TIME Gadgets

8 Things You Didn’t Know You Can Do with Your Smartphone

I use my smartphone every day, often in the first few minutes I wake up. It’s not because I’m addicted (ok, maybe I am a little bit addicted) – it’s because my phone is so darn useful. It tells me the weather. It helps me avoid and navigate around traffic jams. It helps me keep in touch with my friends.

Of course, you probably know all about that stuff. But your smartphone can do some pretty unusual things that you’ve probably never even considered. Here are some of the most amazing, out-there tasks your smartphone can help you conquer.

Diagnose a leaky window

flir-one-thermal-imaging-camera-longer-510px
FLIR

As a homeowner in the oft-frosty Northeast, I know how important it is to have tightly sealed windows in the wintertime. Finding leaky windows doesn’t just make my home more comfortable; it saves money on my electric bills.

How can you find these energy-wasting areas of your home? Simple: Turn your phone into a thermal imaging camera with the FLIR ONE add on. It fits onto your phone much like a Mophie Juice Pack does, and translates thermal energy into color images. It’ll show you where cold air is seeping into your house, where pipes need better insulation and even help locate overloaded circuits.

The FLIR ONE Personal Thermal Imager is compatible with both the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s. It’s available for purchase directly from FLIR.com for $349.

Measure your heart health

alive-cor-heart-monitor-case-350px
AliveCor

You don’t need to take a trip to an expensive hospital lab to get a detailed look at your heart health – there’s a smartphone app (and device) for that.

The AliveCor Heart Monitor rests on your chest or finger, converting electrical impulses from your body into a printable ECG graph. The included AliveECG app helps you understand if your ECG is normal, or if you have an issue you should consult a professional about. The device is no substitute for an expertly trained doctor, but if you’re concerned about your heart health, it makes a great supplement.

The AliveCor Heart Monitor is available as a stand-alone device or with a case for the iPhone 5/5S. Both are available for order at store.alivecor.com for $199.

Prevent drunk driving

bactrack-vio-smartphone-breathalyzer-350px
BACtrack

Imagine you’re at a house party with a couple close friends. You’ve all shared a glass or two of wine. You feel like you’re probably O.K. to drive, but it’d be far more responsible to know for sure.

That’s where the new Bluetooth BACtrack Vio Smartphone Breathlyzer comes in. The compact keychain device measures the alcohol present on your breath in just five seconds, wirelessly sending your BAC reading to your iOS or Android smartphone. An included app will predict how long it’ll take for your levels to return to 0%, helping you plan whether to call a cab or just “wait it out.”

The BACtrack Vio is available directly from BACtrack and at Amazon.com for just $49.99.

Watch over-the-air TV

Belkin

You may already know that your smartphone can connect to streaming video services like Hulu, allowing you to catch your favorite TV shows on the go. But did you know there’s a way to watch your favorite shows live, over-the-air? It’s possible with the Belkin Dyle.

The Dyle is a small antenna device that connects directly to your older iPhone or iPad’s charger port to receive over-the-air digital signals. It’s a great way to catch coverage of the big game while you’re sitting in the stands, pass time while riding the commuter rail or keep the kids busy in the car. Of course, for the device to work, you’ll need to be close to a major metropolitan area to pick up a quality signal.

The 30-pin Belkin Dyle is compatible with the iPhone 4/4S, iPad, iPad 2 and 3rd generation iPad. You can buy yours direct from Belkin or on Amazon.com for $29.99.

Measure your muscles

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Skulpt

As any health expert will tell you, your bathroom scale isn’t the best way to measure progress at the gym. Muscle weighs more than fat, so gaining the occasional pound or two can be a very good thing.

The Skulpt Aim helps you get a better handle on your fitness by tracking your body fat percentage and the muscle fiber size instead of your weight. It uses small electrodes to measure individual muscle groups and areas and relays the info to your phone, giving you an overall picture of where you’re making progress and where you’re not. The device even comes with an app that recommends exercises that are best for your body’s unique composition.

