TESTS: Tests - Tech Reviews https://www.lbtechreviews.com Your source for tech buying advice Mon, 04 Jul 2022 14:58:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/favicon_2020.png TESTS: Tests - Tech Reviews https://www.lbtechreviews.com 32 32 Sony NW-WM1ZM2 - Don't buy the European version https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/sony-nw-wm1zm2 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/sony-nw-wm1zm2#respond Mon, 04 Jul 2022 14:56:58 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/?post_type=test&p=215045   In the 80s and early 90s, portable music players meant analogue cassette players you could clip to your belt. All of them were called walkman, although Sony had the original, and also copyrighted the word: Walkman, with a capital W. The Walkman name lives on Today, cassette players like these are mostly dead and ... Read more]]>

 

In the 80s and early 90s, portable music players meant analogue cassette players you could clip to your belt. All of them were called walkman, although Sony had the original, and also copyrighted the word: Walkman, with a capital W.

Sony Walkman WM SXF33
Most people think of the cassette player WM-SXF33 when they hear the name Walkman.

The Walkman name lives on

Today, cassette players like these are mostly dead and buried (nostalgics can buy them on eBay, and they’re quite cheap.) Regardless, the Walkman name is not dead. It has simply changed format to digital music players (DAP). They’re obviously more compact and portable nowadays, and most of them can be pretty expensive. Like the high-end model we’re reviewing here, NW-WM1ZM2. The name might look more cryptic than it is, the M2 at the end means that is the second generation of this player.

Sony NW WM1ZM2 IER Z1R scaled 1
The Sony NW-WM1ZM2 is twice as expensive as the most expensive iPhone. Photo: Sony

Baffling price point

If I told you that this portable music player costs the same as the most expensive iPhone, you would probably shake your head in disbelief. But it doesn’t. It’s twice as expensive! But there is an explanation: This player is not for everyone. This product is meant for connoisseurs who shun wireless headphones and would rather spend almost their entire worth of savings on insanely expensive high-end headphones, leaving just a small amount left for music players, because they’ll need those as well.

Sony NW WM1ZM frame scaled 1
Chassis in pure copper. Foto: Sony

Pure perfection

The NW-WM1ZM2 has got top-class interior. Truly excellent quality. All circuits are carefully designed and made with top quality components, and you’ll find no coincidences inside. Both the digital and analog audio signal has been taken care of with utmost precision to achieve superior sound quality. The amplifier part is Sony’s own S-Master HX Digital Amp technology. And Sony says select capacitors and lead-free solder are used. The amp section and the headphone outputs are connected with thick Kimber Kable. And there are two headphone outputs: A 3.5 mm unbalanced and a 4.4 mm balanced.

The exterior has also been given great amount attention to details. The chassis itself is made of gold-plated OFC copper with a purity of 99.99 percent. According to Sony, this makes for a more stable construction with higher rigidity.

Sony NW WM1ZM2 beauty scaled 1
Sony NW-WM1ZM2 runs on Android. Foto: Sony

User-friendliness

With its touch screen and Android interface, the Sony NW-WM1ZM2 is as easy to use as any Android phone. You can install apps on it and it does everything an Android phone can do, with the exception of making calls and taking photos. Sony has included its own music player as standard, which is compatible with all downloaded music files.

For both PC and Mac

To import your own music to your phone (almost all file types are supported), use the Music Center application on a Windows PC whilst the player is connected to your computer with a USB cable. Mac users will need to use Content Transfer instead. It’s intuitive and simple, but we would have liked the option to plug the microSD memory card straight into the player.

On the other hand, it’s really easy to use Tidal and other music services that deliver music in CD quality or higher. In fact, that’s what I ended up using the most. Although I do have some favorites that I’ve transferred over and listen to a lot

Sony NW WM1ZM2 outputs GeirNordby scaled 1
Sony NW-WM1ZM2 has both balanced and unbalanced output. Foto: Geir Gråbein Nordby

Bummer

When Sony releases a new top model, you naturally prick up your ears. They have engineers who know their stuff, so expectations are extra high when they come up with something in this price range.

And the sound is really good. Sony sent us the player along with their own closed MDR-Z1R, and the WM1ZM2 does a great job of bringing out the bass in the headphones, whilst opening up the sound more at the top than I’m used to with these earbuds. I actually have them in my own collection, so I know them really well.

And then there’s the Audeze LCD-5 … I don’t think I’ve ever heard a trumpet as lifelike as Till Brönner’s on the Cohen cover of “A Thousand Kisses Deep“? And that at a low volume. I wonder what happens when you turn it up …?

Sony NW WM1ZM2 design side scaled 1
Foto: Sony

As it turns out, it’s not possible. Because even at maximum volume, the sound is so low that it has to be described as below what I would call “comfort level”. It’s so low-key and gentle that I don’t really understand what the point is.

Well, if you have a pair of really good earplugs like the Sennheiser IE 600 or the Beyerdynamic Xelento Remote, you could get a lot of use out of this player. But not with Sony’s own IER-Z1R earplugs; they’re too heavy-duty. So what’s the point?

If you’re investing nearly 4.000 euros in a music player, of course you want to be able to use some serious headphones with it. But you simply can’t

Luckily, there is a solution. Only the european version of the player has a muted sound level. This is in order to comply with european regulations on maximum sound pressure levels.

But Sony seems to have interpreted these rules more strictly than anyone else, because they have the lowest sound level of all DAP manufacturers. On the EU version, Sony has removed the High Gain function, which otherwise solves the problem of heavily driven headphones. If you buy the asian or american model, you won’t run into this issue. But you may have some problems with warranty.

Sony NW WM1ZM2 SPREAD scaled 1
Foto: Sony

Sony NW-WM1ZM2: Conclusion

It’s rather strange that Sony has chosen to give us a perfected music player – or DAP – like the NW-WM1ZM2, when they interpret European sound level regulations so strictly that the player can’t even drive heavy-duty headphones. What’s the point?

Well, it sounds a lot better than any phone does with the same low output level. But when something sounds good, you want to be able to turn it up. And when you can’t, it seems pointless to spend nearly 4.000 euros. After all, you want to power the heavy-duty, ultra high-end headphones you keep in your safe!

The only solution is to buy the player outside of Europe, in order to get it with full output level. The EU version on the other hand, should never have been launched.

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Audio Research I/50 - Beautiful and well-playing valve amplifier https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/audio-research-i-50 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/audio-research-i-50#respond Sat, 02 Jul 2022 06:00:18 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/audio-research-i-50 AR i50This must be the quietest valve amp ever, I thought. The valves were glowing and reflected in the glossy black surface. The two Lexie valves in the middle told me the volume was 38. Still, it was quiet as the grave. No sound. At all. A quick look at all the connections gave me no ... Read more]]> AR i50

This must be the quietest valve amp ever, I thought. The valves were glowing and reflected in the glossy black surface. The two Lexie valves in the middle told me the volume was 38. Still, it was quiet as the grave. No sound. At all.

A quick look at all the connections gave me no solution. Everything was plugged in by the book.

Not the manual, that is. Nobody reads that. Me neither.

Maybe it was an invisible force guiding my hand, because for some reason I pressed the volume button and suddenly all hell broke loose. There was sound. In massive quantities. The little Klipsch Heresy IV must have been as stunned as I was.

Also check out Bold retro-style sound

Klipsch's smallest Heritage speaker lies about both age and height, and gets away with it.

Klipsch Heresy IV oppslag 2048x1370 1

Slightly frantic, I turned down the volume at a certain speed, and then it dimmed for me. The damned amplifier always starts with the sound muted. Who would have thought it?

After the mystery had almost solved itself, I could bathe in the sound of Audio Research’s very cheapest amplifier, the integrated I/50. Which differs from anything else Audio Research has made, except that it uses vacuum valves instead of transistors.

As virtually all Audio Research amplifiers have done for over 50 years.

 

AR I50 Slv front
In addition to black and four vibrant colours, the I/5 is also available in classic silver grey. (Photo: Audio Research)

Future-proof

The new I/50 is not the only valve amplifier available on the market. In addition to Audio Research, valve amplifiers are available from a wide range of other manufacturers – Cayin, Jadis, Octave, McIntosh, LM Audio, Luxman and many others.

There are several reasons for this. The sound, of course. Which, although as different between valve amps as it is between transistor amps, can often have something about it that is often described as organic warmth. Some would say a more natural sound. Others a fuller sound.

There are also those who choose valves because they like to experiment with valves from different manufacturers. The latter group, who we might call hardcore valve enthusiasts, are probably not the target audience for the I/50.

Which is more aimed at those who have wanted a valve amp for a long time, but haven’t dared to take the plunge into an unknown world, and who may only have digital sound sources. Something most valve amplifiers don’t support.

AR i50 phono AR i50 DAC AR PB1 MM phono
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The phono module space is used by default for one of the line inputs. (Photo: Lasse Svendsen)

Modules

But this one does. Or rather, it soon will. The amplifier has two slots for plug-in modules.

One is set aside for a phono module with 42 dB gain – which is available for MM pickups (an MC version is not announced) for 990 euros.

The other is set aside for a DAC module. Which isn’t ready yet. So we don’t know what kind of digital converter, or what inputs it will have. But it will make it easy to connect digital audio sources. That much Audio Research has told us.

That way the amp has one foot in both the analogue and digital eras, which is unusual for a valve amp. The last time we saw something like this was when we tested the GSi75. It too was an integrated valve amp from Audio Research, with turntable input AND digital inputs.

Choose your colour

The much more compact and significantly cheaper I/50 is also the first from Audio Research to be available in colours other than black or aluminium grey. In fact, the black version can be supplied with a coloured frame around the amplifier, in red, light blue, gold or white.

This allows the colour-conscious to choose an I/50 to match the colours in the room, but I think most people will choose either black or grey anyway.

The amp is hand-built at Audio Research in Minnesota, USA, where even the transformers are hand-wound. After assembly, each amp goes through a listening room, for Audio Research’s chief designer, Warren Gehl, to quality assure the sound before the amp is packaged and shipped to the customer.

AR i50 remote
A remote control is included. (Photo: Lasse Svendsen)

Assemble it yourself

Once it shows up at the customer’s home, all you have to do is follow the instructions (yes, I know), which describe how to screw in the screws that hold the grille in place and mount the valves before connecting the amplifier. The grille protecting the valves can be left in the box, unless small children’s fingers can get to the amplifier.

Which has two times two 6550WE output valves from Sovtek and three 6922 valves; one is an input valve while the other two are drivers. Turning the amplifier over, you see the two slots for the modules and four analog inputs. One of which is balanced with XLR connectors.

Note that one RCA input is located where the phono module should be. So you lose a line input if you want turntable input.

Like most valve amps, the speaker terminals have separate connectors for 4 and 8 ohm speaker loads. There’s room to experiment a bit here, because many so-called 8 ohm speakers actually sound best from the 4 ohm outputs.

AR i50 front
BL means that the balanced XLR input is selected (Photo: Lasse Svendsen)

Wonderful sound

After I got settled, I settled in with the alu remote, and that was the start of several weeks of lovely warm, resolved and open sound. No matter which speakers I plugged in. The small Heresy IVs were replaced by the larger Forte IVs. Which brought out much more of the lower frequencies of the music, and were a perfect match for the 50 watt powerful I/50.

The amp actually has a – very good – headphone output next to the volume control, which turns off the speaker outputs when headphones are plugged in.

To the left are the power switch and input selector, and in the middle the aforementioned Lexie valves, which count down during valve warm-up when the amp is turned on, displaying the selected input and then volume. When muting the sound, the brightness is dimmed.

When not muting the sound, you can bathe in sound from top to bottom. The small footprint of the small amplifier is offset to that extent by a dynamic and vivid sound image.

Take strings, for example. The overture to Puccini’s La Boheme floats effortlessly out into space, and when the bigger strings come in, you can feel it vibrate in the sofa. At the same time, the strings sound weightless, resolved and open.

AR i50 tubes
Four 6550WE valves from Sovtek. (Photo: Lasse Svendsen)

The vocal timbre may be a little thin compared to the Naim Uniti Star, but there’s a clearer focus on detail here, and you can hear more of the room sound on the recording.

At the same time, I wouldn’t say that the sound is thin over the entire tonal range. The double bass and drums on the Keith Jarrett Trio’s live recording of “If I Were a Bell” have good heft, and you can feel the snare drum in your diaphragm.

I was a little surprised at how well the amp managed to keep a grip on the dynamics when playing loud. 50 watts isn’t a lot, but it’s clear that Audio Research has given the amp a power supply that doesn’t easily run out of power.

“Cold Duck” by Al Jarreau thundered out of the speakers and thoroughly put me in my place. Because at first I thought the amp would go to pieces, especially in the bass, when I turned up the volume.

It didn’t. Instead, it played on unabated, and on lightly powered speakers like the Forte IV, it never runs out of power.

The I/50 doesn’t have the classic warm valve sound that characterises many valve amps. At the same time, it’s not as neutral as, say, the Octave V70 SE, nor as powerful, but it still has enough fullness to make guitars, pianos, double basses and baritones sound really convincing.

AR i50 Lexie tubes
The two Lexie valves act as a display. (Photo: Lasse Svendsen)

Conclusion

For the many who might be considering an integrated amplifier, and not be intimidated by the price tag, the compact Audio Research I/50 is very much worth considering. It can be equipped with turntable input, later also with DAC, and then it is as modern as any amplifier. Just with a sound signature and design that stands out – in a positive way.

If you match it with the right speakers and also ensure quality in the rest of the signal path, the Audio Research I/50 could be one of the most successful amp buys in this price range.

 

audio research I50 amp
(Graphics: Audio Research)
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Bang & Olufsen Beoplay EX - Beoplay EX: They could have been great https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/headphones/bang-olufsen-beoplay-ex https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/headphones/bang-olufsen-beoplay-ex#respond Thu, 30 Jun 2022 06:00:51 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/bang-olufsen-beoplay-ex Beoplay EX GrabeinBang & Olufsen makes some of the most beautiful products we know, not least when it comes to headphones. Like the Beoplay HX, which has memory foam ear pads covered in lambskin. Nor should we forget the top-of-the-range Beoplay H95, which oozes luxury galore with both ear cups and case in solid aluminium. Because of ... Read more]]> Beoplay EX Grabein

Bang & Olufsen makes some of the most beautiful products we know, not least when it comes to headphones. Like the Beoplay HX, which has memory foam ear pads covered in lambskin. Nor should we forget the top-of-the-range Beoplay H95, which oozes luxury galore with both ear cups and case in solid aluminium.

Because of the small size, earbuds are not easily made to shine, but B&O has also done a good job there with the Beoplay E8 and Beoplay EQ.

The Beoplay EX, on the other hand, is the first B&O earbuds with protruding microphone stems. That may be primarily a design statement, but it also brings the microphones closer to your mouth. Which provides a better starting point for good speech quality during conversations and meetings.

BO Beoplay EX lifestyle3
The Beoplay EX comes in Anthracite Oxygen. (Photo: Bang & Olufsen)

Tasteful design

The design of the Beoplay EX is in my view very tasteful. Discreet and elegant with soft details. The microphone stems are angular, but the edges are rounded and not sharp. My pair was in a matte, light black anthracite color with a bluish mirror at the edge of the housings, which gives a unique and tasteful look. You can also choose Gold Tone, which is beige with gold-tone detailing, or Black Anthracite, which is simply just black.

The charging case is the same colour as the stoppers, which in my case means dark grey or light black, whichever you prefer to call it. The Gold Tone has a golden case, which I also liked, as I got to tinker with it a bit prior to launch.

BO Beoplay EX lifestyle
(Photo: Bang & Olufsen)

Touch functions

As with most earbuds, you can control a significant number of the functions on Beoplay EX with touch:

Start and stop music with a single touch on the right plug. Double-tap the right one to skip a track forward, and double-tap the left one to skip a track back. Press and hold the right to turn up and the same on the left to turn down. Press the left once to toggle between active noise cancellation, audio dubbing and disabled, and press the right prop three times to call up the voice assistant.

It takes time to learn, and personally I almost always use my mobile phone to do it all. But once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s sometimes nice not to have to get out your phone.

Fabulous comfort

Where B&O hits the spot for me is on the fit. Right into the ears – and that’s where they stay. As securely as comfortably. They’re actually some of the best I’ve had in my ears, second only to moulded silicone tips. Super cool!

BO Beoplay EX lifestyle5
(Photo: Bang & Olufsen)

Multipoint

Beoplay EX has the latest Bluetooth version, 5.2, and supports multipoint connectivity. This means that two devices can be connected at the same time, such as your mobile phone and PC. If you listen to music from your mobile and receive a video call via Zoom or Teams, the earbuds automatically switch to the PC.

Also check out Better sound cannot be found

Bowers & Wilkins PI7 sweeps the floor with the competition.

B&W pi7 spread(2)

Mediocre wireless range

Bluetooth 5.2 should in theory also provide more stable connectivity than previous Bluetooth versions (4.2 etc.). It’s also my experience that most earbuds today have a very stable connection, and many of them have a range that far exceeds the guaranteed ten metres. I have personally walked both 40 and 50 metres outdoors, and in our office space it is not uncommon to have to walk more than 25 metres before experiencing a drop in sound.

Unfortunately, this is not the case with the Beoplay EX. They are stable enough for general use, but as soon as I have moved ten metres away, the signal starts to drop out with constant interruptions in the sound. It’s disappointing, and rivals in the premium segment, such as the Bowers & Wilkins PI7, Devialet Gemini, Sony WF-1000XM4 and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3, all ground the Beoplay EX at range.

Also check out World premiere! Sennheiser has done it again

Sennheiser has once again improved on their best wireless earbuds. Momentum True Wireless 3 is pure bliss.

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 MTW3 spread

Good speech quality

Beoplay EX, on the other hand, impresses on speech quality. The user’s voice comes through loud and clear, and background noise is effectively filtered out.

Your voice will sound a little sharper and less natural than with the best headphones – especially those with a microphone boom (headsets). But nowhere near as distant and mumbling as with some earbuds.

All in all, B&O have solved this really well.

BO Beoplay EX gold Graabein 2
(Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Good noise reduction – but not the best

The noise reduction is good, but lets a little more bass frequencies through than both the Sennheiser Momentum and Sony WF-1000XM4. But the Beoplay EX more than gets the job done, even on the bus. I haven’t gotten to try it on an airplane yet, but it should work fine too. Conversely, the ambient sound passthrough – here called Transparency – makes you hear outside sound effectively, when that’s what you want.

Dull sound right out of the box

Now for the important stuff: The sound quality. Is it worthy of a pair of luxury earbuds? Yes and no. In the neutral sound setting, which B&O calls Optimal, it is not. The sound is flat and dull with a slightly sharp treble. Not the optimal starting point when you’re wanting to get goose bumps from your favourite music.

There is no black backdrop from which the instruments can “pop” out. To use the starry sky analogy, it’s as if it’s a late, grey afternoon and if there were a starry sky, only the very brightest stars would be visible.

Fortunately, you can adjust the sound in the app, and of the presets, the one called Sport sounds best. Perhaps with a little too much bass and still with some sharp treble.

Personalised sound adjustment

But you can also adjust the sound yourself. This is done with a dot that can be moved anywhere on a circular surface. The upper part gives a “light” sound (less bass), the lower one gives a “warm” sound (more bass), the left one gives a “relaxed” sound (less treble), and the right one gives an “energetic” sound (more treble).

I myself end up well down towards “warm”, as I like the bass to be much fuller. It then contrasts nicely with the treble, which is no longer perceived as peaky.

If you want an even more rounded treble, you can drag the dot a little to the left. In the Sport setting, it’s pulled about where I want it, just a little too far down (too much bass) and a little too far to the right (too much treble). I want it in the middle, so I pull it slightly to the left.

So you can get really good sound out of the earbuds, and even when the bass gets just a little energetic, it doesn’t give annoying colorations that obscure the midrange. Instead, the bass is good and rich, while vocals and instruments are allowed to retain their sonic character.

That’s why it’s extra annoying that every time you save a new setting, another one disappears. And you can’t change a saved setting, but then have to save the changes with a new name. Eventually you’re left with a set of your own settings, while the presets have disappeared. For example, it’s not so smart to lose the one called Podcast, which highlights voices when you’re listening to audiobooks or podcasts.

BO Beoplay EX black4
(Photo: Bang & Olufsen)

Hefty pop

With my own settings (more bass!), the rhythms on Jack Harlow’s “First Class” now sound much cooler and more catchy, without ruining the midrange where the voice is placed. And the high hat is crisp and tight.

Father John Misty’s country guitar sounds great, while the electric bass is full and luscious. Father John’s slightly nasal voice is amplified quite a bit in these earbuds anyway, and if you try to tone it down in the EQ, precious overtones disappear in the process. In other words, the treble is never quite as silky smooth as I’d like it to be.

But overall it sounds really good. Take Imelda May’s dark, low-key voice in the cabaret ballad “11 Past the Hour,” which would fit just as well in a David Lynch film as in a Tarantino movie. Here the vocals sound big against a backdrop of strings, percussion and electric bass. Much better than in the Optimal setting, where the sound is too flat and lifeless.

I’d like even more dynamic contrast, but with my own settings there aren’t many wireless hearing aids that beat the Beoplay EX on sound.

BO Beoplay EX Anthracite Oxygen
(Photo: Bang & Olufsen)

Competitors

However, there is no shortage of competitors in the price range. The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 is probably the best at around €250, which is considerably less than B&O charges for the Beoplay EX.

The Sennheiser has a better, more prominent midrange and a more neutral, honest playing style. But they too could benefit from a little tweaking on individual tracks, and it’s entirely possible to make the B&O sound at least as good. The Sennheisers don’t sit as well in my ears either, and they can’t be adjusted as well in the bass without sacrificing midrange.

The Sony WF-1000XM4 should be considered if you want the best noise reduction. They also sound really good, especially with Android mobile and LDAC enabled. But they don’t have quite the same transparent midrange as the Beoplay EX.

The Devialet Gemini is another model to consider. They automatically adjust the sound to the listener’s ears, and they sound crystal clear. But the Beoplay EX has a higher maximum level, while the Devialet reaches their limit a bit early.

The Bowers & Wilkins PI7 are my personal favourites and have a warm and luscious sound while being super musical. They cost about the same as the Beoplay EX, which is a little fresher at the top, but also a bit sharper.

The PI7, on the other hand, has no EQ; you have to take what you get. That’s a weakness when the earbuds cost so much. To my ears, the PI7 doesn’t fit as well as the Beoplay EX either. The call quality is also even better through the B&O plugs.

