For the first time, you can hear the sound of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter flying on Mars

ingenuity perseverance thumb
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter (left) and Perseverance rover (right).

A ghostly hum has been echoing across the plains of Mars’ Jezero Crater. It’s the sound of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter spinning its rotor blades at unearthly speeds and lifting itself away from the Martian dust. For the first time, you can hear it yourself.

NASA’s Perseverance rover, which carried Ingenuity to Mars, has recorded video of each of the helicopter’s four flights thus far. But during the chopper’s fourth flight on April 30, Perseverance’s microphone was on. It captured the sound of otherworldly flight from 262 feet away.

The dominant sound in the video, below, is the rumble of wind blowing across the open plain. But if you turn the volume up high, you’ll hear the helicopter whir as its spinning blades lift it from the ground. The sound gets loudest when Ingenuity flies across the camera’s field of view.

“This is a very good surprise,” David Mimoun, the science lead for the Perseverance rover’s microphone, said in a press release. “We had carried out tests and simulations that told us the microphone would barely pick up the sounds of the helicopter, as the Mars atmosphere damps the sound propagation strongly. We have been lucky to register the helicopter at such a distance. This recording will be a gold mine for our understanding of the Martian atmosphere.”

Scientists had to tweak the original audio a bit in order to isolate the sound of the rotor blades – they reduced the volume of frequencies above and below the helicopter noise.

Ingenuity is about to start a new mission

ingenuity helicopter mars
Ingenuity, photographed on Mars by the Perseverance rover on April 4, 2021.

Ingenuity’s rotor blades have to spin at more than 2,500 rotations per minute – roughly five times the speed of a passenger helicopter on Earth. That’s the only way the drone can gain enough traction in the thin Martian air, which has about 1% the density of Earth’s atmosphere. It’s the equivalent of flying at three times the height of Mount Everest.

For the flight in the video – Ingenuity’s fourth – the rotor blades lifted it 16 feet off the ground. Then it flew south for about 436 feet, snapping photos of the Martian surface along the way. It stopped, hovered, and flew back to its original landing spot. The drone reached a record speed of 3.5 meters per second.

The NASA team the data that Ingenuity’s cameras gathered to make a 3D map of the Martian terrain and pick out a new airfield for the helicopter. During its next flight, which is scheduled for Friday, Ingenuity is set to retrace its path to this new location then land there. It will be the helicopter’s first one-way flight. Before landing, the drone is set to climb a record 33 feet high.

NASA’s original plan was to abandon the helicopter after its fifth flight. But Ingenuity has proven so successful that the agency decided to give it a secondary mission. From its new airfield, Ingenuity will begin testing operations that the agency might want to conduct with future space helicopters.

That includes scouting and mapping, observing interesting features of Mars from the air, and exploring rough terrain that rovers can’t access.

“The ability to fly the helicopter out into terrain that the rover cannot possibly traverse and bring back scientific data – this is extremely important for future missions that could combine a rover with a reconnaissance helicopter,” Perseverance scientist Ken Farley said in a briefing on April 30.

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The best speaker deals – save $20 on Amazon’s Echo Dot smart speaker

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

echo dot
  • Speakers with good performance can be pricey, but they often go on sale.
  • We’ve compiled all the best speaker deals for May 2021.
  • Right now, you can get an Echo Dot for $30 – that’s $20 off its full price.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Great speakers can make listening to music far more enjoyable, and there are plenty of deals to be found. These days, even relatively inexpensive speakers can deliver well-rounded bass response, a well-tuned mid-range, and plenty of clarity and detail in the high end.

Whether you’re looking for a Bluetooth speaker, a smart speaker, floortstanding speakers, bookshelf speakers, or even a soundbar, you may be able to stay on budget and save some cash thanks to these awesome discounts. After combing through the web, we’ve rounded up the best speaker deals out there for a variety of needs.

Here are the best speaker deals in May 2021:

Echo Dot (4th Generation) (small)Product Card (medium)Product Card (medium, Preferred: Amazon)Jacket H20 4 Bluetooth speaker (medium, Preferred: Walmart)

Best Bluetooth speaker deals

Altec Lansing Jacket

Portable Bluetooth speakers make it easy to take your music on the road with you. Many of them are water-resistant, meaning you can use them near the pool or at the beach, and while they’re usually not as great-sounding as more expensive home theater speakers or soundbars, they’ll definitely get the party started at your next BBQ.

Product Card (medium)Onyx Studio 6 Portable Bluetooth Speaker (medium)Sonic Portable Bluetooth Speaker (medium)
Best soundbar deals

samsung hw t550

If you’re looking to enhance the sound quality in your living room without going all out for a full-sized surround sound system, then it’s worth considering a soundbar. Soundbars range in price and audio quality, but the best of them allow for full-bodied audio in a relatively compact package. Some models even include wireless subwoofers and separate satellite speakers for more immersive performance.

2.0-Channel Mini Soundbar (medium, Preferred: Best Buy)HW-T550 Soundbar (medium)SL4Y Soundbar (medium)
Best smart speaker deals

Echo Dot light

Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Apple’s Siri have gotten a whole lot smarter over the past few years, and they can now help you with a huge range of tasks, including controlling smart home devices, finding out information from the web, and more. There are often deals on smart speakers too – so you might be able to pick one up at a super low price. So models even include screens, enabling video playback to go along with audio. 

Echo Dot (4th Generation) (small)Product Card (medium, Preferred: Amazon)Product Card (medium)Product Card (medium)
Best home theater speaker deals

Klipsch Reference 820F system

Soundbars are great, but if you truly want the most immersive movie-watching or gaming experience, it’s worth looking into home theater speakers. Home theater speakers can be set up as a simple pair of stereo speakers next to your TV, or a full surround sound system. It should be noted, however, that home theater speakers typically require a separate AV receiver for power and processing, which can make purchasing a full system pricey. Thankfully, the below discounts can help cut down your costs.

RP-8000F Speaker (medium)
Best computer speaker deals

Klipsch ProMedia 2

Want to avoid having to use headphones all the time when you’re at your computer? A great pair of computer speakers can make for a better PC gaming experience, or simply make listening to music and podcasts more enjoyable. Sometimes, computer speakers even come with a small subwoofer to help enhance bass performance.

Product Card (medium)
How to shop for speakers

There are a number of different types of speakers, and they can all serve drastically different purposes. 

If you want something to take to the beach or use on the go, then a portable Bluetooth speaker is your best option. If you’re looking to enhance your TV-viewing experience, then home theater speakers or a soundbar will do the job. If you want to bring a digital assistant into your home, then consider a smart speaker. If you just want speakers around the house, then perhaps it’s worth considering bookshelf speakers or a pair of computer speakers.

It’s also a good idea to take the brand into consideration when purchasing speakers. For example, if you’re buying a smart speaker, then it’s definitely worth looking at options from companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Sonos, and Bose. Vizio and Samsung, meanwhile, are both safe bets for soundbars. If you’re setting up a surround sound system, then brands like Klipsch and Focal will be a better fit for your needs. 

Last but not least, you’ll want to think about your budget. You can get decent Bluetooth and smart speakers for under $150 – but that probably won’t be enough if you’re looking for a soundbar or multiple home theater speakers.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The 5 best noise-cancelling headphones in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Great noise-cancelling headphones don’t just block noise – they also sound good and are comfortable.
  • Sony’s WH-1000XM4 are our top pick thanks to their excellent performance and features.
  • For more headphone recommendations, read our roundup of the best headphone deals.

Headphones with active noise cancellation are a little different from normal headphones that physically block out noise with padding. Instead, they have a microphone that picks up noise around you, and the headphones play a sound opposite to that noise to block it out. It’s a pretty neat concept that has given rise to tons of noise-cancelling headphones that are great for travel or simply getting a bit of peace and quiet.

There are a number of things to keep in mind when buying a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. For starters, you’ll want to consider whether you want over-ear, on-ear, or in-ear headphones. You’ll also want to decide on a budget. After all, adding noise cancellation to a pair of headphones also generally adds to the price tag. We’d also suggest you consider whether you want a wireless or wired pair, but the trend in noise-cancelling headphones is almost entirely based on wireless Bluetooth technology.

There’s also the fact that not all noise cancellation is created equal. With that in mind, we’ve researched and tested several noise-cancelling headphones in order to pick the very best models.

Here are the best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy:

The best noise-cancelling headphones overall

sony wh1000xm4

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 headphones offer the best balance of sound quality, noise cancellation, and comfort for the money.