The Skulpt Aim works with both Android and iOS devices and is expected to start shipping in fall 2014. You can preorder yours at skulpt.me for $169.99, which includes free shipping.

Figure out why your check engine light is on

automatic-car-check-engine-light-diagnoser-350px
Automatic

I own an older Honda Civic. It’s a great, reliable car. But now that it’s been in service for nearly a decade, seeing the check engine light come on is a fairly regular occurrence.

The good news: You and I don’t need to take our cars to an expensive mechanic just to get that light diagnosed – we can do it ourselves using our smartphones and a device like Automatic. It connects directly to your car’s onboard computer, turning check engine events into push alerts to your iOS and Android phone. If it’s a minor issue, you may be able to fix it and clear the light yourself, saving a trip to the shop.

Automatic also tracks your driving, giving you feedback on your acceleration and breaking habits that can help improve your gas mileage. It can even alert emergency authorities in case of a disabling crash.

Automatic is compatible with most gasoline cars sold in the U.S. since 1996. You can purchase the device directly from Amazon for $79.99.

Improve your basketball skills

94fifty-smart-basketball-350px
94Fifty

Are you looking to take your son or daughter’s basketball game to the next level? You could clear out the spare bedroom and spend some serious cash on a live-in NCAA-quality basketball coach. Or, you could save the six-figure expense and get a similar coaching experience from a smart basketball like the 94Fifty.

The 94Fifty Smart Sensor Basketball is a regulation size and weight ball that contains a tiny Bluetooth sensor that measures spin and bounce. It connects wirelessly to iOS and Android phones to offer real-time feedback during the included training exercises, helping to improve skills in the moment. It’s like having a real basketball coach with you at all times, even when you’re just shooting a few layups in the driveway.

The 94Fifty Smart Sensor Basketball is available in both men’s and women’s sizes on Amazon.com for $249.95.

Catch fish

smart-fishfinder-350px
Friday Lab

Normally, a family camping trip would be a reason to leave the smartphone behind so you can better enjoy the great outdoors. But let’s face it, this is 2014. Modern technology can make everything better – even your time away from it on the lake.

How? Check out the Deeper Fish Finder. The small, spherical device works as a fish-finding sonar in both salt and fresh water, helping you locate fish up to 120 feet under the surface. You simply attach it to a fishing line and cast it where you want to fish – it’ll turn on automatically upon hitting the water. Deeper works with most modern iOS and Android devices, but we recommend pairing it with a waterproof phone or tablet like the Samsung Galaxy S5 or the Sony Xperia Z2.

The Deeper Portable Fish Finder is available for purchase on Amazon.com for $243.43.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Wearables

Fancy Bluetooth Ring Connects to Your Phone for Discreet Alerts

Over at Wired, Liz Stinson profiles a tech-infused ring — called Ringly — that looks like costume jewelry (I only know what “costume jewelry” means after being with my wife for a decade). This ring sports a Bluetooth chipset, however, and pairs with your phone to discreetly alert you to calls, text messages, email and other notifications that’d otherwise steal your attention away. You can customize the alerts as one of four vibration patterns or one of five different colors.

Speaking to the ring’s creator, Christina Mercando, Stinson’s piece contains a quote that pretty much perfectly sums up what’s going on here:

“The fashion world is blown away; they can’t believe something like this exists,” says Mercando. “And the technology world is like, is that all it does?”

People who have been writing about gadgets for more than a couple years will instantly recall HTC’s Rhyme smartphone, a device awkwardly marketed to women by way of a little cube-shaped charm that plugged into the headphone jack and lit up when calls and texts came through. The idea was apparently that you could leave your phone in your purse, and stretch the charm outside your purse so you could see if someone was trying to get a hold of you. Our own Jared Newman took two for the team, first writing about the phone and then reviewing it.

High-tech rings pair with your phone to discreetly alert you to calls, messages and more Ringly

While Rhyme sales probably didn’t make HTC’s year in 2011, Ringly might have a shot. For starters, the ring itself will cost almost as much as an on-contract smartphone — just shy of $200 at retail, though pre-orders are going for $145. So it’s already a luxury item: It’s available in a handful of different designs and contains 18-karat gold.