BO Beoplay EX Anthracite Oxygen3
(Photo: Bang & Olufsen)

Conclusion

The Bang & Olufsen Beoplay EX costs a pretty penny, but the earbuds also have a nice premium look that matches a fashionable outfit. They fit like a dream in the ears of yours truly, better than almost all other earbuds. They have excellent call quality, excellent noise cancellation – and a sound that can get really good with a little tweaking.

You have to do some EQ work to get enough bass out of them and to dampen the slightly obtrusive treble. But if you do, you won’t regret it! The Sport setting also works well if you don’t want to fiddle with the sound yourself.

These are definitely the most successful earbuds from Bang & Olufsen so far. But we do wonder a little about the rather short wireless range.

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Click & Grow Smart Garden 9 Pro - Semi-dumb smart garden for your kitchen https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/smart-home/click-grow-smart-garden-9-pro https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/smart-home/click-grow-smart-garden-9-pro#respond Mon, 27 Jun 2022 06:00:02 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/click-grow-smart-garden-9-pro Smart Garden 9 ProI’m the type who definitely doesn’t have green fingers. That’s why I mainly stick to palm trees and cacti when it comes to greening up my home. And the idea of growing vegetables and lettuce at home simply never occurred to me. But then a piece of news dropped in my inbox about a smart ... Read more]]> Smart Garden 9 Pro

I’m the type who definitely doesn’t have green fingers. That’s why I mainly stick to palm trees and cacti when it comes to greening up my home. And the idea of growing vegetables and lettuce at home simply never occurred to me.

But then a piece of news dropped in my inbox about a smart garden, the Click & Grow Smart Garden 9 Pro, which should make it possible for even the most unfit to grow things. I had to try it, I thought, and a few days later the parcel delivery man arrived with a large box containing what I can best describe as a 1980s-style balcony box.

Smart Garden 9 Pro
Click & Grow Smart Garden 9 Pro comes as a kit. (Photo: Peter Gotschalk)

Plants water themselves

The Smart Garden 9 Pro basically consists of a large water container shaped like a flower box with a capacity of 4 litres of water. In addition, there’s a grow light bar that shines down on the plants. And the latter comes in the form of capsules, which are placed in a frame with nine holes and thus room for nine capsules.

Smart Garden 9 Pro
The Smart Garden 9 Pro consists of a large water container shaped like a balcony box with a capacity of 4 litres of water. In addition, there is a hook with grow lights that shine down on the plants (Photo: Peter Gotschalk)

Each capsule is equipped with a small tube that draws water from the container itself, so you don’t have to remember to water the plants yourself. Just add water to the container about once a month, depending on the weather, and the rest will take care of itself. The grow lights stay on for 16 hours and turn off automatically for eight hours, but you can also turn the lights on and off manually by running your hand along the lamp bar.

Smart Garden 9 Pro
Plant seeds are delivered in the form of capsules, which are placed in a frame with nine holes, thus providing space for nine capsules (Photo: Peter Gotschalk)

My Smart Garden 9 Pro came with three capsules of green lettuce, three capsules of yellow mini tomatoes and three capsules of basil. But new capsules can of course be bought separately, and there are plenty of options to choose from, such as yellow chilli, wild strawberries, coriander and much, much more. A pack of three capsules typically costs between €10 and €13, so once you’ve bought the smart garden itself, growing your own vegetables is a cheap hobby. Even though the price per seed is actually excessive.

Smart Garden 9 Pro
A pack of three capsules typically costs between €10 and €13. (Photo: Peter Gotschalk)

Depending on which vegetables you plant, it can take a while to start seeing results. I fitted my seed capsules on 1 June and let the plants grow for 14 days before writing the actual test, and as you can see from the photos, there is a big difference in how much the different plants have grown. The tomatoes in the middle need much more time than the lettuce and basil, and in one of the capsules the tomato seeds haven’t even sprouted yet. Why, I don’t know.

Not particularly smart

So, er… what’s the smart thing about the Smart Garden 9 Pro? Does the balcony box automatically recognise the seed pods when they are fitted? Is there an app that can give me an accurate status of each plant and its progress or lack thereof? Can I control the water intake for each plant separately or adjust the lighting so that one type of plant gets more light than the others? Can I check the status of my smart garden and plants from my mobile while on the go? Um… no, no, no and no.

Smart Garden 9 Pro
Here I have planted all the supplied seed pods with basil, yellow mini tomatoes and green lettuce respectively. (Photo: Peter Gotschalk)

The fact is, the Smart Garden 9 Pro isn’t actually very smart. Yes, there’s an app called Click & Grow that lets you connect your phone to the balcony box via Bluetooth, but the only thing you can really control via the app are the grow lights. You can turn them on or off, as well as adjust the schedule for when the lights turn on and off automatically.

In addition, the app provides an overview of your smart garden, but you have to manually specify which vegetables you have planted. Clicking on a particular vegetable gives you general information about the plant – when it can be harvested, is it edible, what temperature does it prefer, etc – but otherwise the app just keeps track of how many days have passed since you planted the seeds.

Smart Garden 9 Pro
It has been 14 days. The green lettuce (left) and basil (right) are growing nicely, while the yellow mini tomatoes (centre) need a bit more time. (Photo: Peter Gotschalk)

And that, my friends, is not exactly smart technology.

Conclusion

Admittedly, I expect to get a lot of pleasure out of my Click & Grow Smart Garden 9 Pro. The mere fact that you get your seeds in little capsules that draw water from the tank themselves means I don’t have to worry about watering the plants. And the grow light helps the vegetables grow faster, so you don’t have to wait months to enjoy your plants.

But smart in the true sense of the word, the product isn’t really. I would go so far as to say that the product name leans towards being false marketing.

clickgrowapp1 clickgrowapp2
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The Click & Grow app provides an overview of your smart garden, but you have to manually specify which vegetables you have planted. Clicking on a given vegetable gives you general information about the plant. (Photo: Peter Gotschalk)

Therefore, I can’t recommend the Smart Garden 9 Pro as such, but I do admit that the “smart” garden can definitely help you get started growing your own vegetables if you’re not the type to be born with green fingers.

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Marantz NR1200 - A host of features https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/six-streaming-amplifiers/marantz-nr1200 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/six-streaming-amplifiers/marantz-nr1200#respond Sat, 25 Jun 2022 06:03:33 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/marantz-nr1200 Marantz NR1200 1The Marantz NR1200 is a full-sized network amplifier with more connectivity and features than any other in its class, including five (!) HDMI inputs and an HDMI output with audio return. This is where you connect your TV, so you can include your stereo in your TV entertainment. There are also a couple of digital ... Read more]]> Marantz NR1200 1

The Marantz NR1200 is a full-sized network amplifier with more connectivity and features than any other in its class, including five (!) HDMI inputs and an HDMI output with audio return. This is where you connect your TV, so you can include your stereo in your TV entertainment.

There are also a couple of digital inputs, optical and coaxial, as well as a USB input on the front, so you can stream audio files from USB memory. Analogue inputs are also available, of course, including for turntables with MM pickup.

If you want to connect an extra power amp, you can do so with the preamp output. There are also outputs for two subwoofers, and what if the amplifier also has a DAB+ receiver! And a headphone output!

Music streaming can be done with AirPlay 2, or you can download the HEOS app. Spotify is also built in.

Marantz NR1200 rear scaled 1
No less than five HDMI inputs, turntable input and digital inputs are located on the rear of the NR1200. (Photo: Marantz)

Developed by Marantz and Denon, HEOS is a competitor to the Sonos system. It brings all your streaming services together in one app and lets you make playlists across services. Smart. If you want high-resolution sound, however, you should download BubbleUPnP or Mconnect for your mobile, as DLNA is the only option next to downloaded music files.

Another thing I miss about HEOS is the ability to sort my Tidal songs by chronology, i.e. by when they were added. But you can only get alphabetical order by song title. With a few hundred tracks, it gets a bit tedious to navigate.

The sound of the Marantz NR1200

The NR1200 has a very nice sound; just listen to Olivia Rodrigo’s voice on “Drivers License”. Really nice timbre in the voice here, while the synth bass fills out the lower register. The piano also has a big and delicious sound. Sivert Høyem’s baritone voice sounds great in the Madrugada ballad “Ecstasy”. Especially in the midrange it sounds really distinguished. All in all, Marantz has full control over the tone quality.

Pressure and dynamics, on the other hand, are not the amplifier’s strongest points. For although there is good depth in the bass, I miss some punch in the rhythms. Compared to the Bluesound Powernode, the Marantz amp is just too cautious for my taste. It doesn’t have much more to offer in the power department than the much cheaper NAD Amp1, although the tonal quality is better on the Marantz.

Marantz NR1200 remote
Marantz NR1200 comes with a remote control. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Conclusion

The Marantz NR1200 is a stereo receiver for those who want to connect a lot of audio sources and also want DAB+ radio. Connectivity-wise, no one in this class can match it, and usability is also good with HEOS streaming. Although it’s not quite at Sonos level.

The sound quality is very good, and acoustic instruments and great singing voices sound especially great. If sound quality is more important than raw power, the NR1200 is everything you could dream of in this class.

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Bluesound Powernode (N330) - Improved giant slayer https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/six-streaming-amplifiers/bluesound-powernode-n330 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/six-streaming-amplifiers/bluesound-powernode-n330#respond Sat, 25 Jun 2022 06:01:06 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/bluesound-powernode-n330 Bluesound Powernode N330Externally, the new Powernode looks like its predecessor: a black or white plastic box with rounded corners and a control panel on top. The panel is more advanced than before, as there is now a touch field for controlling volume, as well as five presets that can be programmed with internet radio stations or playlists. ... Read more]]> Bluesound Powernode N330

Externally, the new Powernode looks like its predecessor: a black or white plastic box with rounded corners and a control panel on top. The panel is more advanced than before, as there is now a touch field for controlling volume, as well as five presets that can be programmed with internet radio stations or playlists.

It would have been the icing on the cake if the touch panel included a display so you could see what was behind the buttons.

Otherwise, most operation is via the Bluesound mobile app, and usability is on par with Sonos. Bluesound also has several options for high-resolution audio, if you’re interested in that. In addition, the Powernode can be controlled with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

You can buy a separate remote, but if you connect the TV via the HDMI jack, you can use the TV’s remote to adjust the sound up and down.

On the back, the Bluesound Powernode has a USB port and two combined analogue/digital inputs. But frankly, you get a long way with the streaming functions plus the TV via HDMI.

If you want surround sound, the amp can be part of a multi-channel system (up to 5.1 channels) along with, say, a Bluesound soundbar or separate speakers. If you have an older Powernode, it can also be set up to drive the rear speakers.

Bluesound POWERNODE WHT 2331
(Photo: Bluesound)

The sound of Bluesound Powernode

It’s easy to underestimate the Bluesound Powernode. The little lunchbox of an amplifier weighs only 1.8 kg and looks like a toy. But with a couple of decent speakers hooked up, it gets serious.

The balance of the soundstage is distinctly uncoloured, but the sound is anything but flat and dull. The bass is stable and energetic, and there’s good midrange punch on the violins in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. The resolution upwards is good too, this is really good!

Pop music has good pressure – just listen to the bass rhythms on Ariana Grande’s “Break Up With Your Girlfriend”. It’s fierce, it’s cool, it’s delicious.

Powernode reproduces the space in which the recording takes place well, whether it’s a live recording or audio put together in a studio. It’s very transparent and you can place instruments and voices on stage.

When pushed to the limit, the amp loses the ability to separate out the small details, but then it’s also miles ahead of the others in the test in terms of sound pressure. And when it does get strained, it does so in a civilised way without sounding ugly.

bluesound powernode rear
The HDMI connector with ARC makes it easy to connect Powernode (N330) to a TV. (Photo: Bluesound)

Conclusion

The Bluesound Powernode (N330) is even better than its predecessor, and although the price has gone up since we last tested it, it stands out so strongly from the field that this is quickly forgiven.

It’s clearly worth the extra price compared to the Sonos Amp and its peers, and is the amp in the price range that yours truly would choose if the format were small. Perhaps in any case, because it doesn’t stand up to bigger amps either.

When we tested it alone last year, Powernode gave it five stars. Now, after pitting it against the rest of the field, it’s clear that it should get full marks. Best in test!

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Cabasse Stream Amp - Steady Frenchman https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/six-streaming-amplifiers/cabasse-stream-amp https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/six-streaming-amplifiers/cabasse-stream-amp#respond Sat, 25 Jun 2022 06:00:30 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/cabasse-stream-amp Cabasse Stream AmpCabasse Stream Amp came out a few years ago, but we haven’t gotten around to testing it until now. And since it’s still current, it now has to try its hand against a pretty tight field. The Stream Amp doesn’t have Chromecast or AirPlay, but is locked to Cabasse’s own Stream app. The latter supports ... Read more]]> Cabasse Stream Amp

Cabasse Stream Amp came out a few years ago, but we haven’t gotten around to testing it until now. And since it’s still current, it now has to try its hand against a pretty tight field.

The Stream Amp doesn’t have Chromecast or AirPlay, but is locked to Cabasse’s own Stream app. The latter supports services like Spotify, Deezer and Tidal, and it also has both analogue and digital connections.

With speaker outputs for four speakers, the amp is ideal for in-wall projects or other situations where you need to drive multiple speakers. It then goes from 2 x 50 watts to 4 x 25 watts, but since you then have four speakers to fill the room, you can come a long way with that. If you need more power, there’s both a preamp output for a power amp and a subwoofer output.

A small remote control is included for volume control and source selection. Pressing the mute button fades out the sound instead of abruptly cutting it off. We like that!

Connecting is hassle-free. Download the Cabasse app and it finds the amp without a fuss. Then it’s just streaming away.

Cabasse Stream Amp rear
Cabasse Stream Amp has both digital and analogue connections (Photo: Cabasse)

The sound of the Cabasse Stream Amp

There’s surprisingly good control over the deep bass on Bea Miller’s industrial-pop number “Playground” from the animated TV series Arcane. The distorted bass tones come across crisply with plenty of detail, and not only are Bea’s vocals airy and clear; the second voice she’s laid underneath also stands out clearly, giving the track the dark mood it deserves. Significantly better than, say, the Sonos Amp.

Tom Waits stands out with his amazing rusty vocal chords in “Day After Tomorrow”. The soundstage is wide, and Cabasse maintains the tone of the acoustic guitar while placing the notes of the undistorted electric guitar well to the right, slightly back in the soundstage.

The only thing I miss is a bit more aggression and dynamics. The amp can handle being turned up quite a bit; that’s not the problem. But there’s a bit of bite and ferocity missing when the bass drum pounds away or the timpani in “Confutatis” from Sigurd Islandsmoen’s Requiem kick in. It gets a bit cautious.

Cabasse Stream Amp remote
A small remote control is included. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Conclusion

The Cabasse Stream Amp is a good streaming amp that sounds nice and airy, and also has a deep, nice sound in the bass. It plays really well and also has enough power to drive a couple of decent speakers.

The amp could have done with a bit more aggression and dynamics; it all gets a bit `polished’. At the same time, it would seem more future-proof if it had Chromecast or AirPlay 2 in addition to its own interface. Fortunately, it also has Bluetooth and digital inputs.

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Sonos Amp - Has become too expensive https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/six-streaming-amplifiers/sonos-amp-2 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/six-streaming-amplifiers/sonos-amp-2#respond Fri, 24 Jun 2022 06:07:06 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/sonos-amp-2 Sonos AmpSonos Amp can turn a pair of old-fashioned speakers into full-fledged Sonos multi-room speakers. As well as the Sonos interface, which lets you stream all your music dreams via the Sonos app, the Amp also has HDMI input and, if you buy an adapter, optical digital input too. If you want, Amp can drive the ... Read more]]> Sonos Amp

Sonos Amp can turn a pair of old-fashioned speakers into full-fledged Sonos multi-room speakers. As well as the Sonos interface, which lets you stream all your music dreams via the Sonos app, the Amp also has HDMI input and, if you buy an adapter, optical digital input too.

If you want, Amp can drive the rear speakers of a surround system, while the front channels are played by a Sonos soundbar. Or you can use two Sonos Amps: one in the front and one in the back.

Amp also has built-in AirPlay 2, so Apple users can stream music directly from third-party apps when they don’t bother using the Sonos app.

There’s also an analog RCA input, if you want to connect a turntable amp, for example. If you have multiple Sonos products in a multi-room setup, they can be grouped together to distribute the sound from the turntable around the house.

Sonos Amp lifestyle 1
(Photo: Sonos)

The sound of the Sonos Amp

The Sonos Amp sounds just as good now as it did when I tested it in 2019. But since then, the price has gone up by over 20 percent, and the demands on sound quality have increased accordingly.

The amp can drive both compact and floorstanding speakers just fine, and if you have a pair of more expensive speakers, the Amp actually manages to let the speakers have the last word when it comes to sound quality.

The sound has fine airyness, but it lacks a bit of dynamics and drive to properly capture and bring the music to life. It ends up a bit flat and unengaging.

If you have a pair of Sonos in-wall speakers (they’re called In-Wall and In-Ceiling), the Trueplay room correction can adjust the sound according to the room. But not with any other speakers, except as rear speakers with a Sonos soundbar. Then the amplifier is included in the soundbar’s Trueplay setup, and you get a sound that’s more in tune with the room. With more air and less coloration as a result.

In any case, the Sonos Amp comes up short against the cheaper Harman Kardon Citation Amp, and it’s only a notch better than the NAD Amp1 on sound quality. That makes the Sonos Amp too expensive.

sonos amp rear scaled 1
Sonos Amp has HDMI input and analog line input, as well as subwoofer output. (Photo: Sonos)

Conclusion

The Sonos Amp is a very user-friendly amplifier that does very well. It can drive more expensive speakers with great (enough) conviction to some extent.

If it had cost the same as at launch, it would still have got our clear recommendation. Unfortunately, the price has gone up by more than 20 percent, and so it seems too expensive. If you already have a Sonos setup and want to plug in your old speakers, you can buy it. However, if you can live with another brand, there are many other things we’d rather consider.

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NAD Amp1 - All you need https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/six-streaming-amplifiers/nad-amp1 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/six-streaming-amplifiers/nad-amp1#respond Fri, 24 Jun 2022 06:05:13 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/nad-amp1 NAD Amp1The smallest amp in the test is from NAD and is called Amp1. That doesn’t mean it is less capable. With Chromecast streaming over Wi-Fi, it supports the vast majority of music services, and they’re controlled in the usual way from their native apps. Connecting the amp to the network is super easy: just open ... Read more]]> NAD Amp1

The smallest amp in the test is from NAD and is called Amp1. That doesn’t mean it is less capable. With Chromecast streaming over Wi-Fi, it supports the vast majority of music services, and they’re controlled in the usual way from their native apps.

Connecting the amp to the network is super easy: just open the Google Home app (iPhone or Android) and the amp pops up there. Follow the instructions and you’re in business. Just know that the amp doesn’t have an Ethernet connector, so it needs to be somewhere with good Wi-Fi coverage.

In addition to two optical digital inputs, where you can easily connect the TV and perhaps a CD player or games console, there’s also turntable input for MM pickups plus an analogue line input. And a preamp output for connecting a separate power amplifier or subwoofer.

NAD Amp1 rear
Two optical inputs plus turntable input. (Photo: NAD)

The sound of the NAD Amp1

I like the warm, rich sound of the Amp1. There’s a good midrange focus on Madrugada’s ballad “Ecstasy,” with Sivert Høyem’s voice sounding big and beautiful.

The bass notes from the piano on Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” pick up well, and while the NAD amp isn’t among the most powerful, it has nice energy in the drum rhythms on more festive music.

Still, there’s only so much the Amp1 can handle when you crank up the volume, and it doesn’t have to be pushed very hard before it loosens its grip and things start to slip a bit. Still, power-wise it’s on a par with the Sonos Amp, and that’s got to be a good thing at this price. Besides, I think the NAD sounds better.

NAD Amp1 remote
A small remote control is included for the NAD Amp1. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Conclusion

The small Chromecast amplifier NAD Amp1 is easy to use and has an inviting sound with good focus in the bass area. It may not shine quite so much upwards in the harmonics, but the overall impression is very good.

The Amp1 isn’t among the most powerful amps, and that can be heard when you turn it up, but for general music listening and with a pair of lightly driven speakers with a sensitivity not far below 90 dB, it’s a pleasure to listen to.

Plus for turntable input and preamp output!

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Harman Kardon Citation Amp - Big amp in small package https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/six-streaming-amplifiers/harman-kardon-citation-amp-2 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/six-streaming-amplifiers/harman-kardon-citation-amp-2#respond Fri, 24 Jun 2022 06:04:26 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/harman-kardon-citation-amp-2 Harman Kardon Citation AmpThe Citation family from Harman Kardon consists mainly of wireless speakers and soundbars with built-in streaming, but the Citation Amp is an amplifier designed to drive a set of traditional speakers. That means you can blow the dust off your old favourite speakers and include them in the modern home. Many people think it’s difficult ... Read more]]> Harman Kardon Citation Amp

The Citation family from Harman Kardon consists mainly of wireless speakers and soundbars with built-in streaming, but the Citation Amp is an amplifier designed to drive a set of traditional speakers. That means you can blow the dust off your old favourite speakers and include them in the modern home.

Many people think it’s difficult to set up a modern streaming amp. It can be, but in this case it’s very simple. Power up the Citation Amp, download the Google Home app for your smartphone if you don’t already have it, find the amp name at the top of the screen and click it. Then walk through the setup step by step, and bingo!

The Citation Amp also has built-in Bluetooth, an analog line input for connecting a turntable amp (RIAA stage), for example, and optical and coaxial digital inputs. But perhaps best of all, it has an HDMI input. This allows it to be connected to the TV’s HDMI ARC input, allowing the stereo to take over from the TV’s built-in speakers.

Harman Kardon Citation Amp rear scaled 1
Analogue line input, optical and coaxial digital input and HDMI input. (Photo: Harman Kardon)

The sound of the Harman Kardon Citation Amp

It’s understandable if you think all small streaming amps in this price range sound the same, but that’s not true at all. For a start, not all are equally powerful, and some focus more on air and overtones, while others have better bass control.

The Citation Amp balances different abilities with conviction. It’s both lively and entertaining, and has good weight in the bottom register.

Where the NAD Amp1 has nice, rich bass but lacks control when you turn it up, the Citation Amp retains control at higher volume levels. I have no doubt which one I would choose if the amp occasionally needs to play up to a party. Because here you easily get up to a danceable level!