Pros: Comfortable, long battery life, excellent noise cancellation, great audio quality, incredibly effective sound customization

Cons: Default sound is muffled and lacks highs and clarity, app is utilitarian and not super intuitive

The Sony WH-1000XM4 are meant to be a high-quality pair of headphones for “most people” to enjoy their music rather than audiophiles. With that in mind, they handily produce clear and detailed sound. Out of the box, the XM4s favor powerful sound with strong bass at the cost of brightness. However, the sound can be customized via the app, and the XM4s are highly adaptable to your tastes. 

Sony touts an impressive 30 hours of battery life and five hours of listening time from a quick 10-minute charge. Battery life in real life is great — it never feels as if I constantly need to charge the XM4. Comfort isn’t an issue, either, but that’s still a crown that’s held by the Bose 700, albeit by a thin margin.

Noise-cancelling performance is among the best you can find. The XM4s easily quiet home and office environments with mild background noises, and they make travel and commuting significantly more tolerable. They’re especially effective at cancelling out lower frequencies, and they do a better job than most headphones of this type with higher frequencies. 

The XM4s have a few advantages over the other biggest name in the noise-cancelling headphones space — the Bose 700. For one, the XM4s can fold up for better portability. Additionally, the XM4s have longer battery life, and Sony doesn’t use an uncommon cable for wired mode like Bose does. The XM4s are also cheaper at full price, and can often be found with additional deals. 

The best noise-cancelling headphones for calls

Bose 700 headphones in use

The Bose 700 headphones offer impressive phone call quality and upgraded noise cancellation. 

Pros: Unrivalled noise cancellation for phone and video calls, solid audio performance, simple setup, comfortable fit, customizable sound

Cons: Expensive, can’t fold up for more compact storage, uncommon 2.5mm jack for wired mode

For years, the Bose QC 35 II headphones have been widely regarded as one of the best pairs of noise-cancelling headphones you can buy, and while they’re still strong performers, Bose has an even better model on the market. The Bose 700 headphones carry over much of what made their predecessor great, while offering an updated design and improved noise cancellation.

When it comes to noise cancellation, the headphones have 11 levels to choose from. At the max level, the effect is among the best the industry has to offer. During commutes in NYC, the Bose 700s effectively block out all of the subway’s unwanted clatter. The upgraded tech even improves call quality, allowing the headphones to isolate your voice when you speak while blocking unwanted ambient noise. The Bose 700 outperform any other wireless noise-cancelling headphones we’ve tried in this area. 

The Bose 700s offer pleasing performance when listening to music. Bass is a bit subdued and the extreme highs can sound just a little harsh, but for a pair of Bluetooth headphones, the Bose 700s do a great job right out of the box. Bose also offers a customizable EQ option in the Bose Music app that lets you tweak the sound to your desired taste. 

The Bose 700 do have a few weaknesses here and there. The headphones can’t fold up for more compact storage. Additionally, the included cable for wired mode uses the uncommon 2.5mm plug. If you lose the included cable, replacements are more expensive than cables with 3.5mm plugs on both ends.

The best on-ear noise-cancelling headphones

Beats Solo Pro headphones

The Beats Solo Pro headphones look great, have a comfortable fit, and they offer excellent noise cancellation.

Pros: Nice design, more balanced sound compared to previous models, H1 chip for Siri support and easy connectivity with Apple devices

Cons: No USB-C connector

Beats has long built great on-ear headphones in the Solo line, and the Beats Solo Pro are no exception to that rule. They’re well-designed, look stylish, and they offer excellent noise cancellation to help cut down on outside noise.

The Solo Pro headphones provide a slightly different design than previous generations, and it’s a good look. They offer nice rounded lines and a strong build, so with the carry case, they should be more than capable of lasting at least a few years. They work intelligently too — the headphones turn on automatically when you unfold them, and they feature Apple’s H1 chip to work with Siri and connect to all your Apple devices.

The Beats Solo Pro headphones sound pretty great as well. While Beats headphones of years ago largely catered to bass fans, the Solo Pro headphones offer a more refined sound with balanced mids and a decent amount of clarity in the higher frequencies.

The headphones aren’t perfect. Notably, they’re a bit pricey, and they have a Lightning connector instead of a USB-C connector. Still, they’ve gotten great reviews — Tom’s Guide gave them 4.5/5, while MacWorld gave them a still impressive 4/5.

The best in-ear noise-cancelling headphones

Bose Original Photo

The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are among the best true wireless earbuds you can buy with near-unrivalled noise cancellation and a comfortable fit.

Pros: Comfortable fit, amazing noise cancellation, great sound, discreet design, long battery life, case supports wireless charging

Cons: Sound isn’t as good as the cheaper WF-1000XM3, bulky charging case, expensive, poor phone call performance in noisy environments

If noise-cancelling is your priority, then the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds should be at the top of your true wireless earbuds shopping list. 

The QC earbuds come with the reliably excellent sound quality that Bose is known for, but they don’t quite carry the full richness and clarity you’d find on the company’s larger headphones. Still, you get a good balance of bass, mids, and highs. 

As for noise cancellation, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are hard to beat in the wireless earbud world. The QC Earbuds did extremely well in our noise-cancelling test under a noisy highway overpass with a drone that measured 75 decibels. They almost removed the sound entirely, but they’re still susceptible to letting in some higher frequencies. 

The fit is incredibly lightweight and soft, as the rubber tips lay in your ear canal’s opening rather than fitting inside your ear like an earplug. Be warned, however, that they’re not especially secure and not the best for sporty activities. 

Battery life for the QC Earbuds is rated at six hours for the buds themselves. Including two full charges with the case, you can get a total of 18 hours. That’s not the best battery life we’ve seen, but it’s not bad, either. Fifteen minutes of charging in the case adds two hours of listening time. I have no reason to think that Bose is off with its statement.

The best-sounding noise-cancelling headphones

Sennheiser Momentum 3 headphones

The Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless headphones are well-designed and have noise cancellation – plus they’re some of the best-sounding wireless headphones around.  

Pros: Great design, high-end sound quality, comfortable fit

Cons: Expensive, noise cancellation isn’t on par with Bose and Sony

The original Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones were some of the best on the market, and now Sennheiser is back with another follow-up. The Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless headphones offer a stunning design with premium materials, and they sound fantastic.

The Momentum 3 Wireless feature leather over the headband and plenty of padding in the ear cups. They’re black-and-silver, which helps make them look nice and professional, and they’re easy to use thanks to the on-ear controls.

Perhaps the best thing about these headphones is how awesome they sound. The headphones offer plenty of bass, a well-tuned mid range, and a ton of clarity and detail in the high end. These are consistently rated as some of the best-sounding wireless headphones, period. The fact that they also have noise cancellation makes them even better. Battery life is rated for about 17 hours, and the headphones use Bluetooth 5.0.

So what are the downsides? Well, namely the headphones are pretty expensive. On top of that, while the noise cancellation tech is good, Sony and Bose headphones are better in that department.

Check out our other headphone buying guides

Vmoda

The best over-ear headphones


The best true wireless earbuds


The best cheap headphones

How to shop for headphones

Apple Airpods

Headphones come in all shapes and sizes with different types designed to fit different needs. A big pair of over-ear headphones, for example, can provide high-end audio quality for listening at home, but they’re not great for exercise.

Below, we’ve explained some common headphone styles, detailing the key advantages and disadvantages of each type. Wired and wireless options are available for all of the headphone styles we’ve listed.

Over-ear headphones: This kind of headphone has large ear cups that are meant to cover your ears to create a seal around them. Over-ear headphones are known for offering better sound performance and noise cancellation than other headphone styles. On the downside, they’re bigger and less suited for on-the-go listening. 

On-ear headphones:  This type of headphone also features ear cups, but instead of covering your ear with a seal, they simply rest on top of your ears. Though they can still provide good audio, this design makes them less ideal for isolating noise. However, on-ear models can be more compact than over-ear headphones.

Earbuds:  These are compact headphones with individual left and right buds that can either rest just outside your ear canal or be inserted inside. In-ear buds can feature different size tips to better fit different ear shapes, enabling them to create a tight in-ear seal for better sound and isolation. Some earbuds have a wire to connect the left and right buds together, while true wireless models are completely free of cables. 

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The best headphone deals – save $50 on Sony’s flagship noise-cancelling earbuds

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

Sony WF-1000XM3 Headphones
  • Good-quality headphones can be expensive, but they often go on sale.
  • We’ve rounded up the best headphone deals for April 2021.
  • Right now, the Sony WF-1000XM3 are on sale for $178 – that’s $52 off their full price.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

A great pair of headphones can change the way you listen to music. Sure, the random earbuds you have in your bottom drawer may do the job just fine for some, but if you want to hear nuanced details, well-rounded bass, or a sparkling high-end, you’ll need something a little more versatile.

