AudioReputation https://www.audioreputation.com Your Audio Electronics Guide Tue, 15 Oct 2019 11:20:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.4 https://www.audioreputation.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/cropped-AUDIOREPUTATION-32x32.png AudioReputation https://www.audioreputation.com 32 32 Mackie MC-250 Headphones Review https://www.audioreputation.com/mackie-mc-250/ https://www.audioreputation.com/mackie-mc-250/#respond Tue, 15 Oct 2019 11:20:10 +0000 https://www.audioreputation.com/?p=5333 Headphones are, among some other gear, the essential piece of equipment for every recording studio. Big studios with limitless budgets will always go for top-of-the-line gear, but every recording artist has to start somewhere and, as you’re probably aware, the budgets are usually very limited. If you are trying to make your own home studio […]

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Headphones are, among some other gear, the essential piece of equipment for every recording studio. Big studios with limitless budgets will always go for top-of-the-line gear, but every recording artist has to start somewhere and, as you’re probably aware, the budgets are usually very limited. If you are trying to make your own home studio and looking for the best affordable studio headphones, Mackie MC-250 headphones deserve your attention. The manufacturer claims that these deliver reference-quality sound, perfect for mixing and critical listening. We gave them a chance and ended up impressed by the performance and detailed sound reproduction. Want to find out more about Mackie MC-250 headphones? Our in-depth review follows.  


Audio Reputation AwardsMackie is a well-known name in the recording and mixing business. For 30 years, they’ve been making all kinds of studio monitors, audio interfaces and controllers, mixers, and loudspeakers. Recently, they’ve decided to enter the headphone/earphone market and their headphone/earphone models have already become quite popular. At the moment, they are making in-ear monitors (MP series), earbuds (CR series), and headphones (MC series). The MC line of headphones consists of two very similar headphone models – MC-150 and MC-250. The difference between them is barely noticeable but still exists. MC-150 headphones are characterized as ‘’high-performance cans for studio monitoring and DJing’’, while the MC-250 headphones are perfect critical listening and mixing because of their ‘’reference-quality sound’’. 

MC-250 are simple-looking, all-plastic headphones. Based on their build quality and their price tag, you would probably expect an average sound quality, maybe something with a bloated bass and muddied mids. And you would be wrong. MC-250 headphones sound so much better and more engaging than the price indicates. They are not on par with some high-end studio headphones, but they definitely sound much better than you would assume just by looking at the price tag. The second big quality of these cans is the amount of comfort they provide. This is, without a doubt, one of the comfiest headphone models we’ve ever reviewed. Besides two major qualities, you have some additional conveniences like a detachable cable with twist-and-lock 3.5mm connector, foldable design, and swiveling cups. In our opinion, those two major upsides and all the additional conveniences nullify the build quality issue and completely justify the price. 

Mackie MC-250

Check Price on Amazon

UPSIDES

  • Affordable
  • Foldable design
  • Detachable AUX cable + ¼-in adapter
  • Extremely comfortable (perfect clamping force, thick and plushy paddings, swiveling earcups, adjustable headband)
  • Easy to drive
  • Very detailed and surprisingly accurate sound reproduction (considering the price)

 
DOWNSIDES

  • Only straight cable included (no coiled cable)
  • All-plastic build

 
VERDICT

If you are looking for great entry-level studio headphones under $100, Mackie MC-250 is a perfect choice. Their performance exceeds the price tag and makes them one of the best-sounding headphones in their price range. The only thing to worry about is their build quality. The all-plastic build doesn’t seem reassuring and calls for careful handling.


Official video – Mackie MC-250

 

What’s in the box?

Mackie MC-250 headphones come in a simple cardboard box. Besides the headphones, you’ll get a 9.8ft long detachable audio cable with gold-plated 3.5mm connectors, ¼-in adapter, black carrying bag with Mackie logo, user manual, and 1-year warranty. Hard-shell case and coiled cable would be nice additions but, unfortunately, they are not included in the package.

Mackie MC-250 box contents

Box contents

Specs

Mackie MC-250 Specifications 
DIMENSIONS
Weight0.6lb
Cable length9.8ft
TYPEOver-ear, closed-back
MATERIALPlastic, faux leather
DRIVERSDynamic drivers
DRIVER SIZE50mm
CONNECTIONS3.5mm, ¼ inch adapter
OTHER TECHNICAL DETAILS
Frequency response10Hz-20kHz
Max input power20mW
Impedance38Ω
Sensitivity100dB (@1mW)
THDN/A
ADDITIONAL FEATURESDetachable cable

Carrying pouch 

Gold plated ¼-in adapter

Foldable design

Design

There’s almost nothing special when it comes to the design of MC-250. They are a bit generic and some people will find them too ordinary. They are entirely made of plastic (even the headband frame and hinges). The paddings on the headband and earpads are thick and plushy. 

Simple and aesthetically pleasing

Simple and aesthetically pleasing

The only thing that makes them different (design-wise) from some other generic plastic headphones is the Mackie ‘running man’ logo on the earcup covers. 

Plastic cups with Mackie logo

Plastic cups with Mackie logo

MC-250 headphones are foldable which makes them perfect for transportation. The only problem is the lack of a hard-shell case and it’s highly recommended to buy one separately.



The left cup features a twist-and-lock 3.5mm connector. The headphones come with a really long cable (9.8ft) which is not suitable for outdoor use. The cable is flat and ends in standard 3.5mm connectors. If you want to connect your headphones to some professional equipment, you can use the included ¼-in adapter. You just have to screw it onto the existing 3.5mm connector.

Foldable design

Foldable design

To summarize, MC-250 headphones are a little bit ordinary and some people might not like them because of that. The manufacturer was more concerned about the tuning and didn’t pay much attention to the aesthetics. We’re not saying they’re ugly but they are definitely not the most attractive headphones you’ve ever seen. 

Features

The manufacturer paid much more attention to comfort and tuning than to design and build quality. 

Mackie did everything right when it comes to comfort. All the paddings are thick and soft. The headband is adjustable and the cups can swivel, so you can easily find the right size for your head. The earpads are oval and ergonomically designed to fit small and regular ears. People with large ears will experience some additional pressure but nothing excessive or unbearable. The clamping force is very light. It’s strong enough to keep the headphones stable on your head and provide nice isolation while mixing and recording and it won’t cause any discomfort. You can literally wear them for hours.

The headphones feature two 50mm dynamic drivers. They are tuned to deliver reference-grade sound and the manufacturer did almost a perfect job. The headphones are relatively easy to drive (38Ω impedance) and are very loud (100dB sensitivity).

Feature overview

Feature overview

We have already mentioned that you can fold them up and transport them easily. Also, we’ve talked about the detachable audio cable. The only problem is that they come with only one very long straight cable. Adding an additional coiled cable and maybe another shorter straight cable with on-board controls and mic would be a big upgrade and it’s definitely desirable. 

Detachable 9.8ft long straight cable

Detachable 9.8ft long straight cable

Our biggest worry is related to build quality. The headphones seem sturdy and durable, but you never know with plastic. Reinforcing or completely replacing some sensitive parts with aluminum (headband frame, yokes, hinges) would make them much sturdier, but it would also make them more expensive.

Performance and Sound Quality

This is the part where MC-250 headphones truly shine. We were quite amazed by their performance, especially when you know they are priced at $100.

Since they are easy to drive, you can use them with any audio source, including your phone. It will deliver similar performance with all the equipment but it will still sound better with some dedicated amplification. Even some cheap DAC or headphone amp will expand the soundstage and add more definition and clarity. 

Closed-back headphones are not famous for their neutral frequency response and there’s always some kind of coloration but MC-250 comes pretty close. 

The sound is well-balanced and none of the frequencies are too emphasized. 

Mid-bass is slightly elevated which brings some warmth to the sound but it doesn’t make it unnatural or bassy. The bass extension is there but it’s not huge so don’t expect to be blown away. The bass is maybe not the deepest or the most dynamic, but that punch emphasis builds a nice foundation for the composition. 

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Unlike many other headphones with an elevated mid-bass/upper-bass regions, these headphones don’t have any roll-off in the low midrange. The whole midrange is slightly elevated and it’s pretty much on the same level as the bass. This kind of midrange reproduction improves the clarity, dynamics, and definition of all the instruments and vocals in the midrange region. The mids never get boring and they never lack energy. To summarize, the response is pretty flat throughout the bass and midrange. 

Treble reproduction is somewhat problematic. The manufacturer tried to emphasize the treble attack which caused some peaks around 5kHz and 10kHz. Some people will find the treble a bit too bright or even harsh. There’s a nice amount of detail in the high end but these picks are still noticeable and people with sensitive ears will find the treble unnatural or too metallic.

Overall, MC-250 headphones offer good transparency, clarity, and detail, with flat bass and midrange reproduction and slightly brighter highs. 

Considering the fact that MC-250 are closed-back headphones and that they are priced under $100, the soundstage is pretty wide. There’s a nice sense of space and the imaging is fairly accurate. It’s nothing spectacular and it’s definitely not on par with open-back planar magnetic headphones or with high-end closed-back or open-back studio headphones, but it’s more than satisfying for the price. The emphasis on the beat and treble attack is what makes them good for monitoring and mixing. 



Since they are closed-back, it’s also important to mention noise isolation and sound leakage. Due to light clamping force, MC-250 headphones don’t isolate a lot of ambient noise but they do eliminate some of the noise and allow you to focus on monitoring. They also leak some sound at high volumes. Compared to other closed-back headphones, MC-250 offer average isolation. 

The Competition

The number of headphones within this price range (under $100) is truly overwhelming but not all of them are made for studio monitoring and mixing. In fact, the majority of headphones in this price range are tuned to sound bassy/boomy. 

Still, there are at least a dozen other studio monitor headphones that you can buy for the same amount of money. Here are our favorite alternatives.  


Sony MDR V6 Studio Monitor HeadphonesSony MDR V6 Studio Monitor Headphones

MDR V6 studio headphones are one of the oldest studio monitor headphones in use. They’ve been on the market for more than 30 years. Like Mackie MC-250, MDR V6 are over-ear closed-back headphones. Many would argue that these are the best studio monitor headphones under $100. They are slightly cheaper than the Mackie MC-250. 

MDR V6 headphones seem a bit sturdier than MC-250 because of the metal parts. They don’t have as thick paddings as Mackie headphones but that doesn’t make a huge difference – both models offer above-average performance when it comes to comfort and they are both great for long listening sessions.

MC-250 headphones come with a detachable straight cable while the MDR V6 headphones come with an undetachable coiled cable. This is one of the biggest advantages of Mackie’s headphones. Also, MC-250 are easier to drive (38Ω VS 63Ω).

Both headphone models have similar sound signatures with a well-balanced bass and midrange and with some bright peaks in the treble region. Sony’s headphones deliver a bit heavier bass but they are not too boomy. They both have flat midrange response but it’s a little bit more elevated with MC-250. 


AKG K 240 MK IIAKG K 240 MK II

AKG K240 MK II is another fairly popular headphone model for studio monitoring. Like Mackie MC-250 headphones, these are over-ear headphones but they are semi-open (not closed-back). This immediately implies that K240 MK II headphones deliver wider soundstage, but they also leak more sound and don’t offer the same kind of noise isolation. AKG K240 MK II are slightly pricier than MC-250. 

K240 MK II headphones are a bit sturdier, too. They are nicely padded, light, and offer the same amount of comfort as MC-250.  

MC-250 headphones are foldable and come with a detachable straight cable while K240 MK II headphones are not foldable and come with an undetachable cable. MC-250 headphones are also easier to drive (38ΩVS55Ω).

When it comes to sound quality, we definitely prefer the MC-250. K240 MK II headphones have a poor bass response that lacks extension and sounds boomy. The midrange is mediocre and some low mids are a little bit muddy, while the treble is fairly accurate but could sound too bright with treble-heavy songs.


Audio-Technica ATH-M40x Professional Monitor HeadphonesAudio-Technica ATH-M40x Professional Monitor Headphones

ATH-M40x and MC-250 have many similarities. Both models are over-ear closed-back headphones and they are priced the same. Also, they both come with detachable audio cables (M40x come with two cables – coiled and straight) and have a lot of plastic parts. ATH-M40x has a little bit more distinctive design but that’s hardly going to be the decisive factor. 

ATH-M40x are a bit sturdier because of some metal reinforcements, especially because of the metal headband frame. Both headphones models are foldable but ATH-M40x are a bit larger and heavier. 

When it comes to comfort, the difference is not huge. MC-250 headphones are just a little bit comfier. 

Both models are fairly easy to drive (38Ω VS 35Ω) and quite loud (100dB VS 98dB sensitivity). 

Even when it comes to sound, ATH-M40x and MC-250 are very similar and it’s hard to say which one is better. ATH-M40x headphones have a punchy and extended bass response, almost impeccable midrange, and very nice and detailed treble response. ATH-M40x headphones have a bit more consistent high-end reproduction with more subtle peaks and less brightness. 


Comparison Table 

HeadphonesFrequency responseImpedance
Mackie MC-25010Hz-20kHz38Ω
Sony MDRV65Hz-30kHz63Ω
AKG K 240 MK II15Hz-25kHz55Ω
Audio-Technica ATHM40x15Hz-24kHz35Ω

Final Thoughts

Overall, MC-250 headphones offer great sonic performance for the price and are one of the best studio monitor headphones under $100. Their biggest disadvantages are all-plastic build and generic/ordinary design. The greatest upside is fairly flat bass and midrange response with a subtle punch and treble attack emphasis. Just like the manufacturer claims, these are perfect for studio monitoring and mixing. 


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15 Best iPhone Docking Stations with Speakers In 2019 https://www.audioreputation.com/iphone-docking-stations/ https://www.audioreputation.com/iphone-docking-stations/#respond Thu, 10 Oct 2019 22:44:20 +0000 https://www.audioreputation.com/?p=5298 Looking for the best docking station with a speaker (aka speaker dock) for your iPhone? Our article on 15 best iPhone docking stations with speakers is the right place to start (and end) your search. In this article we will cover all the interesting topics related to speaker docks – we will discuss different types […]

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Looking for the best docking station with a speaker (aka speaker dock) for your iPhone? Our article on 15 best iPhone docking stations with speakers is the right place to start (and end) your search. In this article we will cover all the interesting topics related to speaker docks – we will discuss different types of docking ports, talk about Qi-enabled speaker docks, give you some tips on what to look for when buying an iPhone docking station with a speaker, and present to you our selection of the best iPhone speaker docks on the market. 

There’re all kinds of speaker docks with different docking ports, different drivers, and different additional features. Some are really small and quiet while others are big and loud. Some speaker docks look like a piece of furniture (smart tables, nightstands) while others are very compact. Also, the prices vary a lot – you could buy a cheap low-end iPhone speaker dock for less than 50 bucks, but some docks cost more than $200. There’s plenty of options but they don’t all meet your requirements. So, let’s dig deeper and find out more about iPhone docking stations with speakers (speaker docks). 


Do You Really Need an iPhone Docking Station with Speaker (Speaker Dock)?

To be completely honest, iPhone speaker docks are not absolutely necessary. It does the same thing as your standard iPhone charger and it plays the music, just like your iPhone (or some other speaker connected to your iPhone). You can definitely live without a speaker dock. 

iPhone Docking Station

 

There are only two reasons (that we can think of) to buy a speaker dock. First is that you like having all kinds of gadgets in your house, even if you are not going to use them on a regular basis. The second reason is the fact that using an iPhone speaker dock is a little bit more convenient than using your iPhone’s charging cable. If you like listening to some background music while falling asleep but don’t find those small speakers built inside your phone good enough, a docking station with a larger built-in speaker could come in handy. 

Different Types of iPhone Speaker Docks

Depending on your iPhone model, you’re going to look for a speaker dock with a different type of docking port. As you probably know, old Apple devices (up to iPhone 4S released in 2012) were equipped with a 30-pin dock connector. All the iPhones (and many other Apple devices) produced after 2012 are equipped with a more compact lightning connector (8-pin docking port), including the latest iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro. There were some rumors that Apple is about to ditch lightning connector and replace it with a USB-C connector, but that hasn’t happened, yet. Another important thing to know is that some newer iPhone models, starting from the iPhone 8 support wireless charging (they support Qi wireless charging protocol). 

Why are these dock connectors and supported charging options important? Well, it’s simple – there are speaker docks with different connectors just like you have iPhones with different connectors and charging options. 

You can find a lot of speaker docks with an old-school 30-pin connector dock. If you buy one of these and you already have some of the latest iPhones, you’ll not be able to charge it unless you buy some 30-pin to 8-pin adapter which kind of eliminates all the convenience. So, if you have an iPhone with a lightning port, the easiest thing to do is to look for a speaker dock with a lightning port. Or, if your iPhone supports wireless charging, look for Qi-enabled speaker docks. 

Best iPhone Docking Stations – Comparison Table

iPhone Docking StationsRatingPriceReview
Bose SoundDock4.1Check PriceRead Review
Alphasonik Decor4.3Check PriceRead Review
JBL OnBeat Micro4.2Check PriceRead Review
Bose SoundDock XT4.0Check PriceRead Review
JBL OnBeat Mini4.2Check PriceRead Review
Cavalier Air Home5.0Check PriceRead Review
Grace Digital Mondo+4.1Check PriceRead Review
Richsound Research DS4064.0Check PriceRead Review
SoarOwl4.4Check PriceRead Review
EIATBF4.6Check PriceRead Review
Retro Tech4.5Check PriceRead Review
Azpen Dockall D1083.9Check PriceRead Review
Nillkin4.2Check PriceRead Review
iHome iBTW383.8Check PriceRead Review
Emerson ER-X3005.0Check PriceRead Review

When you click on “Check Price” you will be redirected to Amazon.com.



The majority of today’s iPhone speaker docks are, in fact, Qi-enabled. You can find some older docks with lightning ports made by reputable manufacturers like Bose or JBL (some of them are on our list), but the number of Qi-enabled docks is increasing every day. Their popularity is also growing constantly. After all, they are a bit more convenient than the speaker docks with physical connectors. So, if your iPhone supports wireless charging, it’s not a bad idea to go for a Qi-enabled docking station with a speaker. 

Still, before buying a Qi-enabled speaker dock, you should be aware of their disadvantages and understand the working principle of these devices. So, before we move onto the reviews, let’s discuss this Qi wireless charging protocol and see if it really works. 

What is Qi Wireless Charging and Does it Really Work?

Qi (it’s pronounced Chee) is a wireless charging protocol invented by the Wireless Power Consortium.

The working principle is based on Faraday’s law of magnetic induction and Tesla’s resonant inductive coupling. There’s a transmitter coil inside the Qi-enabled charger that generates an electromagnetic field that induces current into the receiver’s coil (built inside your Qi-enabled phone). The current is converted into power that your phone can use to charge the battery. It sounds easy and very convenient. Still, there are some limitations of this inductive charging technology, especially when it comes to charging rates, allowed distances (between the charger and the device you want to charge), and efficiency. 

Let’s discuss the charging rates, first. In theory, wireless chargers enable charging rates of up to 15W (3x faster than your iPhone charger). In reality, most of them will deliver up to 5W. At the moment, wireless chargers won’t charge your iPhone as fast as a regular wired charger. They are getting better but they are still not on par with regular wired chargers.

Another limitation of wireless charging is the allowed distance between the charger (wireless speaker dock) and your phone. In theory, your phone must be within 1.5in range in order to charge. In reality, the range is even shorter. So, you’ll not be able to hold the phone in your hands and charge it at the same time. It has to be very close to the charging base, which kind of stretches the term ‘wireless’. It’s very likely that Qi-enabled chargers/speaker docks are going to become better in the future but, at the moment, they are not that much wireless. 

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In the end, there’s the efficiency issue. Currently available Qi-enabled chargers can reach the efficiency of 60-70% but that means that there’s still a lot of wasted energy. That’s not going to add a few zeros to your electricity bill, but it’s not very eco-friendly either. If you want a greener solution, you should go for a speaker dock with a physical connector (lightning port). 

So, to conclude, Qi-enabled iPhone speaker docks are more convenient (there’s no any cable attached to your phone), but Qi charging is slower (it will charge a standard 2000mAh battery in 5-7h), your phone still has to be in close proximity, and it’s not very efficient. 



Do you really need it? Well, just like you can live without a regular iPhone speaker dock with a physical lightning docking port, you can live without a ‘wireless’ speaker dock. Speaker docks are not absolutely necessary. If you like the idea of having a bit more convenience in your life, then go for it and if you don’t mind charging your phone the old way, you should stop reading this article. 


Now that we’ve covered the most important topics, we can move onto our list of 15 best iPhone docking stations with speakers. We’ve decided to concentrate our attention on iPhone speaker docks with lightning connectors and wireless speaker docks. iPhone speaker docks with an old-school 30-pin connector are simply too old to be considered (discontinued in 2012). This is our selection. 


1. Bose SoundDock Series III Digital Music System

Bose SoundDock Series III Digital Music System

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If there is one name in the audio industry that doesn’t need any introduction, it has to be Bose. They’ve been in the business for decades and they have a speaker for every occasion and every purpose. So, it’s only natural to see a few speaker docks made by this company. We are presenting to you the third version of the Bose SoundDock digital music system. This is probably the most expensive iPhone speaker dock on the market and, if you want our honest opinion, it’s not worth that kind of money. This little thing does look nice and sounds better than some entry-level speaker docks, but we still think that you should get more for your money. 

What’s in the box?

Like any other Bose speaker, SoundDock Series III comes in a nice package. Inside the box, you’ll find your speaker dock, power cable, simple IR remote, user manual, and a warranty card. 

Things we like 

SoundDock Series III is quite compact. It weighs only 4.6 pounds. It’s 6.7in tall, 12in wide, and 6.5in deep. You’ll have no problems finding the right place for it – you can put it on your nightstand, in your kitchen, in your office, or any other place. 

The design is simple and clean, but still very stylish. You won’t find any buttons on the speaker dock itself. The whole front panel is covered with a thin aluminum grille, and the rest is made of glossy plastic. It’s not very premium-looking, but it’s still nice. The speaker is available in four colors/color combinations – black with silver grille, white with silver grille, white with purple grille, and silver. 

As mentioned previously, there are no buttons on the unit itself and you have to use the remote to control the playback and volume. The speaker dock has a lightning port on the front side. On the rear panel, there are power and AUX inputs. There’s another version of SoundDock III with a 30-pin dock connector in case you have a very old iPhone or some other device with a 30-pin dock connector. This version is compatible with iPhones and iPods with lightning ports.

The remote is simple, responsive, and easy to use. There are 8 buttons and everything is pretty much straightforward. 

Don’t expect to be blown away by the sound. This speaker dock has two relatively small full-range drivers without a dedicated bass driver. The sound is mid-centric and the emphasis is mostly on the mids and highs. So, it’s pretty much a standard Bose sound signature. If you are into Bose sound, you’ll like it. SoundDock III struggles with low-end reproduction and it sounds a bit boomy at high volumes. All in all, it’s not bad for its size but it’s also not great, especially when you consider the price. 

Things we don’t like

We have expected some additional connections (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi) and features at this price point, but there is only one lightning port and one AUX input. No additional connections. 

SoundDock III is not portable – it has no built-in battery and it has to be plugged in all the time. 

Having in mind everything we’ve said, this Bose iPhone speaker dock is overpriced. $100 would be a more realistic price. It seems like you’re paying more for the name than for the performance.

Comparison Table


2. Alphasonik Decor

Alphasonik Decor

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Alphasonik Décor is a smart coffee table that’s packed with all kinds of features. It’s maybe not the prettiest speaker dock on the list, but it’s definitely the most interesting one. You can find this exact coffee table under many different names – Sierra, iStar, Victrola, etc.. 

What’s in the box?

Inside the box, you’ll find your speaker dock, three speaker legs (super-easy to install), user manual, and 1-year warranty.

Things we like 

In terms of design, this table is a mixture of IKEA furniture and Harman Kardon speaker design. It’s visually appealing, very stylish, and it doesn’t look cheap at all. Alphasonik Decor is available in 4 versions – black, walnut, maple, and white. Walnut and maple look much better to us, but it’s a matter of taste. 

Alphasonik Decor is also quite compact for a coffee table (nightstand) but if you want a really small speaker, this is not the best choice. Decor is 24.8in tall (with legs) and it has 15.9in diameter. 

What’s really great about it is the number of features built inside. This speaker dock/coffee table is Bluetooth enabled (it features Bluetooth 4.2), it has onboard controls that look very similar to the controls on Harman Kardon speakers, it features AUX input for non-Bluetooth devices, 2 USB powerbank ports for charging phones and other devices (2.1A and 1A), and it’s Qi-enabled (it can charge your iPhone wirelessly). 

On top of all these features, Alphasonik Decor has a built-in battery so it doesn’t have to be plugged in all the time. The battery capacity is rated at 6.600mAh. According to the specs, the speaker can deliver up to 24h of playtime, but that’s only true if you are using it to play it quietly (background music). You’ll get up to 5h at full volume. 

The speaker has 4 full-range drivers, 2 tweeters, and 4 passive bass radiators. It delivers 360° sound and it’s very loud. In our opinion, this thing sounds much better than the Bose SoundDock III. The bass is punchy, the mids are sweet but not extremely detailed, and the highs are pleasant. You can find a better-sounding speaker at this price point, but you can hardly find this kind of design and all these features in one device.

Things we don’t like

If you want to use wireless charging, your iPhone has to be perfectly centered. You can’t place the phone wherever you want. Having a table with multiple charging coils would solve the problem but it would also raise the price. 

One thing we are skeptical about is the durability of this speaker dock. It looks great and it feels durable, but we are not sure about the quality of components. There have been no major complaints regarding durability in the past, but we are always skeptical about generic brands. 

Comparison Table


3. JBL OnBeat Micro

JBL OnBeat Micro

Check Price on Amazon

JBL is the second big name on this list and, by the way, it’s the only reputable speaker manufacturer besides Bose that decided to enter the speaker dock market. JBL has discontinued the production of iPhone speaker docks, but you still have a few models available on Amazon. JBL OnBeat Micro is very compact and it’s designed for nightstands. It has some basic functions and it’s very easy to use. The biggest downside is the price (it went up when the JBL discontinued the production). It’s priced the same as Alphasonik Decor but it’s much more limited when it comes to features and overall performance. 

What’s in the box?

JBL OnBeat Micro comes along with a charging cable, user manual, and 1-year warranty. The packaging is not very premium. The speaker can operate on 4 AAA batteries but the batteries are not included. 

Things we like 

OnBeat micro is super-small and compact. In terms of design, it’s very similar to some wireless routers. What makes it different is a large cavity with a lighting port on the top. 

It’s more versatile than Bose SoundDock III when it comes to connectivity. You have one lightning port on the top (charging and playback), one USB port on the rear panel (charging and music playback), and one AUX input. The lightning dock can wiggle a little bit which will allow you to charge the phone without removing the case (but it works only with very slim phone cases). 

There are only three control buttons on the speaker – power button and volume buttons. They are easy to use and responsive. 

The speaker can operate on batteries but it has no built-in battery. There’s a hidden battery compartment on the bottom and you need 4 AAA batteries to make it work. When battery-powered, the speaker will deliver up to 5 hours at 50% volume.

JBL OnBeat features 2 relatively small full-range drivers. There’s practically no bass, but the mids and highs are nicely balanced and the sound is quite loud (considering the size). Still, at this price point, you can get a much better sound quality. 

Things we don’t like

OnBeat Micro doesn’t have any additional buttons for playback control. It’s also not Bluetooth-enabled which is a big downside considering the current price. 

OnBeat Micro doesn’t work with iPads since the charging dock (the cavity on the top panel) is too small. 

So, to conclude, OnBeat Micro is useful and it works as advertised but it’s too expensive and it doesn’t offer enough for the price. 

Comparison Table


4. Bose SoundDock XT Speaker

Bose SoundDock XT Speaker

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SoundDock XT is another iPhone speaker dock from the SoundDock speaker line by Bose. It’s very similar to the previous Bose speaker on our list, but it’s lighter and has a smaller footprint. 

What’s in the box?

Inside a nice-looking box with Bose branding on it, you’ll find your SoundDock XT speaker dock, power adapter, user manual, and 1-year warranty. 

Things we like 

SoundDock XT has the same shape as previously mentioned SoundDock Series III. The only noticeable difference is the grille. The grille on SoundDock III looks a bit ordinary but it’s made of aluminum, while the SoundDock XT has a more stylish grille made of plastic. SoundDock XT is also lighter (2.6lb VS 4.6lb) and it’s a bit smaller (5.3in tall, 11.8in wide, and 3.4in deep).   

Unlike SoundDock III, SoundDock XT at least has two volume control buttons located on the front panel (one on each side of the lightning connector).

The speaker dock has a lightning port on the front, located right in the middle (compatible with iPhones and iPods). Power input, 3.5mm AUX input, and micro USB port (for firmware upgrades), are located on the rear panel. 

SoundDock XT works as advertised. We haven’t noticed any issues. You can charge your iPhone while listening to music. The controls are responsive. In case you have a non-lightning device, you can use the AUX input (AUX cable is not included) to connect it to the speaker. 

The speaker features two small full-range drivers on the front side and one tiny bass port on the back. Considering the size, the speaker is pretty loud. It’s definitely not an audiophile-grade speaker, but it can deliver some punch, it has articulated mids and slightly elevated treble. So, it’s good for the size, but you can find many louder, punchier, and better-sounding speakers at this price point. 

Things we don’t like

This speaker dock is not compatible with iPads since the available space around the docking port is not that large. Also, you will probably have to remove the case if you want to charge your iPhone – the lightning port is not long enough. 

The speaker doesn’t feature Bluetooth or Wi-Fi which is a bit disappointing considering the price.

Comparison Table


5. JBL OnBeat Mini

JBL OnBeat Mini

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JBL OnBeat Mini is an upgraded and enlarged version of previously mentioned OnBeat Micro. They look almost exactly the same but the Mini has a larger cavity for charging which makes it compatible with some iPad models. Mini also has a built-in rechargeable battery and it’s louder than OnBeat Micro. 

What’s in the box?

Like the OnBeeat Micro, OnBeat Mini comes with a power adapter, user manual, and 1-year warranty.

Things we like 

There’s nothing new when it comes to design. Like the Micro, Mini is shaped like some kind of a router with a large cavity for your iPhone/iPod/iPad. It’s slightly larger (3.5in tall, 12in wide, 6.2in deep) and heavier than OnBeat Micro (1.8 pounds) but it’s still very much compact and portable.

Just like OnBeat Micro, Mini has a wiggling lightning port inside the cavity on the top panel but the cavity is significantly larger and allows you to charge some iPads. Mini, just like micro, has three ports on the rear panel – power input, AUX input, and USB port. You can use the USB port for audio playback or for charging (iPhones/iPods/iPads). Like the JBL OnBeat Micro, Mini has a power button and two volume buttons. In order to control the playback, you have to use your phone.

Unlike Micro, Mini has a built-in rechargeable battery. The battery can deliver up to 8h of playtime at moderate volumes.

Inside the speaker, there’re two 7W speakers and two passive bass radiators. The sound is bassy and it gets distorted at high volumes. Mini is definitely louder than OnBeat Micro and it sounds better than those small speakers built inside your iPhone, but don’t raise your hopes too high. 

Things we don’t like

OnBeat Mini has no playback controls. Also, it doesn’t support Bluetooth. 

Some customers had issues with that wiggling lightning port on the top, but our unit was just fine.

Comparison Table


6. Cavalier Air Home Speaker

Cavalier Air Home Speaker

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Cavalier Air is, by far, the most advanced and feature-packed speaker/speaker dock on this list. It’s cheaper than the Bose SoundDock III and it offers so much more than any other speaker dock on this list. If you are looking for a compact high-end speaker dock that has all the features you could possibly need, Cavalier Air is your best choice.

What’s in the box?

Inside a premium packaging, you’ll find your Cavalier Air smart speaker, power cable, user manual, and a warranty card. 

Things we like 

Cavalier Air is, in our opinion, the most sophisticated speaker dock on this list. The manufacturer used high-quality materials including genuine leather (top), wood, aluminum (housing), and high-quality acoustic fabric. It’s amazing how compact this speaker is, especially when you know the number of included features. Cavalier Air is 8.3in wide, 3.7in tall, 5.4in deep, and weighs 2.2 pounds. 

In order to control the playback and activate or adjust other features, you can use the control buttons on the top (Bluetooth, alarm, mute, volume buttons, and smart playback button) and on the rear panel (Wi-Fi setup button and display control button). In order to perform the initial setup, you have to install the Cavalier Audio app (available for Android and Apple devices). Besides the initial setup, the app can be used to control the playback, adjust the alarm and clock settings, adjust EQ settings, connect the speaker to your Wi-Fi network, and integrate some of the most popular streaming apps with it (Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, TuneIn, iHeart Radio, etc.). 

The speaker is very versatile. It features both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity so you can stream the music from any Bluetooth or Wi-Fi enabled device. Also, Cavalier Air features multiroom functionality (via Wi-Fi). You can pair up to 15 speakers together. 

Cavalier Air has a smart LED clock on the front side. The display brightness can be adjusted or you can turn it off completely.  What’s smart about this display is that it can turn itself off automatically during the night. The clock and alarm will work even if the speaker is not plugged in thanks to a backup rechargeable battery. 

