Thursday 19 September 2019

Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problem

 

Unwired for sound: the best overhead headphones, the Sony 1000XM3
Unwired for sound: the best overhead headphones, the Sony 1000XM3
The best in-ear headphones, the Apple AirPods
Apple Mac Mini
Huawei Mate 20
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Question: With Apple having gotten rid of the headphone jack on its phones, what is the best option in the form of wireless headphones to use with Apple products? I use the iPhone 7 so I want wireless headphones that are affordable and won't drain the battery too quickly as it drains rapidly already. - Cormac

Answer: You have two options: in-ear or overhead. There are far more wireless overhead headphones than in-ear ones, and they tend to be cheaper, too.

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As for cost, the word 'affordable' means very different things to different people. In general, good quality headphones cost at least €100 and really good ones cost closer to €300. But you can get usable ones for under €50.

Just for comparison, I'll start with the high-end model I'd recommend and work down.

For me, the best overhead wireless headphones you can get right now are Sony's 1000XM3 models (€399 from most retailers). They combine incredible sound quality with best-in-class noise cancellation and superb comfort.

I own a pair of Sony's previous generation (1000XM2, still on sale for €349) wireless headphones and they're amazing. The main difference between the XM2 model and the XM3 model is that the latter is lighter (a big advantage for long periods on your head), has slightly larger ear cups (another big advantage for men with above-average ears, like me) and has marginally better noise-cancellation.

If you're not familiar with noise-cancelling headphones, they're well worth considering. The headphones measure the sound around you and are then able to turn the specific audio frequencies back on one another, thus 'cancelling' out the noise to your ear. It's a little like neutralising a bad smell with an air freshener, except rather than just replacing the stink with 'pine scent' or 'sea breeze', it chemically dilutes the original smell, at least as far as your senses go.

They're especially useful for people who are sensitive to noise (like me).

I find them utterly invaluable when travelling (especially) and sometimes in the office or in a café when there's a din going on that's disrupting my concentration (or my sense of calm).

Bose's QuietComfort 35 (€379 from retailers) are also good, although not as good as the Sonys, in my experience.

There are a few decent mid-range wireless sets available, such as Sennheiser's HDR450 (€165 from Harvey Norman).

At the budget end (under €100) of the overhead wireless range, you have brands such as Philips, Skullcandy and Sennheiser.

The best, I think, is Sennheiser's HD440 (€99). They're relatively comfortable, are generous in size and have good audio quality. They're not noise-cancelling models, however.

Phillips has a basic set of wired headphones (SHL3850) with noise-cancelling technology for €55 (from Currys), but I'd caution against them. They sit 'on' your ears as opposed to around them, meaning that they don't really block out that much external noise.

As for in-ear wireless earphones, Apple's AirPods (€179 in most retailers) are by far the best quality you can get for under €200: very little comes close.

I've used them for over a year and the audio quality is really very good for such small earphones. As you've probably seen, they sit in your ear by themselves without any cable or wire. The surprising thing about them is that they don't fall out (ever, in my experience). I've been on runs and use them all the time out and about (sometimes for hours) and not once has there been any problem with them budging.

You get a very handy little charging (and storage) box with them.

For in-ear alternatives, you're largely looking at a sports and fitness-related model.

Motorola's Stream Sport (€99 at Currys) are in-ear models with hooks that go around your ear to make sure they don't fall out.

Like Apple's earphones, Motorola's come with a small recharging box for the earphones. The box itself can then be juiced up.

Then there are options such as Plantronics' BackBeat Fit (€110). Favoured by runners, these stay fairly firmly attached to your ear, thanks to a rubber loop around the buds.

While the buds are wireless (from your phone or MP3 player), they're connected with a cord that goes around the back of your neck, a common design for sports earphones. Obviously, this is a different design from the AirPods.

You'll get a similar level of quality from Monster's iSport Victory earphones (€110 from Harvey Norman and Argos), which are a little lighter than the Plantronics earphones.

However, while the Monster buds also have a small design loop to keep them in your ear, I'm not sure it's as effective a method - it may depend more on the shape of your lobes.

Recommendation: Apple AirPods (€179 from multiple retailers)

Email your questions to caomahony@independent.ie

Tech Two

Huawei Mate 20

€1,049 sim-free, cheaper on contract

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Huawei Mate 20

Huawei's Mate 20 Pro is an astonishing phone. It has the most complete and flexible camera system (three lenses) on the market, adding a wide-angle lens to the rear array. It also has the biggest battery on the market at 4,200mAh, as well as 128GB of storage. If you want a flagship Android phone, this is hard to beat.

Apple Mac Mini

From €919

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Apple Mac Mini
 

It's been a long time since Apple updated its 'affordable' home computer, the Mac Mini. But the new model has loads of power under the hood and still basically works the same way, connecting to most modern monitors, mice and Apple-friendly keyboards. It's a great option for those who want a decent home PC with Apple's OS.

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