Rewards and incentives are a great way to boost your market research insights and response rates. But should you use instant rewards, sweepstakes, or points-to-rewards?
It is no exaggeration to say that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd is a company that built the history of Japan’s manufacturing industry.
There’s an art to growing leads and maintaining successful relationships with customers. When you want to give your sales and marketing teams a digital advantage,
Ultimately, the consistent and reliable flow of data across people, teams and business functions is crucial to an organization’s survival and ability to innovate.
Ultimately, the consistent and reliable flow of data across people, teams and business functions is crucial to an organization’s survival and ability to innovate.
- How to ensure your marketing is fully optimised
Marketing is a continual process of optimisation. Every time you publish a campaign, post a message, or pick up the phone to a client you should increase impact, awareness, response, conversion, or retention. That is according to Optimise, the sixth book in Ricoh’s Guides to Modern Marketing series.
- On-demand apparel production during your busiest season
No matter what you’re producing, or for whom, that phrase likely conjures up a specific time of year in your mind.
- Drytac details key points when applying graphics during winter
With the chill of winter now very much in the air, the minds of print service providers, sign-makers and specialist installers begin to turn to how they are going to cope with installing graphics in cold conditions.
- Nazdar blog on Logistics: How to overcome shortages?
It is well known that supply chains have been a challenge of late due to multiple factors. In the following blog, Judy Heft, Supply Chain Director at Nazdar, explains how the company successfully adapted its operations to overcome these testing times. She says:
- Ricoh blog on Why your brand is your most precious asset
How healthy is your brand? Is it flourishing or languishing? These may not be questions that print business executives ask themselves often. But they should be.
- Ricoh’s long-term plan for a sustainable future
Sustainability has been a major buzzword in the print industry for a number of years now as print service providers (PSPs) adapt the way they operate in order to reduce their impact on the environment and satisfy the rising customer demand for greener print.
- Elements from Hexagon can examine multiple physics and logic elements in one...
Editor’s Pick: Faster meshing for simulation
- Formlabs Automation Ecosystem for Formlabs 3D printers are designed to reduce the...
Editor’s Pick: Increasing 3D printing productivity
- Coreform Cubit 2022.11 features impact core workflows including meshing, geometry modification and import...
Editor’s Pick: Faster meshing for simulation
- NVIDIA RTX 6000 Ada Generation available from PNY.
- Neural Imaging Reveals Secret Conversational Cues
Complex signals and subliminal signs underpin all human verbal communication—and a real-time translation is on the horizon.
- The Case of the Incredibly Long-Lived Mouse Cells
Scientists kept the rodents’ immune T cells active four times longer than mice can live—with huge implications for cancer, vaccination, and aging research.
- Ex-Twitter Workers Puzzle Over Elon Musk’s Abandoned Laptops
The cash-strapped company recently auctioned off USB dongles but has left some corporate computers in the custody of laid-off staff.
- The Untold Story of a Crippling Ransomware Attack
More than two years ago, criminals crippled the systems of London’s Hackney Council. It's still fighting to recover.
- 19 Everyday Products Made of Recycled Materials (2023): Chargers, Watches, Toys
Tread lightly on our planet with toys and accessories made from repurposed plastic, and many other Earth-friendly picks.
- ‘Nasty’ Geometry Breaks a Decades-Old Tiling Conjecture
Mathematicians predicted that if they imposed enough restrictions on how a shape might tile space, they could force a periodic pattern to emerge. They were wrong.
- The Best Amazon Fire Tablet (2023): Which Model Should You Buy?
Whether you need a travel-friendly slate or something affordable for the kids, we tested every model to find the right one for everybody.
- This App From Schneider Electric Can Help Optimize Your Home’s Energy Use—for a Price
Schneider Electric’s app-controlled electricity management hardware gives you more control over your power consumption. Are the utilities savings worth it?
- Garmin Forerunner 255 Review: Great Running Watch
Garmin's latest wearable for runners and triathletes adds a new Morning Report to track your daily fitness.
- 9 Best TVs We've Tested (2023): Cheap, 4K, 8K, OLED, and Tips
From LCDs to fancy OLED models, these are our favorite televisions at every price point.
- A Link to News Site Meduza Can (Technically) Land You in Russian Prison
Plus: Hive ransomware gang gets knocked offline, FBI confirms North Korea stole $100 million, and more.
- Apple’s VR Vision Comes Into Focus
Plus: Microsoft stops selling Windows 10, Substack gets a supersecret Finsta mode, and TikTok tweaks its DMs.
- The American West’s Salt Lakes Are Turning to Dust
A new research and monitoring program aims to conserve threatened but overlooked saline ecosystems.
- The Best Climbing Gear for Beginners (2023): Harnesses, Belay Devices, and Helmets
Whether you tackle the fiberglass rock wall at the indoor gym or red rock gorges outdoors, you only need a few things to get started.
- 14 Best Deals: TVs, Wireless Earbuds, Soundbars
Now is the time to grab a big screen for the Super Bowl.
- Save $99 on Apple's Latest iPad Air at Amazon and Best Buy - CNET
The iPad Air 5 is a great iPad Pro alternative at a much lower price with this sale.
- Best Amazon Deals: iPad Air 5, JBL Earbuds and More - CNET
Save time searching for Amazon deals and spend your money more wisely with our guide.
- Derby County vs. West Ham Livestream: How to Watch FA Cup Soccer From Anywhere - CNET
The struggling Hammers face a tricky test away from home against an in-form League One side in this fourth round matchup.
- 'The Last of Us' Release Schedule: When Does Episode 3 Hit HBO Max? - CNET
The HBO adaptation of the post-apocalyptic PlayStation video game runs until March, with episodes dropping each Sunday.
- 'The Last of Us' Episode 3 Brings Bill on an Emotional Odyssey - CNET
Nick Offerman's survivalist takes center stage in the HBO Max adaptation, and you're not ready for this incredible episode of TV.
- How to Watch Love Island 2023: Stream Winter Season 9 Anywhere - CNET
The romantic reality show is back with a new host and a new villa, arriving in the US on Jan. 30.
- More People Need to Watch This Unnerving Netflix True Crime Documentary - CNET
The Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker is a fascinating look at the oddities of internet fame.
- Netflix: The 53 Absolute Best TV Shows to Watch - CNET
The most highly rated TV shows on Netflix, plus the fresh new series and seasons to watch Jan. 30 to Feb. 5.
- The Best Order to Watch 'Kaleidoscope' on Netflix - CNET
These are the episodes you should watch first.
- How Duolingo Made Me Into a Monster - CNET
Commentary: That green owl is stalking me.
- WWE Royal Rumble 2023 Results, Recap and Match Ratings - CNET
The WWE's biggest storyline in years took a huge turn.
- Netflix: The 50 Absolute Best Movies to Watch - CNET
The most highly rated movies on Netflix, plus the brand-new shiny flicks that arrive Jan. 30 to Feb. 5.
- The 2024 iPhone SE 4 May Already Be Canceled - CNET
As its Pro line rises in popularity, Apple may forget about its budget option.
- New 'Super Mario Bros. Movie' Trailer Shows off Cat Mario for the First Time - CNET
When we gonna get Bee Mario? That's what I'm holding out for.
- The Bizarre Way I Cured My Screen Addiction - CNET
Commentary: I've learned so much.
- ‘Recession Resilient’ Climate Start-Ups Shine in Tech Downturn
Tech workers and investors are flocking to start-ups that aim to combat climate change.
- Sam Bankman-Fried’s Prosecutors Ask Judge to Tighten Bail Conditions
The move followed the disgraced cryptocurrency executive’s attempt to contact a potential witness in his criminal case, prosecutors said.
- University of Texas Will Offer Large-Scale Online Master’s Degree in A.I.
Amid a boom in new tools like ChatGPT, the Austin campus plans to train thousands of students in sought-after skills in artificial intelligence.
- Anthropic Said to Be Closing In on $300 Million in New A.I. Funding
Anthropic specializes in generative artificial intelligence, a hot investment in Silicon Valley. The new funding could value the company at roughly $5 billion.
- On Trump’s Truth Social: Ads for Miracle Cures, Scams and Fake Merchandise
Truth Social, the social network started by former President Donald J. Trump, has struggled to attract large brands.
- Meta’s Trump Calculus and Regime Change at Netflix
Plus, we play the Bored Ape Yacht Club’s video game “Dookey Dash.”
- Oracle per-employee Java pricing causes concern
Oracle’s 2023 per-employee pricing for standard Java is raising concerns about its potential impact on Java licensing costs for customers. The pricing is based on total employee counts, not the number of employees using Java.Published January 23, Oracle’s price list covers the new Java SE Universal Subscription program. The pricing starts at $15 per employee per month for as many as 999 employees, and drops as low as $5.25 per employee per month for 40,000 to 49,999 users. Oracle cited an example in which a company with a total employee count of 28,000, including full-time and part-time employees and agents, consultants, and contractors, would be charged $2.268 million per year.To read this article in full, please click here
- TypeScript 5.0 retools decorators
- The downsides of cloud-native solutions
A recent study by Gartner predicts that by 2025 more than 95% of application workloads will exist on cloud-native platforms (up from 30% in 2021). I tend not to believe these kinds of predictions because adoption is never linear. We run out of applications that are easy to convert to new development approaches (in this case, cloud native) and thus adoption slows down or ceases much earlier than most understand.If you’re still a bit confused by what the heck “cloud native” means, you’re not alone. Here’s my best explanation: To read this article in full, please click here
- Mastodon relationship graphs
The new release of Steampipe is all about relationship graphs. Our blog post shows how these graphs provide contextual awareness for devops and security pros who can now see all the resources related to an EC2 instance, or determine at a glance whether the permissions related to an IAM role are properly scoped. As always, developers can explore and remix the code that builds these graphs, and adapt the idioms for their own purposes in any data domain.These relationship graphs are driven by SQL queries that define nodes and edges. Such queries can use any column of any table provided by any Steampipe plugin to form nodes, and then edges between nodes. If you want to see connections among the people and objects represented by diverse APIs, you can now use SQL idioms to graph them. The only limit is your imagination.To read this article in full, please click here
- Google Flutter previews new renderer on iOS
Google has released Flutter 3.7, an update to the company’s open source, cross-platform development framework that adds custom menu bar support and previews a new rendering engine for iOS apps. The company also unveiled an alpha preview of Dart 3, a new version of the programming language used with Flutter.Flutter 3.7 can be used to build menu bars and cascading context menus. Developers can design a Material Design menu providing cascading menu bars or standalone cascading menus triggered by another user interface element. These menus are customizable and menu items can be custom widgets, or developers can use new menu item widgets including MenuItemButton and SubmenuButton.To read this article in full, please click here
- Canonical security subscriptions for Ubuntu Linux now available
Canonical’s Ubuntu Pro, a Linux security maintenance subscription service covering thousands of applications and toolchains in the open-source ecosystem, is generally available as of January 26.Released in beta in October, Ubuntu Pro helps users of Linux desktops and servers get CVE (common vulnerabilities and exposures) patches, harden their systems at scale, and stay compliant with standards such as FedRAMP, HIPPA, PCI-DSS. Ubuntu Pro covers an additional 23,000 packages beyond the main OS, providing protection against critical, high, and selected medium CVEs for applications and toolchains ranging from Ansible and Apache Tomcat to Node.js, Puppet, PowerDNS, Redis, Rust, and WordPress.To read this article in full, please click here
- Manu Jain, Xiaomi exec who set up and scaled India business, leaves
Manu Jain, the executive who helped Xiaomi set up and scale business in India, has left the company, he said Monday, joining a long list of high-profile departures at the local unit that is increasingly losing market share to rivals including Samsung. Jain did not say why he was leaving the firm, but he has Manu Jain, Xiaomi exec who set up and scaled India business, leaves by Manish Singh originally published on TechCrunch
- Stashpad is a notepad for devs with a “DM to yourself” interface
It’s hard to develop a personal note taking habit. Many folks just resort to using a default app like Apple’s Notes app or sending something to themselves on Slack. It’s fine if you just need to jot down a note or two, but it becomes hard to organize and search for them later. Stashpad is Stashpad is a notepad for devs with a “DM to yourself” interface by Ivan Mehta originally published on TechCrunch
- Elon takes the stand, Akio Toyoda hands over the CEO keys and layoffs come for Waymo
The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive the full edition of the newsletter every weekend in your inbox. Subscribe for free. Welcome back to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point Elon takes the stand, Akio Toyoda hands over the CEO keys and layoffs come for Waymo by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch
- Sorare teams up with the Premier League for its NFT fantasy football game
French startup Sorare has signed a four-year licensing partnership with the Premier League. This is an important move for the company as the English football league is one of the most-watched sports league in the world. Sorare is a fantasy sports gaming experience based on NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. In particular, Sorare has partnered with Sorare teams up with the Premier League for its NFT fantasy football game by Romain Dillet originally published on TechCrunch
- Walmart-backed PhonePe’s nine-month 2022 revenue surged to $234 million
PhonePe clocked a revenue of $234.3 million in the first nine months of 2022, the most valuable Indian fintech startup has disclosed in a filing. The nine-month financials marks a jump from the $201.6 million revenue that the Bengaluru-headquartered generated in the 12-month financial year period ending in March last year. PhonePe, which is valued Walmart-backed PhonePe’s nine-month 2022 revenue surged to $234 million by Manish Singh originally published on TechCrunch
- China smartphone market slumps to 10-year low in 2022
After a decade of frantic growth, China’s smartphone market is hitting a speed bump as COVID-19 roils the world’s second-largest economy. The country’s smartphone shipments dropped 14% year-over-year in 2022, reaching a ten-year low, according to research firm Counterpoint. It was also the first time that China’s handset sales had slid below 300 million units China smartphone market slumps to 10-year low in 2022 by Rita Liao originally published on TechCrunch
- Elements from Hexagon can examine multiple physics and logic elements in one...
Editor’s Pick: Faster meshing for simulation
- Formlabs Automation Ecosystem for Formlabs 3D printers are designed to reduce the...
Editor’s Pick: Increasing 3D printing productivity
- Coreform Cubit 2022.11 features impact core workflows including meshing, geometry modification and import...
Editor’s Pick: Faster meshing for simulation
- NVIDIA RTX 6000 Ada Generation available from PNY.
- Sony promises ‘increased supply of PS5 consoles’ ahead of PSVR2 launch
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The VergeSony says it should now be a lot easier to find PS5 stock at retailers. After two years of supply challenges, Sony has thanked fans for their patience as it delt with “unprecedented demand” since the PS5 launch in November 2020. “If you’re looking to purchase a PS5 console, you should now have a much easier time finding one at retailers globally,” says Isabelle Tomatis, VP of brand, hardware, and peripherals at Sony Interactive Entertainment. Sony recommends its own PlayStation direct store for those looking for a PS5 in the US, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. There are a variety of bundles available, alongside the base digital and disc PS5 consoles. Breaking News - A GIANT Leviathan Axe spotted in London.R... Continue reading…
- Monday’s top tech news: the chip war ramps up
Holding a silicon wafer with microchips. | Photo by Michael Matthey/picture alliance via Getty ImagesAnd hear Seth Rogen’s Donkey Kong in the latest Mario movie trailer. Continue reading…
- Foldable iPad could arrive as early as next year, claims noted Apple analyst
Apple’s 10th-gen iPad, released last year. | Photo by Dan Seifert / The VergeApple could be on track to release a foldable iPad as early as next year, according to supply chain analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. “I’m positive about the foldable iPad in 2024 and expect this new model will boost shipments and improve the product mix,” he tweeted early Monday. Kuo expects it to be joined by a revamped iPad Mini, due to enter mass production in early 2024. Kuo didn’t offer many new details on the rumored iPad foldable, but said that it will feature a “carbon fiber” kickstand produced by Chinese component manufacturer Anjie Technology. (4/4)Thus, I'm taking a cautious approach to iPad shipments for 2023, predicting a YoY decline of 10-15%. Nevertheless, I'm positive about the foldable iPad in 2024 and expect this new model... Continue reading…
- Check out these emulated calculators at the Internet Archive
Image: Internet ArchiveI never thought I’d actually have fun with a calculator emulator. But here I am, toying with the old-school graphing calculators that the Internet Archive has freed from their plastic chassis and put in a digital form for all to enjoy. The Internet Archive calls this new collection the Calculator Drawer. There are 14 calculators to choose from, including the HP 48GX, TI-82, TI-83 Plus, and even the Electronic Number Muncher, which is an 80s-era toy calculator. The Internet Archive doesn’t just emulate the interface of each device, either; it incorporates their physical design and buttons, making it feel like you have the actual device right in front of you. Screenshot: Emma Roth / The Verge Doing some tough math... Continue reading…
- The latest Super Mario Bros. Movie teaser showcases Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong
Image: NintendoThe latest Super Mario Bros. Movie teaser lets us hear Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong for the first time. During the clip, Mario faces off against Donkey Kong in an arena of sorts — just like we’ve seen in the previous trailer — but this trailer expands on the scene. While it seems like Mario’s on the losing side of the battle, this appears to change when the titular plumber hits a question mark block, and (presumably) gets the Super Bell, transforming him into Cat Mario. Seeing Mario in his adorably fuzzy catsuit sends Donkey Kong into a laughing fit, which gives us a chance to hear Rogen’s signature laugh. Image: Nintendo Don’t laugh at Cat Mario.It’s nice to finally hear Rogen as Donkey Kong, and I have to... Continue reading…
- Everything We Know About the Facial Recognition Scandal at Madison Square Garden
The future of facial recognition use by private companies in the United States could boil down to who emerges victorious in an ongoing dispute between a collection of lawyers and a petty, authoritarian New York billionaire. The place: one of America’s most famous venues, Madison Square Garden. The owner: James Dolan. Read more...
- Ex-Google Employees Are Vlogging Their Layoffs on TikTok
When Google told 12,000 employees they were out of a job last week, there were a lot of feels, understandably. Some workers were confused about why they had been laid off. Others were frustrated. Some ex-Googlers were grateful to have even had the opportunity at all.Read more...
- The Last Of Us Took a Major Detour for an Unforgettable Episode
We realize it’s only January, but if 2023 gives us a better episode of television than episode three of The Last of Us, we’ll be very lucky. “Long, Long Time”—which was less an episode and more a short movie, clocking in around 76 minutes—told a story inspired by the game, but mostly original to the show. Yes, Joel…Read more...
- Star Trek: Picard's Final Trailer Pushes Back the Darkness
Jean-Luc Picard has one more fight left in him—and he needs some help from his friends to make sure he can win it.Read more...
- Fox Renews Simpsons, Family Guy, and Bob's Burgers Through 2025
Springfield’s sticking around for a little longer, as Fox has renewed The Simpsons more seasons. Read more...
- Timeless Actor Annie Wersching Passes Away at 45
Annie Wersching recently passed away at the age of 45. Per her friends and family, and confirmed by Deadline, the Star Trek and Timeless actor was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2020.Read more...
- Dead Space's Remake Gives Extra Substance to the Scares
Visceral Games’ Dead Space felt like a shot in the arm for survival horror games when it was originally released in 2008. The franchise has always been fondly remembered, so when EA revealed that Motive was working on a remake of the first game, it felt exciting to hear after the series stumbled into retirement with …Read more...
- After 20 Years, Pokémon is Putting Kadabra Back in The Deck
Pokémon cards have always been a big deal, but the last several years have been eventful for the trading card game. Right alongside announcements of new mechanics and updates to how the game is played, the process of getting cards has become a whole ordeal as collectors have looked to snatch up cards and either keep…Read more...
- The Last of Us' Second Season May Be a Two-Parter
To no one’s surprise, HBO has already renewed its TV adaptation of The Last of Us for season two after just two episodes under its belt. While the TV show has brought much of the original 2013 game’s story to life thus far, it’s also knowingly taking some fairly substantial divergences or additions to make the…Read more...
- Open Channel: What TV Cancellation Still Stings in Your Heart?
Earlier in the week, the news broke that the DC shows Titans and Doom Patrol were simultaneously canceled in the middle of their respective fourth seasons. The two shows were the final holdouts from the DC Universe app that later jumped ship over to HBO Max, and come as the 2010 era of live-action DC Comics shows are…Read more...
- Nobody Is Happy With the Federal Grazing Program
At the first National Forest site we visited in California’s remote Modoc Plateau, nearly every plant had been chewed on by cattle. The botanists, there to track down and collect seeds from rare plants, pointed out the soil erosion from stomping hooves. The cow pies were everywhere, unavoidable on the steep roadside…Read more...
- Meet the Titans, DC Comics' New Justice League
For years, the Titans have been one of those superhero teams that DC Comics hasn’t entirely known what to do with. The members who’ve defined the superhero team have mainly been locked off to other team or solo books during the “Rebirth” era, or headlined limited books as a way to semi-link up with the recently ended …Read more...
- Paizo Isn't Backing Down from Creating Its Universal RPG License
The story of Dungeons and Dragons’ Open Gaming License (OGL) has been nothing short of a saga throughout the month of January. That change made by the game’s publisher Wizards of the Coast resulted in widespread, nationwide backlash from players, and the publisher finally walked back those plans just yesterday.Read more...
- Amazon Wants to Make Lara Croft Into a Tomb Raider Universe
Yesterday, the news broke that Phoebe Waller-Bridge was creating a TV adaptation for Crystal Dynamics’ long-running Tomb Runner franchise for Prime Video. On its own, that information wouldn’t be terribly surprising; Amazon’s making a habit of adapting things, and we’re in a period where any and every game seems up to…Read more...
- Here Are Yelp's Top 100 U.S. Restaurants This Year
Yelp released this year’s Top 100 U.S. Restaurants list according to user’s ratings. We’re not going to lie—we’re a little shocked one city near and dear to us didn’t have a single restaurant on this list. (ahem, New York City). Click through for some dining out inspo or to see if there are any restaurants near you…Read more...
- Transforming organizations one emoji at a time
In today's remote and hybrid working world, are emotions more contagious? And do emojis belong in the workplace? Yes to both, and here's why.
- Complexity is the enemy of productivity
Move business processes to an adaptive platform and away from brittle customizations and tribal knowledge to remove complexity.
- Black swans events are shaping the cybersecurity present and future
Black swan events are pushing the cybersecurity industry to strengthen defensive products and provide a comprehensive solution.
- Plan now for the internet’s transformation by the metaverse and Web3
How Web3 and the metaverse will transform the internet for individuals and companies alike, and what companies should do to prepare now.
- Creating better transit experiences in a privacy-conscious society
There’s a synergy between transit data and stronger, more efficient and sustainable transportation systems for our collective future.
- Harness digital solutions to track cargo equipment anywhere, anytime
Digitization and AI offer great potential for needed improvements to the air cargo supply chain, particularly the tracking of ULDs.
- Why we should care about the theft of $1
User journey analytics can bolster cybersecurity efforts by establishing baseline activities and flagging anomalies.
- The new age of exploration: Staking a claim in the metaverse
Metaverse companies must lend people the virtual space and tools to create and contribute to the next stage of our reality.
- Top 5 stories of the week: Ransomware takes a hit, Intel struggles, CIOs get their own special issue, and more
January is nearly over --- time is flying by! And things aren't slowing down in the tech world, either. Here's the top 5 stories this week.
- Hi-Fi Rush is the surprise we all needed | Kaser Focus
Xbox held a Developer Direct this week and managed to make GamesBeat's Rachel Kaser sit up and take notice by shadow-dropping Hi-Fi Rush.
- How AI can help reduce food waste
AI can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing food waste and by nudging consumers to eat more sustainable foods.
- Prime Gaming adds Morrowind in its February offering
Amazon has announced which games are coming to Prime Gaming subscribers in February, which includes Yakuza Kiwami and Morrowind.
- Leaders anticipate cyber-catastrophe in 2023, report World Economic Forum, Accenture
The World Economic Forum (WEF) and Accenture's Global Security Outlook for 2023 anticipates a catastrophic cyberevent.
- Leveraging workforce tech to gather better HR data
How to (successfully) integrate HR tech, foster its adoption among employees, and effectively act on HR data insights.
- Manticore Games launches NFT collection with MekaVerse developers
Manticore Games, developer of the Core Games platform, has teamed up with developer MekaVerse on a new collection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). They’re collaborating on MekaVerse’s Meka-Drivers collection, where the NFTs will deliver real utility for the buyers in the game, the companies said. Players can turn their 2D PFPs (or 2D images that are
- Sennheiser Ambeo Plus review: Convincing virtual surround sound
At a glanceExpert's Rating ProsSupports Dolby Atmos and DTS:XFantastic for music playbackApp allows for easy setup and customizationConsNo dedicated mute button on remoteNeeds the optional subwoofer for the best movie experienceOur VerdictIf you want immersive audio with your television, don’t want the wires or a forest of speakers in your living room, Sennheiser’s Ambeo Soundbar Plus delivers the goods. Sennheiser has been a leader in audio technology since its founding in 1945. The company has developed generations of microphones and headphones that have become standard equipment in the pro audio community, and, over the past decade, they’ve invested millions of dollars researching immersive audio. That research yielded the Ambeo technology at the heart of the exceptional Ambeo Soundbar Plus reviewed here. Ambeo made its first appearance in a consumer audio device in 2019, with Sennheiser’s massive Ambeo soundbar, since renamed the Ambeo Max. Here’s a link to TechHive’s Sennheiser Ambeo Max review, published prior to the name change. This review is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best soundbars. The Ambeo Soundbar Plus soundbar is a much sleeker, lower-profile unit that showcases Sennheiser’s audio processing prowess in a package that will be more attractive to customers who don’t have the type of large home theater the Max was designed for. The Soundbar Plus supports Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and Sony 360 Reality Audio in addition to stereo, 5.1- and 7.1-channel signals, so the unit can handle whatever streaming or physical media formats you use. Sennheiser aims for a sweet spot that gives the best possible audio experience from a soundbar that’s as unobtrusive as possible.We tested the Ambeo Plus Soundbar both with and without Sennheiser’s Ambeo Sub subwoofer ($699.95), which features an 8-inch proprietary woofer and 350W Class-D amplifier. Aside from its fantastic sound, one advantage of the Ambeo Sub is that it automatically pairs with the Ambeo Soundbar Plus when you turn it on. You can use the Soundbar Plus with any subwoofer you choose via a wired connection. The Sennheiser Ambeo Sub ($699.95) pairs wirelessly with the Ambeo Plus Soundbar when both are turned on. James Barber/Foundry What’s inside the Ambeo Soundbar Plus The Ambeo Soundbar Plus will inevitably be compared to Sennheiser’s original Ambeo Soundbar (as I’ve already mention is now called the Ambeo Max), but the Max is a beast, weighing more 40 pounds and dominating any room; and considering it’s 5-inch height, blocking the bottom of any television not hanging on the wall. It’s a spectacular and expensive ($2,500) piece of gear that has no real parallel in the market. By comparison, the Ambeo Soundbar Plus has a look that’s far more in line with what we’ve come to expect with a soundbar, measuring 41.25 x 3 x 4.75 inches (WxHxD) and weighing just 14 pounds. The Plus cuts a far lower profile in your living room, with a small Sennheiser logo, rounded corners, and a fabric grille. It’s the kind of design that doesn’t draw attention to itself but looks good when you do give it a close look. The Soundbar Plus ships with a high-speed HDMI cable, a power cable, a remote control with CR 2032 battery, and a well-illustrated and clearly written Quick Guide that made for easy setup. You’ll also want to download the Sennheiser Smart Control app to your iOS or Android device. One of the Sennheiser Ambeo Plus soundbar’s best features is its multiple HDMI inputs to connect your streaming box, Blu-ray player, and other A/V components. James Barber/Foundry You can use the Ambeo Soundbar Plus as the center of your home entertainment setup because it comes with a wide variety of inputs for virtually any device you want to connect. That said, the HDMI eARC connection for your television anchors the setup and could be the only one you need. The following link will tell you all about the differences between HDMI ARC and HDMI eARC. There are another two HDMI ports for a Blu-ray player or streaming device, RCA inputs for a CD player or cassette deck, and an optical connection for older TVs with no HDMI ports or a CD player. There’s also an RJ-45 port for users who want to connect directly to their router with an ethernet cable, bypassing Wi-Fi. The USB-A port is for updates only. Setting up the Ambeo Soundbar Plus Once you’ve unpacked the soundbar, you can set it up for television playback by plugging in the included HDMI cable into the eARC connections on the television and the Ambeo Soundbar Plus. Sennheiser labeled the inputs for the Ambeo Plus Soundbar’s rear connections on the bottom of the unit, which isn’t an ideal location.James Barber/Foundry Install the Sennheiser Smart Control app (available for both iOS and Android) on your phone, connect to Wi-Fi or ethernet, and then set up the Soundbar Plus with the System Calibration feature. The app uses the device’s onboard mics to read your room, and after a 5-minute cycle of beeps and tones, it’s adjusted the playback to give your room a custom sound profile. There’s an option to set up Alexa or Google Assistant to use the Ambeo Soundbar Plus as a smart speaker. If you’re the kind of person who gets a lot of alerts from Amazon, you might not want to set up Alexa. I got a lot of package-delivery alerts while watching movies until I turned off that feature. If you want to use the soundbar for music playback, the speaker works with both Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect. If you use another music service, the Ambeo Soundbar Plus supports AirPlay 2 and Chromecast. (Don’t miss TechHive’s recommendations of the best music-streaming services.) Sennheiser’s Smart Control app for iOS and Android allows you to set up the Ambeo Plus Soundbar and features an impressive demo of the device’s DTS:X and Dolby Atmos capabilities. James Barber/Foundry How does the Sennheiser Ambeo Plus sound? True surround purists can step away now, because Sennheiser uses processor-based virtualization to create the illusion of a room filled with speakers. The company says the principles that guide those phantom speakers were developed through extensive psychoacoustic research. Sennheiser planted its flag with the proof-of-concept Ambeo Max, and now it’s migrated that technology into a far more practical design with the Ambeo Soundbar Plus. The virtualization creates an immersive experience that will seem like magic for anyone who’s struggled to hide the cables for an old-fashioned 5.1 audio system. It might not quite match the experience of having a pair of speakers blasting at you from behind, but your ears will still experience sounds coming at you from what seems like multiple angles. The Woman King, the 2022 movie about the female warriors who fought for the African kingdom of Dahomey in the 19th century, features plenty of hand-to-hand combat scenes. The Ambeo Soundbar Plus did a great job with a Dolby Atmos mix that takes the viewer inside a battle with action happening simultaneously on all sides. There was a consistent sense of the discrete fights going on around the action taking place in the center of the screen. At 3 inches in height, the Sennheiser Ambeo Plus shouldn’t interfere with the bottom of most flat-screen TVs.James Barber/Foundry There’s a noticeable difference if you remove the Ambeo Sub from the equation. The virtual surround sound experience is still evident, but it’s far less convincing without the subwoofer in play. If you’re mostly watching sports and binging Netflix series, you probably won’t miss the sub, but movie fans should budget for adding a sub to the setup. Music sounds fantastic through the soundbar, with stereo tracks blowing away what you’d get from a Sonos Five (previously known as the Play:5) and comparing favorably to high end dedicated music speakers like the Naim Mu-so or the Sonus faber Omnia. You’ve also got access to immersive audio via Dolby Atmos tracks on Apple Music and Sony 360 Virtual Audio on Tidal and Amazon Music HD. De La Soul’s classic 1989 hi-hop album 3 Feet High and Rising is finally coming to streaming after decades of legal issues with its samples and will be available in Dolby Atmos via Apple Music. They’ve released “The Magic Number” in advance of the album, and the Ambeo Soundbar Plus does a convincing job of matching the track’s sound placement when listening via Apple AirPods Pro 2. Miles Davis’ 1960 album Sketches of Spain also has a high-res Dolby Atmos mix, and streaming to the Ambeo Soundbar Plus via Apple Music matched the experience of playing a CD of the most recent Sony remaster via my home audio system. Sennheiser’s remote control is a dud Sennheiser has included its SB02-RC remote, which would be one of the best home theater remotes I’ve ever used except for one exceptionally weird design choice, which I’ll get to in a bit. The buttons are laid out well, with plenty of space between each one. And while they’re not backlit, I was able to learn to choose settings by feel over the course of my testing. The remote control Sennheiser provides with the Ambeo Plus soundbar is disappointing considerring the price of the speaker. Sennheiser There are volume-up and -down buttons next to the Source forward and back buttons, and the respective volume-down and source-back buttons have indentations that make them especially easy to identify without looking. The Ambeo Soundbar Plus’s processing modes (movie, music, news, sports, neutral, and adaptive) have individual buttons, as do the night and voice settings. Each of these modes can be tweaked to your liking via the Smart Control app. If you ever want the virtualization processing turned off, use the Ambeo button to control the setting. The real mystery is why Sennheiser didn’t included a dedicated mute button on the remote. There’s an “O” multifunction button that mutes the soundbar with a single press out of the box. If you’re using the Soundbar Plus for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or Spotify/Tidal connect, the “O” button plays or pauses your music stream. If you activate Alexa, a single button-press calls up the voice assistant, and you now need a 3-second press to mute the television or pause music playback. Even without Alexa activated, I experienced a startling lag every time I tried to use the “O” button. Television muting was not the near-instant experience you get from even the least-expensive televisions or soundbars on the market. It’s a jarring and deeply strange flaw from a speaker that’s otherwise nearly perfect. Is the Sennheiser Ambeo Plus a good value? Sennheiser is aiming for a sweet spot that gives the best possible audio experience from a soundbar that’s as unobtrusive as possible. The onboard digital processing allows for a satisfying surround-sound experience from a single device. The Ambeo Soundbar Plus will never satisfy hardcore home theater aficionados who won’t settle for anything less than the full array of speakers required for the truly immersive experience. The top of the Sennheiser Ambeo Plus Soundbar lights up during Dolby Atmos playback.James Barber/Foundry Sennheiser has built a plug-and-play soundbar for the huge number of people who want a simple and elegant solution to works with their big-screen television. The Ambeo Soundbar Plus delivers an impressive Dolby Atmos experience and sounds great for music playback. The experience is substantially improved if you add on a subwoofer, and the Sennheiser Ambeo is an excellent choice even though the combined price of this soundbar and subwoofer is getting close to the price of the truly amazing Ambeo Max soundbar. You’re still going to enjoy a far less obtrusive presence with the Ambeo Plus and Sub than you’d experience with the massive Ambeo Max dominating your living room. Sennheiser has designed and delivered a unit designed to be an all-in-one home entertainment solution for anyone who has abandoned physical media, and it’s a fantastic option for anyone who’s looking for something both simple and amazing. You can easily add physical media like Blu-ray or CD to the equation without much trouble if those are still part of your mix, but the Ambeo Soundbar Plus shines as a low-profile, great-sounding system for the digital media era. Home Audio, Smart Speakers
- Best soundbars to improve your TV’s audio in 2023
