Sunday 23 April 2017

Tech: Ask Adrian

Sony XB650BT headphones
Sony XB650BT headphones
HTC U Play
Canon 800D
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

In a new advice column, our resident tech expert Adrian Weckler will address your trickiest technology problems

Q My teenage daughter says she wants "fancy" headphones but I've looked, and the ones she asked for cost more than €300. Does it really cost that much for decent headphones?

A The short answer is no. You can get good audio quality headphones for a third of that price. The catch is that you may not get the same brand, look or high-end tech details.

With headphones, you're largely paying for three things - sound quality, the latest technology developments (such as wireless connections) and branding.

For teenagers, branding is sometimes as important as the other two factors. Over the last five years, Beats By Dr Dre has arguably been the most asked-for brand among kids and teens, but they are very expensive.

Luckily, there is now a host of other headphone brands, from Sennheiser and Sony to Marshall and Skullcandy that now have relatively high-end fashion-conscious headphone models of their own.

This is not to say that €300 headphones are all about brand - they're not. At this price range, you get the holy trinity of what many people now want from headphones: great sound quality, high-end (noise-cancelling) wireless connectivity and good looks. Sound quality is arguably the least variable of these. From the multitude of headphones that I have tested over the last 18 months, I have found that €50 will get you headphones that have perfectly decent audio quality. (Sennheiser, Philips and Skullcandy are especially good in this price range). But these headphones will either have wires trailing from them or they'll lack comfort, controls or trendy looks.

Of all features, wireless may be the most important factor right now. In case you missed it, Apple says it is no longer including the traditional headphone port on its new iPhones. Expect the same for new iPads, too. Other phone manufacturers, such as HTC, have followed suit. (Rivals such as Samsung and Huawei continue to include the headphone ports.) That means Bluetooth wireless headphones are becoming far more relevant. They're also much easier to wear, store and take on and off.

I switched over to wireless Bluetooth headphones about three years ago and have never looked back.

The good news is that you can get such headphones for as little as €60 or €70. Once you venture above that price level, you start to get added benefits such as noise-cancelling technology. In a nutshell, this deadens all external noise so you can listen more clearly to the music playing on your headphones. It's also excellent even if you're not listening to music as a simple aide to focus on something like homework while others around you are nattering or clattering about.

Other benefits to more expensive headphones include comfort: you'll get real (soft) leather on pricier headphones sets instead of the plastic or rubber of cheaper sets. Then there are the top-end tech benefits such as high resolution audio. In all honesty, I wouldn't bother with this. High-resolution audio is a marginal issue that isn't worth an extra €100.

This all goes to assume that your daughter is looking for overhead earphones. But there are some excellent in-ear versions worth considering. My pick of the bunch is Apple's new AirPods (€180), which are wireless and give really good audio quality. The only concern is that if your daughter is scatty, she might lose one of them.

RECOMMENDATION: The Sony XB650BT, above, €109 from PC World, are overhead wireless headphones and come in different colours

Email your questions to caomahony@independent.ie

Two to Try

Canon 800D 

(€1,019, body only)

When will Canon launch a full-frame mirrorless camera? With each month that passes without such a model, Sony and Fuji's mirrorless armies grow stronger and stronger. Despite this, there's a lot to like about Canon's new chunky 800D with its 24-megapixel sensor, Digic 7 processor and flip-out touchscreen. It's designed to sit at the top of Canon's entry-level DSLR range without being intimidating for novice camera users.

HTC U Play

(€49 prepay from Three)

HTC isn't gone, you know. It's back with a couple of impressive new smartphones, although only the mid-range model, the U Play, is being launched in Ireland for now. This 5.2-inch phone has a very good 16-megapixel camera, 32GB of storage (expandable using a microSD memory card) and a Gorilla Glass case front and back. It also comes in some funky colours.

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