Of course, quality headphone can get pricey, but there are plenty of good discounts out there if you know where to look. And that’s exactly why we put together this guide for the best headphone deals you can take advantage of right now. We update this list regularly, so be sure to check back for all the latest deals.

Here are the best headphone deals in April 2021

WF1000XM3 True Wireless Earbuds (medium, Preferred: Best Buy)AirPods Pro (small, Preferred: Amazon)Powerbeats Pro (medium, Preferred: Woot)Product Card (medium, Preferred: Best Buy)

Over-ear headphone deals

sennheiser pxc 550 2

Over-ear headphones may not be the most portable headphones out there, but they generally sound a whole lot better than in-ear headphones, thanks to their larger drivers. They also boast long battery lives and plenty of padding for a comfortable fit. Some models even include smart features — like integration with your digital assistant, noise cancellation, and more.

PXC 550-II Wireless Bluetooth Headphone (small)
On-ear headphone deals

Beats Solo 3 headphones

On-ear headphones are a good compromise between portability and sound-quality. Sure, you won’t be able to fit them in your pocket, but they’re light-weight enough to easily carry around in a bag or backpack without noticing much of a difference. Unlike over-ear headphones, on-ear headphones rest on your outer ear, but good ones don’t do so uncomfortably.

Product Card (medium, Preferred: Best Buy)
In-ear headphone deals

powerbeats earphones

Looking for something portable that you can easily put into your pocket? In-ear headphones are the way to go. We have technically split the in-ear headphones into two categories — so if you’re looking for modern true wireless headphones, skip ahead to the next section. 

The deals below are for wired in-ear headphones, which connect through a cable to your listening device, and wireless in-ear headphones which connect via Bluetooth to your listening device. Unlike true wireless headphones, however, regular wireless in-ear headphones still feature wires to connect each earbud together.

Product Card (small, Preferred: Amazon)
True wireless headphone deals

Apple Airpods

Perhaps you want to avoid wires all together with a pair of true wireless headphones. These headphones feature separate earbuds that connect wirelessly to each other and to your listening device. A good example of true wireless headphones are Apple’s AirPods Pro — which are on sale right now for $197.

AirPods Pro (small, Preferred: Amazon)WF1000XM3 True Wireless Earbuds (medium, Preferred: Best Buy)Powerbeats Pro (medium, Preferred: Woot)Momentum True Wireless 2 Earbuds (medium)AirPods with Charging Case (small, Preferred: Micro Center)Product Card (medium)Soundcore Liberty True Wireless In-Ear Headphones (small)
How to shop for headphones

Bose 700 headphones lifestyle in office

If you are in the market for a new pair of headphones, it’s worth figuring out exactly what kind of headphones you want. The first step is to determine whether you want in-ear headphones, on-ear headphones, or over-ear headphones.

In-ear headphones are more portable than any other headphones, while over-ear headphones are the most comfortable and deep-sounding. On-ear headphones are often considered a good compromise between the two. If you hate wires, you could also get true wireless in-ear headphones, like AirPods, which cut the cables completely. 

It’s also worth looking into a few headphone brands. If you’re an audiophile who wants the best-sounding headphones, companies like Sennheiser, Klipsch, and Shure are worth considering. If you want incredible noise-cancelling headphones or those that work great for day-to-day use, consider those from Sony or Bose. And, if you want plenty of bass and tight integration with your Apple products, look into headphones from Beats or Apple itself.

Once you’ve determined the type of headphones you want, you’ll want to figure out what your budget is. These days, you can get solid headphones for under $100, but as with anything, you get what you pay for — and the more you’re willing to spend, the better headphones you’ll be able to get. 

Check out our headphone buying guides:

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The best speaker deals – save $120 on Vizio’s flagship Dolby Atmos soundbar

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

VIZIO OLED TV and Elevate soundbar
  • Speakers with good performance can be pricey, but they often go on sale.
  • We’ve compiled all the best speaker deals for April 2021.
  • Right now, you can get Vizio’s 5.1.4 Elevate Soundbar for $879 – that’s $121 off its full price.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Great speakers can make listening to music far more enjoyable, and there are plenty of deals to be found. These days, even relatively inexpensive speakers can deliver well-rounded bass response, a well-tuned mid-range, and plenty of clarity and detail in the high end.

Whether you’re looking for a Bluetooth speaker, a smart speaker, floortstanding speakers, bookshelf speakers, or even a soundbar, you may be able to stay on budget and save some cash thanks to these awesome discounts. After combing through the web, we’ve rounded up the best speaker deals out there for a variety of needs.

Here are the best speaker deals in April 2021:

Elevate 5.1.4 Soundbar (medium, Preferred: Amazon)Pill+ (small, Preferred: Best Buy)Product Card (medium)Product Card (medium, Preferred: Amazon)Product Card (medium)

Best Bluetooth speaker deals

Altec Lansing Jacket

Portable Bluetooth speakers make it easy to take your music on the road with you. Many of them are water-resistant, meaning you can use them near the pool or at the beach, and while they’re usually not as great-sounding as more expensive home theater speakers or soundbars, they’ll definitely get the party started at your next BBQ.

Pill+ (small, Preferred: Best Buy)SRS-XB43 Bluetooth Speaker (medium)Product Card (medium)
Best soundbar deals

Vizio Elevate Dolby Atmos soundbar

If you’re looking to enhance the sound quality in your living room without going all out for a full-sized surround sound system, then it’s worth considering a soundbar. Soundbars range in price and audio quality, but the best of them allow for full-bodied audio in a relatively compact package. Some models even include wireless subwoofers and separate satellite speakers for more immersive performance.

One of the best deals you can snag right now is on the Vizio Elevate soundbar. The system is on sale for $121 off its full price, and it serves as a more affordable alternative to a traditional home theater setup. You can read our full Vizio Elevate review here

Elevate 5.1.4 Soundbar (medium, Preferred: Amazon)SB46514-F6 46-inch 5.1.4 Channel Soundbar (small, Preferred: Best Buy)2.0-Channel Mini Soundbar (medium, Preferred: Best Buy)HW-T550 Soundbar (medium)SL4Y Soundbar (medium)
Best smart speaker deals

Sonos Beam

Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Apple’s Siri have gotten a whole lot smarter over the past few years, and they can now help you with a huge range of tasks, including controlling smart home devices, finding out information from the web, and more. There are often deals on smart speakers too – so you might be able to pick one up at a super low price. So models even include screens, enabling video playback to go along with audio. 

Product Card (medium, Preferred: Amazon)Product Card (medium)Product Card (medium)
Best home theater speaker deals

Klipsch Reference 820F system

Soundbars are great, but if you truly want the most immersive movie-watching or gaming experience, it’s worth looking into home theater speakers. Home theater speakers can be set up as a simple pair of stereo speakers next to your TV, or a full surround sound system. It should be noted, however, that home theater speakers typically require a separate AV receiver for power and processing, which can make purchasing a full system pricey. Thankfully, the below discounts can help cut down your costs.

R-620F Speaker (medium)
Best computer speaker deals

Klipsch ProMedia 2

Want to avoid having to use headphones all the time when you’re at your computer? A great pair of computer speakers can make for a better PC gaming experience, or simply make listening to music and podcasts more enjoyable. Sometimes, computer speakers even come with a small subwoofer to help enhance bass performance.

Z625 2.1 Speaker System (medium)Product Card (medium)
How to shop for speakers

There are a number of different types of speakers, and they can all serve drastically different purposes. 

If you want something to take to the beach or use on the go, then a portable Bluetooth speaker is your best option. If you’re looking to enhance your TV-viewing experience, then home theater speakers or a soundbar will do the job. If you want to bring a digital assistant into your home, then consider a smart speaker. If you just want speakers around the house, then perhaps it’s worth considering bookshelf speakers or a pair of computer speakers.

It’s also a good idea to take the brand into consideration when purchasing speakers. For example, if you’re buying a smart speaker, then it’s definitely worth looking at options from companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Sonos, and Bose. Vizio and Samsung, meanwhile, are both safe bets for soundbars. If you’re setting up a surround sound system, then brands like Klipsch and Focal will be a better fit for your needs. 

Last but not least, you’ll want to think about your budget. You can get decent Bluetooth and smart speakers for under $150 – but that probably won’t be enough if you’re looking for a soundbar or multiple home theater speakers.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The 5 best music streaming services you can subscribe to in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Music streaming services give you access to millions of songs for a monthly subscription fee.
  • Spotify is the best service for most people thanks to its big selection, features, and free plan.

Music listening has come a long way over the past few decades. Gone are the days when you had to buy CDs, vinyl records, or cassette tapes. You don’t even have to buy digital downloads anymore. These days, you can simply sign up to a music streaming service and have on-demand access to all the music you’ll ever need on a device that sits in your pocket.