More importantly, it doesn’t look like a ridiculous gadget you strap on your body somewhere. I showed a picture of one of the rings to my wife, who immediately identified it as costume jewelry, not some newfangled wearable device housing a power-sipping Bluetooth Low Energy chip. Big points for hiding the technology.

So would she wear one? “I would wear it as costume jewelry when going out, sure.” Would she pay $200 for it? “I wouldn’t spend $200 on costume jewelry. A lot of people do, though.”

If you’re going to pay $200 for an oversized ring, why not buy one that pairs with your phone, right?

[WIRED]

TIME Innovation

This Smartphone Nose Sniffs Out Meat Spoilage

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PERES

Is that slightly outdated package of meat in your fridge still good? The average human nose might not be able to accurately predict its freshness by smell alone, but modern technology can. That’s the claim behind PERES, a handheld smartphone accessory for your kitchen that sniffs meat to detect spoilage.

Specifically, PERES measures four things: Temperature, humidity, ammonia, and volatile organic compounds VOCs. It uses this data to detect whether meat is fresh and safe to eat. The device connects to your Android or iOS smartphone via Bluetooth, and works with most common types of meat – beef, poultry, pork and fish.

PERES is being offered through crowd-funding site IndieGogo, where it has already surpassed its $50,000 goal. The device is scheduled to enter mass production in October 2014 with an expected retail price of $150.

You can learn more about PERES by watching the promotional video below or visiting its IndieGogo page. For more cool kitchen tech, visit the Techlicious Kitchen page.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Accessories

Logitech Case+ Review: Brilliant iPhone Case Concept, Flawed Execution

Jared Newman for TIME

Logitech's magnetic iPhone case is a wallet, kickstand, car mount and backup battery all in one.

Logitech is onto something with the Case+, a modular iPhone case with a set of magnetic attachments.

The magnetic backing on the Case+ allows for three separate attachments, all of which are included in the $199 package. There’s a folding kickstand that doubles as an earbud wrap, a battery case with 2300 mAh of power and a minimalist wallet with two slots for cards and cash. The Case+ also includes a magnetic car mount, so you can place the phone on your dashboard with no clamps or connectors.

On their own, the attachments work as expected. The kickstand and the wallet make a strong magnetic connection with the main case, and you can even stack these two attachments on top of one another. The battery case doesn’t attach with magnets, but instead clasps around the main case, with a plastic arm on top and a U-shaped Lightning plug on the bottom. The car mount attaches to car windshields with a suction cup, and includes an extra plastic suctioning surface for sticking onto a dashboard.

It’s only when you try to use these attachments in conjunction with one another that the cracks in Logitech’s system start to show.

Jared Newman for TIME

For instance, I liked the idea of carrying the kickstand and wallet together, at least in theory. When going to lunch, I carried them both as a single unit, paid for my food, stuck the wallet piece in my pocket and used the kickstand to prop up my phone while eating.

It was fun the first time, but having to swap back and forth quickly became tiresome. And because the wallet doesn’t have any outward-facing magnets, you can’t keep it attached while using the car mount. While being able to slim down from a traditional wallet seemed appealing, juggling Logitech’s wallet as a modular accessory was more trouble than it was worth. It’s the weakest link in the package, not just from a practical standpoint, but from an aesthetic one; if you’re don’t care for the wallet’s woven grey fabric design, you’re simply out of luck.

Jared Newman for TIME

The battery case’s lack of magnets is also an issue, as it prevents you from using the kickstand or wallet in tandem. And if you want to use the battery case with the car mount, you must attach another small magnetic plate, which sticks to the case with adhesive. It’s an inelegant solution, and only underscores how Logitech should have made the battery case play nice with the other attachments from the start.

All gripes aside, I love the underlying concept of Case+, and this is coming from someone who usually loathes smartphone cases. I’ve never accidentally caused major damage to a phone, so the extra protection has never been necessary for me. A case that allows me to use the phone in new ways would be much more valuable.

