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Zero1 Awards 2018 – Cameras – Entry-Level Full-Frame DSLR

December 6, 2018 — by Digit0

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Every few years, the entry-level DSLR sees infusions of new technologies, thanks to the threat posed by smartphones. Given the rate at which smartphones are improving and people preferring convenience over image quality, DSLR makers have their work cut out for them. This year, there haven’t been many launches in the entry-level DSLR segment, with Canon launching a handful of options and Nikon having completely refrained from launching anything in the segment.

This made the fight a little biased towards the Canon camp. Interestingly, the market trend has been consistently indicating the declining sales of the entry-level DSLR segment around the world, and a growing shift towards mirrorless cameras. While Nikon hasn’t launched anything in India since the Nikon D850 which launched in 2017, the company did release their full frame mirrorless Z6 and Z7 in India right after their international announcements. Let’s get into the details of the winner in this category.

2018 Zero1 Award Winner: Canon EOS 3000D

When we tested the Canon EOS 3000D, we knew we were handling a really great camera for beginners. The 9-point AF system with its 1 cross-type point enabled the camera to take photos in a whole host of shooting conditions reliably. The shutter response was good which when coupled with the AF system, meant that there were negligible missed shots. The autofocus slowed down slightly in low light situations, but the ISO performance was impressive, allowing us to push it all the way to ISO 6400 without a worry, which is impressive for an entry-level DSLR.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the EOS 3000D is the quality of the images, both RAW and JPG. For shooting video, you will need to invest in an image stabilised lens so that you can make the best of what the sensor can produce. FullHD video coming out of the Canon EOS 3000D looks wonderful and if you’re just looking to capture some home videos, this is an ideal camera for it. Good image quality combined with impressive high ISO performance and an adequately fast AF system is why the Canon EOS 3000D wins the Zero1 Award for Entry Level DSLR.

Best Buy: Canon EOS 1500D

The Canon EOS 1500D is in many ways the same camera like the EOS 3000D, but with a few, but important differences. The 24-megapixel sensor offers more resolution than the EOS 3000D, resulting in an adverse impact on the high ISO performance. The autofocus system is still a solid performer. Canon has developed one of the most responsive and intuitive touchscreen systems for DSLRs, but the Canon EOS 1500D does not have one. At the entry level price point, you’re getting basic, raw performance with a small drizzle of features. Of course, if a touchscreen is absolutely necessary for you, you will have to increase your budget.

However, based on the number of queries we receive for a great camera that costs as much as (or lower) than a high-end flagship, the Canon EOS 1500D is a no-brainer. However, we should warn you that anything above ISO 3200 on the EOS 1500D and you will be seeing noise in your photos. Best way to avoid that would be to pair the camera with a nice prime lens with a wide aperture to let in more light. Because of all the positive aspects, we consider the Canon EOS 1500D the best buy for entry-level DSLR.

Camera

Zero1 Awards 2018 – Cameras – High-end Mirrorless

December 6, 2018 — by Digit0

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Just five years ago, no one would have believed that mirrorless cameras would become a tool much loved by professional photographers. This year, we saw Sony release two full-frame mirrorless cameras aimed at different types of professionals, but this is something they’ve been doing for three years now. What really marked the “arrival” of professional mirrorless cameras is Canon and Nikon both jumping into these treacherous but innovative waters.

With this consideration, this year’s Zero1 awards, for the first time, look at a diverse offering when it comes to professional mirrorless cameras. Zero1 Awards is Digit’s platform that recognizes and rewards products that yield the absolute best performance, price no bar. Keeping that in mind, let’s look at the winner of the Best High-end Mirrorless Camera award for 2018 and a few important mentions that we have featured as well.

2018 Zero1 Award Winner: Sony A7 Mark III

The Sony A7 Mark III might appear to be the third generation, full-frame mirrorless camera by name, but in reality, Sony has refined its technologies over multiple cameras before launching this one. The Sony A7 Mark III borrows heavily from the Sony A9, taking its superior AF (Auto-Focus) system and the same 24-megapixel back-side illuminated sensor, minus the DRAM-layer.

