Beyerdynamic’s new wireless headphones put the LED lights where they belong: on the inside

The Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC headphones come with a neat lighting trick: instead of having exterior LEDs spoiling their aesthetic, they have internal lights to inform the user of their status. It’s such a simple switch in thinking, executed with a smidgen of flair, yet its effect is profound. When you think about it, the only time you want to see a status light on your headphones is when they’re off your head, and you probably want to see that light without ambiguity. So Beyerdynamic has done what’s obvious in hindsight by illuminating the inner periphery of the cups with informative colors.

When you first pick up a Lagoon pair that’s already on, the left ear cup will glow blue and the right one will glow red because that’s when you’ll want help differentiating between the symmetrical left and right ear cups. When they’re in Bluetooth syncing mode, the headphones will pulsate in a matching blue, alternating from cup to cup. When successfully paired, orange, Beyerdynamic’s brand color, will indicate that the headphones are connected and ready for use. Red alerts will show up when the battery is about to run out, and charging is accompanied by a graduating palette of colors, with the lights first blinking red, then orange, then yellow, and finally green when fully charged.

It’s not often that I spend so much time talking about how headphones look and behave when they’re not on someone’s head, but this feature has been really growing on me in the hours since I first saw and tried it at Beyerdynamic’s booth. It’s just thoughtful. Someone took the time to consider how wireless audio users really use their headphones and tailored a solution specifically to the challenges faced by that (constantly expanding) crowd.

When worn, the Beyerdynamic Lagoon are comfortable, though not as stupendously light and luxurious as Sony’s latest 1000Xs or Bose’s QC35s. Those are two of the most prominent noise-canceling over-ear headphones, and Beyerdynamic is clearly picking a fight with them (rather than, say, Bowers & Wilkins’ PX, which is heftier and less compact).

There’s a touch of creakiness to the demo Lagoon models I saw here at IFA, though I’m told that’s only because they’re early units built specifically for the show. The final headphones will also have replaceable pads, according to Beyerdynamic. In terms of other basic features, the Lagoon is a close match to its Sony and Bose rivals: all three models have collapsible designs and come with a rigid carrying case included. Sony and Beyerdynamic, having the more recent models, also gain the edge on Bose by offering USB-C charging.

The battery life promises made by Beyerdynamic with the Lagoon are eyebrow-raising. With active noise canceling turned on, these headphones are rated to last 24 hours — and when it’s switched off, they’re supposed to last for 46 hours. If these numbers are even close to reality, the Lagoon will wind up being the most forgiving pair of headphones for people who make a habit of forgetting or misplacing their charger.

I’m still not a fan of touch controls on headphones, which is what Beyerdynamic has implemented on the Lagoon. During my testing at IFA, the Lagoon’s controls were especially finicky and irritating, not recognizing my double taps to play and pause the music, but I’m willing to accept that as an understandable imperfection of a demo unit. Beyerdynamic will have to nail this in the final retail product, much as Sony finally perfected the touch controls on its 1000X M3s.

Aside from an accompanying app that lets you tailor the sound to your preferences, Beyerdynamic has also smartened up the Lagoon with an automatic play/pause facility that recognizes when you take them off and put them back on. That already works with great accuracy. A long press on the right cup’s touchpad will launch either Google Assistant or Siri, depending on your phone’s operating system and your own choice. I’ve found practically every new pair of wireless headphones launching this week has USB-C charging and a digital assistant trigger. These are good trends; I’m not complaining.

Beyerdynamic plans to release the Lagoon ANC later this year at a price of €399. They’ll have to prove their worth on the strength of their noise canceling, battery endurance, and sound quality, but we’ll have to wait for the final review units to judge those aspects.

Photography by Vlad Savov / The Verge

Sony’s 1000X M3 noise-canceling headphones have an improved design and USB-C

Sony’s 1000X line of wireless headphones have become the market leader for noise-canceling headsets, and this year at IFA 2018, the company has announced the latest (and greatest) model: the 1000X M3, which offer better noise canceling, an updated design, USB-C, and more.

I’ve been using the 1000X M3s for a few days, including a long seven-hour flight, and in short, they’re the real deal. It was a high bar to clear since the original 1000Xs were already some of the best noise-canceling headphones out there, and the 1000X M2 improved on that even more. But the new 1000X M3s are the best pair of noise-canceling headphones that Sony has made yet, thanks to a host of improvements both big and small. We haven’t had time to put them through their paces for a full review yet, but they’re possibly the best noise-canceling headphones on the market.

The biggest change is in how the noise canceling is handled. Sony has completely overhauled things on the M3s with a new, in-house “HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1,” which the company claims offers four times better performance than the previous generation. I’ll leave quibbling over the numbers to the experts, but the fact is that the 1000X M3s are dead quiet (in a good way). Music is crisp and clear even over the loud streets of New York, a roaring plane, and the rumbling subways I’ve been using them on.

Crucially, Sony has improved the design and fit of the 1000X M3s. The updated model weighs less than the M2s. There’s deeper padding on the ear cups and additional padding added to the headband. The headphones also sit closer to your head and put less pressure on your ears. Where the original 1000Xs were pretty comfortable, the M3s rank up there with the pillowy Beoplay headphones. I’ve been wearing the M3s pretty much nonstop, and even after a long overnight flight (and nap), they’re still great to wear.

Sony has also tweaked the design on an aesthetic level. The buttons are nicer with a new gloss finish, the faux-leather texture has been axed, and there are new copper-tone highlights for an overall more polished look.