Technology has enabled TVs to become ever flatter, thinner, and lighter, but it can’t overcome the laws of physics when it comes to audio. Filling a room with sound requires substantial speakers that can move a lot of air, and those types of speakers just won’t fit inside a thin TV chassis. That’s where soundbars come in. These are our current top picks in budget, mid-range, and high-end categories, with brief summaries explaining our reasoning. These will change over time as new models come in for evaluation. Our soundbar reviews go into some depth, so we encourage you to follow the links to read them in their entirety so you can find exactly the right one for your needs.. Scroll down a little further and you’ll find our guidance on shopping for a soundbar, followed by explanations of the features you should consider when choosing one. We’ll explain all the latest soundbar technology and discuss the most important features you should look for. Updated January 30, 2023 to add a link to our Sennheiser Ambeo Plus review. Best soundbars for every budget Polk Audio React — Best budget soundbar Pros Clean, nuanced sound given its price tag Alexa onboard, including multi-room audio support Expandable with wireless subwoofer and surround speaker options Night mode and dialog volume level adjustments Cons No support for Dolby Atmos, DTS-X, or DTS Virtual:X HDMI ARC only (doesn't support eARC) Remote control buttons are flat and difficult to find in the dark Best Prices Today: £236.44 at Amazon It doesn’t pack in Dolby Atmos support like many pricier soundbars do, but the Polk React sounds better than any competitors we’ve heard in its $250-ish price range, complete with detailed, nuanced audio and a surprisingly wide soundstage. The React comes with built-in Alexa, perfect for teeing up streaming music via voice commands, and the soundbar also supports Alexa Multi-Room Music, which means you can use it in Alexa speaker groups. Finally, you can upgrade the Polk React’s sound with Polk Audio’s optional wireless subwoofer and surround speaker kit. Read our full Review Polk Audio React Roku Streambar — Best budget soundbar, runner-up Pros A pretty good soundbar integrated with a very good media streamer Excellent remote control, with support for voice commands Can be upgraded with a wireless subwoofer and surround speakers Can also stream content from a NAS box or USB drive Cons Not as good as a speaker as it is a streamer A little weak on bass response HDR support does not include Dolby Vision If you’re strapped for cash but long to improve both your audio and streaming experiences, take a look at the Roku Streambar. It’s stronger in the latter category than the former, but its $130 price tag ($99 street price) makes it a very strong value. Read our full Review Roku Streambar Vizio M-Series M512a-H6 — Best mid-range soundbar Pros Aggressively exciting audio performance Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support HDMI with eARC Can be augmented with a smart speaker via 3.5mm input or Bluetooth Cons Bass can be boomy versus tight No Wi-Fi adapter Vizio’s M512a-H6 soundbar delivers powerful, vibrant sound for a reasonable price, complete with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, an easy setup process, and plenty of adjustments for tinkering with audio settings. There’s no Wi-Fi support, but that’s not unusual for a soundbar in this price range. Read our full Review Vizio M-Series M512a-H6 Sonos Beam (2nd gen) — Best mid-range soundbar, runner-up Pros Expansive sound Dolby Atmost and HDMI eARC support Can be upgraded to a full surround sound system with extra speakers and a subwoofer Apple AirPlay 2 support in addition to Sonos' own fabled multi-room audio support Cons Virtualized height cues are subtle, and occasionally hissy Drivers begin to struggle at high volume DTS update didn't include DTS:X Best Prices Today: $449.99 at Best Buy The second-gen Sonos Beam is our runner-up pick for best mid-priced soundbar. A powerful speaker for its size, the refreshed Beam adds Dolby Atmos and eARC support, and you can expand it into a full-fledged 5.1-channel system by adding a wireless sub and wireless surround speakers. The Beam also has built-in support for your choice of Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, so it can become a key element in your smart home system. Apple fans, meanwhile, will appreciate the Beam’s support for AirPlay 2. Read our full Review Sonos Beam (2nd gen) LG S95QR — Best high-end soundbar Pros Terrific Dolby Atmos and DTS:X performance Center upfiring driver bolsters dialogue AirPlay 2 and Chromecast support AI-powered room correction Cons Glitchy Wi-Fi setup Power cords for rear speakers are too short Pricey RRP: £1,699.98 Best Prices Today: £1699.98 at LG It costs a cool $1,800 and we wish the power cords for the rear speakers were longer, but if you’re looking for the very best in Dolby Atmos and DTS:X performance from a soundbar, the LG S95QR is our reigning champ for most users (although Samsung TV owners should instead consider the Samsung HW-Q990B below). Equipped with an extra height speaker for the center channel, the LG S95QR puts you in a bubble of thrillingly immersive sound, and it also boasts AirPlay 2, Chromecast, and AI-powered room correction. Read our full Review LG S95QR Vizio Elevate — Best high-end soundbar, runner-up Pros Thrilling 3D sound Rotating height drivers can also bolster stereo channels Chromecast built in Three HDMI ports, with eARC support on one Cons Bass is a bit overdone SmartCast app frequently disconnected from the soundbar Clunky, non-backlit remote control No native music service support (e.g., Spotify Connect) Best Prices Today: $999.99 at Best Buy Vizio came up with a truly innovative alternative to installing speakers in your ceiling to enjoy immersive Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based soundtracks. In addition to building up-firing drivers in its soundbar and surround speakers, the drivers on the soundbar are motorized and automatically rotate up when the speaker detects the appropriate type of audio signal. When you want to hear stereo, these drivers rotate to face forward. We found the included subwoofer to be a bit too much of a good thing, but the Vizio Elevate is one of the most exciting soundbars we’ve heard in some time. Read our full Review Vizio P-Series Elevate Samsung HW-Q990B — Best high-end soundbar for Samsung TV owners Pros 11.1.4 channels of terrific, room-filling audio SpaceFit room correction now works for everyone AirPlay 2 and built-in Alexa Wireless Dolby Atmos connectivity Cons Q-Symphony and wireless Atmos only works with Samsung TVs Power cords for the rear speakers are too short No Chromecast support 4K video passthrough doesn’t support Dolby Vision RRP: £1,499.00 Best Prices Today: £1,208.07 at Amazon£1499 at Samsung The Samsung HW-Q990B delivers 11.1.4 channels of thrilling, room-filling sound, including support for both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Alexa comes built-in, and a new version of Samsung’s SpaceFit Sound room-correction technology now works for everyone, not just Samsung TV owners. But another killer feature, the TV speaker-synching Q-Symphony, does require a (compatible) Samsung TV set, as does Samsung’s new wireless Dolby Atmos functionality. The HW-Q990B is a great soundbar, but even with the new SpaceFit, it only realizes its true potential when paired with a Samsung television. Read our full Review Samsung HW-Q990B Sony HT-A5000 — Best high-end soundbar and wireless speaker package Pros Delivers a theater-like experience with a fully wireless speaker setup Immersive Dolby Atmos performance Frictionless setup and sound field optimization Can use the speakers in certain Sony TVs as the center channel Cons Optional SA-SW3 subwoofer calls attention to itself Some boxiness to the sound, particularly with music RRP: £899 Best Prices Today: £899 at Sony Plenty of all-on-one soundbars and compatible with wireless subwoofers and surround speaker kits, but Sony has really knocked it out of the park with the HT-A5000. Accompanied by the optional–and truly wireless–SA-RS5 rear speakers and SA-SW3 subwoofer, the HT-A5000 delivers an immersive and practical solution for audio enthusiasts looking to customize their speaker setups without dealing with a snarl of wires, while one-touch sound field optimization makes it easy to quickly change speaker positions. The total cost of all three Sony components is just shy of $2,000, however, and we detected a certain boxiness to the audio, particularly in terms of music. Read our full Review Sony HT-A5000 What exactly is a soundbar? A soundbar is typically a one- or two-piece speaker system whose primary purpose is to bring quality sound back to modern TVs (two-piece systems include a subwoofer). Soundbars are designed to appeal to people who can’t or won’t install freestanding loudspeakers. The former because of the the wiring requirements and/or expense associated with traditional home theater audio, and the latter because they object to the visual intrusion an A/V receiver and six or more loudspeaker cabinets presents. The audio performance of nearly any soundbar will surpass the quality of just about any modern TV while consuming minimal space and requiring little more than a power cord and one or two cables. Soundbars are designed to fit in front of your TV if your TV is resting on a piece of furniture, or beneath your TV if it’s hanging on the wall. You can even find soundbars from TV manufacturers that are designed to match the aesthetic of the TV it’s paired with, and some of those models deliver extra features you won’t get if you pair the speaker with a different manufacturer’s TV. The vast majority of soundbars are low enough that they won’t block the lower portion of your TV’s screen when resting in front of it. Michael Brown/Foundry Nearly all modern TV and movie soundtracks are recorded in surround sound, so most soundbars are equipped to decode at least Dolby Digital and play back discrete left, right, and center channels, plus low-frequency effects (LFE). A great many models include a separate self-amplified subwoofer to handle LFE. Subwoofers are often wireless models needing only a power cable. Purchasing a soundbar doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll miss out on a full home-theater experience; in fact, some models offer optional surround speakers and others can even support object-based formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X to deliver a sensation of height. The number of channels supported by an audio system uses the format X.Y.Z, where X represents the number of channels at or near ear level, Y represents the number of speakers that deliver low-frequency effects (LFE), and Z represents the number of speakers producing height cues. The speakers can be mounted in cabinets on stands, on the wall, or in the ceiling. With some soundbars, all of the channels are produced from the cabinet, with up-firing drivers bouncing height cues off the ceiling. Adding Samsung’s SWA-8500S wireless speaker kit to its HW-M450 soundbar adds left and right surround speakers without the need to run cables to the back of your room. What size soundbar should I buy? Most people buy a soundbar that is either the same width or slightly narrower than their TV, but that really has more to do with aesthetics than audio performance. If your TV is on a piece of furniture, and you’re buying a soundbar that will sit in front of it, take the speaker’s height into consideration, so that it doesn’t encroach on the screen or block the TV’s infrared receiver. Some soundbars include an IR repeater for this reason. Everything else being equal, the smaller the sound soundbar, the less room it has for larger speakers and features (codec support, wireless connectivity, multiple inputs and outputs, and so on). That’s not to say, however, that a bigger speaker will always sound better than a smaller one. The Yamaha YAS-106 can be wall-mounted with a thin profile to match modern TVs. Do soundbars support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X? Buying a soundbar doesn’t mean you need to give up an immersive home theater experience, but be prepared to pay for that feature. Most soundbars are two-channel stereo or left-, center-, and right-channel speakers. Many of these soundbars claim to deliver a true surround-sound experience. For soundbars to achieve the magic of surround sound, they must rely on the shape of your room, sophisticated digital signal processing, and psychoacoustics. Consequently, your mileage may vary. Some rooms will be more conducive to a good surround-sound experience than others. Some soundbars eschew this artificial processing and offer you the option of adding surround speakers, often wireless ones, to deliver a true 5.1-surround sound. More soundbars are starting to support Dolby Atmos and/or DTS:X object-based audio. These soundbars have multiple speakers in the cabinet, some dedicated to left-, center-, and right-channel duty while others handle the surround and height cues. Most soundbars in this class support 5.1.2- or 7.1.2-channel setups, rendering only the front height channels. Once again, you’ll need the right kind of room—with the right kind ceiling—to take advantage of an object-based audio soundbar. Do I need an A/V Receiver with a soundbar? Nearly all modern soundbars are active speakers, meaning they’re more or less self contained with their own amplifier, digital signal processing, and volume control, all in the same cabinet as the drivers. Some active soundbars can even accommodate multiple HDMI sources. If you choose a model with HDMI support, make sure it has at least one HDMI port that supports the audio return channel (ARC). This will reduce the number of cables you’ll need between the soundbar and your TV. Models that support the newer enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) are even better, because they can decode the higher-resolution audio codecs Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. The original ARC doesn’t have the bandwidth for this. A passive soundbar relies on the amplifier in an A/V receiver, just like a traditional loudspeaker. You connect the audio output from your TV (along with your Blu-ray player, media-streamer, and other components) to the A/V receiver’s inputs and the passive soundbar to the A/V receiver’s loudspeaker connections. The A/V receiver amplifies the signal and sends it to the speaker. Soundbar features you should look for Sorting through different soundbars can be a dizzying experience. Here’s an alphabetized list of some of the most important features you’ll encounter App control: If you want to control everything from your smartphone or tablet, you’ll want to know if the manufacturer offers an app for your mobile operating system of choice. ARC: The acronym stands for Audio Return Channel. First introduced with HDMI 1.4, ARC enables your TV to send its audio output back through the HDMI cable to your soundbar or A/V receiver. This is especially important if you’re using your smart-TV’s onboard tuner or any of its media-streaming apps (Netflix, YouTube, Vudu, etc.). A newer variant, eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel) provides more bandwidth than the original ARC, enabling it to handle lossless high-resolution audio, including Dolby True HD and DTS:X. This article provides in-depth explanations of both HDMI ARC and HDMI eARC. Dialog enhancement: If you find yourself turning on closed captions because you can’t make out what people on your TV are saying, you might want to invest in a soundbar that offers dialog enhancement. This feature uses an algorithm that identifies frequencies commonly associated with speech and runs them through a digital signal processor to make them easier to distinguish from sound effects, music, and other background audio. The Yamaha YSP-5600 is a 7.1.2 soundbar capable of supporting Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-oriented audio formats. There are 44 beam drivers and two woofers in the sound bar that produce the surround and height effects. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X: Some of today’s top-of-the-line soundbars will let you take advantage of the latest object-based audio technologies, such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Some soundbars that feature object-based audio are limited to 5.1.2 or 7.1.2 configuration, meaning they only reproduce the two front height effects channels. (A 5.1.2-channel system has front left, center, front right, left surround, right surround, subwoofer, left height, and right height. A 7.1.2-channel is the same configuration plus left rear surround and right rear surround.) EQ: Some soundbars have onboard EQ (equalization) to help tune the soundbar for a particular placement, such as on the wall or in a cabinet. The EQ adjusts certain sonic characteristics that happen to the speaker in a typical scenario. Don’t confuse EQ with room correction. Room correction far more sophisticated (we’ll cover that lower down). HDMI If you don’t already have a 4K UHD TV that supports HDR (high dynamic range), the next set you buy probably will. You can learn more about HDR in this story, but it basically pumps up the contrast to reveal more detail and produce vibrant color. You’ll need a soundbar that supports HDMI 2.0a or later to ensure HDR information is passed through the soundbar from the source (e.g., an Ultra HD Blu-ray player) to your television. The JBL SB450 has multiple HDMI inputs. Lossless audio: Do you have a growing collection of high-resolution music files in FLAC or ALAC formats? If you want to listen to them through your soundbar, you’ll want to make sure it can decode those files. Multi-room audio: Many soundbars can be components in a multi-room audio system, so you can hear music all over your house. Sonos is the king in this category, and its technology allows you to combine multiple speakers into a true surround-sound system. You can put a Sonos soundbar at the front of the room, for instance, and use a pair of Sonos Ones as surround channels in the back of the room, with a Sonos Sub handle low-frequency effects. Apple’s AirPlay technology is also very popular and many speaker manufacturers–including Sonos–supports it in addition to its own technology. Denon has its own solution for its speakers (Heos) and so does Yamaha (MusicCast). Music streaming: Many of today’s soundbars can stream music over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but only a handful support Bluetooth with aptX or–better yet–aptX HD or aptX Adative for CD-quality streaming. Apple’s AirPlay comes into play here as well, especially for people who use iPhones and iPads. Audio enthusiasts will want to know if the soundbar can decode lossless codecs such as FLAC and ALAC. The HomeCinema sound bar ties in seamlessly with Denon’s Heos streaming ecosystem. Room correction: Your room plays a critical part in how your soundbar will sound. Some manufacturers, such as Paradigm, build sophisticated and highly effective room-correction technology into their soundbars. Sonos’ TruePlay is also incredibly effective. The sonic benefits of a good soundbar with well-implemented room correction can be jaw-dropping. Subwoofer support: If you love good, deep bass, and you want to hear all the low-frequency effects in movie soundtracks, you’ll want to scope out a soundbar that can connect to a subwoofer. Some soundbars come pre-packaged with a sub (in many cases, a wireless model), while others provide a subwoofer output so you can use a cable to hook up your model of choice. The pre-packaged route might look attractive, but it typically means you can’t upgrade either component without junking them both. Soundbars that didn’t make the cut Now that you’ve seen our top picks in three price categories, you might be wondering about other models that didn’t make the cut. In many cases, it will have been a close call. In others, the speaker just didn’t the value or the experience we demand. In still others, a soundbar that won our Editors’ Choice award has been bested by a new contender. Our CineHome Pro | CineHub Edition THX Certified review concluded that this system is more than a soundbar, it’s a high-end wireless home theater system with six discrete speakers and a massive 10-inch subwoofer. What it lacks is support for Dolby Pro HD and DTS HD Master Audio, not to mention Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. If you’re looking for a soundbar that delivers an immersive audio experience, take a look at our JBL Bar 9.1 review. This high-end soundbar boasts truly wireless surround speakers–they’re battery powered! Many of our fellow critics have swooned over Sennheiser’s first soundbar, but our home theater pro wrote in his Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar review that this very expensive 5.1.4-channel audio system failed to create a fully immersive audio experience. Yamaha builds some great mid-range and higher audio gear, but our Yamaha YAS-209 soundbar review discovered a speaker that sounds “distractingly harsh” while operating in DTS Virtual:X-powered 3D surround mode. It does have Alexa built in, though, and Yamaha’s MusicCast is one of the best multi-room audio systems on the market. Our Sony HT-G700 soundbar review faulted the manufacturer for not supporting Wi-Fi in this mid-priced speaker, but we did like the speakers “crisp, punchy sound. Chromecast is a popular multi-room audio platform, and it was one of the bright spots in our Polk Audio MagniFi 2 soundbar review, but we weren’t as enthused with this system’s bundled subwoofer. It is possible to get a good experience with a budget-priced soundbar, but shoppers at this level need to take care to avoid the type of dreck we found in our Tribit Soundbar review. Selling for $120 at the time, it’s still no bargain at a current street price of just $60. Sonos’s new budget soundbar, the Sonos Ray, delivers impressively full-bodied sound, but it’s held back by its lack of an HDMI port, an omission that’s hard to understand for a soundbar made in 2022. Panasonic surprised us in our Panasonic SoundSlayer review, where the speaker delivered a great gaming-oriented near-field experience, but it won’t be what everyone is looking for. Consumer Electronics, Home Audio, Speakers
- The best TV antennas: Tested for real-world signal strength
Cable and satellite TV subscriptions are becoming ever more expensive, so more and more homes are ditching pay TV in favor of free, over-the-air broadcasts. Digital TV typically provides between 20 and 60 channels depending on where you live, and can save you at least $1,000 a year, based on a typical pay TV subscription. Folks who do are often surprised by the higher image quality they get from broadcast TV. That’s because cable and satellite services compress the video signal in order to reduce the bandwidth required to stream it to your home, all so they can cram in more of the channels you probably never watch anyway. So, cut that cable, ditch that dish, and join the growing number of American households that are free from monthly bills for TV service. Updated January 27, 2023 to add a link to our Televes Bexia review, which is now our top pick in rigid indoor TV antennas. Channel Master Flatenna 35 — Best budget-priced indoor TV antenna Pros Very low price Well made U.S.-based customer support Cons Won't do much for your living-room décor Best Prices Today: $20.00 at Channel Master£48.00 at Amazon If you live close enough to the broadcast towers for the stations you want to watch, a less-expensive non-amplified antenna like the Channel Master Flatenna might be all you need to cut the cord. At the time of our review, we found that Channel Master itself was offering the best price on this antenna: Just $10, plus $7.50 for shipping. The direct-from-the-manufacturer price has since increased to $20, plus shipping. Read our full Review Channel Master Flatenna 35 (model No. CM-4001HDBW) Winegard FlatWave Amped — Best amplified indoor TV antenna Pros Strong reception, clear picture quality Amplifier contributes to good range Amplifier can be powered by a wall wart or your TV’s USB port Cons Not the best-looking thing to have on your wall or window Excess cable can get messy quick Best Prices Today: £189.64 at Amazon This antenna impressed us with its ability to pull in more broadcast channels than the competition. Further, those it did receive were a little stronger than from our runner-up, which should make for happier TV viewing. Read our full Review Winegard FlatWave Amped (model FL-5500A) Televes Bexia Pros Internal amplifier boosts signal level Stable reception Amplifier can be powered from one of your TV’s USB ports Cons Lower performance with VHF frequencies Larger design could make it difficult to hide The Televes Bexia is a high-performance indoor TV antenna suited for homes in areas with strong to medium powered TV signals. In our tests, it was comparable to the best indoor antennas we’ve tested, in including Winegard Flatwave Amped. The primary difference between the Televes and Winegard products–besides their price tags–is that the rigid Bexia can be mounted or rest on a surface, where the Flatwave Amped needs to be tacked (or taped) to a vertical surface, such as a wall or window. Read our full Review Televes Bexia Channel Master Smartenna+ — Best amplified indoor TV antenna, runner-up Pros Automatic tuning to receive the greatest number of channels Push-on antenna connector Sturdy design and build quality Cons Bulkier than other amplified antennas Best Prices Today: $49 at Channel Master The word “smart” gets bandied about quite a lot these days, but it’s more than just hyperbole in the case of Channel Master’s Smartenna+ over-the-air TV antenna. This amplified antenna has a tiny tuner onboard that can virtually change its reception pattern to pull in the most stations possible. We like it a lot. Read our full Review Channel Master Smartenna+ Televes Dat Boss Mix LR (model 149884) Pros Strong, sensitive reception Built-in 5G filter Built-in amplifier and indoor distribution amp Cons Large physical size Assembly can be confusing Not designed to tune in low-VHF signals Best Prices Today: £248.14 at Amazon The Televes Dat Boss Mix LR (model 149884) is the best outdoor TV antenna we’ve tested. It delivered an excellent performance, pulling in strong signals from local and distant TV towers. It’s a great choice in areas with medium to low reception levels, and it comes with a built-in amplifier and in-home distribution amplifier, plus a 5G filter to eliminate interference from cellphone signals. Read our full Review Televes Dat Boss Mix LR (model 149884) Antennas Direct DB8e — Best roof-mount TV antenna, runner-up Pros Good reception of weak signals Antennas can be pointed in two different directions Easy to assemble Cons Large size requires a strong mount Not designed to receive VHF TV stations Best Prices Today: £312.18 at Amazon The Antennas Direct DB8e’s reception is just as impressive as its looks. This is a large, heavy antenna cleverly designed to receive weak signals with two antenna arrays, or in areas of better reception to point to towers in different directions. Read our full Review Antennas Direct DB8e Winegard Elite 7550 — Best attic/outdoor TV antenna Pros Good reception of strong to medium level signals on UHF and VHF-High Inline amplifier helps boost signals Suitable for attic or outdoor mounting Cons Plastic mounting bracket feels a little cheap Best Prices Today: $149.99 at B&H Photo Video£262.84 at Amazon The Winegard Elite 7550 immediately impressed with its ability to pick up more broadcast channels than the competition at higher signal levels. It has a built-in amplifier and performed well on both VHF-High and UHF broadcast bands. Because of its size you’ll want this one in the attic or outside of your house. Read our full Review Winegard Elite 7550 Antennas Direct Clearstream 4 Max — Best attic/outdoor TV antenna, runner-up Pros Good reception of strong to medium level signals on UHF and VHF-High Multidirectional reception for areas with transmitters in different locations Sturdy mount with mounting hardware for attic or outdoor installation Cons No built-in amplifier, so you might need one for weaker channels Best Prices Today: £426.58 at Amazon The Clearstream 4 Max is a little larger than our top-ranked choice and wasn’t quite as good at pulling in stations but it’s still a solid antenna. Its unique double figure-eight design is sure to look distinctive and it can receive signals from different directions, which is useful if you live in an area with stations in multiple places. Read our full Review Antennas Direct Clearstream 4 Max Do I need a TV antenna? Putting up a TV antenna is one of the best steps you can take toward breaking your reliance on pay TV and saving hundreds of dollars a year. Most areas of the U.S. have access to between 50 and 100 TV stations that broadcast over the air for free. As a bonus, they’ll make your big-screen TV shine. Over-the-air TV signals are typically compressed less than cable or satellite broadcasts, so pictures will appear either the same quality or better. All the major broadcast networks now transmit in high-definition, and in some areas, broadcasts using the new ATSC 3.0 standard–aka NextGen TV–are also available. Select the “Signal Search Map” and either zoom in on the map to your house or try entering the address in the search box. I have mixed results with the search box so zooming might be better. Once your house is in the center of the map, click the “Move Pushpin to Center of Map View” button beneath the map. Click “Go” and you’ll get something like this in return: How to pick the right TV antenna for your needs To find the right antenna for you, consider these criteria: Which channels are available where you live (we’ll show you how to do that shortly)Choose which channels you want to watchFigure out which type of antenna you needSelect the antennaAs a rule of thumb, indoor antennas are suitable for areas with strong or very strong signals, attic/outdoor antennas work in areas of medium signal strength, and larger outdoor antennas are best for areas surrounded by weak signals. Point your browser to the website Rabbit Ears to find the broadcast channels available where you live. This service pairs the FCC’s broadcast TV database with topographical maps to give you a detailed estimation of which signals will reach your house and how strong those signals will be. Select the “Signal Search Map” and either zoom in on the map to your house or try entering the address in the search box. I have mixed results with the search box so zooming might be better. Once your house is in the center of the map, click the “Move Pushpin to Center of Map View” button beneath the map. Click “Go” and you’ll get something like this in return: A screenshot of the Rabbit Ears website showing television reception in Portland, OR.Michael Brown/Foundry The table above above looks complicated, but it’s really not. The strongest signals are at the top and weakest at the bottom. Keep this page open in a separate browser tab as we move to the next step. The table lists predicted signal level at your home from strongest (at the top) to weakest (at the bottom). The first number shows the channel number advertised on air and the number in brackets is the actual channel number (for more on this, read on). Then are details of the TV network, station name and distance from the transmitter. Reception depends a lot on local conditions, but whatever the environment, it starts getting difficult above 50-75 miles. The list also includes the direction of the transmitter, which is important. Not all TV signals you want will necessarily come from the same place! The Winegard Elite 7550 can be installed on a rooftop outdoors or inside your attic, if your home has one.Martyn Williams/Foundry Predicting which antenna will work with certainty is almost impossible. The information garnered from sites like Rabbit Ears will provide a strong indication of what should work, but there are other variables at work. In some areas, especially in cities or areas with lots of hills, signals can bounce off obstacles like buildings and cause interference, trees can grow leaves in the spring and block stations you got fine in the winter, and atmospheric conditions can alter the way signals reach your house. Moving an antenna just a little to one side or up and down a window can have a big effect on reception. If you’re putting up an external antenna, one side of your roof might bring in nothing while the other side provides perfect reception. Which channels do I want to watch? Your next step is to figure out which stations you want to watch. After all, there’s no point wasting time trying to get weak stations if all your favorite shows are on strong ones. You can check a TV listing guide to see everything that’s on the air in your local area and make a list of which stations you want to watch. You’ll probably need to enter your zip code and be sure to choose “antenna” or “over the air” as your TV provider in the online program guide, so you don’t get cable channels mixed in. Once you’ve made your list, examine the Rabbit Ears results to find the channels you want to watch. Write down the number in parenthesis, which is the “real channel,” the “Direction (true),” and the color (green, yellow, or red). The colors will inform you if an indoor antenna will be sufficient, or if you’ll need an attic or roof-mounted model to pull them in. It’s important to remember than an indoor antenna is always going to be a compromise. You will always get better results with an outdoor antenna. Indoor antennas–like our current favorite low-priced antenna (the Channel Master Flatenna 35) and our favorite amplified antenna (the Winegard FlatWave Amped)–are typically flat, so they’re easy to set up, usually by hanging them in a window on the side of the house facing the transmitter. Some look different but the principle is the same: Install them in a favorable location. Indoor antennas are typically fine for all the strong local channels, but if you want channels that are weaker or further away, you might need to go larger and put an antenna in your attic space or on your roof. For that, we recommend the Antennas Direct DB8e. If you don’t want to climb onto your roof, and you have an attic, the Winegard Elite 7550 can be installed either in your attic or on your roof. The higher you can go with an antenna–and the fewer line-of-sight obstacles to the broadcast towers you’re looking to tune to–the better your TV reception will be. This TV antenna has a motorized rotator attached to its mast, which you can use to turn the antenna to point it in the direction of the broadcast tower whose signals you want to tune in. Martyn Williams/Foundry If you install your antenna in the attic, you’ll probably get slightly less signal than if it was on the roof because it’s an enclosed space, but it might be enough to get stable TV reception. If you hate the look of an outdoor antenna, then experiment. An attic-mounted antenna will also be easier to maintain. The direction of the TV transmitter tower is also important. If you’re using an indoor antenna, you’ll want to put it in a window facing that direction. If you’re using an outdoor antenna, it should be pointed in that direction. As signals get weaker, going from green to yellow to gray, the direction becomes more important. If you want to tune in weaker stations from towers in different directions, you’ll probably need an antenna rotator. This motorized device will turn the antenna so that it’s oriented to pull in those weaker signals when you want to watch them. Knowing the real channel number will help you select an antenna. TV broadcasting in North America is spread across three frequency bands: VHF-Low (channels 2 through 6), VHF-High (channels 7 through 13), and UHF (channels 14 through 51). Because of the different frequencies in use, antennas are designed to cover one, two, or three bands. Not every antenna covers them all. What type of cable do I need for a TV antenna? A length of coaxial cable cut and ready for a connector to be attached. Martyn Williams/Foundry The connection from your antenna to your TV is every bit as important as the antenna itself. You need a high-quality coaxial cable (“coax” for short) for the job. Coax has a center wire that carries the signal and is surrounded by a plastic insulator. An outer braid shields the center cable from interference, and an outer sheath protects the cable from the elements. If you’re ditching satellite for over-the-air TV, you can probably use the existing coaxial cable from the satellite dish, but if it doesn’t work, be prepared to buy and run new coax. Make the cable a single run if possible because each time you connect shorter cables together using barrel connectors, a little signal is lost. The most common type of coax cable for TV is called RG-6. How we test TV antennas TechHive tests TV antennas in a location in the Washington, D.C. metro area. (Until 2020, we tested in the San Francisco Bay Area, so you might see references to that location in older reviews). The D.C. location receives strong signals from local TV stations, but presents several challenges: There are a large number of trees around to influence reception; some of the independent D.C. TV stations are weak and difficult to receive; and with a good antenna, distant reception of Baltimore market stations is possible. Indoor antennas are tested indoors and outdoor antennas outdoors. Each time we test a new antenna, we retest our current top pick to ensure a fair benchmark. We use a set-top box to scan for channels and record the number of RF channels received by each antenna and their strength. Each RF channel carries a number of digital stations, but the number is different per channel and can change, so digital stations received isn’t as useful a measurement. We scan several times and adjust the direction of the antenna on some rescans. Our picks are the antennas that receive the largest number of stations with the highest signal level in both the UHF (channels 14 through 51) and VHF-High (channels 7 through 13) bands, which are the primary TV broadcast bands. Cord Cutting, TV Antenna
- Televes Bexia review: A great amplified indoor TV antenna
At a glanceExpert's Rating ProsInternal amplifier boosts signal levelStable receptionAmplifier can be powered from one of your TV’s USB portsConsLower performance with VHF frequenciesLarger design could make it difficult to hideOur VerdictThe Televes Bexia is a high-performance indoor TV antenna suited for homes in areas with strong to medium powered TV signals. In our tests, it was comparable to the best indoor antennas we’ve tested, and it can be mounted or rest on a surface. The Televes Bexia is a good-looking indoor TV antenna that works great for pulling in strong to medium-power TV signals. As such, it’s best suited for reception of local TV if you live within a few tens of miles of TV transmitters. It’s one of the best indoor TV antennas we’ve tested. The antenna differentiates itself from the competition in terms of its design. It’s hard plastic unit with an elongated cutout along the top half of the antenna. The base includes a small LED that indicates when it is powered on. This is not the flat/floppy type of antenna that you can tape to a window, but it does have mounting holes on its back if you want to hang it on a wall; otherwise, you can set it in a window sill or on top of a piece of furniture. A small folds away from its back for this purpose. The Televes Bexia is a rigid antenna that can be mounted to a wall or set on a window sill or piece of furniture. It features an internal signal amplifier, so it must be plugged into a power source.Martyn Williams/Foundry Power is required for an amplifier inside the antenna that boosts weak signals. Televes says the antenna doesn’t need to be aimed and will automatically adjust the amplification required for each channel. The amplifier is powered by a conventional USB charger or a USB port on your TV. The Televes Bexia is one of the best indoor TV antennas we’ve tested.Televes Bexia indoor TV antenna specifications The antenna is designed to work across the TV band at both VHF and UHF frequencies. UHF reception goes up to channel 51, which could be a problem in some circumstances. In 2020, frequencies from channel 38 to 51 were reassigned to 5G cellular service and are no longer used for TV broadcasting. This review is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best TV antennas. Some antennas have been redesigned so they don’t cover these frequencies, as we found in our Televes Dat Boss LR review (an excellent outdoor antenna), but this one hasn’t. That means that if you happen to have a 5G cell tower near your house, this antenna will pull in those signals, which could affect your TV reception on some channels. It’s far from certain whether this will be a problem for you, as TV reception is highly variable and localized, but it’s something to keep in mind. Using the Televes Bexia TV antenna To test the antenna, I first scanned channels 2 though 36 with an outdoor TV antenna, to provide a baseline for reception. I then scanned with the Winegard FlatWave Amped, which is Techhive’s current best indoor amplified TV antenna. Finally, I scanned with the Televes Bexia to see how it compared to the Winegard antenna. In almost all cases, the Televes Bexia matched or bettered the Winegard FlatWave Amped. Signal levels were slightly higher with the Bexia antenna on local TV stations, although both products managed error-free reception. You might also want to consider: Winegard FlatWave Amped (model FL-5500A) Read our review Best Prices Today: £189.64 at Amazon There were three exceptions to this rule: The Winegard antenna successfully received a local station on VHF channel 9, in the VHF-Hi band, while the Televes antenna partially received it but with enough errors to make it unwatchable. On the other hand, the Televes Bexia successfully received a local low-power station on VHF channel 6 (in the VHF-Low band) that the Winegard didn’t get a signal from at all. This station is transmitting in the new ATSC 3.0 format, which is supposed to improve reception at low signal levels, so perhaps the Bexia is slightly more sensitive. Both antennas failed at pulling in most stations from a neighboring market that the outdoor antenna could receive with no problems. This is entirely expected from indoor antennas that do not work well at distance. The Televes Bexia has a flip-out stand or it can be mounted to the wall if you don’t want to rest it on a surface.Martyn Williams/Foundry The exceptions were that both successfully received a different ATSC3.0 broadcast from the neighboring market, again pointing to the new format’s ability to be received at low signal levels. Lastly, the Televes received a single UHF channel from that market that the Winegard could not pick up. As a result, the two antennas ended up being equally matched. While the Televes Bexia pulled in stations at slightly higher signal levels than the Winegard Flatwave, its problems with one local VHF TV station were unfortunate. For these reasons, it’s difficult to recommend one over the other; either one would be an excellent choice among indoor antennas if you have strong to medium level signals in your area. The Televes Bexia indoor TV antenna is a strong performer If you are considering an indoor antenna, our ultimate advice is to instead go for an outdoor antenna or, if you cannot manage that, an attic-mounted model. Either of those will ultimately pull in more stations at a higher signal level than an indoor unit. But for those who don’t want to clamber onto their roof or poke around in their attic space (or don’t have an attic), the Televes Bexia is one of the best indoor antennas we’ve tested. TV Antenna
- Blink Wired Floodlight Cam is now available on Amazon for $100
The budget-priced Blink Wired Floodlight Cam announced at Amazon’s September, 2022 hardware event is now available for purchase for $99.99. Featuring a 1080p home security camera melded to dual LED floodlights that produce 2,600 lumens of brightness, the floodlight cam will compete with a bevy of alternatives from the likes of Arlo, Eufy, Google, Ring, and Wyze Labs. This news story is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best home security cameras. The Blink Wired Floodlight Cam has two-way audio and a 105dB siren onboard, and Amazon says its motion detector can distinguish between people and other sources of movement, although buyers will need to sign up for an optional Blink subscription plan to take advantage of that and some other features. Motion analysis is performed locally by Amazon’s AZ2 Neural Edge chip, to enhance privacy. The Blink Wired Floodlight Camera boasts on-device person detection and video processing–provided you sign up for a Blink subscription.Blink A Blink subscription costs $3 per month or $30 per year and includes 60 days of video storage in the cloud for a single camera. Blink Plus subscriptions offer the same set of features (plus a 10-percent discount on future Blink device purchases and an extended warranty) but for an unlimited number of Blink cameras. As is becoming increasingly common with home security cameras, no subscription means you’ll only be able to see a live feed from the camera. You’ll get motion-detection alerts, but you won’t be able to see what triggered them. Blink, however, does offer the option of local video storage—if you also purchase a $35 Blink Sync Module 2 and plug a USB storage device (up to 256GB) into the module. We’ve asked Amazon for a sample of the new device, so we’ll update this story with a link to our Blink Wired Floodlight Cam review as soon as we can. Security Cameras, Smart Home
- The best smart locks for a keyless home in 2023
