The Sonos Ace Headphones

The wireless-speaker and soundbar masters are getting up close and personal …

At some point in the next three to five years, there will be a better over-ear headphone than this new offering from Sonos, the California company known originally for multi-room wireless audio systems and then for TV soundbars.

But for now, the $449 Sonos Ace is the best we’ve heard for the regular, non-obsessive person who is passionate and discriminating about music but mostly listens on an iPhone.

We know there are million-dollar systems and headphones costing thousands, and we respect them. But Sonos’s first foray into personal stereo has produced something remarkable, at least by non-audio-geek standards.

The thing is, the pursuit of audio excellence is almost open-ended. There is no ultimate. Sidney N. Shure, the founder of Shure microphones, said of the audio industry’s ceaseless drive to innovate, “We know very well that absolute perfection cannot be attained but we will never stop striving for it.”

This writer maintains, however, that during that striving, the achievable sound quality can transcend reality. Most live music is a mess sonically; what hi-fi offers is the opportunity to sound, counter-intuitively, better than a live performance.

Why is the Sonos Ace, in your columnist’s view, perhaps even better than reality? Principally because the sound is subtle, detailed, immaculate, and, depending on how far you crank up the volume, gentle or loud as hell. The Bluetooth coupling is instant and faultless. Sonos has eschewed touch controls for proper buttons and switches. A big plus.

The noise cancellation is also fantastic. I’ve been wearing these headphones without music playing just to get some quiet, and they do the job superbly. They also have 30 hours of battery life, after which a three-minute charge will give another three hours.

But there’s more. The Sonos Ace headphones are extremely comfortable and light—almost 20 percent lighter than, say, Apple’s AirPods Max. The headphones look unfussy and unflashy, with minimal Sonos branding. They are also designed to eliminate hair tangles for those with longer hair. They pack unusually flat—incredibly helpful while traveling—into an especially satisfying case that is 75 percent made from recycled plastic bottles.

There is another clever feature that Sonos—and many reviewers—are making a fuss about, but it leaves me somewhat cold. The Ace headphones couple with later-model Sonos soundbars to produce a private immersive home-cinema experience, incorporating an effect whereby whichever way you turn your head, the sound still seems to come from the TV. Sonos believes 80 percent of people at home watch movies with headphones. Fair enough, if they say so.

More impressive for me is the process by which Sonos perfected the sound of the Ace. The company consulted 50 leading music performers and sound engineers to test and tweak prototypes. The team was led by Giles Martin, the supremely accomplished music producer, songwriter, and composer son of the late, great George Martin, of Beatles and Abbey Road Studios fame.

It could be that, having advised Sonos for 10 years, Giles—who is based at Abbey Road just like his dad—is compelled to pronounce the Sonos Ace up to his standards. But along with charm, politeness, and obvious expertise, Giles Martin exudes honesty and integrity. So, given the backing of this best of proper English blokes, I am doubly confident that Santa Barbara’s Sonos has produced something rather wondrous.

The Leica LUX App

The Leica LUX app, $69.99 a year.

The German maker of high-performance photography equipment has officially embraced the iPhone camera …

We tend not to advise on bargain buys here, but in case you’re interested in some $50,000 worth of Leica camera gear for $69.99 a year, Leica has a new iPhone app to simulate a Leica M body, four or five Leica lenses, and a whole bunch of added features and visual effects. There’s even a free version that gives a taste of what the app can do.

While we often make the point that there are many differences between a real camera and a phone camera, the converse—that there are also a lot of similarities between the two—is undeniable. And the new Leica LUX app, which has come about thanks to Leica acquiring a Norwegian tech start-up, Fjorden, is great fun. It also gives your iPhone the ability to take surprisingly Leica-like photos—they’re not nearly as rich or detailed, but they definitely have the company’s signature look about them.

The LUX app’s best trick is to enhance “bokeh”—the Japanese term for throwing a photo’s background out of focus—which makes photographs far more pleasing and professional than the busy, everything-sharp images a phone camera provides. While it’s true that the iPhone’s Portrait Mode does the same, it’s tricky to use, and the Leica LUX photos are almost indefinably classier.