Of course, there are quite a few music streaming services out there, and they’re all a little different. Because of that, it can be hard to find the service that’s perfect for your needs.

When deciding which music service to get, it’s worth considering a few things. For starters, you’ll want to make sure that there’s an app for your chosen streaming platform on every device you use for music listening. You’ll also want to consider things like streaming audio quality and support for extra features, like digital assistants, music videos, lyrics, playlist sharing, and more.

Still figuring out which music streaming service is for you? We’ve done the research and testing so you don’t have to.

Here are the best music streaming services:

The best music service overall

Spotify

Spotify has a ton of music and audio content, along with a free streaming option and support for a range of devices.

Pros: Huge library of songs, podcasts, app support on many devices, free option, collaborative playlists, group listening

Cons: No live content, no lossless audio option yet (coming soon)

Looking for a music streaming service that has a huge range of songs and is compatible with all your devices? Spotify is the way to go. Spotify has apps for all major platforms — including iOS, Android, and your preferred web browser. There’s a free, ad-based plan that you can use for as long as you like, but ad-free streaming requires a monthly subscription.

One of the perks of Spotify is its focus on discovery and playlist curation. This includes the service’s playlist “enhance” button that lets you add similar songs to existing playlists. The app lets you filter songs by mood and genre, too. Spotify is also planning to add a “recently played” list to show songs you’ve heard over the past three months.

The service also has podcasts and video content, plus it streams music in up to a 320Kbps, which should be good enough for the majority of listeners. If that quality isn’t to your liking, however, Spotify does plan to introduce a CD-quality option, called Spotify HiFi, later this year. 

New subscribers to the Spotify Premium, Duo, or Family plans can receive a one-month free trial period. 

The best music service for Apple devices

Apple Music

Apple Music works beautifully on Apple devices, plus there’s an app for it across a range of platforms, including Android.

Pros: Large selection, live radio, excellent integration with Apple devices, curated playlists, three-month trial, discounted bundle with other Apple services

Cons: No free version, no lossless audio option

If you use an iPhone and other Apple products, then it’s worth considering Apple Music. Apple Music integrates perfectly with Apple’s hardware and software, plus it’s well-designed and works with your existing library of iTunes music.

One of the best things about Apple Music is that it integrates with Siri and the Apple Watch seamlessly, plus it can be played on a HomePod without issue. In other words, if you have other Apple devices, then Apple Music is probably the most convenient service to go for.

Apple Music has a nice selection of content, too. Apart from on-demand songs, the service offers the Apple Music 1 radio station and some exclusive music.

Though Apple Music was initially missing a web browser option, Apple now allows subscribers to use the service through internet browsers on computers and laptops without having to install a separate app. 

If you want to tap into what your friends are listening to, Apple Music also offers curated playlists for that, as well as other playlists for new music, personal favorites, and more.

New members can receive a free three-month trial. That’s two months longer than the trial period that Spotify Premium offers. Unlike Spotify, however, Apple Music does not offer a free version with ads. 

The best music service for audiophiles

Tidal

Tidal HiFi is available on a range of platforms, plus it offers much better audio quality than the majority of other music streaming services out there.

Pros: Excellent audio quality with lossless playback, available on a range of platforms, exclusive content, includes music videos

Cons: No free version, missing some features, HiFi plan is expensive

Tidal is a little different from other music streaming services in that it’s targeted toward those who want a higher resolution audio experience — and as such, it provides excellent sound quality. 

While Tidal offers a Premium plan that uses the same 320Kbps bitrate that Spotify uses, Tidal also has a HiFi plan that steps things up to a whopping 1,411Kbps in the lossless FLAC format. This means that you get to listen to music in full CD-quality exactly as it was meant to be heard. The HiFi plan also includes Tidal Masters, a feature with songs at a bitrate between 2304 and 9216Kbps.  

Tidal is also known for streaming some notable exclusive content. Albums like Jay-Z’s “4:44” and Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” were first launched on Tidal. There are also music videos and other behind-the-scenes content, too.

When it comes to other lossless music options, Tidal has some competition from Amazon’s Music HD plan. This service offers similar audio quality for a lower price of $15 a month. Unlike Tidal, however, Amazon Music HD doesn’t include videos. Music HD is also available on fewer devices and it lacks the exclusive releases that Tidal features.

The best music service for Amazon Prime members

Amazon Music

Amazon Music Unlimited integrates perfectly with Alexa and offers discounts for Prime subscribers or Echo owners.

Pros: Discounts for Amazon Prime members, large selection, Alexa integration

Cons: No content other than music

If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, you might want to save a few bucks and go for Amazon’s music subscription service, Amazon Music Unlimited.

Prime subscribers already get access to Prime Music with their membership, but if you want a more comprehensive music selection, then it’s worth stepping things up to Music Unlimited, which offers a bigger library of songs.

Music Unlimited is available on a range of platforms, including iOS, Android, and the web. The service is tightly integrated with Amazon’s Alexa, so if you have an Echo or other Alexa product, it’ll work perfectly.

New members usually receive a free 30-day trial, but for a limited time, Amazon is offering a three-month trial. After the trial, your subscription will automatically continue for the regular monthly price unless you decide to cancel.

When it comes to audio quality, Music Unlimited streams at 256Kbps. Music Unlimited doesn’t offer any non-music content, but apart from that, it’s a solid service for those plugged into the Amazon ecosystem.

For those who want lossless audio, Amazon also offers a Music HD plan with support for high resolution playback. 

The best music service for Android users

YouTube Music

YouTube Music has a decent library of songs, plus it integrates very well with Google’s other apps and services, including Google Assistant. 

Pros: Interesting playlists, good integration with Google services, free version available

Cons: Doesn’t integrate with Alexa, no lossless audio option

YouTube Music is the way to go if you’re really plugged into Google’s ecosystem of products. In other words, if you have an Android phone and want your music streaming service to integrate well with Google Assistant, then YouTube Music is a convenient option.

It’s also available on iOS and on the web, so you should be able to access the service wherever you are. The platform even offers location-based playlists and the ability to search for songs based on lyrics.

YouTube Music isn’t perfect, but Google has been working on making it better. The app doesn’t really integrate with other voice assistants like Alexa, so if you have an Echo you’ll be stuck with playing music through the Bluetooth connection on your phone. With that said, the service does now support Siri. 

Like Spotify, YouTube Music offers a free, ad-supported version. New subscribers also get a one-month trial to test out the ad-free Premium plan. 

If you’re interested in bundling ad-free YouTube Music and YouTube video streaming, you can package the two services together under a YouTube Premium plan for $12 a month. YouTube Premium also includes exclusive video content. Since this option is only $2 more than Music Premium is on its own, it’s a better value for music fans who also like to watch YouTube videos.

What is HiFi music?

iFi Audio DAC lifestyle

Most music streaming services offer base plans that feature songs presented with “lossy” compression. This means that some of the original audio recording’s quality is being sacrificed to make the file smaller and easier to stream. In other words, standard streaming audio isn’t equal to the quality you’d hear on an actual CD.

Though this loss in quality is hard to notice for the average listener, most audiophiles demand “lossless” music that preserves the full range of the original track. This is where “HiFi” music streaming comes in.

Different platforms brand their lossless audio plans under different names, including HiFi, HD Music, and Hi-Res Music. Though there are some differences between them, they all generally refer to streaming audio tracks that are presented in at least CD-quality. 

Tidal and Amazon Music HD are some of the most popular services with lossless audio options, making them a better fit for listeners who want the very best quality. Spotify will also add a CD-quality plan later this year. 

On the downside, lossless audio streaming requires more bandwidth so you’ll need a fast internet connection and big data plan. To take full advantage of the audio quality benefits you’ll also need a nice pair of headphones and a dedicated digital-to-analog converter, or a high-end set of speakers.

You can learn more about lossless audio formats in our guide to HD audio.

Check out our related buying guides

Apple Airpods

If you’re signing up for a music streaming service, chances are you’ll need a reliable media player or smartphone to access the app, along with a nice pair of speakers or headphones to actually listen to your favorite tracks on.

With that in mind, we’ve highlighted some of our other buying guides for streaming players, mobile devices, headphones, and speakers that are sure to come in handy for anyone who wants to stream music.  

The best streaming sticks and boxes


The best smartphones


The best cheap headphones


The best noise-cancelling headphones


 The best true wireless earbuds


The best speakers


The best Bluetooth speakers


The best digital-to-analog converters

 

Read the original article on Business Insider

Apple’s $549 AirPods Max sound incredible, but most buyers are better off with cheaper headphones from Sony or Bose

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

AirPods Max being worn

  • Apple’s AirPods Max offer excellent audio and noise cancellation packaged in a classy, premium design.
  • They offer crisp audio that sounds clearer than competing headphones in the $300-$400 price range.
  • But they’re still too expensive for most people, making them hard to recommend.
  • Check out our guide to the best iPhone accessories.