While traditional lock-and-key systems have improved over time, the basic mechanism hasn’t really changed since the first lock was invented more than a thousand years ago: A piece of metal that is just the right shape pushes pins inside a lock into the proper position, allowing the lock mechanism to turn. As a society, it’s been tough to replace a system that has worked reasonably reliably for literally a millennium. Whether you have a teenager who tends to break curfew or merely want to give temporary access to houseguests, service providers, or Airbnbers, smart locks are an incredible upgrade over the old way of doing things. Ready to make the jump to smart lock technology? Here are our top picks of the market at the moment. Updated January 26, 2023 to add a link to our Kwikset Home Connect 620 Z-Wave smart deadbolt review. The best smart locks for every situation and budget Kwikset Halo Touch — Best smart lock for most people Pros Effective operation with a top-notch fingerprint scanner Smaller and more attractive exterior escutcheon compared to most of the competition Streamlined setup process Cons App becomes mired in lengthy delays every time a setting is changed Interior escutcheon is still industrial-class ugly Relatively expensive Some will argue that we should have named the Level Lock Touch Edition our top pick in this category—it earned a higher score, after all—but Level requires iPhone and Android users to have additional hardware to remotely control their locks (you can read the details below). Kwikset’s use of a fingerprint reader on this lock enabled it to dramatically shrink the footprint the lock presents on the exterior side of your door (yes, Level’s design is cooler still, but…). Kwikset (and Level) give you the option of opening the lock with a conventional key, in the event the reader won’t recognize an authorized fingerprint (should your skin prune up after a dip in the pool, for instance). Read our full Review Kwikset Halo Touch Level Lock Touch Edition — Best smart lock for most people, runner-up Pros Incredibly easy installation, with newly adjustable backset Solid performance, and very easy to use Best-looking smart lock on the market (save perhaps the Level Bolt retrofit lock) Cons No support for Google Assistant iPhone users will need a HomeKit hub for away-from-home control Android phone users will need an Amazon Sidewalk bridge in order to control the lock while away from home Very expensive The minimalist Level Lock Touch Edition looks as good as it operates and is our highest-rated smart lock. The reason we’ve named it runner-up, versus best-of-the-best in this category, is that controlling it remotely is more complicated than with other locks, and it requires the purchase of third-party hardware. Android users must have at least one Amazon Sidewalk bridge device, while iPhone users must have a HomeKit hub. If you can give up the convenience of touch operation, the new Level Lock costs $80 less, but it has the same limitations in terms of remote control. Read our full Review Level Lock Touch Edition Wyze Lock Bolt — Best budget-priced smart lock Pros An amazing smart-home value Inclusion of a fingerprint reader is impressive at this price Worked perfectly throughout our evaluation You can establish temporary PIN codes from afar, even without Wi-Fi Cons Bluetooth only, no Wi-Fi connectivity Can't be incorporated into a broader smart home system Uninspired industrial design Can't detect if the door is open or closed No physical key If you can do without Wi-Fi connectivity, the Wyze Lock Bolt is a phenomenal value for a full-fledged smart lock (this isn’t just a retrofit device. The onboard fingerprint reader and the ability to establish temporary PIN codes from afar are particularly noteworthy features. The trade-off of being a Bluetooth-only device, however, is that you can’t incorporate this smart lock into a broader smart home ecosystem. That means no geofencing support that would automatically lock the door when you leave, no ability to control the lock with voice commands via Alexa or Google Assistant, and no ability to program the lock so your smart lights automatically turn on when you unlock the door. None of that changes the fact that this product is a great value for the money. Read our full Review Wyze Lock Bolt Level Bolt — Best retrofit smart lock Pros The champion of unobtrusive retrofit smart locks Very easy to set up and use Near flawless operation in daily use Cons Geofencing didn’t work Minimal activity logging iPhone users will need a HomeKit hub for away-from-home control Android phone users will need an Amazon Sidewalk bridge in order to control the lock while away from home Level Home’s Level Bolt is our favorite retrofit smart lock, thanks in large measure to its ability to disappear. The smart components of the Bolt hide inside your door, where they replace the interior mechanical elements of your existing deadbolt. You re-attach your existing interior and exterior components, so that your door’s overall aesthetic doesn’t change in the least. As with other locks in the Level family, however, in order to remotely control the lock, Android smartphone users will need to have an Amazon Sidewalk bridge and iPhone users will need to have a HomeKit hub if they want to control the lock remotely. Read our full Review Level Bolt Bosma Aegis Smart Door Lock — Best retrofit smart lock, runner-up Pros Excellent reliability Geofencing features worked perfectly in testing Surprisingly affordable Cons A bit large and bulky Occasional but minor trouble with the app Best Prices Today: £166.19 at Amazon The Bosma Aegis isn’t particularly handsome, and at four inches across, its octagonal lock is a bit awkward to grip and twist. That said, this Wi-Fi-enabled retrofit lock is a snap to install, works great, and comes with most of the features we’ve seen in far pricier competitors. So while the Aegis isn’t much of a looker, it packs plenty of value. Read our full Review Bosma Aegis Smart Door Lock Lockly Vision Elite — Most sophisticated smart lock Pros Every feature you could want in a smart lock—and then some PIN Genie touchscreen is brilliant Top-shelf fingerprint scanner Wi-Fi bridge and second battery are included Cons Incredibly complex installation Not the prettiest lock on the block Dazzlingly expensive Lockly’s $500 Vision Elite is the most expensive smart lock we’ve tested, but its mountain of features and solid operation make it worth consideration. You should also take into consideration that it eliminates the need for a video doorbell, and that it features both a numeric keypad, a fingerprint reader, and a conventional key cylinder. It is the most sophisticated smart lock we’ve seen, but it’s hard to hide all of its features behind a pretty facade. It’s also very expensive. Read our full Review Lockly Vision Elite What benefits do smart smart locks deliver? You can thank the hospitality industry for finally pushing locks into the digital age. Hotels learned long ago that keys are easily lost, expensive to replace, and simple to bypass, as thieves can pick locks or simply make copies of a key to allow for unfettered future access. On the flipside, hotel guests have readily accepted key cards (and in some cases, smartphone-based solutions) as the primary means of getting into their room. The electronic solution is just so much simpler. Lost hotel key card? Replacing it is no big deal. But the biggest benefit of electronic entry systems is that they are highly configurable. Digital locks can be changed at a moment’s notice (which is why that old hotel key card in your wallet isn’t good for anything), and the property owner can generate a record of when each door was opened. In a more advanced setting, different keys can be generated for the same lock, so a homeowner can tell when each member of the family came in, or when the housekeeper arrived. Consider these factors when shopping for a smart lock How do you pick a smart lock? (No pun intended.) This is a young and wildly immature space, and many products on the market are still extremely rough around the edges. Even top products can balk when dealing with old or stiff deadbolts, doors that don’t shut well, or environments where non-standard fixtures are in use. The bottom line is that it’s tough to declare that any product is universally perfect for every home. That said, here are some key considerations to take into account to help you narrow down your shopping list. How smart is it? An important caveat to consider first: Some “smart locks” don’t work with a smartphone app or any smart home networking hubs at all; they’re really just electronic locks that use a code instead of a key to open up. One step up from that, you’ll find Bluetooth-only locks. These work with a smartphone app, but can’t be monitored remotely or via a smart home system. That’s fine if you’re looking to get rid of the keys in your pocket, but less impressive if you want to make your entrance portals a true part of your home network. Replace or retrofit? You’re forgiven if you don’t want to replace your antique doorknob on your vintage Victorian with a metallic device that looks like it would be more at home keeping people out of a strip mall bank branch. A sizeable number of smart lock products don’t require you to replace all your existing hardware. Instead, they are installed on the inside of the door only, replacing only the interior part of the deadbolt. You can continue to use a standard key from the outside or open the lock via a smartphone app. Smart home hub integration If you have an existing hub like the Wink Hub 2, Samsung SmartThings, or an Apple TV, you’ll want to ensure your chosen smart lock is compatible from the start. Many smart locks support Bluetooth, so they work with your phone, but lack the technology needed to connect with your home network. Some Bluetooth locks, like the Yale Assure system and the August Smart Lock, offer a radio module as an add-on to connect to your home network. If you’re using a smart home hub like the Samsung SmartThings or Wink Hub, look for a lock that supports Z-Wave or ZigBee, instead. Alternate entry means Forgot your phone at the office? How will you get in the house? Physical key? Numeric keypad? Wait for your spouse to arrive? Myriad different approaches are available. Power backup What do you do if the batteries inside the lock die—and you’re stuck outside? Some locks allow for emergency power to be applied should this happen. Yale’s Real Living locks feature external posts to which you can connect a 9-volt battery, giving you enough juice to get the door open. Other models retain the traditional key cylinder for backup. Geofencing Bad about manually locking the door when you leave? A geofencing system automatically locks the door when it detects your phone has left the vicinity, and can be set to automatically open up when it finds you’ve come home. Guest access features Most smart locks let you set up temporary keys for houseguests, which you can delete when they’ve returned home. Smarter systems even let you set time restrictions around when each access code can be used. Home Security, Mobile, Smart Home
- Cord-cutting terms defined: Your video streaming glossary
Call it a gut instinct, but it seems like a lot of folks are resolving to cut the cable TV cord this year. The people I’m increasingly talking to aren’t young techies, but longtime cable and satellite TV subscribers who’ve been pushed out by price hike after price hike. Especially for folks with fixed incomes, cord-cutting has become a necessity rather than a hobby. This story is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best streaming devices. But like so many other elements of technology, the field of cord-cutting is full of inscrutable acronyms, similar-sounding terminology, and nonsensical brand names. After covering this space for nearly a decade, it occurs to me that I’ve never bothered to define all of this jargon in one place. Let’s rectify that oversight, then, with a glossary of terms that every current or future cord-cutter ought to know: Basic cord-cutting terminology The Roku home screen.Jared Newman / Foundry Cord-cutting: The act of cancelling cable or satellite TV in favor of streaming and over-the-air TV options. Streaming: In the context of television, the act of playing video from internet sources, or possibly from a local media server. Streaming service: A provider of streaming video, usually delivered via an app or website. Examples include Netflix, Hulu, YouTube TV, and Sling TV. Also known as OTT (Over-the-Top) video. Streaming device: A product that plugs into a television, enabling access to streaming services. Also known as a streaming player. Smart TV: A television that can access streaming services without a separate streaming device. Connected TV: A term that refers collectively to both streaming devices and smart TVs. Streaming platform: Refers broadly to the software that runs on streaming devices and smart TVs. Examples include Roku, Fire TV, Android TV, and Google TV. Streaming dongle: A small streaming device that plugs directly into the television without additional HDMI cables, and uses either the TV’s USB port or an AC outlet for power. Examples include the Roku Streaming Stick 4K, Amazon Fire TV Stick, and Chromecast with Google TV. Streaming box: A streaming device that plugs into the television with an HDMI cable (because it’s too large to hang from that port, like a dongle does). A streaming box typically offers more features and processing power than a streaming dongle. Examples include the Apple TV 4K, Roku Ultra, and Amazon Fire TV Cube. OTA: Short for Over-the-Air, this term refers to local TV channels received from an indoor or rooftop antenna. Here is a link to TechHive’s top TV antenna recommendations. Types of streaming services The YouTube TV user interfacejJared Newman / IDG SVOD: Short for “Subscription Video On Demand,” referring to services that primarily ask you to choose which movie or show to watch. Examples include Netflix, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+. FAST: Industry jargon for Free, Ad-Supported Television. Examples include Pluto TV, Tubi, and The Roku Channel. Also known as AVOD, short for Advertising-supported Video On Demand. VOD: May refer generally to on-demand video, or specifically to rentals and purchases, as found on storefronts such as iTunes, Amazon Video, and Vudu. The latter may also be known as TVOD (Transactional Video On Demand), PVOD (Premium Video On Demand), or simply a la carte. Linear TV: Video that plays on a pre-defined schedule, similar to cable. This format is especially popular with FAST services. MVPD: Short for Multichannel Video Programming Distributor. This is industry jargon for cable, satellite, or telco TV services. vMVPD: Short for virtual Multichannel Video Programming Distributor, the term refers to streaming services that offer a bundle of cable channels. Examples include YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, and DirecTV Stream. Synonyms include Live TV streaming service, and streaming TV bundles. Skinny bundle: A live TV streaming service whose channel lineup is smaller—and therefore cheaper—than a typical cable package. Examples include Sling TV, Philo, and Frndly TV. Streaming marketplace: A seller of subscriptions to multiple streaming services, usually with its own interface. Examples include Amazon Prime Video Channels, Roku Premium Subscriptions, and YouTube Primetime Channels. IPTV: Technically describes a TV service delivered via internet protocol, but may also be used as shorthand for pirated streaming video sources. Home networking jargon An Eero Pro 6 mesh Wi-Fi router and satellite. Jim Martin / Foundry Internet modem or gateway: A device that delivers internet service into the home. Not to be confused with a Wi-Fi router, though some modems have routers built in. May also be known as an internet gateway or—for fiber internet providers—an ONT (short for Optical Network Terminal). Router: A device that distributes internet connectivity from a modem or gateway to other network devices (clients) inside the home. A Wi-Fi router gives you the choice of using wired or wireless connections, assuming the client has a Wi-Fi adapter. Ethernet: A standard for connecting smart devices–computers, smartphones, streaming boxes, storage devices, and other client devices–to form a local network with a router at its center. Ethernet networks can be wired or wireless. Media server: A device that stores media files—including video and audio—and uses server software to stream those files to compatible devices on home network. The hardware used for media serving is most typically a NAS (network-attached storage) box. Examples of media server software include Plex, JellyFin, and Channels DVR. Networked tuner: A device that streams over-the-air broadcasts to other devices on the same network. Examples include HDHomeRun, Tablo, and AirTV. TV terminology Disney+’s Loki is available in 4K resolution with HDR10 high dynamic range and a soundtrack encoded with Dolby Atmos.Jared Newman / Foundry 4K: Refers to video content with resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, or to devices capable of playing such content. Also known as Ultra HD. HDR: Short for High Dynamic Range, the term refers to video with a wider contrast range than standard content, allowing for more detailed highlights and shadows on televisions that support HDR. Dolby Vision: A proprietary version of HDR that can map colors on a scene-by-scene basis, resulting in better accuracy when viewed on televisions that support Dolby Vision. HDR10+: A royalty-free equivalent to Dolby Vision, most notably supported by Amazon Prime. Dolby Atmos: An object-based audio format that adds the dimension of height to surround sound on compatible soundbars or A/V systems and loudspeakers. FPS: Short for Frames Per Second, which measures how smooth motion in video appears to the human eye (the higher the better). A frame rate of 30 frames per second is typical, but a frame rate of 60 FPS is especially important for sports programming, so it’s worth paying attention to this spec when evaluating live TV streaming services. Did I miss anything? Let me know, and I’ll add it to the glossary. And for more advice on how to finally ditch cable, sign up for my Cord Cutter Weekly newsletter. Cord Cutting
- Kwikset Home Connect 620 review: A basic lock for Z-Wave users
At a glanceExpert's Rating ProsTwo design choices and either three or four finish optionsBased on the Z-Wave 700 chipsetSturdy physical buildBacklit buttonsInexpensiveConsLargely dependent on a Z-Wave smart home hubKeypad consists of soft buttons (versus a touchscreen)Incompatible with Ring Alarm (some other Kwikset Z-Wave locks are)Our VerdictThe Kwikset HC620 is a very affordable Z-Wave lock; but by its nature, only buyers who have Z-Wave smart home hubs will find it appealing. Best Prices Today: Kwikset Home Connect 620 Retailer Price £275.10 View Deal Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide If you’ve built your smart home around the Z-Wave standard and want an inexpensive smart lock that’s compatible with it, the Kwikset Home Connect 620 (aka HC620), is a great choice. It’s built around the Z-Wave 700 chipset but is backward compatible with most older Z-Wave smart home hubs. If you don’t have a Z-Wave smart home system and don’t plan to acquire one, you’ll want to choose a different type of smart lock. This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best smart locks. The Kwikset HC620 is available in two designs—Contemporary and Traditional—and in several finishes for each design: polished chrome, satin nickel, and Venetian bronze. The Contemporary model is also available in a matte black finish. Both designs feature a backlit, a rubber 10-button numeric keypad, plus a single action button. The lock can also be opened with a physical key or a third-party app (more on that in a bit). The Kwikset Home Connect 620 is a highly affordable smart deadbolt that’s compatible with most Z-Wave-based smart home systems.Kwikset offers a unique DIY re-keying system that lets you use any existing Kwikset KW1 key with the lock. This is a great option for homeowners with Kwikset locks on several exterior doors because it eliminates the need to carry a separate key for each lock. The Kwikset HC620 in Traditional style, with a polished chrome finish. The lock pictured at the top of the page is the Contemporary style in a satin nickel finish.Kwikset Kwikset is an old hand when it comes to Z-Wave, and if you have a compatible smart home hub, the Z-Wave SmartStart feature of the Z-Wave 700 chipset allows you to enroll a device before you ever turn it on, simply by scanning the Z-Wave QR code on the hardware. Unfortunately, my older Samsung SmartThings hub doesn’t support that feature (and this lock is entirely incompatible with Ring Alarm systems), so I had to enroll it the old-fashioned way. The good news is that this process is not much more onerous than using SmartStart: A quick QR code scan through the SmartThings app had me connected in less than a minute. The Kwikset HC620 smart lock is easy to install Before that, of course, I had to physically install the device on the door and power it up. Kwikset’s broadsheet set of instructions aren’t the most accessible, but by and large the process is straightforward and very similar to other door locks. Two escutcheons sandwich the door, with two bolts holding the two pieces together. From there, electronics are connected via a cable snaking beneath the door hardware and two small screws that attach the motor to the interior escutcheon. Power is provided by 4 AA batteries (included). My only hiccup with physical installation involved getting a clean connection between the motor and the interior escutcheon. This was probably due to the fat cable connector that must sit just beneath the thumb-turn. It’s hard to get this cable situated to keep the motor assembly flush against the door. If it isn’t, the lock won’t turn smoothly; in fact, it can jam. I spent most of my installation time trying to wedge that cable into place just so, and after about 10 minutes of trial and error, I finally got things working smoothly. Programming the Kwikset HC620 As with most Z-Wave locks, the Kwikset HC620 doesn’t come with its own app. You can program PINs on the lock itself, but most other tasks will be handled by the app for whatever Z-Wave-based smart home hub you use. We tested the lock with a Samsung SmartThings hub.Christopher Null/Foundry When it comes to programming the Kwikset HC620, veteran Z-Wave users won’t be surprised to learn that Kwikset doesn’t provide its own app for this purpose. More often than not, smart lock buyers will use whatever software came with their smart home hub. That said, you can program up to 250 unique PINs without any app at all, simply by tapping in code combinations on the lock’s numeric keypad. The lock itself, however, doesn’t let you restrict how these codes are used. You can’t restrict PINs by time or date, for example, and you can’t create one-time codes. Give someone a working code, and they’ll be able to unlock the lock 24/7. Additional features, such as muting the unit’s beep feedback or setting its auto-lock feature (with time-delay options ranging from 30 to 600 seconds), can also be configured through keypad combinations. Smart home hub lock features vary. With the SmartThings app, for example, I found a logging system to record lock and unlock operations, but there’s no data stored on whether a code, key, or an app was used. I could also create schedules—automatically lock the door at 10:00 p.m. every night, for example. Vivint’s smart home system has similar features and limitations, but it can be programmed so that locking and unlocking the door at the HC620’s keypad automatically arms and disarms that security system respectively. The Kwikset HC620 smart lock is an excellent value I never encountered any issues working with Kwikset HC620 in daily use, finding it fast and responsive. As well, it never disconnected from my hub throughout testing. Kwikset’s latest Z-Wave deadbolt is affordable, too, with the Contemporary model in polished chrome selling for less than $116 at press time. While some finishes cost more, you should be able to find one that fits your home’s décor. The Kwikset HC620 is the best value in Z-Wave deadbolts on the market today; it’s a great entry-level choice for smart homes that revolve around that standard. Home Security, Smart Home