There’s a slightly more boomy sound in Olivia Rodrigo’s voice than with the NAD and Bluesound, the sound is more direct with the Harman Kardon. But damn, the bass drum hits hard!

Harman Kardon Citation Amp remote scaled 1
Harman Kardon Citation Amp comes with remote control. (Photo: Harman Kardon)

Conclusion

The Harman Kardon Citation Amp is neither big, complicated nor particularly expensive. One could therefore be led to believe that it is nothing special and will disappear into the crowd. But that would be a mistake.

The Citation Amp has enough power to drive speakers with reasonably hefty bass control, while being musical enough to really enjoy the music.

The amp does lack the resolution of the very best amps, but the overall experience is really good, and considering the price, we have nothing to complain about.

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Six streaming amplifiers - New hi-fi life with a modern amplifier https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/six-streaming-amplifiers https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/six-streaming-amplifiers#respond Fri, 24 Jun 2022 06:00:52 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/seks-streaming-forstaerkere Streaming forsterkere SPREAD 2You tend to forget that the convenience of streaming music directly from your phone doesn’t have to come at the expense of sound quality. There is no need to settle for a small all-in-one speaker in the living room. Instead, you can put it in another room and dedicate your favourite seating area to a ... Read more]]> Streaming forsterkere SPREAD 2

You tend to forget that the convenience of streaming music directly from your phone doesn’t have to come at the expense of sound quality. There is no need to settle for a small all-in-one speaker in the living room. Instead, you can put it in another room and dedicate your favourite seating area to a proper hi-fi system. With proper speakers. All you need is a stereo amplifier with built-in streaming.

Streaming amplifiers

A streaming amplifier works like any other hi-fi amplifier, connecting to speakers with cables. The difference is that the amplifier has wireless network connectivity and built-in support for streaming services.

Some amplifiers have their own app that lets you control all your music independently of your music subscription. Others use a more generic interface, such as AirPlay and Google Cast (Chromecast), where you are referred to the original apps for the services you want to use.

Even if you use the apps you already have on your mobile to play the music you want, the actual music streaming happens in the amplifier. The exceptions are Bluetooth and the first version of AirPlay, where the digital audio signal was streamed from the phone to the amp.

Because the streaming device is in the amplifier instead, you get a more stable signal, and even if your phone rings, the music will continue to play on the system. You can also control music from your phone in multiple zones in your home, for example if you have multiple Chromecast or AirPlay speakers around the house.

Strommeforsterkere lagerbilde
Amplifiers and speakers ready for unpacking … (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Six amps with networking

In this test we look at six streaming amplifiers, all of which have network connectivity and streaming capabilities built in. Some rely on Chromecast or AirPlay 2 (or both), while others have their own interface. All can be paired with other compatible products to set up audio in other rooms that can be synced.

Five of the amplifiers are in mini format, while one (Marantz NR1200) is in full 44cm rack-width. That needn’t matter for either sound quality, muscle or functionality, but in this case the amp has multiple inputs, including a whopping five HDMI inputs. Some prefer full width, while others appreciate the smallest possible footprint.

How we tested

Over time, the usability of streaming amplifiers has become pretty streamlined, and there aren’t any that are notably difficult to use. For this test, therefore, we focused on sound quality. The amps were tested with a varied selection of CD-quality music from streaming services Tidal and Apple Music.

The speakers we’ve used are the fabulous Dynaudio Evoke 20 compact speakers and the floorstanding Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary Edition. The latter are a little harder to drive than the Dynaudio’s and therefore good at distinguishing between amps, especially in the bass register.

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JBL PartyBox 710 - Concert sound in the garden https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/speakers/jbl-partybox-710 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/speakers/jbl-partybox-710#respond Thu, 23 Jun 2022 07:49:55 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/jbl-partybox-710 JBL PartyBox 710 scaled 1If you can’ t get it loud enough, it’ s because you have too small a speaker. Try something bigger than a table speaker next time, and I guarantee your guests will fill the dance floor in seconds. Just ask a DJ. Music is everything, yet nothing if the speakers don’t get people engaged. That’s ... Read more]]> JBL PartyBox 710 scaled 1

If you can’ t get it loud enough, it’ s because you have too small a speaker. Try something bigger than a table speaker next time, and I guarantee your guests will fill the dance floor in seconds.

Just ask a DJ. Music is everything, yet nothing if the speakers don’t get people engaged. That’s why it can be a good idea to up the speaker a size. Or two sizes, as in the case of the JBL PartyBox 710. It’s twice as big as the Sony SRS-XP500 and twice as expensive, but also much better.

It’s not a speaker you park next to the TV or enjoy some muted background music on. The PartyBox 710 doesn’t come to life until you crank it up properly. Then you can both hear and feel the music, which can be classical as well as pop or rock. Okay, classical music might not be the most obvious choice, but it’ll do as long as you don’t listen too carefully.

If you do, you quickly hear that something is missing here and there. But compared to the equally expensive and similarly sized Sony MHC-V73D, the sound hangs together better on JBL’s big PartyBox.

In many ways it resembles a large version of the portable JBL Boombox 2, but plays with a soundstage that the latter doesn’t come close to. Two Ultimate Ears Hyperbooms in stereo come close and sound a little better balanced, but even with two you don’t get the same physical bass as from one PartyBox 710.

Which can actually be paired with an extra PartyBox 710, should you need even more sound.

JBL PartyBox 710 stereo
JBL PartyBox 710 in stereo. (Photo: JBL)

No battery power

With two 21.6 cm woofers behind the metal grill, two 7 cm tweeters and a total of 800 watts of power, you can feel both the bass and the sound pressure of the PartyBox 710 in your body.

Downloading the app, you’ll find a sort of limited DJ function that provides sound effects of the kind you often hear at beach parties or after-ski parties. With microphone inputs, anyone can talk or sing along to the music, and it even has a guitar input for those who want to play along. Or you can use the PartyBox 710 as a simple singing system.

Large, clear buttons and knobs on top make operation easy, even in low light, and if you download the JBL PartyBox app, you can control the lighting effects – which can also be turned off completely.

The only thing it doesn’t really have is a battery. So it always needs to be near a power outlet – unlike a Soundboks, which can play for up to 40 hours on a charge.

JBL PartyBox 710 bak scaled 1
JBL PartyBox 710 in the back, where you can connect a microphone, guitar or other signal source. (Photo: JBL)

High party factor

While Sony’s otherwise excellent MHC-V73D can sound a little harsh if you play loud, the JBL speaker always sounds pleasant. Even when you’re tempted to turn it up a notch. Just be a little careful with the bass control, which can be too much of a good thing.

It has two settings, in addition to on and off. One for more depth and one for more thump. Outdoors, extra bass can sometimes be better, but indoors it can get very muddy and intrusive with so much bottom.

Putting that aside, the PartyBox 710 is a very pleasant acquaintance. The bass is always present, but for the most part it’s well under control and blends in well with the rest of the music. The two treble units never sound sharp, but as so often with speakers with big basses and no midrange units, there’s a lack of fullness and energy in that particular area.

That’s unlikely to bother any of the many who want a splash-proof outdoor speaker that can be wheeled to the nearest party – and who don’t need a portable, battery-powered speaker.

PartyBox app
The PartyBox app has several features. (Photo: Lasse Svendsen)

Conclusion

The JBL PartyBox 710 lives up to its name. The PartyBox 710 really gets the party started, with its ability to play both catchy and balanced, and with convincing bass without sounding unpleasant.

It’s more rollable than portable, and without a battery its uses are somewhat limited, but what a sound it makes! Turn on the light show and crank up the volume, and the dance floor is guaranteed to fill with party-goers.

If one PartyBox 710 isn’t enough, you can always try two. If you dare.

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Apple iPad Air 5 (2022) - Best iPad Air yet https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/mobile-tablet/apple-ipad-air-5-2022 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/mobile-tablet/apple-ipad-air-5-2022#respond Wed, 22 Jun 2022 09:30:55 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/apple-ipad-air-5-2022 iPad Air 5 (2022)Visually, nothing’s changed since 2020, when the predecessor to iPad Air saw the light of day. The updated iPad Air features the same “old” design, with sharp lines and edges combined with rounded corners that make the tablet look like an outgrown version of iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 – two classic handsets that were ... Read more]]> iPad Air 5 (2022)

Visually, nothing’s changed since 2020, when the predecessor to iPad Air saw the light of day. The updated iPad Air features the same “old” design, with sharp lines and edges combined with rounded corners that make the tablet look like an outgrown version of iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 – two classic handsets that were responsible for some of the most iconic Apple design ever.

The screen is also the same, a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display (with a resolution of 2360 x 1640 pixels, equivalent to 264 ppi), which means it’s still an IPS screen, which in practice means that the brightness (500 nit) is always perceived as a little too low, just as the contrast and black level could also be better. We would have liked Apple to equip the latest iPad Air with the same Mini-LED screen technology as the iPad Pro.

iPad Air 5 (2022)
The 2022 version of iPad Air comes in five different colours – space grey, starburst, pink, purple and blue. (Photo: Apple)

Nothing new under the sun

Face ID hasn’t made its way to the new iPad Air, either. Instead, the Touch ID fingerprint reader sits in the same place it did two years ago, in the power button, just as the latest iPad Air, like its predecessor, has built-in stereo speakers that have been placed horizontally. That way, you get great stereo sound whether you’re playing games or watching video on your tablet.

So far, there’s nothing new under the sun. But of course the 2022 model also offers a few new features, otherwise Apple could hardly afford to advertise it as a major update.

iPad Air 5 (2022)
Apple iPad Air supports Apple Pencil (2nd generation) and comes with iPadOS 15. (Photo: Apple)

Speed Monster

And it’s primarily when it comes to speed and muscle that the latest iPad Air impresses. Partly because it now (finally!) comes with 5G, and partly because, like the iPad Pro, it has Apple’s own M1 processor residing under the screen.

Because the M1 processor is built on an ARM-based processor architecture (and comes with, among other things, 16 billion transistors, 16-core Neural Engine, and eight processor and eight graphics cores), it works just as well under iPadOS as it does with macOS, the operating system for Apple’s “regular” computers.

And let’s face it, iPad Air has also caught up with the M1. Based on the Geekbench 5 benchmark tool, the 2022 iPad Air is more than 40 percent faster than its predecessor, and when it comes to graphics performance, the difference is even greater.

Of course, that also means iPad Air is better than ever at both imaging and video editing. There’s simply no waiting at all when playing with filters or adjusting colours, and both rendering and exporting video files is lightning fast.

Camera functionality from iPad Pro

And then, of course, there’s the camera. The new iPad Air has an all-new front camera similar to the one on the much more expensive iPad Pro, with a 122-degree ultra-wide-angle lens that supports the In Focus feature Apple launched last spring.

USB-C is used for charging, transferring files and connecting external devices (which can require annoying adapters). Note, however, that USB-C on iPad Air does not support Thunderbolt 4, which is the case for iPad Pro models. (Photo: Peter Gotschalk)

In Focus (also called Center Stage) uses artificial intelligence to follow the person talking when video conferencing with work or grandparents via FaceTime, Skype or Zoom. If you’re in the middle of the frame, the camera follows you several paces to the left and right, so to speak, and the effect works flawlessly and feels very natural in everyday use.

The primary camera is also quite respectable, and although it offers me some resistance to taking pictures with a tablet, the iPad Air does the job quite brilliantly, as you can see examples of in the image gallery below.

ipadair2022 galleri1 ipadair2022 galleri2 ipadair2022 galleri3 ipadair2022 galleri4 ipadair2022 galleri5 ipadair2022 galleri6
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(Photo: Peter Gotschalk)

Conclusion

In short, the 2022 version of the iPad Air is the best of its kind to date. It’s very close to being as good as the somewhat more expensive iPad Pro, and if you’re already an Apple user and used to navigating the company’s ecosystem of apps and services, the iPad Air is actually the most obvious choice if you’re looking for a tablet right now.

All the more frustrating, then, that Apple hasn’t gone all the way as far as the screen is concerned. It’s quite obvious that the sleek, slim and lightning-fast iPad Air deserves a Mini-LED screen. Let’s hope it comes with the next update.

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Cayin RU6 - "Vinyl sound" from your phone https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/headphones/cayin-ru6 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/headphones/cayin-ru6#comments Tue, 21 Jun 2022 13:39:48 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/cayin-ru6 Cayin RU6 Spread 2 2048x1152 1Which headphones or earbuds did you last buy? Most likely they were wireless, as over 80 percent of all headphones sold in 2021 were. And I understand that, because I have several pairs of wireless earbuds and headphones myself. They are convenient, not least because modern phones completely lack a headphone output. And wireless can ... Read more]]> Cayin RU6 Spread 2 2048x1152 1

Which headphones or earbuds did you last buy? Most likely they were wireless, as over 80 percent of all headphones sold in 2021 were. And I understand that, because I have several pairs of wireless earbuds and headphones myself. They are convenient, not least because modern phones completely lack a headphone output.

And wireless can sound pretty good, but rarely great. Bluetooth compresses and degrades the digital audio format, and the built-in digital conversion and amplification in the headphones – and especially in the small earplugs – is of a rather beggarly calibre.

Hi-fi enthusiasts should therefore have at least one pair of decent headphones and/or wired earbuds. But what about on the move?

Cayin RU6 backside scaled 1
The portable Cayin RU6 uses a conversion principle called R-2R, which uses a minimum number of resistors (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Cayin RU6: A portable headphone amplifier

Simple. A portable amplifier with built-in DAC does the job. Take the Cayin RU6 – a vanishingly small headphone amp with built-in digital conversion that’s the size of a lighter. It connects to the Android phone with a small cable with USB-C at both ends, while iPhone users need a cable with Lightning connector at the opposite end.

A 12 cm short cable is offered as an option for the RU6, for a few hundred crowns. By comparison, an original Apple cable is at least a metre long and curls more in your pocket.

One secret behind making the RU6 so small and light, without, according to the manufacturer, sacrificing sound quality, is the principle of digital conversion. Called R-2R, the principle converts the digital signal using small resistors in the circuit: one pair of resistors for each bit of dynamic range in the signal, for a total of 24 pairs.

It is a much simpler circuit than usual, with the number of resistors doubling for each bit increase. This can be an ingenious solution, but it places high demands on the quality of the resistors.

Cayin RU62 scaled 1
You won’t find a much more portable headphone amp. (Photo: Cayin)

384 kHz

The Cayin RU6 supports digital resolutions up to 24 bit/384 kHz with standard PCM signal. The rarer DSD format, which almost no streaming services use, is supported up to DSD256 (11.2 MHz). You may also have some DSD files stored on your PC, which can be played back by converting the signal losslessly to PCM. The principle should mathematically be completely lossless and is also known as DoP, or “DSD over PCM”.

As a nice bonus, the DAC has a small OLED display that briefly displays the digital resolution of the music being played before it goes black. Press the Mode button to turn the display back on.

Holding down the same button takes you to a simple setup menu where you can choose between high or low gain, oversampling on or off, and whether to turn the screen off after X number of seconds. Maximum 60.

Cayin RU6 connections scaled 1
Cayin RU6 has both 3.5mm unbalanced and 4.4mm balanced output. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

As an amplifier

The RU6 has digital volume control, which overrides that of the connected mobile phone or PC. This means that you can’t use the phone or PC to adjust the sound; that’s done with the buttons on the RU6.

The DAC, as mentioned, is also a headphone amplifier, although how much it amplifies is limited. For example, I got just as powerful sound from the headphone output on my MacBook Pro as with the Cayin RU6 on high gain.

By contrast, the Cayin RU6 is significantly more powerful than the headphone output on my desktop PC’s motherboard (Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Master). With the gain set to low, the difference becomes smaller. Fortunately, the perceived sound quality is the same with low and high gain, so you can really just have it on high all the time.

Cayin RU6 scaled 1
(Photo: Cayin)

The sound of the Cayin RU6

I’ve been playing with the RU6 for a while now and have come to the conclusion that I don’t like oversampling on it. It does increase the frequency range at the top, but in my opinion it is at the expense of dynamics and liveliness of the music.

With oversampling disabled, the RU6 sounds warmer, with fuller bass, and it actually manages to drive my planemagnetic Drop/HiFiMAN HE-4XX quite well. Even better control it has over the fantastic Sennheiser IE 600 earbuds.

The bass in Lorde’s “Royals” is deep, without sliding out. And Lorde’s voice is fine and rich down in the tonal range. And while she doesn’t show her most airy side at the top, it works upwards too. With oversampling enabled, the information at the top comes through more, but at the same time the sound becomes flatter with poorer bass. Then I can better live with a little restrained overtones.

On Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” there is a nice timbre in the instruments, and I like the fullness of the electric bass. Pharrell Williams’ falsetto could have been more energetic, as could the cymbals, which lack a bit of brilliance right at the top. But there’s something X-factor here that makes me like the sound of the RU6.

It’s not the most dynamic sound I’ve heard from a pocket amp. For example, the DragonFly Red is a lot more lively and bouncy, and it has better separation of the instruments.

Whether this has anything to do with the R-2R principle, I don’t know, but it’s natural to think that this DAC technology might require higher quality and lower tolerance components than is possible at this price level.

Cayin RU6 USB C Lightning cable scaled 1
For iPhone users: Cayin sells a short USB-C to Lightning cable as an option for the RU6. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

What is sound quality?

And so what if the RU-6 doesn’t tick all the boxes of high resolution and dynamics? The same could be said for vinyl records. If you divide sound into different components like dynamics, phase response and resolution, vinyl will lose to CD and high-resolution digital formats every time.

Still, there’s something about vinyl that makes you just sit and enjoy the music. It’s kind of the same with the Cayin RU6.

Cayin RU6 USB C scaled 1
You connect the PC or mobile phone with USB-C. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Conclusion

The Cayin RU6 is a fun little gadget. Despite its little quirks, with slight roll-off at the top and slightly weak dynamics, it reproduces music in a fluid and appealing way.

Just like a vinyl record, it puts its own stamp on the sound. It sounds different from other DACs and amplifiers, so you won’t hear the music as you’re used to. Objectively, it may not be the best, but the feeling you get from listening to it should not be underestimated. And if the headphones you have are a little cracked at the top, the RU6 will remedy the problem.

But try before you buy!

Cayin RU6 Spread scaled 1
(Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)
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HP Spectre x360 (16-f0035no) - The screen is the best part https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/computer/hp-spectre-x360 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/computer/hp-spectre-x360#respond Mon, 20 Jun 2022 08:00:31 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/hp-spectre-x360 HP Spectre x360 miljoe1HP’s Spectre series of laptops has had many expressions over the years. But one common thread has been a sleek and luxurious design. Most extreme in the leather-bound HP Spectre Folio. The HP Spectre x360 is, as the name suggests, a 360 degree PC where the touch screen can be rotated all the way around ... Read more]]> HP Spectre x360 miljoe1

HP’s Spectre series of laptops has had many expressions over the years. But one common thread has been a sleek and luxurious design. Most extreme in the leather-bound HP Spectre Folio.

The HP Spectre x360 is, as the name suggests, a 360 degree PC where the touch screen can be rotated all the way around and laid flat against the back of the keyboard, allowing the machine to be used as a tablet. We’ve tested a few of these over the years, but where previous models have been compact 13-inch machines, the screen on the current generation has grown to 16 inches. And in the taller 16:10 format.

HP Spectre x360 1
The HP Spectre x360 is a large 16-inch laptop in 16:10 aspect ratio. (Photo: HP)

So the computer takes up a lot of space and weighs a lot. But you do get a workspace that’s suitable for more than just typing emails on the go.

Sharp 4K touch screen

The screen is the Spectre x360’s most compelling card. A bright and crisp 16-inch in UHD+ resolution (3860 x 2400 pixels). And with touch, of course. A touch-sensitive pen is included in the rather large box. This makes the computer an obvious choice for graphic artists.

Since graphics work requires processing power, there is a separate graphics processor on board, namely the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 with 4 gigabytes of dedicated graphics memory. There’s 32 gigabytes of working memory and a 1 terabyte SSD for storing applications and data.

HP Spectre x360 miljoe2
As the name suggests, the HP Spectre x360 is a 360-degree PC where the keyboard can be folded onto the back of the screen, allowing the machine to function as a tablet. (Photo: HP)

Too big to be smart

The Spectre series is HP’s premium range. On the x360, it’s seen in the form of a graphite-grey unibody enclosure. But although the edges are rounded and adorned with a copper-coloured accent stripe all round, it doesn’t really manage to make the 40cm-wide, two-kilogram computer feel light and elegant.

On the other hand, the large case provides plenty of space for the keyboard, which is spacious, and the keys feel just as firm as they should. A discreet white backlight makes it easy to find the right key in a darkened auditorium. There would have been room for a numeric keypad, but HP opted for ergonomics – and space for the Bang & Olufsen sound system.

HP Spectre x360 2
The Spectre series is HP’s premium range, where extra attention has been paid to build quality and design. (Photo: HP)

There’s an acceptable selection of ports on the HP Spectre x360: two USB-C ports of the latest vintage – with integrated DisplayPort and Thunderbolt 4 – plus an HDMI output and a single USB-A port. The latter is half-covered by a flap, which shouldn’t really be necessary as its only purpose is to preserve the sharply designed edge of the casing.

The Ethernet port will probably not be missed. Especially since the machine in turn has the brand new Wi-Fi 6E standard.

Benchmarks

The processor in the Spectre x360 is a surprise – but not in any good way. An 11th generation i7 (3.4GHz i7-11390H) with just four cores is frankly pretty sluggish in such an expensive machine. This can also be seen in the performance, which is pretty mediocre.

The Geekbench 5 test resulted in a score of 1,604 in single-core and 4,950 in multi-core. The PCMark 10 office software test scores 5,016. In isolation, these are speeds that are perfectly adequate for office use. But you can get better performance from cheaper PCs with more advanced processors. Among them the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 – and HP’s own Envy 15.

One of the things that piqued our curiosity and made us order the HP Spectre x360 home for testing was that it comes with the new GeForce RTX 3050 graphics card. This is a new graphics processor that is less expensive than the larger models in the RTX series. But still with the promise of real 3D performance in a not too expensive laptop.

So are the promises being fulfilled? Barely: the 3D performance is below what I would call real, and the computer is quite expensive.