This allows the A7 Mark III to shoot at speeds up to 10 frames per second in RAW, with AF Tracking enabled. The dual SD Card slots help in ensuring the integrity of recorded images and the battery life gave us closer to 985 shots using the viewfinder and monitor interchangeably which is pretty impressive. The images from the Sony A7 Mark III retained details and colour accuracy all the way up to ISO 125000, requiring little to no noise reduction. There’s very little about the Sony A7 Mark III to criticize, with top-notch performance. Based on its all-round performance, the Sony A7 Mark III wins our Zero1 award.

Runner-Up: Nikon Z7

We tested the Nikon Z7 with the expectations that it would match the performance of the Nikon D850, which set the benchmark for high-resolution full-frame sensors. With a 45 megapixel sensor, the Z7 delivers RAW files with a latitude for exposure correction of a little over 3-stops, allowing the dynamic range to be extended greatly in post.

The burst mode delivers on its promise and the AF system manages to keep up with most fast-moving subjects. The low light performance yields clean RAW files up to ISO 6400 but requires employing noise reduction for anything higher than that. While the Nikon Z7 does have incredible sensor performance, it loses out to the Sony A7 Mark III in terms of AF and burst speed, including its AF tracking capabilities.

Best Buy: Canon EOS R

Canon’s maiden full frame, mirrorless camera comes with a 30-megapixel full-frame sensor that not only delivers impressive performance for photos and videos but also plays home to 5665 autofocus points that make this camera an absolute beast when it comes to focussing performance.

It is, however, held back by its slow burst mode of 5fps when AF Tracking is enabled, otherwise, the camera can hit 8fps with AF locked. This results in a reduced overall performance score, but considering the price, the Canon gets our best value recommendation, since it is pretty much a steal.

Smart Speaker

Zero1 Awards 2018 – Audio – Smart Speakers

December 6, 2018 — by Digit0

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The smart speakers market, though still small, is a promising one. Last year we only had Amazon selling its first-gen Echo devices. This year, Google joined the bandwagon with its dated 2016 models. It’s still a start nonetheless. More importantly, other mainstream audio experts like Harman and Bose have started to incorporate virtual assistants in their speaker designs. We tested Smart speakers for their overall performance, which included audio quality, microphone sensitivity, and software efficiency.

Because of logistical issues we were unable to include several smart speakers in our list this year, including Harman Kardon’s Allure, and Bose’s Home Speaker series, both of which included Amazon Alexa. Unfettered by the non-availability of these models, we carried on. We decided to choose between the current flagship models sold by Google and Amazon in India—Google Home and Amazon Echo Plus. Had Amazon decided to commence sales of its other global Echo models like the Echo Sub, we’d have included them in our evaluation. Nonetheless, the winner of this year’s Digit Zero1 award for the title of Best Smart Speaker is…

2018 Zero1 Award Winner: Amazon Echo Plus

smart speakers

The second-generation Amazon Echo Plus was launched this year along with ten other Echo devices, of which only this and the Echo Dot made it to India. Inside its cylindrical fabric-finished body it has a 0.8-inch tweeter and a 3-inch neodymium woofer. It has a seven-microphone array to listen actively for wake calls. To report ambient temperature the Echo Plus employs a dedicated temperature sensor, apart from relying on popular weather feeds. The Echo Plus has a single 3.5mm audio jack on the back that works as not just line-out (like in the first-gen model) but as line-in as well.

The sound is clear with low and high-frequencies sounding sharp, even if mids are a little weak. Alexa wakes up to wake calls easily from most parts of a large bedroom even when music is playing. Like last year’s model, it can connect to smartphones like any other portable speaker via Bluetooth for audio streaming. The Echo Plus can turn connected lights and air purifiers on and off because it doubles up as a Hub device with support for ZigBee-enabled equipment.

With its more-than-agreeable sound output, multiple connectivity options, and Alexa’s skillfulness, the 2018 Amazon Echo Plus wins the Digit Zero1 award for the title of Best Smart Speaker.

Runner-up: Google Home

Google launched the Home smart speaker in 2016 globally but decided to bring it to India only this year. Inside its plastic body, it houses a 2-inch driver for vocals and dual 2-inch passive radiators for low-frequency thumps.