- The best smart sprinkler controllers of 2023
Watering our lawns and gardens is a thankless chore, and it can be particularly wasteful when done with a hose in one hand and a beer in the other. Irrigation systems have made home watering simpler and more efficient, and while the bulk of any sprinkler system revolves around plastic pipes (hoses and drippers with a drip irrigation system) and a set of motorized valves attached to the water supply, the brains of the operation has always been in the controller. For decades, sprinkler controllers have hardly been elegant devices. They typically consist of a rotary dial, a handful of switches, and perhaps a crude monochrome LCD. This is rapidly changing, as smart sprinkler controllers enter the market. These have come from two angles: Startups looking to disrupt the market with brand-new devices, and old-guard irrigation companies that have upgraded their gear with smart innards. Both approaches to date have shown some merit. Here are our takes on the best gear on the market today. Updated January 25, 2023 with a link to our Irrigreen Digital Sprinkler System review. The best smart sprinkler controllers Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller — Best smart sprinkler controller Pros Better Water Intelligence features improve conservation Revamped wire connectors make setup even faster Onboard controls offer easy access to manual runs Cons High-pitched squeal emanates from device Old Rachio units don’t get access to the same software treatment Expensive Best Prices Today: £342.76 at Amazon The world’s best smart sprinkler controller gets even better, with new features, better wireless connectivity, and smarter water management. (Note: There is also an 8-zone model that sells for less). Read our full Review Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller (16 zone) Orbit B-hyve XR — Best smart sprinkler controller, runner-up Pros Lots of scheduling options, fairly easy to understand Onboard display is handy for at-a-glance status updates Dual-band Wi-Fi support Can be mounted outdoors without an accessory (though not fully waterproof) Cons Wiring leads might require some finagling to successfully connect Quite bulky in size Onboard hardware controls are far from intuitive Best Prices Today: £226.85 at Amazon Orbit might be a graybeard in the world of irrigation, but it’s giving Rachio a run for its money in the smart home market. Orbit’s second-generation B-hyve smart sprinkler controller has lots of bells and whistles, and it can even withstand being mounted outdoors without needing an accessory (although it’s not completely waterproof). Read our full Review Orbit B-hyve XR (8 zone) Wyze Sprinkler Controller — Best budget-priced smart sprinkler controller Pros Cheap, a third the price of most other controllers on the market. Easy setup, especially if you just need the basics. Cons Limited to 8 zones Weatherproof housing costs extra Read our full Review Wyze Sprinkler Controller Irrigreen Digital Sprinkler System — Most promising new contender Pros “Water printing” technology keeps water from going where it isn’t needed App is easy to navigate DIY is an available installation option Cons Must be installed from scratch, you can’t retrofit an existing sprinkler system Weather-driven automatic watering may not be fully baked A little rough around the edges; the Irrigreen controller, for example, is a circuit board in a box This recommendation comes with some caveats, but the Irrigreen system is so unique and innovative that it earns a qualified thumbs up. By adapting technology originally developed for inkjet printers, Irrigreen’s sprinkler system can “print” water onto your landscaping with a degree of precision that must be seen to believe, following the contours of your lawn and flowerbeds so that no water goes where it’s not needed. Tired of your sprinklers spraying water on your driveway, sidewalk, or the outside unit of your air conditioner or heat pump? That won’t happen with Irrigreen’s system. And where a conventional system would need 40 sprinkler heads to achieve full coverage of a given area, Irrigreen’s system can get the job done with just five. Now for those caveats: You can’t retrofit an existing sprinkler system, you must replace all of it. Also, Irrigreen’s controller hardware looks a little rough, and its app needs a few improvements. All that said, we’re enthusiastic about where this product is at today and what’s in store for its future via inevitable software and firmware updates. Read our full Review Irrigreen Digital Sprinkler System Orbit B-hyve XD — Best hose-based smart sprinkler controller Pros Very inexpensive Smart functionality greatly eases the headache of scheduling via hardware Reasonably easy to use Cons We encountered headaches getting the Wi-Fi bridge to work properly Smart Watering features require the added-cost Wi-Fi bridge Best Prices Today: $34.98 at Lowes If you water your landscaping with a garden hose or a simple drip irrigation system, as opposed to an in-ground sprinkler system, Orbit’s second-generation B-hyve XD is vastly superior to conventional non-connected timers, and Orbit’s app can control several of them independently when you add the optional Bluetooth-to-Wi-Fi bridge, which we heartily recommend. Read our full Review Orbit B-hyve XD What to look for when shopping for a smart sprinkler controller Do you have a sprinkler system already? While there are a few smart irrigation controllers that will work with garden hoses or other off-the-rack equipment, most are designed to work with true irrigation controllers that connect to their own water supply and which feature motorized valves and dedicated tubing to control the flow of water. Installing a real sprinkler system can be a big task that requires professional help—particularly if you have a large yard or garden—but upgrading to a smart controller from a “dumb” one isn’t difficult. Consult with a landscaping expert first if you are installing a sprinkler system from scratch, in order to plan out your zones in advance. On-device controls: Probably the biggest single decision you need to make with a controller is whether you want a device that includes onboard controls, i.e., buttons and a readout directly on the controller that allow you to use it without an app. This can be handy if you have multiple people using the system or, especially, want to give a gardener access to the controller without having to set him or her up on the app. Systems without on-device controls generally lack any kind of display whatsoever except for a status light indicating whether it’s working, so remember you’ll need the app on your smartphone or tablet to do anything with it. Indoor/outdoor mounting: Are you mounting the unit inside or outside? If outside, you’ll need a weatherproof enclosure for the system. Some vendors sell separate indoor and outdoor versions of their controllers. Others sell an outdoor enclosure as a separate add-on. Number of zones: In irrigation parlance, a zone is an area controlled by a valve and its connected irrigation tubing. If you have four valves, you have four zones. Your controller needs to have enough capacity to support all the zones in your system. Eight zones is common, but units supporting as few as six zones and as many as 16 zones are currently on the market. Scheduling flexibility: How often do you want to water? Every day? Every other day? On specific days of the week? Not every controller can handle complex schedules, so look closely at your options before buying. A few controllers can even import legal watering restrictions information for your zip code, to ensure you aren’t watering on prohibited days. Notifications: It’s helpful to be notified when your watering system is running, but different products deal with the mechanics differently. Push notifications are common, but many only notify you when the watering has completed, not when it starts (which is arguably more useful). Other forms of notification (email, text) aren’t common, so consider a unit that supports IFTTT if you want to get fancy with notifications. “Smart” scheduling: Once of the great promises of smart watering systems is that they can take into account your local weather and environment to optimize your water delivery. We’ve found that these don’t work all that well (they have a tendency to over-water), though options that skip watering when it rains can be a bonus feature. Otherwise, there’s not too much of a need to put weight on so-called “smart” scheduling features. Smart-home hub support: Want to tie your sprinkler system into your smart-home hub? Sounds great, but the reality is that most smart sprinklers exist as islands today: Only a few connect to anything at all, though Amazon’s Alexa has a modicum of support. Expect this to change as these products mature. Smart Gardens
- Irrigreen Precision Sprinkler System review: Waste not, want not
At a glanceExpert's Rating Pros“Water printing” technology keeps water from going where it isn’t neededApp is easy to navigateDIY is an available installation optionConsMust be installed from scratch, you can’t retrofit an existing sprinkler systemWeather-driven automatic watering may not be fully bakedA little rough around the edges; the Irrigreen controller, for example, is a circuit board in a boxOur VerdictYou’ll need to calculate if it’s worth replacing your entire sprinkler system with Irrigreen’s, but homeowners with major water-use concerns could find it hugely valuable. Anyone with a sprinkler system knows at least a little of the frustration of waking up in the morning and finding puddles of water on a driveway, pathway, or sidewalk: wasted water that should have nurtured your lawn, trees, or flowerbeds. The Irrigreen Precision Sprinkler System applies precision engineering to that troubling and expensive problem. The star of the show is a new type of pop-up sprinkler head based on the same design principle as an inkjet printer; Irrigreen co-founder and CTO Gary Kleinfelter helped pioneer the concept of inkjet printers and holds 35 patents on the technology. Each Irrigreen Digital Sprinkler is outfitted with 14 nozzles that can spray water with varying pressure to reach different distances. And these distances can vary as the sprinkler rotates in a 360-degree arc, so that water is applied only up to the edge of your lawn or flowerbeds and doesn’t reach areas that don’t need irrigation. This review is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best smart sprinkler controllers. Each Irrigreen pop-up sprinkler head has 14 nozzles of varying sizes. The head can “throw” streams of water varying distances and adjust the degree of water pressure in real time, so that the spray pattern follows the precise contours of your lawn.Irrigreen Watching a YouTube video of an Irrigreen system in operation might explain how this works better than I can using words, but the concept is pretty simple: The homeowner uses Irrigreen’s app to map out the yard around the sprinkler head, setting the maximum distance they would like water to reach in each direction. Nothing but grass in one direction? Open things up all the way. Obstacle, fence, or the side of the house in another direction? Dial the distance back so that water only goes where it’s needed. The system remembers the relative water pressure that should be used as it faces each direction, and it responds accordingly during a watering run. Mapping your yard is intuitive and straightforward and—dare I say—kind of fun.Before we get too deep into this review, however, you should know that unlike most (if not all) other smart sprinkler controllers, Irrigreen’s is a full nose-to-tail system that includes all the in-ground hardware and sprinkler heads. You can’t simply sub out an existing controller and use it with a standard system, nor simply replace existing sprinkler heads with Irrigreen ones. And while Irrigreen says its system requires far less hardware—250 feet of pipe and just 5 digital sprinkler heads, versus 1,500 feet of pipe and up to 40 conventional sprinkler heads for a typical yard—installing an Irrigreen system still means digging trench lines in your yard (or hiring a contractor to do it for you). Irrigreen’s controller consists of a printed ciruit board in a waterproof box.Christopher Null/Foundry Since it wasn’t practical for us to evaluate an entire irrigation system on a temporary basis, at least not without Irrigreen sending a landscaping crew to my home, the company provided a digital sprinkler head that can be attached to a standard garden hose and used above ground. So, my experience obviously wasn’t the same as I would get with an in-ground installation, but it was close enough. And the software experience, including the mapping features, would be the same either way. Irrigreen didn’t provide much in the way of instructions as to how to set up the hardware—I suspect most of its customers acquire the system through landscape contractors—I was able to get it set up and running without too much trouble. Besides, the software is where the magic is, and while I was flooded with errors and couldn’t get anything to work on the first day, Irrigreen said this was because the unit was probably in a maintenance mode as it downloaded updates. Sure enough, everything began working as expected on day two without intervention. (Some sort of notification of these updates would have been helpful.) Setting watering contours and spray distances around the sprinkler head is a simple process using the Irrigreen app.Christopher Null/Foundry The system connects to your 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network, but it also has a cellular backup mode in case your broadband connection goes down. Wireless setup requires scanning a bar code on the rather industrial electronics case, and then walking through a few basic steps in the app. After identifying your watering zones, the system launches a calibration run to test your water pressure, which takes a couple of minutes. At that point, your (or the contractor’s) next job is to map your yard. This is done via an interactive system that drops the sprinkler head in the middle of the screen and tasks the user with dropping pins in a circle around it. At each point, you can place the pin as close or as far away from the sprinkler as you’d like—at least up to the maximum throw of the sprinkler. This distance will be based on your available water pressure: Irrigreen indicates that 35 feet is roughly the limit; mine topped out at 24 feet. Mapping your yard is intuitive and straightforward and—dare I say—kind of fun. While it doesn’t overlay atop an actual picture of your yard—which would be awfully nice, if difficult to pull off short of using custom aerial photos—it’s easy to see where you need to drop pins (up to 50) with a little trial and error. In my case, I wanted to work around a tree and a sandbox in one corner of the yard, and some planters on the opposite side. It took less than 5 minutes to work my way around the yard and dial in the water to spray within a few inches of each obstacle—which is why Irrigreen says its system “prints” water on the lawn. Unfortunately, this portion of my yard (which I thought was rather small) was just a bit too large to be completely covered by a single Irrigreen sprinkler head. If I were to invest in the system permanently, I think two sprinkler heads would be needed in this area of my yard. Irrigreen’s app lets you program watering schedules, taking current weather conditions into consideration, and it maintains a detailed log of the water you use for irrigation.Christopher Null/Foundry Once your yard is mapped, the hard part of setup is done. Irrigreen’s app lets you run manual watering runs, schedule runs based on time and date (including specific days of the week, even/odd days, and more), and features an automatic watering mode that uses internet weather data to adjust water use. There’s not a whole lot of information about how this auto-mode works, and the system proved to be a bit confused in my testing: On the day of a freak hailstorm and cold snap, the system said it “ran longer” due to “warmer weather” instead of skipping the watering run as it should have. Over time, things fell more in line with ambient weather conditions, indicating that maybe this is a system that needs to run for a bit before it really finds its groove. You’ll find all this information tracked in a logging system that keeps tabs on watering activity, but details in this section of the app are scant and could use more information to help guide the user about what’s going on. Note that you can also use the control box hardware—which disconcertingly amounts to a bare circuit board mounted inside a plastic box—to launch basic manual runs for a single zone or all zones—or to stop all watering—but the three buttons inside aren’t well labeled. Hang on to the (very beta) manual if you ever plan to open the box. Pricing for Irrigreen depends on the size of your lawn and the number of sprinkler heads you need, and an online quote tool lets you parse out an estimate. For my lawn (estimated at about 6,100 square feet), Irrigreen suggested five sprinkler heads at a total cost of $3,280. Based on my testing, however, I’m confident at least eight heads would really have been required. Still, that’s not crazy compared to the average cost of a standard sprinkler system, which typically runs $500 to $1,000 per zone. For what it’s worth, my current setup has about 20 conventional sprinkler heads. Is Irrigreen the best new way to irrigate? While it’s promising today, I think Irrigreen has some growing to do. There’s no way to get push notifications about watering, for example, and there is no third-party connectivity to such common smart-home platforms as Alexa or Google Home, much less Apple’s HomeKit. The current hardware looks built more for the lab than a suburban home, and then there’s the cost of installation to consider. It’s also difficult to verify the company’s claims that an Irrigreen system can save everyone 50 percent of the water spent on irrigation; but at the very least, its “water printing” concept does seem to deliver more precision and less waste when it comes to watering. Unless you’re keen replace your lawn with artificial turf, Irrigreen is worth keeping an eye on. Smart Gardens, Smart Home
- Bowers & Wilkins announces Pi7 S2 and Pi5 S2 in-ear headphones
Best known for the impeccable attention to detail it lavishes on loudspeakers and, more recently, high-end headphones, Bowers & Wilkins brought its first true wireless headphones to market in 2021. The British audio mavens are now about to introduce their second-generation in-ear active noise-cancelling headphones. We haven’t heard them, yet, but we’re glad to see a minor tweak to their name: The Pi7 S2 replace the PI7, and the Pi5 S2 replace the PI5. If you thought the original earbuds were named P17 and P15 respectively—as we first did—you’ll understand why B&W has changed the uppercase “I” in the original products to a lowercase “i.” The S2, of course, indicates a second-generation product. Here’s a link to our Bowers & Wilkins PI7 review from August, 2021. This news story is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best noise-cancelling headphones. B&W says buyers can expect to get five hours of battery life with each charge of its Pi7 S2 in-ear headphones.Bowers & Wilkins Bowers & Wilkins says both sets of new earbuds deliver the same quality of sound as their respective predecessors while squeezing out an additional hour of battery life—five hours, versus four in the originals. You’ll also get improved Bluetooth range: Up to 25 meters from the source. The Pi7 S2 support an additional feature, Wireless Audio Retransmission, that allows you to connect to an external audio source—an in-flight entertainment system, for example—and then wirelessly retransmit audio from that source to the earbuds, via the charging case. The Pi7 S2 feature 9.2mm drivers plus balanced armature drivers, with each drive unit powered by a separate amplifier. The Pi5 S2 use a single 9.2mm driver in each unit. Three microphones in each Pi7 S2 are used for adaptive noise cancellation and phone calls (the Pi5 S2 has two mics in each bud). B&W Pi5 S2 in-ear headphones will be available in a new color, Sage Green, this spring.Bowers & Wilkins The new headphones can be fully integrated with B&W’s Music app for making EQ adjustments and tuning their active noise cancellation. Thanks to continued support for aptX Adaptive, Pi7 S2 users will be able to stream music in high-res (up to 24-bit/48kHz) from services including Qobuz and Tidal. The Pi5 S2 support the aptX codec and CD-quality streaming. A single-button user interface, summoned by touching a capacitive button on either earbud, can perform multiple functions, including sending smartphone voice commands to Siri or Google Assistant. The $399 Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 are available now in several new colors: Satin Black, Canvas White, and Midnight Blue. The $299 B&W Pi5 S2 are available now in Cloud Grey, Storm Grey, Spring Lilac and (soon) Sage Green. Headphones, Home Audio
- The best air purifiers: Keep your home safe, comfortable, and odor free