Cavalier Air has a Qi charging pad on the top so you can charge your Qi-enabled devices (iPhone 8 and later versions). It also features one USB charge-out port on the back. If your phone doesn’t support wireless charging, you can use this port (cable is not included). 

Another special thing about this speaker is Alexa support so you can control everything with your voice (control the playback, answer/make calls, or ask Alexa whatever you want).

Cavalier Air features 2 stereo speakers (20W power output) and 2 passive radiators. In terms of sound quality, this is the most refined speaker on the list. Cavalier Air is not an audiophile speaker and it’s not a party speaker so don’t expect a perfectly neutral or incredibly loud sound. For its size, Cavalier Air is very loud and it sounds quite sophisticated. The bass is punchy and controlled, the mids are clear, and the highs are very detailed and just a little bit bright. 

Things we don’t like

We like this speaker very much and there’s almost nothing we would like to change. However, adding a simple AUX input would make it even better. 

The speaker is quite pricey but, considering the design, build quality, sound quality, and the number of features, $250 price tag is completely justified. 

Comparison Table


7. Grace Digital Mondo+ Classic

Grace Digital Mondo+ Classic

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Just like Cavalier Air, Grace Digital Mondo+ Classic is a high-end speaker dock/internet radio with plenty of features. We prefer the design and performance of Cavalier Air, but Grace Digital Mondo+ Classic is a great choice, too, especially if you don’t want to spend more than $200.

What’s in the box?

Mondo+ Classic comes along with two 2.4/5GHz Wi-Fi antennas, IR remote, power adapter, user manual, and a warranty card. 

Things we like 

Design-wise, Mondo+ Classic is a mixture of old and new. Due to its boxy design and wooden cabinet, it radiates nice retro vibe but the controls and that backlit 3.5in color display make it look more futuristic. Those two Wi-Fi antennas don’t look very nice and that would be our only complaint. This internet radio would look so much cleaner without the antennas.  

The user interface is a bit tricky at first and you’ll need some time to learn how to control everything. IR remote is much easier to use than the controls on the unit itself. 

In order to connect it to your Wi-Fi network, you can use the control buttons on the unit or the remote and follow the instructions displayed on the screen. Also, you can use the Grace Digital app (which is not that great). 

Thanks to built-in apps, you can listen to 30,000 AM/FM/HD radio stations (over the internet). Some of the supported stations are iHeartRadio, BBC, SiriusXM, SHOUTcast, CBS, NPR, Live365, etc. 

If you want to stream music from your iPhone or some other Bluetooth-enabled device, you can use the Bluetooth connection. Mondo+ Classic features Bluetooth 4.1. 

Mondo+ Classic also has a Chromecast built-in so you can stream any audio content from Chromecast-enabled apps and devices. You can even use Google Home voice assistant to control the playback. Thanks to Chromecast support, Mondo+ Classic supports multiroom functionality. You can pair it with multiple Mondo+ Classic (or with any other Chromecast-enabled speaker), and stream the music across your entire home.  

This internet radio has a built-in clock and alarm. It also has a snooze feature and a sleep timer. You can use the control buttons on the radio, IR remote, or the Grace Digital app to play with different alarm/sleep settings and select different alarm sounds. 

Besides wireless connections, this internet radio has a headphone output, USB port, analog AUX inputs (for connecting external audio sources) and LINE outputs (for connecting external stereo speakers). The USB port can be used for charging and for music playback. The radio can even play FLAC files through a USB thumb drive.

What qualifies Mondo+ Classic as a speaker dock is the Qi pad for wireless charging located on the top panel. You can charge any Qi-enabled phone while listening to internet radio or while streaming music from your phone. 

The radio has a built-in Class-D amp (25W power output) and one 4in glass-fiber full-range driver. The sound quality is very good considering the size and price. The bass is not very detailed. The emphasis is on the mid-bass frequencies which makes the overall sound signature warm. The mids are articulate but not extremely refined while the highs are a bit brighter than they are supposed to be. You’ll also notice some sibilance and some distortion at high volumes.

Things we don’t like

Mondo+ Classic has many features but it still lacks support for Pandora, Tidal, and some other popular streaming services. This is not a huge downside since you can always open Pandora or any other app on your phone and stream music from it (via Bluetooth or Chromecast). 

The Grace Digital app is a useful addition to the package and it allows you to adjust all kinds of settings (EQ, radio presets, multiroom settings, etc.). The problem with the app is that it’s buggy and unstable (1.9 rating on the AppStore). The good news is that you don’t have to use it at all. 

Comparison Table


8. Richsound Research (RSR) DS406 Docking Speaker

Richsound Research (RSR) DS406 Docking Speaker

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RSR DS406 is maybe not as advanced and sophisticated as Mondo+ Classic and Cavalier Air but it’s still a nice and useful speaker dock with many additional features. It’s priced under $100

What’s in the box?

Inside a simple box, you’ll find your RSR DS406 speaker dock, IR remote, power adapter, AUX cable, user manual, and a warranty card.

Things we like 

RSR DS406 is simple and boxy. It has a small footprint and it’s very light. It’s 7.8in wide, 7.8in deep, and 3.5in tall. The speaker dock has an aluminum chassis and it’s available in black and silver. 

The user interface is simple and clean. All the controls are on the top (volume buttons, playback controls, ALARM 1 and ALARM 2 buttons, and ON/OFF/Source button). In the middle of the top panel, there’s a hidden compartment with a lightning port and headphone output. On the rear panel, you’ll find one USB powerbank port, AUX input, and battery compartment. The speaker dock uses 2 AAA batteries but these are only backup batteries. There’s a simple LCD screen on the front panel. All the necessary info is displayed on this screen (FM frequency, clock, alarm,)

RSR DS406 has a built-in FM tuner and you can save up to 20 presets. It also features Bluetooth connectivity so you can stream any audio content from your phone. In case you want to listen to music without disturbing other family members, you can connect your wired headphones to the speaker dock via headphone output. If you want to connect some non-lightning or non-Bluetooth device, you can always use the AUX input on the back. 

RSR DS406 features 2 5W drivers. It’s good enough for some background music, but don’t expect too much. The bass is tiny, the mids are mostly clear, and the highs are there but lack some detail.

Things we don’t like

RSR DS406 uses two AAA batteries but the batteries are only for backup – they will save the settings (clock, alarm, radio presets) in case you accidentally unplug the speaker dock or if a power failure occurs, but you can’t use them to play the music when the speaker is not plugged in. 

Comparison Table


9. SoarOwl Wireless Charger with Bluetooth Speaker

SoarOwl Wireless Charger with Bluetooth Speaker

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If you don’t need a high-end speaker dock and don’t want to pay too much, SoarOwl is a great choice. It’s an affordable, compact, and reliable wireless charger with a built-in Bluetooth speaker. 

What’s in the box?

The packaging contains your SoarOwl speaker dock, AUX cable, power adapter, user manual, and 1-year warranty.

Things we like 

SoarOwl looks really interesting. The manufacturer deserves some credit for the design. On the other hand, build quality is not impressive. It’s all plastic and it looks kind of cheap. The speaker dock is very compact (8in x 4.6in x 6.1in) and weighs 1.4lb. 

SoarOwl can be connected to your phone via Bluetooth or via AUX cable. It features Bluetooth 4.2 with a standard 30ft range. It also supports NFC quick pairing. When connected via Bluetooth, you can use the speaker to answer calls (it has a built-in mic).

The front side is reserved for the Qi-enabled charging pad. This is a dual coil pad and allows you to place your Qi-enabled phone either horizontally or vertically. The phone doesn’t have to be perfectly centered in order to charge.  

The speaker features two small drivers located on the left and right sides. It’s quite loud for its size. The sound quality is satisfactory but nothing more than that – the bass is present but underwhelming, the mids are elevated and clear, and the highs are a bit dull. 

Things we don’t like

There are no control buttons on the speaker dock and you have to use your phone to control the playback or adjust the volume. Also, the speaker has no built-in battery and it’s not portable (has to be plugged in).  

Comparison Table


10. EIATBF Portable Speaker Dock

EIATBF Portable Speaker Dock

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Like the SoarOwl, EIATBF is a simple and affordable speaker dock but with some additional features. EIATBF is even cheaper than the SoarOwl but it has more features – this little thing has a built-in rechargeable battery (it’s portable) and it has some control buttons. 

What’s in the box?

The box contains your EIATBF speaker dock, micro USB charging cable, user manual, and 1-year warranty. 

Things we like 

This is a small, boxy, ordinary-looking speaker dock. It has a super-small footprint and it’s very light. The build quality is not impressive (it’s all plastic) but you can hardly expect more for less than 30 bucks. 

The front panel is reserved for the charging pad. All the control buttons are on the top. There are six buttons and everything is pretty much self-explanatory. There are two speakers on the left and right sides, and a passive bass radiator on the back. All the physical inputs are located on the rear panel. EIATBF features micro USB charging port, micro SD card slot (for music playback), and USB powerbank port. 

The speaker dock features Bluetooth connectivity with a standard range and reliable connection. NFC quick pairing is not supported.  

Inside the speaker, there’s a pretty large 4,000mAh battery which allows you to listen to music on the go or to charge the phone. It will deliver up to 20h of playtime at moderate volumes.

Two 5W drivers are responsible for music reproduction. The sound is surprisingly loud. It’s not very clear or very detailed but it’s good for the price. 

Things we don’t like

It would be unfair to complain a lot when a speaker dock is priced under $30. The only downside we have to mention is the lack of AUX input.

Comparison Table


11. Retro Tech Multi Station

Retro Tech Multi Station

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This is another speaker dock that looks like an old-school radio. Unlike our previous retro internet radio/speaker dock, Multi Station is not a high-end device. It’s a simple and compact speaker dock with a Qi charging pad, built-in FM tuner, alarm clock, and Bluetooth connectivity. This is a better-looking option than the previous two cheap speaker docks, but it also costs a little bit more (priced under $70). 

What’s in the box?

The packaging includes your radio, micro USB charging cable (no power adapter), AUX cable, user manual, and 1-year warranty.

Things we like 

Multi Station looks like a miniature old-school radio. It has a small footprint and it weighs less than 2lb. 

The control scheme is easy to master. There are two multifunction dials/buttons on the front panel. You can use them to turn on/off the speaker, select source/mode, and control the playback. Between the two dials, there’s a nice LED clock display.  Qi charging pad is located on the top and all the inputs are on the rear panel. Multi Station features USB port (for charging and for music playback), AUX input, micro SD card slot, and a micro USB charging port. 

This speaker dock has a built-in rechargeable battery so you can use it outdoors (it doesn’t have to be plugged in all the time). The battery life is not amazing, but you will get up to 5h at 50% volume.

It also features Bluetooth connectivity. Pairing and streaming via Bluetooth is simple and hassle-free. NFC pairing and other advanced Bluetooth features (multipoint pairing, daisy-chaining, hands-free) are not supported.

If you don’t want to use Bluetooth, you can always switch to FM radio or insert your micro SD card. If you want to connect a non-Bluetooth device, you can use the AUX input and the included AUX cable.

Qi charging pad works as advertised but you have to center the phone since there’s only one charging coil in the middle of the top panel.

On top of all these features, Multi Station has an alarm clock and sleep timer. 

The sound is surprisingly loud but the quality of reproduction is just average. 

Things we don’t like

The USB port is for charging only. The manufacturer claims that you can use it for music playback but that wasn’t the case with our unit. 

Comparison Table


12. Azpen Dockall D108

Azpen Dockall D108

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Azpen Dockall D108 is another affordable speaker dock under $70. Judging by its design, this thing is made for office use but nothing prevents you from using it anywhere you want. It supports wireless Qi charging and wired charging (2 USB ports), is has two small built-in speakers and a mic, and it’s Bluetooth-enabled. 

What’s in the box?

The box contains your Dockall D108 speaker dock, power adapter, user manual, and 1-year warranty. 

Things we like 

Dockall D108 is compact, slim, and lightweight. It looks very stylish and professional, In our opinion, it’s a great little device for office use. 

90% of the front panel is reserved for the Qi charging pad. The pad slightly angled backward. It’s large and can be used for iPhones, iPods, and iPads (and other Qi-enabled phones and tablets). At the bottom of the front panel, you have nice and simple touch-sensitive controls (playback and volume buttons) and a built-in mic. 

On the left and right panels, there are two small speakers. On the rear panel, you’ll see 2 USB charging ports (2A and 1A), micro SD card slot (for music playback), and a power button.

The speaker dock is Bluetooth-enabled. Pairing is fast and painless. Streaming works flawlessly within the 30ft range. Multipoint pairing and daisy-chaining are not supported. You can answer and make calls via Bluetooth thanks to that built-in mic. We’ve had no issues with the microphone.

If you don’t want to use Bluetooth, you can insert your micro SD card and stream the music directly from it. 

2 USB ports on the rear panel are designed for charging only (can’t be used for playback). 

The sound is pretty loud considering the size of the speakers. The sound quality is pretty much average. The bass is weak, almost nonexistent. The emphasis is on the vocals.

Things we don’t like

Qi wireless charging doesn’t work if you have a thick phone case (thicker than 5mm). It also doesn’t work with metal phone cases. This is an issue with all Qi charging pads, not only this one. Dockall D108 doesn’t have an AUX input and that’s the only real downside of this speaker dock.

Comparison Table


13. Nillkin Bluetooth Speaker with Wireless Charger

Nillkin Bluetooth Speaker with Wireless Charger

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Nillkin is another affordable and stylish speaker dock with a wireless Qi charger and Bluetooth connectivity. It’s a great choice for your office or for your apartment. 

What’s in the box?

The packaging contains your iPhone speaker dock, power adapter, AUX cable, user manual, and 1-year warranty. 

Things we like 

Nillkin is a sleek and elegant, circular dock. It looks really nice and it’s quite tiny and light.

The user interface is simple. All the controls are grouped on the front side. The buttons are touch-sensitive and responsive. Everything is straightforward. On the back, there are DC power input, AUX input, and a USB charging port. 

Nillkin is Bluetooth-enabled and wireless streaming works without issues. In case your phone supports NFC quick pairing, you can just tap the speaker with your phone and you’ll be paired in a second. Also, there’s a built-in mic so you can answer and make calls via Bluetooth.  

The sound is quite loud but not very detailed or rich. It’s pretty much on par with the price but you can still find a Bluetooth speaker that sounds better than Nillkin for the same price. 

Things we don’t like

Our only complaint is the lack of battery. Nillkin doesn’t have a built-in battery and has to be plugged in all the time. Adding a small (2,000-3,000mAh) rechargeable battery would be a big upgrade. 

Comparison Table


14. iHome iBTW38

iHome iBTW38

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iHome makes all kinds of useful gadgets, multipurpose devices, headphones, etc. IBT38 is a wireless charging dock, Bluetooth speaker, speakerphone, clock, and alarm. Unlike many other similar devices in this price range, iBTW38 doesn’t have a built-in FM tuner. 

What’s in the box?

Inside the packaging, you will find your iBTW38 speaker dock, power adapter, user manual, and a warranty card. 

Things we like 

iBTW38 is, just like the majority of speaker docks, very small and compact. 

Large LCD screen is located in the middle of the front panel. On the screen, there’s a large digital clock and all the other info about Bluetooth connection and alarms. The speakers are located on the left and right sides. All the controls are on the top panel. The buttons are simple and easy to use. There’s a dedicated button for each function. Qi charging pad is also located on the top. All the inputs are on the rear panel. You have one USB charging port, DC power input, clock button, and daylight-saving time button. 

iBTW38 is Bluetooth-enabled. Wireless connection is flawless. The range is 30ft. NFC pairing and other advanced Bluetooth features are not supported. The speaker features support for HFP Bluetooth profile and has a built-in mic so you can use it to answer phone calls in Bluetooth mode. 

The speaker has no other physical connections for music playback (no AUX input, no micro SD card slot), but it has a clock, dual alarms, and sleep timer.

The sound is pretty loud but the quality is not impressive. There’s some bass but it lacks impact. The emphasis is on the mids – the manufacturer tried to make the midrange as clear as possible. 

Things we don’t like

Many similar devices in this price range have FM tuners but this one doesn’t. Also, the speaker has no built-in battery and has to be plugged in all the time.

Comparison Table


15. Emerson ER-X300 Docking Station

Emerson ER-X300 Docking Station

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Emmerson ER-X300 is the last speaker dock on our list. It’s another affordable option under $50. In terms of design, it reminds us of Nillkin speaker dock, but it’s not the same. This one has a built-in rechargeable battery and an adjustable arm/phone rest with a wireless charging pad. 

What’s in the box?

ER-X300 comes along with a USB to micro USB charging cable, 5V/2.4A DC power adapter, user manual, and 1-year warranty.

Things we like 

Like all the previous speaker docks, ER-X300 is small and compact. You can use it in your office, your kitchen, bedroom, or any other room. 

The controls are on the top. All the buttons are responsive and easy to use. However, they are not visible enough. 

The body of the speaker is wrapped in white grille. Behind the grille, there’s a nice LED clock display. The display brightness is adjustable and you can even turn it off if you don’t like it.

On the rear panel of the speaker, there’re one USB powerbank port, micro USB charging port, and AUX input. 

On the top, there’s an adjustable arm with a no-slip grip to keep the phone in place.  This arm has a built-in charging coil for wireless charging. 

ER-X300 has a built-in 4,000mAh battery and can be used outdoors (it doesn’t have to be plugged in all the time). It will deliver up to 5 hours of playback at 50% volume.

The speaker dock offers decent Bluetooth performance with a standard pairing process and Bluetooth range. There’s a built-in mic so you can use the speaker dock for hands-free calls. If you want to connect a non-Bluetooth device, you can use the AUX input. 

Among other features, this speaker also has a built-in clock, dual alarm, and a digital FM tuner. 

ER-X300 has one 10W driver inside so you should not expect anything spectacular. Still, this speaker dock is surprisingly loud for its size and delivers a very nice sound with a slightly boosted bass and clear mids. 

Things we don’t like

It’s hard to complain about a cheap product, especially when it has so many cool features. We could talk about the build quality but you probably know what to expect when the speaker is priced under $40. The only we could complain about is the adjustable arm. It simply doesn’t look large enough for iPads. We’ve seen people using this speaker dock with iPads, but we still don’t think this adjustable arm/phone rest is stable enough. 

Comparison Table


This is the end of our list of 15 best iPhone docking stations with speakers. Hopefully, there’s was something you liked. Before you go away, take a few minutes to go through our short buyer’s guide. We’ve listed all the important specs and features you should consider when looking for an iPhone docking station with a speaker. 


Buyer’s Guide – What to Look for When Buying an iPhone Docking Station with a Speaker (iPhone Speaker Dock)

iPhone Speaker Dock

Lightning Docking Connector VS Wireless Charging

Well, wireless charging definitely sounds cooler but you still have to consider all the current downsides of Qi wireless charging (slow charging, relatively low efficiency, close proximity required) and all the compatibility issues. When you think about it, wireless speaker docks are not that better than the speaker docks with lightning connectors. At the moment, the difference between the two is minimal. Wireless speaker docks will certainly become better in the future but, buying one now will not make your life much easier. 

Compatibility 

Not all the iPhones are compatible with all the iPhone speaker docks, especially when it comes to wireless (Qi-enabled) speaker docks. If you are buying an iPhone speaker dock with a lightning docking connector, you can be assured that it’s compatible with all the currently available iPhones (they all have lightning ports, including the latest iPhone 11 and 11 Pro). It’s not the same thing with wireless speaker docks. The first iPhone with Qi support is the iPhone 8. iPhone 7 and iPhone 6 are not Qi-enabled by default but you can make them Qi-enabled if you buy some Qi-enabled charging case. The problem with Qi-enabled charging cases and other Qi-enabled add-ons is that they use lightning ports. So, if you are using some Qi-enabled charging case to charge your iPhone wirelessly, you won’t be able to use your lightning port to connect your lightning headphones or to connect your phone to your PC. 

Sound Quality

You shouldn’t forget that it’s not all about charging options and docking connectors. The speaker part is equally important (if not more important) when it comes to speaker docks. The first thing you should know is that you can find a better speaker for the same amount of money if you don’t need a docking port. 

Recommended Reading :

 
It’s not like you can’t find a great-sounding wireless speaker dock, but most of them are really small and very limited when it comes to sonic performance.  If you want a good-sounding wireless speaker dock, you will have to pay more than $100 (preferably more than $200). The market of wireless speaker docks is only going to grow but, at the moment, most of them don’t sound great.

Connection versatility – Bluetooth, 3.5mm, AirPlay

It’s not a secret what to look for when it comes to connection versatility – more is always better. The majority of today’s speaker docks support Bluetooth. After all, Bluetooth has become a universal technology and it’s not that expensive. Also, most iPhone speaker docks have 3.5mm ports which are even more universal than Bluetooth. Additional connections like Airplay, Chromecast, etc., are reserved for more advanced (read more expensive) speaker docks. 

Additional Features

Some iPhone speaker docks also feature some additional features like FM tuners or alarm clocks. These features are available in cheaper speaker docks, too so you don’t have to spend a fortune if you want a speaker dock with an alarm clock and FM tuner. 

Size and Design

Size and design should not be forgotten. It’s hard to say what to look for when it comes to design since we all have different tastes. One thing we can say is that if you want premium-looking device and premium build quality, you’ll have to pay more. When it comes to size, your choice depends on the available space and your personal preferences. If you want a speaker dock for your nightstand, you should look for the smallest possible footprint. On the other hand, if you want a speaker for your living room, larger docking stations and even smart tables with Qi chargers are viable choices. 

Price

iPhone docking stations with speakers are not crazy expensive, but some of them are kind of pricey. The most expensive ones are priced at $400 and if you can afford them go for those. They definitely look and sound better than the cheap docking stations under $50. On the other hand, if you need something useful, compact, and affordable, you don’t have to spend more than $100 (or even more than $50).



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Westone B50 Review https://www.audioreputation.com/westone-b50/ https://www.audioreputation.com/westone-b50/#respond Thu, 03 Oct 2019 08:36:16 +0000 https://www.audioreputation.com/?p=5268 Are you struggling to find a pair of IEMs that fits perfectly and that’s not too bassy? Westone B50 might be the perfect solution for you. These high-end earphones/IEMs offer very rich, detailed, and immersive sound reproduction, perfect fit, and Bluetooth connectivity. If you are interested, you should read our detailed review and find out […]

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Are you struggling to find a pair of IEMs that fits perfectly and that’s not too bassy? Westone B50 might be the perfect solution for you. These high-end earphones/IEMs offer very rich, detailed, and immersive sound reproduction, perfect fit, and Bluetooth connectivity. If you are interested, you should read our detailed review and find out more about Westone B50. 


Audio Reputation AwardsWestone is one of the most famous names in the audio industry with 60 years of experience in designing and manufacturing earphones and all kinds of earphone accessories. This is the company that made the first custom-fit earpiece for Sony’s ‘’Walkman’’ style earpieces in 1985. They also made the first custom (1996) and first universal-fit dual-driver IEMs (1999), as well as the first three-way earphones (2008). They’ve been in the business for quite some time and they’ve never expanded from making IEMs to making headphones or speakers, which shows how serious they are about their in-ear monitors. It’s safe to say that you can’t go wrong with Westone if you are looking for IEMs/earphones (either professional or nonprofessional equipment). Westone B50 is not an exception. 

The B-line of IEMs by Westone is an upgraded version of the W-line. The greatest difference between the two series is in the sound signature. B-line of in-ear monitors is tuned to sound more exciting, more dynamic, and slightly bassier.

Westone B50 earphones are made for casual music listening but they offer much more than you would get from any generic or cheap earphones on the market. After all, these are priced around $700.  B50 earphones feature 5 BA (Balanced Armature) drivers paired with a 3-way passive crossover which is quite impressive considering their small size and weight. The most noticeable quality of these earphones is their sonic performance but there’s so much more you should know about them. They come with two cables – standard 3.5mm cable with MMCX connectors and a Bluetooth V1 cable with MMCX connectors. They also come with all kinds of accessories including 10 pairs of ear tips (finding the right fit won’t be an issue). The earpieces and the cables are very durable and look like they can withstand all kinds of use. In short, you won’t regret buying Westone B50 earphones. The only problem could be their price –this is going to be the biggest deal-breaker for most people. 

Westone B50

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UPSIDES

  • Premium packaging with numerous accessories
  • 10 pairs of ear tips (5 pairs of STAR silicone tips and 5 pairs of true-fit foam tips)
  • Rugged and very durable
  • Perfectly secure fit
  • 2 detachable cables – silver MMCX audio cable and V1 Bluetooth cable
  • Sweat-resistant and splash-proof Bluetooth cable (IPX4-certified)
  • Up to 8h of playtime in Bluetooth mode
  • Detailed and rich audio reproduction with a warm sound signature and a subtle low-end emphasis

 
DOWNSIDES 

  • Expensive (priced around $700)

 
VERDICT

If you’re looking for great-sounding Bluetooth earphones and you don’t mind spending hundreds of dollars on them, buying Westone B50 is not a mistake. You’ll be happy with their durability, versatility, sonic performance, and with the fit they provide. 

What’s in the box?

Westone B50 earphones come in a premium packaging along with plenty of accessories. When you open the box, you’ll see your B50 earphones with a Bluetooth cable and a large zippered carrying case. The earphones come with a 2-year warranty, which is always a plus (especially when the product is so expensive). 

Westone B50 box contents

Box contents

Inside the carrying case, you’ll find a plastic bag with 10 pairs of ear tips (5 STAR silicone tips and 5 proprietary true-fit foam tips), one spare pair of aluminum faceplates, USB to micro USB charging cable, MMCX auxiliary cable, a tool for cleaning, and a small screwdriver for replacing the faceplates. 

Inside the carrying case

Specs

Westone B50 Specifications 
DIMENSIONS
Weight0.445oz (each)
DRIVERSProprietary balanced armature drivers x5
BATTERY DETAILS
TypeLi-ion, rechargeable
CapacityN/A
Playtime/Talk timeUp to 8h
Recharge timeUp to 2.5h
CONNECTIONSHigh-def MMCX cable (52in)

Westone Bluetooth cable (27.5in)
BLUETOOTH DETAILS
Bluetooth versionBluetooth 4.0
Supported Bluetooth profilesaptX
NFCNo
Bluetooth range33ft
OTHER TECHNICAL DETAILS
Frequency response10Hz-20kHz
Impedance35Ω (at 1kHz)
Sensitivity118dB (at 1mW)
Passive noise attenuationUp to 25dB
WATERPROOF/WATER RESISTANTIPX4 (splash-proof)
ADDITIONAL FEATURESCarrying case 

5 pair of foam tips

5 pairs of silicone tips

Exchangeable faceplates

Bluetooth cable

Design

In terms of design, B50 earphones and all the other B-series earphones look basically the same as W-series earphones. They are compact, low-profile, and lightweight with an ergonomic shape and angled nozzles. Westone designed the earphones that are supposed to fit both large and small ears. The earphones are made of plastic but they feel very durable, especially with those metal faceplates attached to them. 

Ergonomic ‘universal-fit’ design

Ergonomic ‘universal-fit’ design

You can choose one of two included faceplate types – black and orange. Orange faceplates are sportier and look better with Bluetooth cable while the black plates are more stylish. 

Exchangeable faceplates

Exchangeable faceplates

In terms of design, two included cables are very different. V1 Bluetooth cable is flat, tangle-free, it has a built-in battery, mic, and volume/playback controls. It looks sporty. The other cable has no controls (only input and output connectors) and it’s longer. 

Features

These compact earpieces feature 5 Balanced armature (BA) drivers – 1 low-end driver, 2 midrange drivers, and 2 treble drivers. Since Westone is one of the pioneers when it comes to the implementation of BA drivers, you should already know what to expect when it comes to performance and tuning. 5 BA drivers are combined with a three-way passive crossover. According to the manufacturer, this driver arrangement is supposed to deliver an extended frequency response and more detailed sound reproduction than other competitors in this price range.



Westone is also known for its proprietary true-fit/universal-fit technology. All Westone IEMs are highly praised for their fit, stability, and comfort. B50 earphones are not an exception. They are light and compact, they have a low profile, and they are ergonomically designed to fit all kinds of ears. The manufacturer also included 10 pairs of ear tips (5 silicone pairs and 5 pairs made of foam). These are also proprietary tips designed by the Westone team. So, it’s pretty safe to say that it is almost impossible not to find the right fit. 

Feature overview

Feature overview

The earphones come with two cables – high-definition silver cable and V1 Bluetooth cable. They are both detachable and have MMCX connectors.

Silver MMCX cable and Westone Bluetooth cable

 

Silver MMCX cable and Westone Bluetooth cable

Silver MMCX cable is 52in long. On one end, you’ll see two MMCX connectors. On the other end, there’s a gold-plated 3.5mm plug. This cable is made for critical listening (it’s a high-quality cable). Unlike cheaper solutions, this cable has two separately braided silver-plated copper wires (one for each channel). The majority of cheaper cables have two channels braided together. This kind of design is supposed to improve fidelity and reduce interference and noise. Two channels are then coated with some kind of transparent plastic/silicone. The cable is a little bit stiff but that’s not a huge issue. 

V1 Bluetooth cable is also designed by Westone. This cable is shorter (27.5in) and it looks completely different. The cable is flat and tangle-free. This one is definitely made for on-the-go use. There are MMCX connectors on both ends (for connecting the earphones). On the left side of the cable, there’s a small plastic box with a built-in battery. On the right side, there’s the same plastic box with three-button controls and a micro USB charging port. You can use this button to initiate pairing, adjust the volume, control the playback, receive/reject calls, activate Siri/Google Assistant. 

Bluetooth cable controls

Bluetooth cable controls

One odd thing about these earphones is that they are not Bluetooth-enabled. It’s the V1 cable that makes them wireless. The cable features Bluetooth 4.0 with a standard 30ft range. The battery is supposed to deliver 8h of playtime. The cable is also coated with some kind of splash-proof silicone and it’s IPX4-certified which makes it suitable for workouts and other physical activities.

V1 Bluetooth cable feature overview

V1 Bluetooth cable feature overview 

You should also know that there’s an upgraded V2 Bluetooth cable with Bluetooth V5.0 and IPX5 rating. You can buy it separately for $150. Also, since MMCX connectors are widely used, you can buy audio cables (Bluetooth or non-Bluetooth) made by other manufacturers (like Shure RMCE-BT2). 

Performance

We have practically no complaints regarding the performance. Finding the right fit and inserting the headphones into your ears should not be a problem but the manufacturer still decided to give you step-by-step instructions. 

Insertion instructions

Insertion instructions

Once you find the right pair of tips, you’ll get a perfect seal and impressive stability. The ear tips are supposed to go pretty deep into your ears and people with sensitive ears might not like the feeling. 

Replacing the cable is also super-simple. The only problem is that requires some serious force. Those MMCX connectors are really strong so don’t be afraid to pull harder. 

Replacing the faceplates is the easiest part. You’ll find a mini screwdriver inside the box and you just have to unscrew one small screw and remove the faceplate.

Replacing the faceplates

Replacing the faceplates

Controls are easy-to-use and responsive. The number of things you can control with only three buttons may seem a bit overwhelming but you’ll master the controls after a day of use. In case you forget how to do something, you can find a comprehensive function list in the user manual. 

Pairing is fast and painless. The signal will stay stable within the advertised range but anything further than 30ft will result in signal loss. 



The battery delivered the advertised playtime. Some people might find 8 hours insufficient but that’s pretty much the standard playtime for high-end earphones in this price range. 

Sound Quality

Sound quality is the most important highlight. B50 earphones are tuned to attract people who had some doubts about previous Westone models but also to keep the old audience. They don’t sound the same as earphones from the W series but you can find some similarities. In the picture below, you can see the frequency response curve of B50 earphones (you can find it on the back of the box). 

So, in general, B50 earphones have a pretty flat response, but with some subtle and very pleasant colorations. 

There’s a slight elevation in the mid-bass and upper-bass regions which makes them warm. The bass reproduction is dynamic, detailed, and intense. It’s authoritative, but it’s not overwhelming and it’s controlled at all times.

The upper-bass emphasis doesn’t extend to the midrange which is good for the overall balance. The midrange reproduction is pretty flat up to 2kHz. All the instruments and vocals in this range sound very natural, focused, and dynamic. They are never boring. The flat midrange is one of Westone’s trademarks and these earphones don’t deviate much from the other models. 

There’s a subtle elevation in the upper-midrange region (2kHz-5kHz). This could cause some brightness and sibilance but it’s barely noticeable. It never gets harsh or painful. 

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There’s a subtle roll-off after 10kHz which reduces the amount of detail in the treble region but not to the point of making the high-end reproduction dull. There’s still more than enough clarity and detail in the high-end – it only lacks some sparkle. If you have sensitive ears and can’t tolerate intense high-end, you’re going to love these. 

You can’t expect an extremely wide and spacious soundstage from a pair of in-ear monitors but these exceeded our expectations. They are not as great as some planar magnetic or high-end open-back headphones, but there’s still a nice sense of space. 

The sound is a bit worse in Bluetooth mode. The bass is just a little bit heavier and the overall reproduction lacks a bit of detail (compared to wired connection). AptX support does make a difference but the sound is still better when the silver MMCX cable is used. 



Westone B50 earphones work great with all kinds of music genres starting from bass-oriented EDM, RNB, and other electronic genres. Because of nicely balanced and relatively flat midrange, B50 earphones are also great for POP and vocal-oriented music. 