Apple’s AirPods have grown up, evolving from white, Q-tip-shaped earbuds that people once mocked to full-blown, over-ear headphones.

Apple released its much-anticipated AirPods Max in December after years of speculation that the iPhone giant had broader ambitions for its audio lineup. The AirPods Max, as the name suggests, offer many of the features that have made AirPods so popular, like quick pairing with Apple devices and the ability to tell when you’re wearing them to play or pause music accordingly.

And of course, Apple is also making some pretty big claims about the headphones’ audio quality, highlighting features like a custom-designed driver for delivering rich bass and Adaptive EQ, which optimizes sound depending on how the headphones fit.

But the AirPods Max come at a sky-high price of $549, making them leagues more expensive than well-received rivals from companies like Sony, Bose, and Sennheiser.

Apple had a hit on its hands with the standard AirPods and AirPods Pro. But can Apple make a similar impact on the market for wireless noise-cancelling headphones?

I’m not convinced just yet. The AirPods Max are the definition of luxury headphones. They’re top-notch when it comes to noise cancellation, comfort, and sound quality, but you don’t need to spend $549 to get a great experience elsewhere.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Apple AirPods Max specifications

Apple AirPods Max Specifications
Dimensions 6.64 inches x 3.28 inches x 7.37 inches
Weight 13.6 ounces
Audio features Apple-designed dynamic driver, active noise cancellation, transparency mode, adaptive EQ, spatial audio with dynamic head tracking
Sensors Optical sensor, position sensor, case-detect sensor, and accelerometer in each ear cup; gyroscope in left ear cup
Microphones Nine microphones total: eight for active noise cancellation, three for voice pickup (two are shared with ANC and one additional mic)
Chip Apple H1 chip
Battery life Estimated up to 20 hours
Buttons and ports Digital crown, noise control button, Lightning port for charging
In the box Smart Case and Lightning to USB cable

Setup

AirPods Max setup

If you’ve ever used a pair of AirPods, you already know how to get started with the AirPods Max. After taking the AirPods Max out of their case and holding them near your phone, you’ll see the familiar setup animation guiding you through the quick pairing process.

Once you press the “Connect” button, you’ll see a few instructions in that same dialog box telling you about certain features, like how to use the noise control button to switch between noise cancellation and transparency modes. And that’s all there is to it.

The setup process is part of what has made Apple’s AirPods lineup such a hit. Pairing other noise-cancelling headphones is also simple, but not quite as frictionless. To set up the Sony WH-1000XM4, for example, I need to download Sony’s app to register the headphones and follow the prompt to select them from my iPhone’s Bluetooth menu.

Design and comfort

AirPods Max 1

If there’s any indication that the AirPods Max are an Apple product, it’s their design. They may not have a visible Apple logo, but the aesthetic details give it away.

Everything, from the sturdy aluminum and steel finish to the way the left and right symbols denoting which ear each cup belongs on are stitched into the fabric, screams Apple. The AirPods Max even have the same rotating digital crown found on the Apple Watch for controlling the volume.

AirPods Max inside ear cushion

Apple’s headphones make the Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4 feel cheap and plasticky in comparison, and they should considering the AirPods Max come at an unusually high price for consumer-grade wireless headphones. Bose’s headphones cost $379, while Sony’s are priced at $350, making them about $170 and $200 cheaper than Apple’s headphones respectively.

That being said, the AirPods Max do have a very specific look given their large, oval-shaped ear cups and soft colors, which may not be for everyone. These headphones definitely stand out.

Overall, the AirPods Max feel more sturdy, durable, and premium than less expensive yet still very good headphones from Sony and Bose. I don’t share that same enthusiasm, unfortunately, for the AirPods Max case. The case only covers the ear cups and leaves the headband completely exposed, not to mention it has an unconventional look that inspired some jokes at launch.

AirPods Max case

It’s disappointing that such an expensive product doesn’t come with a more protective case. Although the AirPods Max seem durable, I’d feel uneasy tossing them in my backpack for a flight or even in my purse while commuting to work without fully concealing them.

The thick, soft cushions and large-sized cups make the AirPods Max a pleasure to wear throughout the workday, never leaving my ears feeling sore or uncomfortable.

However, these aren’t the right headphones to wear during a workout. They’re not rated for water or sweat resistance, and I noticed that the fabric ear cushions looked and felt a bit damp after a 25-minute run. To be sure, Apple isn’t marketing these for workouts, and most people probably prefer smaller, lighter earbuds for a run.

Some reports have also suggested that a few AirPods Max owners have noticed condensation collecting inside the ear cups, but I haven’t experienced this with my own review unit.

Noise cancellation

AirPods Max 3

The AirPods Max will surely do a great job of drowning out the world around you. They have nine microphones total, eight of which are used for active noise cancellation.

I sat underneath an elevated subway that runs above a very busy street near my apartment to see whether the AirPods Max were able to sufficiently drown out the noise, and they worked impressively well.

The rumble and screeching of the train above me was still audible of course, but the AirPods Max significantly dulled the shrill sound of the train grinding to a halt as it pulled into the station, and I was still able to hear music playing at half volume. Traffic was also barely audible when wearing the AirPods Max.

Apple’s headphones were noticeably better at blocking out the sounds of cars buzzing by and the trains pulling in and out of the station than the Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones 700, which use six microphones for active noise cancellation and four for voice pickup.

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 were a close contender, as they were able to pump out loud tunes that were still very audible over the train, much like the AirPods Max. Sony’s headphones use two microphones in each ear cup to capture ambient noise, which it then passes through Sony’s HD noise-cancelling processor. But Apple’s headphones were slightly better at muting the sounds of nearby street traffic.

You can turn on Transparency Mode, which debuted on the AirPods Pro, to hear what’s happening in your surroundings. I’ve found it to be useful at times when I essentially want to listen to background music through my headphones without completely tuning out the world around me. During a walk with my husband, I was adequately able to hold a conversation while listening to music with Transparency Mode turned on.

Sound quality

AirPods Max being worn 2

Regardless of whether you’re trying to block out surrounding noise, top-notch audio quality is a must for any pair of over-ear headphones, especially at this price. The AirPods Max deliver on this front by pumping out crystal clear audio with sharp vocals, deep bass, and plenty of punch across genres.

The AirPods Max come with an Apple-designed driver and 10 audio cores for delivering computational audio, according to the company. This enables features such as adaptive EQ and spatial audio. Adaptive EQ adjusts the headphones’ sound to the fit of the ear cups and measures the audio delivered to the wearer to optimize it in real time.

I’ve spent nearly a week using the AirPods Max for listening to music and taking calls, and also spent more than an hour and a half conducting side-by-side tests against the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose Noise Cancelling 700 headphones.

The verdict? The AirPods Max blow the Bose headphones out of the water in just about every scenario, whether I’m listening to pop, rap, heavy metal, rock, or electropop on Spotify. In each test, I listened to music with the volume turned up about halfway. And each time, the AirPods Max sounded much louder than the Bose headphones, with much more depth, detail, and color as well.

The AirPods Max sound more open, clear, and generally have a bit more definition and energy than the Sony WH-1000XM4, especially when listening to heavy metal or rap. But there are some instances where it’s a close call, which is significant because – in case you forgot – the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones are so much cheaper.

Audio can be subjective, but I find that the AirPods Max sound smoother and crisper than headphones from Sony and Bose, particularly when it comes to vocals and when listening at high volumes. Although Sony sometimes does a better job at isolating certain elements of a song, like the bass, Apple’s audio sounds more balanced, open, and defined. It almost feels like you can hear more of a song thanks to the increased clarity.

The AirPods Max also work well for calls and video conferences; I used them throughout the course of the workday for two half-hour-long calls, and the audio connection remained clear and consistent the entire time.

The bottom line: the AirPods Max offer top-notch audio, as they should for their price. But you can also get an impressive audio experience that’s probably enough for many listeners with the more affordable Sony WH-1000XM4.

Smart features

AirPods Max Connectivity

Apple’s high-end headphones come with all of the features you’d expect from AirPods, such as the ability to quickly pair when held near your iOS device, automatic playing and pausing when placed on or taken off your ears, and hands-free Siri access. They’re powered by Apple’s H1 chip just like the AirPods Pro.

I only wish Apple would develop a similarly useful AirPods interface for the Mac. Connecting your AirPods Max to a Mac computer requires pretty much the same process as pairing any other Bluetooth accessory.