HP Spectre x360 miljoe3
The screen has 4K resolution and touch. (Photo: HP)

Disappointing GPU

The 3D graphics tests from UL (formerly Futuremark) get results that are admittedly well above the typical ultrabook with Intel Iris Xe graphics. But they’re still only on par with the older and more inexpensive GeForce GTX 1650 Ti graphics card that used to be the solution for true 3D graphics on a budget. The Time Spy test comes in at 3,607, and the older Fire Strike test (both in the standard edition) scores 8,120.

The PCMark 8 battery test finishes at just over three hours. That’s quite good for such a large PC with a 4K screen. And enough to get through a day at work without the charger. Which is extra important, since HP has opted to use an old-fashioned DC connector for charging instead of USB-C. So you can’t borrow a charger from a colleague for an emergency charge.

Conclusion

The HP Spectre x360 is a curious machine, and I can’t really see who it’s primarily targeted at. It’s too big, heavy and expensive to carry in your bag for most people. If it was the 3D performance that was the selling point, you can get much more for the price. And no one would consider gaming on a 60 Hz screen.

The only thing that stands out positively about the Spectre x360 is the large and very nice 4K touch screen, which together with the pen can make the machine a workhorse for graphic artists. But even there, the price/performance ratio is somewhat strained.

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Shure Aonic 40 - Shure gives diamond sound at coal price https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/headphones/shure-aonic-40 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/headphones/shure-aonic-40#respond Wed, 15 Jun 2022 06:00:34 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/shure-aonic-40 Shure Aonic 40 spread scaled 1When Shure launched their first noise-cancelling headphones, the Aonic 50, I was more than excited. Superb sound quality, EQ in the app and great fit. The noise reduction was only so-so, but it did what it was supposed to. Shure had simply nailed it on the first try! What I missed most was the ability ... Read more]]> Shure Aonic 40 spread scaled 1

When Shure launched their first noise-cancelling headphones, the Aonic 50, I was more than excited. Superb sound quality, EQ in the app and great fit. The noise reduction was only so-so, but it did what it was supposed to. Shure had simply nailed it on the first try!

What I missed most was the ability to fold them up. They also couldn’t be voice controlled, but I personally don’t really care about that.

Some probably also thought the Aonic 50 was too expensive. And while they did a lot of things really well, the fact that they couldn’t be fast-charged dragged them down.

With the new Aonic 40s, Shure has addressed more of these things, and the headphones actually come across as more complete than their big brother. They now fold up, and they’re more compact. If you have a USB-C fast charger, you also get five hours of playback from 15 minutes of charging. Not bad! And like its big brother, the Aonic 40 supports multipoint connectivity for two devices at once.

To reduce the size, the drivers have been shrunk from 50 to 40 mm. On the other hand, battery life has been increased from 20 to 25 hours.

Whereas the Aonic 50 is aimed at hi-fi enthusiasts thanks to Sony’s LDAC codec, which provides the best sound via Bluetooth, the Aonic 40 makes do with aptX HD. Fair enough.

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The Shure Aonic 40 is the little brother of the Aonic 50, but it can do a few tricks that its big brother can't. (Photo: Shure)

Fit and ease of use

While the Aonic 50 fits like a dream around the ears, I find the Aonic 40 a bit more squeezing. This is especially noticeable when I put on reading glasses, which can easily become uncomfortable. The ear pads are both thinner and harder than on the big brother.

Another thing I notice is that the bass reproduction deteriorates when wearing glasses, as the pads don’t seal as well. If you wear glasses, I would therefore recommend choosing the Aonic 50 – or something completely different.

As for ease of use, the headphones have buttons instead of swipe function. And since several of the buttons have different functions depending on how many times they’re pressed and how long they’re held down, there’s a long list in the app (ShurePlus Play) of how to perform the various functions.

Personally, I find all the functions on the headphones a hassle, so I usually use my phone to control most things.

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Shure Aonic 40 is best suited for people without glasses. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Noise reduction and call quality

Noise reduction and ambient sound can be set in several steps; personally, I prefer to have them both at maximum when in use. The sound of music playing is not much different with both features turned off than with either of them on. But as usual, music sounds more dynamic and better controlled with them turned off.

During testing, the app occasionally lost contact with the headphones, especially if I moved outside the phone’s coverage and came back in. Bluetooth returned and the music played, but the app didn’t find the headphones so I could make settings.

If you use the Aonic 40 for mobile calls and digital meetings, the receiver hears you just fine. My voice comes through clearer and more distinctly to the receiver than with, say, the Sony WH-1000XM4; Shure is pretty far up the list here.

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Shure Aonic 40 can be folded. (Photo: Shure)

The sound of Shure Aonic 40

The Aonic 40 sounds very clean and nice, and the music comes through credibly. There’s no exaggerated bass here, but what bass there is is well controlled and follows the rhythms well.

Father John Misty’s guitar rings out clearly on the country ballad “Goodbye Mr. Blue,” and the overtones especially jangle well on the tapes. The electric bass is not the finest, but sounds real and lifelike. Father John’s voice is also clear; it just lacks a little volume in the middle register compared to his big brother.

Cody Fry’s orchestral version of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” is rendered with fine air in the violins, and there is little to complain about in the bass section. Again, I would like a little more midrange to get more going on in the horn section and to bring out Cody’s voice better.

Shure Aonic 40 box 2
(Photo: Shure)

Equalizing

Fortunately, there’s an equalizer in the app. With both preset tonal balances and a four-band parametric EQ. It may not sound that advanced, but you can actually set four selectable frequencies along the entire frequency range and set the bandwidth (Q value) from 0.8 to 4 octaves. In other words, you can choose how wide a frequency range to adjust.

I’m pretty happy with the sound before adjustment, but it gets even better with a trim on the EQ To bring out a bit more midrange and also mute the sibilants a bit.

Some recordings have a bit harsh cymbals and sibilants (s and sj sounds), and it gets worse if you increase the midrange without compensating elsewhere. In this case the sharp area around 6 kHz. And now that we’re manipulating, I’m boosting the bass a bit, just to make things a bit more fun.

I ended up with the following:

  • 1 (Low Shelf): 100 Hz, +3 dB, 0.8 octaves
  • 2 (parametric): 1000 Hz, +4 dB, 4 octaves
  • 3 (parametric): 6300 Hz, -3 dB, 1 octave
  • 4 (High Shelf): 10,000 Hz, +3 dB, 3 octaves

And it helped! Now Father John Misty’s voice is suddenly much more prominent, while the guitar has a clearer sound.

The dirty, industrial-inspired track “Die For You” with Valorant and guest vocals by Grabbitz sounds hard as nails with vocals way out in front, deep bass and an arpeggio that drills into the ear canal in the most delicious way. This is awesome!

With the tone settings I just gave you, I really can’t think of anything better for the price. It’s a real pleasure to listen to music now. The music is clear, dynamic and dramatic. It doesn’t sound sharp at all, but still very detailed and distinct. It’s not much big brother has to trump now!

Shure Aonic 40
(Photo: Shure)

Competitors

In this price range, the Aonic 40 is not without competition. You can make the JBL Tour One sound almost as good with the EQ, but they don’t sound very good without settings. If you don’t like tinkering with an EQ, the Aonic 40 sounds much better. On the other hand, the JBLs will probably work better for people with glasses, as they have softer ear pads.

The Yamaha YH-E700A has even fatter sound, though some might say the bass is a bit overdone (but not I). However, the Yamaha has worse noise cancellation than the Shure, and you can’t adjust the sound on them.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 has been on the market for a while now and has therefore dropped in price – about where you find the Aonic 40. The Sony’s are superior on noise reduction, but I have not managed to get them to sound as good as the Aonic 40.

Shure Aonic 40 box scaled 1
(Photo: Shure)

Conclusion

Shure’s cheapest noise-cancelling headphones have some improvements over the top model, including the fact that they fold up and can finally be fast-charged.

Usability is good, but the fit is slightly degraded by the harder ear pads. They should have been either thicker or softer, and glasses users will also find that the bass leaks out.

If you don’t wear glasses, on the other hand, just enjoy the sound quality from the Aonic 40. They sound great right out of the box, and you can make them sound even better with the EQ in the app.

Noise reduction is just fine, as is call quality.

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Kerr Acoustic K320 MK3 - Deep bass you've never heard before https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/speakers/kerr-acoustic-k320-mk3 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/speakers/kerr-acoustic-k320-mk3#comments Tue, 14 Jun 2022 06:00:10 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/kerr-acoustic-k320-mk3 KERR K320 birch parComing in from under the radar is a loudspeaker manufacturer. Kerr Acoustic was a complete unknown until I suddenly saw a picture of a Kerr speaker on social media. The floorstander reminded me of a PMC speaker, only with a ribbon tweeter instead of a 25 mm dome tweeter. The open port at the bottom ... Read more]]> KERR K320 birch par

Coming in from under the radar is a loudspeaker manufacturer. Kerr Acoustic was a complete unknown until I suddenly saw a picture of a Kerr speaker on social media.

The floorstander reminded me of a PMC speaker, only with a ribbon tweeter instead of a 25 mm dome tweeter. The open port at the bottom of the front suggested transmission line. This was to prove true. And enough to pique my curiosity.

A quick Google search gave me more info: Kerr Acoustic is a fairly new UK manufacturer of speakers for studio and professional use, and until recently has never been seen in hi-fi shops. Compared to well-known manufacturers like Bowers & Wilkins and Klipsch, they’re almost just starting out, but they’ve already managed to make a name for themselves.

You still won’t find Kerr in very many stores, but that may soon change. For these are a pair of very interesting speakers that I strongly recommend driving far to hear.

The one we’re looking at here, the Kerr Acoustic K320 MK3, is a revised version of Kerr’s smallest floorstander. It’s similar to the PMC Twenty5 24i, which is one of the best floor-standing speakers in its class.

There is also a smaller bookshelf speaker called the K300 MK3 and a larger floorstander called the K100 MK2 from Kerr. The current one is sort of in between the two, but there’s also a new model called the K102 on the way. Which is a three-way floorstanding model with two 12-inch woofers and thus more expensive than the K100 MK2.

But it also competes in a completely different class.

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Kerr K320 MK3 in white lacquer. (Photo: Kerr Acoustic)

Transmission line and ribbon tweeter

The floorstanding K320 MK3 sneaks in at just under €10,000 per pair and costs almost twice as much as a pair of PMC Twenty5 24i. The price puts it in the same class as the Audiovector R3 Arreté – Lyd & Billede’s 2019 Speaker of the Year – and the very well-made Burmester B18.

But the Kerr speaker does something the others can’t. It goes deeper and louder than all three and has the widest range from bass to treble. This has been achieved by creating a 2.4-metre maze-like transmission line. That is, a channel that carries bass below 100 Hz a long way out of the cabinet until it ends up in the port on the front.

A transmission line is very effective even in small cabinets because you can “extend” the bass range this way and get deeper bass out of the speaker.

At the other end is Kerr’s ribbon tweeter, which has a 60 mm diaphragm with neodymium magnets, weighing only 0.027 grams, and extending an octave beyond normal tweetes. The bass and parts of the midrange, i.e. everything below 1950 Hz, are handled by a 165 mm Scan-Speak Revelator woofer with a wood fibre diaphragm.

KERR K300 transmisjonslinje 2048x1509 1
Drawing of the smaller K300, showing what a transmission line looks like inside a loudspeaker (Graphic: Kerr Acoustic)

Place them (almost) where you like

The pictures suggest the cabinets are veneered MDF, but they’re actually made from Baltic beech, which is more expensive and finer than wood veneer usually is. The speakers are available in more colours than shown in the pictures, and customers can choose from a wide range.

As the speakers are not very bulky, they are easy to accommodate. They can be placed close to the back wall without getting excessive bass, but I recommend angling them a little inwards so that the highest notes reach the ears at the same time as the rest of the frequency range.

KERR K320 side 2048x1536 1
K320 MK3 with cabinet in glued Baltic beech. (Photo: Kerr Acoustic)

They go all the way

As I said, they go exceptionally deep. And loud. When I plugged them in, I got the impression that they extended so deep that a subwoofer is unnecessary, at least. The bass on James Blake’s “Limit to Your Love” threatened to strip the carpet from the floor, and loose objects began to shake.

A few days later, the first listening session was set up and confirmed the impression from day one: these speakers play deep bass in a way that very few other speakers can. You almost have to hear them to understand how surprisingly cool it is.

A transmission line is not a replacement for a woofer, but an aid to woofers, giving them greater range. So those who think that the transmission line provides more punch and dynamics in the bass range from 50 to 200 Hz are wrong. That’s the job of the driver itself, and the Scan-Speak Revelator bass does an excellent job of dynamics in the lower frequencies.

Under one condition.

I found that the speakers needed an amplifier with more torque than a 60 watt Hegel H95 has. With the 250 watt Hegel H390, everything was much better. The speakers opened up, the bass came through much better in the soundstage, and there was suddenly much better control over dynamics.

I also tested the speakers with the super-potent Rotel Michi X5, which with 350 watts of power to each channel and a capacitor capacity of 88,000 μF can drive the vast majority of speakers with ease.

It should be noted that it’s not about power, but control. A 50 watt tube amp like the Audio Research I/50 or Naim Uniti Star with 70 watts of power can work just fine. Because it’s not the sensitivity that’s the problem.

KERR K320 blue 2048x1535 1
Kerr K320 MK3 is also available in other colours. (Photo: Kerr Acoustic)

Turn up the volume

With the amplification in place, it’s just a matter of sitting down and picking out your favourite tracks. There’s no need to buckle up, because this isn’t a speaker that’s going to run the listener over with massive dynamics and ditto sound pressure.

At first they may seem a little withdrawn, but that’s only until you turn up the volume to a decent listening level. Then you notice that they get all the octaves of the piano down to the very lowest notes. That alone is a revelation, especially if you’re used to smaller speakers.

If you crank the volume knob a bit, the dynamic contrast increases as well. Then you can hear how great the contrast is between the strings and the double basses in the overture to Verdi’s Nabucco, and how sensitively Keith Jarrett actually plays in the first part of his Cologne concerto. The piano sound is extremely fine-meshed and sharply focused, with serious weight in the lower frequencies. You can tell the speakers have a tape disco, because the sounds hang weightlessly from the upper octaves down.

If I have to put my finger on something, it’s that I prefer a little more energy in the midrange. Because I miss hearing Bryn Terfel’s baritone rendered with the sonorous warmth that I get from the Burmester B18. For some, that’s a matter of taste, but I also like that Steve Winwood’s distinctive vocal has the entire sonic spectrum clearly defined. On the Kerr speakers, the vocals sound a little thinner than on the Audiovector R3 Arreté.

Strings sound exquisitely defined with exceptionally fast dynamics that create great contrast in the music. Add to this the ability of the speakers to make the larger strings sound truly like full members of the orchestra, and you realise that these are very rare speakers. I can’t remember hearing such powerful deep bass from such a small speaker before.

This ability gives the music a foundation that positively affects the rest of the frequency range – and other instruments than just double basses and organ tones, for that matter.

The deep bass, although not felt all the time, is an important part of the soundstage of many instruments, so when it’s not there, something is missing from the instrument sound. It’s something you don’t really miss until you’ve first heard it, and after a demo of the K320 MK3 it can be hard to go back to the limited frequenciy range of the speakers at home.

KERR K320 bak hvit 2048x1535 1
The speakers are also well finished on the back. (Photo: Kerr Acoustic)

Conclusion

Unknown to us until now, the Kerr Acoustic K320 MK3 are an exceptionally well-made pair of speakers that approach perfection. Especially for those who miss a seamless bass reproduction right down to the twenties with the effect it can have on the music.

But that’s not all they’re capable of. The woofers and transmission line are well integrated, with a uniquely open and airy ribbon tweeter, where the only thing we miss is a little more timbre warmth on individual vocals.

If you have a potent enough amplifier to bring the Kerr speakers to life, you could end up with a pair of easily placeable floor-standing speakers that can provide years of enjoyment. In a complete full-range perspective.

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Marshall Willen - Marshall sound in your pocket https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/speakers/marshall-willen https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/speakers/marshall-willen#respond Mon, 13 Jun 2022 08:21:24 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/marshall-willen Marshall Willen 1 scaled 1The smallest portable speakers all have one problem: they don’t play very loud, and they have almost no bass. That’s why we usually recommend buying a bigger speaker than you might have intended. But that’s not practical for everyone, at least not for those who want a speaker they can easily take on the road. ... Read more]]> Marshall Willen 1 scaled 1

The smallest portable speakers all have one problem: they don’t play very loud, and they have almost no bass. That’s why we usually recommend buying a bigger speaker than you might have intended.

But that’s not practical for everyone, at least not for those who want a speaker they can easily take on the road. Like this one.

Marshall’s tiniest portable speaker fits nicely in a jacket pocket and weighs so little it won’t weigh down your pocket or bag. That it also doesn’t sound as anemic as small speakers usually do is a welcome bonus.

The tiny Willen speaker measures just 10 x 10 cm and is 4 cm deep. Weighing in at just over 300 grams, it’s feathery compared to the likes of the JBL Charge 5. Still, Marshall has managed to fit in a battery that can play for up to 15 hours or a full three hours after 20 minutes of charging via the USB-C port.

The waterproof speaker is made of a sturdy material and has a silicone strap on the back that you can use to attach it to your bike handlebars or backpack.

Inside, it has a 5 cm full-range unit and two passive radiators, which should give the bass a little more heft than usual from a speaker as small as the Willen

Marshall Willen 4 2048x1365 1
Bluetooth pairing, microphone and battery indicator on top. Sound is controlled with the brass-coloured joystick button on the front. (Photo: Lasse Svendsen)

App control

There’s also an app for the speaker, and the features are familiar from our tests of Marshall’s wireless headphones and speakers. In the app, you can choose from three EQ settings: Marshall, which is classic Marshall sound; Press, which has extra focus on bass and treble; and Voice for podcasters, for example.

There are no other EQ adjustments, but you can use the app to link multiple speakers together, which can then play simultaneously if you want.

On top of the speaker is a small microphone for conversations. Should someone call while you’re enjoying the music, the Willen can act as a hands-free speaker.

Marshall Willen 3 2048x1365 1
The silicone strap secures the speaker firmly in place. (Photo: Lasse Svendsen)

Sound quality

A small joystick button on the front serves as volume control – swipe up or down – and pause button. Swipe right or left to change songs, and hold the joystick button to turn the speaker on or off. The battery level can be seen on the top of the speaker, where five red LEDs show how much power is left in the battery.

The three sound settings in the app are a bit odd, I think. The sound is definitely best with the Marshall setting. But if you want more bass and select Press in the app, the midrange almost disappears, and so does the vocal, which suddenly sounds too thin.

In that case, the vocals and guitar on Khalid’s “Bad Luck” simply sound too thin, and it’s not just the vocals but also the instruments that become a bit drowned out by the soundscape if you want more bass.

The best you can do is stick with the Marshall setting, and since there’s not much else sensible to use the app for, you might as well skip it altogether. Because the speaker does just fine without it.

You can help the bass a bit by turning the speaker down if you want a little fuller sound, but the little speaker actually has workable bass. At least considering the size. It doesn’t play as loud and cool as the JBL Charge 5, but the sound pressure from the tiny speaker is surprisingly good.

The soundstage is well focused and clear enough to enjoy jazz or classical as well, but if you fall for the temptation to turn the volume up to the bursting point, the clarity of the soundstage also bursts.

The Willen is at its best when it’s close to the listener, and it’s not the speaker we’d choose for a summer party. Here, the aforementioned Charge 5 or Marshall’s larger Acton II BT are better choices.

Marshall Willen 2 2048x1365 1
With IP67 certification, the Marshall speaker is practically waterproof. (Photo: Lasse Svendsen)

Conclusion

Marshall’s little Willen speaker is a compact travel companion, so small that taking it out is never a problem. As a speaker on the patio, in the park, on the boat or when travelling, it’s almost perfect. The battery lasts long enough, and it’s rugged and waterproof enough to withstand the elements.

The best thing about it, though, is that it actually plays better than you’d think. The sound pressure isn’t comparable to larger Bluetooth speakers, and you can tell there’s limited bass here. Something the app doesn’t manage to do anything sensible about, by the way. But the size and not least the price taken into account, we must admit that the Marshall Willen is a good buy.

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Bose Smart Soundbar 900 - Bigger soundstage than other soundbars https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/speakers/bose-smart-soundbar-900 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/speakers/bose-smart-soundbar-900#respond Thu, 09 Jun 2022 06:00:13 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/bose-smart-soundbar-900 Bose Smart Soundbar 900 lifestyle 3 scaled 1After Bose surprised us earlier with what turned out to be a capable Soundbar 700, expectations are high for the successor, Smart Soundbar 900. The Soundbar 700 is still as good as it ever was, and with HDMI ARC it can be used with any TV. But the time has come for Bose too to ... Read more]]> Bose Smart Soundbar 900 lifestyle 3 scaled 1

After Bose surprised us earlier with what turned out to be a capable Soundbar 700, expectations are high for the successor, Smart Soundbar 900.

The Soundbar 700 is still as good as it ever was, and with HDMI ARC it can be used with any TV. But the time has come for Bose too to support Dolby Atmos with sound from above!

Bose Smart Soundbar 900

The big brother of the 900 series is slightly wider than the 700 model, partly to make room for top speakers for Dolby Atmos. These speakers direct the sound towards the ceiling, where it is reflected down towards the listener on the sofa. Bose uses acoustic waveguides, which they call PhaseGuides, to control dispersion so the soundbar can best simulate true surround sound.

The technology is used not only for the top-mounted speakers, which reproduce the overhead channels in a Dolby Atmos setup, but also for the side speakers – to create a wider soundstage that more fully embraces the listener. Bose combines dipole speaker units and so-called low-profile units in carefully calculated rows, which together with digital signal processing are intended to provide an extra-large sound image. Or, as Bose itself says, “a layer of realism that no other speaker can replicate”.

Even if the movie or music content doesn’t have a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, the technology should still be able to give the impression of it by “mixing” the soundtrack. For better or worse, it turns out, because this surround effect can’t be turned off, but will always be there – even when listening to music in stereo.

Bose Smart Soundbar 900 black scaled 1

(Photo: Bose)

“Exceptional bass”

If you like bass, Soundbar 900 delivers “exceptional bass performance” with virtually no distortion, thanks to a specially designed bass reflex port. Bose calls it the QuietPort.

An important party trick is the ability to adapt to the room the soundbar is in, with so-called ADAPTiQ room correction. It comes with a headband microphone that you put on, then runs calibration through the soundbar. This is done five times from different seats in the room.