The app allows regular late-model iPhones to replicate four lenses, from a Summilux-M 28-mm. to a Noctilux-M 75-mm. If you download LUX to an iPhone 15 Pro Max, you also get a 135-mm. Telyt medium telephoto lens. Buy the full app and the native iPhone camera will imitate 11 Leica pictorial “looks,” as well as give users manual control over exposure, focus, and white-balance settings. Leica promises to keep adding lenses and features to the app.

Surely the app has been designed to lure people on the cusp of serious photography toward buying a Leica, although honestly, the photos we achieved with LUX are so impressive that the app could also distract dilettantes from buying into Leica for real.

The Segway Navimow i Series Robot Mower

The Segway Navimow i Series Robot Mower, from $999.

A quiet and simple-to-use lawn mower that will spare you the chore without making your life hell …

Robot lawn mowers are dropping in price, not to mention that they are becoming easier to set up. High-end mowers such as the German Kress brand range from $2,400 to nearly $14,000, but robots for under $1,000 are now widely available, especially for smaller lawns—and they mostly no longer require a guide wire to be laboriously dug into the edges of the lawn. Instead, they use cameras to distinguish grass from growing beds or paths.

A friend of this column’s with a flat, even suburban lawn is delighted with his new $499 LawnMaster, from a Chinese company, Cleva. Landing Gear attended the lavish global launch in Germany of another Chinese mower, the $999-plus Navimow iSeries, by Segway, the Beijing-based successor to the formerly American maker of those personal transport devices that aren’t quite scooters and aren’t quite hoverboards.

Segway was bought by its current owner soon after the unfortunate incident in 2010 when the company’s then British C.E.O. died after courteously backing up his Segway to let a dog walker pass him and went over a cliff edge into a river.

The Navimow’s special power is being incredibly quiet, which is important in an urban or suburban setting, because a robot mower is less like a machine you use for 30 minutes over the weekend and more like an electric-powered goat or sheep that nibbles away at your grass in a seemingly random pattern for hours on end, very likely every day.

The Navimow struggled a little with Landing Gear’s test lawn in upstate New York because its shape is peculiar, the grass is tussocky, the ground is bumpy, the satellite guidance it also requires is partially obscured by large overhanging trees, and the local cell-phone signal, which Navimow needs, is poor. Be warned on all counts. As a result of all these factors, the setup took hours, and the machine’s performance, while quite good, would really have been improved by a couple of ruminants.

However, reviews from users with more amenable lawns have been glowing. This achievement is even more impressive in light of an interview your columnist had with one of the very young Segway executives at the launch. I asked whether the Navimow is available in China, because I have never come across a house in China with a lawn. “You’re right, we all live in apartments,” he replied, “but we carefully researched the idea of lawns in the design phase.”

The Artcharya Travel Ready Paint Palette Bundle

The Artcharya Travel Ready Paint Palette Bundle, from $45.

The sweetest way to get into painting (but maybe not grammar) …

This writer’s artistic ability is exceeded by that of a large proportion of chimpanzees, but I couldn’t help being totally charmed by this pocket-size painting set that mysteriously appeared on my Facebook feed within hours of my saying to my partner that I’d love to take up painting.

There’s no indication of where Artcharya comes from, and whoever they are, they declined to respond to e-mails. But my Travel Ready Paint Palette Bundle turned up—seemingly from China—within a couple of weeks in a basket printed with flowers and the slightly opaque inspirational message “Starts on a journey you and me sweet love full of happiness.”

Inside the basket was a box tied with a ribbon proclaiming, “Happy everyday.” Inside the box was the painting set.

Clearly aimed at potential miniaturists, the set comprises a book of 22 squares of good-quality art paper, each just under two and a half inches square; an eight-color palette of good water paints (just enough for 22 miniatures); a mixing surface; and a clever fine-tipped brush with its own built-in water supply. It’s a cute design, the only flaw being that to remove individual paintings, one would need a knife—perforations would be better.

Artcharya is very sweet and unusual, an amusing gift for anyone with artistic ambition or going on a trip. It may not be technology, strictly speaking, but it’s kind of a gadget, and I like it.

Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer at the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology