.
So although we really nailed the principle of an oversized, bearing driven and highly responsive volume dial, with all product user interface elements internally located, for Mu-so 2 we completely redesigned all the elements from the ground up. Firstly, we needed to do this to accommodate all the new features and connectivity that Mu-so 2 offers over the original Mu-so. Secondly, we wanted to get closer to the iconic design language of volume control on our $270,000 Statement amplifier. So now we have an acrylic cylinder, mirrored on the inside, which transmits light magically from deep in the product to create a very distinctive ‘halo’ design language which clearly differentiates the Mu-so 2 from what has come before.
Speaker: wireless multiroom stereo speaker system
Drivers: six drivers; six 75-watt Class D amplifiers
Total power: 450 watts
Connectivity: Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast Built-in, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Roon Ready, Bluetooth, Internet Radio, 3.5mm (headphone jack), optical, HDMI ARC
Q: Why did you add the proximity sensor?
A: In terms of proximity, it wasn’t a customer-driven requirement but we could see a lot of benefits to the end user. Now the product can present itself as ‘always ready’ and wakes up magically with the waft of a hand. It just feels like there is now one less obstacle between the user and the music that means so much to them.
Q: Are there any volume dials on other speakers or vintage audio components that inspired the Mu-so?
A: For sure, there is a world of sexy volume dials over the years that have stuck in my mind. Dieter Rams’s work tends to be ‘ground zero’ for me in terms of perfection of placement and form. Every designer in the audio industry owes some debt to his groundbreaking work. Jonathan Ives and the development at Apple of the iPod wheel is also an iconic ‘portal’ into a music collection and deserves a round of applause. Beyond audio, I am always inspired by great science fiction and its representation of an exciting future way of living. If a little of the monolith and HAL 900 from 2001 slipped into my subconscious during the design phase then I won’t complain!
Q: What about sensitivity of the volume dial?
A: Sensitivity across both generations is the same. We have 100 discreet step changes with very sophisticated algorithms controlling bass management and loudness to ensure that when the volume changes the character of the song always remains the same. Sensitivity was determined by a complex set of criteria looking at all likely input sources, understanding the gain of our state of the art digital architecture, and mathematically ensuring we always operate within safe boundaries whilst not always respecting the neighbors. In the end, all the science is in service to the music and that’s what gets the Naim R&D team out of bed every day.
Q: In this age of streaming, where most people are either adjusting the volume via an app or using voice commands, what is the importance of Naim’s volume dial?
A: I think that as we take on more and more all digital experiences then it is clear to see that people crave a reaction to this trend, and the “analog” experience of a gorgeous tactile volume dial answers that need beautifully. It appeals to the child in all of us and it’s important we always find time to listen to that child because it’s often when we are our happiest.
Wireless smart and active loudspeakers have taken a considerable slice of the pie in the past three years; the category generated more than $3.2 billion in revenue in 2018 and has experienced a level of growth not seen since the launch of the iPad and Android-based tablets. But before you stick a fork in passive loudspeakers, it’s worthwhile to point out that the category still generates billions in revenue; passive loudspeakers are also able to deliver superior sound quality at both the entry-level and extreme high-end.
Passive loudspeakers may not represent the future of home audio, but dozens of manufacturers around the globe, and particularly three in the United States, are holding firm: their passive speakers sound better than the vast majority of speakers out there.
Magnepan, Zu Audio, and Spatial Audio are all located in the states and build their products domestically. Each audio company offers something different than the traditional passive loudspeaker you might find in your local Best Buy.
Quality doesn’t come cheap and it should be noted that you can’t drive any of these passive loudspeakers with A/V receivers and expect great sonic results. It’s true that each company has a very different philosophy when it comes to transducer technology but they all share one thing in common; their products offer world-class levels of transparency and resolution that could make you rethink how a loudspeaker is supposed to sound.
Magnepan is an audio company based in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, that has been manufacturing full-range planar loudspeakers for almost forty-eight years. Its planar magnetic loudspeakers — which utilize very low mass, razor-thin film ribbon drivers — have a specific dipole design; there’s no speaker cabinet and the sound radiates from the back and front of the loudspeaker. The effect is that the sound has a level of openness and transparency that you don’t hear from conventional loudspeakers.
Magneplanar speakers utilize a full-range ribbon tweeter and quasi-ribbon driver to reproduce the entire frequency spectrum of sound; the trade-off is that the panel needs to be larger to accurately reproduce mid and low bass information. And you shouldn’t expect subterranean bass from this type of driver. Magneplanar speakers are known for their resolution, speed, clarity, and the illusion of soundstage depth and height. They require space (a minimum of 2-to-3 feet from the wall to allow their sound to really open up) and a very powerful amplifier to work properly; 100-200 watts at a minimum.
Magnepan’s loudspeakers can be surprisingly affordable by high-end standards; the .7 ($1,395) and 1.7i ($1,995+) full-range models are $1,450 and $2,200 respectively, but the new LRS (Little Ribbon Speaker), which retail for $650, offer better sound quality than most loudspeakers below $1,000.
If Magnepan represents the old guard of American high-end audio, Zu Audio is new money. Based in Utah, the company focuses on full-range single-driver loudspeakers housed in beautifully finished cabinets that don’t require a lot of power. Zu’s product range is comfortable with 5-400 watts of power, but your choice of solid-state, tubes, or class D amplification will have a significant impact on the final sound.
The Omen MK. II loudspeakers ($2,250), for example, are its hook. The 10-inch full-range driver is augmented with a super tweeter and the 36-inch tall cabinets are built to last. Every Zu loudspeaker inspires confidence with its heft and high level of finish quality.
If you’re looking for an audiophile loudspeaker that is overly focused on imaging and soundstage depth, the Omen MK. II is not for you. Zu’s speakers create a wall of sound that flesh out great sounding recordings with midrange punch and a lot of detail; which can also be too much of a good thing with bad ones. A small nitpick is that they are sensitive to placement; a few inches in either direction can have a significant impact on the sound.
Spatial Audio is another Utah-based company, but they are better known for their M-series open baffle loudspeakers that have turned a DIY concept into an innovative piece of industrial design; the speakers not only look sleek and expensive, but sound impressive as well.
Open baffle loudspeakers have always had a big following in the DIY audio community; the absence of a cabinet that can negatively interact with the room and drivers, and the ability to experiment with a combination of driver technology are just two of the advantages. The disadvantages include not sounding great in smaller rooms, the need for a relatively large baffle, and not being very forgiving of bad recordings. The reality is that very few have succeeded in bringing this type of loudspeaker to market in a way that most people would consider them for a living room or den.
Spatial Audio builds and assembles its products in-house; its custom full-range drivers are mounted in a 2.5-inch thick multi-layered HDF slab that screams Ikea chic. The M4 Turbo S feature two 12-inch full-range drivers per speaker and are a very amp friendly load. What sets the Spatial Audio products apart from the other designs that have failed over the years are the room-friendly baffles; the M4 Turbo S work well in smaller spaces and the controlled directivity of the drivers minimizes their interaction with the room.
The M4 Turbo S delivers layers of resolution and impressive low-end performance. Their high sensitivity allows them to work with low-powered tube amplifiers, and even moderately powered integrated amplifiers. Their neutral sounding tonal balance makes them a good loudspeaker to experiment with if you want to compare the differences between solid state and tube amplification and they are very spacious sounding.
Give them enough space and drive them with quality amplification and you may not understand how a pair of floor-standing loudspeakers can disappear in a room like a pair of the world’s best bookshelf loudspeakers.
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