The Competition

Westone B50 is priced around $700 which is, in our opinion, quite expensive. You have so many choices in this price range, especially if you are open to different options (over and on-ear headphones, wired in-ear monitors, affordable planar magnetic headphones, etc.). If you are only interested in high-end earphones, the next three models would be our alternatives. 


Westone W60BTWestone W60BT

Westone W60BT earphones are, in many ways, very similar to B50. The first noticeable difference is the price (W60BT earphones are $300 pricier).

Two earphone models are basically the same in terms of design and included equipment (ear tips, faceplates, silver MMCX high-definition cable, V1 Bluetooth cable).

W60BT features 6 BA drivers inside each earpiece while the B50 earphones feature 5 BA drivers (W60BT has an additional bass driver). 

The most important difference is the difference in sound signature. W60BT earphones are warm-sounding (just like B50 earphones) and have a slightly elevated mid-bass but they also have a flatter midrange and treble response. The reproduction is a bit more detailed and the soundstage is slightly wider. 


RHA CL2RHA CL2

RHA earphones are usually a bit more affordable than Westone earphones. Their CL2 earphones are a great choice if you can’t spend more than $500.

The most interesting thing about these earphones is the fact that they use planar magnetic drivers. The manufacturer likes to brag that these earphones have the smallest planar magnetic drivers ever made. If you know anything about planar magnetic drivers, you know that they are much bigger than the regular drivers. Still, the people from RHA somehow managed to make these surprisingly compact earphones. 

The package CL2 earphones come in is even richer than the package of B50 earphones. There are 6 pairs of silicone tips, 2 pairs of bi-flanged tips, 3 pairs of foam tips, and three detachable cables with MMCX connectors (3.5mm braided OFC cable, Bluetooth cable with a silicone neckband, and 2.5mm balanced Ag4x cable). The number of included accessories is truly impressive. 

Just like Westone B50 earphones, RHA CL2 earphones support Bluetooth atpX. CL2 earphones also support NFC pairing and have longer playtime (12h VS 8h). 

CL2 earphones have an extended frequency response with a warm sound signature, slightly elevated bass response, flat midrange, and a noticeable bump at 5kHz which causes some noticeable brightness. All in all, both earphone models have similar signatures but Westone B50 earphones offer slightly more detailed reproduction (and less brightness).


Shure SE846Shure SE846

SE846 earphones are significantly pricier than the B50 earphones ($300 price difference). 

The number of included accessories and advanced software and hardware solutions is quite impressive. 

SE846 earphones come with a carrying case, 3 detachable cables (Bluetooth cable, 3.5mm communication cable with built-in controls, standard 3.5mm audio cable), 6.3mm adapter, airplane adapter, and 6 pairs of ear tips. The most interesting accessories are nozzle inserts that you can use in case you want to change the sound signature (warm/balanced/bright).

In terms of Bluetooth connection, SE846 is superior in many ways. Shure Bluetooth cable features Bluetooth 5.0 while the B50 Bluetooth cable features Bluetooth 4.0. Shure cable offers a more reliable wireless connection and it supports multipoint pairing. Shure Bluetooth cable also has a larger battery and delivers longer playtime (10h VS 8h). This Bluetooth cable supports aptX HD (Westone B50 supports aptX) so you can expect slightly more detailed reproduction in Bluetooth mode. 

With Shure SE846, you can select the sound signature you prefer by changing the nozzles. Whichever nozzle you choose, you’ll get a very detailed and very natural sound. 


Comparison Table 

In-ear headphonesPlaytime (at 50% vol.)atpX  support
Westone B50Up to 8hYes
Westone W60BTUp to 8hYes
RHA CL2Up to 12hYes
Shure SE846Up to 10hYes (atpX HD)

Final Thoughts

If you are looking for high-end IEMs/earphones, you can never go wrong with Westone. Westone B50 earphones offer great fit and comfort. They can be used in wired or wireless mode (they come with two detachable cables). The sound signature is close to flat but with some subtle colorations (slight mid-bass and upper midrange emphasis). 

The number of high-end IEMs at this price point is not huge but you can always try the cheaper RHA CL2. If you are prepared to spend more (up to $1000), you could go for Westone W60 or Shure SE846. 



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PSB M4U 8 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphone Review https://www.audioreputation.com/psb-m4u-8/ https://www.audioreputation.com/psb-m4u-8/#respond Mon, 30 Sep 2019 08:03:49 +0000 https://www.audioreputation.com/?p=5243 Looking for a great-sounding pair of ANC headphones under $350? Sure, Bose QC35 II and Sony WH1000XM3 are safe choices but if you like experimenting, PSB M4U 8 might be just the thing you need. They’re not as great as QC35 when it comes to active noise cancellation, but they sound more exciting and more […]

The post PSB M4U 8 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphone Review appeared first on AudioReputation.

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Looking for a great-sounding pair of ANC headphones under $350? Sure, Bose QC35 II and Sony WH1000XM3 are safe choices but if you like experimenting, PSB M4U 8 might be just the thing you need. They’re not as great as QC35 when it comes to active noise cancellation, but they sound more exciting and more detailed than any other noise-canceling headphones on the market in their price range. In this review, you’ll find out everything you need to know about PSB M4U 8 ANC headphones. 


PSB is a very well-known name in the audio industry and they are respected for their speakers. They have almost 50 years of experience in making all kinds of loudspeakers. Recently, they have decided to bring the same kind of experience in a smaller package. Their M4U headphone line was praised by the customers for its sound but there were some build quality issues (plastic headband). PSB M4U 8 ANC headphones are the first wireless ANC headphones made by this reputable manufacturer and it represents an improvement over the wired M4U models (M4U 1 and M4U 2).

PSB M4U 8 is not a very imaginative name. The manufacturer should hire someone specialized in branding, but there’s actually a lot behind this unoriginal name. The manufacturer’s idea was to bring the same kind of experience you would get with two stereo speakers in your room. PSB M4U 8 headphones are advertised as almost audiophile-grade equipment with a ‘better-than-CD’ listening experience. They do sound fun and exciting but they are not perfectly neutral. Like all the other ANC headphones on the market, PSB M4U 8 headphones have a slightly colored signature with a subtle mid-bass emphasis. They are definitely not bass-heavy headphones but they are also not audiophile headphones.

Some of the features worth mentioning are great build quality, RoomFeel equalization (we will discuss this feature in detail), Bluetooth connectivity with aptX HD support and NFC pairing, battery life, and exciting and punchy sound signature.



When it comes to downsides, the most noticeable is the comfort (they are a bit too tight). Some people might also find them too ordinary since they are not as distinctive or stylish as Bose or Sony ANC headphones. 

PSB M4U 8

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UPSIDES

  • Rich packaging with lots of accessories
  • Very good build quality
  • Foldable design
  • Excellent passive noise isolation
  • Good active noise cancellation
  • Versatile connectivity – AUX + Bluetooth + micro USB (audio and charging)
  • Decent battery life – up to 15h at 50% volume (with ANC enabled)
  • Replaceable and rechargeable AA batteries
  • Exciting and punchy sound signature

 
DOWNSIDES

  • Some people might find them too ordinary
  • Comfort issues – clamping force is very strong

 
VERDICT

There are many viable choices when it comes to ANC headphones under $400 (or under $350). You can always go for some of the popular choices like Bose QC 35 Series II, Sony WH1000XM3, Beats Studio3, Bowers & Wilkins PX, or Sennheiser PXC 550. So, why should you choose PSB M4U 8 ANC headphones? Because of the sound, obviously. They are not on par with Bose and Sony ANC headphones when it comes to noise cancelation but they are definitely among top-three best-sounding ANC headphones on the market.

What’s in the box?

PSB M4U 8 headphones come in a premium-looking and very rich packaging. Inside the box, you’ll find a hard travel case, airplane adapter, 3.5mm to 6.25mm adapter, USB to micro USB charging/audio cable, AUX cable, user manual, and 1-year warranty.

Box contents

Box contents

The headphones are folded up and packed inside the travel case along with a spare pair of earpads, cleaning cloth, and a metal carabiner.  

Inside the travel case

Inside the travel case

Specs

PSB M4U 8 Specifications 
DIMENSIONS
Weight 12oz/342g
Earpad dimensions (outer)2.75in x 3.8in x .75in
Earpad cavity size1.4in x 2.3in x .5in
Cable length59in
DRIVERSDynamic/40mm x2
TYPEOver-ear/Closed-back
MATERIALPlastic + aluminum (earcups)

Steel (headband)

Memory foam (paddings)

Leatherette (earpad and headband finish)
BATTERY
TypeAA (NiMH) x2, rechargeable, replaceable
Capacity750mAh
PlaytimeUp to 15h (at 50% volume)
Recharge time4h
CONNECTIONSAUX (3.5mm)

6.25mm adapter

Bluetooth with aptX HD support

micro USB (charging and audio playback)
BLUETOOTH DETAILS
Bluetooth versionV5.0
Supported Bluetooth profilesaptX, aptX Low Latency, aptX HD, MP3, AAC, and SBC
NFCYes
Bluetooth range50ft
OTHER TECHNICAL DETAILS
Frequency response20Hz-20kHz (+/- 1.5dB)
Sensitivity102dB (@1kHz/1mW)
Max power handling300mW
Impedance32Ω
ADDITIONAL FEATURESHard travel case

Airplane adapter

¼-in adapter

Replaceable earpads (spare pads included)

Replaceable batteries

Design

PSB M4U 8 headphones are not particularly great-looking. PSB is a company with a 40-year experience in making speakers but you can see they are not very experienced when it comes to headphones. They have opted for the old-school look with oval ear cups and adjustable headband. Some of you might find them unoriginal, boring, or too ordinary.

Compared to the first two PSB headphone models (M4U 1 and 2), M4U 8 has an improved build quality. You can see that the manufacturer is learning in the process and that’s a good thing. Steel was used for the headband frame, cups are mostly plastic, and the paddings are made of memory foam with a leatherette finish. The headphones are entirely black and have some subtle brandings on the cups and headband.  

Simple, ordinary look

Simple, ordinary look

In case you want to transport them, you’ll be happy to know that you can fold them up and use the included hard travel case. Still, they are not very small even when they are folded up.

Foldable design

Foldable design

All the control buttons are located on the back of the right cup. You have one Bluetooth/pairing button on the top and three large and kind of clunky buttons/switches (volume, ON/OFF/ANC switch, and playback controls). We’ve had some doubts about these buttons but they are actually very responsive and easy to use.

Control buttons are a bit clunky but easily accessible and very easy to use

Control buttons are a bit clunky but easily accessible and very easy to use

On the bottom of each cup, there’s one AUX input. You can use either of these two inputs in passive mode (wired AUX connection). The right cup also houses a micro USB charging port and two built-in mics.

Inputs (3.5mm and micro USB)

Inputs (3.5mm and micro USB)

The left cup houses a battery compartment, hidden behind a removable earcup cover (which is, by the way, very hard to remove). Unlike some other ANC headphones, PSB M4U 8 headphones don’t have a built-in battery. Two rechargeable AA NiMH batteries are included in the package but you can use any AA batteries.

Replaceable AA batteries

Replaceable AA batteries

Features

Construction quality is one of the good things about these headphones. There’s a lot of aluminum (headband, cups). The ABS is used for the earcups. Both headband and cups have thick layers of memory foam with a leatherette finish. The spare pair of earpads is always appreciated but it would be even better if they were a different kind of pads (velour pads, for example). The manufacturer tried to cover all the comfort-related areas but there’s one issue we will talk about in the performance section. 



The control buttons, although large and clunky, are actually very nice. Each button/switch has multiple functions. The volume switch is also used for activating the ‘Transparency’ mode. In case you want to stay aware of your surroundings, you can simply press the volume button/switch and activate this mode. The volume will be lowered by 30dB and the built-in microphones will pick up the environmental noise and allow you to stay aware. The ANC switch has three positions – ON, ANC, and OFF. When using the headphones in Bluetooth mode or when a micro USB cable is connected to your PC and you want to use the headphones for music listening, the switch has to be in ON or ANC position. When used in wired mode via AUX cable, you can also use them without turning them on. So, there are three modes – ON (active) with RoomFeel, ANC with RoomFeel, and OFF (passive) without RoomFeel. The last switch is also multifunctional. You can use it to control the playback (play/pause/forward/backward), to activate Siri or Google Assistant (press for 5 sec), or to answer/end phone calls. 

As mentioned previously, the headphones use two AA batteries. The batteries are included in the package. They are removable and rechargeable. The battery capacity is rated at 750mAh. You’ll get up to 15h at moderate volumes with ANC enabled. The good thing about removable batteries is that you can use any kind of AA batteries (alkaline or rechargeable). Compared to other popular ANC headphones, PSB M4U 8 headphones offer shorter playtime but you can always remove the batteries, insert the new ones, and keep listening (or you can use the headphones in passive mode).

Feature overview

Feature overview

M4U 8 headphones are quite versatile in terms of connectivity. They support Bluetooth and AUX connection, which is pretty much standard. What’s special about Bluetooth module built into these headphones is the atpX HD support which guarantees the highest possible audio quality in Bluetooth mode. Other popular ANC headphones don’t even have regular aptX while these headphones support the most advanced aptX codec. Another very interesting feature of PSB M4U 8 headphones is the micro USB audio connection. You can use the micro USB port on the right cup for charging but you can also use it for music playback (instead of AUX cable) but only when the headphones are connected to your PC/laptop. When using the micro USB cable for music playback, the headphones have to be active (the ON/OFF/ANC switch has to be in ON or ANC position).

M4U 8 headphones are closed-back headphones and offer both passive isolation and active noise cancellation. The manufacturer used a proprietary ANC technology with 4 adaptive mics. 

RoomFeel technology is the feature the manufacturer is really proud of. The idea behind this technology is to make sound reproduction more natural and more spacious. It creates some kind of 3D effect which is supposed to imitate the listening experience you would get when listening to high-quality stereo speakers in a room. RoomFeel is the default EQ setting in ‘Active’ and ‘ANC’ modes. When using the headphones in ‘Passive’ mode (wired connection via AUX cable, switch in OFF position), RoomFeel will be disabled. 

Another useful feature is the handsfree. Those two built-in mics on the bottom of the right cup can be used for answering calls or for talking to Google Assistant or Siri. 

Performance

We have no complaints regarding the durability of these headphones. They look like they are made to last. They can survive all the rigors of everyday use and can even be used for sports.

The manufacturer tried to make the headphone comfortable. The headband is expandable/adjustable and it’s nicely padded. The cups also have thick and plushy paddings, too. The earpads are oval and large enough for average ears. The headphones provide extremely stable fit which makes them good for workouts and active lifestyle but it also brings us to our biggest complaint. The fit is a bit too tight, even for people with average head size. The overall clamping force is too strong for long listening sessions and it becomes quite noticeable after an hour of use. So, sweaty ears and fatigue are inevitable. 

The control buttons proved to be very functional and responsive. The Bluetooth connection worked flawlessly. The pairing was fast and simple. In case your phone supports NFC, you can just tap the headphones and get paired in a second.

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That painful clamping force affects the comfort but it also improves passive noise isolation. When it comes to passive isolation, PSB M4U 8 headphones are one of the best on the market. They are a lot better than other popular ANC headphones. Still, the point of ANC headphones is not only in passive isolation. When ANC is enabled, M4U 8 headphones offer only slightly above-average performance. They will cancel out all the low-frequency noises (like engine roar) and they will attenuate some midrange frequencies but they can’t do much with high-frequency sounds. Reference-grade ANC headphones like Bose QC 35 Series II and Sony WH1000XM3 offer better noise cancellation. 

Answering a phone call is a breeze. You will hear the person on the other end loud and clear and the person on the other end will hear you well unless you are in some really noisy environment. 

Sound Quality

According to the manufacturer, sonic performance is supposed to be the greatest highlight of these headphones. Their performance met the expectations. PSB M4U 8 could easily be the most fun-sounding pair of ANC headphones on the market. 

There’s a slight mid-bass emphasis (similar to Sennheiser headphones) which makes them warm-sounding. The bass is dynamic and punchy. It’s not extremely textured or detailed but it’s still very exciting. 

Because of the bass emphasis, the low midrange could be overshadowed on some bass-heavy tracks but it’s barely noticeable on other tracks. The mids are sweet and dynamic most of the time and the vocals are clear and pushed forward. There’s a subtle 3kHz peak which intensifies the vocals and makes them more intelligible but could also cause some brightness (it’s not too sharp and it doesn’t result in sibilance). This kind of tuning also makes these headphones a pretty good choice for TV and movie watching so if you’re looking for wireless TV headphones, you should give them a chance. 



The treble response is extended and pretty flat. It’s not too intense and it’s definitely not lifeless. The high-end is just perfect. 

Thanks to RoomFeel technology, the soundstage is surprisingly spacious and airy. That 3D effect improves the listening experience and makes the reproduction more natural. 

M4U 8 headphones are fun to listen to. They are great for EDM, hard rock, RNB, and other bass-heavy genres. They are also great for movie and TV watching due to 3kHz emphasis and improved intelligibility. They are more natural-sounding than reference-grade Bose and Sony ANC headphones and offer more detailed music reproduction. In our opinion, PSB M4U 8 headphones are one of the best-sounding ANC headphones under $350.

The Competition

PSB M4U 8 headphones are currently priced under $350. There are numerous competitors in this price range and it’s absolutely understandable if you have difficulties choosing the right pair for you. The most popular choices in this price range are Bose QC 35 II (our reference headphones when it comes to ANC), Sony WH1000XM3, and Beats Studio3. So, let’s see how M4U 8 headphones hold up when compared against these popular models.


Bose QuietComfort 35 IIBose QuietComfort 35 II

QC35 II headphones are just slightly pricier (approx. $20 price difference) so it’s safe to say the price is not going to be the decisive factor. 

Both headphone models have easily accessible and responsive controls. 

Bose headphones offer better fit and are more suitable for long listening sessions. They are not as tight as PSB M4U 8 headphones and that’s one their greatest advantages over M4U 8 headphones.

Bose headphones also come with an app (Bose Connect app) while there’s no app for M4U 8 headphones. QC35 Series II is Alexa-enabled while M4U 8 isn’t. 

Bose headphones have a built-in battery which enables up to 20h of music listening. M4U 8 headphones have 15h playtime but they also have replaceable batteries so you don’t have to charge them when you run out of battery – you can simply insert two new AA batteries. 

Bose QC35 II headphones offer superior noise cancellation. M4U 8 headphones are very good, but QC35 II headphones are great.

The greatest advantage of PSB M4U 8 headphones is Bluetooth with aptX HD support. Bose QC 35 Series II headphones feature Bluetooth 4.1 without aptX support. This makes the M4U 8 more detailed and more natural-sounding. QC 35 II are maybe more tonally correct but they also sound more artificial. 


Sony WH1000XM3 Noise Cancelling HeadphonesSony WH1000XM3 Noise Cancelling Headphones 

Sony WH1000XM3 headphones are also slightly pricier ($20 price difference). 

Just like M4U 8, Sony ANC headphones have the unoriginal name but look much better than M4U 8 headphones.

WH1000XM3 headphones have touch-sensitive controls which are harder to master than tactile controls on M4U 8 headphones but they definitely look more attractive.

WH1000XM3 are tighter than Bose QC 35 II headphones but still comfier than M4U 8 headphones. 

Just like Bose QC 35 II headphones, Sony WH1000XM3 ANC headphones come with the Sony Headphones Connect app and are Alexa-enabled. PSB M4U 8 headphones don’t come with an app and aren’t Alexa-enabled.

WH1000XM3 headphones offer longer playtime (30h with the ANC enabled) but M4U 8 headphones have replaceable batteries.

WH1000XM3 also offer better ANC performance than M4U 8 (they cancel out more noise). 

Just like M4U 8 headphones, WH1000XM3 support aptX HD but they are tuned to be bassy. M4U headphones offer more detailed sound reproduction. 


Beats Studio3 Wireless Noise Canceling Over-Ear HeadphonesBeats Studio3 Wireless Noise Canceling Over-Ear Headphones

Beats Studio3 is another extremely popular headphone model. It’s priced the same as Bose QC35 II and Sony WH1000XM3 (slightly pricier than M4U 8).

Beats Studio3 headphones are optimized for iOS devices so if you’re an Android user, you can stop reading this. The headphones will work with any Bluetooth-enabled device (including Android phones) but they will offer better performance with iOS devices. If you are an iOS user, you should know that these headphones have W1 chip which improves the connectivity with iOS devices (100ft range) and enables all kinds of advanced features

Beats Studio3 headphones are not as comfy as Bose or Sony headphones but are slightly less tight than M4U 8 headphones.

Beats Studio3 headphones deliver longer playtime (22h VS 15h) but PSB M4U 8 headphones have replaceable batteries while Studio3 headphones have a built-in battery.

Beats Studio3 headphones offer similar ANC performance as M4U 8. It’s really hard to tell which one is better. They are both good but none of them are great. If you need the best possible noise cancellation, go for Sony WH1000XM3 or Bose QC 35 II.

PSB M4U 8 headphones win when it comes to sound quality. Beats Studio3 headphones are not as bassy as some previous Beats headphones, but they’re still bass-heavy and they still have poorly defined midrange. M4U 8 headphones are more refined, more detailed, and more fun to listen to.


Comparison Table

HeadphonesPlaytime (50% vol.)Bluetooth version/aptX
PSB M4U 8Up to 15hV5.0/aptx HD
Bose QuietComfort 35 IIUp to 20hV4.1/No atpX support
Sony WH1000XM3Up to 30hV4.2/aptX HD + LDAC
Beats Studio3Up to 22hV4.1/N/A

Final Thoughts

PSB M4U 8 ANC headphones may look too ordinary but they are anything but ordinary when it comes to sonic performance. They offer above-average noise cancellation but they are still not on par with reference-grade ANC headphones (like Bose QC 35 Series II or Sony WH100XM3). Their sound signature is warm, exciting, and punchy which makes them great for all kinds of bass-oriented music. They are not extremely bassy but we think that bass heads are going to love them. Also, due to a slight peak around 3kHz, the vocals are intensified and more intelligible which make them a good choice for TV/movie watching. Their biggest quality is detailed and natural sound reproduction, and that’s what separates them from other ANC headphones. 


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PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC Review https://www.audioreputation.com/ps-audio-stellar-gain-cell-dac/ https://www.audioreputation.com/ps-audio-stellar-gain-cell-dac/#comments Thu, 19 Sep 2019 13:59:45 +0000 https://www.audioreputation.com/?p=5172 Looking for an entry-level audiophile-grade DAC/preamp combo? PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC could be just the thing you need. Priced at $1,700, Stellar Gain Cell DAC is not exactly cheap but, compared to other audiophile gear, especially to flagship models made by PS audio and other reputable manufacturers, this DAC/preamp combo device can be […]

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Looking for an entry-level audiophile-grade DAC/preamp combo? PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC could be just the thing you need. Priced at $1,700, Stellar Gain Cell DAC is not exactly cheap but, compared to other audiophile gear, especially to flagship models made by PS audio and other reputable manufacturers, this DAC/preamp combo device can be considered quite affordable. What’s even more important is that the PS Audio team managed to maximize the performance and offer more than you could expect at this price point. PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell could easily be the best DAC/preamp under $1,700 on the market. Want to know more? Read our in-depth review and find out everything about the features and performance of this magnificent device.


Every true audiophile knows that you’ll never get the same kind of performance with an integrated amp as you would get with a system made of separate components (phono stage + DAC/preamp + amp). The number of integrated amps offering audiophile-grade performance is very limited and they are usually extremely expensive. Most audiophiles would argue that even these high-end integrated amps cannot outperform a great system made of separate components. The majority of integrated amps are budget-oriented and the manufacturers try to maximize the value which, unfortunately, means that they have to make many compromises (cheaper components, less complex voltage regulations, lower power output, etc.). That’s why you have to go for separates if you want to have a true audiophile experience.

Stellar Gain Cell is an amazing analog preamp with balanced input/output circuitries, built-in high-quality DAC, and a built-in Class-A headphone amp. The PS Audio team invested years of research and innovation into this device and their main imperatives were affordable pricing and uncompromised sonic performance. After our testing, we can only confirm that Stellar Gain Cell is a piece of art. When combined with the right audio source, right amp, and right speakers, you’ll get an extraordinary musical experience.

Our recommendation is to pair the PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC/preamp with one of the amps from the Stellar series – two Stellar M700 mono amps (pricier option) or one Stellar S300 stereo amp (cheaper option). 

PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC

Check Price on Amazon

 

Recommended combo – PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC + PS Audio Stellar M700 Mono Amplifier (pair)

Approx. price – $4,700

 

Option 2 – PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC + PS Audio Stellar S300

Approx. price – $3,200

 

UPSIDES 

  • Simple, minimalistic design
  • Relatively small footprint
  • Excellent construction quality
  • Class-A preamp and headphone amp
  • Full-featured DAC
  • Volume controls based on the Gain Cell stage
  • Balanced analog XLR inputs and outputs
  • Unbalanced RCA inputs (x3) and outputs (x1)
  • 4 digital inputs – I2S (HDMI), coax x2, optical, and USB  
  • Compatible with DirectStream Memory Player
  • Comes with a remote 
  • Powerful and mesmerizing sonic performance

 
DOWNSIDES

  • Price (this is an affordable entry-level audiophile-grade preamp/DAC but it cannot be considered cheap)
  • Cheap-looking remote

 
VERDICT

If you are looking for a way into the world of audiophile equipment but don’t want to spend a fortune, PS Audio’s Stellar Gain Cell DAC, combined with S300 or M700 amps, is a smart and budget-friendly solution. Even those hard-core nitpicking audiophiles and music lovers will appreciate the performance of this PS Audio combo. It’s maybe not the best-performing audiophile-grade DAC/preamp on the market but there’s no chance that you can get anything better for the price. 

What’s in the box?

The packaging is nice and simple without excessive branding on the box. All the components are nicely protected. The packaging contains your Stellar Gain Cell DAC/preamp, IR remote, power cable, nicely written user manual, and a 3-year warranty. You’ll have to buy all the connection cables separately (not included in the box).

Specs

Specifications 
DIMENSIONS
Width17in
Height 3in
Depth 12in
Weight 13.5lb
INPUTS
AnalogRCA (3 stereo pairs)

Balanced XLR (1 stereo pair)
DigitalI2S x1

Coax x2

Optical x1

USB x1
OUTPUTS
AnalogUnbalanced RCA (1 stereo pair)

Balanced XLR (1 stereo pair)

6.35mm headphone output x1 (front panel)
DigitalNone
PERFORMANCE
Frequency response20Hz–20kHz (+0dB/- 0.25dB)

10Hz–100kHz (+0.1dB/-3.0dB)
THDLess than 0.025% (at 1kHz)

Less than 0.05 (at 20Hz-20kHz)
Gain12dB (+/-.5dB)
Input impedanceRCA – 47kΩ

XLR - 100kΩ
Output impedanceRCA - 100Ω

XLR – 200Ω
DAC SPECS
Supported sampling ratesI2S – up to 384kHz (PCM), DSD64, and DSD128

Coax – up to 192kHz (PCM)

Optical – up to 96kHz (PCM)

USB – up to 384kHz (PCM) and up to DSD128
HEADPHONE AMP SPECS
Supported impedance16Ω-300Ω
Power output300mW at 300Ω

3.5W at 16Ω
S/N RatioGreater than 95dB
NoiseLess than -80dB
THDLess than .05% at 300Ω

Less than .06% at 16Ω
Output impedanceLess than 4Ω
ADDITIONAL FEATURESVolume dial with .5db and 1dB steps (80dB total range)

Home Theater Mode (analog inputs)

Phase control (digital sources)

Filter control (PCM digital sources)

Trigger output (3.5mm) x2

IR remote

Design

The manufacturer decided to take a minimalistic approach. The chassis is made of aluminum and it’s compact and solid. It’s not too high (only 3in) which makes stacking a lot easier. 

The front panel is very simple – there’s a PS Audio logo (which doubles as the on/off button), OLED display, select button, volume dial, and headphone input (6.35mm). You are supposed to use the select button and volume dial to adjust all kinds of settings (select a digital filter, adjust display brightness, rename inputs, etc.). It sounds hard but it’s actually quite intuitive. If you don’t want to use the buttons on the unit itself, you can always use the remote that comes with it. 

Available in two colors

Available in two colors

All the inputs and outputs are located on the rear panel. The layout is quite simple. The inputs are arranged in two sections – digital inputs are on the left side and analog inputs are on the right side. All the outputs are in the middle. 

Stellar Gain Cell DAC features 4 digital inputs – USB, optical, coax (x2), and I2S input in the form of HDMI input. 

There are also two balanced analog inputs as well as 3 single-ended RCA inputs. RCA inputs are maybe a bit too close to each other which could be a problem when using some large RCA connectors.

When it comes to outputs, you have two balanced analog outputs (left and right), unbalanced single-ended RCA outputs, and two trigger outputs (for connecting to the amp).

Inputs and outputs

Inputs and outputs

Features

Stellar Gain Cell is designed around PS Audio’s trademark Gain Cell volume control circuitry designed by the founder of the PS Audio, Paul McGowan. This analog preamp is then combined with a DAC designed by Bob Stadtherr. The DAC is based on Sabre32 bit Hyperstream DAC chip which is widely recognized as one of the best in the industry. 

One thing the founder of PS Audio is very proud of and likes to brag about is the Gain Cell technology. The majority of preamps and DAC/preamp combos use the potentiometer-based volume control. The good thing about this traditional approach is that it’s cheap and easy to install, but the problem is that it disrupts the audio signal, adds some coloration to the sound, and causes some disbalance between the channels (2-3dB). If the manufacturer wants to maintain signal integrity, it has to use a complicated network of transformers, relays, attenuators, etc. Gain Cell is a much cleaner solution – it varies the gain of a signal as you turn the volume up or down. Gain Cell enables very accurate channel matching and prevents signal degradation (this applies to both speakers and headphones connected to the Stellar Gain Cell DAC). 

Gain Cell is one of the most important PS Audio trademarks

Gain Cell is one of the most important PS Audio trademarks

The manufacturer paired a complicated digital circuitry with their proprietary balanced Class A analog output stage and built-in custom-made FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) for the input stage. 

The manufacturer also implemented multiple power supplies for different sections of the circuit and tried to separate the DAC circuitry from the output-stage circuitry in order to preserve the signal integrity and prevent any interference. 

When it comes to digital inputs, you already know that there are 4 input types (optical, coax, I2S, and USB). I2S input is compatible with PS Audio’s Direct Stream Memory Player so you can use the DMP as a media source. The DAC supports PCM, and single and double-rate DSD playback (DSD64 and DSD128). The max supported sample rates are 384kHz via USB (asynchronous), 192kHz via coax input, and 92kHz via optical input. 

Another thing worth mentioning are the selectable filters that you can use with digital sources. There are three filters and each of them brings a subtle sound coloration. The default filter (Filter 1) has the least bright treble. The default filter simply ‘’shaves” some peaks in the treble region. According to the manufacturer, this filter offers the best musicality and that’s why they decided to make it the default filter. The second filter offers more accurate treble reproduction which could be perceived as brighter or more ringing. The third filter is somewhere in between the first and second. This filter offers the most accurate reproduction but it’s often perceived as ‘’too analytical”. 

The manufacturer also decided to add an analog headphone amp stage to this combo device. This built-in headphone amp can deliver up to 3.5W of Class-A power into any 16Ω headphone model and up to 300mW into 300Ω headphones. These are some pretty respectable numbers. 

The remote that comes with the Stellar Gain Cell DAC is probably the only thing we weren’t completely happy about. It’s too small and looks kind of cheap. It is perfectly responsive and we don’t have any complaints about that. Also, it’s definitely easier to use the remote than the buttons on the unit itself. Renaming the buttons In1 to In9 and assigning some names to them (like OPT, USB, BAL, RCA) would be a simple upgrade but it would make the remote much more user-friendly.

The remote is included in the package – it’s responsive but it’s small and looks cheap

The remote is included in the package – it’s responsive but it’s small and looks cheap

Setup and Performance

Setting up the Gain Cell DAC will take some time as you will have to select the audio sources you want to connect, then choose some interconnects (preferably some high-quality cables), select the amp that offers the best synergy (the manufacturer recommends two Stellar M700 or one S300), and match the existing device combo with some nice speakers or headphones.

You will also need some time to assign names to every input. This is not a difficult job but it requires a lot of repetition. You should also know that you don’t have to assign a name to each input – you can just try to memorize what each input button on the remote does. 

The first thing we’ve tested was the headphone amp performance (because it’s the easiest thing and doesn’t require connecting all the cables). We used our Audeze LCD-X open-back planar magnetic headphones, which are not that hard to drive (20Ω impedance, 103dB sensitivity). As a source, we used TIDAL. Stellar Gain Cell DAC/preamp delivered an incredibly musical and authoritative performance. The low end was mind-blowing, just like the musicality in the midrange. The vocals were present and clear, and the treble was never harsh or fatiguing. We were more than happy with that performance. Stellar Gain Cell proved to be an awesome headphone amp. It delivered slightly colored but still linear sound with a huge and airy soundstage. It was easy to pinpoint the exact position of each instrument. 

