Author: David Carnoy

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Anker SoundCore Boost review

It’s hard to describe any products from Anker, the upstart accessory manufacturer, as high-end. But the splash-resistant SoundCore Boost is currently its top of the line mini Bluetooth speaker. It costs $80 or £60[1]; it’s currently not available in Au…

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Bowers & Wilkins PX Release Date, Price and Specs

Bowers & Wilkins has made a few different wireless headphones[1], but the PX is the company’s first headphone to feature both Bluetooth[2] and noise cancelling — and it’s actually the company’s first noise-cancelling headphone of any kind.

Available in two color options, space gray and soft gold, the PX has that sleek, sophisticated design that Bowers & Wilkins headphones are known for, with some metal parts and ballistic nylon on its ear cups. It costs $400, £330 or AU$549.

The PX feels quite sturdy and I liked how its memory foam-equipped, elliptical-shaped ear cushions adhere magnetically and are easily replaceable (although there’s no word yet on how much replacement ear pads will cost). The headphone is comfortable to wear, but it’s not as light or quite as comfortable as Bose’s QuietComfort 35 II[3].

Like earlier wireless Bowers & Wilkins headphones, the PX comes with a quilted carrying case and a cable for listening in wired mode so you can plug into an in-flight entertainment system. It’s worth noting that this headphone charges via USB-C, not Micro-USB, and its battery life is rated at 22 hours with wireless and noise cancelling turned on. That number is right there with the battery life of competing models from Bose, Sony and Beats.

As for the integrated controls, I like how the middle multifunction button is raised higher than the volume controls, which lets you operate the remote — it’s on the right ear cup — by feel alone.

The PX with its carrying case, headphone cord and USB-C charging cable.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Multiple noise cancelling settings

Overall, B&W’s adaptive noise cancelling isn’t quite as strong as the noise cancelling on the Bose QC35 II. But using the free companion app for iOS[5] and Android devices you can toggle through three modes of noise cancellation based on the environment you’re in. The modes include office, city and flight.

To maximize sound quality, you can turn off noise cancelling altogether in the app or push a button on the right ear cup to toggle it on or off (however, there’s no voice assistant to let you know it’s off, you just have to sense it). Another option is to adjust the level of pass-through sound so you can better hear people talking, and B&W promises that the headphones will add features and improve over time through software updates. 

The other feature worth highlighting is the auto-pause/auto-resume feature: If you pull an ear cup off your ear, your music[6] pauses and then resumes as soon as you put the ear cup back on your ear. During my short initial test period, the feature worked almost flawlessly and the headphones’ wireless Bluetooth performance was generally very solid. I also thought it worked well as a headset for calls.

Same drivers as high-end P9

The PX’s drivers are the same angled drivers previously found in Bowers & Wilkins’ high-end P9 headphone[8], and that angled design is supposed to create a “more convincing soundstage,” according to the company.

Overall, I did think the PX sounded pretty open for a closed-back headphone and it had good clarity and was natural sounding in the midrange (and sounded pretty natural overall). The bass goes deep but I wouldn’t say it’s super punchy or super highly defined. In other words, there’s some warmth to the headphone, which means it lacks a little sizzle, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just the way it sounds. Note: The sound signature is fixed, with no EQ settings available in the app, which I personally don’t mind.

I’ve only been listening to the PX for a few days, so I’m not ready to give it a final rating yet. But my initial impression is that while it doesn’t blow away the competition from Sony, Bose and Beats, it does sound excellent for a wireless noise-cancelling headphone and is a strong contender in this price class.

Close-up of the integrated remote and noise-cancelling on/off button just next to it.


