Audio

Audio

Review: Blue Sadie Headphones

The successor to Blue’s Mo-Fi over-ear headphones, the Sadie updates and refines the unique-looking — and unique-fitting — set of over-ear cans. This pair, which sits above the planar magnetic Lola and below the amp-devoid Ella in Blue’s lineup, is primarily targeted to mobile users (read: just about everybody who listens to music nowadays) relying on their laptops, smartphones, and tablets as the primary source of music, since all these devices lack dedicated amplifiers and thus require external outboard ones to optimally power HiFi headphones. But more than that they feature a Formula One-inspired articulating frame for improving fit in a way an extending band never could. We finally got a chance to test a pair ourselves over the past few weeks so if you’re curious keep on reading.

Design

Sadie may look big in online images but the pair is even bigger in person. Two oversized circumaural earcups press into your head and surround your ears, simultaneously insulating sound while avoiding putting any pressure directly on your ears. The earcups feature a bit of elegant-looking plastic in the form of a shell covering most of the outside, but almost every other visible part on the set is made of metal. That includes the race car-influenced suspension frame. The general frame design is shared with the Mo-Fi, albeit refined, though it’s still got three articulating joints on either side, expanding in width, height, and angle to fit a variety of head shapes and sizes. They do feel quite sturdy thanks to the use of metal but as a consequence this increases overall weight to just over one pound, nearly twice as much as some comparable pairs.

Below the left cup there’s a 3.5mm input for plugging in one of the two included cables, one plain vanilla at nearly 10 feet long and the other at four feet with three buttons and an inline mic in an enclosure that appears to be made of the same dark, anodized metal as most of the frame. The headphone jack input also sports a textured silver ring around it that switches the headphone amp between its three settings: off, on, and on+. More on the nuances of these settings in the sound section. Besides this there’s a MicroUSB input to charge the inbuilt rechargeable battery. The outgoing Mo-Fi had a tension switch; there’s none of this on the Sadie, though we didn’t really miss it. There’s no on switch anywhere either: instead, put the pair on your head and they’ll turn on automatically; take them off to have them shut off. The frame detects the earcups being pulled apart and knows to turn them on, and you’ll know it yourself thanks to a subtle glow coming from behind the Blue logo on either earcup.

Appreciating their almost mechanical black-and-silver aesthetics is more or less up to individual taste. Minimal they’re not but we think we’d be hard pressed to find anyone thinking they didn’t look good, not to mention well-built.

Comfort

If they weren’t comfortable the suspension frame wouldn’t be doing itself any favors. Fortunately they are, and this despite their size and considerable weight. Thick memory foam padding on both the earcups and headband certainly help dissipate both the weight as well as the clamping pressure of the suspension, which isn’t insignificant considering it needs to be enough to solidly hold these hefty bad boys on your noggin. We definitely wouldn’t say we could forget we’re wearing them, especially when turning your head or making quick movements and feeling the headphones follow suit a fraction of a second later, but the fit feels tailored, and it basically is considering you’ll naturally (and effortlessly) customize both the fit and angle of the earcups every time you put them on. Even during prolonged wear our head and ears remained surprisingly comfortable.

Sound

To the good stuff. Inside they’ve got the aforementioned 240mW audiophile amplifier as well as 50mm fiber-reinforced dynamic drivers and a rechargeable battery capacious enough for about 12 hours of playtime. If you don’t want to use the amp, or if the batteries are dead, switch the dial to off. If you do have it on though you’ll be rewarded by an enlarged soundstage that gets loud. In fact we recommend, as Blue does, to not only start at a low volume and crank it up as it’s playing to figure out optimal volume levels and avoid blasting your eardrums accidentally — and same goes when switching between modes, just in case.