Jared Newman for TIME

In addition to improving the existing pieces, there’s clearly room for Logitech to expand the Case+ line with more attachments. This could be the start of a new accessory platform, where you choose the handful of tools that you find the most useful. (Keyboard cases, camera lenses and beefier speakers come to mind.)

But right now, Case+ seems more like a proof of concept than an actual product, and $200 is a lot to ask for a case system that doesn’t work as well as it could. If Logitech were to flesh out the line and let users choose from a wider range of attachments, Case+ could be more than just a great idea. It’d be a killer product that even case haters like myself might consider.

TIME Airlines

This Is the One Innovation That Might Make Flying Less of a Pain

Designboom

Flying next to a chatterbox? This stretch curtain has got you covered

When a simple shushing sound won’t suffice, flyers can now send chatty Cathy’s a more pointed message with the B-Tourist, a portable curtain that silently screams “do not disturb.” The elastic curtain, designed by Idan Noyberg and Gal Bulka, can be stretched between headrests to the back and the front of the passenger, thereby creating a cocoon of privacy around the passenger’s head.

Pouches sown into the curtain offer extra storage space for personal items, like pepper spray, and the flexible fabric can serve double-duty as a headrest, putting an end to that awkward moment when you wake up with your head resting on your neighbor’s shoulder, and vice versa. And if the user gets into a more sociable mood, plastic rings can scrunch the curtain into a taut little line, signaling a willingness to engage in eye contact and perhaps even a smidge of small talk about the weather.

TIME Accessories

Review: Zagg Auto-Fit Is a Clever Fix for Android’s Tablet Keyboard Problem

Jared Newman for TIME

Let’s say you bought an Android tablet, and now you’re looking for a Bluetooth keyboard to go with it.

You could get one that’s made specifically for your tablet, but that might be hard to find if you bought some generic tablet that doesn’t have much support from accessory makers. Even if you can get a good keyboard, it may not fit your next Android tablet if you upgrade a few years down the road.

That’s why Zagg has come up with a one-size-fits-all keyboard case for Android tablets, called the Auto-Fit. By using a spring-loaded stand to hold the tablet in place, the Auto-Fit supports multiple Android tablets in a given range of screen sizes. And unlike flimsier all-purpose keyboard stands, the Auto-Fit is a full-blown folio case, effectively turning an Android tablet into a small touchscreen laptop, which you can fold shut for travel.

The model I tested costs $80 and works with any 7-inch Android tablet that measures between 6.3 inches and 7.87 inches long, between 4.37 inches and 4.84 inches wide and up to 0.41 inches thick. It’ll work with the Nexus 7 (2012 and 2013 models) and Samsung’s 7-inch Galaxy Tabs, but tablets with extra-wide side bezels, such as Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX, won’t fit. (Zagg also plans to sell versions of the Auto-Fit for 8- and 10-inch tablets in the future.)

Jared Newman for TIME

To get the tablet into the stand, you slide it in bottom-side first, and push down on the spring-loaded edge until the top of the tablet fits under the top lip. The spring mechanism strikes a good balance in terms of firmness, holding the tablet securely in place without making it too difficult to load or unload.

The keyboard hinge is fully adjustable, and bends back to about a 135-degree angle. The base of the cover also helps lift the back of the keyboard, so you have a gently inclined surface to type on.

Zagg also includes a small stand that folds out behind the screen, keeping the whole thing from tipping backwards from the weight of the tablet. It’s a nice addition, but it’s also one area where the Auto-Fit could be better. While the stand will always keep the tablet from falling over entirely, it’s not rigid enough to support any weight unless it’s fully extended. That makes it hard to keep the tablet from tipping back slightly at certain angles.

I also wish the Auto-Fit allowed you to use the tablet like an actual tablet, either through a 360-degree hinge or a way to fold the screen flat against the keyboard, facing up. With the current design, you’ll probably want to remove the tablet for non-typing uses, such as reading and playing games.