Sarah Tew/CNET

I’ll have a more fleshed out comparison to the Bose QC35 II, Sony WH-1000XM2[10] and the Beats Studio3 Wireless[11] in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here are the PX’s key features, according to Bowers & Wilkins:

  • With built-in sensors, the headphones will switch on immediately and automatically resume playing your music; put them down and they return to stand-by mode. Lift an ear cup to talk, or hang them around your neck, and PX will pause the music, resuming playback when you’re ready to listen.
  • PX has three adaptive noise cancelling modes via a companion app for iOS and Android: City allows through traffic noise for safety purposes; Office allows through voices so you can hear colleagues when they talk to you; Flight cancels ambient engine noise.
  • The app also enables firmware updates for additional feature upgrades.
  • The 40mm drive units feature the same angled design found on the P9 (the drivers are the same as the P9’s).
  • aptX HD Bluetooth technology for devices that support that standard.
  • 22 hours of playback in wireless noise cancellation mode, 33 hours in wired noise cancellation mode.
  • Available now in two colors: space gray and soft gold with blue trim.
  • The price is $400, £330 or AU$549.

References

  1. ^ wireless headphones (www.cnet.com)
  2. ^ Bluetooth (www.cnet.com)
  3. ^ Bose’s QuietComfort 35 II (www.cnet.com)
  4. ^ Enlarge Image (www.cnet.com)
  5. ^ iOS (www.cnet.com)
  6. ^ music (www.cnet.com)
  7. ^ 18 Bowers & Wilkins PX (www.cnet.com)
  8. ^ P9 headphone (www.cnet.com)
  9. ^ Enlarge Image (www.cnet.com)
  10. ^ Sony WH-1000XM2 (www.cnet.com)
  11. ^ Beats Studio3 Wireless (www.cnet.com)
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Bose QuietComfort 35 II review

Bose’s QuietComfort 35 II ($350, £330, AU$500) wireless noise-cancelling headphone looks, sounds and performs just like the original[1] except for one key feature: There’s a new “Action” button on the left ear cup that allows you to connect to your Google Assistant[2] without having to touch your phone. And that makes the QC35 II — available in black or silver — the first headphone to integrate Google Assistant.

Similar to Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, Google Assistant is available for Android and iOS devices. Instead of talking to your phone to access Google Assistant (you have to download the free app), you just press and hold the Action button on the QC35 II and issue commands such as “Tell me the latest news,” “call Mom” and “What are some good Indian restaurants nearby?” You can also use your voice to control your music playback and compatible smart devices in your home.

The new “Action” button is in the left ear cup.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Here’s the better news: You don’t have to use the Action button for Google Assistant. Using the Bose Connect app, you can choose instead to map the Action button to noise-cancellation levels, toggling between Low, High and Off with each button press. You can also adjust the noise-cancelling settings in the app, an important feature for those who may be sensitive to the feeling of light pressure that can be the by-product of active noise-cancellation.   

Aside from that new button, nothing else has changed. The QC35 has the same comfy fit, same top-notch noise cancelling, identical controls on the right ear cup — yes, you can access Siri on iPhones — and the same battery life at up to 20 hours in wireless mode with noise cancelling on. If the battery runs out, you can still use the headphone in passive mode (it sounds good not great) and you get a cord for plugging in when you need to.

The QC35 II comes in silver or black.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Not the best sound, but among the best

As I said in my review of the original QC35, this may not be the best-sounding Bluetooth headphone out there, but it’s certainly among them. In the past I’ve compared it to the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless[3], noting that the Sennhesier sounded slightly better, with a bit tighter bass, slightly better clarity and was overall more natural sounding.

Sony’s MDR-1000X[4], which has now been updated to the WH-1000X M2[5], may also be slightly ahead on the sound quality front. But how you feel about each headphone will be impacted by the recording quality of the tracks, which means it’ll vary depending on the types of music you listen to and where you get it from.

References

  1. ^ the original (www.cnet.com)
  2. ^ Google Assistant (www.cnet.com)
  3. ^ Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless (www.cnet.com)
  4. ^ Sony’s MDR-1000X (www.cnet.com)
  5. ^ WH-1000X M2 (www.cnet.com)
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13 questions for Luke Wood, the President of Beats

Luke  Wood joined Beats by Dr. Dre in 2011, becoming its president and COO.