Testing the speakers required a bit more hassle. We decided to use relatively affordable Magnepan MMGi speakers, two M700 hybrid (Class-A/Class-D) mono amps, and Venom interconnects. As a music source, we used PS Audio DirectStream Memory Player connected to the preamp via I2S input. 

M700 is the better of two recommended options (the other option is S300 stereo amp). According to some previous reviews of the M700, this amp is one of the most revealing and musically transparent amps in its price range. It has a great output of 350W into one 8Ω channel or 700W into one 4Ω channel, and it’s stable at 2Ω. This amp combines a Class-A input stage with a Class-D output stage and has a proprietary Analog Cell circuitry between them. S300 amp features similar typology with the same Analog Cell circuitry and same Class-D output stage but has stereo outputs and lower power output per channel (140W into 8Ω, 300W into 4Ω). Both amps have two sets of high-quality 5-way binding posts to enable bi-wiring (in case you want to connect some large floorstanders). 

Our music system (DMP + Stellar Gain Cell DAC/preamp + M700x2 + Magnepan MMGi) was a perfect match. Together, they’ve created a synergy that we were able not only to hear but to feel. The system handled flawlessly any music thrown at it. It was in complete control over the playback regardless of the music genre or format.

It delivered good dynamic, powerful reproduction, low noise floor, and spacious sound stage. The sound was slightly colored and maybe not perfectly neutral (Filter 1), but it was joyful. The presentation was coherent, solid, and smooth at all times. 

You may have some doubts about Class-D amps, but you shouldn’t be, at least when it comes to PS Audio’s M700. This hybrid amp laid a robust and extended bass foundation (which is not a surprise – Class-D amplification never had problems with the low-end reproduction). What surprised us the most was the midrange and high-end reproduction. The mids and highs were impeccable. The amp gave a brilliant timbre to strings and woodwinds.  The high-end reproduction was never tiring or harsh. The performance was smooth and precise across the whole frequency spectrum. 

Our PS Audio combo delivered powerful and musical experience with an organic sound signature and great control over the playback. It exceeded all the expectations and went further than any other DAC/preamp/amp combo under $5,000 ever did. 

Final Thoughts

Achieving the highest possible performance while having the price in mind is a very difficult task but PS Audio completed it without taking any shortcuts and without making any ‘’rotten’’ compromises. Sure, Stellar Gain Cell preamp/DAC will never be as good as their BHK signature preamp or some other much more expensive preamp/DAC but it can definitely outperform any DAC/preamp combo device in its price category. Every true music lover will appreciate the performance and musicality of this amazing DAC/preamp.


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THE NEW SOUNDBOKS Review https://www.audioreputation.com/new-soundboks/ https://www.audioreputation.com/new-soundboks/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2019 16:02:53 +0000 https://www.audioreputation.com/?p=5130 Looking for the loudest speaker ever? The third version of a very popular SOUNDBOKS speaker line could be just the thing you need. The first two speakers (SOUNDBOKS and SOUNDBOKS 2) were a great success but the latest upgrade called NEW SOUNDBOKS (not SOUNDBOKS 3) is supposed to be the most advanced and best-sounding of […]

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Looking for the loudest speaker ever? The third version of a very popular SOUNDBOKS speaker line could be just the thing you need. The first two speakers (SOUNDBOKS and SOUNDBOKS 2) were a great success but the latest upgrade called NEW SOUNDBOKS (not SOUNDBOKS 3) is supposed to be the most advanced and best-sounding of them all. Our review of the latest SOUNDBOKS is here to introduce you to all the exciting upgrades and give you our honest opinion about the performance and sound quality of this monster speaker. We will also cover all the important features and try to compare its performance to some other large and loud speakers.


 

Audio Reputation Awards

SOUNDBOKS 1 was introduced two years ago and it was highly praised by the audience. At the time, it was advertised as the loudest Bluetooth speaker on the market but the market kept growing and a few louder speakers entered the race (DiamondBoxx XL, BumpBoxx speaker line, etc.). The second version brought a few cosmetic changes (black aluminum frame instead of silver frame and black aluminum corner balls), two sound modes (indoor and outdoor), and an upgraded battery (the new battery had 5 LED battery status indicators). SOUNDBOKS 2 was also 2dBs louder (119dB VS 122dB) but, to be completely honest, the difference in loudness wasn’t that noticeable. So, to conclude, SOUNDBOKS 2 wasn’t really a huge upgrade compared to SOUNDBOKS 1. That’s why the manufacturer came up with the third, completely redesigned version.

NEW SOUNDBOKS is maybe shaped the same as the previous two models and has the same battery but they have changed everything else – driver types, driver arrangement, crossovers (we will discuss this in the performance section), bass reflex port design, user interface, inputs, outputs, and many other things. The latest SOUNDBOKS is just slightly pricier than the second version and it’s definitely worth the extra money. 

NEW SOUNDBOKS has two 10in woofers and 1in tweeter, just like the SOUNDBOKS 2, but they are arranged differently. The tweeter is completely redesigned (it’s now a horn tweeter – something like the tweeters in Klipsch speakers). The same goes for the bass reflex port(s). This redesigned driver arrangement brings a completely different sound signature which can be defined as more audiophile-like. The bass is still powerful but it’s more controlled and it’s not as deep, the mids are so much clearer and more detailed, and the highs are really good. The new speaker is also 4dBs louder than the SOUNDBOKS 2 (126dB VS 122dB) which, at the moment, makes it the loudest speaker on the market.



NEW SOUNDBOKS also has a completely redesigned User Interface and improved connectivity. The speaker features Bluetooth 5.0 which offers more reliable connection and better range. Also, unlike SOUNDBOKS 2, NEW SOUNDBOKS supports wireless daisy-chaining (it can be paired with 4 other speakers) thanks to the new proprietary SKAA network

All in all, NEW SOUNDBOKS is almost nothing like the first two SOUNDBOKS speakers. So, let’s dig deeper and see if it’s really that good.

NEW SOUNDBOKS

UPSIDES

  • Excellent build quality 
  • Rugged design and IP65-certified internal electronic components
  • Simple user interface
  • Portable – battery operated
  • Very long playtime – 40h at mid-volume
  • Excellent connectivity – Bluetooth 5.0, SKAA wireless network, AUX IN, AUX OUT, XLR/6.35mm combo inputs
  • Wireless and wired daisy-chaining (compatible with SOUNDBOKS 1 and 2)
  • Powerful and extremely loud sound (126dB)
  • More refined sound signature compared to SOUNDBOKS 1 and SOUNDBOKS 2

 
DOWNSIDES

  • No dedicated track/playback control buttons (it has no play/pause and forward/rewind buttons)
  • It has no powerbank port for charging
  • It’s not as bassy as the SOUNDBOKS 2

 
VERDICT

At $1,000 price tag, NEW SOUNDBOKS is not your only option when it comes to extremely loud speakers (party speakers, tailgate speakers), but it could easily be the loudest and best sounding of them all. Compared to the previous two SOUNDBOKS versions, the NEW SOUNDBOKS represents a huge upgrade (especially in terms of connectivity and sound quality) and it’s definitely worth the extra money (after all, the latest version is only $100 pricier than the SOUNDBOKS 2). The manufacturer has kept all the good things (powerful and easily swappable battery, rugged design, high-quality materials) and upgraded all the other features. The only thing that could be a deal-breaker is the sound quality – the majority of people will perceive it as clearer and more refined with a more subtle bass emphasis, but if you are crazy about the bass, you will probably like the SOUNDBOKS 2 more.

Official video – NEW SOUNDBOKS

What’s in the box?

NEW SOUNDBOKS comes in a simple but quite large box. You’ll also get a battery (aka BATTERYBOKS), DC charger, and an envelope with some stickers, hex key, and 2-year warranty. It’s a simple and not very premium packaging but everything is nicely protected. 

NEW SOUNDBOKS box contents

Box contents

Specs

NEW SOUNDBOKS Specifications 
DIMENSIONS
Width17in
Height25.6in
Depth13in
Weight34lb
MATERIALS
CabinetPoplar plywood
FrameAluminum
GrilleStainless Steel
Ball CornersSilicone
DRIVERS
Woofers10in x2
Subwoofer1in x1 (compression driver tweeter)
Bass reflex portDual pulse reflex port
BATTERY (BATTERYBOKS)
TypeLiFePO4, rechargeable, swappable
Capacity99.84Wh/7.8Ah
Playtime40h (at 50% volume)

5h (at max volume)
Recharge timeUp to 3.5h
Battery protectionOver/under discharge, short circuit, overheat, voltage management
OTHER POWERING OPTIONSDC adapter
CONNECTIONS3.5mm input x1

3.5mm output x1 (for wired daisy-chaining)

Combo XLR/6.35mm input x2 (mic, mixer)
BLUETOOTH DETAILS
Bluetooth versionBluetooth V5.0
Supported Bluetooth profilesN/A
NFCNo
Bluetooth rangeUp to 100ft
POWER and LOUDNESS
Amp ClassClass D
Amp RMS power output72W x3 (216W)
MAX SPL126dB
ADDITIONAL FEATURESSKAA proprietary network (for wireless daisy-chaining) – TeamUp feature

Removable battery and grille

IP65-certified electronics and drivers

Simple user interface (Volume dial, power, and TeamUp button)

Design

Compared to the previous versions, the latest speaker from the SOUNDBOKS series looks the same. But only at first glance. The manufacturer kept that simple boxy design but they have actually introduced many changes. You just have to look at it more carefully.

The cabinet is made of poplar plywood while the previous two versions had cabinets made of birch plywood. The idea was to reduce the weight without affecting the performance. NEW SOUNDBOKS is not much lighter than the SOUNDBOKS 2, but that lighter cabinet allowed them to add some hardware without increasing the overall weight of the speaker. The cabinet is coated with a thin layer of plastic which makes it more weather resistant. The frame is reinforced with aluminum and there’s also a silicone ball on each corner. The previous versions had aluminum balls but they were easy to scratch and they didn’t absorb the impacts and vibrations as well as the silicone balls.

The front side is covered with a honeycomb steel grille but it’s not the same kind of grille than the one on the SOUNDBOKS 2. This one has larger perforations which enable better airflow and, consequently, better audio performance. This grille is also removable which allows you to take it off and customize it (paint it or remove the SOUNDBOKS logo if you don’t like it). The grille protects two 10in woofers and one 1in compression driver tweeter.

Front panel

Front panel

The left panel stayed unchanged (mostly). There’s a simple battery compartment at the top and a steel carrying handle in the middle. You will find the same handle on the opposite side, too. Another thing that makes the NEW SOUNDBOKS different from the SOUNDBOKS 1 and 2 is the design of the bass reflex ports. The first two versions had bass reflex ports on the front side while the NEW SOUNDBOKS has a huge hole between two carrying handles (two handle ports with a perforated mesh tube between them). This kind of bass reflex port design is supposed to enable higher quality bass (not deeper bass) and better airflow.

Left panel

Left panel (battery compartment, handle, and pulse reflex port)

On the right panel, there’s a completely redesigned control panel, another carrying handle, and another handle port. 

Right panel

Right panel (controls, handle, and pulse reflex port)

The new control panel consists of 2 buttons (power and TeamUp button) and a large volume dial. There’s a nice-looking circular LED volume/Bluetooth indicator surrounding the volume dial. Spinal Tap fans will be happy to know that NEW SOUNDBOKS, just like the previous two, goes to 11. The TeamUp button is probably the most interesting feature and we will discuss its function in the next section. For now, you should know that there are three TeamUp modes – SOLO, HOST, and JOIN. 

Redesigned control panel

Redesigned control panel

On the rear panel, there’s another interesting upgrade. Unlike the previous two versions which had only AUX inputs, the NEW SOUNDBOKS is much more versatile when it comes to physical connections. It has 3.5mm AUX input like the SOUNDBOKS 1 and 2, but it also has 3.5mm AUX output (can be used for daisy-chaining), and two XLR/6.35mm combo ports. The panel with all the connections is called the PRO PANEL.

PRO PANEL

PRO PANEL

As you can see, SOUNDBOKS 2 and NEW SOUNDBOKS look the same at first glance, but they are two very different speakers. This wasn’t the case with SOUNDBOKS 1 and SOUNDBOKS 2. It’s also important to mention that none of the changes/upgrades were done just to make the speaker prettier – each upgrade has some kind of performance-related justification (grille, corner balls, bass reflex ports). 

Features

As mentioned previously, the manufacturer kept all the good features of the previous SOUNDBOKS 2 and upgraded all the others. 

NEW SOUNDBOKS is made of high-quality materials. The manufacturer decided to use the poplar plywood instead of birch plywood (because it’s lighter) and replaced the aluminum balls with silicone balls (because they absorb the vibrations and impacts better). So, the NEW SOUNDBOKS is even more rugged than the previous SOUNDBOKS 2. Also, all the electronic parts are protected with a water-resistant coating which makes them IP65-certified. The top panel is coated with a thick layer of plastic which makes it more spill-resistant. So, the speaker, as a whole, is not fully waterproof but all the internal parts are water-resistant and you don’t have to worry if you accidentally spill a drink over it. 

The driver arrangement is very different. Like the SOUNDBOKS 2, NEW SOUNDBOKS has 2 10in woofers but their performance and their roles are not the same (read the performance section to find out more). Both speaker models also have 1in tweeters but not the same kind of tweeters. The SOUNDBOKS 2 has soft dome tweeter while the new version has compression driver tweeter which is similar to the horn tweeters on the Klipsch speakers. The idea was to achieve better sound dispersion and clearer mid and treble reproduction. The bass reflex port is also completely redesigned – instead of two front-firing 56mm ports, you have one large (or rather two paired) pulse reflex ports. The drivers are powered by three highly efficient Class-D amps (72W each, 216W combined RMS output). The max loudness (max SPL) is also improved – the NEW SOUNDBOKS can reach 126dBs. 

Driver arrangement – 10in woofers x2 + 1in compression driver tweeter + custom pulse reflex port

Driver arrangement – 10in woofers x2 + 1in compression driver tweeter + custom pulse reflex port

The grille is easily removable (the speaker comes with all the necessary tools) and you can customize it and give it a different look – you can paint it or you can remove the SOUNDBOKS. logo. 

One of the best features of the previous two versions was the battery. The first SOUNDBOKS had a simple-looking and easily removable/swappable battery. The SOUNDBOKS 2 brought us the upgraded battery (BATTERYBOKS) with a simple LED battery status indicator and you can find this same battery on the NEW SOUNDBOKS. The battery capacity is rated at 7.8Ah/99.84Wh and, just like the battery on the previous SOUNDBOKS version, it can deliver up to 40h at moderate volumes (5h at full volume). It can be recharged in less than 4h and it can also be easily replaced with a spare battery. You can buy an additional BATTERYBOKS for $150. One slightly disappointing thing is the lack of USB charge-out port. Numerous Bluetooth speakers of this size have at least one powerbank port for charging but this one doesn’t. 

Swappable BATTERYBOKS – up to 40h at 50% vol (up to 5h at 100% vol)

Swappable BATTERYBOKS – up to 40h at 50% vol (up to 5h at 100% vol)

The control panel is maybe redesigned but it’s still very easy to use. Unlike the SOUNDBOKS 2, NEW SOUNDBOKS doesn’t come with indoor/outdoor dial. Instead, there’s a simple power button, volume dial, and TeamUp button. TeamUp button is used for wireless daisy chaining and you can select one of three modes – SOLO (one speaker playing), HOST (the master speaker in a daisy chain), and JOIN (the slave speaker in a daisy chain).  

Also, instead of placing the AUX input on the right side next to the volume dial (SOUNDBOKS 1 and 2), the manufacturer installed a completely new input/output panel called the PRO PANEL. This panel houses AUX input, AUX output, and two XLR/6.35mm inputs. At the top of the PRO PANEL, there’s a small button called the BOND button which is used for advanced SKAA network settings (we will explain the term ‘’SKAA network’’ in a minute). Compared to SOUNDBOKS 1 and 2, the NEW SOUNDBOKS is much more versatile. You can use the AUX output on the NEW SOUNDBOKS to daisy-chain two NEW SOUNDBOKS speakers (or SOUNDBOKS 2 and NEW SOUNDBOKS). 

Wired daisy-chaining (compatible with SOUNBOKS 1 and SOUNDBOKS 2)

Wired daisy-chaining (compatible with SOUNBOKS 1 and SOUNDBOKS 2)

You can also connect a DJ mixer or a mic (or both) via XLR/6.35mm combo ports. 

CONNECTING A DJ MIXER

 

CONNECTING A MIC

NEW SOUNDBOKS has an upgraded Bluetooth module. The previous SOUNDBOKS 2 featured Bluetooth 3.0 while the NEW SOUNDBOKS has Bluetooth 5.0. What’s even more interesting is that Bluetooth is only one of two wireless protocols used by this speaker. The Bluetooth connection is used for connecting any Bluetooth-enabled audio source (phone, tablet, PC, laptop) to the HOST speaker. The Bluetooth 5.0 has an extended range of up to 100ft and enables lower power consumption. We weren’t able to find any info on the supported Bluetooth profiles but since the advertised Bluetooth latency is 30-40ms, it probably supports aptX.

The previous SOUNDBOKS versions didn’t support wireless daisy-chaining and this the next big upgrade. Unlike the majority of manufacturers, the SOUNDBOKS people decided not to use Bluetooth connection for daisy-chaining (probably because it’s unreliable). Instead, they decided to use the SKAA wireless protocol which is a similar thing but offers lower latency than Bluetooth. Also, SKAA protocol reduces the interference thanks to a proprietary software solution called Walking Frequency Diversity. SKAA network allows you to pair up to 5 NEW SOUNDBOKS speakers together (one HOST speaker and 4 SLAVE speakers). 



The last noticeable upgrade is the SOUNDBOKS app. Now, we can’t tell you much about the app since it hasn’t been released yet (it was supposed to appear on Google Play and App Store at the end of August but they postponed the release). At the moment, we just know that it will allow you to control the playback, adjust the volume (master volume, mic volume, mixer volume), and perform updates. It would be nice to see some EQ settings and/or EQ presets, and stereo/party mode settings (when two speakers are paired together). The good thing is that you don’t really need this app to pair two or multiple speakers together – you just need to press the TeamUp button, select the HOST mode on the speaker connected to your phone, and select the JOIN mode on all the other speakers. Here are some app screenshots we were able to find. 

SOUNDBOKS app

SOUNDBOKS app – screenshots

Note: this part of the review will be updated after we test the app.

In the end, here’s a simple comparison between the SOUNDBOKS 2 and NEW SOUNDBOKS we found on the SOUNDBOKS website. This comparison lists all the important differences between the two speakers. 

SOUNDBOKS 2 VS NEW SOUNDBOKS

SOUNDBOKS 2 VS NEW SOUNDBOKS (source – SOUNDBOKS website)

Performance

We were quite happy with the SOUNDBOKS 1 and SOUNDBOKS 2, but the NEW SOUNDBOKS really surprised us. This is, by far, the best performer of all three speakers from the SOUNDBOKS line. 

We didn’t perform any stress tests but we are quite happy with the build quality and durability of the speaker. 

The battery offered more than satisfying performance – delivered playtimes were pretty much on par with the advertised playtimes (40h at 40-50% volume).

Bluetooth connection worked like a charm. The range is impressive and the connection is perfectly stable, even at 50ft distance. This is definitely an improvement compared to the SOUNDBOKS 2. Pairing procedure is simple. NFC quick pairing is not supported, which is a small downside. In order to pair your phone with the speaker, you have to turn on the speaker, select mode (SOLO (default) or HOST), enable the Bluetooth connection on your phone, and find a unique TEAM ID number in the list of available devices. You’ll be paired in a few seconds and the speaker will remember your device so you don’t have to repeat the procedure every time.

As mentioned previously, the NEW SOUNDBOKS supports wireless and wired daisy-chaining. The manufacturer decided to use a proprietary SKAA network for wireless daisy-chaining. SKAA wireless transceiver is built inside each NEW SOUNDBOKS speaker and when you select the HOST or JOIN mode, these transceivers are used for sending and receiving the data. One NEW SOUNDBOKS can be paired with up to 4 speakers (one speaker in HOST mode and 4 speakers in JOIN mode). The manufacturer made the process of pairing multiple speakers together super-simple. You have to connect your phone (via Bluetooth) to the HOST speaker first. After that, you have to turn on the other speaker (or speakers) and press the TeamUp button until the JOIN LED indicator lights up. The speakers will be paired in a few seconds. 

Wireless daisy-chaining is super-simple

Wireless daisy-chaining is super-simple

Five is not the maximum number of speakers you can pair together. You can, in fact, pair an unlimited number of speakers. You just need a little bit of imagination. For example, you can use the AUX output ports on each of 5 daisy-chained NEW SOUNDBOKS speakers to connect five additional speakers (they don’t even have to be NEW SOUNDBOKS speakers – you can connect any speaker). That way, you will get 10 speakers playing simultaneously. 

The process of daisy-chaining 10 NEW SOUNDBOKS speakers is even more wireless than adding different speakers to the existing SKAA network. You will need 10 speakers and only one AUX cable. It’s so simple – you will make two separate SKAA networks with two NEW SOUNDBOKS speakers in HOST mode connected to each other via AUX cable. 

It may sound complicated but it really isn’t. You have to pair your phone or any other device to the first HOST speaker and then pair 4 speakers with it (that’s the first SKAA network). After that, you can connect the second HOST speaker to the first HOST speaker via AUX cable (use the AUX OUT port on the first HOST and AUX IN port on the second HOST) and then connect four additional NEW SOUNDBOKS speakers to the second HOST (that’s the second SKAA network). You can repeat this procedure and connect 15 (3 HOST speakers and 3 separate SKAA networks) or 20 speakers (4 HOST speakers and 4 separate SKAA networks). In theory, the number of speakers you can pair together is unlimited. 

Recommended Reading :

 
Wireless daisy chaining works perfectly without any interference or signal loss (for the purpose of our testing, we have only paired two of them). The only problem with wireless daisy-chaining is that there’s no way to make a stereo system – the speakers will play the audio in party mode. The SOUNDBOKS app will maybe allow you to choose between stereo and party mode but there’s no way to tell that without the app (and, as you know, the app hasn’t been released, yet).

Another important thing to mention is the purpose of the BOND button (located on the PRO PANEL). This button/indicator is used for some advanced settings when the speaker is in JOIN mode. BOND button/indicator will flash orange when the speaker is connected to the HOST and the orange will turn to green when the speaker remembers the HOST (it happens after 30mins of connection). When the ‘’slave’’ speaker remembers the HOST, it will try to find it whenever you turn it on and activate the JOIN mode. You can press this button twice if you want your speaker to forget the previous HOST or 6 times to completely reset the SKAA network. 

Sound quality

The most noticeable change compared to the first two versions is the change in sound signature. Most people will consider it an upgrade, but some of you might not like it. The manufacturer was aiming for more refined sound with a more subtle bass emphasis and cleaner mids and highs. They have changed the tweeter design (compression driver tweeter instead of soft dome tweeter) as well as the bass reflex port design (large side-firing pulse reflex port instead of two front-firing ports). SOUNDOKS 2 and NEW SOUNDBOKS have the same 10in woofers but they have different crossovers. Both woofers on the SOUNDBOKS 2 were in charge of playing the lows (2-way system) while the top woofer on the NEW SOUNDBOKS plays lows and mids, and the bottom woofer plays only lows (2.5-way system). 



All these changes resulted in a different sound signature and, if you are into bass-heavy sound, you might not like it. SOUNDBOKS 2 delivered slightly deeper, meatier, and a bit more distorted bass at high volumes. The NEW SOUNDBOKS puts an emphasis on the upper bass and lower midrange frequencies which makes the bass a bit punchier and more dynamic. The midrange (especially the vocals) is much cleaner and the treble is less bright than it was on the SOUNDBOKS 2. The highs are still not perfectly detailed or sparkling but they are very much enjoyable. The manufacturer definitely managed to make the sound more refined and less distorted. It’s not exactly an audiophile-grade audio output but it’s nicely balanced, punchy, and fun to listen. 

The Competition

At $1,000 price point, the number of competitors is not that small. We’ve decided to present to you only three of them – SOUNDBOKS 2 (the previous version), BUMBPBOXX UPROCK V1S, and DiamondBoxx XL2, but you should be aware that there are many more viable choices. If you are looking for a loud party speaker, you could also try SONY GTK-XB90 or one of the JBL PartyBox speakers (PartyBox 300 or PartyBox 1000). If you need something more rugged but also loud and portable, you could try Altec Lansing’s Xpedition 8 or JBL Boombox. The following three speakers are the loudest competitors on the market. They are all portable (battery-operated), large, and extremely loud.


SOUNDBOKS 2SOUNDBOKS 2

We’ve been comparing SOUNDBOKS 2 and NEW SOUNDBOKS throughout this review so there’s no need to repeat everything. Here’s a shorty summary.

The NEW SOUNDBOKS is only $100 pricier than the SOUNDBOKS 2 and, considering all the upgrades, we think that the NEW SOUNDBOKS is worth the extra money.

They look alike but there are so many differences between them. The driver arrangement is almost completely different and the sound is now more sophisticated and more balanced. The NEW SOUNDBOKS is also 4dBs louder (126dB VS 122dB). The construction is also upgraded (different cabinet material, different grille, silicone corner balls instead of aluminum corner balls). 

The old SOUNDBOKS had only one AUX input, while the new one has a lot more connections (AUX IN, AUX OUT, two XLR/6.35mm inputs). The NEW SOUNDBOKS has an upgraded Bluetooth version (Bluetooth 5.0 VS Bluetooth 3.0) which improves the connection quality and range.

SOUNDBOKS 2 didn’t support daisy-chaining while the NEW SOUNDBOKS supports both wired (AUX output) and wireless daisy chaining (proprietary SKAA network). You can connect up to 4 ‘’slave’’ speakers to one HOST speaker but you can connect an indefinite number of NEW SOUNDBOKS speakers together by connecting multiple HOST speakers via AUX cable.

The NEW SOUNDBOKS is also supposed to come with the SOUNDBOKS app while there’s no app for the SOUNDBOKS 2. 


BUMPBOXX UPROCK V1SBUMPBOXX UPROCK V1S

UPROCK V1S is the largest and loudest of all the speakers from the BUMPBOXX line. It’s priced slightly under $900 which makes it $100 cheaper than the NEW SOUNDBOKS. Each speaker has its advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a short comparison. 

V1S features the old-school boombox design while the NEW SOUNDBOKS features a bit simpler and more refined look but there’s no point in discussing which one looks better. They are both well-built but the NEW SOUNDBOKS looks a bit more rugged and has IP65-certified internal components.

V1S has four 8in woofers, two 4in midrange woofers, and two 4in horn tweeters. It’s crazy loud, just like the NEW SOUNDBOKS (125dB VS 126dB). V1S packs a crazy punch, probably stronger than the NEW SOUNDBOKS but SOUNDBOKS sounds cleaner. V1S has a much stronger bass emphasis. 

V1S will deliver shorter playtime (12h VS 40h at 50% volume). On the other hand, V1S has two USB charge-out ports, while the NEW SOUNNDBOKS has none. 

They are both versatile when it comes to connectivity but V1S still has the edge over the NEW SOUNDBOKS. They both feature Bluetooth connectivity, but V1S offers slightly better range. They both have AUX inputs, too. The NEW SOUNDBOKS has AUX output port for wired daisy-chaining while the V1S has 6.35mm input and output. V1S doesn’t support wireless daisy-chaining while the NEW SOUNDBOKS can be paired with up to 4 NEW SOUDBOKS speakers wirelessly. V1S has more physical connections including guitar input (+ guitar volume dial), RCA inputs, and mic input (it also comes with a wireless mic). V1S can also play audio from a USB stick or from a micro SD card. It also features more controls than the NEW SOUNDBOKS – it has onboard playback controls, master volume dial, bass and treble knobs, echo and mic volume knobs.

NEW SOUNDBOKS comes with the SOUNDBOKS app. There’s no app for the V1S but you will get a remote instead. 


DiamondBoxx Model XL2DiamondBoxx Model XL2

DiamondBoxx Model XL2 is kind of out of NEW SOUNDBOKS’s league, especially in terms of price (priced slightly under $2000). 

XL2 does offer more refined sound with even deeper bass, more detailed mids, and sparkling highs, but it’s hard to say that it is much better than the NEW SOUNDBOKS.  NEW SOUNDBOKS still has some advantages over the XL2. 

XL2 (the version with 462Wh battery) delivers longer playtime (50h VS 40h at 50% vol), but the NEW SOUNDOKS has easily swappable battery while the XL2 has a built-in battery (you can’t take it out and replace it with a fully charged spare battery). NEW SOUNDBOKS doesn’t have USB charge-out ports while the XL2 has one. 

NEW SOUNDBOKS is more versatile when it comes to connections. They both have Bluetooth but DiamondBoxx XL2 has Bluetooth 4.2 while the NEW SOUNDBOKS features more advanced Bluetooth 5.0. They also both support wireless daisy-chaining but you can only pair two XL2 speakers (the NEW SOUNDBOKS can be paired wirelessly with 4 other speakers). Both speakers also support wired daisy-chaining and have AUX inputs. XL2 doesn’t have mic or DJ mixer inputs while the NEW SOUNDBOKS has two XLR/6.35mm combo ports. 

NEW SOUNDBOKS comes with the SOUNDBOKS app while there’s no app for the DiamondBoxx XL2. 


Comparison Table 

SpeakerPlaytime (at 50% vol.)Max Loudness
NEW SOUNDBOKSUp to 40 hours126dB
SOUNDBOKS 2Up to 40 hours122dB
BUMPBOXX UPROCK V1SUp to 12 hours125dB
DiamondBoxx Model XL2Up to 50 hours121dB

Final Thoughts

If you are looking for the perfect party/tailgate/outdoor speaker under $1,000, it would be a huge mistake not to consider the NEW SOUNDBOKS. It’s rugged, it has an impressive battery (which is, by the way, easily swappable), it’s incredibly loud, versatile, and it sounds great. Give it a chance and you’ll be blown away.  


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10 Best Wireless Surround Sound Systems In 2019 https://www.audioreputation.com/best-wireless-surround-sound-systems/ https://www.audioreputation.com/best-wireless-surround-sound-systems/#comments Wed, 28 Aug 2019 09:21:36 +0000 https://www.audioreputation.com/?p=1250 If you are tired of all the cables lying randomly all over your home and you are searching for a hassle-free surround sound system for your home theater, the best thing you can do is to go wireless. Our article on 10 best wireless surround sound systems is designed to help you understand all the […]

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If you are tired of all the cables lying randomly all over your home and you are searching for a hassle-free surround sound system for your home theater, the best thing you can do is to go wireless. Our article on 10 best wireless surround sound systems is designed to help you understand all the important things you need to know about wireless surround sound systems and make the best possible choice based on your needs and your budget. We have also made a list of 10 best wireless surround sound systems so you don’t even have to spend hours reading about different features of different products – you can read our reviews and find out everything you need to know to make a decision. We have tried to list all the upsides and downsides of these surround sound systems and make your search much easier.

Introduction

Surround sound systems have been popular for quite some time. People simply love the convenience of having cinema-like experience without going to the actual cinema. The first surround sound systems appeared during the 1980s but they really became popular in the 2000s. A lot of technological innovations and improvements in audio and video equipment made it possible for regular people to have their own small home theater systems. Today, many homes in the US are equipped with some kind home theater system (TV or projector, DVD or Blu-Ray player, AV receiver + set of surround sound speakers). The experience could not be better, right? Well, there is still one inconvenience. Don’t you hate all those cables going under your carpet, or even worse, lying on the floor or dangling from your walls? Unless your house or your entertainment center is pre-wired, you will have to spend a lot of time wiring your home theater system, connecting all the speakers to the receiver, and trying to make all those cables ‘’invisible’’. All that hassle makes you wonder if there is some simpler and more convenient solution. Well, as a matter of fact, there is. The last decade was really big when it comes to wireless sound. First, some portable Bluetooth speakers appeared. Then, the manufacturers made it possible for us to pair two wireless (Bluetooth) speakers and use them as left and right stereo channels. After that, wireless (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi) multiroom speaker systems appeared and, in the end, some wireless surround sound systems were introduced.



These wireless surround sound systems are the main subject of our article and we are going to talk about different types of wireless surround sound systems, their characteristics, the amount of freedom they offer, different layouts (simulated and true surround sound), and we are going to present to you our list of 10 best wireless surround sound systems.

What Is Surround Sound and Do You Really Need It?

Well, since you are here, you probably want something stronger than a pair of small built-in TV speakers. Surround sound is not the only option if you just want something louder than your TV. If that’s your only desire, you can check our articles on best wireless speakers for TV and best soundbars in 2019.

If you watch a lot of movies (using Blu-ray, DVD, or some of the streaming services) with surround sound audio tracks (5.1, 7.1, etc.), and you want to get the best possible experience, then surround sound system is what you need. Surround sound system puts you (the viewer) in the center of the action and makes you feel like you are in your own private cinema.

Wireless Surround Sound System

Surround sound system is a set of speakers (you need at least 5 speakers and one subwoofer in order to call it true surround sound system, but you can also buy some smaller system (less than 5 speakers) that offers simulation of surround sound thanks to a little piece of software and to a specific driver placement). In a traditional (wired) setup you will also need some AV receiver in order to supply power and audio signal to all those speakers, but if you decide to go wireless, you are probably not going to need it (in some cases, the speakers are battery powered, in other cases each speaker has its own power supply cable or it’s powered by the subwoofer with built-in amplifiers).