That may have been fine when Apple was only selling earbuds, but most people who own noise-cancelling over-ear headphones probably use them with their laptop throughout the workday.

If you’re an Android phone owner, you’ll still be able to use the AirPods Max as a regular pair of Bluetooth headphones. But you’ll be missing out on the signature AirPods-specific features, like spatial audio and hands-free voice assistant access.

Headphones from Sony and Bose don’t offer the same helpful pop-up box confirming that they’re connected to your iPhone and showing the battery percentage. That’s because they don’t have the same level of integration with the iPhone’s software as AirPods.

But you’d be mistaken to think that AirPods are the only noise-cancelling headphones that come with convenient features. After pairing them for the first time, both the Bose Noise-Cancelling 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4 usually – but not always – connect to my iPhone with ease whenever I bring them within range.

Sony also supports some convenient features like the optional Speak-to-Chat function, which uses the headset’s microphones to detect when you’re speaking and pauses music to let in ambient sound. You can also place your hand over one cup to automatically turn the music down if you need to hear something quickly.

Bose, on the other hand, also offers compatibility with its soundbars so that you can watch TV loudly without disturbing others. Both headphones allow you to access voice assistants as well, with Bose offering hands-free Alexa compatibility. So each pair of headphones provides its own selection of features that may be right for you depending on your usage and preferences.

Touch controls and input

AirPods Max digital crown

Bose and Sony also have touch sensors built into their headphones for controlling music playback and other functions, unlike the AirPods Max.

Apple, however, has what in my opinion is a much better solution: the Apple Watch’s digital crown. You can twist the crown to control the volume, and press it to play and pause music or answer phone calls among other functions, which I find to be much more intuitive than the touch sensors found on other headphones.

It’s a lot easier to tell precisely where the digital crown is on the AirPods Max compared to the invisible touch sensors on other headphones, which often result in a lot of tapping and swiping around the outside of the ear cup as I get accustomed to where the controls are.

Where other headphones excel over Apple in terms of convenience is in the accessories they include in the box and their available input options.

Sony’s headphones come with an adapter so that you can use them to listen to in-flight entertainment systems, as well as a headphone cable, a USB-C cable, and a stereo mini jack located for using them in wired mode. Bose also includes an audio and charging cable with its Noise-Cancelling 700 headphones, which have a 2.5mm audio jack.

Apple’s AirPods Max, meanwhile, only come with a Lightning to USB cable for charging and don’t include any other input options.

Battery life

AirPods Max 2

Apple claims that the AirPods Max should last for 20 hours on a single charge. While I didn’t wear them for 20 hours straight, I can certainly tell that they should be more than capable of getting through a full day or a long flight with ease.

After wearing the AirPods Max pretty consistently to stream audio from my MacBook Pro and, in some cases, my iPhone during the workday, I still had 70% of the battery left after roughly 6.2 hours of use.

However, I did encounter some issues when it comes to power management, both of which have since been resolved. In one instance, the AirPods Max wouldn’t charge when plugged in until I reset them by holding the noise cancellation button and digital crown. In one other instance, I found that the AirPods Max’s battery had mysteriously drained from about 70% to 13% overnight when I left them outside of their case. I’ve reached out to Apple for clarity on both of these issues and will update this story accordingly.

While it’s great that the included Smart Case puts the AirPods Max in ultra-low power mode to preserve battery life, it’s a let down that they don’t actually charge the headphones themselves. The charging case that comes with Apple’s AirPods earbuds is hugely convenient, and it’s a shame that Apple couldn’t find a solution that translates to the AirPods Max in this regard, which would have helped justify their higher price.

Should you buy them?

The AirPods Max are well-designed headphones with impressive noise cancellation and superb audio. But their high price means they’re only worth buying if you’re an Apple loyalist that doesn’t mind paying a premium for high-end sound quality and a design that’s significantly more polished than similar headphones in the $300-$400 price range.

If you’re an Android phone owner, or are considering switching to Android, you’re better off looking elsewhere since you won’t get the full benefits that AirPods have to offer. If having flexibility when it comes to input and output options is a priority, the AirPods Max also probably aren’t for you.

What are your alternatives?

The $350 Sony WH-1000XM4 and $379 Bose Noise-Cancelling 700 are both excellent options. They work well across iPhone and Android, meaning you won’t have to remain tied to one ecosystem, and they cost significantly less than the AirPods Max.

They both offer excellent audio quality and noise cancellation that’s probably sufficient for most people, although I prefer Sony’s headphones over Bose’s based on my testing.

If you’re looking for professional grade audiophile headphones and don’t mind plugging them in, the $599 Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro are our current pick for the best over-ear headphones. They’ve gotten high marks in reviews from PCMag, TechRadar, and SoundGuys for their exceptional audio quality and comfortable fit.

The bottom line

AirPods Max 4

While the AirPods Max are well-built headphones that deliver first-rate performance, the benefits they offer may not justify the exceedingly high cost for most people.

The AirPods Max feel like a middle ground between wired audiophile headphones and less expensive wireless noise-cancelling headphones meant for casual buyers. Apple succeeds in that regard with the AirPods Max, but what remains to be seen is whether there’s a market for an in-between product like this. Apple has struggled in the luxury audio market before with its original HomePod, so we’ll have to see if things will be different for the AirPods Max.

Pros: Top-notch audio quality, excellent noise cancellation, premium design that feels more substantial than cheaper rivals, comfortable fit with thick but breathable ear cushions

Cons: Expensive, no charging case, included case doesn’t protect entire headset, no input options or included cables for other audio connections, AirPods pairing mechanism still exclusive to iOS, some battery-related bugs

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Vizio’s Elevate is more than just a soundbar – it’s one of the best $1,000 Dolby Atmos home theater systems you can buy

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

VIZIO OLED TV and Elevate soundbar

  • Vizio’s Elevate is more than a typical soundbar; it’s a full home theater system for under $1,000.
  • The device features unique rotating speakers and immersive 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos performance.
  • The Elevate is perfect for buyers who don’t have the cash or space for larger speakers and a receiver.

Table of Contents: Masthead StickyElevate 5.1.4 Soundbar (small)

Putting together a proper Dolby Atmos home theater system can be a complicated and expensive task. For a traditional setup, you need multiple speakers and a separate AV receiver to power and process everything.

Though this type of configuration offers the best performance, there are many buyers who simply don’t have the space and budget for that kind of investment. And that’s where a Dolby Atmos soundbar system like the Vizio Elevate comes in.

The Elevate is designed to offer a full 5.1.4 surround sound solution in a convenient package, complete with a soundbar, satellite speakers, and a subwoofer. The system comes with everything you need and it even features built-in amplification so you don’t have to buy a receiver.

With its up-firing speakers, the Elevate can make it seem like sound effects are coming from above your head. The front speakers also feature a clever rotating design, which allows them to automatically switch from up-firing to front-firing positions depending on what you’re watching.

I’ve been reviewing home theater products for nearly a decade, and after spending a month with the Elevate, I’ve come away impressed by the soundbar’s performance and value. The system’s software is a little glitchy, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better 5.1.4 home theater package for this price.

Vizio Elevate Soundbar specifications

Vizio Elevate Soundbar

Specs:
Package includes: Soundbar, two satellite speakers, 8-inch wireless subwoofer
Channels: 5.1.4
Formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Ports: One HDMI eRC, two HDMI inputs, 3.5mm input, Optical input, USB
Connectivity: Chromecast built-in, Bluetooth
Features: Rotating front drivers
Remote: Backlit remote included, works with SmartCast app
Voice assistant: Works with separate Alexa and Google Assistant products
Soundbar dimensions: 2.64 (H) x 48 (W) x 6.5 (D) inches

Design

The Elevate features a sleek, industrial design with an all black finish and aluminum build. Though a system like this is compact compared to a traditional home theater setup, keep in mind that the Elevate and its subwoofer are fairly large compared to most soundbar packages.

The system offers support for a total of 5.1.4 channels. This means there are five ear-level channels, one subwoofer, and four up-firing channels for height effects.

The soundbar itself has a left, center, right, left height, and right height channel. The satellites then serve as your left surround and right surround speakers, and each has their own height channel.

The height channels work by angling sound up to bounce effects off your ceiling. This makes it sound as if the audio is coming from above your head. Vizio takes the Elevate further by incorporating special rotating drivers.

Vizoi Elevate soundbar review rotating speakers
The Vizio Elevate features a rotating speaker that can switch between up-firing and front-firing audio.

The front height speakers can automatically rotate up or forward depending on what you’re listening to. When they’re up you can hear overhead effects. When they’re down, they help to create a wider front soundstage.