One more word of caution about the 7-inch keyboard: It’s as cramped as you’d expect, so if you try to type quickly, you’ll probably start making mistakes. (The “1” and apostrophe keys are especially tiny in proportion to their importance.) This problem is inherent to the size of the device, so just keep your expectations in check.

Small frustrations aside, Zagg has come up with an interesting keyboard solution for the wide array of Android tablets on the market. If you’re looking to do some serious typing on your tablet, and are committed to a single screen size, the Auto-Fit is one way to stay future-proof.

TIME Gadgets

Review: AfterShokz’s Bluez 2 Bone Conduction Headset Aces Speech, but Muddles Music

Aftershokz

Aftershokz's Bluetooth headset does just what claims to, so long as you're after a robust, lightweight, elegantly designed, handsfree interface for speech-based audio listening or making phone calls.

“Bone conduction technology.” It sounds like a gimmick, something you might file on the shelf next to 3D positional audio, high-res music, gold-plated cables and surround-sound cans. It’s not.

In fact, you’ll find it today in breakthrough medical technology like cochlear implants: tiny, surgically implanted electronic devices that can transmit enough sonic information to the listener that even someone mostly deaf can hear sounds and understand speech. If you’re a talk radio devotee, you’re probably aware that Rush Limbaugh uses the latter.

I mention all that because I’ve been test-driving a pair of $100 open ear wireless headphones from Aftershokz for the past few weeks, the Bluez 2, and that’s their claim to fame: “bone conduction technology,” transmitting vibrations produced by a pair of small speaker-pads (sporting what look like rubber shock absorbers abutting your cheekbones) directly to your cochlea. The cochlea, in case you don’t know or remember, would be that spiraling, snail shell portion of your innermost ear you maybe had fun drawing in elementary school biology, that place in your brainpan where fluid jukes and jives reacting to said vibrations, which then get converted into electrical signals that make their way to your brain via neurotransmitters. Imagine a relatively low cost, external headset that can tap directly into that.

The Bluez 2 reminds me a little of an old Sony AM/FM radio headset I used back in the late 1990s — a clunky-looking thing that perched above each of my ears and looped around the back of my head like a wobbly boomerang. Sony’s headset had speakers that rested directly over your earholes and drew its architectural stability from that connective band — all one piece, with no wires or pendulous protuberances. And it took a licking, which is all that mattered to me in that hazy, pre-MP3 era, before the shift from low-fi, functionally minimalist portable audio gear to dragging around microcomputers into which most people I see out running or at the gym still plug headphones today, whether dangling or coiled inside an arm band.

Wireless headsets are a dime ten-dozen nowadays, and bone conduction technology’s not new, but when Aftershokz’s Bluez 2 headset arrived unbidden, looking just enough like that old Sony headset to draw my eye, I decided to give it a shot. I’ve worn it most of each day for the past two weeks and used it as the primary interface to my iPhone 5: listening to audiobooks and music while running outside, and chatting on the phone both indoors and out as well as in the car.

For a Bluetooth device that gets about six hours to a charge and has to generate haptic feedback, my initial reaction putting it on was “Man, is this thing light.” Weighing just 41 grams, it rests almost unnoticeably on your ears, its narrow, glossy black band wrapping behind your head without touching it (Aftershokz includes a reflective sticker you can optionally place on the neck band). If I cared about aesthetics as much as functionality, I’d probably use it in a sentence with words like streamlined and elegant. It doesn’t look half-bad on your noggin, either, though when I wore it out grocery shopping a few weeks ago, someone stopped me to ask if it was Google Glass. (Insert quip about eyes in the back of your head here.)

Let’s talk about the bone conduction angle, since that’s the buzziest buzzword in the mix. Imagine a pair of haptic gamepads strapped to either side of your head like Princess Leia’s cinnamon buns and the vibration-feedback mechanisms in said gamepads jackhammering away. The Bluez 2’s vibrations feel nothing like that, thank goodness, though there’s a slight buzzing sensation that pulses as audio’s conveyed through the audio pads. On my head, the pads align with my temporomandibular joint (the place your lower jaw connects to your skull — it’s right in front of your ear), and that’s where I suspect most are going to feel it. To be clear, it’s strictly vibration-based and not electrical, but it feels a little weird, a bit like someone holding the end of a sonic toothbrush against your cheeks, and that takes some getting used to.