The most popular surround sound system configuration is 5.1 (5 speakers – 3 of them are in front of you (Front Left, Front Right, Center) and 2 on each side of your central sitting place (Surround Left and Surround Right) and one subwoofer). Today’s DVD and Blu-ray discs feature mandatory 5.1 audio track (Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1 audio format).

If you want to improve your experience even more, you can expand your surround sound system by adding two speakers behind your ”sweet spot” (Surround Back Left and Right) and get 7.1 or add an additional subwoofer and make 7.2 surround sound system but, in order to get the maximum out of this system, you will need to play some Blu-ray disc with Dolby True HD or DTS HD audio track. Some of the latest Blu-ray movies feature Dolby Atmos or DTS:X audio tracks and, in order to hear that kind of surround sound properly, you are going to need one, two, or four height (or ceiling) speakers (which means that you have to expand surround sound system to 7.1.2, or 7.1.4).



For most people, 5.1 configuration is more than enough. All the DVD and Blu-ray movies, as well as movies and series from Netflix and Hulu, have 5.1 surround sound track and you don’t really need more than that to get a truly immersive listening experience.

Most of the wireless surround sound systems on our list are 5.1 and some of them can even simulate DTS:X or Dolby Atmos audio formats. As you might assume, simulation is never as good as the real thing, but still, something is better than nothing.

Wired Surround Sound VS Wireless Surround Sound

Wireless surround sound systems have been introduced a few years ago and you can’t really expect them to be perfect. The quality of speakers (drivers) is not a problem but you might experience some transmission issues with some wireless systems (wired systems are more reliable). If you really want a perfect wireless surround system, you will definitely have to pay much more than you would pay for a wired surround sound system. If you compare two affordable (or cheap) systems within the same price range, you will definitely be happier with the sound coming from the wired one. If you are prepared to pay more than, let’s say $1000, the difference in sound quality (between wired and wireless) becomes less noticeable. So, basically, the fact that some surround system is wireless doesn’t have to mean that it’s not good (especially if you buy one of those high-end systems).

Types of Wireless Surround Sound Systems

There are two types of wireless surround sound systems – Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (some use your home Wi-Fi network, others make their own 5GHz network and don’t use your home Wi-Fi at all). Wi-Fi connection is, in general, more reliable and more expensive. Wi-Fi systems usually don’t feature Bluetooth so you can’t use them to stream music via Bluetooth from Bluetooth-enabled devices but most of them have their own apps and you can access some of the supported online streaming services through the app and stream the music that way (but you won’t be able to stream the music stored on your phone or PC). Wi-Fi systems also offer much greater range. So, if your home theater is in a large room, you will be better with a Wi-Fi surround sound. In terms of sound quality, Wi-Fi is definitely better than Bluetooth. Bluetooth audio has to be compressed prior to transmission which means that you are not getting Hi-Fi audio. Wi-Fi allows transmission without compression so you can expect much better sound quality. Bluetooth systems are usually easier to install than Wi-Fi systems and that’s probably their only advantage (except for the price).

Best Wireless Surround Sound Systems – Comparison Table

Wireless Surround Sound SystemsRatingPriceReview
Sonos 5.14.6Check PriceRead Review
Nakamichi Shockwafe4.3Check PriceRead Review
Enclave Audio4.0Check PriceRead Review
JBL Bar4.0Check PriceRead Review
Vizio S4251w-B44.4Check PriceRead Review
Yamaha YAS-207BL4.1Check PriceRead Review
Vizio SB4051-C04.0Check PriceRead Review
Sony HT-Z9F4.6Check PriceRead Review
Polk Audio3.0Check PriceRead Review
Damson S3.9Check PriceRead Review

When you click on “Check Price” you will be redirected to Amazon.com.


Are They Really Wireless?

The majority of so-called wireless surround sound systems is not actually wireless. Most of them have the main unit (soundbar in most cases) that has to be connected to your TV through wires and it also has to be plugged into the wall outlet (SONOS and other Wi-Fi systems). This main unit receives the signal from the TV and then transmits it wirelessly to other speakers. All the other speakers also have to be plugged in so it’s hard to say that any of these ‘’wireless’’ surround sound systems are truly wireless. Bluetooth surround sound systems are even less wireless than Wi-Fi systems. Soundbars are always wired and they send the audio signal to other speakers (in some cases, you will only get a wireless (Bluetooth) subwoofer while you need to connect surround speakers to the subwoofer or to the soundbar through wires). So, all these systems are wireless in a sense that you can stream music wirelessly from all the supported devices (Bluetooth-enabled devices for Bluetooth surround sound system or Wi-Fi enabled devices using the same Wi-Fi home network for Wi-Fi surround sound system). These wireless systems will reduce the number of cables (since you don’t have to stretch cables across your room and connect each speaker to the receiver) but you can’t eliminate all the cables – they won’t magically disappear.



We have decided to mention 2 additional wireless surround sound systems on top of those 10 on our list of best wireless surround sound systems. These two systems offer the greatest autonomy (in case you need your system to be as wireless as possible). The first one is Damson S Home Theater System (only subwoofer and soundbar have to be plugged in while the surround speakers are completely wireless and battery-powered) and the second one is ONEmicro 5.1 (all the speakers are wireless and only the subwoofer needs to be plugged in). If you decide to buy one of these two systems, you should be aware that you will have to make some compromises (especially when it comes to ONEmicro 5.1). To be more specific, you will have to sacrifice the sound quality in order to get more wire-free environment. That kind of compromise is inevitable at the moment but who knows what will happen in a year or two. In this article, we will be dealing with the systems that are slightly ”less wireless” than the previously mentioned ONEmicro5.1 and Damson S Home.

Should You Go Wireless?

Well, in the end, it’s all up to you but you should know a few important things.

First of all, you can’t buy a decent wireless surround sound system for less than $300 (maybe $250) and that’s considered cheap when it comes to wireless surround sound. Most of those on our list of 10 best wireless surround sound systems cost more than $500, and some even more than $1,000 (or $1,500).

Second, they are usually not as good as wired surround sound systems (in terms of performance, reliability, and sound quality) and you are basically paying more for the wireless transmission and convenience than for the sound. They are definitely not crappy but you can get similar performance for half the money if you decide to buy a wired system. Unfortunately, you will lose the convenience that comes with wireless technology.

Third, most of the wireless surround sound systems are not completely wireless. In some cases, they need to be plugged into the wall outlet, in other cases, surround speakers have to be connected to the subwoofer. You will eliminate most of the audio cables (connecting the speakers to the receiver) but you will still have all those power cables and you will need a wall outlet for each of the speakers.

Having all these downsides (price, reduction and not elimination of the cables) in mind, we still think that you should buy one of these wireless systems if you have that kind of money. If your floor is covered with cables and you cannot stand it anymore, eliminating those longest (speaker cables) going from your receiver to the surround or rear speakers will definitely make a difference. You can hide all those other cables behind your TV stand but it’s much harder to hide the speaker cables. The best solution is buying a wireless surround sound system. And if you go for one of those above $500 or $1000, you will be seriously amazed by the sound.


1. Sonos 5.1 Home Theater System PLAYBAR, SUB, PLAY:1

Sonos 5.1

Check Price on Amazon

Sonos is one of the leaders in the wireless audio industry. This is one of the first companies that came up with the idea of wireless (wi-fi) audio equipment and brought that idea to reality. SONOS is well-known for making wi-fi smart speakers and multiroom wireless speakers but they’ve decided to expand a little bit and start making home theater systems. They made a soundbar called PLAYBAR first and, after that, they decided to pair it with some of their other products. There is a lot of possible combinations – you can combine one PLAYBAR (or PLAYBASE, which is SONOS wireless sound base) with SONOS subwoofer (simply named SUB) and 2 speakers (either PLAY:1, PLAY:2, or PLAY:3) and make your own 5.1 surround sound system. The best thing is that you don’t have to buy all these speakers at once and splash more than $1,500. You can start with the PLAYBAR (which is the main unit and the one that connects wirelessly to other speakers) and then make upgrades. We have decided to present to you the combo PLAYBAR + SUB + 2xPLAY:1 but you can make your own combination (buy PLAYBASE instead of PLAYBAR, PLAY:3 or PLAY:5 instead of PLAY1).

In our opinion, this is the best wireless surround sound system on the market. It offers great sound quality, it is really simple to install and use, and SONOS app works flawlessly (you have to use it to calibrate and control the surround sound system because there is no remote).  The greatest flaws of this system are limited number of inputs (that’s an understatement since there are only one digital optical input and two Ethernet ports) and lack of support for DTS surround sound.

 What’s in the box?

Each piece of equipment comes in a separate box. Everything looks really premium and expensive – after all, it would be a surprise if that wasn’t the case considering the price of the system.

PLAYBAR weighs almost 12 pounds, it’s 3.35 inches high, 35.43 inches wide, and 5.51 inches deep. Besides the PLAYBAR, you will get a power cord, digital optical cable, Ethernet cable, Quick start guide, and a warranty card.

You have two options when it comes to PLAYBAR placement. You can mount it on the wall (wall mount kit is not included and you have to buy it separately – you can find PLAYBAR wall mount kit on Amazon for less than $40) or you can place it on your TV stand in front of your TV. It’s probably better to mount it on the wall – that way the drivers are facing toward you and make the soundstage much wider.  

SONOS tends to make simple and elegant audio equipment. PLAYBAR is a perfect example of that kind of approach. The front panel is completely covered with a black and soft grille made of acoustic fabric. The rest of the cabinet is made of hard plastic with a few metal elements. On the front panel, there is also IR sensor – PLAYBAR can learn commands from your TV remote or any universal remote so if you don’t want to use the app, you can use one of your remotes. There are 3 control buttons on the left side panel – play/pause (you can use it to mute the volume while watching TV), and two volume buttons. Between play/pause/mute button and volume controls, you will see a small LED status/mute indicator.

Inside the PLAYBAR, there are 9 drivers arranged in a phased array. CENTER channel consists of 2 woofers and a tweeter between them, there are two woofers on the left and right side and two angled tweeters on each end of the cabinet. Each woofer has 2.5-inch diameter, and tweeters are a bit smaller (1.5-inch). You won’t find that many drivers on other soundbars and that’s one of the biggest advantages of the PLAYBAR itself. Even if you decide to buy PLAYBAR only, you will be impressed by the soundstage and perfectly clear sound. PLAYBAR alone offers much better experience than any TV.

SUB also comes in the same type of package. It weighs 36.3 pounds and it is 15.3 inches high, 15.8 inches wide, and 6.2 inches deep. Its design is quite unusual – it has a hole in the middle and it’s black and glossy. It kind of stands out, since all the other speakers don’t have that shiny look. We would like it more without that gloss, but it’s just the matter of taste.

Besides the SUB, you will get one power cable, a quick start guide, and a warranty card.

You can place the SUB horizontally or vertically – both ways offer pretty much the same type of sound.

On the SUB, you will find only one pairing button (press the button to pair it with the PLAYBAR) and LED status indicator. That’s all, no volume controls or anything else. You have to use SONOS app to adjust the amount of bass and volume of the SUB.

Inside the SUB, there are two 6-inch oval drivers firing at each other with 2 class-D amplifiers (no info on amp output or max SPL). This kind of driver arrangement should cancel out all the cabinet vibrations. Bass ports are at the bottom. SUB can play sounds down to 25Hz.  

PLAY:1 speakers come in two separate boxes that look completely the same as the boxes for SUB and PLAYBAR (only smaller). Each PLAY:1 speaker weighs 4.08 pounds (they are pretty heavy for their size), they are 6.36 inches high, 4.69 inches wide, and 4.69 inches deep. In each box, you will find power and Ethernet cable, quick start guide, and warranty card.

Speakers look really nice. You can choose between two options – white speakers with a metallic grille or black speakers with a graphite grille.

The speakers can be wall-mounted or placed on speaker stands. Wall mounts and floor stands are not included and you can buy them on Amazon or order them from SONOS website.

The control buttons are on the top panel. You will see volume controls, play/pause/mute button, and small LED status indicator. On the back panel, there’s one pairing button and power cable.

Inside each PLAY:1 speaker, there are two drivers – one woofer and one tweeter with dedicated class-D amplifiers (just like BOSE, SONOS doesn’t provide any info on max SPL, amp output, frequency response, sound to noise ratio, etc.). You can control these speakers through the app, too.

 Things we like

SONOS 5.1 is one of the best-looking wireless surround sound systems on the market. They look minimalistic and elegant. The only thing that really stands out is the SUB because of its shiny finish. We would prefer the look without that finish but that’s just our taste. And we would pick black speakers with graphite grille – it fits better with black SUB and black and silver PLAYBAR.

Installing the system should not take more than half an hour. Physically connecting the soundbar to your TV takes a few seconds (but you need a TV with digital optical output). All the other adjustments are done through the app. When you’re done with pairing all the speakers into a system, you have to calibrate the system. That’s also done through the app. There a section called TRUEPLAY which is auto calibration tool. This tool uses mic on your iPhone to calibrate all the important sound-related characteristics and adjust the speakers. TRUEPLAY doesn’t work with Android devices and you are going to need an iPhone (or iPod) to calibrate the sound.

SONOS 5.1 system supports Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and that’s pretty much it. None of the other 5.1 or 7.1 or object-based surround sound formats are supported. Luckily, most of today’s Blu-ray discs feature DD 5.1 soundtrack.

You can stream music and podcasts from your phone to the SONOS 5.1 system but there’s a catch. You can do that only through SONOS app. SONOS app has a bunch of streaming apps like Deezer, Spotify, Google Play, iHeartRadio, etc. integrated and you will have to open the SONOS app, then go to the section with all these integrated streaming apps and stream the music. It doesn’t matter if you have some streaming app already installed on your phone – you have to open SONOS app and access the streaming app through SONOS app.

There are two more additional features that you can activate through SONOS app – Speech Enhancement and Night Mode. You can use Speech Enhancement if you are hard of hearing or if you want to hear the vocals better. This thing really improves the intelligibility by making the voices louder and clearer and background sounds and music quieter. Night mode is something that you can use if you are watching TV or movies late at night. If you don’t want to wake up everybody, you just have to activate night mode and it will adjust the sound by making quiet sounds a bit louder and loud sounds quieter.

You will hardly find some wireless surround sound system that’s so easy to use and install, that works flawlessly, and offers very good sound. SONOS 5.1 is the perfect combo of these three things. Some would say that Denon Heos AVR 5.1 Surround System is better when it comes to sound quality and that’s probably true but there are some functionality issues that make it really user-unfriendly.

 Things we don’t like

SONOS 5.1 doesn’t support DTS 5.1 surround sound audio format and that’s the greatest downside of this system. It also doesn’t support any 7.1 or object-based surround sound formats but that’s not such a big issue. Most Blu-ray discs have either DD 5.1 or DTS 5.1 audio track and if you get a disc with DTS 5.1, you won’t be able to play that surround soundtrack.

SONOS PLAYBAR features only one INPUT port (digital optical) and there is not even one HDMI input. For some people that could be a huge deal breaker.

You have to use all the streaming apps through the SONOS app and that’s a bit inconvenient. On the positive side, SONOS app does have more than 80 different streaming options.

SONOS 5.1 system is slightly overpriced. PLAYBAR and PLAY:1 speakers are pretty good for the price, but SUB with 6-inch drivers should definitely cost less. You can find much better subwoofers for less than $700 but only SONOS SUB will work with SONOS PLAYBAR and if you are a fan of SONOS wireless audio, you won’t mind paying $100 more for SONOS 5.1 system.

Comparison Table


2. Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1Ch 400W 45″ Sound Bar with 8” Wireless Subwoofer

Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro

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Nakamichi maybe sounds familiar to older audio enthusiasts. It was one of the biggest manufacturers of old-school cassette tape decks during the 1970s and 1980s. The company was founded in 1972 and during the first two decades it was one of the most popular audio brands. After the introduction of digital audio, Nakamichi wasn’t such a big name anymore. The company wasn’t shut down and they managed to survive by making car audio systems.

In 2016, Nakamichi made a great comeback to the American market. A new branch of Nakamichi audio was opened in the US and their only area of expertise are home theater systems. Their first product was Nakamichi ShockWafe Pro 7.1 Bluetooth soundbar with a subwoofer and two rear speakers and it was a big success. After this one, they made three more systems – Nakamichi Pro 7.1 with DTS:X support, Elite 7.2 with DTS:X support, and Ultra 9.2 with DTS:X support.

This review is dedicated to Nakamichi’s first soundbar, the one that brought Nakamichi back to the market. It’s called ShockWafe Pro 7.1 but it’s more like enhanced 5.1 surround sound system.

Some of the greatest things about this system are that it offers much more connection options than previously reviewed SONOS 5.1 system, installation is relatively simple, surround sound performance is pretty good, and the price is more than affordable. ShockWafe Pro 7.1 is one of the best wireless surround sound systems under $500. Have in mind that this is the entry-level wireless surround sound system and if you want improved model with DTS:X support you will have to pay $150 more while 9.2 model costs more than $1000.

Greatest flaws of this system are lack of support for object-based surround sound audio and, in some cases, an unstable connection between the soundbar and subwoofer.

 What’s in the box?

All the pieces of ShockWafe Pro 7.1 come in one huge box. Each speaker is protected with Styrofoam and wrapped in plastic foil. Inside the big box, you’ll find another smaller one with all kinds of accessories. When it comes to accessories, Nakamichi was more generous than any other manufacturer of surround sound systems. Inside the big box, you will find Nakamichi Bluetooth soundbar, wireless subwoofer (also Bluetooth), two rear (or surround) speakers, and a remote with LCD display (+ 2 AAA batteries). In the accessory box you will find all the cables – subwoofer power cable, 2 26-inch long speaker cables (not regular speaker wire but proprietary), auxiliary cable, one HDMI cable, wall screws, wall brackets, mounting screws (for soundbar and speakers), wall mount brackets, and Velcro strips.

Soundbar weighs 7.25 pounds, it is 45.5 inches long, 3.3 inches deep, and 3 inches high. It looks quite interesting and unusual with all those angular edges. Inside the soundbar, there are 6 2.5-inch woofers arranged in 3 groups (channels), so you have left, right, and center channel. Additionally, there are two 1-inch angled tweeters on both ends of the soundbar. The idea is to improve surround sound experience with these two surround effect tweeters.

You will find 5 control buttons on the soundbar itself (power, source, DEMO, and Volume buttons) but you will have to use soundbar remote for most of the settings. You can also use TV remote if you want to turn on/off the unit or adjust the volume.

On the front side of the soundbar, you will see black aluminum grille with 10 LED lights at the bottom. These ten indicators will show you which input is selected, which type of surround sound is being played, and many other things (you will see a different combination of LED lights flashing or glowing depending on the source, surround soundtrack, type of settings you are adjusting, etc.). You can’t really consider these LED indicators intuitive and you should look at the LCD display on your remote rather than LED indicators.

All the connections are at the back – you will see two HDMI inputs with 4K pass (no HDCP 2.2 support), one HDMI ARC OUT for connecting your TV to the soundbar (if your TV has HDMI ARC IN port), one digital optical, one coaxial, and one 3.5mm input. There is also a USB port but it’s designed for firmware upgrades only. Soundbar also features Bluetooth 3.0 so you can pair any of your Bluetooth-enabled devices with it and stream music or podcasts.

Subwoofer weighs 15.5 pounds, it’s 7.9 inches wide, 12.3 inches high, and 16.7 inches deep. It’s also interesting and unusual (shape-wise) and it looks good in combination with the soundbar. Inside the subwoofer, there is an 8-inch down-firing driver (you shouldn’t expect extremely deep lows).

At the back of the subwoofer there is one pairing button with a blue LED indicator, power switch, AC input, and two output ports for surround speakers.

Satellite (surround) speakers weigh 1.1 pound each, they are 4.3 inches wide, 6.7 inches high, and 3 inches deep. Unlike subwoofer, satellite speakers are wired and you have to connect them to the subwoofer (not to the soundbar) and that’s why Nakamichi recommends placing the subwoofer on the opposite side from your TV (next to your couch, near the rear wall of your room). Each speaker has 1 2.5-inch driver. They can be wall mounted or placed on floor stands (you will have to buy stands separately).

 Things we like

Nakamichi ShockWafe 7.1 Pro is black, it’s quite stylish and just a little bit oddly shaped. The design is mostly a matter of taste and there is no universal beauty but we still think that most of you will like it.

Connecting the soundbar to all of your audio sources, pairing it with the subwoofer, and connecting the speakers should take no more than 10 minutes. Mounting soundbar and surround speakers will take more, but you will spend most of the time adjusting the sound and getting used to controls, programming your TV remote to use it with the soundbar, checking different EQ modes, etc. There is no automatic calibration tool (mic or some app). There is recommended speaker layout in Nakamichi user manual, and you should try to place the speakers in accordance with this recommendation in order to get the most out of this system.

The best thing about this system (besides the sound) is that you can connect all kinds of audio sources to the soundbar. This soundbar is basically a substitution for AV receiver, it saves space and makes things a lot simpler. You can connect your TV, gaming console, cable or satellite box, streaming device, your PC, and other devices to the soundbar and you can shift from one to another input with your remote.

You can also connect any Bluetooth-enabled device to the system and stream any music from your phone, laptop, iPad, etc. The range is pretty much standard (approx. 30ft). The connection is stable and we didn’t experience any signal loss. If you change the input source, your device will be disconnected and when you switch to Bluetooth input, device and soundbar will pair automatically. You can’t pair two or more Bluetooth-enabled devices simultaneously to the soundbar.

Shockwafe 7.1 Pro supports Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 surround sound formats. It doesn’t support any of 7.1 surround sound audio formats (DD TRUE HD or DTS HD Master Audio) nor object-based audio formats (Atmos or DTS:X). It can decode only 5.1 surround soundtracks so it’s probably not fair to advertise it as 7.1 system (if you consider those two small angled tweeters on both ends of the soundbar speakers, then you can say this is 7.1 but in reality, it is not – it’s 5.1).

7.1 Pro offers crisp clean sound with pretty good soundstage and nice separation between left and right channels. It delivers an immersive listening experience, especially when watching movies (music doesn’t sound that good – it is clean and pretty loud but you won’t get enough bass with that 8-inch subwoofer). The frequency response of the system spans from 35Hz to 22KHz, maximum SPL is 104dB, RMS power is 150W (peak – 400W).

On top of all this, you can choose between 6 EQ modes (Movie, Music, Game, TV, Sports, and Night) or you can adjust bass and treble manually. You can also adjust the volume of each channel or turn off surround speakers.

 Things we don’t like

First of all, we were not completely happy with the bass. It’s ok, but nothing more than that. It’s not punchy enough and it sounds a bit distorted at high volumes.

Subwoofer pairs with the soundbar wirelessly through Bluetooth, but the connection is not excellent. It happens occasionally that subwoofer simply stops working (and when subwoofer stops, surround speakers also stop) and then you have to restart them and pair them again.

There is no support for Dolby True HD, Dolby Atmos, DTS HD master audio, or DTS:X and some customers might see that as a deal breaker. Also, you will have only 2 HDMI inputs at your disposal and some of you might find that insufficient.

Comparison Table


3. Enclave Audio CineHome HD 5.1 Wireless Audio Home Theater System

Enclave Audio

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Enclave audio is a small startup company established in 2013. It’s one of the youngest on the market and their first product CineHome HD 5.1 wireless surround system (or rather wireless home theater system in a box) was a great success. People from Enclave Audio tried to make the installation process as well as use as simple as possible and they really did it. This is the simplest system you can find. Unlike other manufacturers, Enclave decided to make a traditional 5.1 system (5 speakers – Front Left, Front Right, Center, Surround Left and Surround Right + 1 subwoofer). Most other wireless surround sound systems on the market include one soundbar combined with 2 speakers (surrounds) and subwoofer or, in some cases, one soundbar and subwoofer. So, you might even say that this is one of only a few wireless surround systems on the market that offer true 5.1 surround sound experience while others just imitate (simulate) surround sound.

In some aspects, this system can even beat SONOS 5.1 system. Enclave Audio CineHome 5.1 features support for DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 (along with Dolby Pro Logic II) while SONOS supports only Dolby Digital 5.1. They both have good stereo separation and wide soundstage and it’s hard to say which one is better in terms of sound quality but we definitely prefer Enclave – it’s so much cheaper (less than $1000), offers similar surround sound experience, it’s easier to install and use, and have 3 HDMI inputs and one HDMI ARC output (while SONOS 5.1 has only one digital optical input). One thing where SONOS really excels is the app.  Enclave Audio also comes with the Enclave Audio app, but SONOS app is definitely much more user-friendly and offers more control over the system. But we can live with that.

 What’s in the box?

Each speaker is separately packed in its own box and then put together in one huge package. This package weighs almost 65 pounds and you might need some help to lift it. Inside the box, you will find six smaller ones, each with a speaker inside (FL, FR, C, SL, SL, SR). You will also get a remote (which is probably the weakest link of this system but we will elaborate on that), one HDMI cable (you will need 3 more if you want to connect external audio sources – satellite or cable box, streaming box, gaming console, etc.), and power cables for all the speakers.

The main unit of this surround sound system is the center speaker (or Enclave Smart Center Channel). This speaker is not only a speaker but it acts as the hub of your home theater system (as you already know, every wireless surround sound system has the main unit and it’s usually the soundbar – that was the case with SONOS 5.1, with Nakamichi Shockwafe 7.1 and with many others).

Smart Center Channel is 12.4 inches wide, 5 inches high, and 7.7 inches deep. It’s black, made of hard plastic, and the front side is covered with a grille made of soft acoustic fabric. There is a control center on the top panel that looks almost exactly the same as the remote (power, input, menu, mute, and OK buttons, two buttons for toggling through the menu and Volume controls). All the input and output ports are at the back. You will see 1 HDMI ARC output (for connecting your TV), 2 HDMI 1.4 inputs (not 2.0 and it’s not compliant with HDCP 2.2 so you can’t pass 4K Ultra-HD only regular 4K), digital optical input, auxiliary input, LED indicator, and DC input for the power cable.

FL and FR speakers are 4.7 inches wide, 12.4 inches high, and 7.7 inches deep (each of them weighs 5.5 pounds). Front speakers can be placed on your TV stand, mounted on the wall or on floor stands (you have to buy wall mount kit and/or floor stands separately).

SL and SR speakers are angled and each speaker features two drivers spreading the sound in opposite directions for better surround sound experience. These two units are the smallest of all the speakers – they are 8.1 inches wide, 5 inches high, and 4.3 inches deep. They can also be mounted on floor stands.

The Subwoofer is quite large. It’s 17.7 inches high, 12 inches wide, and 13 inches deep and it can produce an incredible amount of bass, at least for a wireless system. Enclave Audio is probably the best wireless surround sound system when it comes to bass response.

Along with all the speakers, you will get a remote. It’s incredibly simple with only 5 buttons and it looks cheap and really fragile.  

Each speaker has a built-in amplifier and wireless receiver and there are 14 drivers in total in these 6 units. Enclave Audio didn’t provide any info on the size of drivers, their frequency response, THD, or any other audio parameter, so it’s highly recommended to test this system (if you have the chance) before buying it and see if you like the sound or not. We were truly impressed.

 Things we like

There is nothing special about this speaker system in terms of design. They are simple, even minimalistic. But still, elegant and visually appealing.

One of the things that define this surround system is EASE OF USE (that’s right, all caps). The setup procedure is incredibly simple. It’s practically plug-and-play system. You just have to take the speakers out of the box, place them (they have labels at the back FL, FR, C, SL, SR so you can’t make a mistake), plug them all in (each power cable is 9 inches long), and press the power button. They will pair with each other automatically so you don’t really have to do anything. That’s why this system is WiSA certified (we are going to talk about WiSA certification later). Pairing will take around 30 seconds and after that, you can use the system. Enclave Audio CineHome HD 5.1 works on 5 GHz frequencies (5.2GHz to 5.8GHz) and it’s designed to avoid any interference with your home wi-fi network. That’s another plus for Enclave Audio. You can use on-screen menu to adjust the volume of each unit, chose the surround sound mode, adjust Dolby Prologic II, change Bluetooth settings (turn on/off auto pairing). The problem is that you can see this menu only if you connect the center channel to your TV through HDMI ARC. If you decide to use digital optical cable, you won’t be able to see the menu.

CineHome HD 5.1 features Bluetooth and you can pair any of your Bluetooth-enabled devices with the system and stream the music. The connection is stable and we haven’t experienced any signal loss. The range is 30ft. You can also stream the music through the Enclave Audio app (available for Android and iOS). You can access some popular streaming services like SoundCloud, Tidal, TuneIn, Spotify through the app and stream music and podcasts that way, too.

We are very happy with functionality and performance of the system. Thanks to the fact that you don’t have to use speaker wires, you can place FL and FR speakers far from each other and get incredible stereo separation and really nice sound image. The subwoofer will shake the floor, it’s that strong. Combine all that with perfect surround speakers, and you will get incredibly immersive surround sound experience that only TRUE 5.1 surround sound system can offer.

The system supports both Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1 (as well as Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby Prologic II, HDMI 3D and 4K pass through). It doesn’t support Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio or object-based Atmos or DTS:X (all these formats require bigger surround sound system 7.1 or 5.1.4).

All in all, this is one of the best wireless surround sound systems we’ve tested and maybe the only one with true 5.1 sound. It’s also one of the cheapest wireless surround sound systems on the market and probably the leader when it comes to price/quality ratio. Great value for the money, that’s our verdict.

 Things we don’t like

First of all, Enclave Audio CineHome HD 5.1 is not HDCP 2.2 compliant and you won’t be able to watch Ultra-HD 4K video, unless you try to downgrade 2.2 videos to 1.4 or avoid connecting your cable box (satellite box) or streaming box to Enclave Audio (connect it to your TV if it supports HDCP 2.2) and then send audio from your TV to the central speaker via digital optical cable.

If you connect your TV and the center speaker through an optical cable, you won’t be able to see the menu and you need to see that on-screen menu in order to choose different inputs, activate Bluetooth, change the volume of different channels, access Dolby Dynamic Range EQ settings, etc. There is no LCD menu on the center speaker or on the remote. So, if you want to see the menu, you have to use HDMI ARC connection (check if your TV features HDMI ARC before buying the system). If your TV has HDMI ARC port, there will be no problems at all.

There is one more thing we have to mention. The remote really needs an upgrade. It looks cheap and poorly designed. The buttons are unresponsive. The good news is that Enclave Audio is already working on the upgrade.

Comparison Table


4. JBL Bar 5.1 Home Theater Starter System with Soundbar and Wireless Subwoofer

JBL Bar

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JBL is one of those big players that like to be competitive in every field of the audio industry. They are already famous for making portable wireless (Bluetooth) speakers like Flip, Charge, Xtreme, Pulse. But, this is not their only area of expertise, they also make all kinds of home and car audio, headphones, etc.

JBL Bar 5.1 is their 5.1 wireless surround sound system but it can be also considered a home theater in a box since it has a bunch of inputs and it doesn’t require AV receiver. It’s not the best surround sound system on the market but considering the price (the whole system costs less than $700), it’s safe to say that you will get a good value for money.

 What’s in the box?

JBL Bar 5.1 wireless surround sound system comes in a nice premium JBL box. JBL doesn’t give up on their packing policy and really tries to make a nice presentation. The box is quite heavy (47 pounds) and you might need help to bring it inside. You will find almost everything you need in this box – one soundbar, wireless subwoofer, wireless surround speakers (work on 5.8 GHz), remote (with batteries), 4ft long HDMI cable (you will have to buy three more for your other devices – that’s the number of HDMI inputs on the soundbar), 4ft long auxiliary cable, 4ft long optical cable (TOSLINK), calibration mic, mounting brackets, mounting guide, user manual, and 1-year warranty card,

The soundbar is 45 inches wide, 2.3 inches high, 3.7 inches deep, and it weighs 8.6 pounds. It features 6 2.5-inch woofers and 3 1.25-inch tweeters. Soundbar’s peak output power is 150W. There is no info on RMS power.

The soundbar is well-built. It’s mostly made of hard plastic but it looks quite strong. The front and top panels are covered with an aluminum grille. On the front panel, there is JBL logo in the middle and a small LCD status display just behind the grille (it will show you the selected source, volume levels, activated mode, etc.). On the top panel, there are 4 control buttons – power, 2 volume buttons, and source button. All the connection ports are at the back. You will see one HDMI ARC output (for connecting the soundbar to your TV), 3 HDMI inputs (HDCP 2.2 compliant), one digital optical input, one AUX input, USB 2.0 port (for audio playback (mp3 and WAV files) and firmware updates), and DC input.

The subwoofer is 16 inches wide, 12 inches high, 12 inches deep, and it weighs 28.7 pounds. It has one 10-inch down-firing driver and a huge bass port at the back. It looks massive and it can really shake your floor. The subwoofer is wireless and it pairs with the soundbar automatically when you turn them on. Wireless connection works on 5.8GHz frequency. Subwoofer’s maximum power output is rated at 300W (peak power).