Beats by Dr. Dre

Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine are the names most often associated with the Beats brand, but there’s also a guy named Luke Wood. He was involved with the company since its early days but only officially joined on in 2011. He’s currently president of Beats by Dr. Dre, which was acquired by Apple[2] in 2014 for $3 billion, in what remains the company’s largest acquisition to date.

Wood’s roots in the music industry go deep. A guitarist and producer, he began his career in 1991 with Geffen Records as a director of publicity, working with such bands as Sonic Youth and Nirvana. With his own band, Sammy, he released an EP and two full-length albums. He later became chief strategy officer of Interscope Geffen A&M (IGA). Doing double duty as president of Geffen’s DGC Records imprint, he worked with a wide range of well-known artists, including All American Rejects, Weezer, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Rise Against.

As Beats by Dr. Dre gets set to ship its flagship Studio3 Wireless[3] headphone in mid-October, Wood answered a few questions — 13 to be exact — that we had for him.  


CNET: As a former musician and music executive, what were some of the high points of your musical career?

Wood: The high point was always the relationship with the artists and the music. Working with people who had the talent to explain the human condition through music in such intimate, insightful and unconventional ways was everything… I got as close to the music as humanly possible.   
CNET: Low points?

Wood: The low points were the moments I couldn’t help artists achieve their goals. Whether those goals were artistic or commercial, it was always painful when we didn’t reach the desired outcome. Music is perhaps the purest and most vulnerable expression of a person’s inner self, so to not have that embraced or to fail to find a way to successfully express it is hard.

CNET: Except for the BeatsX[4], which is totally new (and the EP), you’ve mostly stuck with the exterior designs of your previous generation headphones, with some small tweaks. Can you explain your thinking behind that approach, especially in regard to the Studio3 Wireless?

Wood: I’m fortunate to be on the board of Fender[5], and we have one of the most iconic guitars in the history of music: the Stratocaster[6]. Fender has not changed the shape of that guitar since 1954, since the shape is so integral to the sound and feel of the instrument. We believe Studio2[7] is our “Stratocaster.” So what we’re doing with Studio3 is bringing technology and innovation to an already great industrial design to give consumers an even better listening experience.  

In our portfolio, we have a product designed for every lifestyle and use case. We don’t just change the design for the sake of making it look like a new product, but we instead focus on how we can improve the internal DNA to take full advantage of our acoustic designs that have become iconic and synonymous with the Beats brand.

With that said, we are always looking at areas to improve, even if the design stays relatively similar. For instance, most people can’t see a difference between Powerbeats2 Wireless[8] and Powerbeats3 Wireless[9]. But we actually changed the ergonomics between the two to provide a better in-ear seal in Powerbeats3 Wireless. We adjusted things by just a few millimeters, which results in much better sound quality.

CNET: You mentioned that Beats once had the market largely to itself (the Beats brand was dominant), but that all the competition now is actually good. Why?

Wood: When Jimmy Iovine[10] and Dr. Dre[11] started Beats, their vision was to make premium audio a part of the cultural conversation again. We accomplished that and continue to improve our products to make what I consider the best-sounding headphones on earth.  At the end of the day, the fact that other manufacturers, retailers and now consumers are focused on making, marketing and listening on premium headphones is a victory for the constituents who really matter — the musicians who make the music.

CNET: When you were acquired by Apple, that brought with it some benefits, particularly in regard to access to its engineers. How has that helped Beats?

Wood: This has been a huge step forward for our products. Apple has always made incredibly advanced, environmentally safe products with the highest quality. We have integrated the teams to bring these qualities into our products and it’s something we are very excited about. Studio3 had to pass all the same qualifications any Apple product would, and this translates directly to consumers when they experience the product for themselves.


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CNET: What headphone technology are you most excited about?

Wood: I love the Pure ANC [active noise cancellation] in the new Studio3 Wireless. Noise canceling[12] is a valuable product attribute and we developed a technology that cancels the noise but lets the music through in its purest form. It processes at speeds up to 50,000 calculations a second to take an exacting picture of the user’s surroundings and cancels the noise but maintains the best possible music experience. It’s a new paradigm in how ANC works. 