But the benefits are considerable, especially if you’re listening to speech, whether talking on the phone or devouring an audio book. The headset’s speakers are physically positioned in front of your ears, which looks like it can’t possibly work properly, until you realize the sounds are being transmitted and augmented by the vibrating pads, up your cheekbones and through your ear canals. I have narrow ear canals and weird-shaped ears, meaning most earbuds (even with sizing tips) tend to fall out. The upside of Bluez 2’s headset is that it’s one-size-fits-all, and all-fits-comfortably — no fussing with sizers or trying to adjust the speakers to your earhole. And they’re perfectly comfortable for extended sessions, even if placed over a pair of glasses (so long as the temple pieces aren’t too thick). As a glasses-wearer, that’s more than I can say for any other pair of over-the-ear headphones I’ve used.

The other benefit — and I noticed this most while running outdoors in moderately noisy environments (traffic, mostly) — is that speech came through clearly at all times, even while battling a strong headwind. I wound up listening to several hours of the audiobook version of that old 1988 PBS documentary The Power of Myth while testing the Bluez 2, and both Joe Campbell and Bill Moyers came through clearer and more consistently than they ever had using a pair of wired headphones. The same held true when I summoned TuneIn to catch Internet-streamed cable news or local radio. If listening to speech-related audio is your thing, from audiobooks to talk radio to news, Aftershokz’s headset really excels.

I’m sad to say I had the opposite reaction to the Bluez 2’s music playback quality. Paired with my iPhone 5 and the volume set to maximum, XTC’s Skylarking sounded washed together and hollow, as did Elbow’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything, Elton John’s The Diving Board and Janelle Monáe’s The ArchAndroid. And I had difficulty getting the Bluez 2 to play loud enough in even modestly noisy environments. This, despite a product bullet point that boasts of a patented feature Aftershokz calls “PremiumPitch,” which uses dual transducers to “guarantee the finest bone conduction audio.”

I guess that means the finest still has a ways to go: Switching to a pair of low-end, wired Sony MDR-AS20J headphones with loop hangars, the quality upgrade when listening to that same music was startling.

My sense is that where bone conduction technology excels at bulldogging basic audio — especially speech — through your brainpan in noisy environments, it’s comparably poor at conveying even moderate details produced by higher fidelity audio sources. If not being able to listen to music at even moderate quality and volume levels is a deal-breaker, I’d steer clear of this headset, if not bone conduction technology in general. At this point, music and bone conduction feel like a mismatch.

If you’re just looking for something to use as a handsfree headset for voice calls, on the other hand, the Bluez 2 sports dual microphones that worked ably enough in both low and high noise environments. Switching between the headset and Apple’s default iPhone earbuds, the people I called said the audio improved a bit with the earbuds and noted that the Bluez 2’s audio sounded slightly muffled by comparison, but was otherwise fine. I suspect the latter has something to do with noise-cancellation algorithms, the flip side being that in noisier environments, those algorithms helped capture and convey what I was saying more dependably.

Music aside, I’m pretty happy with the Bluez 2 as-is. I wasn’t expecting a revelatory music listening experience (and to be fair, no one’s offering that over Bluetooth at this point), and it does do what it claims to if you’re just after a robust, lightweight, elegantly designed, handsfree interface for speech-based audio listening or making phone calls. $100 feels about right if the latter’s what you’re after, and that includes an adjustable tension band, a micro-USB charge cable and a smartly designed “breathable” storage pouch with one side mesh to let the headset dry if you’ve soaked it during a workout.

TIME FindTheBest

18 Headphone Brands Ranked from Worst to First

Full-time rapper and part-time headphone brand Dr. Dre likes to say that “people aren’t hearing all the music.” A more accurate assessment: people aren’t buying the right headphones.

