Pioneer describes their new Rayz earphones as “Lightning smart” and “The iPhone’s perfect accessory.” After using them since Judie brought me a pair from CES, I would agree with that and add they are “brilliant at noise cancellation” and “among the best deals around.” Priced at just $99.99 and $149.99, they are worth every penny.
At first glance, the Pioneer Rayz earphones look like a what you expect from a pair of Lightning in-ear earphones. Because they are designed to work with the iPhone 7, they employ a Lightning connector in place of the traditional 3.5mm plug. They have an in-line microphone and controller. They employ a shirt clip to keep the wires from moving too much and transferring the noise from that movement to the earphones themselves. And, of course, they have two in-ear monitors that can accept an assortment of included sleeves so you can get the right fit and seal. There is, however, a good deal more going on with these earphones.
They are “A New Kind of Earphone.” That’s because they are the first pair of Lightning earphones with 2nd generation Lightning Audio Technology, and they are the only Lightning earphones with talk and charge capability and have a “lower current consumption than any other Lightning headset.” That last point becomes significant as we dig into the features of the headset.
The fact that the Rayz connect to the iPhone via the Lighting connector is a huge deal. Sure, that’s the only way you can get a wired connection to the current iPhone but that change means you can get better sound and more control over your music. The difference here is that the Rayz take advantage of the possibilities offered by the change to Lighting connectivity and deliver a level of audio quality that simply isn’t achieved by, for example, Apple’s Lighting EarPods. That is audio enhancement is achieved thanks to a built-in digital audio processor and amp. You have to hear it to truly appreciate the difference.
By communicating directly with your iPhone, Rayz delivers smart features, adjustable to your preferences, in a tiny pair of earphones.
So the Rayz earphones meet that challenge presented by Apple removing the 3.5mm headphone jack by swapping in a Lighting Connector in place of the 3.5mm plug, and then they take advantage of the opportunities presented by this change by adding a digital audio processor and amplifier. The result is 24-bit 48 kHz processing and great sounding audio.
But there is another challenge presented by the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack. On every iPhone prior to the iPhone 7, you could put your headphones into the phone AND charge your phone at the same time. Because the iPhone 7 uses the Lighting Connector for audio you can listen to headphones and change at the same time. The Rayz Plus solve this issue by adding a Lightning connection to the earphone cable itself. That means you can plug the earphones into your iPhone and then plug a Lighting cable into the Rayz cable to charge your phone WHILE you listen to music. It is an elegant solution.
The earphones themselves are a nice combination of metal and plastic. Both the standard Rayz and the Rayz Plus come in two color combinations. The look is refined and classy. A slight angle on the earphones themselves allows for a comfortable and secure fit in your ears. I found that the inserts that shipped on the Rayz were the right size and fit for me. They do a good job of comfortably filling my ears and sealing out ambient sound. That because particularly important when considering the next feature of the earphones — the active noise cancelation.
I always wear a pair of noise canceling headphones when I travel. They come in a few form factors.
With on-the-ear or over-the-ear headphones, the battery and noises cancelation technology is built into the ear cups themselves. The process of cutting down ambient sound was done within the electronics of the headphones themselves.
When I have used in-ear noise canceling earphones they have always had a large area that housed the battery and the NC electronics somewhere along the cable. This was, of course, a necessary design compromise in order to power the active noise-cancellation with earphones that don’t have a logical place for the battery to reside. It was also awkward and bulky. The one exception to this was the noise canceling earphones that I used with my Sony Xperia Z3. In that case, the process of canceling the noise was actually done within the phone itself.
The Pioneer Rayz delivers active noise cancelation and takes a hybrid approach to it. Unlike the Sony Xperia Z3, the iPhone does not have noise cancellation baked into the handset itself. That means the process of cutting out ambient sound has to take place within the earphones. Previously that would require a “box” for the battery and electronics somewhere along the cable. Thanks to the use of the Lightning port, however, the Rayz use the iPhone’s own battery to power the NC process. And, thanks to Pioneer’s wizardry, they have been able to shrink the electronics down to a size that the fit in the earphones themselves without running the need to make the accessory any larger than it would be, were it to not offer NC. Seriously, if you look at the Rayz, you won’t know they have NC baked into them, but they do!
Pioneer was not, however, content to simply put NC in the Rayz. Instead, they designed the headset to have what they refer to as “Smart noise canceling.”
Rayz adapts its noise cancelling to your ear and the world around you, so you can focus on the things you want.
When working at full blast the noise cancellation works well and gives you a more peaceful environment. When you want more quiet, but also need to be aware of the world around you, you can use the “HearThru” mode. This mode “lets in just enough ambient sound through your noise canceling, for greater awareness of your environment.”
The Rayz also have an AutoPause feature. This means when you take the Rayz off the music will automatically pause. Of course, when you put the Rayz back on the music will resume. I love headphones that have this feature and am thrilled to see it make its way to an in-ear accessory. In fact, I wore the Rayz when I was out walking the dog yesterday, and the AutoPause was fantastic.)
In addition, the controller on the Rayz not only let you control your audio but they also have what Pioneer refers to as a “Smart button.”
With one touch, bring up your favorite app, mute/unmute calls, or launch the Rayz controls. It’s the easiest way to get to the things you love.
The key to controlling the Smart Button is the Rayz App.
It lets you control the equalizer function, the HearThru function, turn the Autopause on and off (why you would want to turn it off is beyond me), Voice Prompts (you can have voice prompts, tone prompts or simply turn off the prompts), and update the firmware of the Rayz. Then there is the Smart Button. It can be used to access a number of key features. It can turn noise cancellation on and off, let you recalibrate the earphones, mute the microphone, launch the Rayz app, launch the Apple music app, launch the phone app or activate the HearThru function.
So there are seven functions but just one Smart Button. Fortunately, you can program the Smart Button through the Rayz app.
It lets you choose three different functions using the same button. It is a fantastic feature and one that I absolutely love. #Winner!!
- Personalized app: Customize your earphone and smart button settings. Software updates add new features. (This is not yet out.)
- Launch Siri: A patented combination of microphones and voice recognition technology allows Siri to better recognize your voice.
- Crystal Clear Calls: Rayz microphone technology ensures your calls come through loud and clear.
- Lightning-powered: Lower current consumption than any other Lightning headset.*
- No batteries required: Smart Noise Cancelling without the hassle of batteries and charging cables.
- Charging port *Available on the Rayz Plus: The Rayz Plus is the first lightning earphone that lets you charge your iPhone even while you use it.
- Built-in digital audio processor and amp: 24-bit 48 kHz processing
Missing in this list is the ability of the app to cause the earphones to calibrate to the listener’s specific ears. This is a feature we have seen on headphones with a much higher price and … here it is on these affordable earphones.
In all, the Pioneer Rayz are a fantastic pair of earphones; they are comfortable, they have on-board noise cancellation without a bulky battery pack, and the Rayz Pro offer charging as you listen. They also have a Smart Button that will become more functional when the app is out. All of this makes the earphones a great offering from Pioneer. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Rayz, however, is the price. At under $100 the Rayz are a bargain. And for less than $150 the Rayz Plus are a great deal too. You can learn more and order yours here.
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample
What I Like: Sound great; Comfortable; In-line controls with Smart Button; Noise cancellation
What Needs Improvement: Don’t include a carrying pouch