Detachable surround speakers are 6.5 inches wide, 2.3 inches high, and 3.7 inches deep, and it each speaker weighs 1.3 pounds. These speakers are battery powered. Battery lasts up to 10 hours at 50% volume. Recharge takes up to 3 hours and in order to charge them, you have to attach them to the soundbar again. They don’t have their own proprietary power cables and they are only battery-powered so you will have to pay attention to the battery status (blinking red LED light indicates low battery).

Maximum output power (not RMS) of the system is 510W, and frequency response of the system spans from 35Hz to 20KHz.

Remote that comes with the system has an LCD screen – it looks quite nice and it’s really useful. You can use it to adjust all kinds of settings. You can use your TV remote to control the basic things (volume up or down, mute, power on/off). Most of the TV remotes made by Sony, Samsung, VIZIO, or LG will work without programming (the moment you turn the system on, you can control some basic things) and there is also IR remote learning procedure in case your TV remote doesn’t work with JBL soundbar right out of the box.

 Things we like

The system is nicely made. It’s not flashy or shiny, it looks simple and stylish. It is not really small so you will have to pay attention to the dimensions. Everything is made of hard plastic.

Installation is quite simple. After you set up everything and charge the surround speakers, you can take them out, place them behind or next to your listening position (they can also be mounted but you don’t have to do that) turn on soundbar, subwoofer, and speakers, wait a minute or less until the subwoofer and speakers pair with the soundbar. Then, you have to connect the calibration mic and place it at your listening position (at ear-level if possible), press the calibration button on the remote and wait until you see DONE sign on the LED display and you can start using the system.

You can use your TV remote to adjust the volume or mute the system (works with most of LG, Samsung, Sony, and VIZIO TV remotes). But, if you want to make some advanced adjustments, you will have to use JBL remote.

JBL remote allows you to control the master volume or control the volume of each channel separately. You can use dim display button to set display brightness or turn it off. You can also choose between different EQ modes depending on what you are watching at the moment (available EQ modes – Standard, movie, music, voice, sports). Remote also features Audio Sync buttons (+ and -). You can use it to make better synchronization if audio and video are not synced.

The system goes into Standby mode after 10min of inactivity and it will turn on automatically when you turn on the TV or when some other sound source sends audio signal.

JBL 5.1 also features Night mode which works basically the same as Night mode on SONOS device. It offers similar performance and works in the same manner – lowers all the loud sounds and enhances dialogues and quiet sounds. Night mode works only with DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1.

DTS 5.1. Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Audio, and Prologic, are supported formats. Dolby 7.1, DTS 7.1 or object-based surround sound audio formats are not supported.

The soundbar also features Bluetooth 4.2 so you can use it to pair any Bluetooth-enabled device with the soundbar and stream anything you want. Bluetooth range is 33ft and connection is stable. The pairing process is pretty much standard, nothing unusual about that. One interesting additional function is SoundShift. When turned on (you just have to press the button on JBL remote) you can shift between Bluetooth and previous audio source without using the remote. The moment you disconnect your device, the soundbar will go back to the previous audio source. You have to activate SoundShift since it’s disabled by default.

JBL 5.1 has an interesting sound signature. The accent is on bass and it rumbles all the time. Incredibly strong bass is the greatest feature of the system.

All in all, this is a pretty good system. It performs better than expected and it is definitely worth the money.

 Things we don’t like

There is one issue we would like to mention but it’s not something that you can’t solve in a second. Mids and vocals don’t sound crisp and clean if your subwoofer volume is set too high. Bass is simply too strong for the rest of the system and all the other sounds get overwhelmed by the bass. Lower the bass volume and you will get much better sound. Even if your subwoofer volume is at 20%, you will get pretty decent surround sound experience.

Comparison Table


5. Vizio 5.1 S4251w-B4 Home Theater Sound Bar with Subwoofer and Satellite Speakers, 42 – Inch

Vizio S4251w-B4

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VIZIO is one of those manufacturers that make affordable audio equipment. They have become famous for making TVs but they also make all kinds of electronic devices including soundbars and surround sound systems. VIZIO products are not cheap but they are not expensive either. Most of their surround sound systems are mid-range products and prices and performance prove that.

We have decided to present to you one of VIZIO’s older surround sound systems from 2013. S4251w-B4 is a system made of one 42-inch soundbar, one wireless subwoofer, and two surround speakers. It’s definitely much cheaper than high-end wireless systems made by SONOS or DENON. This is another surround sound system that can be considered good for the price.

 What’s in the box?

VIZIO S4251w-B4 comes in a large 33-pound box. Inside the box, you will find all the things you need – soundbar, subwoofer, two surround sound speakers, remote (with batteries), digital optical and coaxial cable, RCA to 3.5mm audio cable, auxiliary cable, 12ft long proprietary speaker cables, wall mounting kit (mounting brackets for soundbar and surround speakers, screws, wall mount template, Velcro cable ties, and cable management tie), a quick start guide, and 1-year warranty card.

The soundbar is 42 inches wide, 3.74 inches high, 3.15 inches deep, and it weighs 9 pounds. It features 8 drivers arranged in 3 channels. Center channel consists of two 2.5-inch full-range drivers and left and right channels consist of two 3-inch mid-range woofers combined with one 0.75-inch tweeter.

Everything is completely made of plastic. All the drivers are protected with a soft and spongy grille. In the left corner, there are ten LED status indicators. You won’t find any sign or label next to these LED lights and you will need to consult user manual in order to understand the meaning of different combinations of LED lights.

Buttons are located on the left end of the soundbar. They are also not marked – the only thing you will see are simple black clickable buttons that look the same. The first one is power, the second is input, then goes Bluetooth button and two volume buttons. You will have to remember this arrangement or to read the page 6 of your quick start guide.

All the inputs are on the rear panel. There are 5 input ports in total – digital optical and coaxial, one 3.5mm, one RCA, one USB 2.0 port (plays only WAV files). As you can see, there is no HDMI.

The subwoofer is 12.5 inches high, 6.9 inches wide, 15.9 inches deep, and it weighs 14.7 pounds. It features one 6.5-inch driver that can play sounds down to 40Hz.  The sub is wireless and it connects automatically to the soundbar through Bluetooth. Advertised range is 60 feet, but we recommend keeping the subwoofer within 20-30ft range.

The subwoofer is completely black and made of hard plastic. You will see the bass reflex port on the front side and all the connections and controls are at the back (power input, power switch, pairing button with one LED indicator, and two surround speaker outputs with built-in amplifiers). Surround speakers should be connected to the subwoofer and it’s recommended to place the subwoofer next to your couch and stretch the cables from there to your surround speakers.

Surround speakers are 7.42 inches high, 3.18 inches wide, and 2.8 inches deep. Each surround speaker has one 2.5-inch full-range driver.

Max SPL of the system is 102dB. Frequency response spans from 40H to 20KHz (subwoofer’s frequency response is 40Hz-90Hz, and soundbar’s 90Hz to 20KHz)

Along with the speaker system, you will get a remote with LCD display. This remote seems extremely simple but it is definitely not. There are 3 pages of different button combinations that you have to press to do some advanced settings. Better remote is something this system truly needs. Remote has only 13 buttons (Input, Menu, Power, Volume Controls, Mute, Play/Pause/Enter, Up and Down Arrows, Previous and Next buttons) and LCD display.

 Things we like

VIZIO 5.1 S4251w-B4 looks visually pleasing. It’s not the most beautiful out there, but it’s simple and inconspicuous (it doesn’t stand out too much). It’s made of plastic that feels a bit thinner than we would like it to be.

The installation process was simple and quick. After placing all the speakers and connecting surround speakers to the subwoofer (if you decide to mount soundbar and speakers, it will take more time), power on soundbar and subwoofer, they will connect automatically (if they don’t, press pairing button on the subwoofer for five seconds and then press the power button on the soundbar for five seconds). After pairing, you can use the system. There is no automatic calibration tool (like microphone or app) and you will have to go through all the settings (bass level, surround level, soundbar level) and adjust everything to your needs.

The system supports Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. All the other 7.1 and object-based surround sound formats are not supported (there is no simulation for those surround sound audio formats).

The system also features Bluetooth. Pairing is simple but it takes some time. In our case, we had to repeat the process twice in order to pair iPhone 6 with the soundbar. The soundbar will pair automatically with the last paired device.

There’s also the function called TruVolume that you can activate with your remote. This function levels the volume of different scenes and makes your listening experience better or ‘’more enjoyable’’ as the manufacturer says. But, the thing is that you don’t really want this function enabled when watching a movie if you want to be immersed in it. You might want it enabled while watching movies late at night but for that you also have Night Mode function.

VIZIO S4251w-B4 surround sound system supports Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. It doesn’t feature support for 7.1 or object-based surround sound audio tracks.

This system doesn’t offer the greatest surround sound experience. It’s good enough for smaller or mid-sized rooms and it does have wide soundstage with decent stereo separation but there is noticeable distortion when the volume is above 80%. All in all, this system offers good value for money and if you are on a budget, this might be one of the best options.

 Things we don’t like

VIZIO S4251w-B4 doesn’t have any HDMI inputs. This could be a huge deal breaker for many people and you should be aware of this thing.

This surround system is definitely a better option than a simple soundbar but the sound is still tiny. The 6-inch bass driver won’t shake your floor and it’s definitely not as punchy as some previous subwoofers on the list but it adds a certain amount of depth to the sound and it makes surround sound experience better. VIZIO S4251w-B4 is not the best wireless surround sound system but it is much better than TV speakers or any soundbar on the market.

Some customers complained about the subwoofer. The problem was that it resets to max volume whenever you turn the system off so when you turn it back on you get almost deafening sound coming from the subwoofer and you have to reduce the volume of the subwoofer immediately.

Some people complained about the volume fading in and out while watching a movie but this only means that TruVolume function is enabled and you have to disable it.

When Eco Power mode (power saving mode) is enabled the main unit shuts down too quickly. It could even turn off during a movie if there’s a long quiet part.

Comparison Table


6. Yamaha YAS-207BL Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer Bluetooth & DTS Virtual:X

Yamaha YAS-207BL

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Yamaha is one of the most respected names when it comes to home theaters and home audio equipment.

YAS-207BL is Yamaha’s first soundbar/subwoofer wireless surround sound system that supports DTS:X object-based surround sound audio tracks. This is one of the cheapest systems on this list and that’s probably because it’s not true 5.1 but it simulates surround sound and it also simulates DTS:X object-based surround sound (Atmos is not supported).

 What’s in the box?

Inside a large 29-pound box, you will find the main unit (YAS-CU207), the subwoofer (NS-WSW42), remote, two power cables, digital optical cable, mounting template (no wall mount kit – you have to buy it separately), user manual, and 1-year warranty.  

The soundbar is 36.6 inches wide, 2.4 inches high, 4.25 inches deep, and it weighs 6 pounds.

It is slim and sleek, it looks very stylish. The front panel and left and right ends are wrapped in traditional fabric grille.

On the front panel there’s a small silver strip at the bottom with Yamaha logo on the left side and 9 LED indicators in the middle – DD (green) or DTS (red), DPL (lights up when Dolby Pro Logic is activated), HDMI, TV (digital optical), Analog (AUX input), Bluetooth, Surround, Bass Extension, and Clear Voice. On the right end, there are 5 touch sensitive buttons – Input selection, mute, volume controls, and power button.

On the rear panel, you will find all the connections – AC input, one HDMI input, one HDMI ARC OUT, AUX input, digital optical input, and micro USB port (for updates only).

The soundbar can be mounted on your wall or you can simply place it on your TV stand, in front of your TV. You have to buy screws and everything else if you decide to mount it on the wall.

Inside the soundbar, there are four 1.75-inch woofers (frequency response spanning from 180Hz to 23KHz) and two 1-inch tweeters (frequency response spanning from 7KHz to 23KHz), The maximum output power of the soundbar 100W.

The subwoofer is 7.1 inches wide, 17.25 inches high, 15.75 inches deep, and it weighs17.4 pounds.

It’s completely black and it’s made of hard plastic. On the front panel, there is only one bass reflex port. On the rear panel, you will find a pairing button, standby LED indicator, connection indicator, and AC input.

Inside the subwoofer, there is one 6.25-inch cone driver with bass reflex port. The frequency response of the subwoofer spans from 40Hz to 180Hz.

The remote that comes with the system looks nice and stylish. Even more important, it’s functional and you can use it to adjust all kinds of settings There are 16 buttons on the remote – power button, input source buttons (HDMI, TV (digital optical), Analog, Bluetooth), Surround and Stereo buttons, Clear Voice, Bass Extension, Bluetooth Standby, Dimmer, Subwoofer + and -, Volume + and -, and mute button.

 Things we like

YAS-207BL is beautifully designed system. The soundbar is slim and it won’t block you TV if you decide to place it on your TV stand. The subwoofer is not too large and it won’t take too much space if you have a small room.

The installation process is very simple and it takes only a few minutes (if you don’t want to mount it). All the LED indicators should face toward the viewing position. This soundbar doesn’t have up-firing drivers like some other DTS:X enabled soundbars.

Controlling the unit is very simple and easy. You can do everything with your soundbar remote or you can use your TV remote to power on/off the system, chose the input, adjust the volume, and change audio output device (choose between TV and unit). You can do all this only if you use HDMI ARC connection and if HDMI control function on your TV is enabled. Also, you can install Home Theater Controller application for Android or iOS and control the system with this app.

The system supports Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 surround sound as well as PCM. This unit can also pass through 4K video and it features support for HDR and HDCP 2.2.

DTS:X 3D surround simulation is supported but you have to install the firmware update. By pressing surround button on your remote you will shift between different surround modes. When surround sound LED (the one with DD/DTS label) glows green you’re getting regular surround, blue is 3D surround (or DTS:X), when there is no light, you are in stereo. DPL LED with glow when stereo sound is played in surround mode (Dolby Pro Logic is activated).

The unit features Bluetooth 4.1. You can pair any Bluetooth enabled device with the system but you cannot pair two at the same time. The system will pair with the last Bluetooth device automatically when you press the Bluetooth button on your remote. You can also activate Bluetooth standby mode by pressing Bluetooth Standby button on the remote. When this mode is enabled, you can use your Bluetooth-enabled device to turn on/off the unit.

This system features some nice additional functions like bass extension, clear voice, and dimmer.

Bass Extension improves bass response just a little bit and makes it punchier but, to be honest, it doesn’t make a great difference and it causes mid-range frequencies to sound muddier than in standard mode.

Clear Voice mode will push forward certain frequencies and make dialogues much better and more intelligible than standard settings.

Dimmer button allows you to adjust the brightness or completely turn off LED indicators on the main unit.

Auto power (standby) function is disabled by default (for US market). When this function is enabled, the system will turn off after 8 hours of inactivity or after 20 minutes without an input signal.  

For a $300 price, YAS-207BL is very good surround sound system. It’s probably more appropriate for small and mid-sized rooms. The subwoofer is not too large but it’s punchy and fast. Compared to other soundbars within the same price range it does offer a bit wider soundstage (not like some true 5.1 systems but still decent).

As far as Virtual:X surround sound is concerned don’t expect too much. You won’t get perfect vertical audio experience but that’s pretty much what you get from any soundbar that imitates (simulates) object-based surround sound.

 Things we don’t like

As you could see, the number of inputs is very limited – there are only one HDMI input and one HDMI output. If you need more inputs, you should buy some other wireless surround sound system. Yamaha basically expects you to use your TV as a hub and connect all of your devices (or most of them) to your TV and then connect the TV and soundbar via HDMI.

Yamaha also recommends connecting gaming console to AUX input, but we all know that’s not the right way if you want surround sound experience.

Comparison Table


7. VIZIO SB4051-C0 40-Inch 5.1 Sound Bar System with Wireless Subwoofer & Rear Satellite Speakers

VIZIO SB4051-C0

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Here’s one more VIZIO product. It’s slightly improved version of the previous S4251w-B4 5.1 wireless surround system. Some issues and things we don’t like are still there but there are also some noticeable enhancements like 2 HDMI ports (one IN and one ARC OUT), better build quality (they decided to use aluminum instead of plastic for some parts), and better sound quality (especially the sound coming from the soundbar).

 What’s in the box?

Inside a large 31-pound box you will find your VIZIO SB4051-CO soundbar, a wireless subwoofer, satellite speakers, remote (batteries included), a set of cables (RCA to 3.5mm, AUX cable, coaxial, optical, one HDMI cable, proprietary speaker cables), wall mount kit (brackets for surround speakers and soundbar, screws, mounting templates), a quick start guide, and 1-year warranty card.

Soundbar weighs 7.5 pounds, it is 40 inches wide, 3 inches high, and 3 inches deep. It looks more premium than older VIZIO models.

The front and top panels are covered with black aluminum grille, and there are aluminum caps with VIZIO logo on each end of the soundbar. In the left corner, behind the grille, there are 9 LED indicators arranged in a vertical line. This is not a great change compared to LED indicators arranged horizontally on older models. LED indicators are not more intuitive, and you will still have to read the manual to understand the meaning of different combinations of LED indicators (and different combinations will appear when you are trying to pair some Bluetooth device, adjust bass, treble, center, or surround levels, turn on or off surround sound, night mode, DTS TruVolume, adjust audio delay, enable VIZIO TV remote or program your TV remote made by some other manufacturers, etc.). VIZIO really needs to improve these LED indicators or even add a backlit LCD display.

Control buttons are on the top panel. There are 5 buttons – power button, input button, Bluetooth button, and volume controls (- and +).

Rear panel is made of plastic and you will find all the inputs and outputs on it – power input, one auxiliary (3.5mm) input, one RCA input, optical and coaxial inputs, one HDMI input, USB input (not very useful – plays only WAV audio files), and one HDMI ARC out. So, the greatest improvement is that you have two HDMI ports (some people might still think it’s not enough). It’s recommended to use HDMI ARC OUT to connect the soundbar to your TV (if your TV has HDMI ARC IN) and use other HDMI input port to connect your Blu-ray player or Cable/Satellite box.

Inside the soundbar, there are three full-range 2.75-inch drivers, one for each channel (Front Left, Center, Front Right). The frequency response of the left and right channels spans from 90Hz to 20KHz, and the center channel is adjusted for dialogues (160Hz to 20KHz).

The subwoofer weighs 12.5 pounds, it is 9.65 inches wide, 10 inches high, and 9.65 inches deep. It’s all-black with an interesting aluminum panel with VIZIO logo on top. On the rear panel, you will find a pairing button, LED connection indicator, two output ports for speakers, power input, and power switch.

There is one 6-inch down-firing driver inside the subwoofer with a bass reflex port at the back. The frequency response of the subwoofer spans from 50Hz to 90 Hz. You can conclude, even without listening to this sub, that you won’t get a great amount of bass and that it won’t be perfect.

Surround speakers have aluminum caps on top, all the sides are black with aluminum grille protecting the drivers. The rear panels are plastic with speaker cable input ports. There is one 2.5-inch full-range driver inside each speaker.

Remote that you get with VIZIO SB4051-CO is absolutely the same as the one you get with the previously mentioned VIZIO S4251w-B4 surround sound system. In fact, you will get the same remote with every VIZIO soundbar and surround sound (soundbar) system. The remote is very simple, there are 11 buttons and LCD display.

 Things we like

In terms of design, VIZIO SB4051-CO looks more premium than previous VIZIO models but it is not the greatest surround sound system on the market. Anyway, it looks nicer than many models within the same price range. It’s also built better – aluminum grille and other details made of aluminum make it look strong but we can’t really confirm that it will last much longer than older VIZIO models.

Installation went smoothly. If your TV doesn’t have HDMI ARC input, you can use digital optical cable. Controlling the system and using the remote is also quite easy but you will have to consult the manual if you need to make some advanced adjustments. You can use soundbar remote to adjust the volume of each channel, but you can also adjust the amount of bass and treble. You can also use your TV remote for some basic settings (adjust system volume, power on/off). Some VIZIO TV remotes don’t require programming but if you have some other TV remote, you will have to program it.

VIZIO SB4051-CO supports PCM, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. Other 7.1 and object-based surround sound formats are not supported.

This system features Bluetooth with aptX low latency. Pairing is simple but the connection is not so great. Advertised Bluetooth range is pretty much standard (33ft) but it’s shorter than that in reality.

Just like previously reviewed S4251w-B4, this system features DTS TruVolume, Night Mode, and Eco mode. TruVolume levels the sound and offers better listening experience (but we prefer the sound with TruVolume off). Night Mode lowers the amount of bass and this is something you’re going to need (we will elaborate on this later). Eco mode is the most annoying. In theory, it’s nice and useful feature and it saves you some money by lowering power consumption, but it powers off the unit if there is no input signal for a few minutes or even quicker – this feature is definitely not programmed appropriately and some firmware update should solve this issue.

When it comes to sound quality, we can’t complain too much considering the price. This unit is definitely much better for movies than for music and if you are into music or audio enthusiast, you won’t be happy with it. Bass is really big part of the sound signature of VIZIO SB4051-CO but it is often too ‘’boomy’’ and practically unbearable. Mids and highs sound much better if the bass (bass level and bass volume) is set to minimum.

 Things we don’t like

Connection issues – Soundbar and subwoofer have to be in the line of sight if you want constant playback without signal loss. This is a really big issue and you will have to think about subwoofer placement – you can’t put it behind your couch.

LCD display on the remote is not backlit and if you are watching a movie at night (all the lights are off), and you want to increase the volume or lower the bass level, you won’t be able to see anything.

You will experience sound delays and lip sync issues occasionally but there is AV Delay feature and you can adjust the sound and get better synchronization.

The system is slow sometimes. It needs time (a few seconds) to shift between different inputs and you will have to be patient and wait.

The subwoofer is way too ‘’boomy’’ and it muddies the midrange at high volumes. This is so annoying that it can ruin your listening experience. Bass simply overpowers everything and kills all the clarity. Even at low volumes, bass can kill the joy. The best possible solution is to enable Night mode. It will lower the bass significantly and make a better balance between lows, mids, and highs.

Comparison Table


8. Sony HT-Z9F 3.1ch Soundbar with Dolby Atmos and Wireless Subwoofer + 2 SA-Z9R rear speakers

Sony HT-Z9F

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Sony is one of the companies that have been an integral part of the audio and electronics industry for decades. Their home theater systems, AV receivers, surround sound systems, TVs, and other audio and video equipment are very popular among all kinds of customers (regular, audio enthusiast, professionals, etc.).

We’ve decided to present to you one of Sony’s latest products Sony HT-Z9F 3.1 soundbar system combined with 2 rear wireless speakers. You don’t have to buy these rear speakers – soundbar and subwoofer are available for less than $900 but you will get so much better surround sound experience for additional $300. They really make a difference.

HT-Z9F offers support for 4K HDR video and all the surround sound audio formats (for devices connected through HDMI input ports) including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based surround sound. Thanks to this new technology called Vertical Surround Engine, this soundbar system with only 3 front speakers (no up-firing speakers) is able to simulate 7.1.2 surround sound and give the 3rd (vertical) dimension to the sound.

 What’s in the box?

Inside large premium-looking box, you will find your Z9F soundbar, wireless subwoofer, remote (batteries provided), magnetic speaker grille, one HDMI cable (there are three HDMI ports and you will have to buy two HDMI cables separately), wall mounts, wall mount template, operating instructions, startup guide, Dolby Demo Disc (which is a nice detail), and a warranty card.

Soundbar weighs 6.8 pounds, it’s 39.4 inches wide, 2.6 inches high, and 4 inches deep. Inside the soundbar, there are 3 1.8-inch full-range cone woofers rated at 35W per channel.

Between Left and Center channel, there is a Bluetooth indicator (lights blue when connected), a small display, and a remote-control sensor.

Controls are located on top. There are 6 touch sensitive buttons – power, input selection, Bluetooth, Music Service (you have to install the software update to make it work), and 2 volume buttons (+ and -).

Inputs and outputs are on the rear panel. You will see two HDMI inputs (with HDCP 2.2 support 4K/60p HDR), LAN port, HDMI ARC OUT (for connecting the soundbar to your TV if your TV features HDMI ARC input), USB port (for audio playback), analog 3.5mm input port, digital optical input (you can use it if your TV doesn’t have HDMI ARC input). There are also two IR repeaters and AC input.

The subwoofer weighs 17.9 pounds, it’s 7.5 inches wide, 15.1 inches high, 15.25 inches deep. Inside the subwoofer, there is one 6.4-inch cone type driver with 100W output power. On the front panel, you will see the bass reflex port and power/status LED indicator. On the rear panel, there are power button, LINK button, power input, and ventilation holes. Subwoofer connects wirelessly to the main unit (soundbar) through 5GHz frequency so it shouldn’t cause any interference with your home Wi-Fi network.

Rear speakers weigh 2.2 pounds each, they are 4 inches wide, 6.1 inches high, and 4 inches deep. The maximum output power of each speaker is 50W (100W combined and 20W RMS per speaker). Each rear speaker features one 1.8in full-range driver. Speakers connect wirelessly (they use 5GHz frequency just like the subwoofer) to the soundbar and they pair automatically the moment you plug them in and press the power button. If they don’t pair automatically, you can pair them manually – there’s a LINK button on the rear panel of each speaker.

They can be mounted on the wall or on floor stands, or you can put them on your couch or on a table behind your sofa.  

Remote that comes with Z9F is one of the most comprehensive soundbar remotes we’ve seen. You can use it to control every singly aspect of the reproduction (select input, sound mode, adjust volume of each speaker, play with the advanced settings, etc.).

 Things we like

Sony always makes elegant and stylish products – Z9F is the perfect example. The soundbar is slim and stylish. The subwoofer is compact. Both soundbar and subwoofer are made of hard plastic but they still look sturdy.

The installation process is very simple. You should connect all the devices first and then plug in the soundbar, subwoofer, and rear speakers. They will pair automatically. After that, you have to go through a step-by-step setup process. It’s relatively quick and simple – you just have to follow all the instruction from the on-screen-menu (in order to do this, you need to connect your TV to the soundbar through HDMI ARC). We should probably mention that there is no auto calibration mic – you have to enter the distance between the soundbar and other speakers manually (you will be asked to enter the distance at some point during the setup process). Some people prefer connecting all of their devices to the TV and then connecting TV and soundbar through HDMI ARC but you can also connect 2 devices to your soundbar through HDMI (Blu-ray player and your satellite/cable box for example) – it’s all up to you. Also, you can connect TV to the soundbar wirelessly through Bluetooth but we still recommend wired connection (having a wireless subwoofer and wireless rear speakers is just enough).

You can control all the sound and playback aspects through your soundbar remote. There are 7 sound modes available starting from standard and auto sound (this mode will make the adjustments depending on the audio input). There is also cinema mode (for more immersive surround sound experience), music, game, news (for clear dialogues), and sports mode (gives you the opportunity to feel the atmosphere at the stadium but also makes narrations more intelligible). You can activate any of these modes by pressing the dedicated button on your remote. There are also two special modes – Night mode (makes loud scenes quieter, increases the volume during quiet scenes, and reduces the amount of bass) and Voice mode (pushes certain frequencies forward and makes all the voices more intelligible). You can activate Vertical Surround Engine and get that immersive 3D surround sound effect with a vertical sound component at any moment (it doesn’t work in News mode). Still, vertical surround sounds much better in cinema and auto mode and it’s better for movies than for music.

All Dolby and DTS surround sound formats are supported through HDMI inputs (if you connect your Blu-ray player through one of two HDMI inputs you can even play Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio tracks). Through HDMI ARC output you will be able to play limited number of audio formats – LPCM (2 channels), Dolby Digital, DD+, Dolby Atmos, DTS 5.1, DTS ES Discrete and Matrix 6.1, and DTS 96/24 (not DTS:X or DTS HD High Res or Master Audio). If you are using an optical cable to connect some of your devices to the soundbar you will be able to play Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Dual Mono, DTS 5.1, and LPCM (2channels). You will be able to play a wide variety of audio files through USB input – DSD, WAV, FLAC, ALAC, AAC, mp3, WMA, etc.  

Z9F features Bluetooth 4.2 (class 1). Bluetooth connection works flawlessly. You can use it to pair any of your Bluetooth-enabled devices with Z9F. The soundbar will memorize up to 9 devices.

Besides Bluetooth connectivity, you can connect the soundbar to your home network (through LAN port or wirelessly through Wi-Fi).  

Soundbar has built-in Chromecast so you can stream music and podcasts from any of the Chromecast-enabled streaming services. You can also use Google Home with Z9F.

On top of all these features, you can install and use Sony Music app (previously called SongPal) to link all your Sony soundbars and other compatible Sony wireless speakers together and make a multiroom speaker system. Also, you can use this app to access some of the most popular streaming services (like Deezer or Spotify) and stream music directly from this app.

 Things we don’t like

The main unit has only 2 HDMI inputs and one HDMI output and some of you might find this insufficient. You can always connect your other devices to your TV.

This system is appropriate for smaller and maybe mid-sized rooms but it is definitely not powerful enough to fill large spaces with sound. You can’t really expect three small speakers (+2 rears) and a relatively small subwoofer to be that loud.

When it comes to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X we can’t say that we were amazed by the vertical sound component. It makes some difference and kind of feels like there is something going on above your head but it won’t make you look up thinking here comes the helicopter. Still, it’s pretty good for a soundbar.

Comparison Table


9. Polk Audio MagniFi Max SR Home Theater Surround Sound Bar

Polk Audio MagniFi Max SR

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Polk is a famous US audio equipment manufacturer with more than 40-years long tradition. Their products are relatively affordable (though not as cheap as generic brands) and deliver pretty good performance for the price.

Polk is another reputable speaker manufacturer that tried to enter the wireless surround sound system market. They are definitely not the best out there, but they are getting better with every new product. Their Polk Audio MagniFi Max SR home theater system can be considered a cheap alternative for our favorite SONOS 5.1. MagniFi Max SR is not as great and reliable as SONOS 5.1, but it’s pretty good. The best thing is that you can have it for $400. Compared to more than $1,500, which is the price of SONOS 5.1, this is a very good deal. It’s also good to know that you don’t have to buy all the speakers at once. You can buy soundbar and subwoofer first for $300 and then make an upgrade if you want to.

 What’s in the box?

MagniFi Max SR comes in an unusually-shaped red box. All the fancy features and specs are listed on it. Inside the box, you will find the soundbar, subwoofer, two surround speakers, power cords for all the speakers, remote control (batteries included), one high speed HDMI cable (6.5ft long), one Toslink digital optical cable (6ft long), one 6ft long AUX cable, two wall mounting brackets (mounting templates are included, but other hardware isn’t), user manual, and a warranty card (3-year warranty for speakers).

You won’t get all the necessary cables and if you want to connect more digital audio sources, you will have to pay extra for 3 additional HDMI cables.

The soundbar has a very slim profile and can be easily positioned below your TV (on a table or mounted on a wall). It’s 43 inches wide, 2.1 inches high, 3.8 inches deep, and weighs 6.1lb.

The soundbar looks quite attractive. In a way, it’s similar to Yamaha’s soundbar YAS-207BL, only less sophisticated. Front and top panels are wrapped in fabric grille that protects the drivers. On the front panel, behind the grille, there are 10 status/source LED indicators. On the top side, right in the middle, there’s a simple control panel. You will see 8 buttons – power, source, Bluetooth, master volume buttons, Voice Adjust volume buttons (used to control the volume of certain midrange frequencies), and mute button. There are quite a few inputs on the rear panel. You have 3 HDMI inputs (support 4K HDR passthrough), one HDMI ARC output port (you can use it to connect your TV to the soundbar if your TV features HDMI ARC), one digital optical input (if your TV doesn’t have HDMI ports which is almost impossible, you can use this one), AUX input (you can use it to connect any analog audio source), Ethernet port, USB port for firmware updates (you can’t use it for music playback), wi-fi reset button, sync button with SUB and SURR sync status LED indicators, and power input.

Inside the soundbar, there’s an array of 7 drivers – 4 oval full-range drivers (1in by 3in), 2 0.75-inch tweeters, and one 1-inch midrange driver in the center. There are bass ports on the left and right end.

The subwoofer is pretty massive. It’s made of hard plastic and it’s completely black. The shape is a bit unusual (not a standard boxy sub). The subwoofer is 14.5in high, 14.6in wide, 12.1in deep, and weighs 13.5lb.

On the rear end of the subwoofer, there are only soundbar sync button with sync LED indicator, and power input. The subwoofer is completely wireless and has no speaker wire terminals. It can only be used in combination with MagniFi Max SR soundbar.  

The subwoofer features one down-firing 8-inch woofer. The enclosure is ported. The bass reflex port is located on the bottom, right next to the 8-inch driver.

Surround speakers are also wireless. They are quite small and feature the same kind of design as the soundbar. The front and top panels are wrapped in a grayish grille and the rest is made of plastic. On the rear panel, there’s a threaded insert (for mounting on the wall), and one sync button with a sync status LED indicator.

Each surround speaker features one 3-inch driver.

The system has the peak output power of 400W and its frequency response spans from 35Hz to 20kHz.

Inside the packaging, you will also find the remote. You can use it to turn on/of the soundbar, activate different modes (night mode, sport, movie, or music mode), select the source (HDMI 1-3, TV, AUX, Bluetooth), adjust the volume (master volume, bass volume, Voice Adjust volume, and surround volume), adjust the surround balance, and control the playback (play/pause, forward/rewind).

 Things we like

The design is quite stylish. Those glossy plastic edges look a little bit cheap and fragile. The overall impression is still very good. We are a bit worried about the build quality but there have been no complaints in the past and that’s reassuring.