The COVID pandemic—and in much of the country, smoke-filled air caused by rampant wildfires—has renewed interest in a formerly sleepy sector of the gadget universe: the air purifier. The best models can not only remove odors from the air, they can protect your health by cleansing the air of harmful vapors and particulate matter. To find the model that’s right for your needs, you should first consider the size of the room you want the appliance to treat. These are our top picks according to general room size. If you’d like to take a deeper dive into this category of product and see some of the other factors we take into consideration in our reviews, scroll down the page a bit. Updated to add a link to our Xiaomi Smart Air Purifier 4 Compact review. NuWave OxyPure Smart Air Purifier — Best for large rooms Pros Four filter types remove particulate matter, including bacteria and viruses Simple and responsive smartphone app Can be controlled with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands Cons This is a large and heavy appliance you won't want to move from one room to another Only connects to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi networks Smartphone app only duplicates the controls on the device itself This powerful air purifier provides up to 1,200 square feet of coverage, and it will fit into your smart home ecosystem, too. It uses four types of filters to clean your air–three of which can be washed and reused–and its CADR (Clean Air Delivery Rates) of 332 to 369 cubic feet per minute are best in class. You can connect this smart appliance to your Wi-Fi network and control with voice commands, but NuWave’s smartphone app merely duplicates the touch controls on the device itself. We’d like it even better if we could program it to operate on a schedule. Read our full Review NuWave OxyPure Smart Air Purifier Jya Fjord air purifier — Best for mid-sized rooms Pros Whisper quiet Outstanding collection of features in a small form factor Supports Apple's HomeKit ecosystem in addition to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant Casters included for easy mobility Cons Touchscreen can be finicky Temperature displayed in Celsius only Filters must be purchased directly from the manufacturer Best Prices Today: €199 at Jya€199 at Xiaomi £442.57 at Amazon The Jya Fjord is rated to clean the air in rooms up to 667 square feet, with a CADR (Clean Air Delivery Rate) of 265 cubic feet per minute. A small OLED touchscreen displays a small amount of information, but you can use the SmartMi Link app on your mobile device to get additional details and to control this excellent air purifier. This appliance is unusual in that it supports Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem in addition to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. It’s a very good value, especially while it’s for sale at its introductory price of $319, including a free air filter, but read our in-depth review for all the details as to how we suggest you purchase one, if you’re of a mind to. Read our full Review Jya Fjord air purifier Coway Airmega 150 — Best for smaller rooms Pros Real-time air quality monitoring Simple setup Compact size Cons No app control No smart home integration Coway’s Airmega 150 a pretty ideal air purifier for modest-sized spaces. Its minimalist design blends with any decor, and it is intuitive to operate right out of the box. While it doesn’t offer app control or integrate with other smart appliances, it also doesn’t have any of the attendant connectivity and interoperability hassles. The fact that it accurately monitors and responds to changing air quality, so you’re always breathing your best, is another reason for us to give it a strong recommendation. Read our full Review Coway Airmega 150 Wyze Air Purifier — Best for bargain hunters Pros Quick installation Can cover a large room Alexa and Google Home compatibility Excellent app Cons Loud Large design Setting adjustment aren’t implemented in real time Frustrating firmware upgrade The Wyze Air Purifier may be big and loud, but it’s also powerful and affordable. Compatible with both Alexa and Google Assistant, the Wyze Air Purifier works with the excellent Wyze app, and it has enough horsepower to exchange up to 12,000 cubic feet of air per hour. An “Insights” feature tracks dust and pollen in the room and outside, and you also get your choice of three HEPA filters: allergen, “wildfire,” and formaldehyde. Read our full Review Wyze Air Purifier Govee Smart Air Purifier (model H7120) — Best for small spaces Pros Small and quiet Integrates with other Govee smart appliances Inexpensive Cons Not powerful enough for larger rooms Must be invested in Govee smart home ecosystem to take advantage of full capabilities This very affordable air purifier is just the ticket for smaller spaces, such as a bedroom or home office. Its replacement filters are also inexpensive. And if you tie it with the Govee Smart Air Quality Monitor, the two smart appliances will coordinate their efforts to keep your indoor air healthy to breathe. Read our full Review Govee Smart Air Purifier (model H7120) Features to look for when shopping for an air purifier Here’s a guide to some of the key operational features in the category. You might also want to check out our buyers’ guide to stand-alone air-quality monitors, which can keep you informed of the quality of air inside your home. Since most air purifiers are best deployed in a single room, you can easily move a less-expensive air quality monitor from room to room to track the quality of all the indoor air you breathe. Room size supported: Every manufacturer reports the size of the room its purifier is designed for, although this can be a bit arbitrary. Still, the manufacturer’s number is a good starting point. Place the purifier in a room that’s too large and it simply won’t be able to effectively clean the air.Filter type: HEPA filters are largely standard, as are activated carbon filters (which are primarily used to remove odors from the air). But not every purifier relies on HEPA, and HEPA filters come in a variety of performance levels that correspond to their effectiveness at capturing very small particles, ranging from HEPA H10 to HEPA H14. That said, many filters don’t report this information. We’ve asked and reported where we have heard back. Higher HEPA ratings are better.Filter lifespan: How long until you need to replace the filter, and how much do replacements cost? Some purifiers track filter life inside their app, which is helpful.Loudness: At high air-flow levels, purifiers can be extremely noisy (and impossible to sleep near). That said, most are nearly silent at their lowest operating levels and some have special “night modes” that keep things ultra-quiet.CADR: Clean Air Delivery Rate, a standard developed by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, is represented as a series of figures that express how much air a purifier can clean in a set amount of time. Separate ratings are included for smoke, pollen, and dust. AHAM recommends that a purifier be used in a room with a size in square feet equal to 150 percent the CADR (assuming an eight-foot ceiling). (In other words, to clean a 450-square-foot room, you need a CADR rating of at least 300.) Many manufacturers claim their purifiers support much larger rooms than this, however. Note also that CADR is intended to be measured in cubic feet/minute, but some vendors measure it in cubic meters/hour. Where necessary, we have converted these figures to U.S. customary units.Pollutant levels reported in app: What does the app tell you about your air quality? A detailed look at various pollutants is more useful than a broad “good/fair/poor” air quality rating.Most air purifiers use multiple filters to trap increasingly small airborne particles and typically include a HEPA filter and a activated carbon filter to neutralize odors. This particular filter is used in some Blueair air purifiers. In recent years, however, the EPA has reported that the typical air quality indoors (where we spend about 90 percent of our time) is much worse than it is outside, with some airborne pollutants two to five times more concentrated in the home than outdoors. These pollutants include combustion byproducts, pet dander, mold, pesticides, ozone, natural gasses like radon, and the all-encompassing category of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which include everything from formaldehyde to trichloroethylene to chloroform. (These gasses can be 10 times higher indoors than outdoors.) And none of this stuff is healthy to breathe. Do air purifiers protect you? The experts (including the EPA) say that HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are effective at reducing airborne contaminants of all types—including viruses—but are careful to note that on their own they are not enough to protect you from viruses and bacteria, and that you should still practice the standard battery of safeguards even if you have a great purifier on hand. That said high-quality air filters are effective at reducing (but not eliminating) indoor pollution. While we don’t have the facilities to scientifically test the pollution-reduction claims of each purifier, we do report on the manufacturers’ specifications on that front. Sensors, Smart Appliances, Smart Home
- Xiaomi Smart Air Purifier 4 Compact review: Cheap and effective
At a glanceExpert's Rating ProsSolid performance for the priceEasy, streamlined setupPlenty of in-app optionsConsMinimal onboard controls, including no real manual modeNo countdown timer, no loggingUses a proprietary, rather than HEPA, air filterOur VerdictThis is a largely generic purifier designed for small spaces, but its smart features work well and it’s priced to move. You’ve seen this product before, I’m sure, or at least something nearly identical to it. It’s a compact, no-frills purifier that’s easy to move wherever you need it. So, what makes it different? Xiaomi produces a range of larger air purifier products, with this member of its Compact line designed for tighter spaces. The cylindrical, all-white device is a mere 14 inches high and 9 inches across, and it weighs slightly less than 5 pounds. A cylindrical filter (which slides in through the bottom of the purifier) is not a HEPA filter but rather a proprietary filter made from “melt-blown PP fibres with electrostatic technology” instead of the customary fiberglass used in HEPA designs. This review is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best smart air purifiers. A “Smart Scenes” feature lets you set up multi-device automations if you have more than one piece of compatible equipmentLike us, you’re probably very familiar with HEPA air filters, which leaves us wondering why Xiaomi had to come up with its own standard.Christopher Null/Foundry Xiaomi says its filter works better than HEPA, and while I’m not sure if that claim is easily verifiable, Xiaomi’s stated specs are roughly on par with those of HEPA-based purifiers with similar power. Specifically, the company claims a CADR (clean air delivery rate) of 135 cubic feet per minute for particulates (no breakdown beyond that) and boasts a maximum coverage area of 516 square feet. That’s an impressive CADR given the small size of the device. Operationally, the device is very simple, with air pulled in from the base and emitted upwards through the top. A control panel is centrally mounted on the top panel, with three basic functions: power, a light-adjustment button, and a button that lets you switch between automatic, sleep, and manual modes. You can’t change the power of the manual mode on the device itself; for this, you’ll need to use the Mi Home mobile app, where a slider lets you adjust the fan speed to your liking. The button on the hardware itself simply selects the most recent speed you’ve selected within the app. A simple set of touch controls is available on the top of the Xiaomi Smart Air Purifier 4 Compact.Christopher Null/Foundry The purifier hardware also includes one additional feature: a color-coded air quality indicator that can display one of four levels of PM2.5 concentration, ranging from green (best, less than 35 ppm) to red (worst, more than 150 ppm). Filters are rated to last 6 to 12 months; replacement costs have not yet been announced. Connecting the Xiaomi purifier to your home network is easy. The Mi Home app discovers the device automatically via Bluetooth, and then quickly bridges it quickly to your 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network. As noted above, the app offers more fine-grained manual controls, plus a collection of additional features, including a child lock, a simple scheduling function, and a more complex “Smart Scenes” feature that lets you set up multi-device automations if you have more than one piece of compatible equipment. The Xiaomi Smart Air Purifier 4 Compact’s app makes it easy to integrated into the typical smart home environment.Christopher Null/Foundry This IFTTT-like system lets you link equipment together however you’d like; for example, turn on a light when the purifier is running. You can also schedule automations, but for most people, the standard scheduling option should be plenty. Curiously, no countdown timer is available in the app, nor are there any long-term logging features. You can, however connect the device to Alexa or Google Home, allowing for additional tweakability. At full speed, the Xiaomi purifier is loud but not at all deafening, and at anywhere less than half-power or below it’s largely unnoticeable. Better still, with a street price of about $100, this is one of the more affordable purifiers on the market, particularly among those with smart features. While I can’t comment on how effective its proprietary filter is in relation to a true HEPA filter, it does at least seem to be effective, and its specs are impressive. While claims of being “better than HEPA” are always a bit fishy, I have no reason to believe this device doesn’t at least work as well as one. Smart Appliances
- Best turntables and record players for listening to your vinyl
Vinyl has been enjoying a resurgence after decades of market domination by cassette tapes, then compact discs, and now streaming. LPs and 45s offer a tactile experience that no other format can match, and many listeners prefer the warm and fuzzy analog sound that defines vinyl listening. Turntables are a bit more complicated to set up and maintain than other playback devices, and the physical experience of using them is just as important as the audio output when choosing just how you want to approach the vinyl experience. We’ve selected a wide variety of turntables that offer different approaches to getting the music from the grooves to your ears. All our solutions offer great sound and won’t damage your precious vinyl during playback. If you need more guidance before choosing one, scroll down past our top recommendations and you’ll find an in-depth buying guide that will explain turntable technology and the features you’ll want to look for to help you narrow down your own pick. Updated January 23, 2023 to add a link to our Victor Cosmopolitan 8-in-1 Music Center review. House of Marley Stir It Up Wireless Turntable — Best budget-priced turntable Pros USB cable allows you to record vinyl to your PC The included AT3600L cartridge is a solid performer, but users can upgrade if they want Eco-friendly materials contribute to a distinctive design Cons Balancing the tonearm might be challenging for those new to vinyl Comes with an unimpressive fabric dust cover Best Prices Today: £199.99 at Amazon The House of Marley Stir It Up Wireless Turntable features a snazzy design with a solid bamboo plinth; an attractive turntable mat made of recycled silicone; and red, green, and yellow Rasta stripes on the tonearm headshell. The turntable comes with a high-quality Audio-Technica AT3600L cartridge preinstalled on its tonearm. A built-in phono preamp can be turned off if you’re plugging into your own phono box or receiver. In addition to its RCA connections, the turntable can connect wirelessly to a Bluetooth speaker or rip vinyl to a computer with the included USB cable. This versatile unit is a great value. Read our full Review House of Marley Stir It Up Wireless Turntable Andover Audio SpinDeck Max — Best mid-range turntable (less than $600) Pros Fully automatic playback means easy setup and maintenance Sound is far better than other fully automatic record players on the market Striking design Cons Turntable doesn’t have a storage slot for 45 rpm adapter Its fully automatic design won’t appeal to every user who might otherwise appreciate its sound Best Prices Today: £680.31 at Amazon Andover Audio’s SpinDeck Max offers a truly satisfying playback experience. Place your LP on the turntable, flick the Start switch, and sit back while the unit drops the stylus at exactly the right place on your vinyl, lifts the needle at the end of the side, and returns the tonearm to its resting place. No racing across the room to keep your stylus from repeatedly slamming against the end of the runout groove. The unit comes with a pre-balanced tonearm and the excellent Ortofon OM10 cartridge. Read our full Review Andover Audio SpinDeck Max Pro-Ject X8 — Best attainable high-end turntable (up to $3,000) Pros Incredible build quality Balanced connections truly improve the sound Cartridge included or spend $200 less and bring your own Cons Quality like this doesn’t come cheap Requires a separate balanced phono stage to enjoy its best features Best Prices Today: $2699.99 at Pro-Ject There are ultra-high-end turntables that cost upwards of six figures, but the Pro-Ject X8 turntable delivers true audiophile performance at a price that’s not completely out of reach. This manual, belt-drive turntable offers the option of using RCA connectors or switching to XLR connections for the best quality sound. Everything about the X8 turntable, from its heavyweight platter to its exquisitely balanced tonearm, delivers a true luxury listening experience. Read our full Review Pro-Ject X8 Monoprice Monolith 600046 — Best turntable with USB output Pros Great for ripping vinyl Very simple to operate Excellent Bluetooth streaming High-quality cartridge included Cons Does not include the RCA cable needed to connect to a stereo system Requires patience and skill if you’ve never set up a turntable before The Monoprice Monolith 60046 does a lot of things incredibly well, but it’s especially useful if you’re looking to rip digital files to your computer via a USB connection. The included Audio‑Technica AT‑VM95E cartridge delivers a strong signal, and the results are stellar. The turntable can also stream to a Bluetooth speaker or connect to an audio system via RCA connectors, making it a great all-around performer at an excellent price. Read our full Review Monoprice Monolith 600046 Cambridge Audio Alva TT — Best turntable with Bluetooth Pros Beautiful design, build quality, and high-end sound in a turntable that’s easy to set up and maintain Supports aptX HD codec for high-res streaming over Bluetooth Built-in phono stage that supports both high-output MC and MM cartridges All-in-one design will have you spinning vinyl in minutes Cons Bass response can be a bit shy Remembers only one Bluetooth pairing at a time The Cambridge Audio Alva TT adds Bluetooth streaming capability to a spectacular turntable that features the company’s own high-output MC cartridge. Support for aptX HD allows for higher-quality streaming to headphones and speakers that utilize the codec. Cambridge has since released a second version of this turntable, which we have not had an opportunity to review. Bargain hunters might want to snap up the remaining inventory of this first-generation turntable, which is currently selling for $1,000 less than the V2 model. Read our full Review Cambridge Audio Alva TT Audio-Technica AT-LPW50BT-RW — Best turntable with Bluetooth, runner-up Pros Outstanding wired audio reproduction Excellent Bluetooth streaming quality Removable headshell makes its cartridge easy to service Very attractive industrial design Cons No auto start or auto stop Bluetooth connections often needed to be re-paired after turning the speaker off No USB port for ripping vinyl to digital The Audio-Technica AT-LPW50BT-RW turntable has a button next to its tonearm for easy Bluetooth pairing. The unit come with Audio‑Technica’s outstanding AT‑VM95E cartridge, so it performs equally well in its wired and wireless configurations. There’s a built-in phono preamp and a solid aluminum platter. Read our full Review Audio-Technica AT-LPW50BT-RW Plus Audio The+Record Player — Best all-in-one turntable (i.e., integrated amp and speaker) Pros Great stereo separation from a single unit Plenty of inputs Outstanding build quality Cons Intimidating setup for turntable newbies Heavy for its size Expensive RRP: £1,400 Best Prices Today: £1400 at Plus Audio The +Record Player integrates an aluminum tonearm, an Ortofon OM10 cartridge, and a Pro-Ject Debut III turntable into an all-in-one unit that delivers great stereo imaging. The unit can act as a Bluetooth receiver, connect to a TV or streaming box via an optical connection, or play CDs or cassettes via the RCA inputs. You also can rip vinyl to a computer via USB. Read our full Review Plus Audio The+Record Player Como Audio Blu Streaming System + Analog Turntable — Best all-in-one turntable (i.e., integrated amp and speaker), runner-up Pros Attractive design Easy to set up and use Wired speaker pair prevents annoying dropout and stereo sync issues Cons Speakers don’t hide flaws from low-quality streaming sources Not all users will like that the speakers must be connected via wire The Como Audio Blu streaming system pairs the company’s analog turntable with its excellent stereo Bluetooth speakers. The turntable has a built-in phono preamp and connects via an RCA cable to the left speaker, which in turn connects to the right speaker via cable. In addition to the wired connection, the speakers can easily switch to Bluetooth for wireless streaming from your phone or tablet. Read our full Review Como Audio Blu Streaming System + Analog Turntable Why listen to vinyl? Vinyl has a narrower dynamic range when compared to CDs and high-resolution digital audio, which means records deliver less audio information than their more modern counterparts. It’s also a destructive medium, since even the most delicately balanced tonearm and stylus scrapes a tiny bit off the surface of the vinyl each time a listener plays an LP. That hasn’t stopped vinyl from becoming the preferred physical media for contemporary music fans. Part of vinyl’s appeal is the tactile quality of handling a record, the experience of looking at full-size album covers, and many listeners love having their music listening broken into discrete segments, since the maximum playing time on an LP side should be 23 minutes or less. LPs sound different than any other form of recorded music.James Barber/Foundry Vinyl aficionados also like to talk about the analog “warmth” that make LPs superior to CDs or other digital playback methods. In fact, that fuzzy analog sound is really distortion introduced in the mechanical playback chain. That truth doesn’t invalidate the experience, because there are generations who learned to love music via that slight distortion filter. It’s an essential part of our musical and cultural heritage. During the golden age of LP recording (approximately 1957-1986), producers and engineers learned to color inside the lines of the limited dynamic range and used those limits to their advantage. Many recordings from that era sound best on a properly mastered LP played back with a quality turntable and cartridge. More than a few modern recordings lose something when mastered for vinyl because the artists who made them weren’t limiting themselves to audio frequencies that can be played back via vinyl. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a good listening experience with a Taylor Swift vinyl pressing, but it’s certainly going to be a different experience than you’d get from a CD or streaming. Three things to consider when buying a turntable Belt-driven turntables use a belt-and-pulley system to spin their platter.James Barber/Foundry The good thing about turntables is that they’re still essentially the same simple mechanical devices invented at the end of the 19th century, when flat, round discs offered an audio upgrade from the Edison wax cylinders. There have been innumerable innovations in recording technology and the stylus unit in the last 125 years, but that one great idea is still the foundation of analog listening. The first thing to consider when selecting a turntable is the motor that spins the platter. You can choose either a belt drive model that features a rubber belt wrapped around the bottom of the platter and driven by a pulley system. A direct-drive turntable has a motor attached directly to the underside of the platter that spins the records without a belt. Tonearms can be fabricated from exotic materials, such as this carbon-fiber example from on Victrola Stream Carbon.James Barber/Foundry A belt-drive turntable isolates the motor from the record and ideally reduces noise and vibration. The downside is that it takes a couple of seconds to get up to full speed. That’s the main reason why DJs prefer direct-drive turntables for their live mixing needs. One of the big differences between a budget turntable and hardcore audiophile models costing tens of thousands of dollars is how the more-expensive models work to minimize vibration and interference from the motor. Andover Audio ships its SpinDeck Max turntable with a high-quality Ortofon OM10 cartridge with an elliptical stylus.James Barber / IDG The second thing to consider is the tonearm. More expensive turntables feature tonearms that are lighter and easier to balance with a counterweight. There are a few entry-level, plug-and-play turntables that won’t require any tonearm setup, but most will require you to put on a counterweight, balance the tonearm and set the proper tracking weight. In general, the better the tonearm, the easier that setup will be. The cartridge and stylus are the third element to consider when buying a turntable. The good news is that the mechanics on all the turntables listed above are solid, and that it’s easy to upgrade the cartridge and stylus to give your system a boost without investing in an entirely new turntable. Home Audio