The sound is not particularly great, but it’s not shabby either. The setup works fine for vocals and string instruments but fails to deliver thump when the beat drops. The microphone setup works well enough in closed office spaces but misses the mark amongst background sounds in larger spaces. It misses out on necessary connectivity options like line-in and line-out, which confines audio playback to its inbuilt speakers. Though it’s got the popular Google Assistant behind the wheel, it comes second because of its modest hardware and sound output.

Cabinets

Zero1 Awards 2018 – Desktop – Mid-Tower PC Cases

December 6, 2018 — by Digit0

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We have seen discernible steps toward innovation in PC cases. While the previous year was more about RGB-fying the case, this year we saw improvements which were actually functional. It’s great that manufacturers are now creating dedicated routes or channels for the cables which translate to minimal effort while connecting components. Some manufacturers of PC cases are adding cable routes and some are using covers to hide the cables.

The other interesting improvements are fan and lighting connectors or hubs being pre-installed in many cases. Sometimes builders run out of fan headers on their motherboard and they are unable to add more fans or lighting strips. This takes care of expandability in the future. Some PC cases come with vertical graphics card mounts, however, they don’t offer better cooling, only aesthetics.

2018 Zero1 Award Winner: Corsair Obsidian 500D SE RGB

One of the best-looking cases this year was the Corsair Obsidian 500D. It sports tempered glass on three sides with RGB intake fans at the front. Two tempered glass side panels have been installed using a hinged mechanism which is convenient. Build quality is also impressive and feels premium. There’s enough space to accommodate amazing open-looped liquid cooled builds.

The 500D won by a small margin with the Fractal Design Define R6 coming close. In its default configuration, the cooling was brilliant. However, to check the full cooling capacity, we also add additional fans while maintaining a balanced pressure. This is where the Obsidian 500D shone and overtook its competitors in PC cases.

Runner-up: Fractal Design Define R6

Fractal Design’s flagship, the Define R6 is built like a tank majorly made of thick steel with no compromise in build quality. It performs way above average PC cases owing to the pre-installed fans. Thermal performance on the Define R6 was really close to the Obsidian 500D in the default configuration but it lost in the full-fan capacity configuration.

Although the case misses out on the award, it still offers the best kind of features you could ask for in a case that makes assembling simpler. The modularity inside is impressive. Most of the compartments and trays can be removed based on what kind of a build you need. You get all of this at quite a competitive price compared to the other premium PC cases.

Best Buy: Cooler Master MasterBox MB530P

Cooler Master has been aggressively releasing PC cases over the last two years, targetting various price segments and aesthetics to appeal to everyone. This has resulted into a vast lineup of cases out of which they nominated the MasterBox MB530P for the Zero1 Awards. Without comparison, the case delivers better than average thermal performance but it wasn’t enough to take away the award.

It did perform close to the winner and the runner-up in its idle state but the case generated more heat under load. This was the case for both the CPU and graphics card stress testing runs. However, the asking price is surprisingly good. Especially, when you factor in the performance of the case along with the build quality and features.

Gaming Monitors

Zero1 Awards 2018 – Desktop – Gaming Monitors

December 6, 2018 — by Digit0

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Gaming monitors or panels didn’t evolve much this year. We mostly saw more panels adopting higher refresh rates but in terms of innovation, there wasn’t much of note this year. The highest refresh rate for gaming monitors is still 240 Hz and going higher isn’t going to add much to one’s experience. Essentially, we’re saying that higher refresh rate gaming monitors have become more affordable.

Then there’s the ongoing adaptive-sync battle between FreeSync and G-Sync that seems to be favouring the former. We’ve also seen more sales of curved monitors but it continues to remain a measly fraction of the overall sales figures for this category. More games on the PC and console are increasingly incorporating HDR and to cater to this demand, we’ve seen more manufacturers offer monitors with HDR support but these continue to be on the expensive side of the spectrum.

2018 Zero1 Award Winner: Acer Predator XB271HK

The Acer Predator XB271HK is an extremely popular gaming monitor at the moment. It’s not a high refresh rate monitor but the AHVA panel on the XB271HK is very good and it has support for G-sync. Given that the market is dominated by NVIDIA cards at the moment, this gaming monitor makes for a great accompaniment.