The installation is more than simple. All the sources should be connected to the soundbar, and the subwoofer and surrounds just need to be plugged into the power outlet. Once you connect all the sources, you will have to sync the soundbar with the subwoofer and surround speakers (by pressing the sync button on the soundbar and then on other speakers). When all the speakers are synced, you can play music or watch a movie. The installation should last no more than 10-20min. If you want to mount the soundbar and surround speakers on a wall, it will take a little bit longer.

The system supports the most common Dolby and DTS surround sound audio formats, including DD+. Object-based DTS:X and Dolby Atmos are not supported.

When it comes to interesting technologies installed into the soundbar, it’s important to mention one of the most popular patents made by Polk called SDA (Stereo Dimensional Array) Technology.  This technology is supposed to improve the surround sound experience. Even though this is not a real 5.1 system (only 4 speakers), it really delivers an immersive and enveloping soundstage

The soundbar also features Voice Adjust Technology (also patented by Polk) which is supposed to improve the intelligibility and enhance the voice reproduction.

There are four different sound modes – movie, music, sports, and night mode. Movie mode boosts the bass and improves the surround sound and voice clarity. It’s optimized for movies and TV and it’s a default sound mode for optical and HDMI inputs. Music mode does a completely opposite thing – it eliminates bass boost and surround sound effects. Sports mode is supposed to enhance dialogues and night mode is supposed to drastically reduce the bass and improve the voice intelligibility.

You can also adjust the sound to your likings instead of selecting some sound mode thanks to separate volume controls on the remote (master volume, voice volume, bass volume, and surrounds volume).

The soundbar is compatible with some of the most popular TV brands like Sony, LG, and Samsung and if your TV is made by one of these reputable manufacturers and if it supports CEC you can use your TV remote to control the system volume, select source, etc. If it doesn’t support CEC, you can use the IR learning feature to ‘’teach’’ your TV remote to control different things.

The soundbar features built-in Bluetooth and wi-fi module. Bluetooth can be used for streaming music but it’s not good enough for watching videos because of noticeable sound delay (lack of aptX support).

The soundbar features built-in Chromecast and you can use it to stream audio (but not video) from your phone/tablet to MagniFi Max SR. In order to do that, you have to install the Google Home app on your phone (available for Android and Apple devices). There is no dedicated Polk app that you can use to control this surround sound system.

 Things we don’t like

In order to perform the initial setup, use IR learning feature, and check which source is active, you have to look at those LED lights on the front panel of the soundbar. Different combinations of LEDs indicate different modes, sources, etc. It’s not such a big issue since everything is nicely explained in the user manual, but some on-screen display would be a much better option.

Just like with many other wireless surround sound systems, you may experience some interference issues with MagniFi Max SR. Some long-term users have reported problems with popping/cracking sounds coming from the subwoofer and/or surround speakers and the only explanation given by the manufacturer is the interference. In some cases, moving the speakers and router further away from each other solved the issue, but in other cases, the issue was still there. It’s really hard to predict is it going to be an issue in your case.

Comparison Table


10. Damson S Series Wireless Home Theater System

Damson S Series Wireless Home Theater System

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Damson is a UK-based headphone and speaker manufacturer. The company was established in 2012 and their most successful products are wireless bone conduction headphones and wireless home theater system called Damson S-Series. This is one of the ‘’most wireless’’ and most portable home theater systems on the market. It’s also one of the most convenient ones (mostly because of completely wireless and battery-operated surround speakers), but it’s not all that great. Damson S-Series is a combination of very good and convenient features and some really disappointing ones. We were particularly disappointed by the audio quality, especially the bass reproduction. We have expected a little bit more from a surround sound system with a $900 price tag.

The best reason for buying this surround sound system is the convenience and wire-free environment it offers. None of the wireless surround sound systems we’ve talked about are completely wireless and all the speakers have to be plugged in. Damson went one step further and made the surround speakers completely wireless. On the other hand, Damson’s center speaker and subwoofer have to be plugged in, which means that Damson S Series home theater system is not completely wireless. It’s just more wireless than other systems on this list.

 What’s in the box?

The system comes in a relatively small package (compared to other wired and wireless home theater systems). It weighs 16lb and inside the box you will find the S-bar (for some reason, Damson puts S in front of every speaker) which is your center channel, S-Atmos speaker, S-woofer (this is a small subwoofer and also your hub), 2 wireless S-cubes (surround speakers), 2 power cables for the S-bar and S-woofer, 2 power/charging cables for the S-Cubes, wall brackets (in case  you want to mount surround speakers on the wall), and a QR code (when you scan it with your phone, you will be redirected to the user manual). You will also get 4 adapters for each power cable (for US, UK, EU, and Australian market) and a simple remote (batteries included).

This system is really small, probably the smallest we have ever reviewed (including wired and wireless home theater systems).

Every single speaker is tiny, including the subwoofer (S-woofer). It’s much lighter and smaller than any regular 8-inch subwoofer. S-woofer has one front-firing driver. The enclosure is sealed. The S-woofer is also the hub of the system. All the inputs and outputs are on the rear panel. There are 2 HDMI inputs, 1 HDMI ARC output, AUX input, and the power input. The front panel is covered with a semitransparent black grille. The Damson logo is at the bottom.

The S-bar is supposed to be your center but also your left and right channel. It’s the smallest soundbar we’ve ever seen. You are supposed to use it in combination with the S-Atmos (which is Atmos height module). On the top panel of the S-bar, there are four buttons – M (for shifting between different sources), 2 volume buttons, and the play/pause/pairing button. In the top right corner of the S-bar, there’s an LED source indicator (different colors indicate different sources – you can find the explanation of each color in the user manual).

S-Cubes are designed as surround speakers but they can also be used independently from the system. You can use it as a simple Bluetooth speaker or you can combine multiple S-Cubes (up to 16) and make a nice multiroom speaker system. S-Cube has 4 control buttons on the top – power button (you can also use it to shift between Bluetooth and JetStreamNet which is an ad-hoc wireless network used by the Damson S Series speaker system), 2 volume buttons, and play/pause button. You will also see some buttons and inputs on the rear panel. There are JetStreamNet pairing button (for pairing multiple S-Cubes together in a multiroom system or for pairing S-Cubes with the rest of the home theater system), 3 music mode buttons (left, right, stereo), reset button, AUX input, and DC charging port.

 Things we like

First of all, the speaker system looks really nice. The design is simple but very stylish. If you have a very small room and you don’t want to deal with cables, Damson S Series system could be a very good solution.

The number of different connections is satisfying but far from amazing. You have two HDMI inputs, HDMI ARC output, and AUX input. Bluetooth connection is also supported. The HDMI inputs/outputs support 4K passthrough and HDR10. They are also HDCP 2.2 compliant.  

All the speakers communicate with each other via the JetStreamNet ad-hoc wi-fi platform, which works pretty well. We haven’t experienced any syncing issues. It takes some 20-30min to install the system, connect the sources (HDMI cables are not included) and sync the speakers.

The S-Cube rear surround speakers feature built-in rechargeable batteries. The battery capacity is rated at 1,500mAh and it is supposed to deliver up to 8 hours of playtime at 70% volume. In our testing, we were able to get almost 8 hours, but only at 50% volume. The idea of having completely wireless speakers sounds nice, but the playtime is not that impressive.

Another interesting thing is that you can use the S-Cubes as independent speakers, not only as your surround speakers. You can play the music in AUX, Bluetooth, or JetStreamNet mode. You can also pair up to 16 S-Cubes for a multiroom speaker system.

The remote that comes with the system is quite basic, but it’s functional. You can use it to select the input, adjust the volume, or control the playback.

Damson S Series supports all Dolby audio formats including Dolby Atmos and Dolby True HD. It does not support DTS:X and it will convert DTS:X audio track to DD+.

When it comes to audio performance and surround sound effects, we have some mixed feelings and impressions. The good thing is that it really delivers Dolby Atmos surround sound and it does that with surprisingly good accuracy and clarity. Even that small Atmos module (S-Atmos) delivers quite realistic object-based effects. It’s definitely not better than some Klipsch elevation speakers but it’s pretty good. The soundstage and the surround sound ‘’bubble’’ are bigger than we’ve expected from such a small system. The center channel is still narrow, and that surround sound bubble is not huge, but it’s definitely better than anticipated.

 Things we don’t like

The bass reproduction is the biggest issue. The S-woofer maybe looks nice, but the bass is tiny and it doesn’t really make the impact. S-woofer simply can’t deliver enough bass to produce that immersive listening experience. It really lacks some serious depth and body. Because of such a weak bass, the treble becomes more noticeable and a bit too bright at moments. This is even more noticeable when listening to music.

In our opinion, this kind of audio performance doesn’t justify the price. This system is simply too expensive for what it offers. We are not saying it’s bad, but you can buy all kinds of wireless home theater systems for the same amount of money or less (Nakamichi Shockwafe 7.1 or 7.2, Enclave Audio CineHome 5.1, Polk Audio MagniFi Max SR, etc.).

Comparison Table


Conclusion

We’ve almost come to the end of our article on 10 best wireless surround sound systems. Hopefully, you have found something interesting on this list but even if you haven’t, you are probably more aware of what to expect and what to search for.

If you are going to keep on with your search, let’s just make a small list of things you should pay attention to when buying a wireless surround sound system.

Things You Should Pay Attention to When Looking for Wireless Surround System

The list of important features you should pay attention to when buying wireless surround system could easily be much longer, but we’ve decided to concentrate on three things only – sound quality, type of wireless connection (Bluetooth or Wi-Fi), and type of surround sound (true or simulated) along with supported surround sound formats.

Wireless Surround System

Sound quality

When it comes to sound quality there’s a lot of technical specifications you can look at – frequency response, rated output power, RMS, signal to noise ratio, Total Harmonic Distortion, etc. You should be searching for wide and maybe not perfectly flat frequency response but rather something with an emphasis on bass (it should go as low as possible and as high as possible). Output power and RMS should be as high as possible as well as signal to noise ratio, and Total Harmonic Distortion should be lower than 1%. But, in the end, your decision depends more on your perception of the sound than on some numbers and we highly recommend trying the system in the nearest audio store before buying it. Numbers can tell you a lot of things and you can see the difference between high-quality and poor-quality speakers through these numbers but it’s even more important to hear the sound and see if it’s pleasant and loud enough for your taste.

Type of Wireless Connection and The Amount of Autonomy You’ll Get   

Basically, you can choose between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. We have already explained all the downsides and upsides of both connections at the beginning of this article. In short, Wi-Fi offers better sound quality and greater range but it’s a bit more difficult to install and it costs more. Bluetooth is easier to install and more ubiquitous (you can use it with pretty much all of your devices since all of them have Bluetooth while Wi-Fi could be a little bit trickier and you may experience some incompatibility issues). On the other hand, Bluetooth audio is compressed hence, worse than Wi-Fi audio.

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The other important thing is the number of cables you have to use. You already know that wireless surround sound systems are not really wireless and that some cables are always present but how many cables is the important question. The fact that you have to connect the soundbar (usually the main unit) to your TV and plug it into the wall outlet is not a big deal since you can easily organize the cables and hide them behind the TV stand or behind the TV. And even if you don’t hide them, they won’t make a mess on your floor and you’ll be able to walk without tripping over them. Much more important thing is that you don’t have to wire up surround and rear speakers to the main unit or to the receiver – that’s the thing you want to avoid and that’s what most wireless surround sound systems offer. In some cases, you will have to place your wireless (usually Bluetooth) subwoofer with built-in amplifiers behind or next to your couch and wire two rear speakers to the subwoofer. In our opinion, this is not such a great option since the cables are only repositioned and not eliminated. The only thing that you get with this system is the Bluetooth connectivity and the ability to stream music from your Bluetooth-enabled devices (and they are much cheaper).

The Number of Speakers (Simulated Surround Sound VS Real Surround Sound)

Some wireless surround sound systems feature 5 speakers just like traditional setups but you will more often see a soundbar (with 3, 5, or more drivers) combined with two surround speakers and a subwoofer or, in some cases, only soundbar with subwoofer. All of these surround sound system support 5.1 audio tracks (DD 5.1 and DTS 5.1), but some of them can simulate 7.1 audio or even object-based audio (Dolby Atmos or DTS:X). Simulation is never as good as real 5.1.4 or 7.1.4 surround system and it usually sounds a bit strange, but it’s nice little addition to the package and you will be able to play these two audio formats if you want to.

New Trends in wireless surround sound and WiSA Certification

WiSA is an organization established in 2012 in California. This is actually an industry group whose members are audio equipment manufacturers like Harman/Kardon, JBL, LG, B&O, Klipsch, Pioneer, Onkyo, Polk, Enclave, Martin Logan, etc. WiSA is an acronym for Wireless Speaker and Audio Association and its main goal is to establish some standards in Wi-Fi audio and video equipment and certify products (wireless speakers, wireless surround sound systems, AV receivers) that meet WiSA standards. The final idea is to include all the producers of wireless audio equipment into this organization, establish some universal standards and make all the wireless surround sound equipment interoperable and reliable. At this moment, there’s a long road ahead of this organization since some of the famous manufacturers of wireless speakers and surround sound systems (like SONOS or BOSE) are still not members and there is no unique standard for all the wireless surround sound systems. But, you can be assured as a customer that all the WiSA certified products (like Enclave 5.1 that’s on the list) meet WiSA requirements and that they are reliable, interoperable with other WiSA certified equipment, and easy to set up.


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Brainwavz Alara Planar Magnetic Headphones Review https://www.audioreputation.com/alara-planar-magnetic-headphones/ https://www.audioreputation.com/alara-planar-magnetic-headphones/#respond Tue, 23 Jul 2019 10:44:07 +0000 https://www.audioreputation.com/?p=4242 Brainwavz is a young audio equipment manufacturer that’s been trying to make some real impact in the audio industry and position itself on the market for the past few years. Some of their previous models like the over-ear headphones HM5 and HM100 have been highly praised as great midrange headphones, but Brainwavz decided not to […]

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Audio Reputation AwardsBrainwavz is a young audio equipment manufacturer that’s been trying to make some real impact in the audio industry and position itself on the market for the past few years. Some of their previous models like the over-ear headphones HM5 and HM100 have been highly praised as great midrange headphones, but Brainwavz decided not to stop there. Alara planar magnetic headphones are the latest release from this ambitious headphone manufacturer and it is, by far, the most expensive and the best-sounding model ever made by Brainwavz. These are also the first planar magnetic headphones ever made by the Brainwavz. At $500 price point, Alara headphones have a few noticeable rivals on the planar magnetic headphone market, but there’s also a lot of great dynamic headphones within this price range, and the battle for their fair share of customers won’t be easy. It all comes down to what these headphones have to offer for the price. In this review, we are going to try to give you the answer to that question.

As you would expect from a pair of planar magnetic headphones, Alara headphones have a pretty neutral yet unique and very enjoyable sound signature, extended frequency response, and great responsiveness which results in very dynamic sound reproduction. The only real difference between the Alara headphones and high-end planar magnetic headphones is the amount of detail and maybe the wideness/airiness of the soundstage. At this price point, Alara headphones deliver impressive sonic performance and they are definitely on par with the competition. Now, there are always some nuances in terms of sound coloration, warmth, etc. that make each pair of headphones unique. Some other headphones could sound better to your ears, but that’s all the matter of your personal taste. What we can say with confidence is that no audiophile will be offended by the Alara sound signature. They are simply fun to listen to.

There are also a few other reasons, besides the sound, that could help you make up your mind and choose Alara headphones over some cheaper HIFIMAN, OPPO, or Monolith planar magnetic headphones. Alara headphones look simple but still attractive and elegant. Some people might find them boring because of all-black design, but that’s all up to you and your taste.

They are a little heavier but, after all, all the planar magnetic headphones are kind of hefty. The Brainwavz still managed to make them pretty comfortable for long listening sessions. Furthermore, they can be driven with your phone due to small impedance (20Ω) and a relatively high sensitivity (94dB).

Before we go deeper into the matter, it’s probably fair to mention some downsides. The only problem is – at this price point, there is not much to complain about. The only thing we are concerned about are the plastic yokes connecting the earcups and the headband. There have been no complaints in the past regarding these yokes but, based on our personal experience, they are usually the weakest link on many headphones. Using aluminum instead of plastic would cost just a little bit more and it might add just a little bit more weight, but it would significantly improve the durability. Still, compared to other cheap/affordable planar magnetic headphones, Alara headphones are solidly built.

Alara Planar Magnetic Headphones

UPSIDES

  • Aesthetically pleasing all-black design
  • Very comfortable
  • Easy to drive
  • Impressive sound quality – extended, tight, and punchy bass, dynamic mids, and clear highs

 
DOWNSIDES

  • Great sound leakage and poor noise isolation due to open-back design
  • Plastic yokes

 
VERDICT

If you are looking for the best entry-level planar magnetic headphones, Alara headphones deserve to be on your shortlist. They deliver a bit warm but still very addictive sound signature with a nice balance between lows, mids, and highs, airy soundstage and very precise imaging. Their sleek design and a great amount of comfort they offer are two additional reasons to try them.

What’s in the box?

Alara planar headphones come in a simple white box. It’s nothing flashy or premium like the OPPO PM-1 box or HIFIMAN HE1000 box. Inside the box, you will find a hard-shell carrying case Inside this case, you will find your headphones, one 2m-long audio cable with 3.5mm connectors, ¼-inch screw-on adapter, an additional pair of hybrid earpads, instruction manual, and a 2-year warranty.

Alara Specifications 
DIMENSIONS
WeightApprox. 17oz (including the cable)
Earpad cavity size2.4in x 2in x 0.6in
3.5mm cable length2m/6.5ft
TYPEOver-ear, open-back
MATERIALAluminum, plastic, faux leather
DRIVERSPlanar magnetic drivers
DRIVER SIZE80mm
CONNECTIONS3.5mm, ¼ inch adapter
OTHER TECHNICAL DETAILS
Frequency response10Hz to 40kHz
Max input power300mW
Impedance200Ω
Sensitivity94dB at 1mW
THDLess than 0.1%
ADDITIONAL FEATURESDetachable cable, hard carrying case, removable/replaceable earpads, a spare pair of hybrid earpads

Design

The Brainwavz adopted a minimalistic approach and made very simple all-black headphones. They are still very likable and very elegant-looking. In terms of design, they remind us of more expensive QUAD ERA-1. The earcups are made of aluminum. On the outer end of the earcups, there’s a very interesting mesh with a discrete Brainwavz logo.

The earcups are entirely made of aluminum and represent the most unique part

The earcups are entirely made of aluminum and represent the most unique part

The headband is made of aluminum and it is entirely wrapped in padding. The padding is made of memory foam and the finish is made of pleather. On the top end of the headband, there’s an embossed Brainwavz name.

Elegant all-black design

Elegant all-black design

These headphones look like something that could easily be the official of headphones of the New Zealand rugby team (also known as ALL BLACKS). Maybe if the Brainwavz changes the yokes and starts making all-metal headphones, they could make a deal with the best rugby team in the world. By the way, we can totally imagine ALL BLACKS performing haka while wearing all-black all-metal Alara headphones.

Features

The first and the most important feature are the planar magnetic drivers. That’s the thing that makes these headphones special and so expensive. You can easily make this kind of shell (earcups and headband) with some random (or even good) dynamic drivers for $200, but what really matters is on the inside. Alara headphones feature two 80mm planar dynamic drivers. Their frequency response is pretty wide – they can go down to 10Hz and up to 40kHz. Another great thing is that they are relatively easy to drive. They have 20Ω impedance and 94dB sensitivity, which means that you can get pretty good results even without an amp or DAC. Naturally, there will be more detail and more clarity in your music if you are using an amplifier/DAC.

When it comes to durability, we have no major complaints, especially when compared to other planar magnetic headphones within the price range. None of the planar magnetic headphones at this price point are perfect (in terms of build quality) and there’s always some room for improvement, but Alara headphones actually seem more durable than others. The only problem are the plastic yokes. All the other parts are made of metal and we don’t understand why they decided to use plastic yokes.

The first thing we’ve noticed about these headphones (besides the design) is the weight. They felt really hefty, even heftier than the other rivals. Our first thought was – there’s no way these headphones could ever be comfortable enough for long listening sessions. And, we were proved wrong. They are actually quite comfy. The weight is perfectly distributed across the headband and there are no noticeable pressure points. Both, the headband and the earpads are nicely padded. The earpads are similar to those on HIFIMAN headphones. They are called hybrid because the part that goes against your face has velour finish (which is supposed to be more pleasant for the skin) while the rest of the earpads is covered with pleather.

The headphones come with hybrid earpads similar to those you can find on some HIFIMAN headphones

The headphones come with hybrid earpads similar to those you can find on some HIFIMAN headphones

The clamping force is optimal. You won’t feel any excessive pressure. They are not made for mobile use, so you are not supposed to use them outdoors or while commuting. Also, the cable is a bit too long for outdoor use.

The only negative thing we’ve noticed is the headband size. The headband is adjustable, but even when it’s not extended, the headband looks really big. It’s definitely not suitable for people with small heads. The headband extension is also very short (only 25mm) which may not be large enough for people with really big heads.

The fact that you get an additional pair of hybrid earpads is definitely appreciated. We don’t want to sound ungrateful, but it would’ve been even better if that pair of earpads was made of different material (all pleather or all leather) so that you could get two different sound signatures depending on the type of earpads you are using. Unfortunately, the spare pair looks exactly the same as the pair that’s already installed. Still, we definitely appreciate the care. Most planar magnetic headphones come with only one pair of earpads.

Performance and Sound Quality

Like all the other planar magnetic headphones, Alara headphones deliver pretty neutral sound and almost flat frequency response, but with certain coloration and certain nuances that make them different from other headphones. What’s important is that none of the frequencies are too emphasized.

There’s a small elevation in the mid-bass region which adds just a little bit more punch and creates a foundation for the melody. It’s nothing excessive or overwhelming. It actually makes them very pleasant to listen to, especially if you are into bass-heavy music (EDM, R&B, house, hip-hop). The sub-bass extension is pretty nice as well and it really brings the additional impact.

The low midrange is nicely balanced with the bass. All the deep male vocals sound very clear and rich. The low midrange tones are followed by the slightly elevated upper mids which put forward the female vocals and instruments. Again, the elevation is not excessive and it doesn’t make the mids overwhelming.

The highs are also extended and nicely balanced with the mids. There are no noticeable dips or peaks. We haven’t noticed any sibilance or any brightness in the treble region.

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Overall, Alara headphones have mostly neutral sound signature, with just a little bit of warmth.

Since the headphones are open-back, the soundstage is airy and wide but could be a little bit wider. We would also appreciate just a little bit more separation between the instruments.

Alara headphones are simply awesome for bass-heavy music, but they perform great across the wide spectrum of music genres.

Like all the open-back headphones, they leak a lot of sound and they isolate very small amount of ambient noise.

The Competition

As we have already said, there’s a great number of competitors at this price point. Here are some interesting rivals.


HIFIMAN SUNDARAHIFIMAN SUNDARA

HIFIMAN SUNDARA headphones are a little bit cheaper than the Alara. Both of these headphones are over-ear and open-back.

We prefer the looks of Alara headphones, but when it comes to design it’s all about your taste and your preferences.

HIFIMAN SUNDARA are a little bit harder to drive and definitely require an amp to show their full potential.

Just like Alara, HIFIMAN SUNDARA headphones have a relatively flat frequency response. Their greatest highlight is the midrange reproduction. It’s incredibly well-balanced, very rich and dynamic. All the vocals are put forward and perfectly clear. The highs are also nicely balanced and consistent. There’s a small, barely noticeable peak at 5kHz. SUNDARA headphones deliver nice and punchy bass, but we prefer that slightly elevated bass response of the Alara headphones.

SUNDARA headphones deliver slightly better separation, airier soundstage, and just a little bit more detailed sound.


Oppo PM-3Oppo PM-3

Oppo PM-3 headphones are a bit more expensive than the Alara headphones, partially because the manufacturer (OPPO) discontinued the production of all the planar magnetic headphones (went out of business). If you like them, you should hurry up.  

Unlike Alara, Oppo PM-3 are closed-back headphones and they are meant for mobile use. They come with two cables, and one of them has inline controls and a built-in mic (available for iPhones and Android phones). Oppo PM-3 headphones are one of only a few planar magnetic headphones that could be used on the go. It’s not only because of the closed-back design – they are also very easy to drive (26Ω impedance, 102dB sensitivity).

Both headphones are quite hefty, but the manufacturers tried to cover all the other comfort-related issues and made them very comfortable.

When it comes to sound, we definitely prefer Alara, but Oppo PM-3 headphones are not bad at all. They deliver punchy and impactful bass, perfectly balanced and dynamic mids, but there’s some unnecessary brightness in the treble region. Also, Alara headphones deliver slightly wider soundstage, better separation between the instruments, and more accurate imaging. Still, you have to bear in mind that PM-3 headphones are designed for mobile use, while the Alara headphones are supposed to be used indoors, preferably when you are alone because of great sound leakage.


Monolith M1060CMonolith M1060C

Monolith M1060C could easily be the most affordable pair of planar magnetic headphones on the market. If Alara headphones are too expensive for you, but you still want to dive into the world of planar magnetic headphones, this is a great budget option.

Monolith M1060C are closed-back headphones and, just like PM-3, they are easy to drive and can be used on the go.

When it comes to design, we definitely prefer the more refined look of Alara headphones. M1060C have a bit rougher look but the wooden cups are nice and add a little bit of style.

M1060C headphones are lighter and a comfier for long listening sessions.

In terms of sound quality, we like Alara headphones more. Like all the other planar magnetic headphones, M1060C headphones have a relatively neutral response but, compared to Alara, they have more emphasis on the bass, while the low mids are slightly muffled, and there is also some brightness in the treble region. There’s no huge bass boost or some painful ear-piercing brightness, but it’s still noticeable. Alara headphones also have wider soundstage due to open-back design.


Comparison Table

HeadphonesFrequency responseImpedance
Brainwavz Alara10Hz to 40kHz20Ω
HIFIMAN SUNDARA6Hz to 75kH37Ω
Oppo PM-310Hz to 50kHz26Ω
Monolith M1060C10Hz to 50kHz18Ω

Final Thoughts

Alara headphones from Brainwavz Audio deliver impressive sonic performance and addictive sound at an affordable price (the word affordable has a very different meaning in the world of planar magnetic headphones). We were thoroughly impressed by the sound quality – it’s colored in a way that’s very pleasant to listen to. Design, as well as comfort, are two more highlights we would like to emphasize.

There are some minor flaws but most of them are pretty much expected. For example, you can’t expect planar magnetic headphones to be as light as the headphones with dynamic drivers – a little bit of extra weight is inevitable and you will have to deal with it. Also, the lack of noise isolation and sound leakage are simply caused by the open-back design. You can’t expect open-back headphones to leak less sound or to isolate noise better.

The only real complaint/concern we have about these headphones is about the hinges/yokes connecting the headband and the earcups. Unlike the earcups and the headband, the yokes are made of plastic. They don’t look flimsy or anything like that, but we’ve seen these yokes being broken in the past on some other models made by other manufacturers (HE-400i, for example). We are pretty sure that you won’t break them if you handle your headphones carefully, but replacing the plastic with a lightweight aluminum would definitely be a huge improvement and it would prolong the lifespan of these headphones.

 

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Bluetooth Multipoint Pairing Explained https://www.audioreputation.com/bluetooth-multipoint-pairing/ https://www.audioreputation.com/bluetooth-multipoint-pairing/#comments Sun, 09 Jun 2019 11:00:04 +0000 https://www.audioreputation.com/?p=4794 Bluetooth technology has been present for so many years and it has become an integral part of our lives. We are constantly using it without even thinking about the way it works or how much it makes our lives easier. The youngest generations were born after the introduction of Bluetooth and this is the reason […]

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Bluetooth technology has been present for so many years and it has become an integral part of our lives. We are constantly using it without even thinking about the way it works or how much it makes our lives easier. The youngest generations were born after the introduction of Bluetooth and this is the reason why they think of it as of something completely natural. Bluetooth is a very interesting technology and it hasn’t stopped developing during all these years and decades, so let’s say a few words about its working principle.

Bluetooth technology can be described as one of the technologies enabling wireless communication within a relatively short range, as the connection remains stable within the 30-40 feet range on average. Bluetooth technology development enabled us to establish wireless communication between some of our devices without using cables. In the beginning, we could connect two cellphones (or cellphone and Bluetooth headset) but the technology is now so advanced that we can connect many devices wirelessly and even several of them simultaneously (smartphones, tablets, laptops, PCs, speakers, headphones, etc.).

Bluetooth

The technology allows us to answer calls by using our headphones/earbuds, even speakers, use wireless mouse to navigate our laptops or transfer data from a mobile device to PC or vice versa. All these things are done by using the same system. Bluetooth technology is based on the use of transceivers, which operate on 2.4 GHz frequency. The core system with its RF transceivers enables a group of devices to be synchronized and form some kind of piconet (ad hoc Bluetooth network). Every piconet consists of one master device and the other “slave” device connected to the master. One master device can be paired with up to seven active slaves. Of course, there can be more slaves but there is no possibility for them to actively participate in the network as the other seven. For example, if the master device is your smartphone, the slaves in a piconet can be your headset, player, car stereo, tablet, etc.

This technology also uses the principles of inquiry scan in order to connect the slaves to the master device. It actually means that you have to enable Bluetooth connectivity on each device that’s going to be a part of the piconet and then the master device has to scan (send its signal to the other Bluetooth devices) and display the list of available Bluetooth-enabled devices within the range necessary for establishing a safe and stable connection.

This technology is still developing and one of its relatively new achievements is the possibility to pair several devices to one master device which can control all of them. For example, you are now able to pair different Bluetooth-enabled devices in your house, apartment or office and control them all with your phone. The possibility to switch between them, without the necessity to disconnect any of them is even more amazing and this is one of the reasons why we have decided to write about Bluetooth multipoint pairing, introduce you to this technology, talk about working principles and explain the advantages and disadvantages of its use.

What Is Bluetooth Multipoint Pairing?

Bluetooth multipoint pairing is still a relatively new and not completely perfected technology that was first introduced in the mid-2000s. It represents the next step in the development of Bluetooth technology enabling one device to be connected to two devices at the same time.

The old-fashioned wired headphones could be connected to only one device at the same time. If you wanted to connect them to another device, you were supposed to disconnect them and plug them into another device. The multipoint pairing technology works on the principles of Bluetooth technology, which means that you can connect your headphones to your phone via Bluetooth (no cables needed). The fact that we are talking about multipoint pairing means that your headphones can be connected to two devices (for example, two smartphones) at the same time. The truth is – the headphones can’t receive input from both devices simultaneously but they can definitely remain connected all the time to both phones and can receive inputs alternately. So, if you’re listening to music transmitted from one phone, you can answer the incoming calls from another phone and the music from the first phone will be paused during the conversation.

Bluetooth Multipoint

Not all currently available audio devices on the market support Bluetooth multipoint pairing technology but their number increases every day. Those that support it, have a title “multipoint” label next to the product’s name or, if there’s no ‘’multipoint’’ label, you will definitely find some info about multipoint pairing in the specs.

The main goal of the developers is to enable the users to connect multiple devices to one master device, which will be able to control them all (play/pause music, skip tracks, switch between calls, etc.). Imagine what a delight it would be if you could control all your Bluetooth-enabled devices with just one device.

How Does Bluetooth Multipoint Work?

The most important thing in activating Bluetooth multipoint pairing technology is enabling the Bluetooth connectivity on all the devices in the system. For example, if you have two smartphones and one pair of headphones, you have to turn on the Bluetooth on each device. After that, you shall put the headphones into pairing mode. It is usually done by pressing the multifunction or Bluetooth button for a few seconds. Once this is done, you have to search for the headphones name on the first smartphone and select it from the list of recognized Bluetooth devices. Once you do this, the headphones will be paired to the first phone. After that, you are supposed to go to pairing mode once again, repeat the procedure with the second phone.

How Does Bluetooth Multipoint Work

Sometimes, after you turn off your headphones and turn them on after some time, they will automatically pair with the last paired phone, while the first one should be reconnected manually. This is not the case with all headphones and things like these shall be explained in every user manual.

One of the common user’s questions about Bluetooth multipoint pairing is how to know which phone you are answering. The best way is to set different ringtones in order to be able to distinguish them. It’s even trickier to understand which phone is performing the outgoing call. Usually, the headphones remember the device that was last paired to them. This means that if you want to make a call from the device which is not active at the moment, you will have to do it manually.

Where Can You Use Bluetooth Multipoint Pairing Technology?

Although this technology may seem a bit excessive or unnecessary, we assure you that you will be very grateful and very happy with it the minute you start using it. It can really make our life easier, save us a decent amount of time and help us relax while enjoying different entertaining activities.

Bluetooth multipoint pairing is convenient whenever you want to use multiple Bluetooth devices simultaneously (when driving a car, working in your office or relaxing at your home).

For example, if you want your Bluetooth car kit to stay connected to both of your phones while driving, Bluetooth multipoint pairing is absolutely necessary and it will allow you to listen to your favorite music while being able to take important calls handsfree.

Bluetooth car kit

Also, if you’re working on a computer, listening to music or playing video games on one of your Bluetooth devices and you still want to be able to answer a call without the necessity to completely stop your current activity, this feature is great for you.