Bose Smart Soundbar 900 upfiring Atmos scaled 1
Bose Smart Soundbar 900 features Atmos top speakers for even bigger sound. (Photo: Bose)

Features and connections

The new top model features HDMI eARC, which supports high-resolution audio directly from the TV. It also has both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, as well as built-in voice control with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. It also has Spotify Connect and AirPlay 2, plus Chromecast via the latest software update. So there’s something for everyone here!

The soundbar can be paired with other Bose smart speakers, either as a multi-room system or by expanding the soundbar with rear speakers and external subwoofer.

The soundbar connects to the home wireless network by downloading the Bose Music app and pressing two buttons on the included remote to locate and bring the soundbar onto the network.

It supports both 2.4 and 5 GHz, with Bose recommending 5 GHz if possible. This is because it uses the same antenna for 2.4 GHz and Bluetooth – with the result that Bluetooth connection can become more unstable because the soundbar will constantly check whether it is connected to the network.

Bose Soundbar 900 Remote
A small remote control is included. A downscaling from the larger and more stylish remote that comes with the Soundbar 700.

Bose Smart Soundbar 900 in use

With the soundbar on the network, it’s easy to use. You can download Spotify and Deezer from the Bose app, or play them and any other services via Chromecast, AirPlay or Bluetooth.

The TV plugs into the connector labelled eARC and the app will show if you’re playing content with Dolby Atmos soundtracks. Handy. You can use the included remote to control the sound level, but the TV’s remote can also be used (make sure HDMI-CEC is enabled on the TV).

The soundtrack of the mafia epic The Irishman is reproduced with clear dialogue and serviceable dynamics. The bass is also surprisingly good without a subwoofer next to it. Rifles and pistols roar well, considerably more distinctly than with the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3. And there’s good control over the atmospheric music all the while.

It’s about on a par with the Sonos Arc, which has many strengths but is perhaps not the most explosive of its kind. In that discipline it has to face heavy defeat from the Samsung HW-Q910A and HW-Q960A (the latter with rear speakers) and also the cheaper Klipsch Cinema 600. And that’s not just because the other soundbars have a subwoofer, but because they’re inherently considerably more muscular.

Bose Smart Soundbar 900 exploded scaled 1
Bose combines special PhaseGuide drivers with DSP to deliver an extra-large soundstage. (Graphic: Bose)

Gigantic soundstage

The soundstage from the Bose soundbar is really big. Not quite as big, clear and tidy before room correction, but after correction we are presented with a gigantic soundscape. Much bigger than we’re used to from other soundbars. One almost wonders how this is possible without extra rear speakers!

It doesn’t sound entirely natural, though. Because in the prison canteen, where the discussion between Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and Tony Pro (Stephen Graham) takes place in a bitter tone, an audible reverb has already been added to the soundtrack. When Bose adds its sound, it all becomes rather strange. It almost sounds like they’re sitting in a big parking garage.

Perhaps impressive at first glance, but anyone familiar with the film’s soundtrack can tell it’s not right. The reverberation also becomes a bit metallic, and when it’s about to fade out, it ends abruptly. Exactly as if there is a noise gate on the sound.

“It sounds huge and boomy even without a subwoofer,” says Audun. “But at the same time, there’s almost too much reverb here. It sounds like Bose have been a bit keen on the 3D effect. The sense of space can feel a bit artificial at times.”

The large holograph also weakens the ability to place dialogue in the middle. They become a little diffuse and slightly withdrawn. B&W Panorama 3 is better at just that. It may be experienced differently from recording to recording, but Bose’s digital manipulation of the soundstage is quite evident.

Bose Smart Soundbar 900 black 2 scaled 1
(Photo: Bose)

Music

For the same reason, music is not the soundbar’s favourite. For music in stereo, we like to disable surround sound. We wanted to do that on its predecessor and even more so on this one. Because with the top speakers you get even more of the spectacular effects, while we ourselves prefer to hear stereo recordings in pure stereo. Not artificial surround. There is, however, plenty of dazzle here!

Bose Smart Soundbar 900 lifestyle scaled 1
(Photo: Bose)

We recommend a subwoofer

As mentioned, the Soundbar 900 can be paired with a wireless subwoofer. Choose from the smallest Bass Module 500 or – most preferably – the largest Bass Module 700. The 700 bass really worked wonders with its predecessor, which got a huge boost in the deep bass register. And it will do exactly the same for the new soundbar, giving the soundscape a good bass foundation that contributes more to the cinema experience with movies and TV.

You could also consider the Surround Speakers or Surround Speakers 700 wireless rear speakers, but then the price also starts to approach a pretty hefty surround system.

Bose Smart Soundbar 900 White scaled 1
Soundbar 900 in white. (Photo: Bose)

Conclusion

The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is a soundbar you should definitely listen to if you’re looking for the biggest possible soundstage without the use of rear speakers. It’s impressive what it’s capable of.

It doesn’t always sound natural, though, and we wish we could turn off the surround function – especially when listening to music in stereo. Unfortunately, that’s not possible.

That said, the soundbar has enough power and sufficiently clear sound for those good movie experiences, and it does fine on its own without a subwoofer. A sub should still be considered, even if it almost doubles the price.

Bose Smart Soundbar 900 lifestyle 2 scaled 1
(Photo: Bose)
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Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin 4. gen. - The Zeppelin is flying again https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/speakers/bowers-wilkins-zeppelin https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/speakers/bowers-wilkins-zeppelin#respond Tue, 07 Jun 2022 06:00:16 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/bowers-wilkins-zeppelin Zeppelin miljoe 1“Iconic” is a misused term. But when it comes to Bowers & Wilkins’ Zeppelin desktop speaker, it’s entirely justified. Very few speakers are as recognisable as it. Or as long-lived. The airship-shaped speaker made its debut in 2007 as a dock for the Apple iPod Touch (which has just recently been retired after 21 years ... Read more]]> Zeppelin miljoe 1

“Iconic” is a misused term. But when it comes to Bowers & Wilkins’ Zeppelin desktop speaker, it’s entirely justified. Very few speakers are as recognisable as it. Or as long-lived.

The airship-shaped speaker made its debut in 2007 as a dock for the Apple iPod Touch (which has just recently been retired after 21 years of faithful service) and the then brand new Apple iPhone. Back then, music consisted of MP3 files and connection was usually via cable. So it was a revolution to be able to place your phone in the holder on the speaker and just play.

Today, 15 years later, docking and cable have been replaced by AirPlay and Bluetooth. And the heavily compressed MP3 files have been replaced by streaming services with millions of music tracks. With the option of CD quality or higher.

The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin, on the other hand, looks like itself. Although the speaker is in its fourth generation, the cabinet has the same cigar shape. Only the base has changed slightly between versions. And the docking station is, of course, a thing of the past. Which it also was on the third generation.

Zeppelin miljoe 2
Although the speaker is in its fourth generation, the cabinet has the same cigar shape. Only the base has changed slightly between versions. (Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

Inside the black or grey cabinet, things look the same too. The bass is still handled by a 6-inch woofer, while there are two 3.5-inch midrange drivers and two 1-inch tweeters. There are slightly more watts available than before: 80 watts for the woofer and 4 x 40 watts for the other frequency ranges. All in class D, of course. The cabinet used to be bass reflex, but now a closed cabinet is used. At the same time it has been possible, with the help of electronics, to stretch the frequency range down to 35 Hz.

Android – at last

The big revolution has happened on the streaming side. The fourth generation Zeppelin is a fully modern wireless table speaker. In the first place, this means that iPhone users can stream music wirelessly from their mobile via AirPlay2, while Android users have to make do with aptX Adaptive, which isn’t bad either. And it’s news in itself that the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin communicates with Android phones at all. Indeed, that’s been a shortcoming of the previous three generations.

Multiroom with Formation

Now the two mobile communities are put on an equal footing with the Bowers & Wilkins Music control app, available for both platforms. Which, incidentally, is the same app used to control Bowers & Wilkins’ Formation wireless speakers. This means you can create a multi-room system with Zeppelin(s) and Formation speakers.

Another big and crucial improvement is built-in music streaming. Zeppelin can now work with all relevant streaming services – and more are being added all the time. In HD quality, of course.

The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin also has voice control. There’s still room for improvement here, though. You can still only use Amazon Alexa. Which in many countries is equivalent to having no voice control at all, as Alexa will not support smaller languages. In general, Zeppelin and Google are not on speaking terms, as the speaker does not support Chromecast either.

Zeppelin 2
You can only use Amazon Alexa, which in the Nordic countries is equivalent to having no voice control at all (Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

The sound of Zeppelin

Bowers & Wilkins makes many great hi-fi speakers. If you have enough money and space, you can go to music heaven. The Zeppelin isn’t aiming for such high altitudes; it’s a convenience speaker that can provide background entertainment for the 95 percent of your daily life when you’re not sitting intently in that good chair listening for the ultimate details. But where you still want decent quality.

Zeppelin delivers. In fact, it’s quite impressive how capable a soundstage you can get from such a small speaker. The stereo image is confined to the 66 cm wide cabinet for good reasons. But put the Zeppelin on the table in front of you and you get a perfectly serviceable perspective.

Regardless of the fact that the speaker goes down to 35 Hz on paper, the deepest bass is rather limited. But the sound is by no means thin or flimsy, and the midrange in particular is convincing.

Bowers & Wilkins reportedly uses the same FST technology in the Zeppelin’s midrange units as in its expensive stereo speakers (though possibly not in quite the same design). In any case, voices stand really clean and uncoloured considering that we’re dealing with a mid-range table speaker.

Zeppelin 1
With the addition of streaming services and the long-awaited Android app, B&W Zeppelin is a relevant competitor to Sonos and the other table speakers. (Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

Competitors

There’s no shortage of competition among mid-range wireless desktop speakers. Sonos Five, Denon Home 350 and Harman Kardon Citation 500. None can compete with Sonos on the number of streaming services, but the Zeppelin is well ahead in terms of sound quality and stereo image. It lacks Sonos’ excellent room correction, however.

Zeppelin miljoe 3
Few speakers are as recognisable as Zeppelin. (Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

Conclusion

The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin has only increased slightly in price over its 15 years on the market, and with new features in the form of music streaming, multi-room and much-needed Android support, it’s now a very relevant competitor to Sonos and the other premium class desktop speakers.

The design is either a plus or a minus; there’s no neutral middle ground. But sonically, it’s clearly among the best ways to get music into the living room or dining room. Then we just need room correction to put the finishing touches.

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Siemens EQ.700 (TQ707R03) - A really smart coffee maker https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/smart-home/siemens-eq-700-tq707r03 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/smart-home/siemens-eq-700-tq707r03#respond Mon, 06 Jun 2022 06:00:58 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/siemens-eq-700-tq707r03 Siemens DeNoiseAI standardThe Siemens EQ.700 is a sleek, elegant coffee machine mainly in chrome-plated steel, and the colleagues in the office took a liking to it immediately. Its only exterior drawback is that the milk container is located on the left side, which increases the width and also limits where it can be placed, allowing you to ... Read more]]> Siemens DeNoiseAI standard

The Siemens EQ.700 is a sleek, elegant coffee machine mainly in chrome-plated steel, and the colleagues in the office took a liking to it immediately. Its only exterior drawback is that the milk container is located on the left side, which increases the width and also limits where it can be placed, allowing you to still reach the water container.

The machine has important features like pre-heating the cup, and it can also brew a whole pot at a time, so you don’t have to dig out the old Moccamaster if you have guests coming over.

You can set the machine to run its usual cycle of small, occasional rinses, or you want a cup left under the spout so it’s ready to brew a cup of coffee from the app whenever you feel like it. That way, you don’t get spillage in the cup, but in return, the coffee in the first cup isn’t as hot either.

Siemens EQ.700 TQ707R03 lifestyle
(Photo: Siemens)

Many types of coffee

The Siemens EQ.700 offers a wide range of coffee types and pre-selections. In the main menu under Classics, there are eight types plus options for milk froth, hot milk, hot water and brewing in a coffee pot. Most of them can be adjusted in strength and quantity to taste, and you can also save different user profiles.

Among the eight are espresso, espresso doppio, regular or large coffee, cappuccino and latte. If you’re missing something, like flat white or ristretto, you can find these and 12 other types under the CoffeeWorld tab. In total, there are 20 types of coffee.

Siemens world kaffetyper
The Siemens machine has a wide range of coffee types to choose from. (Screenshot, iPhone)

Sluggish touch screen

In a way, I like the touch screen on the Siemens machine. It gives a really good overview and leaves guests in no doubt about how to make the cup of coffee they want.

The only problem is that it’s sluggish when swiping, and you occasionally have to press quite hard to activate the desired function. Even the cheapest smartphones have better touch

Siemens EQ.700 TQ707R03 4
The touch screen is not particularly fast. (Photo: Siemens)

Smart app

The app lets you control the machine remotely; just activate the feature – and suffer a warning that people standing face-up under the spout for no particular reason could get seriously hurt while you’re blissfully unaware trying to make yourself a good cup of coffee. I wonder if that ever happens in real life.

There’s also a warning when you select preheat for the cup, as it gets very hot. Something toddler parents, on the other hand, need to be aware of!

Siemens EQ.700 TQ707R03 cupwarmer
You can preheat the cups on the Siemens EQ.700. (Photo: Siemens)

The app gives a really good overview of all the functions, and you can make many settings, such as whether to pour the milk in first or last. The Siemens machine can also be voice-controlled with Amazon Alexa.

You can also create a so-called playlist. A brew list where you can select several different cups of coffee one after the other in a specific order. The idea is to be able to make several cups of coffee for a number of people, first taking orders and then programming the machine to brew coffee without having to press anything other than “continue” between each cup.

I can see the idea, but not really the utility of it. The work of making the playlist has to be done anyway, and it actually gives less of an overview of which cup is which than brewing each cup individually. It’s not any faster, either.

Siemens espresso
The Siemens TQ707R03 makes a really good espresso. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Tastes great!

The Siemens machine makes a relly good coffee. Maybe the milk froth on the cappuccino is not quite as airy as on a professional machine. But it’s very close. And the Siemens machine gets points with, among other things, preheating the cups.

Siemens EQ.700 TQ707R03 2
(Photo: Siemens)

Conclusion

The Siemens EQ.700 – with the even more cryptic nickname TQ707R03 – is an excellent coffee machine. Here you get a number of useful features, good usability and delicious coffee from a machine that also looks really nice.

The touch screen gives a good overview, but we wish it was more responsive. The screen is really the only thing stopping this machine from getting top marks. It gets our recommendations, but has to settle for five stars.

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Sonos Ray - What's up with you, Sonos? https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/home-theatre/sonos-ray https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/home-theatre/sonos-ray#respond Sat, 04 Jun 2022 06:00:58 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/sonos-ray Sonos Ray Photo Geir Nordby 2 1Ray is the cheapest Sonos soundbar yet. The American manufacturer has previously impressed us with models like the Beam and Arc, both of which are among the most popular soundbars on the market today. It’s no wonder Sonos has done so well. One reason is their unique interface, which lets you control the products as ... Read more]]> Sonos Ray Photo Geir Nordby 2 1

Ray is the cheapest Sonos soundbar yet. The American manufacturer has previously impressed us with models like the Beam and Arc, both of which are among the most popular soundbars on the market today.

It’s no wonder Sonos has done so well. One reason is their unique interface, which lets you control the products as easily as a breeze – and across rooms, interacting with each other or individually. What’s more, Sonos products often sound really good and natural.

Beam and Arc are really good for different audiences: Beam is an inexpensive and compact base model that delivers much better sound from the TV, and strictly without the need for a subwoofer. Arc, on the other hand, is a larger and more expensive soundbar for those who want the cinema experience at home, but without having to invest in many large speakers.

Both support Dolby Atmos, and with HDMI input they’re super easy to connect to modern TVs.

Sonos Ray touch control
Sonos Ray is a compact soundbar with the width of a 24-inch TV. (Photo: Sonos)

New basic model

The Sonos Ray is a new, smaller base model from the Americans and fits below the Beam in price and size.

A width of just over half a metre is equivalent to a 24-inch TV, and its rounded shapes blend nicely into any environment. It has a touch pad on top so you can pause and start the music, and turn the volume up and down.

Sonos Ray can be placed on a TV stand, but is also suitable for wall mounting. Wall brackets are not included, however, but must be purchased sepearately.

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Sonos demonstrating the new Ray soundbar at an event in Copenhagen. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

No HDMI

With the Ray soundbar, Sonos has thought of users who want to upgrade the sound from their TV, but in a limited space and at a low price. Sound familiar? That’s exactly what they said about the first version of the Beam.

In the quest for a cheaper product, Sonos has cut corners in terms of features. Among other things, the HDMI input has been removed, which has otherwise become standard on soundbars today.

HDMI allows for more audio formats, among other things, but most importantly, it simplifies the connection process. Connect an HDMI cable between the TV and the soundbar and you’re ready to go. The TV’s remote control can then also be used automatically to adjust the sound up and down on the soundbar. Brilliant.

The Sonos Ray, on the other hand, needs to be programmed to learn the commands from the TV remote. It’s not difficult, but the problem arises if you have a new TV where the remote uses radio waves instead of IR. That will not work with Ray.

Another important detail is that HDMI gives better control over lip-sync, so you avoid the sound of dialogue not matching lip movements – because sound and picture are out of sync. With Ray and optical cable, you get no control over this, but have to cross your fingers that it’s true. Which it certainly doesn’t always.

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Sonos Ray lacks HDMI input. (Photo: Sonos)

No Dolby Atmos

The lack of HDMI input also means that the Sonos Ray will have to make do without high-resolution surround sound formats like Dolby Atmos. That needn’t be a problem, but in our experience the Atmos format helps to elevate the audio experience on content that supports it. It’s definitely a feature I’d want if I were buying a new soundbar today.

Many popular shows from Netflix, Disney+ and other streaming services now come with Atmos sound. It’s an audio format with an extra dimension in height and with object-based audio, where sounds are placed more accurately in a three-dimensional soundscape.

Ray only supports PCM and Dolby Digital, but at this price point, most people probably don’t expect the cinema experience in the living room anyway. So that’s all quite well.

An attempt at an explanation

I still can’t let go of the question, though: Why no HDMI input? Is it to save money? And if so, how much has actually been saved?

The answer I got when Sonos showed off the soundbar at an event in Copenhagen was that it’s meant to work with old flat screens. After all, many people still have one; perhaps an old plasma TV to which they would like to upgrade the sound.

Okay, sure. But surely that could have been solved by having both HDMI and optical. Or, as on the Beam, an HDMI input with an adapter for optical for those who need it.

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Sonos now has three soundbars, with Ray being the smallest. (Photo: Sonos)

Nice user interface with many services

Otherwise, Ray has the same support for streaming services as all other Sonos products and is controlled in the same way with the Sonos app on mobile. Whether you use Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube Music, it doesn’t matter.

The app also supports audiobook services like Storytel, as well as internet radio with TuneIn and Sonos’ own radio service. Much else is supported too – the list is seemingly endless.

The app is very easy to use, and it’s easy to connect multiple Sonos products. If you want to combine them – say, a soundbar, a subwoofer (or two) and a pair of speakers as rear speakers – that’s entirely possible. However, you can’t connect two Ray in stereo; that’s reserved for the One and Five speakers.

Room correction with Trueplay

Like other Sonos speakers, Ray can be adapted to the environment it’s in with a feature Sonos calls Trueplay. It’s only available to iPhone users, and if you don’t have one, you should borrow one. The phone’s microphone is then used as a measuring microphone, and coloration from the surface (such as a hollow TV cabinet) and from the rest of the room are virtually gone.

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(Photo: Sonos)

The sound of Sonos Ray

Sound-wise, the Ray offers clean and tidy audio, especially in the all-important midrange, which makes dialogue sound crisp and clear. Placed on my TV stand at home, it did sound coloured, so dialogue and other sounds got an artificial boost in the upper bass register. That’s not the speaker’s fault, though, but the TV furniture’s.

And that’s where Trueplay comes in. Because after a quick adjustment, where you’re asked to walk around the room while holding the iPhone high and low, the coloration is gone like the dew of the sun! The sound is now crystal clear and seamless.

Pretty lame

Okay, now the dialogues and sound sound otherwise nice and clean. However, some bass is missing. It’s almost non-existent, which makes the new series Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+ not exactly sparkling. Even music in stereo sounds a bit tinny. Ray doesn’t do that much wrong; rather, the problem is that it fails to really make an impression.

That’s not surprising, though, because the Beam isn’t exactly a powder keg when it comes to bass, and it has more cabinet volume than the Ray. The Beam has noticeably more fullness down low, while, with the Ray, I really feel the lack of a subwoofer.

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(Photo: Sonos)

Much better with Sub

Fortunately, I have a latest generation Sonos Sub in my living room (I usually use Arc), and I’m trying to plug it in to see what happens. Be aware that Trueplay then needs to be set again.

As expected, it will be quite different with the subwoofer. The bass comes forward and there is significantly more thump in the film music and special effects. When a spaceship flies by on screen, I believe it much more.

The only problem is that the Sonos Sub costs almost three times as much as the Ray, making it an out of the question combination for the vast majority. Those who do spend money on a Sub will want something cooler to plug it into. And those who buy a Ray will never spend that much money on a subwoofer.

In other words, Sonos needs to launch a cheaper subwoofer. Which, I am sure, they are aleready preparing…

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(Photo: Sonos)

Not surround sound

Okay, so we’ve established that Ray has puny bass. What about the illusion of surround sound?

Well… The sound image gets a width that goes beyond the physical dimensions of the soundbar. But not by all that much. The Sonos Ray can’t replace a pair of speakers placed two metres apart. It tries to create a kind of surround illusion, but here the Beam is significantly better. Both the latest and the first generation Beam are better than the Ray.

I don’t even need to mention the Arc, but of course I’ve made the comparison, and the Arc has a much wider, louder and more enveloping soundstage. The Arc actually manages to fool the listener into thinking it’s a surround system. On a good day. That, Ray is not at all. Here the soundstage is significantly narrowed. Again, I would definitely choose Beam over Ray.

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(Photo: Sonos)

Problems with lip-sync

Finally, it should be mentioned that with my Sony A90J OLED TV, I was experiencing that the sound came a bit after the picture. It’s not by much, and when the Arc and Ray are playing simultaneously, with one connected via HDMI eARC and the other via optical, the sound is only slightly behind on the Ray. But it’s enough that you notice it when you see the characters’ lip movements on the screen. The illusion suffers a little.