- The best smart switches and dimmers: The foundation of your smart home
No smart lighting solution is as elegant as having smart light switches and dimmers embedded in your walls. Sure, you could screw smart bulbs into your fixtures, or plug a couple of lamps into smart plugs and call it a day, but if the light fixture in question is controlled by a dumb switch, you’ll never be able to control that smart bulb if the switch is in the off position. While they can be a pain to install—hire an electrician if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself—once it’s installed, a smart light switch lets you turn your lights on and off according to a schedule, with a smartphone app, and—with the installation of accessories—in response to voice commands, motion, or even your location (provided you have your smartphone with you). Here are our top picks in smart dimmers, followed by a guide to the features and terminology you’ll encounter when you shop for one. Updated January 23, 2023 to add a link to our Wemo Smart Dimmer with Thread review. Best smart dimmer — Lutron Diva Smart Dimmer (and its Caséta ecosystem) Pros Part of the robust Lutron Caséta smart home ecosystem Broadly compatible with other smart products and systems Doesn’t depend on a neutral wire Cons You must have Lutron’s Caséta Smart Hub wired to your home network Lutron’s uncertain stance on Matter The Lutron Caséta ecosystem, of which the Diva Smart Dimmer is a part of, is much less open than the other big three smart lighting platforms: Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, and Zigbee, and we’ve not yet learned what plans Lutron has for the new Matter smart home standard (althought Lutron is a member of the Connectivity Standards Alliance that defined Matter). But in the grand scheme of things, we don’t believe that’s a reason to avoid Lutron’s smart lighting products. Caséta is so inclusive of third-party smart home products–Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, IFTTT, Samsung SmartThings, and even Sonos speakers–that there’s little reason for concern that buyers will end up on a disconnected island. The Diva Smart Dimmer itself is an excellent product and we highly recommend it. Read our full Review Lutron Diva Smart Dimmer Best budget-priced smart dimmer — Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Dimmer Switch, Motion-Activated (model ES20M) Pros Endlessly tweakable motion-sensing options Wiring design makes for easy installation Attractive design aesthetic Cons Requires a neutral wire Kasa app needs to be modernized Motion sensing range is a bit weak TP-Link’s motion-activated Kasa Smart Wi-Fi dimmer gives you immense control over how its motion- and light-sensing features work. Why reach for a light switch when you can have the switch turn on the light as you approach? And TP-Link’s dimmer is remarkably low priced–it was selling for $30 at the time of our review ($10 less than its $40 list price). It’s remarkably easy to install, but it does require a neutral wire, which will be a non-starter for some homeowners. Read our full Review Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Dimmer Switch, Motion-Activated (model ES20M) Best Wi-Fi smart switch/dimmer — GE Cync Dimmer + Motion Smart Switch Pros Motion sensing works great Very easy to set up Can control Cync smart bulbs even if they aren’t wired to the switch Available in a version that doesn't require a neutral wire Cons Ugly industrial design Motion sensing settings aren’t always intuitive Pricey for this category This isn’t the prettiest dimmer on the market, but GE Lighting’s Cync Dimmer + Motion Sensor Switch sure packs the features. And if you happen to own GE Lighting’s Cync smart bulbs, the switch can also control them even if they’re not wired to the dimmer. Being a Wi-Fi device, this dimmer switch doesn’t require the presence of a smart home hub or any other bridge to your home network. An onboard motion sensor can turn the light switch on when the room is occupied, and an ambient light sensor will stop that from happening if there’s enough daylight that the extra light isn’t needed. There’s now also a 3-wire version of this product that doesn’t require a neutral wire Read our full Review GE Cync Dimmer + Motion Smart Switch Best Zigbee smart switch/dimmer — Jasco Enbrighten Zigbee In-Wall Smart Dimmer Pros SimpleWire technology effectively eases installation hassles Slim profile might help some users with space management in the electrical box Smooth installation and no operational trouble Cons Requires a neutral wire Broadsheet user manual will cause your eyes to glaze over Dependent on a third-party smart home hub with a Zigbee radio Best Prices Today: £44.95 at Amazon If you’ve settled on Zigbee as your smart lighting protocol of choice—and it’s certainly not a bad one if you have a SmartThings hub, an Amazon Echo with an integrated smart home hub, or the like–allow us to recommend Jasco’s Enbrighten Zigbee In-Wall Smart Dimmer. It not only has a slimline design that isn’t tough to shove back into the box when you install it, it has enough onboard intelligence to distinguish the line wire from the load wire, so you don’t need to worry about mixing them up if you’re doing the work for yourself. This smart dimmer is affordably priced, too Read our full Review Jasco Enbrighten Zigbee In-Wall Smart Dimmer Best Z-Wave smart switch/dimmer — Leviton Decora Z-Wave Plus (model DZ6HD) Pros Leviton delivers best-in-class reliability Z-Wave technology is widely supported by professional and DIY smart home hubs alike Z-Wave is a mature and robust self-healing mesh network technology Cons Requires a Z-Wave-compatible smart home hub Requires a neutral wire No Z-Wave-to-Matter bridges have been announced as of October 2022 Best Prices Today: £92.44 at Amazon Putting this roundup together exposed a hole in our editorial coverage. I’ve had Leviton’s Decora Smart Z-Wave switches and dimmers (along with other brands of Z-Wave switches) installed in the smart home I built the house in 2007), but we’ve never officially reviewed them. That said, Leviton’s Z-Wave lighting controls are among my favorites; so, while TechHive hasn’t officially reviewed Leviton’s product, I have deep personal experience with it and recommend it strongly. All that said, if Matter succeeds in becoming the de facto smart home standard, you’ll need a Z-Wave-to-Matter bridge, and none have been announced yet. Most sophisticated smart switch/dimmer — Brilliant Control Pros Touchscreen and built-in camera adds incredible flexibility Alexa onboard; plus great third-party integrations, including Ring and Apple HomeKit Impressive build quality Cons Devilishly complex to set up properly (at least in my house) Very expensive: $399 for single switch panel, $449 for a 2-switch panel, $499 for a 3-switch panel Best Prices Today: £763.48 at Amazon Brilliant was one of the first companies to integrate a touch panel with a smart switch, and this smart dimmer has some very cool tricks up its sleeve, ranging from being able to stream video from a doorbell camera to controlling a Sonos multi-room audio system. Most recently, Brilliant announced compatibility with Resideo’s Lynx and Vista home security systems, enabling users of those systems to arm and disarm their security system from a Brilliant device or from the Brilliant mobile app. Read our full Review Brilliant Control Best multi-function smart switch/dimmer — Leviton Decora Smart Voice Dimmer with Amazon Alexa (model DWVAA) Pros Alexa with no footprint, exposed power cord, or wall wart No smart home hub required Lots of options for lighting control and integration with other smart home devices Cons Wi-Fi dependent, so range could be an issue Operates on 2.4GHz networks only Doesn’t support Alexa’s whisper mode Tinny speaker, and it can’t be paired with a Bluetooth speaker No HomeKit or Google Assistant support Just how many features can you cram in a single-gang light switch? Leviton squeezes a Wi-Fi radio, a dimmer switch, and an entire Amazon Alexa-compatible smart speaker into its Decora Smart Voice Wi-Fi Dimmer with Alexa. Yes, Ecobee pulled off a similar trick earlier, but with an on/off switch, not a dimmer. Leviton also has a deeper catalog of other Wi-Fi components—switches, dimmers, ceiling fan controllers, multi-button controllers, and more—to go with it. Apple HomeKit and Google Home users should look elsewhere. Read our full Review Leviton Decora Smart Voice Dimmer with Amazon Alexa (model DWVAA) Smart dimmer shopping tips You’ll need to make a raft of decisions before you choose which smart switches to install in your home, and your choices will be influenced by everything from the type of wiring in your walls to what flavor of smart home system you have now or plan to install later. Here’s what you need to know in roughly the order you’ll need to decide. Neutral wire requirement: The vast majority of smart switches and dimmers require the presence of a neutral wire—in addition to line (power from the circuit-breaker panel), load (power to the light to be controlled), and ground wires—in the electrical box inside the wall. Smart switches have radios that must be constantly powered, and the neutral wire is usually what supplies that juice. While all homes have neutral wires, many older homes don’t have a neutral wire in every box. If you’re not sure if there’s a neutral wire at the location you want to install a smart switch, we have a how-to story here that will help you figure it out. If you don’t have a neutral wire, Lutron’s Caséta smart dimmer and the GE Cync Dimmer (3-wire version) are among the few that do not require one. Most smart switches depend on the presence of a neutral wire to supply energy to their radios, but many homes built prior to the 1980s don’t have a neutral wire in every box. GE Cync and Lutron Caséta are among the few smart switches that don’t depend a neutral wire. Single- or multi-pole: If the light you wish to control is connected to just one switch, then you’ll need to replace it with a single-pole smart switch. If more than one switch controls that load—switches on opposite sides of a room, for example—then you’ll need to replace it with a multi-pole smart switch. This typically means that you’ll also need to buy a companion switch or switches for the other end(s) of the circuit. There are a few exceptions to this rule, so check the documentation accompanying whichever smart switch you decide to buy before you install it. Control protocol: You’ll undoubtedly want to control your smart lighting with your smartphone or tablet, and most people will also want to turn lights on and off with voice commands spoken to a smart speaker, such as an Amazon Echo or a Google Home. But to do that, the smart switch you buy must have some way of connecting to your home network (which explains why Bluetooth smart switches can’t talk to smart speakers). Some smart switches connect directly to your Wi-Fi network, while others require a bridge to your router. If you’ve invested in a smart home system—Samsung SmartThings, Hubitat Elevation, Vivint Smart Home, or any other ecosystem—you’ll want to make sure that the smart switch you buy is compatible with it. These are the most common communication protocols you’ll encounter. Bluetooth This type of smart switch is controlled directly by an app on your smartphone or tablet. Bluetooth smart lighting is simple, because you don’t need a hub or a connection to your home network. That isolation also makes it secure, because you must be within about 30 feet of the switch to pair with it. On the other hand, authorized users also must be within 30 feet of a Bluetooth switch to control it, and you can’t control the switch when you’re away from home (although most Bluetooth switches can be controlled according to a pre-programmed schedule). The other major limitation of Bluetooth switches is that they can’t be controlled by smart speakers or smart home hubs, which generally rely on one of the other wireless protocols described here. Lutron Clear Connect This is a proprietary wireless protocol used by Lutron Caséta Wireless smart home devices, including switches, dimmers, ceiling fan controllers, occupancy sensors, motorized shades, and battery-powered remote controls. You can also control a limited number of third-party devices with Lutron’s app—ranging from thermostats to Wi-Fi speakers—and incorporate them into smart home “scenes.” Clear Connect operates independently of your Wi-Fi network, but you must hardwire a Lutron Smart Bridge to your router to use it. You can control Lutron Caséta devices via Lutron’s app, with voice commands spoken to smart speakers, and from mobile devices anywhere you have broadband access. Some smart home systems, including Samsung SmartThings, can also incorporate Lutron’s smart home products. Wi-Fi This is a relatively recent trend in smart switches, probably because Wi-Fi hasn’t always been the best means of blanketing a home with connectivity. Mesh Wi-Fi routers, however, have gone a long way to remedying that problem. The attraction of Wi-Fi smart switches is that they don’t require a hub or a bridge to connect to your router. Once installed, they can be controlled with smart speakers, the manufacturer’s own app, and many smart home systems (check compatibility before you buy). Z-Wave This is a wireless mesh network technology in which each node on the network is also a repeater that can forward commands on to other Z-Wave devices nearby. It operates in the unlicensed 800- to 900MHz radio spectrum (specifically, 908.42MHz in North America). Its low power requirement means it can be incorporated into battery-operated devices that cannot be plugged directly into an electrical circuit, including door/window sensors, smart locks, water leak detectors, and motion sensors in addition to smart dimmers and switches. You’ll need a smart home hub, such as a Samsung SmartThings, to act as a bridge to your Wi-Fi network. Z-Wave is supported by a raft of smart home product developers, including Leviton, Jasco, Aeotec, and others. Zigbee This wireless mesh network technology is very similar to Z-Wave, but it operates in the unlicensed 2.4GHz radio spectrum (same as single-band Wi-Fi). Like Z-Wave, Zigbee has a lower power requirement and can be incorporated into both battery and line-powered devices, ranging from sensors to smart switches. And as with Z-Wave, you’ll need a smart home hub or some other kind of bridge to connect Zigbee devices to your home network. This could be something as simple as an Amazon Echo Plus, which has an integrated Zigbee radio, or it could be on the order of a Samsung SmartThings hub, which has both Zigbee and Z-Wave radios onboard. As you can see in this illustration, it’s not necessary to remove the cover plate to install the Aurora on the switch, but it only works with toggle switches. Signify’s Philips Hue bridge is another solution, but it’s generally limited to supporting Philips Hue smart bulbs and accessories. Zigbee is widely support among smart dimmer manufacturers, including Jasco, Sinopé, and Sengled. Lutron also makes an ingenious Zigbee gadget for Philips Hue smart bulbs—the Lutron Aurora—that attaches to an old-fashioned toggle light switch and not only prevents the switch from being turned off (instantly rendering a Philips Hue smart bulb dumb), but it wirelessly controls all the Hub bulbs connected to that switch—complete with a rotary knob for dimming and brightening those bulbs and turning them on or off. Switch mechanism: Since most people control smart switches and dimmers with voice commands, they soon discover that they rarely physically interact with the devices in their walls. But you’ll want to consider the type of mechanism the smart switch uses if for no other reason than to ensure its aesthetic matches the rest of your home. These are the most common types you’ll encounter. Relatively few manufacturers make smart switches that look like this type of old-fashioned toggle switch. Rocker (aka paddle) This type of switch has a wide plastic panel that rocks back and forth when pressed to turn the controlled load on and off (one side of the switch raises when the other is depressed). These modern-looking switches hug the wall and are very easy to operate. Since a command issued over the air will override whatever physical state the switch is otherwise in, smart rocker switches typically don’t physically flip, so there’s no confusion when you see a lit bulb when the switch is ostensibly in the “off” position. A smart dimmer switch might have a secondary control—a vertical slider or a horizontal rocker—for adjusting brightnessToggle A toggle switch operates by moving a lever up and down (flipping the lever up turns the controlled light on, and flipping it down turns it off). These types of switches tend to look more old-fashioned than rocker switches, but you can find smart versions of them if you want something that looks like the other switches you have in your walls. As with smart rocker switches, they generally don’t completely change physical appearance when switched on or off.Touch High-end smart switches and dimmers feature touch-sensitive surfaces. Typically made of glass, touch-sensitive smart switches and dimmers are typically backlit by one or more LEDs that can be multiple colors. The touch sensitivity can be as simple as touch to turn the switch on and touch again to turn it off, or they can be as complex as displaying a user interface that supports finger swipes for calling up different lighting scenes or control elements. Needless to say, these types of smart switches and dimmers cost considerably more than simple plastic devices.Brilliant’s touchscreen panel lets you see and talk with a person at your door when a visitor activates your Ring Video Doorbell. Wiring connections: Smart switches and dimmers tend to be larger than their dumb counterparts, so you should consider how the new switch will fit in your existing electrical box. This is particularly important if you’re installing multiple smart switches next to each other in a single box. Remember that there will be at least four wires to deal with—line, load, neutral, and ground—and that there will also be a traveler wire if you’re dealing with a multi-pole circuit. It can be challenging to stuff all those wires and the new switch back into the box. These are the most common types of electrical connections you’ll encounter in smart switches. Backstabs These are holes in the back of the switch into which you’ll push (“stab”) the appropriate solid copper wires coming out of the wall.Pigtails Some switches have short electrical wires emerging from the back of the switch that you’ll attach to the wires coming out of the wall, using wire nuts to secure them. This is generally the easiest technique, but if the switch is deep, it can be a challenge to pack the extra wires and the wire nuts tightly enough into the box so that the switch mounts flush against the wall. It can be particularly difficult if the box has other devices in it.Terminals With this type of switch, you’ll wind the wires coming out of the wall around flat screws on the sides of the switch and then tighten the screws down. This technique presents less of a challenge when it comes to pushing the wires and the switch back into the box, but the wires can be stiff and you’ll need to be careful to ensure the stripped wire doesn’t come into contact with stripped wires connected to adjacent switches in the box.Pigtails and wire nuts are one common way to connect a smart switch to your existing in-wall wiring. Lighting, Smart Home, Wi-Fi