Bluetooth multipoint pairing can be used everywhere and more and more devices support it (Bluetooth headsets, Bluetooth speakers, Bluetooth car kits, smartphones, etc.).

How Many Devices Can Be Paired to a Single Bluetooth Device?

Bluetooth devices are able to pair to 7 devices simultaneously and remember all of them. It seems enough but if it happens that you pair it with the 8th device, the first device that was paired to your Bluetooth multipoint device will be deleted from the device’s memory. In case you want to delete all the memorized devices, pressing the reset button should do the job and you will be able to add 7 new devices to your device’s memory.

The important thing to remember is that your device will be able to automatically reconnect only to the last used/paired device after both of them are turned on again.

In addition, we have to mention that understanding the difference between transmitters and receivers. The transmitters are in charge of sending data to one or more Bluetooth devices simultaneously (for example, the audio data can be sent from a transmitter to two Bluetooth headsets). On the other hand, a multipoint receiver is able to connect to one or more transmitters at the same time (a car kit with a wireless multipoint receiver is able to connect simultaneously to two phones) but it is very important to note that only one of them will be able to work at a time.

What Types of Bluetooth Multipoint Pairing Exist?

Simple multipoint

This is the simplest type of Bluetooth multipoint pairing technology because it means that only two devices are connected to your Bluetooth multipoint device at the same time. For example, if your headphones are connected to 2 smartphones, and if you’re listening to music playing on one of them, the music will be paused if the second phone rings. After the call ends, the music playback will be resumed. Also, if you’re already talking and the second phone rings, you can answer the second call directly from your headphones.

Advanced multipoint

This type is basically the same as the previously described type with a few slight improvements. The working principle remains the same – two Bluetooth devices are simultaneously connected to one Bluetooth multipoint device (two smartphones and a pair of headphones). The important difference is that you don’t have to end your call when the second phone rings because the technology will put the first one on hold. You can also switch between the calls because the one that is currently not active will be on hold as long as necessary.

Triple connectivity

Bluetooth multipoint devices with triple connectivity can be paired with up to three devices simultaneously. For example, you can connect your smartphone, desk phone, and your computer and make conference calls.

Advantages of Bluetooth Multipoint Pairing

Bluetooth multipoint pairing technology enables you to be available for all the important calls all the time. It saves you time because you don’t have to waste it on searching for every single device in order to use it. For example, if you are listening to music stored on one of your phones, you don’t have to miss an important call coming from your second phone. You don’t even have to be next to your devices. Connect your headphones to both of them and you will be able to interchangeably listen to music and answer calls.

Disadvantages of Bluetooth Multipoint Pairing

This technology is so great that we really don’t have any important complaints to make about it. The only thing we can say is that it hasn’t been perfected yet and that it fails sometimes. Also, not all the Bluetooth devices are multipoint devices (they don’t all support multipoint pairing).

The Bluetooth technology is constantly being improved and we are eager to see the new improvements and more devices supporting multipoint pairing in the years to come.

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Best Bone Conduction Audio Sunglasses & Bluetooth Audio Sunglasses https://www.audioreputation.com/bone-conduction-sunglasses/ https://www.audioreputation.com/bone-conduction-sunglasses/#respond Fri, 10 May 2019 15:13:37 +0000 https://www.audioreputation.com/?p=4981 A few months ago, we have presented to you our selection of the best bone conduction headphones, and now, it’s time for bone conduction audio sunglasses. The market is not actually flooded with these glasses and that’s an understatement. To be completely honest, there are only a few decent models out there. In order to […]

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A few months ago, we have presented to you our selection of the best bone conduction headphones, and now, it’s time for bone conduction audio sunglasses. The market is not actually flooded with these glasses and that’s an understatement. To be completely honest, there are only a few decent models out there. In order to give you more options, we have decided to enrich our selection with some Bluetooth audio sunglasses (which look similar to bone conduction glasses but work in a different way) and some upcoming smart glasses (all of them feature bone conduction technology). So, just to be clear, the first three models on the list are bone conduction glasses, the next four are Bluetooth audio glasses, and all the upcoming releases are also bone conduction glasses.

What Are Bone Conduction Technology and Bone Conduction Glasses/Headphones?

Bone Conduction is basically a nonstandard way of sound transmission. All the old-school headphones/earphones use the air as a medium for sound transmission which means that sound travels from the source (headphone) through the air and through your outer, middle, and inner ear, to your eardrums and then to your cochlea. Instead of using air, bone conduction headphones use bones for sound transmission. That way, the sound bypasses your outer and middle ear (and eardrums) and gets transmitted directly to your inner ear.

This simple difference between the old-school and bone conduction headphones causes all the differences in design and working principle and, furthermore, it makes them suitable for different things.

Instead of standard mini loudspeakers you can find in regular headphones and earphones, bone conduction glasses/headphones feature small vibrating speakers/transducers that go onto your cheekbones. They produce the sound which can be heard but they also vibrate and those vibrations are transmitted through your bones. This ‘’small’’ difference in working principle is the thing responsible for all the advantages and disadvantages of bone conduction sunglasses/headphones.



If you want to find out more about the bone conduction technology, you can read our article on the best bone conduction headphones.

Best Bone Conduction Audio Sunglasses & Bluetooth Audio Sunglasses – Comparison Table

Bone Conduction SunglassesRatingPriceReview
Zungle V2 Viper3.3Check PriceRead Review
VocalSkull Alien 53.9Check PriceRead Review
AcTek3.5Check PriceRead Review
TechKen4.1Check PriceRead Review
OhO3.8Check PriceRead Review
Inventiv3.9Check PriceRead Review
Bose AR4.3Check PriceRead Review
UPCOMING RELEASES / COMING SOON
OptiShokz RevvezRead Review
VueRead Review
MusicLensRead Review
OssiiRead Review

When you click on “Check Price” you will be redirected to Amazon.com.


The Advantages of Bone Conduction Glasses/Headphones

Due to their working principle, bone conduction glasses/headphones don’t cover your ears which allows you to stay aware of everything that’s going on around you. So, if you have to stay aware of the traffic (when cycling or running) or you have to keep communicating with your coworkers, bone conduction glasses/headphones are the best choice. What makes bone conduction sunglasses even better than the headphones is the additional sun protection. These two things are the most important advantages of bone conduction glasses for people with normal hearing, but there’s something even more important that makes bone conduction glasses and headphones so great.

If you are hearing impaired, especially if your condition is related to the outer or middle ear (conductive hearing loss), bone conduction glasses/headphones are not only the best option for you – they are the only option. They don’t work with all kinds of hearing impairment and you should definitely consult your doctor before buying them.


The Disadvantages of Bone Conduction Glasses/Headphones

The greatest disadvantage of bone conduction glasses is sound quality. Even the most expensive glasses/headphones can’t really compete with similarly priced regular headphones (or even much cheaper headphones). They are definitely not made for critical listening. If your only or most important concern is sound quality and you don’t have any kind of hearing impairment, these are not the glasses/headphones for you.

Now that you know some basic things about bone conduction glasses/headphones, let’s move onto the list. Remember – the first three and the last four products (upcoming releases) are bone conduction sunglasses. The remaining four are Bluetooth audio sunglasses (they are not bone conduction glasses).

This is our list of 11 best bone conduction audio sunglasses and Bluetooth audio sunglasses.


1. ZUNGLE V2 Viper and Lynx

Viper

ZUNGLE V2 Viper

Check Price on Amazon

Lynx

ZUNGLE V2 Lynx

ZUNGLE was probably the first manufacturer to combine sunglasses and bone conduction headphones into one product. A few years ago, they have started gathering the money through a Kickstarter campaign and, shortly after, their first bone conduction audio sunglasses called ZUNGLE Panther were introduced. Unfortunately, the first version was really crappy. The customers complained about sound leakage, unresponsive controls, and poor sound quality. The people from ZUNGLE didn’t stop there – they have tried to fix all the issues and introduced a new upgraded version. In fact, they have released two models – Viper V2 and Zynx. Since these models look almost exactly the same (the same frame shape, the same technical specs, etc.), we are not going to write two separate reviews. The only difference between them are the dimensions so you should check the dimensions before making the purchase.

The only difference between Viper and Lynx is in their dimensions

The only difference between Viper and Lynx is in their dimensions

In our opinion, ZUNGLE sunglasses are the best bone conduction audio sunglasses at the moment, but you should be aware that there are some interesting upcoming releases (like OptiShokz Revezz and all those smart glasses). There will be much more competition in a few months.

ZUNGLE sunglasses are available on Amazon, but it’s smarter to buy them directly from the manufacturer and save up to $40.

Official video

What’s in the box?

Inside a simple-looking box, you will find your ZUNGLE sunglasses (one pair of lenses is preinstalled), a proprietary USB charging cable, ZUNGLE sticker, short user manual, and 1-year warranty. Some protective case would be a nice addition to this package.

If you want, you can buy lenses in some other color separately. There are 8 colors available including red, green, blue, black, clear, etc. Each pair of lenses will cost you an additional 20 bucks or, you can buy a set of 4 pairs in different colors for $40.

Impressions

Both ZUNGLE sunglasses are very stylish. The frames are made of plastic but look quite durable. The lenses feature UV40 protection. They are also polarized and have an anti-scratch coating. The lenses are easily replaceable/swappable and you can change them in a few seconds. The glasses also feature IPX4 rating (splash proof, sweat, and weather resistant) which makes them a good choice for workouts.

The control buttons are located along the left and right arm. There are two power buttons (one on each arm), two volume buttons, and two track buttons. All the buttons are responsive and the whole control scheme is very simple. You won’t be having any problems mastering the controls.

How to use Viper V2

The sunglasses feature Bluetooth 5.0 which is a huge plus. The connection is perfectly stable and very reliable. Pairing is easy and fast. The glasses will automatically pair with the last paired phone/device and they are compatible with both iOS and Android devices.

The manufacturer completely changed the speakers/transducers. The glasses now have ‘’VIBRA’’ speakers. This change improved the sound quality and reduced the sound leakage. We were not blown away by the sound but it’s more than decent when you compare them to AfterShokz bone conduction headphones. The leakage is not exactly nonexistent but it’s kept to a minimum.

The battery inside the glasses is kind of small (115mAh). This capacity is enough for 4 hours of playtime at 70% volume. The recharge takes 1h which is quite fast, but we were not very happy about the proprietary charging cable. You can’t use just any charging cable to recharge the battery and you should try not to lose this one.

ZUNGLE glasses also have a built-in mic. You can use it to answer calls or to activate Siri or Google Assistant.

These glasses are not perfect when it comes to sound quality but, if you want to try something new and interesting like bone conduction glasses, and you don’t know which brand to choose, ZUNGLE is a safe choice.

Comparison Table


2. VocalSkull Alien 5 Bone Conduction Glasses

VocalSkull Alien 5 Bone Conduction Glasses

Check Price on Amazon

Alien 5 is the second-best choice. If your budget is set at approx. $100 and you can’t afford ZUNGLE glasses, this is your go-to model. Alien 5 is the upgraded version of Alien bone conduction glasses. The manufacturer decided to go from Alien 1 (or just Alien) to Alien 5.  The biggest change compared to the first version are the drivers. Instead of balanced armature drivers, the manufacturer decided to use standard dynamic drivers.

What’s in the box?

Inside the box, you will find your glasses (one pair of lenses is preinstalled and you get to choose the color), USB to micro USB charging cable, 2 transparent resin glasses, a simple user manual, and 1-year warranty.

You can buy the lenses separately in 4 different colors – green, blue, gray, and transparent. Also, you can order your glasses with prescription lenses (for Myopia, Astigmatism, and Hyperopia) but it’s going to cost you $170.

Impressions

The glasses are quite stylish but don’t look as striking as ZUNGLE glasses. They also don’t look as sturdy as Viper or Lynx. Still, they are more resistant to water and dust than ZUNGLE glasses (IP67-certified) which makes them more suitable for workouts and jogging. Also, Alien 5 glasses are much lighter (32g compared to 50g) but, to be completely honest, that doesn’t make them significantly comfier (after all, 18g is not a huge difference).

The controls are located on the left arm. You have the power button, two volume/track buttons (+ and -), status indicator light, and a charging port covered with a rubber flap. Everything is pretty simple and easy to use. The buttons don’t feel equally good/tactile as the buttons on the ZUNGLE glasses. They definitely feel cheaper.

Instead of using balanced armature drivers, the manufacturers used moving coil drivers. These new drivers improved the sound quality and loudness (they are even louder than ZUNGLE) but also increased the sound leakage. The people from VocalSkull claim they somehow managed to reduce the leakage but it’s still noticeable at high volumes.

Alien 5 glasses have 250mAh battery which is enough for 4h of playtime. The recharge takes up to 2 hours. The playtime is not impressive but, when you compare them to other bone conduction glasses, 4h is the average playtime.

The glasses feature Bluetooth 4.1 with up to 30ft of range. They offer a stable connection within the advertised range. The pairing takes a few seconds. We haven’t experienced compatibility issues – they work with both iOS and Android devices.

The glasses also feature a built-in mic which allows you to answer/make calls. The call quality is not actually great, especially if there’s a lot of noise around you but it can be useful if you are at your home or in the office.

Comparison Table


3. AcTek Bone Conduction Sunglasses

AcTek Bone Conduction Sunglasses

Check Price on Amazon

Looking for the cheapest sporty bone conduction sunglasses on the market? This is your best choice. You can find these headphones under many different names but they are all the same and they are all made by the same manufacturer. We’ve had this same situation when we were making our list of the best bone conduction headphones.

AcTek glasses are priced around $50. You can hardly find cheaper bone conduction glasses and if you do, you shouldn’t buy them.

What’s in the box?

Inside the box, you will find your glasses (one pair of lenses is preinstalled), an additional pair of spectacle lenses, cleaning cloth, a pair of earplugs, USB to micro USB charging cable, user manual, and a 3-year warranty. Getting a 3-year warranty for this kind of product is kind of crazy but it’s great if it’s true.

Impressions

These glasses are the sportiest bone conduction glasses on the market, at least until the OptiShokz Revezz glasses get released. The previous two models were kind of sporty but also kind of stylish.

These are the only bone conduction sunglasses without any IPX rating. The lack of IPX certification doesn’t mean that a few drops of sweat could damage them and, based on our experience, they can definitely survive some heavy sweating.

The speakers built inside the glasses are pretty loud and you can hear them even without the vibration. The sound quality is not great – the lack of bass is really noticeable but that’s pretty much expected. The most annoying thing is a huge sound leakage at high volumes. Anyone sitting or standing next to you will definitely hear everything you are listening to.

The battery inside the glasses has the capacity of 140mAh. According to the specs, this should be enough for 5 hours of playtime but, in reality, you will get less than 3.5 hours at 60% volume.

The glasses feature Bluetooth 4.0 with up to 30 ft of range (without obstacles). The pairing is simple and fast, and the connection is reliable.

Like the previous two models, AcTek glasses feature a built-in mic and can be used for answering calls.  

Comparison Table


The next four models on the list are not bone conduction glasses. These are just Bluetooth audio sunglasses. Some of them offer pretty good sound quality and they all feature that similar open-ear design which improves awareness but they are made for people with normal hearing. People suffering from conductive hearing loss will not be able to use them.


4. TechKen Wireless Music Sunglasses

TechKen Wireless Music Sunglasses

Check Price on Amazon

TechKen Sunglasses are, literally, the cheapest audio sunglasses you will find. If you want to experiment with audio sunglasses and get the idea of what they offer, this is a great choice for you. They are priced under $20. You can find the exact same glasses under many different generic names (Elinka, TOPEPOP, PHEVOS, WONFAST) and they are all priced the same.

What’s in the box?

TechKen glasses come along with a USB charging cable, hard carrying case, cleaning cloth, user manual, and 1-year warranty. There are three versions available and the only difference is the color of the lenses (black, transparent, coffee).

Impressions

The glasses look quite sporty and not elegant at all. They are kind of bulky and have reinforced arms. The frame definitely looks very durable. On the other hand, a few customers complained about the lenses being too fragile. These are simple polycarbonate lenses without any additional protection. All in all, the durability is on par with the price.

The controls and the charging port are all located on the right arm. There are three control buttons. They are all raised and very tactile and responsive. You can use them to initiate pairing, play/pause the music, play the next/previous song, adjust the volume, and answer calls.

Two small dynamic speakers are located on the lower ends of the arms. They have small telescopic levers so you can place the speakers wherever you want (you can cover your ears with them or place them right next to your ears). These miniature speakers are quite loud. The sound is pretty good but without any bass. The biggest problem is the sound leakage. It’s really noticeable so you should try to keep your volume at a minimum if there are people around you.

The battery is really good (especially when compared to some more expensive models). You will get up to 5h at 50-60% volume. The glasses feature Bluetooth 4.1 with an advertised range of 30ft and stable connection within a 15ft range. Anything further than 15ft could cause signal loss.

In the end, we should not forget a built-in microphone. You are not going to enjoy using it, but it can be useful if you are in a quiet environment.

Comparison Table


5. OhO Bluetooth Headphones Sunglasses

OhO Bluetooth Headphones Sunglasses

Check Price on Amazon

Here’s another relatively cheap choice. OhO sunglasses are usually priced under $60 but, if you are lucky, you can get a nice discount and buy them for less than $30. OhO glasses are available in many versions. There are three types of frames – black, camo, and gray and six types of lenses – blue, green, silver, smoke, red, and transparent. You can also buy the lenses separately and replace them on your own.

What’s in the box?

The box includes your glasses (one pair of lenses is preinstalled), charging cable (USB to micro USB), protective bag, hard carrying case, cleaning cloth, user manual, and a limited 1-year warranty.

Impressions

OhO headphones are much slimmer than the previous TechKen glasses and they definitely look much better and feel comfier. The frame is made of plastic and looks quite durable. The lenses are polarized and feature UV400 protection which makes them much better than the TechKen glasses. The manufacturer also claims that they are sweatproof but there’s no IP certification.

The controls are very simple. On the right arm, there’s a multifunctional power/pairing/play/pause/call button. On the inner side, of the right arm, you will find a small LED light and a built-in mic. The micro USB charging port is located on the lower end of the arm.

Two miniature speakers are built inside the arms. They are located close to your ears and sound pretty good for a pair of really small and cheap speakers. Like all the other bone conduction and audio sunglasses, they leak a lot of sound and it’s impossible to reduce the leakage unless you lower the volume.

The glasses feature Bluetooth 4.0 with an advertised 30ft range. The connection is stable and reliable within the advertised range. The pairing is done in no time and the best thing is that you can pair two devices at the same time.

The battery will deliver up to three hours of playtime at 50% volume which is probably the biggest downside. The playtime is really short. The recharge takes 2 hours.

The microphone works fine but it’s definitely not great. You can find many headphones at this price point with a much better mic.

Comparison Table


6. Inventiv Wireless Bluetooth Sunglasses

Inventiv Wireless Bluetooth Sunglasses

Check Price on Amazon

Inventiv wireless glasses are very similar to previously mentioned OhO, especially when it comes to specs and technology inside the glasses. The frames are shaped differently and the speakers are positioned differently. Both models offer similar performance. Inventiv sunglasses are priced around $60 which is not too much considering the fact that you are getting a 2-in-1 product. There are three models available and the only difference between these models is in the color of the lenses (blue, red, and grey lenses). The frame is always black.

What’s in the box?

The package includes a pair of glasses (lenses are preinstalled), hard carrying case, cleaning cloth, USB to micro USB charging cable, user manual, and 1-year limited warranty.

Impressions

The most important difference between the OhO and Inventiv glasses is in their frames. Both frames are made of plastic and have reinforced arms, but OhO looks sportier while Inventiv glasses look more fashionable, more stylish.

The build quality is more than satisfying. The lenses are polarized and have UV protection. Based on the available info, the lenses are not swappable/replaceable.

There is only one control button and it’s used to power on/off, pair, play/pause, or answer calls. Since there’s only one button, you won’t be having problems mastering the controls. The lack of 2 additional volume buttons is definitely a downside.

The speakers are installed on the bottom ends of the arms and they are supposed to be located just above your ears. They are quite loud but the bass is really tiny, almost nonexistent. Like all the other glasses, these leak a significant amount of sound and if there is someone standing or sitting next to you, he/she will hear your music without even trying.

Just like OhO glasses, Inventiv glasses deliver up to 3h of playtime at 50% volume which is simply insufficient.

The glasses feature Bluetooth 4.0 with up to 30ft range. We’ve had no issues with pairing and connection. The glasses are compatible with both Android and iOS devices.

In the end, there’s a built-in mic which is always a plus. You won’t be impressed by the call quality, but it’s fairly decent compared to other audio sunglasses.

Comparison Table


7. Bose AR Audio Sunglasses

Bose AR Audio Sunglasses

Check Price on Amazon

Bose it the only really big name when it comes to audio sunglasses. Just like the previous three models, these are not bone conduction glasses. They are Bluetooth audio sunglasses. Compared to other sunglasses, these look much more premium, but they don’t really sound that premium. They are priced around $200 which is much more than those generic brands. You get to choose between two models (different frame and lens shape, different size) – Rondo (smaller frame with round lenses) and Alto (larger frame).

What’s in the box?

Inside a premium Bose-branded box, you will find your glasses, a proprietary charging cable, hard carrying case, user manual, and 1-year warranty. You will get black lenses but you can buy the lenses in rose and blue colors separately ($30 each). Also, you can ask Bose to install your prescription lenses.

Impressions

These Bose sunglasses definitely feel more premium and more durable than the generic brands we’ve talked about (after all, they are much pricier). The lenses feature UV protection but they are not polarized. You have a choice between two styles and, according to Bose, there will be more different options in the future. We preferred the Rondo style because of the unusual lens shape.

When it comes to controls, the things couldn’t be simpler. There’s only one golden button that you can use to turn on the glasses, initiate pairing, play/pause the music, play the next or previous song (double or triple click), and answer calls. Unfortunately, there are no volume buttons and you will have to use your phone to adjust the volume which is pretty annoying.

The speakers are located right next to your ears. They are really loud with nicely defined mids and highs and without any bass. The distortion is minimal, even at high volumes but the sound leakage is really big, especially when you reach 80% volume.

The battery was the most disappointing thing. You can get up to 3 hours at 70% volume. We understand that it’s hard to install a larger battery inside a small frame but 3 hours is simply not enough.

Like always, Bose didn’t reveal the specs. There’s no info on the Bluetooth version. The pairing takes a few seconds and the connection is stable within the 30ft range. We haven’t experienced any compatibility issues.

There’s also a built-in mic. In fact, there are two small mics, one on each arm. The call quality is decent but it depends a lot on the environmental noise and weather conditions. If it’s windy or if you are in a crowded street, it’s going to be much harder to make calls (the microphones will pick up all that noise).

The Bose has big plans with these headphones. Their original intention was to make them smart. The next generation of Bose frames will be able to give you directions, tell you what you are looking at, give you the basic info about the restaurants, clubs, monuments, museums, etc. Bose has already introduced their AR (Augmented Reality) concept and they are developing it in cooperation with their partners (like TripAdvisor, New Balance, Walc, NAVISENS, etc.). These Bose frames are AR-enabled and they will get much better in the future.

Comparison Table


The next four products on the list are not released yet but they will be in a few months. These are all bone conduction glasses. The first and last ones (OptiShokz and Ossii) are regular bone conduction glasses, while the other two models are smart glasses with bone conduction technology.


UPCOMING RELEASES / COMING SOON

8. OptiShokz Revvez Bone Conduction Sunglasses

OptiShokz Revvez Bone Conduction Sunglasses

We have really high hopes for these glasses, mostly because of the manufacturer. AfterShokz is, by far, the most reputable name when it comes to bone conduction technology and OptiShokz is basically the same company. OptiShokz Revezz glasses were supposed to hit the market in February but they are not here, yet.

Based on what we know, these glasses are going to be the first model that can compete with ZUNGLE glasses and we are happy to see some more competition.

OptiShokz Revezz are definitely made to last. The frames are made of nylon and one-piece lenses are made of polycarbonate and are polarized. They also have UVA and UVB protection. The lenses are easily replaceable. The glasses are IP55 certified (water and dust resistant) which makes them perfect for all kinds of sports.

Revezz glasses are also supposed to be the most comfortable on the market thanks to adjustable/bendable arms.

Unlike all the other bone conduction glasses and unlike all the previous AfterShokz headphones, OptiShokz Revezz glasses will have their transducers located behind your ear. We have no idea what kind of effect is that going to have on sound quality, but we don’t have any reason to be suspicious.

The battery inside the glasses will be able to provide up to 6 hours of playtime which is not impressive but it’s still more than what ZUNGLE glasses can offer.

If you are patient enough, you should wait for these glasses/headphones and compare them to ZUNGLE and Alien 5 before you make your choice.

Comparison Table


9. Vue Smart Bone Conduction Glasses

Vue Smart Bone Conduction Glasses

Vue smart bone conduction glasses, just like the ZUNGLE glasses, started as a Kickstarter project and based on the info we’ve found on Kickstarter, this is one of the most successful campaigns. The manufacturers have gathered more than $2,000,000 and their glasses are one of the most anticipated products. They were supposed to hit the market in 2017 but they are still not here and that made many people very anxious.

The manufacturer is incredibly ambitious and it plans to pack all kinds of technologies inside a super-light 28g frame. Based on the announcements, these glasses will be able to track all your activities whether you are driving, walking, running, or cycling. They will have 6-axis gyroscope and accelerometer, 5-field capacitive touchpad, and infrared proximity sensors.

The glasses will also have ARM cortex processor and 90mAh battery (up to 4h of playtime). A nice-looking wireless charging case will be included in the package.

They will be compatible with iOS (starting from iOS 8) and Android (starting from Android 4.3) devices.

The arms are going to be touch-sensitive and based on how you press it, you will activate different things.

Vue glasses will also have a built-in mic. The frames will be available in many interesting colors, and you will be able to choose between sunglasses, prescription glasses, or transparent glasses.

Everything about Vue glasses sounds incredibly interesting and very desirable. Even the price is not too high (at least compared to Bose glasses). If you want, you can preorder them for $250 but, our suggestion is to wait for the first reviews from the Kickstarter backers and hear their impressions. Everything about them sounds cool but there’s no guarantee that the first generation is going to meet the expectations.

Comparison Table


10. MusicLens Smart Bone Conduction Glasses

MusicLens Smart Bone Conduction Glasses

MusicLens smart glasses are another highly anticipated product. The glasses were introduced at the 2018 CES but they got some bad reviews (the reviewers didn’t like the sound quality). So, the manufacturer decided to upgrade them, improve those bone conduction transducers, and add a few more interesting features in the process. You can preorder them from the manufacturer. Depending on the model (modern, Vogue, or geek) the price goes up to $190.

These glasses are supposed to offer similar performance as Vue glasses (after all, the concept is very similar). Besides the bone conduction technology and sun (UV and IR) protection, MusicLens glasses will have touch-sensitive controls (just like Vue) and a built-in mic for making/answering calls. They will also be able to track your daily activities. They will be compatible with GPS devices and you will have the option to pair them with your navigation and listen to directions through the glasses.

Also, the glasses will have FM receiver built-in which will allow you to listen to radio stations without any additional equipment.

The glasses will also have smart facial recognition software which is supposed to pause the music when you take them off.

The manufacturer also claims that you will get up to 9 hours of playback which is quite impressive (compared to other bone conduction glasses/headphones).

Comparison Table


11. Ossii Bone Conduction Sunglasses

Ossii Bone Conduction Sunglasses

Ossii bone conduction sunglasses are another Kickstarter project. They were not as successful as Vue glasses when it comes to donations but that’s completely understandable since there’s a huge fuss about smart devices and these are just regular bone conduction sunglasses.

If we would have to pick one thing that’s so special about Ossii glasses it would be the number of different styles you can get with these glasses. This manufacturer basically obtains their frames from the Italian frame manufacturer called Mazzucchelli and then installs arms (which are not as classy as the Italian frames) and bone conduction transducers onto those arms. This doesn’t look like a perfect combo but if you somehow manage to hide the arms, you’ll get an incredibly stylish look. You can also choose one of many lens colors and you can buy the lenses in different colors separately.

Ossii glasses are quite durable. They are IPX6 certified (water resistant). They are also supposed to be very comfortable (very light + adjustable arms).

The lenses are easily swappable and the bone conduction modules are removable.

Ossii glasses also feature Bluetooth 4.2 with a standard 30ft range.

The battery is probably the most disappointing feature. It can deliver up to 3 hours of playtime which is not on par with similarly priced products (like OptiShokz and ZUNGLE).

Comparison Table


Conclusion

This is the end of our list but of 11 best bone conduction audio sunglasses and Bluetooth audio sunglasses but, before you go away, there’s one more thing we would like to discuss. A lot of readers asked us if all these glasses and headphones are worth the money. You can find our answer below.

Are These Audio Sunglasses Worth the Price?

The only thing we can say with certainty is that you don’t need them if you don’t really want to improve your awareness and if you care too much about the sound quality. The sound bone conduction glasses and Bluetooth audio glasses deliver can be compared to a quiet background music. It’s not going to blow your mind, that’s for sure. It’s kind of tiny and it really lacks bass. This applies to all the bone conduction glasses and headphones and to all the Bluetooth audio sunglasses.

On the other hand, if you want to improve your awareness or you want to leave your ears open for some other reason (to avoid ear infections, for example), you should definitely try them. Some models (like Zungle, Alien 5, and Optishokz) are maybe pricey, but they are not crazy expensive.

The group of people that will benefit the most from bone conduction glasses and headphones are people with certain types of conductive hearing loss. For these people, bone conduction glasses/headphones are probably the only way to enjoy music. Also, based on what we know (which is not much since we are not experts on hearing conditions), some people with mixed hearing loss might benefit from these glasses. If you have some kind of hearing impairment, you should consult your doctor before buying bone conduction headphones or at least try them and see if they help. You shouldn’t waste your money on something that doesn’t work for your condition.

Things to Pay Attention When Buying Bone Conduction Sunglasses

There are a few things to look for when buying bone conduction glasses. Sound quality should not be your main concern (we have tried to emphasize this as much as possible) but there are still some important factors to consider.

Price

The price of the bone conduction sunglasses and Bluetooth audio sunglasses goes up to $200. The most expensive (at this moment) are Zungle, Bose, Vue, and Optishokz glasses. If that’s too much for you, you can find a decent pair for less than $60. The cheapest audio sunglasses on our list are TechKen sunglasses (priced under $20) but they are not bone conduction glasses. The last three models from the upcoming releases section haven’t entered the market yet but, since two of them are smart bone conduction glasses, it’s only natural to expect them to be quite pricey (probably pricier than $200).

Design

Most of the bone conduction audio glasses and Bluetooth Audio glasses feature sporty design, but there are models that look casual or even geeky. The number of possible choices is not huge but you can still find something that suits your needs. On some glasses, you can even install your own prescription lenses and most of them enable you to remove the existing lenses and use the lenses in some other color (you have to buy these lenses from the manufacturer).

Lenses

Different glasses come with different lenses and it’s not only the color or the shape of the lenses that makes them different. The material the lenses are made of, as well as different protective coatings, are very important and they could raise the price significantly. Some glasses have polycarbonate lenses which are extremely resilient and improve the durability. Also, the lenses can be photochromic or polarized, or both. Some lenses have anti-reflective and scratch-resistant coatings, and most of them offer UV and Blue light protection. You should read the specs carefully and check what kind of protection these glasses offer. Style and fashion are important, but efficient eye protection matters even more.

Comfort

Some of these glasses (especially the cheap ones) are kind of plasticky and some of them are also a bit heavy and don’t feel comfortable enough for long wearing sessions. Pricier glasses have rubberized arms and are very light (almost like regular sunglasses) which makes them much comfier. The amount of comfort you get depends a lot on the money you are prepared to spend.

Sound quality

As we have repeated many times before, you should not expect exceptional sonic performance. Still, that doesn’t mean they all sound the same. There are certain subtle nuances that could be the decisive factors for you. So, the best thing would be to try the glasses before making the purchase. Generally speaking, Bluetooth audio glasses are a bit louder and they could be a better choice for people with normal hearing. Bone conduction glasses vibrate and cause some kind of tickling feeling which some people find strange (but it’s easy to get used to it). The biggest downside of all these glasses is the bass response. As you probably know, it’s practically impossible for miniature speakers to produce a big sound. So, don’t expect these glasses to blow you away. Their sonic performance is very limited and you should have this in mind when buying them.  

Common Problems You May Experience When Wearing Bone Conduction Glasses

There are two common issues (besides the sound quality) you may experience with bone conduction glasses and Bluetooth audio glasses, and they are both caused by the design.

Poor noise isolation

Since your ears are left open, you will hear everything around you. This is kind of the point of bone conduction glasses so it’s not really fair to consider poor noise isolation a downside, but it can still be distracting when you just want to listen to music and enjoy. If you are using bone conduction glasses and not regular Bluetooth audio sunglasses, there’s a simple solution – use the earplugs and block all the noise. If you are using regular Bluetooth audio glasses, you can’t use the earplugs since you won’t hear the music.

Great sound leakage

This is the real problem and it can’t be solved. The leakage is inevitable, especially at high volumes. It’s more noticeable on regular Bluetooth audio sunglasses, but it’s also noticeable with bone conduction glasses. The person sitting next to you will definitely hear your music, especially if you are listening to music at high volumes.



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