CNET: Do you have a favorite Beats product?

Wood: I get an incredible discount on Beats products so I am fortunate to have a headphone for every specific use case.  I’m a runner and I adore my Powerbeats3, but when I’m moving around all day — listening to music and taking calls — BeatsX lives around my neck.  Obviously, my current obsession is Studio3, which I have been using most for travel. It’s the one thing that makes me look forward to a long flight. 

CNET: Favorite color?

Wood: I move around a lot when it comes to color — like many people, I love colors that are hard to find or limited edition.  I work very closely with the design and product development team on color development so I truly can say I love them all. 

CNET: What colors are on your no-way-in-hell will this be on a Beats product?

Wood: I think it would probably be hard to find a variant of a color we have not put on a headphone in the last few years.  What might look loud, garish, or passé in one context is perfect in another so you can’t really have any rules.  We work with so much great talent and often they have really specific and unorthodox requests. What I learned from 20-plus years in the music business is to follow great talent as they often lead you to magical places. 

CNET: How has the sound profile of Beats headphones evolved with this generation of products?

Wood: I often say, “These are are best sounding products ever… period.”  The complete redesign of the Studio3 technology has allowed us to create a balanced soundstage that I think was previously considered unattainable in a noise-canceling headphone. Jimmy Iovine worked with Bruce Springsteen and John Lennon; Dr. Dre worked with Snoop, 2Pac and Eminem[14]; I was fortunate to be around artists such as Nirvana and Elliott Smith.  We are people who care deeply about sound and are committed to a full expression of the artists’ intended fidelity regardless of the genre. With every generation of products we iterate and get closer to perfection, and I can’t believe how far we have come. 

CNET: You showed the world average consumers were willing to pay upwards of $350 for a headphone and did the whole industry a favor. However, it seems like there are a lot more spot sales on Beats’ new models these days. Has the pricing needle moved downward? 

Wood: The headphone[15] and portable speaker category has reached a critical mass and a level of consumer interest where it can now drive significant traffic at retail.  When Beats started, the headphone section was usually buried somewhere between USB cables and karaoke machines.  Today there is a lot of interest and commitment at retail, and when that happens, the pricing becomes more dynamic.  

CNET: Any chance we’ll see sports-oriented Beats totally wireless earphones?

Wood: I’m thrilled we have platformed the best technology in our current product, but we are always in the kitchen cooking up ways to move the headphone category forward. I can’t comment on specific technologies or industrial design, but I will say we are always looking to get even closer to perfection with audio. 

CNET: Have you done anything to enhance your customer service that you’re now part of Apple?

Wood: Absolutely. All of our products are fully integrated into the Apple Care quality team. We now are able to get incredibly detailed information back from the field and have a closer touchpoint to our consumers with Apple retail stores, Knowledge Base articles, and the AppleCare support system. We work hand-in-hand with AppleCare to ensure that our products are kept to the highest integrity and our customers are fully satisfied.

This interview was conducted via email, and was slightly edited for clarity. 

References

  1. ^ Enlarge Image (www.cnet.com)
  2. ^ acquired by Apple (www.cnet.com)
  3. ^ Studio3 Wireless (www.cnet.com)
  4. ^ BeatsX (www.cnet.com)
  5. ^ Fender (www.cnet.com)
  6. ^ Stratocaster (www.cnet.com)
  7. ^ Studio2 (www.cnet.com)
  8. ^ Powerbeats2 Wireless (www.cnet.com)
  9. ^ Powerbeats3 Wireless (www.cnet.com)
  10. ^ Jimmy Iovine (www.cnet.com)
  11. ^ Dr. Dre (www.cnet.com)
  12. ^ Noise canceling (www.cnet.com)
  13. ^ 15 Beats Studio3 Wireless (www.cnet.com)
  14. ^ Eminem (www.cnet.com)
  15. ^ The headphone (www.cnet.com)
  16. ^ Tags (www.cnet.com)
  17. ^ Headphones (www.cnet.com)