While the drivers are the same as on the outgoing Mo-Fi they’re tuned slightly differently. And when compared to headphones with smaller drivers we found the sound really shone when volumes were set a little higher. Our experience suggests that the sound isn’t skewed towards the popular bass-heavy profiles of many other modern headphones like those from Bose and Beats, something we appreciated. Sound was warm, rather crisp and clean, and with perhaps just a very slight skew towards lower frequencies. Overall the sound is natural and powerful without tiring out your ears.

If you need more bass switch them to on+ mode. This boosted bass specifically while leaving treble and mids largely unaffected, but still not to Beats levels so if you’re really craving over-the-top booming percussion you’ll need to use a software-level equalizer on your device to address that.

All of this isn’t to say that they don’t sound good with the amp off. On the contrary, it results in sound that’s not dissimilar from when it’s on, if you crank the levels up appropriately considering the amp does give it a fair volume boost. Turning it on does extend the range slightly but noticeably, and our preferred general listening mode for as variety of tracks was not on+ nor off but rather on. Tastes vary, though, and different tracks can easily sound subjectively better in one mode or another, most often either on or on+. It should also be noted that while they’re devoid of active sound cancellation the foam and closed-back (and likely higher-than-average listening volumes you’re likely to set) block out ambient noises fairly well.

Conclusion

To wrap up, the Sadie delivered when it came to sound with the amp both off and on, likely to be appreciated by most music buffs looking for a mid-to-high-end pair of over-ear headphones. Its solid sound is less likely to be a point of contention compared to their size, weight, price, and design. They’re certainly distinctive in appearance and fit us quite comfortably despite the above but listeners perfectly content with traditional extensible headphone bands and cheap-feeling but lightweight plastic might question the necessity of the overbuilt articulating frame that detracts from portability. Others, who’ve rarely if ever found a perfect fit that stays comfortably in place over long stretches of listening, are bound to absolutely love it.

Learn more at Blue or grab a pair at Amazon – $400

GET IT: $400

Audio

Marshall Stockwell Bluetooth Speaker

The smallest amp-lookalike speaker in Marshall’s lineup, the Marshall Stockwell Bluetooth Speaker still weighs in at about 2.65 pounds — probably because they just had to make it the loudest speaker in its class. Behind the insigna-adorned grille it’s got dual 2.25-inch woofers and two 2.25-inch dome tweeters powered by a two-channel Class D amp, plus a rather large battery that powers the rig for about 25 hours on a charge. Bluetooth 4.0 assures wireless play but you’ll need to adjust volume using an analog knob (it just goes to ten and not eleven, but there’s room to scribble it in), which sits alongside two other similar knobs for controlling both bass and treble. All three retract for travel, and the optional multifunctional flip cover doubles as a stand for the speaker when deployed.

Grab one at Amazon – $230 [via]

GET IT: $230

Audio

V-Moda Remix Bluetooth Speaker

It’s about time they got a wireless speaker on their books, but the V-Moda Remix Bluetooth Speaker is unique in that it’ll double as a headphone amplifier when you’re not using it to openly blast beats. The speaker features glass fiber dual-drivers and a passive bass reflector that together produce an immersive three-dimensional soundstage consistent with the brand’s on-ear offerings. Or plug in your full-sized high-end headphones, V-Moda or not, to drive them with added power — 83mW per side to be exact — sparing the need to purchase a separate dedicated headphone amp. It also comes in silver aluminum (shown) or black leather, works with Amazon’s Alexa, wirelessly daisy chains with other Remix speakers for even bigger sound, and in typical V-Moda style can be decked out with a variety of 3D-printed custom accessories including bespoke ones made of platinum or gold that cost a pretty penny.

Learn more at V-Moda – $300

GET IT: $300

Audio

Tivoli Model One Digital

Near-term, maybe, but the future of FM radio, as it stands, is anything but guaranteed. Though it won’t matter much with the Tivoli Model One Digital, a future-proofed version of its classic Model One radio that adds WiFi and Bluetooth streaming alongside the auxiliary input and FM options of the latter to conveniently stream from your own music collection or your Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, and other cloud music playlist. The radio boasts a furniture-grade wood cabinet in white, black, ash, and walnut, with a Gabriel fabric speaker grill that altogether make it look a cut above the ocean of plasticky Bluetooth speakers you’ll find elsewhere. It pairs nicely with Tivoli’s Cube (and other speakers) for making a stereo pair and controls via either their app or a single brushed aluminum dial that turns the unit on by pushing and holding, increases volume by turning, and switches between sources with short clicks.

