Over the past few months, I’ve been using various headphones, earbuds and audio sunglasses, in order to find the best options out there. I’m not sure I qualify as an audiophile, but I am pretty obsessed with good audio quality, and also how well the headphones work alongside my various screenreaders on my iPhone and PC/Mac. This is no means an exhaustive list but these are my top 5 so far this year.
I’m starting with audio sunglasses, and these are definitely at the cheaper end of the market and are the closest to the classic Bose Frames that so many blind and low vision enjoyed. Sadly the Bose Frames were discontinued in December 2023.
I do enjoy wearing these around the house to listen to podcasts and keep up with social media using Voiceover on the iPhone. They are simple to connect. The audio is clear and of decent quality – note I didn’t say I’m listening to the hits of the day on them as the audio just doesn’t cut it. But for speech and screenreaders they are fine.
If you want to use these on the move to listen to Voiceover/Talkback or GPS apps, pardon the pun, but your mileage may vary. The audio can feel much more quiet outside with traffic noise around you. And if you take a call, any wind noise can seriously affect that call. But the good news is if you live in a small town or quiet village, you might find these to be ok. For £70 in the UK (with occasional discounts from Amazon) these are the perfect replacement for your broken Bose Frames. Listen now to listener Gordon review these audio sunglasses.
I’ll stay on the theme of keeping audio around my ears and not in my ear for my next pick. I was quite excited to learn about the Shokz OpenFit earbuds as I’d tried various Shokz (formerly known as AfterShokz) products in the past.
They offer an open-ear design, which lets you remain aware of their surroundings, making them more suitable for outdoor activities. These earbuds use air conduction technology for sound delivery rather than bone conduction which you will find on other Shokz products. They are also extremely lightweight, which has led to me forgetting I’m wearing them.
Sounds perfect, right? Well, sort of. The idea is brilliant but sadly there are a few issues. Firstly the touch controls are a little fiddly and can lead you to whacking your ear to skip a track or answer a call. There also isn’t any built-in wear sensors, so they don’t cut off automatically when you take them off – something we are getting used to in other high-end earbuds, which at around £160, these can be considered in that category.
The showstopper for me was the bluetooth lag when you are using a screen reader, whether connected to my PC, Mac or iPhone. It was only half a second, but ask someone who is trying to type an iMessage on an iPhone using Voiceover how that feels. I dare you.
There are many good points which is why it’s still in my picks list, namely the IP54 rating, making them resistant to water and dust, and the pretty decent battery life which can last up to 28 hours if you use the bundled charging case. For someone who is low vision and doesn’t require a screen reader to use their devices, this would be a good buy for you.
Considering what I what just said about Shokz OpenFit, you might have thought I’d have run screaming from another similar product. But it was actually thanks to my better half that I found these. After my initial raving about them, my wife suggested she might get a pair but didn’t want to spend that kind of money. And it got me to thinking, and after a little research, I found these. Pretty much exactly the same as the OpenFits, and even a decent sound from them too, but at a fraction of the price at £50.
The biggest plus for these was no bluetooth lag at all. They work great with my iPhone and PC running JAWS or the MacBook Air running Voiceover. They were so good I ended up buying another pair to give to my wife so I could keep these ones. I often wonder if the lesser functions and simpler tech within these cheaper devices makes the bluetooth perform better. Who knows, but I’m happy!
It may not surprise any readers that the fruit company got a mention here. Apple’s most recent iteration of AirPods Pro offers enhanced noise cancellation, improved sound quality, and the convenience of MagSafe charging. If you are one of the Apple fan folk, you’ll love these.
The audio quality is excellent considering they are small in-ear buds. The big benefit of these over other similar style earbuds is that they don’t push deep into your ears, meaning they sit quite comfortably. I do find that after a couple of hours my ears get a bit sore so they aren’t for all day listening – at least not for me.
The new AirPod Pro 2 features brought in last year include Adaptive Audio and Conversation Awareness as well as the ability to tap to mute, adding to the already impressive range of audio features.
The audio transparency mode is excellent when out and about, and I can comfortably hear my phone, take calls and listen to GPS commands while navigating safely and hearing the world around me.
Price sits at around £220 and is an excellent choice if you’re in the Apple ecosystem.
For those who saw an Apple product in my top 5 might think that another Apple product might make it to number 1, but not this time.
Over the holidays, I had the chance to put these latest over-ear headphones from Sony through their paces, and boy, was I impressed!
These are premium headphones from Sony and the marketing blurb says “they boast top-tier noise cancellation, superior sound quality, and a sleek design. They’re perfect for audiophiles seeking an immersive listening experience.”
But is that true? Especially bearing in mind that up until then my AirPods Max were my main headphones of choice around the home.
First, I’d like to start with the “sleek design”. The style of these are pretty standard in my view, but they are incredibly light, which makes them instantly popular to me. They sit very comfortably on my head for longer periods, even while writing this article.
They boast a number of smart features, and while many headphones boast about transparency mode and impressive noise cancellation, these Sony headphones really deliver. Plus they use a combination of physical buttons and touch controls to operate the headphones without having to pick up your phone to answer a call, play/pause or skip a track. Again, this isn’t unusual for this type of device, but I do think the implementation is good.
The winning feature of all of this for me is the accessible app from Sony to control all of these buttons and touch controls. It really helps gets a handle on what the various swipes and button pushes do, plus you can completely customise these to suit you. I didn’t change much because I really like the defaults. For example, the ability to double tap on the right side of the headphones to play/pause, and a simple swipe back and forth on the same touch panel (which is the entire ear cup) to move to the next track, and the opposite to go back a track. There’s also a satisfying sound when you perform a touch gesture, meaning you know you’ve done something. Handy for the double tap – I know I actually tapped it twice.
And then there’s the sound of course. Sony are well known for their high quality audio so it’s no surprise these top-end headphones sound excellent. You can customise the sound to suit you as much as you want in the Sony app, and there are settings for 360 surround sound features but I haven’t played with that.
As I’ve been spending a lot of time during the holidays, I haven’t tried these, and in particular the audio transparency mode outdoors at this time but in fairness I generally don’t wear these type of headphones outside as I need to be aware of my surroundings and I’d be nervous incase something went wrong and the transparency turned off as I was crossing the road! However, at home I can honestly say I was this impressed when I tried the Apple AirPods Max as they are also excellent with this function, but for around the cost these are definitely up to the same standard. I can comfortably wear these for a good few hours and hear the TV, radio or hold a conversation without taking an ear off to listen either the other person or even me!
But that’s not all. There’s a massive feature of these which I found in the app that proved them to be not just excellent, but essential, particularly when I’m travelling. You can connect two devices to these headphones – at the same time. No switching! Once connected to your PC and iPhone (for example) you don’t need to switch to use them – just use as you would. That’s pretty handy when you are a train and you are juggling between your computer and your phone, both running screenreaders. No more pulling headphones on and off or wearing an earbud under my headphones!
Overall I’m very impressed and they deserve their number one spot in this list.
Note: The products on this list were purchased by me with the exception of the Sony headphones, which were sent to me for review purposes. Sony did not pay me or sponsor this article or any on air review I have given. Opinions here are my own and Sony did not ask for a preview of this article prior to its publication. The links here are purely for reference and are not affiliated with Double Tap or Accessible Media Inc. We make no money from your use of these links.