Various inputs are included on the back of the bar, including one HDMI eARC to receive audio from your TV, as well as two HDMI inputs to connect additional sources, like a game console or Blu-ray player. Full 4K HDR video passthrough is supported, and the Elevate supports both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding. DTS:X was incompatible with older Vizio soundbars, so it’s nice to have on this model.

Vizio also includes a handy remote with a small text display to scroll through settings and modes. Unlike previous models, this year’s remote is even backlit.

Setup

Vizio Elevate review
The system includes a soundbar, two satellite speakers, and a subwoofer.

To get the system set up, you simply need to plug the power cables in, connect the soundbar to your TV, and run the satellite speaker cables to the subwoofer. The subwoofer wirelessly connects to the soundbar. Though having to use cables for the satellites is less convenient than a fully wireless design, the included speaker wires are long enough to suit small and medium rooms.

To update the firmware and enable Chromecast music streaming you can download the Vizio SmartCast mobile app. I had some issues getting the app to find the soundbar during my initial setup, but after restarting it was able to connect.

You can adjust settings using the remote or the SmartCast app. This includes setting your preference for the rotating speakers. For the most accurate audio experience with movies, I recommend using the Elevate Auto setting and the Direct EQ mode.

This will automatically angle the Elevate speakers up when you listen to Dolby Atmos or DTS:X audio. The height speakers will then automatically angle forward when you listen to music, movies, or shows that don’t support overhead audio.

Performance

Vizio Elevate Dolby atmos performance
The Elevate’s up-firing speakers bounce sound off the ceiling to create overhead effects.

For a 5.1.4 soundbar in this price range, the Vizio Elevate delivers fantastic sound quality. To be clear, this isn’t an audiophile system that can equal a dedicated home theater rig with floorstanding and bookshelf speakers, but as a space-saving and cost-saving alternative, it’s a winner.

The bar itself has good separation and imaging, while the inclusion of separate satellite speakers provides genuine surround sound immersion. The up-firing channels also do a solid job simulating overhead sound, but the effect can be hit and miss depending on where you sit.

To test the system’s performance I watched a bunch of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X titles on Blu-ray and streaming services, including “Jumanji: The Next Level,” “Vertigo,” “The Mandalorian,” and various clips from demo discs designed to show off systems like this.

Throughout all my testing, the Elevate engaged with an enveloping dome of sound, fully engulfing the room with audio from all directions. Having the heights in the front and back helps to avoid any gaps, creating a complete Atmos experience.

When switching to regular surround sound, the system performs equally well, rotating the heights down to create a wider front soundstage. Music also sounds good, though tracks can sound a little bright and small when using the Direct EQ mode. Switching to the Music preset opens things up nicely, creating a bit more depth.

The wireless subwoofer offers ample kick for medium-sized rooms. That said, I find the sub to be a little too aggressive. Room-shaking bass makes sense during explosions, but when low frequencies become overpowering watching a Netflix rom-com like “Holidate,” you know something is a little off.

Some key bass cues I use as test material in “Inception” and “The Tree of Life” also sound a little too harsh, leading to some unwanted vibrations that make the subwoofer stick out in my room. I ultimately prefer to have the Elevate’s sub adjusted five levels below the default setting. This helps dial it in, but can rob the system of some punch. In other words, finding just the right balance is a little trickier than I’d like.

Still, the overall experience you get with the Elevate is genuinely impressive. I typically use an Onkyo 5.1.4 system with a dedicated receiver, separate bookshelf speakers, and a 10-inch subwoofer. Though I still prefer that setup, the Vizio Elevate’s performance isn’t that far off, and it’s a much simpler and cheaper solution.

Problems with the Elevate Soundbar

As impressed as I am with the Elevate, the system isn’t perfect. I’ve encountered some odd glitches here and there, as well as some issues with the soundbar’s software.

After getting the Elevate set up, the first thing I did was boot up an episode of “The Mandalorian.” Despite everything being connected properly, there was no audio and the Elevate’s remote stopped working. Suddenly, the subwoofer kicked in at full blast for no reason forcing me to quickly turn the system off for fear of angering my neighbors.

This strange glitch only happened once, however, so I consider it more of an anomaly than a major issue. There have been a few other times when the remote becomes unresponsive, though, and the SmartCast app loses connection with the soundbar occasionally.

The rotating drivers work just fine during my testing, but I ‘m a little concerned there could be some issues with their longevity after lots of use. Finally, there is a faint high-pitched noise audible if you put your ears close to the satellite speakers. This isn’t noticeable during regular playback, though, so I don’t consider it to be a real problem.

While not ideal, I don’t think any of these hiccups outweigh the Elevate’s many strengths.

Should you buy it?

Vizio Elevate soundbar lifestyle

The Vizio Elevate is a good buy for anyone who wants a genuine 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos home theater system under $1,000.

Piecing together an equivalent package with separate speakers and an AV receiver is basically impossible in this price range. In fact, most 9.2 channel receivers – which is what you’d need to power 5.1.4 speakers – cost at least $1,000 on their own.

If you have that kind of cash, you can configure a larger speaker setup that sounds better than the Elevate. But, that kind of investment simply isn’t realistic for everyone. Conversely, you can find plenty of smaller and cheaper soundbars, but they just don’t offer the level of immersion you get with the Elevate.

The Elevate is designed for home theater fans who want to spend less and save a little space without losing out on a full Dolby Atmos surround sound experience. And in that sense, it delivers exceptional value and performance.

What are your alternatives?

When it comes to similar Dolby Atmos soundbars with satellite speakers, the Elevate has some competition from brands like Samsung, as well alternative models from Vizio itself.

Most notably, Samsung’s HW-Q950T offers a similar setup with dedicated surround speakers, four up-firing channels, and a wireless subwoofer. Samsung’s model even adds side-firing drivers in order to simulate extra surround channels, enabling support for a 9.1.4 system.

That said, the HW-Q950T lacks Vizio’s unique rotating speakers. The HW-Q950T is also typically sold for at least $350 more than the Elevate.

It’s also worth considering two of Vizio’s cheaper 5.1.4 soundbars: the SB46514-F6 and the SB36514-G6. The SB36514-G6 is smaller compared to the Elevate, while the SB46514-F6 is more similar in size. Both of these models lack eARC and DTS:X support, however, and neither have rotating speakers or a backlit remote.

The bottom line

Vizio Elevate Dolby Atmos soundbar

If you don’t have the space or money to invest in a traditional home theater setup, then the Vizio Elevate 5.1.4 soundbar is the next best thing.

For a retail price of $1,000, you get everything you need for a complete Dolby Atmos experience – no costly AV receiver required. And it sounds fantastic for the money. The system is even frequently on sale for around $900, which makes it an even better buy.

Pros: Full 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos support, immersive audio performance, DTS:X capabilities, unique rotating drivers, affordable price compared to a comparable setup with separate speakers and a receiver

Cons: Sporadic software and signal glitches, some concerns about longevity of the rotating function, subwoofer lacks balance, no voice assistant built-in

Elevate 5.1.4 Soundbar (button)

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The best headphone deals – save $50 on Apple’s AirPods Pro noise-cancelling earbuds

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

airpods pro
  • Good-quality headphones can be expensive, but they often go on sale.
  • We’ve rounded up the best headphone deals for April 2021.
  • Right now, the Apple AirPods Pro are on sale for $199 – that’s $50 off their full price.

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A great pair of headphones can change the way you listen to music. Sure, the random earbuds that you have in your bottom drawer may do the job just fine for some, but if you want to hear nuanced details, well-rounded bass, or a sparkling high-end, you’ll need something a little more versatile.

Of course, quality headphone can get pricey, but there are plenty of good discounts out there if you know where to look. And that’s exactly why we put together this guide for the best headphone deals that you can take advantage of right now. We update this list regularly, so be sure to check back for all the latest deals.

Here are the best headphone deals in April 2021

AirPods Pro (small, Preferred: Staples)Powerbeats Pro (medium, Preferred: Amazon)Studio 3 Wireless Headphones (small, Preferred: Amazon)Solo3 Wireless Headphones (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

Over-ear headphone deals

sony wh1000 xm4 man at cafe

Over-ear headphones may not be the most portable headphones out there, but they generally sound a whole lot better than in-ear headphones, thanks to their larger drivers. They also boast long battery lives and plenty of padding for a comfortable fit. Some models even include smart features — like integration with your digital assistant, noise cancellation, and more.

Studio 3 Wireless Headphones (medium, Preferred: Amazon)PXC 550-II Wireless Bluetooth Headphone (small)

 

On-ear headphone deals

Beats Solo 3 headphones

On-ear headphones are a good compromise between portability and sound-quality. Sure, you won’t be able to fit them in your pocket, but they’re light-weight enough to easily carry around in a bag or backpack without noticing much of a difference. Unlike over-ear headphones, on-ear headphones rest on your outer ear, but good ones don’t do so uncomfortably.