Today, the audio industry is saturated with marketing. Clueless consumers snap up name-brands at $300+ price points while merrily scrolling past better, cheaper pairs. The problem? We’re conditioned to shop by brand, rather than by true audio experience.

It’s time for change. We set out to separate the sound from the unsound. Which brands deserve our attention, and which should customers avoid?

After gathering the specs, review scores, and features for nearly 3,000 headphones—from budget earbuds to full-featured DJ pairs—we scored every product out of 100, based on the following factors:

  • 75% – expert reviews (CNET, Wired, TechCrunch, What HiFi, Good Gear Guide, PC Mag)
  • 25% – specs and features (frequency, sensitivity, noise canceling, etc.)

The results might surprise you. In the words of Dr. Dre, “Sit back, relax, and strap on your seatbelt—you never been on a ride like this before.”

The Rankings

Blown Out

(average score in parentheses)

18. Plantronics (57)

17. Beats by Dre (58)

16. Skullcandy (62)

With apologies to celebrities, NBA players, and extreme sports athletes around the globe, our analysis was not kind to Beats by Dre or Skullcandy. Yes, each brand has a handful of decent products (ex: Beats’ Solo HDs, Skullcandy’s Navigators), but the average, mid-range product from either company likely isn’t worth your money.

Tone Deaf

15. Koss (68)

14. Creative (68)

13. Philips (72)

If you know exactly what to look for, all three of these brands offer solid, reasonably-priced options (ex: some of Philips’ Fidelio line; Creative’s Aurvana, over-ear headphones). The problem: they also offer dozens and dozens of less solid, less reasonably-priced products. If you’re a gambler, you might get a cheap thrill when you scoop one of these off the shelf—like ordering rare fish at a back-alley restaurant or betting on the Dallas Cowboys. For the rest of us, it’s not worth the risk.

Unsound

12. Bose (73)

11. Apple (74)

10. Panasonic (74)

Unlike Philips and Creative, Bose and Apple have a “less is more” headphone strategy, marketing just three or four flagship products at inflated prices. If you want a comfortable fit with top-tier noise canceling, Bose’s QuietComfort 15s actually stand up to most of the hype. Unfortunately, many of their other products have received mixed reviews, and regardless, you’ll end up paying a premium on anything that comes in a box labeled “Bose.”

Then there’s Apple. They’ve been something of a joke in the headphone industry until recently, when experts gave the new EarPods a polite nod and some decent review scores. While it doesn’t quite make up for years of blown out iPod buds, it was enough for a middle-of-the-pack finish.

Sounds Good

9. Audio-Technica (74)

8. JVC (75)

7. Sennheiser (78)

If buying Philips or Creative is a reckless gamble, then snapping up one of these brands is a responsible risk, like investing in an index fund or predicting another Justin Bieber arrest. Though none of these brands are a sure-thing, each has a distinct strength. Audio-Technica produces some of the best studio headphones on the market, and often at sub-$150 prices. Meanwhile, JVC makes many of the best cheap earbuds available: good for couch potatoes and loose change scavengers. Finally, Sennheiser’s best products are universally praised by audiophiles and DJs alike.

Sounds Great

6. AKG (79)

5. Sony (80)

4. Pioneer (83)

Both AKG and Pioneer make consistently stellar headphones for DJs and audio technicians. Even better, they don’t charge a superfluous $100 just because the box says “studio” on the side.

That leaves Sony, perhaps the most surprising high-performer, especially next to all these headphone industry stalwarts. With hundreds of products in almost any price range, color, and style, Sony’s biggest accomplishment is consistency of quality.

Super Sonic

3. Klipsch (84)

2. Grado (89)

1. Shure (90)

They’re three of the pricier brands, but Klipsch, Grado and Shure headphones are the most reliable buys on this list, with outstanding performance and consistently glowing reviews from experts. If you’re cash-strapped, a cheap pair from Sony or JVC will be fine, but those looking to take a new step in audio enjoyment should start here.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

MORE: The 5 Best In-Ear Headphones

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