Learn more at Tivoli – $300

GET IT: $300

Audio

Sonos Playbase Speaker

Don’t want to wall mount your TV? Don’t sweat it. The Sonos Playbase Speaker doesn’t sit in front of your television like conventional sound bars but rather beneath it, serving as a stand (for devices of up to 77 lbs) thanks to a discreet low-profile design while providing refined, room-filling sound. Setting it up is as easy as plugging in its power cord and an optical cord to your TV. Then the ten amplified drivers inside Playbase — six mid-range, three tweeters, plus one woofer, each with an accompanying class-D digital amp — get to work. It’s also as smart as any Sonos speaker with lossless WiFi streaming and effortless app integration with the rest of your Sonos arsenal, features a Night Sound setting that boosts quiet sounds while dampening louder ones to avoid disturbing the neighbors or your roommates late at night, and has touch controls right on the unit to play/pause, skip tracks, or control volume.

Learn more at Sonos – $700

GET IT: $700

Audio

Decibel Modular Speaker

We’re accustomed to tech products that don’t last and that are instead replaced on a one, two or three year cycle. The Module Project’s Decibel Modular Speaker is instead built for the long haul. An Allen key is all it takes to crack open its anodized aluminum shell and make repairs or swap components since no glue is used to hold parts together. If significant advancements in one technology or another warrant an upgrade, the speaker units (two two-inch bass drivers and two tweeters), lithium ion batteries, and electronic control module (which, notably, houses its Bluetooth antenna along with all other electronics) can all be traded out for newer versions, sparing all other components as well as the case from further populating landfills. Decibel also promises 24 hours of battery life, USB-C fast charging, and wireless charging.

Currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo. Learn more here – $195

GET IT: $195

Tech

Miniot Wheel Turntable

You’d be forgiven for wondering where Miniot Wheel Turntable’s tonearm’s hiding. It’s only visible once you lift up the vinyl sitting on Wheel, since the laminated mahogany linear tonearm and AudioTechnica AT95E cartridge sit underneath and play the record from its B-side. Besides looking sleek and minimal this unique setup allows the turntable to play records when placed horizontally on a flat surface or mounted vertically to a wall while keeping its delicate, sensitive components free from dust. A center stick controls playback including on/off and volume by turning, play/pause by tapping, and skipping tracks when shifted left or right. It’s also got your standard analog outputs and and comes in walnut, cherry, mahogany, and a special edition Indian rosewood paired to a champagne-colored aluminum platter.

Find it at Kickstarter – roughly $600

GET IT: ~$600

Tech

ColorWare AirPods

Like many Apple products before them, AirPods come in a colorway that starts and ends with white. And if you’re willing to pay, ColorWare again fills that gap with ColorWare AirPods in 58 colors, half metallics and half solids. They don’t simply spray paint the surface but rather meticulously disassemble, paint, and reassemble the AirPods for a perfect, seamless look. They also come in either gloss or matte finishes and can also paint the case if you throw in an additional 30 bones.

Grab a pair at ColorWare – $289

GET IT: $290

Tech

BeatsX Wireless Earphones

Gone is the iPhone 7’s headphone jack, but you knew that. In its place is Apple’s new (and underutilized) W1 wireless chip that few headphones so far support, with smaller, portable earbuds especially lacking other than, of course, the AirPods. And now BeatsX Wireless Earphones. Their only wire connects the earbuds together and includes a Siri-compatible remote with mic as well as two small symmetrical bulges that hold the charger input and, presumably, their lithium ion batteries. While they’ll work fine with Android devices via traditional Bluetooth the W1 chip really shines in ensuring smooth, straightforward pairing to your Apple device as well as high quality audio transmission that reproduces sound in a typically bass-heavy Beats fashion. Conveniently they also last 8 hours per charge and go from dead to 25% charged with just 5 minutes of charging. And when you’re not listening to music or taking calls the two buds link up magnetically to stay secured around your neck, tangle-free.