Product Card (medium, Preferred: Amazon)Product Card (medium, Preferred: Best Buy)
In-ear headphone deals

powerbeats earphones

Looking for something portable that you can easily put into your pocket? In-ear headphones are the way to go. We have technically split the in-ear headphones into two categories — so if you’re looking for modern true wireless headphones, skip ahead to the next section. 

The deals below are for wired in-ear headphones, which connect through a cable to your listening device, and wireless in-ear headphones which connect via Bluetooth to your listening device. Unlike true wireless headphones, however, regular wireless in-ear headphones still feature wires to connect each earbud together.

Product Card (small, Preferred: Amazon)
True wireless headphone deals

Apple Airpods

Perhaps you want to avoid wires all together with a pair of true wireless headphones. These headphones feature separate earbuds that connect wirelessly to each other and to your listening device. A good example of true wireless headphones are Apple’s AirPods Pro — which are on sale right now for $199.

AirPods Pro (small, Preferred: Staples)Powerbeats Pro (medium, Preferred: Amazon)Momentum True Wireless 2 Earbuds (medium)AirPods with Charging Case (small, Preferred: Micro Center)Product Card (medium)Soundcore Liberty True Wireless In-Ear Headphones (small)
How to shop for headphones

Bose 700 headphones lifestyle in office

If you are in the market for a new pair of headphones, it’s worth figuring out exactly what kind of headphones you want. The first step is to determine whether you want in-ear headphones, on-ear headphones, or over-ear headphones.

In-ear headphones are more portable than any other headphones, while over-ear headphones are the most comfortable and deep-sounding. On-ear headphones are often considered a good compromise between the two. If you hate wires, you could also get true wireless in-ear headphones, like AirPods, which cut the cables completely. 

It’s also worth looking into a few headphone brands. If you’re an audiophile who wants the best-sounding headphones, companies like Sennheiser, Klipsch, and Shure are worth considering. If you want incredible noise-cancelling headphones or those that work great for day-to-day use, consider those from Sony or Bose. And, if you want plenty of bass and tight integration with your Apple products, look into headphones from Beats or Apple itself.

Once you’ve determined the type of headphones you want, you’ll want to figure out what your budget is. These days, you can get solid headphones for under $100, but as with anything, you get what you pay for — and the more you’re willing to spend, the better headphones you’ll be able to get. 

Check out our headphone buying guides:

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What is a subwoofer? How a bass-focused speaker can give your home or car sound system a boost

Two subwoofers
Subwoofers enhance the deepest sounds in your music.

  • Subwoofers are a type of speaker that boost the lowest frequencies in whatever audio you’re listening to.
  • These low frequencies usually include bass guitars, pipe organs, deep voices, kick drums, and movie sound effects.
  • Subwoofers are incredibly popular for home theater and car stereo systems, and are easy to set up.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

How many speakers do you own? If you count your phone, computer, TV, car – there’s probably more than you think. Speakers are basic equipment for anyone who wants to listen to music, watch TV, or even browse the internet.

But for audiophiles who value having a quality sound system, speakers aren’t so basic. Deciding what equipment you’ll need for the best sound possible can get complicated, especially if you’re new to audio tech.

One of the best kinds of speakers you can get to immediately enhance your sound is a subwoofer. These reinforce the bass and richness of whatever you listen to.

Here’s everything to know about subwoofers, including how they work, where to use them, and what kind to get.

What is a subwoofer?

Every sound in the world has a frequency. Higher-pitched sounds have higher frequencies, and vice versa.

Regular speakers and surround sound systems can’t properly reproduce low frequency sounds. This makes a lot of music and movies sound flat.

A subwoofer (or “sub”) focuses on producing the lower frequencies within music, known as the bass and sub-bass, amplified through the woofer.

While regular speakers can allow you to hear the bass, a subwoofer enables the listener to feel the sound. The frequency range, specifically between 20 to 200 hertz, highlights instruments within that range like bass guitars, pipe organs, and kick drums. It also enhances deep voices and movie sound effects like explosions.

If you’ve ever gone to a movie theater and felt your chair shake when something big happens on screen, it’s probably because of subwoofers.

Subwoofer iwth speakers
Subwoofers take away the strain your speakers are under.

Depending on what devices you already have for your sound system, a subwoofer may be the perfect addition. Subs take away the strain your speakers are under to reproduce the audio’s complete sound, allowing you to not only hear but feel how a director or artist intended for you to experience their work.

Where to use a subwoofer

Deciding what kind of subwoofer you need may take some time. But here are a few tips for those looking to add a subwoofer to either a home theater or car stereo system.

Home theater subwoofer

Home Theater subwoofer
A sub-woofer speaker set up along the side of a 7.1 surround sound home theater system.

In general, a home theater subwoofer integrates into your central sound system, increasing the width and depth of a system’s soundstage.

The sound waves created are omnidirectional and bounce around the room. Both the room size and furniture arrangement can affect audio, with bass frequencies being sensitive to room factors. There’s a chance the waves bounce into each other, making standing waves or bass nulls.

  • Standing waves: These waves are determined by the size of the room and length of the soundwave, creating an excess of bass energy producing a ‘boomy’ effect that lacks definition.
  • Bass nulls: Occurs when reflecting soundwaves cancel each other out, creating a dead spot.

Related Article Module: The 5 best home theater systems of 2021

Installing a subwoofer into your home might take some work. Try placing it in different spots around the room, like corners surrounded by a sound-absorption device or a filled bookshelf to help reinforce the bass. Understanding the environmental factors in your home, like its natural acoustics, will help you find the optimal position for your home theater.

Car subwoofer

 Car Subwoofer
Subwoofers installed in the trunk of a car.

Have you ever pulled up alongside another car playing music so bass-heavy that your car shakes? That’s what a good subwoofer does.

Cars come with a factory standard sound system based on their make and model. Most sound systems need to be professionally installed, especially as cars become more advanced.

These are some key factors to consider when shopping for a car subwoofer.

  • Size: The bigger the subwoofer, the richer the bass, so space is essential for placement in your trunk or under a seat.
  • Enclosure type: There are two types of boxes that contain the subwoofer. A sealed enclosure creates deeper bass and is recommended for audio targeting all frequencies. Ported enclosures are louder and are suited for genres like rap and house music.
  • Power: RMS, or average power levels, are connected to the power handling of a subwoofer. A higher RMS means more bass.
  • Sensitivity: Determines how much power a sub requires to produce a particular volume, expressed in sound pressure level or SPL. High SPL ratings are more sensitive and require less power to produce high volumes.
  • Impedance: The subwoofer’s electrical resistance is measured in ‘ohms’ – the impedance of your amp and sub need to match.

Once the correct specifications are chosen and installed, you’ll notice a richer sound. Subwoofers offer a better bass response, allowing you to listen to sounds your speakers couldn’t reproduce alone. With quality subs in your car, the chance of your music sounding distorted at high volumes is significantly lower.

Popular types of subwoofers

If you have a better idea of what and how subwoofers work, you’ll probably need to understand the two types of configurations – passive and active.

A passive subwoofer’s power source is an external amplifier with enough power to maintain bass effects through the subwoofer. An active subwoofer has an amplifier built-in, and requires an AC power source or outlet. Active subwoofers will usually be more powerful than passive ones.

Portable subwoofer
Subwoofers come in various types and styles for various music needs.

Outside of those configurations are various styles of subwoofers, with each style serving a different purpose.

  • Ported: An extra port or hole that allows air to escape to boost the bass level. Sometimes referred to as ‘bass reflex’ speakers, these subwoofers give a rich and thick sound.
  • Sealed Cabinet: A subwoofer without a port or passive radiator. The sound loses depth but is well-rounded with fewer booms and peaks.
  • Passive Radiator: A port is replaced with two passive radiators not wired to the amp. This allows sound to escape with better range and is common in Bluetooth speakers.
  • Front/Down Firing: This sub is based on the placement of the speakers. Front-firing has speakers pointed forward with the sound coming from the front and sides. Downward directs the sound to the front and ground, ideal for elevated speakers.
  • Bandpass: Separated by two chambers with one part with a port to release radiation from the front cone, this subwoofer allows you to specify the bass levels you want to be reproduced through the speakers.
  • Horn Loaded: It uses sound that would usually leak and spreads it out in various directions through a longhorn speaker. This sub type is known for being the loudest of subwoofers.

Each style of subwoofer has a specific environment it works best in. When buying a new sound system, consult with an expert or sales representative about your individual situation.

Once you have all the necessary information, you can start building your sound system to experience sound the way you’re meant to.

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