Over the last few weeks I've started to write this article quite a few times and then have to wait when another new bluetooth audio device shows up for me to review. From tabletop speakers to truly wireless earbuds, and over-ear headphones to ultra-portable speakers. We've received devices at every price point and quality level. $250 on ear headphones from European manufacturers that launched via Indigogo and $70 special edition travel speaker sets from newly established powerhouse Anker.
Pump Audio is relatively new to the game but is releasing some impressive products. The Zeus on-ear wireless headphones shipped in time for the holidays and the MIX wireless in-ears made it to Indigogo backers but aren't yet available via retail even on the company's website. The Zeus are amazing headphones, providing audio quality that rivals or exceeds the biggest players in the the headphone marketplace. For a new product launched from crowdsourcing they are asking some big money for their products but there are a couple reasons for this strategy. First is the amount of money that they have put into R&D, including building EQ chips into their products to optimize sound for EDM and Hip-Hop. Second is a desire to be taken seriously but maintain competitive pricing. They feel (and they have a point) that if they were to price below $100 they would not be taken seriously by shoppers already in the market for known products from players like Beats and Sennheiser. By pricing just under the flagship brands they get noticed by buyers in the market for serious headphones, and feel they can compete on that playing field very well. Given the headphones I've gotten from them so far, I think they are right about product quality, we'll just have to wait and see what the market feels about pricing strategy. If you are in the market for headphones you won't be disappointed with these.
The VAVA Voom 21 is an impressive speaker. At 9 inches wide and 4 inches tall it's well suited to any tabletop you want to place it on, and features everything you could ask for in a Bluetooth speaker. With 20 watts of total power (5Wx2 stereo + 10W subwoofer) it will fill most rooms in your house pretty well, just don't expect it to power a house party. It also ticks all of your buzz-word lists, with NFC pairing, aptX audio enhancement, 3 built in EQ presets, auxiliary audio input, noise cancelling microphone, and even has a 5V/1A USB port to power your phone if you are traveling with it and plugins are at a premium. I have been impressed enough with the sound quality that it has become my full time choice in the bedroom, replacing a larger and more expensive speaker system. At only $89.99 from Amazon its a great choice for most people on the lookout for home audio that travels well.
Willnorn is a brand I hadn't heard of until these headphones arrived, and even after some digging online I can't say much about the company. What I can tell you is that they build some decent headphones and sell them at an amazing price point. They are comfortable, fitting fairly snugly without putting too much pressure on my ears. The noise cancelling works surprisingly well, tuning out ambient sound in a fairly busy room at the food bank where I volunteer with ease. Sound quality was decent, fairly flat without any embellishment or artificial tuning (which is what I prefer in most cases). There are a couple of remarkable things about this product in my view. They claimed 36 hours of audio playback at 50% volume and I actually got 39 in my test, which is insane but something frequent travelers are going to love when paired with the active noise canceling. The other great thing is the replaceable battery, making it possible to carry an extra if the jaw dropping battery life these cans already provide for some reason still aren't enough but more importantly making it possible to have a spare on hand if the original fails a Li-Ion batteries eventually will without needing to replace your headphones. With these things selling for less than $70 on Amazon right now it is easy to recommend them if you are in the market and the size and style meet your needs.
Sometimes Kickstarter amazes me when it comes to which products catch the community's imagination and vastly exceed funding goals and which ideas fail or barely meet their goals. The eoz One headphones were a project that surprised me when they barely made funding. The eoz One headphones are closer to in-ear monitors than what most people think of as headphones, ergonomically shaped to fit the ear and designed to loop over the back of the ear to prevent becoming dislodged during use. I don't know if it was the non-traditional design or that there wasn't much marketing behind their project, but for what I thought was one of the best headphone projects of the year on Kickstarter to only fund at 120% when much more poorly designed products funded at 500-1500% (that is not a typo, a few headphone projects funded at more than 10 times their goals this year) was amazing to me. The headphones themselves are great, with memory foam earpieces, leather wrapped cables, and aluminum reinforcements build quality is unparalleled. Sound quality is very good but not exceptional. Microphone response is great, and overall I am impressed but not blown away. If eoz can improved sound quality these will be a major contender in the headphone game. For now if you are looking for a Bluetooth headset for good (not amazing) music playback but impressive and professional looks and great phone/spoken word audio use this is a great choice.
This great vintage styled tabletop speaker from hotNcold has some pretty great features: FM radio, bluetooth 4.0, NFC pairing, very good speakerphone with voiceover, microSD and USB ports for audio playback from storage, and 8 hours of continuous audio from battery when unplugged. All this comes at less than $25 from Amazon. Sound quality is decent and the look is easy to love. It isn't audiophile quality and it isn't going to win design awards but it is a decent speaker with good features at a great price.
When NFL veteran wide receiver Mark Clayton kept breaking $300 headphones during workouts because they were falling off his head when he made a cut he decided that instead of complaining or buying a new pair he was going to find someone to help him build a better headset, and LIVV Headphones were born. He ended up taking the idea to Kickstarter to get community input as much as to get help with funding production, and ended up with a water resistant pair of headphones that have a vinyl wrapped titanium alloy band that Mark isn't ever going to have to worry about snapping during a workout. At $350 they are a bit spendy, but you'll pay just as much for the beats studio wireless headphones he kept breaking that led him to this design so its easy to understand where this price point came from! The headphones take a little breaking in to get the band adjusted to fit well, but once they loosen up a little they are super comfortable in addition to having great sound. The other thing Mark added that isn't found anywhere else in this end of the the market is onboard storage, allowing you to have an 8GB workout mix loaded into the headphones themselves so you can keep the music going in environments where your phone or audio device cant go with you. Learn more and hear Mark's story on his website.