Learn more at Beats – $150

GET IT: $150

Audio

Black Pelican BoomCase

Pelican’s briefcases are virtually indestructible. That’s why the Black Pelican BoomCase was built inside one, making for a sound system that’s more rugged than BoomCase’s traditional offerings while remaining just as portable. Closed, the speaker system is completely protected against bumps and even water, and open it’s still more durable than your average speaker system thanks to grilles over the drivers. Inside a 100 Watt amp powers the two 6.5-inch woofers, 4-inch mid-range and two dome tweeters, and a huge rechargeable battery keeps it running for over 16 hours straight. Comes in several colors other than black (like yellow, orange, green, and grey) and includes a battery charger and an aux cable, though a Bluetooth module to make this BoomCase wireless will run you another $45.

Find it at Pelican – $895

GET IT: $895

Tech

Love Intelligent Turntable

The Love Intelligent Turntable isn’t unique just for its looks, though these are definitely a breed apart from most record players. Instead it’s the turntable’s particularly intuitive controls and smartphone integration that make it easier and more convenient to use. To start playing music, place a vinyl on the included record base and then the strudel-sized device on top of that. The size of the record is automatically determined, as are the number of tracks, so you can skip tracks or start playing at the track number you like, and do so wirelessly from across the room. Both Bluetooth and WiFi are built-in to output sound wirelessly to various systems, with an included 3.5mm or RCA Bluetooth adapter if your system isn’t yet sans cables, and RPM selection is determined by a switch on the device. It doesn’t weigh on your records, either, instead balancing at its center to let a standard size stylus read the grooves just like the turntables of yesteryear.

Learn more at Kickstarter – $300

GET IT: $300

Tech

Cinder Speakers

The lowly cinder block isn’t good for much other than building. But Cinder Speakers, a collaboration between industrial designer Daniel Ballou and Dashdot, turns a pair of concrete cinder blocks into high fidelity speakers. Since concrete minimizes vibrations the material is a logical choice, or at least from that perspective since you’ll need to find a relatively solid surface on which to rest such hefty speakers, and perhaps line the base with a felt pad or similar to avoid scratches. The kit, still in development stage and with a target price of roughly $150, ships as pre-assembled panels that attach to either side of the blocks and feature a 5-inch driver, a tweeter, a crossover, and an input jack on the right side of the front panels. Where you get the cinder block, on the other hand, is your problem.

Learn more at Daniel Ballou. [via]

LEARN MORE

Tech

q-JAYS Anniversary Edition Earphones

Built around the same high-resolution armature drivers as their q-JAYS, the q-JAYS Anniversary Edition earphones manages to refine the already spectacular-sounding reference earphones while commemorating the brand’s 10th year making audio equipment. The compact metal injection molded stainless steel housing of each earphone is polished repeatedly for a slightly sooty but reflective shine and paired to sound isolating silicone ear tips in five sizes as well as one pair of memory foam Comply tips. Each side packs in two armature drivers — one for lower frequencies and another that handles midrange and highs — behind an acoustic filter that cleans the sound for precise acoustics with stunning clarity that can accentuate otherwise overlooked and unheard details in music you’ve listened to for years. Despite their compactness the included high-purity oxygen-free copper cables (also twisted to minimize external electromagnetic interference), distinct to the Anniversary Edition, can be unscrewed and removed if they ever need replacing, avoiding you the need to toss the pair should the cables eventually fail. And the same goes for the laser-cut protective filters that block dust and dirt from entering.

Find them at JAYS – $349

GET IT: $349