Competitors

If €299 is all you want to spend on a soundbar, it’s tempting to recommend a second-hand 1st-generation Beam instead. It’s got what Ray needs, plus slightly better sound.

If you’re not dependent on the Sonos interface, there are better alternatives. For example, the TCL TS8132, which you can get at roughly the same price as the Ray, and which then includes a subwoofer. And Atmos sound. The Samsung HW-S66A also has both HDMI and optical connectivity, and currently costs less than the Ray in several places.

If you really only want to spend the smallest possible amount of money and can live with Bluetooth as the only streaming solution, the TCL TS8111 is recommended.

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(Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Conclusion

The Sonos Ray is a soundbar that’s okay in many ways, and one might be tempted to give it a thumbs up for the price. We’re not sure everyone will love the Ray, though, because this soundbar seems like a pretty pointless product to us.

That the dynamics are rather tame, and the soundstage narrow, can be forgiven. It’s cheap after all. The lack of Dolby Atmos support is also to be lived with. And that Ray is desperately crying out for a cheaper subwoofer to be paired with, so be it.

That the HDMI connector has been dropped, on the other hand, is harder to swallow. This means you lose control of lip-sync, and you can’t adjust volume with the TV’s remote if the latter is using radio signals. Optical cable for a soundbar just seems old-fashioned these days.

The explanation, according to Sonos, is that the soundbar needs to work with older TVs. But how hard can it be with both optical and HDMI? Everyone else can figure that one out.

In their zeal to give us a smaller and cheaper soundbar, Sonos has thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

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Sony Xperia 1 IV - Same recipe for success as last year https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/mobile-tablet/sony-xperia-1-iv https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/mobile-tablet/sony-xperia-1-iv#respond Fri, 03 Jun 2022 06:16:01 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/sony-xperia-1-iv Sony Xperia 1 IVSony is unlikely to challenge Apple or Samsung as the preferred mobile brand. Smartphones are by far the biggest product category in the electronics market (most of us carry a mobile phone in our pocket), and Sony is well positioned to attract consumers in droves with its gigantic ecosystem of content, products and technologies. That ... Read more]]> Sony Xperia 1 IV

Sony is unlikely to challenge Apple or Samsung as the preferred mobile brand. Smartphones are by far the biggest product category in the electronics market (most of us carry a mobile phone in our pocket), and Sony is well positioned to attract consumers in droves with its gigantic ecosystem of content, products and technologies.

That includes Sony PlayStation and its gaming universe. The company is also a major player in the entertainment industry, with divisions such as Sony Music and Sony Pictures, not to mention their technological expertise and numerous excellent products in TV, video, photo and audio.

But Sony is also a very segmented organisation, with one part of the company not necessarily talking much to the other parts, so despite numerous attempts the Japanese have never succeeded in integrating their entire ecosystem into a smartphone in a way that appeals broadly to consumers.

That’s not to say Sony hasn’t tried – for example, PS Remote Play lets you use your Xperia smartphone to remotely control your PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5 – but especially when it comes to the Japanese ecosystem of games, music and movies, integration has always seemed a little half-hearted.

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The Sony Xperia 1 IV has a 120 Hz refresh rate. The display has a maximum brightness of 1000 nit, which makes it more suitable for outdoor use than its predecessors. (Photo: Peter Gotschalk)

Looking at recent generations of Sony’s top-of-the-range Xperia 1 series phones, it’s hard to tell with the naked eye which parts of the big Japanese electronics company actually get along. And not surprisingly, it’s the divisions that are all part of Sony Electronics, which makes products like TVs, Blu-ray players, projectors, cameras, camcorders, headphones and speakers.

Until 2020, Sony Mobile was a separate division, but in the past two years mobile phones have come under the aforementioned Sony Electronics umbrella, which has meant that a lot of display, sound and camera technology from the other divisions has found its way into Sony’s latest smartphones.

In particular, the focus has been on technology and features from Sony’s own Alpha series, which has even influenced the naming of Sony’s handsets since the first Sony Xperia 1 launched back in 2019. Thus, Sony follows the same principle for naming their smartphones as we know from the aforementioned Alpha series, where the model number is maintained and the upgraded versions are then called Mark I, Mark II, Mark III, etc.

And so we come back to the broad appeal thing. Because Sony’s smartphones are not for everyone. Instead, Sony is aiming at the geeks and semi-professionals who like to take a dab at the manual camera settings, care about the audio being high-resolution, and incidentally could easily find themselves streaming for hours on Twitch while gaming on their phone.

Less than a year ago, we tested the Sony Xperia 1 III, which was close to perfect. Although it didn’t challenge Apple or Samsung for the top 10 best-selling smartphones. And now it’s the turn of the Sony Xperia 1 IV, which in the same spirit as its predecessors continues to appeal mostly to those who don’t just use their mobile phone, but use it to create themselves.

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The Sony Xperia 1 IV is very similar to its predecessor. The design is elegant with Gorilla Glass Victus on both front and back. (Photo: Peter Gotschalk)

“Don’t mess with a working system” is Sony’s mobile strategy. Sony has optimised and tweaked here and there so that the Xperia 1 IV is ready for 2022. But essentially it’s an upgrade rather than a completely new product.

Appearance and design

That’s why the Sony Xperia 1 IV looks exactly like its predecessor. The design is elegant, with Gorilla Glass Victus on both the front and back, all surrounded by a metal frame. Unlike last year, the Xperia 1 IV is available in three different colours: Black, Ice White and Purple. And although the back is glass, the colour is matt, so the phone is both comfortable to hold and doesn’t collect fingerprints.

Like its three predecessors, Sony’s latest flagship comes with a 21:9 screen. This makes the phone long and slim, and the narrow format means it’s easy to hold in your hand, even though the screen size is up to 6.5 inches. There’s even a little extra at the top, as Sony has chosen to place the front camera next to the speaker in the frame above the screen itself.

Like its predecessor, the camera module is located in the top left-hand corner of the back. One reason is that Sony has made room for a 3.5mm minijack connector on the top of the phone, which is a nice touch for audiophiles.

The fingerprint reader is integrated into the power button on the right side of the phone. There you’ll also find the volume button and the dedicated camera button that acts as a shutter release when taking pictures, which is a little bonus you don’t get with many other smartphones.

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The camera button has been moved further down on the Sony Xperia 1 IV, so it’s on the far right when you hold the phone horizontally, and it’s also got a grooved pattern to make it easier to find with your fingers. (Photo: Peter Gotschalk)

The camera button has been moved further down on the Sony Xperia 1 IV so that it sits on the far right when held horizontally, and it has also been given a grooved pattern to make it easier to find with your fingers. Nice touch!

Screen

Like its predecessor, the Xperia 1 IV comes with a 120Hz refresh rate, and as we know, the high refresh rate means the user experience is velvety smooth when moving around the home screen, menus, etc.

New this year, Sony has cranked up the brightness, which is now up to around 1000 nit, where previous models could only manage up to 560 nit. This makes the Sony Xperia 1 IV significantly more usable outdoors, which can be useful if you use the screen as a viewfinder when taking photos.

In addition, the screen of the Xperia 1 IV is almost a faithful copy of the screen of last year’s model. It’s an OLED screen with 4K resolution and, like its predecessor, the Xperia 1 IV features the so-called Creator Mode, which makes the screen’s image reproduction as colour-accurate and lifelike as possible. Among other things, the technology gives the mobile screen a wider colour gamut, while 10-bit HDR ensures more detailed reproduction of colour transitions.

Currently supported by Netflix, among others, the picture quality is quite impressive. On the Sony screen, the picture looks like it’s in the cinema or on the very best TVs on the market, and of course it’ll be really cool if the content is available in 21:9 format.

On Netflix, this applies to around two thirds of the films available, while the vast majority of TV series are only in 18:9 format. Unfortunately, this means that black bars appear on the right and left sides of the picture. But this is perhaps worth accepting in return for the opportunity to fully enjoy the content actually shot and available in the cinema format.

Incidentally, the 21:9 format also allows you to run two apps simultaneously in so-called 21.9 multi-window mode, which works really well. Sony’s Side Sense feature, which lets you access apps more easily by placing your finger along the side of the screen, has also been improved so that, for example, you won’t accidentally activate it all the time just by holding your finger in the wrong place.

Sound

The cinema experience of the 21:9 aspect ratio is enhanced if you use a pair of proper headphones with your Sony Xperia 1 IV.

As mentioned, the phone has a built-in mini-jack, and the Xperia 1 IV also supports Dolby Atmos and Hi-Res Audio, including Sony’s LDAC format and DSEE Ultimate technology, as well as Sony’s 360 Spatial Sound. The technology is similar to Apple Spatial Audio, which we’ve written about extensively here, and like Apple’s solution, 360 Spatial Sound provides the listener with a 3D-like audio experience that should give music more authenticity and authenticity. Like hearing the music live, in other words.

Where Apple’s solution only works with Apple Music and Apple headphones, such as AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, 360 Spatial Sound works with multiple streaming services. This includes Tidal, which even has a dedicated 360 Reality Audio section in the app, but also other services such as Deezer and nugs.net.

On the other hand, Sony’s technology is also limited to Sony products when it comes to hardware support. Indeed, without Sony headphones or earplugs – such as the WH-1000XM5 or WF-1000XM4 – 360 Spatial Sound will not work.

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The new Sony mobile comes with three lenses with Zeiss optics. In addition, a fourth 3D iToF lens is available for distance measurement (Photo: Peter Gotschalk)

Camera

The Sony Xperia 1 IV is equipped with a triple camera and a dedicated 3D iToF sensor for distance measurement. As on last year’s model, we thus find a 24 mm wide-angle lens at 12 megapixels, a 16 mm ultra-wide angle, also at 12 megapixels, as well as a 12 megapixel telephoto. And the periscope technology with variable focal length as an alternative to traditional optical zoom from the Xperia 1 III is back.

But whereas last year it meant the lens could switch smoothly between 70mm and 105mm (70mm provides 2.9x zoom, while 105mm zooms 4.4x) but could only be in either zoom mode, the Xperia 1 IV offers a focal length between 85mm and 125mm (85mm provides 3.5x zoom, while 125mm zooms 5.2x) with the option of seamless optical zoom throughout the range. Zooming in less than 3.5x – or higher than 5.2x – is therefore digital, while any zoom mode between 3.5x and 5.2x is true optical zoom.

The camera is accessed via the Photography Pro app, which by default has much the same interface as Sony’s Alpha cameras, offering manual settings for exposure, white balance, shutter speed and so on. The camera has also borrowed a few other tricks from Sony’s Alpha range, such as Real-time Eye-AF, which tracks and focuses on the subject’s eyes even when the person is moving, which now works with all camera lenses.

If you’re not a camera enthusiast, however, the Sony Xperia 1 IV is a good choice anyway. Photography Pro also comes with a so-called Basic mode, which gives the user a simple interface that does most things automatically.

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“Märchenbrunnen” i Berlin fotograferet med henholdsvis ultravidvinkel, vidvinkel, 85 mm tele og 125 mm tele. (Foto: Peter Gotschalk)

And where in the past (since the first Xperia 1, in fact) we experienced annoying weaknesses in Sony’s software as soon as the camera was left to its own devices – for example, Xperia phones had problems with automatic HDR for years, often leading to either over- or underexposed images – Sony has finally got it right. Even pictures taken in Basic mode turn out quite nice, and Sony has got the automatic exposure under control.

But it’s the Alpha interface that makes the Sony Xperia 1 IV special, and the fact that Sony prioritises its own professional camera app is a good example of the Japanese electronics manufacturer knowing its audience. Because, as we mentioned at the outset, many loyal Xperia users swear by Sony’s top-of-the-range mobile precisely because of its close affinity with the company’s system cameras.

In other words, the Sony Xperia 1 IV is probably the most interesting smartphone on the market right now for those who are more than generally interested in photography and like to spend time manually adjusting camera settings.

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Thanks to the dedicated 3D iToF sensor, which helps with distance measurement, you can take pretty crisp bokeh images with the Sony Xperia 1 IV. The degree of bokeh effect can of course be adjusted manually in the camera app. (Photo: Peter Gotschalk)

This also applies to those who prefer shooting video to taking pictures. They can indulge in two completely different apps, Video Pro and Cinema Pro, the latter of which comes with a range of colour profiles, known as “Looks”, that adjust the colour curve, contrast and saturation to give the finished videos a look similar to the way different film genres usually look.

Video Pro allows you to shoot 21:9 4K 120 fps 10 bit HDR on all lenses, enabling up to 5x slow motion, and as a new feature, Video Pro also lets all Xperia users live stream on YouTube directly from the app, without being restricted by the usual user limit that actually requires you to have over 1,000 subscribers on your channel.

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I modsætning til alle sine forgængere har Sony Xperia 1 IV ingen problemer med at styre eksponeringen. Dette billede af “Märchenbrunnen” taget i modlys … (Foto: Peter Gotschalk)

Performance and features

Last year the Xperia 1 III came with the fastest mobile processor for Android smartphones at the time, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888, and this year the Xperia 1 IV has got all it can handle. So the Sony Xperia 1 IV has the same Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor that we know from the likes of the Motorola Edge 30 Pro, OnePlus 10 Pro and Xiaomi 12 Pro.

Add to that 12 gigabytes of RAM, and there should be some speed in other words. But compared to the three models above, the Xperia 1 IV performs roughly on par with the OnePlus 10 Pro, while both the Motorola Edge 30 Pro and Xiaomi 12 Pro fare better in benchmark tests across the board.

That doesn’t mean that the Sony Xperia 1 IV is slow. It performs better in benchmark tests than its predecessor, the Xperia 1 III, and when we play our usual heavy test games like Asphalt 9 and Into the Dead 2, there’s no let-up.

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En anden innovativ kamerafunktion er AI-zoom med superopløsning, der lader dig komme helt tæt på motivet med 15x zoom og stadig få et ret skarpt resultat. Som her, for dette billede er skudt med AI-zoom. (Foto: Peter Gotschalk)

And in one respect, the improvement over last year’s model is marked. The Xperia 1 IV comes with an even bigger battery than last year’s model, and this is very noticeable in terms of battery life – despite the significantly brighter screen. Add to that 30 watts of fast charging and, of course, wireless charging.

The fingerprint reader, as mentioned, is neither in the screen nor on the back of the phone, but instead integrated into the power button, and it’s actually a good solution that works every time. Like its predecessor, the Sony Xperia 1 IV is also waterproof and dustproof (IP65/68).

Another significant improvement over last year’s Xperia 1 is the front camera, which is now 12 megapixels and has been equipped with a larger Exmor RS sensor. (Photo: Peter Gotschalk)

Conclusion

In reality, Sony already hit the mark last year with the Xperia 1 III, but of course there’s always room for small improvements, and that’s exactly what the Sony Xperia 1 IV is. A small improvement for the discerning.

The screen has become brighter, the battery is bigger and the camera has got a few more features, including a telephoto lens that can now zoom freely throughout the range between 85 and 125 mm. And the camera software and all the automated settings have finally been sorted out.

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Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 - First Atmos soundbar from B&W https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/home-theatre/bowers-wilkins-panorama-3 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/home-theatre/bowers-wilkins-panorama-3#respond Thu, 02 Jun 2022 06:00:47 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/bowers-wilkins-panorama-3 Panorama 3 Video Still 6 copy scaled 1Bowers & Wilkins needs no further introduction. The English manufacturer is famous for their well-made loudspeakers, not least the stylish 800 series, which is highly appreciated by studio engineers and discerning hi-fi enthusiasts alike. B&W hasn’t made as much of a name for itself on the soundbar front, but we were impressed by the high-end ... Read more]]> Panorama 3 Video Still 6 copy scaled 1

Bowers & Wilkins needs no further introduction. The English manufacturer is famous for their well-made loudspeakers, not least the stylish 800 series, which is highly appreciated by studio engineers and discerning hi-fi enthusiasts alike.

B&W hasn’t made as much of a name for itself on the soundbar front, but we were impressed by the high-end Formation Bar. Not least the great sound they’ve achieved with Philips on the latter’s best OLED TVs.

And then, of course, there’s the Panorama range. Which is B&W’s own original twist on a slim and user-friendly design soundbar that should be able to stand on its own without the need for extras like subwoofers and surround speakers. The new Panorama 3 also features Dolby Atmos surround sound.

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B&W Panorama 3 is a slim soundbar that measures 121 cm in width. (Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3

The third generation Panorama has a completely new design. The slim soundbar is only 6.5 cm tall and should therefore fit under most TVs. It can also be wall-mounted using the supplied brackets.

The design is functional, with a combination of textile and metal covering the many speaker units – 13 of them! That’s partly because the soundbar has built-in height channels – upward-facing speaker units designed to ensure proper reproduction of Dolby Atmos soundtracks.

B&W Panorama 3 has a speaker setup with a so-called 3.1.2 configuration, which means that it has dedicated speaker units for the left, centre and right front channels plus two Atmos channels on top. In addition, there are two 100 mm woofers on the underside to reproduce the deepest bass frequencies. Panorama 3 is designed to do without a separate subwoofer. The built-in amplifier is a whopping 400 watts.

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Simple connections on B&W Panorama 3. (Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

Ease of use and features

In terms of connectivity, the Panorama 3 is equipped with an HDMI eARC audio input, so it’s easy to connect it to the TV. Any separate A/V sources such as an Apple TV or games console also need to be connected via the TV. From here, the soundbar can output high-resolution audio formats like Dolby Atmos.

B&W hasn’t included a separate remote for the Panorama 3, as you can use the TV’s remote for simple things like adjusting the volume. But the soundbar can also be controlled via the Bowers & Wilkins Music app for Android and iOS.

The app doesn’t offer any adjustment options beyond bass and treble levels. There are also no presets, advanced EQ or room correction. The intention is probably that Panorama 3 should be a simple and uncomplicated product to use!

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The soundbar can also be controlled via a touch panel on top. (Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

Sound quality

When we set the Panorama 3 to reproduce the sound from our usual test clips, we can hear that there’s good quality at the top end of the frequency range. The treble is clear and fine-grained, contributing to clear, distinct vocal reproduction. That said, we also note that the soundbar has a rather thin sonic character.

When we play the clip of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and Tony Pro (Stephen Graham) in Lewisburg Prison from Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, we don’t get the expected impression of authority and presence. The two gentlemen argue loudly, but the mid-range is relatively thin.

The sense of space from the prison canteen is not very convincing either. Compared to the Bose Soundbar 900, which has drunk almost too much potion, the Panorama 3 has a noticeably flatter sound image.

“It almost sounds like mono,” Geir says in surprise. “Where’s the ambience and why is there no chest sound here? Where’s the bass?”

We become curious about what the B&W soundbar is actually capable of, and switch to another familiar scene from the same film, where a car is riddled with bullets in true mob fashion. Here you should ideally feel the pressure of the machine gun and the glass shattering, but we think it sounds a bit tame. There’s just something lacking here in terms of weight and impact compared to what we’re used to.

There’s also not quite the movement in the soundstage that we’ve experienced with a number of other potent soundbars, such as the Sonos Arc, Sony HT-A7000 and Samsung HW-Q960A.

“The Sonos Arc has a much bigger soundstage, and the Samsung soundbar wipes the floor with Panorama!” Geir exclaims.

It’s also noticeable in music that the soundstage is a bit flat and not very dynamic. Although Dua Lipa’s vocals sound free and fine, the drum rhythms and electric bass don’t really come across.

We know Bowers & Wilkins can do better, and for fun we compared it to the Philips 65OLED986 we have. Philips’ TV features a wider speaker setup from B&W, including larger and more powerful bass/midrange units. And it’s noticeable! Here we get the missing punch of sound effects, and the vocal prowess of both actors and singers really comes into its own.

In B&W’s defence, the Philips model is a more expensive and bulky option, not least because on top of everything else you have to shell out for a TV! The point is, there are far more potent speaker solutions out there, from the same manufacturer.

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Panorama 3 is no match for the Philips OLED986, which features sound from …Bowers & Wilkins. (Photo: Ger Gråbein Nordby)

Missing subwoofer

Despite dedicated woofers, it’s clear that the Panorama 3 would benefit from a separate subwoofer – perhaps extra rear speakers too, to give more shape over the surround effects.

Unfortunately B&W offer no such expansion options for the Panorama 3, which means you’re pretty much locked in as far as future upgrades are concerned. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, the Formation Bar would be a better and more flexible choice.

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(Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

Conclusion

Based on the technical specifications and not least the manufacturer, we had pretty high expectations for Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3. Unfortunately, we don’t think that the audio experience lives up to expectations – especially considering the competition in this price range.

If you want a standalone (but still upgradeable) soundbar without a subwoofer, we think the Sonos Arc or Sony HT-A7000 do a better job of surround effects than the Panorama 3. And if you want full-blooded surround sound with big bass, the Samsung HW-Q960A is a more complete package.

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NAD C 700 - Sounds like it was much bigger https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/nad-c700 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/hi-fi/nad-c700#respond Wed, 01 Jun 2022 06:00:28 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/nad-c700 NAD C700 lifestyle 9 scaled 1NAD has recently had success with small but serious amplifiers, where you only need a pair of speakers to get a complete system. At the more expensive end we have the M10, which has everything you need in one box, including the streaming platform BluOS – which is the same as in Bluesound’s products. Including ... Read more]]> NAD C700 lifestyle 9 scaled 1

NAD has recently had success with small but serious amplifiers, where you only need a pair of speakers to get a complete system. At the more expensive end we have the M10, which has everything you need in one box, including the streaming platform BluOS – which is the same as in Bluesound’s products. Including the Powernode amplifier. NAD and Bluesound share the same DNA.

And that’s fine, because BluOS offers much of the same ease of use as Sonos and also doesn’t discriminate between high-res streaming services. In fact, you get MQA support from Tidal as well as high-quality PCM (up to 192 kHz) from both Qobuz and Amazon. The app doesn’t have Apple Music built in, though, so the best you get there is 16-bit/44 kHz via AirPlay.

The M10 V2 also has advanced room correction in the form of Dirac Live, and also outputs 100 watts into 8 ohms. But if you think €2,200 is overkill for a small (but highly capable) power amp, and you don’t think you need room correction either, then the scaled-down C 700 might be just the ticket.

NAD C700 lifestyle Geir Graabein scaled 1
(Photo: NAD)

C 700 – a simpler M10

The C 700 costs about half as much as the M10 V2, but offers much of the same. It also has BluOS and a nice screen that covers most of the front. But not quite like the M10 V2, which has full touch controls.

The power amp stage is somewhat simpler on the C 700, with a slightly lower output of 80 watts into 8 ohms. That’s the same power as the Powernode, and we didn’t exactly miss power there. Although, of course, the amp runs out of steam at some point.

Also check out It does not need to be any bigger

The tiny streaming amplifier has gotten even better.

Neither amp has turntable inputs, but they do have analog inputs in addition to digital. Including an HDMI input with eARC, which means it gets high-resolution audio out of the TV.

The C 700 has a simpler chassis than the M10 V2, which has real glass and thicker metal. There’s a slightly more plastic feel about the C 700.

Bluesound RC1 scaled 1 scaled 1
The Bluesound RC1 remote control is available as an option (Photo: Bluesound)

Remote control is optional

One thing you immediately notice when you open the box is that no remote control is included with the C 700. The Bluesound RC1 does, however, come with the M10 V2. It also works with the C 700 and can be bought as an option if you don’t like using your mobile phone.

The volume wheel on the front panel does go a long way. And two physical buttons on the C 700 allow you to jump back and forth in playlists or switch between radio stations. It also has internet radio.

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(Photo: NAD)

Ease of use

The first time you connect the C 700, it goes into hotspot mode, sharing a Wi-Fi network to which the phone is connected in the settings. iPhone users are automatically redirected to their preferred network, while Android users have to go into the BluOS app and continue the setup there. But don’t worry – it’s easy.

From there, you name the product, choose one or more streaming services to sign in to, and then you’re ready to stream away.

There’s no USB DAC input for PC users, but many computers have optical digital outputs that you can use instead.

NAD C700 rear Geir Graabein scaled 1
On the back you’ll find all the inputs you need, including HDMI. Preamp and subwoofer outputs are there too. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Good display

I like the display on the C 700, which shows the cover from the tracks being streamed. If you use one of the inputs instead, the display turns into a VU meter with two hands waving back and forth in time to the music. Here the C 700 wins over the Bluesound Powernode, which has only blue lights on the front. On the other hand, the Powernode has a headphone output, which is missing on the C 700.

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All indications are that High End 2022 in Munich was a resounding success.

highend2022 hr 0130

I do miss info on the digital resolution of the audio signal. NAD could have put that to good use, as many hi-fi enthusiasts like to see what kind of file is being streamed. The MQA logo, on the other hand, shows up on relevant content.

Otherwise, the mobile phone is used to control the music, and it works fine. If the amplifier is connected to the TV’s HDMI input marked ARC or eARC, the TV remote can be used to control volume.

NAD C700 front angle scaled 1
(Photo: NAD)

The sound of the NAD C 700

As for the sound, I’m thrilled with the tight sound with much better control over the eminent compact speakers Dynaudio Evoke 20 than you would think beforehand.

Or rather, I really knew that after a recent rehearsal with the aforementioned Powernode amp from Bluesound. The DNA is shared on the sound side too, and the NAD amplifier keeps mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli on a tight leash. Her voice stands out open and clear from the strings, and there’s no detail in the music that escapes me.

Pop music has a tight bass drum and nice textures in the bass notes overall. The soundscape is open and honest, and all instruments are rendered with their sound structure intact; nothing is missing here.

At least, not much. What I do think is a little lacking, however, is warmth. The tight and concise sound can occasionally lean towards the clinical and sterile.

Also check out High-end in bonsai format

Room correction, streaming and MQA. The NAD M10 is packed with features that are rare in this class.

Putting the amp up against the Primare I15 Prisma, I think the latter with its Hypex amplifier module draws out the details in a slightly more natural way. A little warmer, a little airier. But also the I15 must be characterized as neutral, which I did when I tested it. It’s even more resolved than the NAD, but lacks a bit of punch in return.

It will be a matter of taste, but if I were to have an amplifier where I mostly listened at moderate sound levels, I would probably say that the Primare amplifier is better. It also has more digital inputs, not least the USB DAC input.

But the NAD amp is easier to relate to, where the Primare I15 has an almost unreadable display with way too small font. It is therefore not unlikely that I would have chosen the NAD amplifier of the two anyway, but if I had to spend my own money, I would still have bought the much cheaper Bluesound amplifier.

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The NAD C700 is controlled with the BluOS mobile app. Here grouped in the same room as Powernode. (Screen shot from iPhone)

Conclusion

The NAD C700 is a small amplifier that doesn’t sound small at all. It has convincing control over the speakers, and it takes all music in stride. It doesn’t sound at all like it only has 2 x 80 watts to contribute in the power department!

It’s primarily the tightness of the bass, but also the clarity of the midrange that makes the C700 impress. It lacks just the last of the micro detail and air right at the top, but boy does it make up for it on rhythm and drive. If you don’t need room correction, the C700 offers even more bang for your buck than big brother M10.

Unfortunately for NAD, there’s also the Bluesound Powernode, which costs considerably less than the C700. It has no display, but does have a headphone output and otherwise sounds very similar to the NAD. We had hoped that the C700 would be clearly better than the Powernode, but it’s not, as far as we can tell.

NAD C700 lifestyle scaled 1
(Photo: NAD)
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Genelec 6040R - Precision tools you can use at home https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/speakers/genelec-6040r https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/speakers/genelec-6040r#respond Tue, 31 May 2022 12:00:13 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/genelec-6040r 6040r chair square 1600x1200Finnish Genelec are best known for their studio monitors, speakers for professional studios, but some of the models are so “civilized” that they can be used at home without the professional equipment totally dominating the decor. The Genelec 6040R is one such speaker. An active two-way design that can be called either a floorstander or ... Read more]]> 6040r chair square 1600x1200

Finnish Genelec are best known for their studio monitors, speakers for professional studios, but some of the models are so “civilized” that they can be used at home without the professional equipment totally dominating the decor.

The Genelec 6040R is one such speaker. An active two-way design that can be called either a floorstander or a compact speaker with equal right or wrong. The stand is in fact a fixed and integral part of the speaker.

One could argue that the speakers could just as well have had a larger volume, since the floor space is taken up anyway, but a smaller cabinet means less diffraction and less risk of cabinet vibration. Two problems that Genelec has gone to great lengths to minimise in its speakers.

The Genelec 6040R, like other Genelec models, has a cabinet with very rounded shapes. Not to look refined, but because the shape means both greater rigidity in the cabinet and fewer diffractions (which occur when sound waves hit a sharp edge), ultimately leading to a smoother frequency response.

Resonance-dead cabinet

The cabinet is cast in aluminium and is virtually resonance dead. When you tap your knuckle on the speaker, virtually no sound comes out. The only speaker I’ve experienced with a more dead cabinet is Jern, which is also cast in metal.

The two units are respectively a 6.5 inch bass/midrange unit and a 19 mm dome tweeter with metal cone. The tweeter is recessed in a waveguide to ensure even dispersion of the sound.

There are two built-in Class D amplifiers of 150 watts each. A DSP ensures that the speaker units receive only the power they can handle. The Genelec 6040R is rated to deliver 118 dB of sound pressure in short pulses. But they can “only” deliver 100 dB of sustained sound pressure. Which is, however, more than loud enough to cause hearing damage if you listen for a long time.

15006 6040r musta liittimet
All inputs and outputs are professional XLR connectors. The RJ-45 ports are used for Genelec’s own network (Photo: Genelec)

Professional connections

The Genelec 6040R is active, but not wireless. As Genelec has its roots in the professional world, all inputs are professional XLR sockets. Both the analogue, which is of course balanced, and the digital, which follows the AES/EBU standard. It doesn’t make much difference in practice, but you need to make sure you have the right adapters.

There are also two RJ45 inputs, but not for networking. Instead, they’re used for Genelec’s own network, called GLM, which can link multiple speakers and subwoofers together and also control them from a computer via a special adapter box.

All connections are made on the back of the speaker stands. Under the bases you’ll also find a series of DIP switches and a knob that can be used to trim the frequency response of the woofer and the tweeter. This makes it possible to correct for placement more or less close to rear walls and corners.

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The frequency response can be set under the base with DIP switches and a rotary knob. (Photo: Genelec)

Room correction

For best results, however, use Genelec’s own GLM space correction instead. Like other room correction systems, a measurement microphone is used and you can either calculate a general correction curve that gives a useful average across multiple listening locations, or a “selfie setup” that gives the best possible sound at one listening location. The listening test was performed with the eigenspace correction.

Since the electronics in the speakers are all-digital, and signals from the analog input are digitized, listening was done primarily via the digital input to avoid unnecessary conversions.

Some speakers play so you want to tap your foot to the beat. The Genelec’s make me want to work on the mix of the track.

The sound of the Genelec 6040R

Through my work, I have the privilege of listening to many speakers, and many of them are very good. The Genelec 6040R are not perfect in every way, but when it comes to purity and freedom from resonances and coloration from the cabinet, they are better than the vast majority.

Apart from the decidedly hollow stanchion of very cheap speakers with overly thin cabinets, you don’t really notice how much the cabinet of even fairly good speakers colours the sound. Until you experience a speaker where that’s not the case. It can best be described as silence. As if an imperceptible murmur in the concert hall fades away and you listen to the music itself.

The Genelec 6040R is a relatively compact two-way speaker (apart from the stand) with a 6.5-inch woofer. But that doesn’t limit the ability to play bass to any appreciable degree. The lowest octave you have to do without – or buy a subwoofer. But from just over 40 Hz (the lowest string on an electric bass) there is both authority and quality about the reproduction.

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The stand is an integral part of the Genelec 6040R. (Photo: Genelec)

Monitor without monitor sound

The term “monitor sound” is used for speakers that emphasise the details – often at the expense of the whole – and make it easier to hear small imperfections in the recording. The Genelec 6040R are certainly suitable for monitor use, but monitor sound they do not have.

In fact, the listening experience is pleasantly free of the sharp edges and obtrusive treble of many classic monitor speakers. But the sound is no less accurate for that reason. The speakers have an impressive ability to show every detail of the recording, and it’s particularly easy to hear the difference between each track. Which microphone is used and how close is it to the lips? What studio sound has been used on the guitar? If the details are present on the recording, they will stand out clearly.

Played over the Genelec 6040R, new details on familiar recordings come to light. On any good amplifier and speaker combination, it should be possible to hear that the vocals on Disturbeds cover version of “The Sound of Silence” are built up of several layers. But the difference in the tracks becomes apparent.

The same is true of a test classic like Roger Waters’ “Three Wishes,” where small, phase-enhanced details appear throughout the soundscape. I’ve definitely heard the track more impressively on expensive high-end speakers, where the sense of looking into a huge acoustic stage has been pronounced. But I’ve rarely heard this and my other test tracks reproduced so soberly.

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highend2022 hr 0130

Like being in the control room

On the whole, one feels transported to the control room of the recording studio rather than the concert hall. Which will appeal to those who have a dream of being a sound engineer (and possibly a studio in their bedroom). While others will crave the excitement and rock’n’roll that you get with an old-school monitor like the JBL L100 Classic (and an amp).

A more direct comparison might be the DALI Rubicon 6 C, which is also active. Here you get twice as many speaker units, driven by twice as many watts of built-in amplifiers. And wireless sound. But even though the Rubicon delivers a more impressive soundstage with a more extended frequency response, I’d still prefer the Genelec 6040R as a workhorse in the studio.

Conclusion

The Genelec 6040R is a rather unusual speaker whose appearance and choice of materials divide the waters. They also cost quite a lot of money, and in a hi-fi world where active speakers are mostly wireless, the professional XLR cable connections can seem cumbersome. Nor do they have a remote control. What they do deliver to perfection is a nuanced and exceptionally clean and uncoloured reproduction.

Some speakers play so that you want to tap your foot to the beat. The Genelec’s make you want to work on the mix of the track. Because they are made for sound engineering. But if you want to get to know your favourite music in depth, they’re a great buy.

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Razer Audio Mixer - Broadcast studio for your desktop https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/computer/razer-audio-mixer https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/computer/razer-audio-mixer#respond Mon, 30 May 2022 08:00:45 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/razer-audio-mixer Layout 10 Razer MixerAmerican Razer is known as a manufacturer of gaming gear. But the company has recently added equipment for those who have – or dream of – a career as a video anchor or internet radio star. The Razer Audio Mixer is – of course – an audio mixer, but it’s specifically designed for streaming, where ... Read more]]> Layout 10 Razer Mixer

American Razer is known as a manufacturer of gaming gear. But the company has recently added equipment for those who have – or dream of – a career as a video anchor or internet radio star.

The Razer Audio Mixer is – of course – an audio mixer, but it’s specifically designed for streaming, where microphones and other external audio sources can be combined with sound from the computer.

Razer Mixer Render 2021 03
Razer Audio Mixer is a mix of mixer for external signals and control of internal ones in the PC. (Photo: Razer)

The mixer is a compact unit (11.5 x 15.5 cm) that easily fits on the desk next to the keyboard, mouse, coffee cup and microphone. Since it’s a mic, four large faders take up most of the surface. And since it’s a Razer, the mixer is jet black with built-in RGB lights that can be synced with other gaming devices.

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The faders are numbered 1-4, and there’s a mute button under each that can turn off the sound. What each button and slider will control in practice can be set in the Razer Central application, which controls all installed Razer devices.

For the sake of Americans who are comfortable with firearms but can’t stand expletives, there’s a “bleep” button that mutes the microphone sound when the button is held down.

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Advanced setup

Setting up and bringing the Razer Audio Mixer into use isn’t something you should just start five minutes before your first stream is due to go live. In fact, you need to keep your wits about you when connecting the various audio sources to the mixer, which can handle analogue, digital and virtual sources. The latter could be the sound of a game on your PC, for example.

If you have a professional studio microphone, you’ll be pleased to know that the mixer has built-in 48-volt phantom power. USB mics without analogue outputs, on the other hand, have to go via the computer, as there is no USB input apart from the USB-C connection from the mixer to the PC.

2. mixer screen
In Razer Central, you can choose what each button on the mixer will be used for and how signals are routed through the mixer. (Photo: Razer)

Routing

With all the cables plugged into the mixer, the Razer Central control program needs to define the routing – which channels on the mixer control which audio sources. This is where it gets really complex, as the mixer acts as both input and output here.

For example, if you want background music from Tidal in the mix, you’ll need to select “Music (Razer)” as the playback device in the Tidal client, and then assign “Music” to a fader on the mixer to adjust the volume. Similarly with playback sound, microphone input, etc.

It’s not crucially different from how you set up the sound on studio audio interfaces with multiple inputs and outputs. But the combination of external audio sources and audio streams in the PC makes things more complicated. And that also makes the Razer Audio Mixer a suitable tool for streamers in particular.

There’s a selection of built-in effects such as compressor, EQ and echo/room sound, so you can get rid of the worst of the dry sound from the microphone. And special effects like robot voice etc, if that is your thing.

4. effects screen
There’s a selection of built-in effects. (Photo: Razer)

Few channels and inputs

But the mixer isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for every upcoming audio engineer. For one thing, four audio channels is very limited. You can, however, control more than four audio sources in Razer’s control panel, but that’ll be without nice volume sliders.

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The second limitation is that there’s only one of each type of input. If you need to connect two professional microphones or two line signals, the mixer is too limited. So forget about having two hosts in your streaming studio.

Razer Mixer Render 2021 05
There is a wide choice of inputs. But only one of each type. (Photo: Razer)

Competitors

Since we haven’t tested – or for that matter seen – a similar product before, there are not many direct competitors we can point to. But a lot of the features can be found in professional studio sound cards from the likes of RØDE and Zoom. And here you can easily get 8, 12 or more channels. At a price that starts about one and a half times that of Razer. On the other hand, they lack the crucial integration with the here-and-now sound from the PC itself.

KV Layout 9 Razer Mixer
The Razer Audio Mixer is perfect for those who want to create their own streaming channel with gaming, for example. (Photo: Razer)

Conclusion

The Razer Audio Mixer is a specialized product by integrating an analog/digital mixer with the PC’s various internal audio channels. This makes it a great tool for streamers who want to do broadcasts of gaming in particular. Razer’s core audience. The fact that it can also be spiced up with sound effects makes it all the more fun.

The setup is bound to get a little complicated when you have to follow and understand which signals go where. If you’re used to using a “real” mixer with multiple audio channels in and out of a home studio, the Razer mixer may seem limited. But for its particular purpose, it’s right on the mark.

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KEF Blade One Meta - Insanely brutal from KEF https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/speakers/kef-blade-one-meta https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/speakers/kef-blade-one-meta#respond Mon, 16 May 2022 06:00:15 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/kef-blade-one-meta KEF Blade One Meta SPREAD WEBIt’s only been a few months since we had the top-of-the-range 801 D4 from UK-based Bowers & Wilkins in for review. I was pretty quick to crown the speakers the best I’d heard. Perhaps a little too quickly … There’s nothing to criticise about the B&Ws when it comes to engineering and distortion-free sound reproduction, ... Read more]]> KEF Blade One Meta SPREAD WEB

It’s only been a few months since we had the top-of-the-range 801 D4 from UK-based Bowers & Wilkins in for review. I was pretty quick to crown the speakers the best I’d heard. Perhaps a little too quickly …

There’s nothing to criticise about the B&Ws when it comes to engineering and distortion-free sound reproduction, and thus a near-perfect rendition of instruments and vocals.

Still, they can be experienced as bordering on the sterile, and if punch and raw power are what you value most, there are other speakers that master that discipline to an even greater degree. Although the huge 801 D4 certainly moves large amounts of air.

KEF is also English, but that’s probably the only thing the two manufacturers have in common. Here things are solved in a completely different way. KEF is no less high-tech minded, but their solutions are quite different.

KEF Blade One Meta arctic white black
KEF Blade One Meta is not like any other speaker. (Photo: KEF)

Point source

KEF’s idea is that the entire frequency range from each speaker channel should be heard as if it comes from a single point. Only then do you get optimum stereo perspective and correct sound reproduction, no matter where you sit in relation to the speakers.

That’s why KEF uses coaxial drivers, where the tweeter is in the middle of the midrange and plays out through it. Optimally, the woofer should also be from the same point source, but this is rarely practical. If it is not, the bass should be placed as symmetrically as possible in relation to the coaxial unit.

This is the principle whether the speakers cost € 1,000 – or 35 times more – for a pair. As is the case with the speakers we’re looking at here.

Blade One Meta det
The coaxial unit on the front panel, together with perfectly symmetrical woofers on the sides, make the Blade One Meta behave like a single point source. (Photo: KEF)

Blade anno 2011

When the giant KEF Blades were launched back in 2011, they were like nothing you’d seen before. They were KEF’s research project, which because KEF had managed to make them so damn good, was put into production so the particularly interested (and particularly wealthy) could experience them.

They were the first floor-standing virtual point source speakers fra KEF (virtual because the woofers were side-mounted, but in parallel pairs that were in perfect symmetry with the coaxial unit in front), and they had an appearance reminiscent of their name: a knife blade.

The curved cabinets have no parallel surfaces and therefore optimally counteract diffractions. Where sound waves collide with each other and hit the ear at different times, blurring transients and destroying stereo perspective.

The side-mounted woofers move in opposite directions, cancelling each other’s impact on the cabinet and preventing distortion. And what a punch they pack!

In 2015, the giant Blade got a more placement-friendly little brother, the Blade Two, and at the same time the Blade was renamed the Blade One.

In the video above, KEF explains their meta material.

KEF Blade One Meta – with meta material

The time has finally come for an upgrade of the Blade One. Perhaps they didn’t really need it; they sounded as big, brutal and linear as anything I’d heard, and I’ve been almost hypnotised every time I’ve walked into a room at a trade show or similar where the speakers were playing.

But of course, when a speaker designer learns new tricks, it’s only right to pass them on to the top models, and that’s now happened with both speakers in the Blade range.

The most important new feature is a completely new material on the back of the tweeter unit. A so-called meta material, which is the name for materials with a very special cell structure that are designed in the laboratory and not found in nature.

KEF Metamaterial Absorption
KEF’s meta material acts as an acoustic black hole, completely absorbing the energy from the tweeter’s backside. (Photo: KEF)

Acoustic black hole

KEF has found that instead of looking for the natural material that best controls resonances and tuning them to something that satisfies the ears, they have been able to create a material that acts as an “acoustic black hole” where unwanted sound waves go in but don’t come out. So the sound from the back of the membrane will never be reflected back and mix with the sound from the front.

While the aforementioned Bowers & Wilkins achieve this with long chambers on the back of the speaker units, KEF can do the same with their metamaterial without having to create a structure that takes up so much room at the back. This saves both space and weight, and in addition the material can absorb a much wider frequency range than such chambers can.

However, there are limits to how long the wavelengths can be. That’s why KEF has concentrated on eliminating resonances in the treble range to give the cleanest possible treble.

Four pounding woofers

The new Blade One Meta are exactly the same size as their predecessors, which means they need a large space in order not to dominate too much visually. Acoustically, they’ll do fine in a smaller room, as they don’t go problematically deep in the bass – 35 Hz before rolling off at -3 dB, and 27 Hz at -6 dB.

So if you’re one of those who’s not satisfied until they get subwoofer bass, you may be disappointed, but be aware that the room will amplify the bass, so in practice you’ll get down towards 20 Hz anyway. And with much less placement hassle than with speakers that go deeper. Worth thinking about!

Also: with four pounding woofers at 22.5 cm – two on each side of the cabinet – you should be in for a treat!

KEF Blade One Meta sideview
Four 9-inch units – two on each side – pound away, shaking those in the room. (Photo: KEF)

Exquisite build quality

The Blade One Meta weighs 57 kilos apiece, which is a lot, but still only just over half that of the B&W 801 D4. It also makes them easier to move around, and you can actually unpack them and set them up on their own. You just move them on a dolly, in the boxes, to the room where you want them to be, and from there unpacking is pretty easy.

Here are smooth, even joints all the way around, and everything is about as “flush” as it can get. You can argue a lot about the look. I like it myself, and the speakers look as expensive as the price tag.

Also, the spikes that come with it are of solid quality, but if you’re going to use them – which I recommend – you’ll need help holding a little here and there while you work, so as not to damage the floor. Once the spikes are on, it’s easy to adjust them. A built-in spirit level shows if the speakers are level, and you can easily adjust the spikes from above with an included torx wrench.

For positioning tips, you can use Cardas’ simple calculator as a starting point.

KEF Blade One Meta colors
Eight standard colour combinations are available. Other colours can also be ordered. (Photo: KEF)

Fantastic Röyksopp

The new track “If You Want Me” with Röyksopp and great guest vocals by Susanne Sundfør sounds enchanting through Blade One Meta. The synth landscape is gigantic and stretches far out to the sides. Susanne’s voice is physical with vibratos as clear and focused as anything I’ve heard, and when the bass notes really kick in they effortlessly fill the room.

The sound is so big and complete that you just sit and stare. The punctual sound reproduction from each speaker really benefits this ballad.

The Devialet Expert 250 Pro plays extremely finely meshed through these speakers, but even more important is the control over even the slightest dynamic contrast – even at micro level. The tonal range is extremely large, but even more impressive is the dynamic control over this entire range.

Father John Misty

The presence in Father John Misty’s voice on the track “Goodbye Mr. Blue” is goosebump inducing, and the guitar sounds like it’s present in the room. It may sound cliché, but with Blade One Meta the scale of it all is so much bigger than with almost anything else. You don’t just sit and listen to the resolution of the notes, but also to the great physics of every note.

Rotel Michi X5
The Rotel Michi X5 does a fabulous job with the KEF Blade One Meta. (Photo: Rotel)

Groovy EDM rhythms

These speakers really sound crystal clear when driven by the super-resolved Devialet amplifier. But I want more of the thunderous physics.

The Rotel Michi X5 (review coming soon) doesn’t disappoint when it comes to power, and it also has a completely different quickness than a McIntosh in the same price range. It proves to be an exquisite match for KEF speakers, if the purpose is to riddle the sofa.

This was certainly confirmed with Tiësto and Seven’s “BOOM”. EDM music often sounds spiky and, ironically, flat in the bass, but some recordings are better than others. This one is among them, because we’re talking bass massage here!

It’s been a long time since I’ve played this loud in our test room. And it’s the first time in a long time that other staff have come into the test room – curious, having heard the tones propagate through the several hundred square foot office. This is awesome!

By the way: since the Michi amplifier has no built-in streaming, only digital inputs (and Bluetooth!), I continue to use the Devialet amplifier to stream from Roon. Just connected to one of the coaxial inputs on the Michi. You can of course use whichever streamer you like; it was just the best solution I had available at the time.

KEF Blade One Meta racing red
The KEF Blade One Meta looks tempting in racing red. (Photo: KEF)

Lovely classical

Classical music is reproduced with enormous space. A good example is the “Dance of the Knights” movement from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s version of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, conducted with a firm hand by James Morgan. Here there are magnificent sousaphons, timpani and cellos, while the first violins lead us through the familiar melody. All the while kept on a tight leash by the speakers.

It’s so powerful, so many layers of sound come through and everything hits the ears at the same time. There’s no lag, nothing that sounds cloaked. Everything is forced right into the face of the listener, but without sounding harsh. Lovely. And the treble is cleaner than its predecessors, which could sound a little more coarse-grained (if you can call it that).

KEF Blade One Meta Graabein
KEF Blade One Meta is reasonably tall next to Gråbein. (Photo: Audun Hage)

Nasal Steve Winwood

Recording after recording, I just sit and smile goofily. No matter how loud I turn it up, the speakers stand rock solid and play at full scale. With no flaws. No coloration, no peaks, everything is smooth as a whistle.

Editor-in-chief Lasse Svendsen enters the test room; his facial expression is hard to decipher. I think, surely this could impress anyone, even him.

“Try putting on Santana and Steve Winwood’s cover of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’,” he says. Apparently he’s made a discovery with the KEF Reference 5 Meta, which has the same coaxial unit and metamaterial.

As said, so done. I expected the same show of power here and was totally unprepared for what happened. Because suddenly things got a little weird. What a sharp voice!

Steve Winwood has a more nasal vocal than many other singers. It’s more evident on the Blade Meta than on most other speakers. It’s clear that the speakers don’t dress up sharp recordings at all, when much of the energy is in the 2-3 kHz range.

This wasn’t something I’d noticed before, because while the speakers aren’t silky smooth by any means, they usually just come across as linear and packing a lot of punch. They don’t usually have any gain in the 3 kHz range.

But when that particular frequency range sticks out negatively on a recording, playing loud isn’t quite as cool. Even at moderate sound pressure levels, it can be just over the top, and I think it’s fair to say that we’ve found an example of music that the Blade One Meta isn’t particularly keen on. Which is why I think I’ll skip Creedence Clearwater Revival and John Fogerty this time around …

BW 801 D4 white lifestyle
The Bowers & Wilkins 801 D4 is among the competitors to the KEF Blade One Meta. (Photo: Bowers & Wilkins)

Competitors

To talk about value for money when you’re asking € 35,000 for a pair of speakers, is not something I’m going to venture into. But there’s actually no shortage of competition. We’ve already mentioned the B&W 801 D4. The Dynaudio Confidence 60 is another example. Great speakers that paint the soundscape with a softer brush, but therefore don’t sound as liberated and dynamic either.

The Confidence 60 really demands a lot from the amp, while the Blade One Meta can actually make a lot of noise with an affordable integrated amp like the Marantz Model 40n or maybe even the Naim Supernait 3. They won’t quite get there, though, until they get some proper traction, like the Rotel Michi X5, and preferably something even more resolved if you prefer more finely-mashed harmonics, so you can really hear what the meta-disc has to offer.

Another competitor to the Blade One Meta is actually the cheaper Blade Two Meta, if its predecessors are anything to go by. In that case, the smaller version is no worse, just smaller and thus fits better in smaller spaces. And costs 25 percent less, with exactly the same Meta technology as in the Blade One Meta.

KEF Blade One Meta blue blue
Blue is not bad either. (Photo: KEF)

Conclusion

The KEF Blade Meta is a statement of achievement for a loudspeaker. The tall and deep cabinets provide volume, while the slim front baffle ensures minimal diffraction. Two woofers on each side of the cabinet move in parallel and prevent further distortion. But most importantly, the meta material behind the tweeters removes all resonance from the back of the drivers.

The result is a pair of speakers that play crystal clear, yet blisteringly aggressive when they need to. They really come thundering in, blasting through everything and everyone in the room. If that’s what you want. A rare blend of raw PA power and distinguished hi-fi sound.

Nothing else sounds like Blade. Nothing else looks like Blade. Nothing else is like Blade. Just be a little careful with very nasal recordings; they can be a challenge.

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Sony WH-1000XM5 - Sony WH-1000XM5: Goodbye, noise! https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/headphones/sony-wh-1000xm5 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/headphones/sony-wh-1000xm5#respond Fri, 13 May 2022 06:00:58 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/sony-wh-1000xm5 Sony WH 1000XM5 2 scaled 1Every time Sony has launched a new top-of-the-range wireless noise-cancelling headphone in recent years, they’ve been their own worst competitor. But as long as they made something better than its predecessor, they knew they had a winner. And I brought out the superlatives myself when I tested the WH-1000XM4 in the fall of 2020. But ... Read more]]> Sony WH 1000XM5 2 scaled 1

Every time Sony has launched a new top-of-the-range wireless noise-cancelling headphone in recent years, they’ve been their own worst competitor. But as long as they made something better than its predecessor, they knew they had a winner. And I brought out the superlatives myself when I tested the WH-1000XM4 in the fall of 2020.

But that was almost two years ago, and in a group review last year we had to conclude that while Sony was still the best at noise reduction, the sound quality was well below the best of the competition. The XM4 had fast and stable bass, but it didn’t go particularly deep, and it generally lacked a bit of dynamics and resolution.

Sony WH 1000XM5 3 scaled 1
Sony WH-1000XM5. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Better drivers

With the new WH-1000XM5, Sony wants to take the sound quality of music to a new level and has equipped them with brand new drivers. Where 40mm diaphragms were used before, they have now been shrunk to 30mm. But no compromises have been made, Sony promises, using expensive carbon fibre as the diaphragm material for better and cleaner sound.

In order not to lose energy in the bass range, the stroke length has also been increased, which the new and faster drivers should handle just fine.

The most advanced noise reduction

Sony has worked hard to make the excellent noise reduction even better. It has doubled the total number of microphones (now eight) and has a separate noise processor alongside a digital processor for audio. By using two separate processors, the noise cancelling function can work completely on its own, suppressing noise even more effectively.

The 1000XM5 also attenuates wind more effectively if you select wind reduction in the app.

Sony WH 1000XM5 Graabein scaled 1
The Sony WH-1000XM5 fits like a dream. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Promises great call quality

Sony promises optimal call quality thanks to four so-called beamforming microphones, which means that phase manipulation succeeds in picking up almost only the sound coming from the mouth, while ambient noise is shut out. Several microphones must work together to achieve this.

In the case of the XM5, a form of artificial intelligence is also used to analyse voice and environment. The result should be a quality of conversation similar to that obtained with specialised headsets with a microphone boom placed in front of the mouth.

Fitting

There weren’t many changes to the design from the first WH-1000X through the XM2 and XM3 to the XM4, but with the XM5 the design has finally been revamped. Firstly, the ear cups sit on thinner, round bars with lightweight and flexible joints. There’s significantly less fuzz here, mainly because the “wishbone” mounts from previous editions are gone.

This has led to a compromise, namely that the XM5 cannot be folded completely, as its predecessors could. They’re only partially foldable, allowing you to rotate the ear cups 90 degrees. Fortunately, the headband is very flexible. You can almost wrap it around your wrist, and it would take a lot to break them by sitting on them.

The XM5 fits like a dream on your head! The ear pads are actually thinner than before, but in return have better space for the ear inside. The fact that they are four grams lighter might not be noticed as much, but together with the fine fit, they feel significantly lighter than before. At exactly 250 grams, they still weigh ten grams more than the Bose QuietComfort 45, but you don’t really notice.

User friendliness

As before, the headphones are operated by swiping back and forth on the ear cups with your fingers, a technique Sony has mastered better than most. The headphones have a ‘talk for conversation’ function, so when you start talking to someone, the headphones will automatically mute the music and activate sound dubbing so you can hear your surroundings. Alternatively, you can put one hand around the right ear cup and the same thing will happen.

Pairing the headphones with your phone is easy. If you have an Android, they pop up on the screen as soon as you put them in pairing mode.

The same thing actually happens with a PC running Windows 11 – the first time I’ve seen this. You don’t have to go into the Bluetooth settings and find them, which can be quite complicated with Windows. Mac and iPhone users, on the other hand, will have to go into their Bluetooth list.

The fact that the headphones can be fast-charged in just three minutes and get a full three hours of playtime also adds to the ease of use, as does the fact that they have multi-point connectivity (that two devices can be connected at the same time).

Not tested with the app

Before the WH-1000XM5 goes on sale, Sony launched a new version of their Headphones Connect app, but it wasn’t available during testing. And since the old version doesn’t work with the new headphones, I had to test them without the app. Fortunately, the excellent LDAC codec is enabled from the start, so I’ve tested with the best starting point for sound quality.

On the other hand, I haven’t been able to check the voice control and EQ settings or the 20-step noise reduction. I’ve only been able to test with both noise reduction and audio throughput at max. In the app you can also adjust the amount of noise reduction on calls, and here too they are set to max, it seems.

Sony WH 1000XM5 vs WH 1000XM4 989x556 1 Sony WH 1000XM5 vs WH 1000XM4 2 989x556 1
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The Sony WH-1000XM5 (left) has a fresher look than its predecessor, the 1000XM4. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Good call quality

The call quality of the Sony WH-1000XM5 is exquisite! My voice comes through loud and clear and sounds cleaner and more open than with its predecessor. Compared to the office headset Jabra Evolve2 75 (review coming soon), which has a microphone boom, I actually think the Sony sounds more natural, where the Jabra focuses just too much on the slightly harsh upper midrange.

That is so in quiet surroundings. With background noise, it necessarily becomes Jabra’s advantage because you can more effectively filter out the noise without compromising the user’s voice. But the beam-forming microphones work well, and you can be heard through noise too. It’s impressive how effectively the Sony’s swallow the noise. In fact, the receiver hears almost no noise at all!

The downside of too much background noise (I cranked up the pink noise from a speaker in the background quite high) is that the Sony also removes much of the user’s voice, especially in the important high frequency range where consonants lie. The result is somewhat mumbling.

But compared to the WH-1000XM4, the new version is much better for conversations and also better than any other I can think of, apart from the best office headsets with mic boom.

Even better noise reduction

The active noise cancellation in the new Sony’s deserves its own chapter. It’s even more effective than its predecessor in the upper register, while the bass register is attenuated about as much as before. The XM4 was already the best in class, so the XM5 in other words beats all the competition here.

But what’s most impressive is how Sony has eliminated the hiss that usually occurs when noise reduction is activated. It was already greatly reduced on the XM4 compared to the XM3, but now it’s completely gone! Okay, you might hear a bit in the distance if you really concentrate, but they’re quieter than anything else I’ve heard. Ever. Sony has really done well here.

Sony WH 1000XM5 bendable scaled 1
The Sony WH-1000XM5 has a flexible headband. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Sound quality

But where Sony hasn’t shone in the past, compared to its fiercest competitors, is on the sound quality of music. Mind you, Sony has always been above average, but they have found themselves beaten by the Beyerdynamic Lagoon and Shure Aonic 50, and roughly on a par with the Bose QuietComfort 45. Just different, in that Bose sounds more linear, but also a little coarse-grained at the top, while Sony has had a more pleasant treble, but an exaggerated and slightly unnatural bass.

So what about the XM5? I’m happy to say that the sound quality is better than on the XM4. The predecessor had an exaggerated emphasis in the mid-bass area, which gave a good drive in the bass drums, but at the same time it rolled off too early. There was no real deep bass, and the soundstage didn’t get as much foundation at the bottom, which is important for giving the impression of holography and stereo width. They also lacked some energy and … [shine] in the treble area.

On the WH-1000XM5, all the weaknesses have been addressed. The bass goes deeper and sounds more natural. A double bass sounds much more like just that, while there’s no less punch in the midbass. Drums reverberate, electric basses sound juicy and catchy, and a deep male voice like Leonard Cohen’s gets a much wider register to unfold.

Sony WH 1000XM5 vs 1000XM4 cushions scaled 1
The ear pads on the Sony-WH 1000XM5 (left) are actually a little thinner than on its predecessor, but the headphones still fit more comfortably around the ears. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

DSEE Extreme

The headphones also have a better algorithm for recreating the harmonics of compressed music. Sony calls it DSEE Extreme, and it’s supposed to make cymbals and highhat in particular more natural. Without access to the app, I wasn’t able to test with and without the feature, but it’s presumably enabled right out of the box.

“BOOM” by Tiësto and Sevenn packs a punch while never sounding sharp. The soundstage also experiences more air, but whether that’s because the deeper bass provides more contrast or because the headphones actually have more to give off at the top is hard to say. But there’s enough air without it becoming sharp.

The Shure Aonic 50 still has the upper hand in the overtones and sounds more neutral too. Alexis Ffrench’s piano sounds more detailed, and the lighter keys in particular have more touch. But the Sony performs well, even on classical music, and sounds more entertaining on electronic music and pop.

Putting it all together, the Sony WH-1000XM5 are the best noise-cancelling headphones I know.

Sony WH 1000XM5 4 scaled 1
(Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Conclusion

Sony have outdone themselves with the WH-1000XM5. Noise reduction, perhaps the most important thing on such things, is more effective than ever, and now the usual background hiss is reduced to the barely audible. I said the same about its predecessor, but this time it’s jaw dropping. Fantastic!

The fit is even better than before and they are among the most comfortable on the market. The call quality has to be the best I’ve heard from such headphones, and the sound quality on music has also improved. The bass goes deeper and sounds more natural without compromising the entertainment factor. In short: They rock!

Disclaimer: We were unable to test the app as it had not gotten support for the XM5 during the testing period.

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Audeze LCD-X (2021) - Audeze's best high-end buy https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/headphones/audeze-lcd-x-2021-2 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/headphones/audeze-lcd-x-2021-2#comments Fri, 13 May 2022 04:00:49 +0000 https://www.lbtechreviews.com/test/%global_category%/to-high-end-hovedtelefoner/audeze-lcd-x-2021-2 Audeze LCD X 2021 SPREADIt may seem crazy to claim that €1,300 should be a “reasonable” price for a pair of headphones. But it’s actually quite conceivable, because the truth is that you get much better sound for your money with a pair of headphones than you would if you had to shell out for an expensive hi-fi system. ... Read more]]> Audeze LCD X 2021 SPREAD

It may seem crazy to claim that €1,300 should be a “reasonable” price for a pair of headphones. But it’s actually quite conceivable, because the truth is that you get much better sound for your money with a pair of headphones than you would if you had to shell out for an expensive hi-fi system.

And the open LCD-X hits a very interesting price point, because in this class the expectations are that you’ll be totally blown away compared to cheap headphones, while coming very close to the very most expensive headphones. Which in Audeze’s case is called the LCD-5 and costs more than three times as much as the LCD-X!

Audeze only makes planar magnetic headphones. They differ from ordinary dynamic headphones by using a thin foil suspended between two magnets, where the foil vibrates with the electrical signal and produces sound.

It is a kind of hybrid between dynamic drivers and electrostatic panels. Think a kind of electrostatic panel that doesn’t need external power to be activated; the electrical music signal is enough.

Audeze LCD X 2021 cushions
Audeze LCD-X anno 2021 has softer ear cushions. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby))

New version of the LCD-X

Keen readers may recall that we tested the LCD-X a few years ago, but in 2021 they came in a new version. Which is the one we’re testing here.

Compared to the older version, the LCD-X has new ear pads and an upgraded magnet system. In fact, two magnets and two Fazor wave-guides have been removed, and the remaining ones repositioned with equal spacing between each. This results in a different frequency response than before, although the driver construction is otherwise the same.

A side effect of this is that the headphones have become about 50 grams lighter and more comfortable to wear. Yes, 612 grams is still a lot, but the soft yet firm cushions help distribute the weight better over the whole head. The result is actually quite comfortable.

Audeze LCD X 2021 headband
The wide, perforated headband on the 2021 version of the LCD-X makes carrying the heavy weight easier. (Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Easily driven and fabulous

Planar magnetic headphones often have quite low sensitivity and therefore require a rather powerful amplifier to be brought to life. That is in order to force out enough bass relative to the rest of the frequency range.

That’s why it’s surprising to hear how potent the sound comes out of the LCD-X. In fact, they play just loud enough directly from the headphone jack on my MacBook Pro, which is comparable to the headphone jack on a regular cell phone. You can sit and enjoy the music without the need for an external amplifier.

Of course, I’d recommend a proper headphone amp anyway, as you get so much more of both detail and focus in the soundscape. And you get even more powerful sound with better bass control. More of everything good, in other words.

Audeze LCD-X 2021 detail2
(Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Deserves an amplifier

In addition to being easy to drive, the LCD-X has a very potent and lively bass response. Especially paired with a proper amplifier. You’ll go a long way with a portable Chord Mojo 2 or a desktop Schiit Heresy, or a Schiit Magni 3+ if you want a warmer and softer soundstage.

Personally, I’ve been enjoying myself with my own Auralic Taurus, connected with the Hegel HD30. The McIntosh MHA200 preamplifier has also been allowed to play, and it also brings out much of the bass quality in the LCD-X.

Here, the foundation of the bass tones in Lorde’s “Royals” really comes through. It resonates nicely at the bottom, while the attack of each clip smacks well. Lorde’s voice is clear and distinct; this is really good.

Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” with Pharrell Williams on vocals is also very tight and cool to listen to. At the same time, it sounds very much like hi-fi, with detail in every note that definitely lives up to expectations in this price range.

Where the older LCD-X model has a little too little energy in the presen range (the most prominent frequency range for a voice), so the vocals are pulled too far into the music, the new version fills it out formidably. It sounds noticeably more lively and more open in the upper midrange.

Audeze LCD X case
A carrying case is included, which also contains an adapter from 6.3 to 3.5 mm plug. (Photo: Audeze)

Not that much ambience

Where the LCD-X doesn’t shine quite so much is in the high frequency range. Granted, there are overtones here, and they’re delightfully undistorted. But compared to, say, the HiFiMAN Arya, there’s not as much air in the LCD-X.

Another thing about these headphones is that the stereo width is a bit narrow. You can draw a straight line between the left and right ear cups, as you often can with headphones that don’t manage to draw the same holographic sound image as a pair of speakers. That’s even more the case with the LCD-X.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major seems a little one-dimensional, although each instrument is well focused and you get excellent dynamics. But you get more space with the Arya and Sennheiser HD 800 S, just to name a few.

Audeze LCD-X 2021 detail
(Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

Roon users: rejoice!

Audeze, on the other hand, has an ace up its sleeve for those who want more air at the top and a bigger soundstage. The secret is Roon, an advanced and cool music app for PC and Mac. Here, Audeze has made DSP filters for several of their models, including the 2021 model of the LCD-X.

The filters are calibrated for each headphone model to provide “an optimal and natural listening experience equivalent to a pair of tonally neutral reference monitors in a well-treated room”.

The calibration filters are the result of measurements and critical listening, and there are specific filters for each sample frequency from 44.1 kHz all the way up to 768 kHz. So you avoid resampling the filters, which can cause errors.

Audeze LCD X Graabein
(Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby)

However, the DSP filters reduce the sensitivity of the headphones, which in my opinion no longer play loud enough directly from the headphone output on my MacBook. You therefore need an amplifier. Also, you lose some attack in the mid-bass and the punch in the mid-range that the headphones provide on their own.

What you get instead is a much bigger soundstage with more detail at the top. The tonal structure is much more complex, and each instrument floats in the air in a completely different way. Classical music becomes a completely different experience; this is truly addictive!

It’s a matter of taste in the end, but in my opinion the Roon filter enhances the sound quality more than it detracts from it. By the way, you can adjust infinitely how much of this correction you want.

Audeze LCD-X 2021 lifestyle
(Photo: Audeze)

Conclusion

The 2021 edition of the Audeze LCD-X is truly addictive. You get plenty of punch and power, something that planar magnetic headphones aren’t really known for. The bass is rock-solid and extremely tight, and the midrange literally stands out, making vocals and instruments extremely vivid and dynamic.

Rarely (if ever) have we heard such a crisp sound from planar magnetic headphones, and what’s more, they’re so sensitive that you can easily drive them with a weak amplifier. If necessary, use the headphone output of a laptop or mobile phone.

But with a proper amp, they really come to life, and then they’re blasting away. It never sounds sharp, just nice and alive. And resolved too; we’re not allowed to forget that this is real hi-fi!

All this is a bit at the expense of the room feel, and it’s not at the top of the treble where they shine the most. Some might find them a little ‘dark’. Roon users get a solution in the form of a separate DSP filter made especially for this particular model. Then they behave quite differently, with even more air and more detail.

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