Another big change is the long-awaited replacement of the Micro USB port for charging with USB-C. There’s still a 3.5mm jack for when you want to use the 1000X M3s as wired headphones, and the USB-C port is only for charging. (Sadly, you can’t connect a USB-C to USB-C cable to plug them directly into, say, a Google Pixel 2.) But given how rare USB-C charging headphones are at all, it’s still a big step forward.

The USB-C port isn’t just for convenience (or people who take their port standards too seriously). It also enables quick charging, offering five hours of playback after a quick 10-minute charge. As for regular battery life, Sony says that the M3s should get up to 30 hours of wireless playback (with noise canceling on) from a single charge.

There are other improvements on the software side of things that make the M3s better, too. A new Automatic Power Off setting lets users choose how long the headphones will stay on without active audio playing. This is convenient for when you’d just like to block out noise, like in a loud office or while taking a nap. The Quick Attention Mode (which quickly shuts off the noise canceling to let ambient sound in) and swappable gesture controls return from the previous models. I ordinarily dislike gesture controls when physical ones would do just fine, but the swiping controls on the 1000X M3s actually work pretty well — to the point where it’s hard to complain much. Plus, like the M2s (which had the feature added with a software update), the 1000X M3s will come with Google Assistant support.

There are a few problems with the M3s, though. The optional ambient audio modes for walking or announcements aren’t great, and you’re probably better off just lifting an ear cup to hear whatever the person near you is saying. While the audio quality is good, the bass can also be overpowering at points. These are minor issues in what’s otherwise a very good pair of headphones.

The 1000X M3s are set to cost $349.99 when they launch in September. In fact, they’re available on Amazon already with immediate shipping. The price is on par with what competitors like Bose’s QC35 IIs cost, but if you’re someone who just spent $300 on a pair of M2s last year, you’ll likely be displeased at the thought of shelling out for an upgrade so soon.

But as the saying goes: silence is golden. What’re a few extra bucks compared to that?

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Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless earbuds were worth the wait

The world of truly wireless earphones can be summed up as follows: there are AirPods, the Jabra Elite 65t, and all the unsatisfying others. I’m not griping, though: having two great options to choose from is still two more than we used to have. But now, Sennheiser, the manufacturer of some of the best headphones in every price class, has made its fashionably late arrival to the truly wireless competition. The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless are the first pair of entirely wireless earphones that Sennheiser has built since a long-forgotten pair in the earliest years of Bluetooth.

I made it a point to rush over and check out these new Momentum buds as soon as I learned about them. I deliberately disregarded all the spec and pricing information; I just wanted to get my hands on them. My very first impression is there’s absolutely no way to intuit how to control these things. They have no physical buttons and no user-friendly hints, just the occasional beep in response to my taps. A friendly Sennheiser staffer enlightened me that one tap on the left earbud will play or pause, two taps will advance tracks, three taps will rewind, hold your finger on the left bud to lower volume, hold your finger on the right earbud to raise it, and a single tap will activate Google Assistant or Siri, depending on your device. If that sounds convoluted, don’t worry, it’s reasonably easy once you know what’s what. Sennheiser plans to walk users through everything with an accompanying app, which isn’t yet ready to demo.

The comfort of these earbuds is as good as you can hope for with truly wireless earphones. I thought the Elite 65t were among the leaders in this category, but Sennheiser’s offering is even nicer to wear, finding a superior fit. On a related note, the Momentum True Wireless have outstanding passive noise isolation. That’s to say, they act almost like noise-canceling headphones but without consuming power to actively cancel out noise. Top marks.

Sound impressions from a trade show are always a dicey affair, but I can at least preliminarily say that I like the sound of the Momentum True Wireless. It’s pleasant, warm, and inviting, and vocals are a particular highlight. I did find the bass a bit wooly, and there’s a thick filter positioned at the nozzle of these buds, probably to thicken out the bass, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a really relaxed and friendly sound. I think in noisy and stressful environments, which is where such wireless earphones tend to find their use, people will appreciate a tuning like this very much.

The 7mm transducers inside these new earphones are an entirely new design, though they do use some of the same materials as you’ll find in Sennheiser’s flagship wired earphones, the IE800.

I’ve been asking every headphone company I know to switch to USB-C charging for its battery-powered headphones, and Sennheiser has listened. The Momentum True Wireless have a USB-C-powered case, which is roughly double the size of the AirPods case, but still compact enough to tuck into a small pocket inconspicuously. The buds can hold a four-hour charge, and their case can top them off twice more, for a total of 12 hours of power socket autonomy. You can charge the full set from flat to full in 1.5 hours. I really like that the magnetic holder of the case is strong enough to hold the earbuds in place even when the case is upside down.

The Momentum True Wireless are IPX4-certified for “splat and splash” resistance, and with their comfortable and secure fit, I can see them presenting a good option for those seeking a good pair of sports earbuds.

Probably the biggest stumbling block with these earphones will be their price, which at $299 /€299 is at the upper end of the range when it comes to truly wireless audio. I still consider the AirPods the champ that everyone else has to beat, but Sennheiser’s greatest advantage is in the area where the AirPods are weakest: noise isolation. Plus, I personally would love to ditch my last remaining Lightning cable and have all my gadgets that need power accept a USB-C plug. That’s the future I’m waiting for. Sennheiser promises to have the Momentum True Wireless available to buy in November.

Photography by Vlad Savov / The Verge