After all, the whole point of getting a high refresh rate monitor is to enjoy fluid visuals and having an adaptive sync monitor does just that. There’s also the fact that the AU Optronics panel used in the XB271HK supports true 10-bit colour depth.

If you were to put all of these aside, then the primary factor why the XB271HK won this year’s Zero1 Award for the best gaming monitor is its low input lag of approximately 4 milliseconds. It also has one of the lowest average ΔE values from all the gaming monitors we’ve tested so far, so the victory is well deserved.

Runner-up: BenQ EL2870U

BenQ’s EL2870U is being marketed by BenQ as an entertainment monitor. So that doesn’t make it a true gaming monitor but we took a look at the hardware to judge it ourselves. It’s not a true 10-bit panel but an 8-bit panel with FRC. This makes it closer to an 8-bit panel than to a 10-bit panel.

That being said, it has a response time of 1 ms owing to the TN panel used. Not only that, even the input lag is very low but not enough to beat the Acer Predator XB271HK.

Headphones

Zero1 Awards 2018 – Audio – Wired Headphones

December 6, 2018 — by Digit0

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In the headphone vs earphone battle, there are way too many serious, sensible points on either side of the camp for us to take a side. Instead, just like every year, we’ve chosen to bring to you the best of both worlds. This one’s about the wired headphones that encompass your ear in their sound.

There hasn’t been as much of a change in the basic technology that goes into these devices as there has been a focus on better material and build quality. We’ve seen an overall improvement in the type of connectors available, a growing preference for balanced outputs from DAC and DSPs and much more. In the end, however, what gets one the Zero1 award is how they sound when you place them on your head.

2018 Zero1 Award Winner: Audeze LCD MX4

It’s great when a manufacturer with a great reputation in audio decides to make a great pair of headphones. But do you know what’s even better? When that manufacturer decides to take two of its best headphones ever and combine their best parts into a new product. The LCD MX4 is, according to Audeze, the ‘lovechild of the LCD4 and the LCDX’ and it is pretty evident that this thing is a labour of love.

The sonic experience with the LCD MX4 is bright, revealing and energetic. Instead of focussing on sheer power, the MX4 decides to immerse you into a well-rounded listening experience that shines right from the lower midrange up to the highest treble. Power by planar magnetic drivers that work with trademarked Audeze technology, the MX4 is also considerably more comfortable compared to its predecessors. That being said, it is a tad bit tiring to wear it for extended durations. But that’s the price you have to pay for sheer audio quality!

Runner-Up: Ultrasone Edition eleven

While it did come in second, the Ultrasone Edition eleven lost out on the top spot by a fairly small margin. A limited edition piece, only 1,111 of these headphones will ever be manufactured. The unit features a circumaural open back design and uses walnut wood as the material of choice for the enclosure. The 40mm driver does a fabulous job of using the design to its advantage and pushes a sound signature that is airy and bright.

The MX4 could snatch the crown away firmly due to the Edition eleven’s slight obsession with sounding flat and the MX4’s better detail handling capability. However, if you’re don’t really mind weaker lows in your music then Edition eleven could be a great choice for you. That is, if you can snag one of these limited edition masterpieces.

Best Buy: 1More Triple Driver Over Ear

The 1MORE Triple Driver Over-Ear headphone was a pleasant surprise in this year’s Zero1 awards. Featuring an impressive build at its price point, the audio performance of the Triple Driver stands out due to its clarity despite leaning a bit towards bass response. The portable build makes it easy to carry around in your bag, and the impressive design will make you want to show them off.

Multiple things make these the ideal entry-level audiophile gear. The low power requirements make a dedicated amp unnecessary. A well-defined soundstage on the 1MORE Triple Driver Over-Ear doesn’t adhere to the usually restricted closed back response. What makes this one lose out is the sheer difference in detailing and balancing that is evident between itself and the more expensive competitors that it’s faced. Even if it did lose out, it did so gloriously.

Professional Monitors

Zero1 Awards 2018 – Desktop – Professional Monitors

December 6, 2018 — by Digit0

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Professional monitors are diametrically opposite to gaming panels. They offer way better colour reproduction and use panels that exhibit the least colour distortion with regards to the viewing angles. Professional monitors also feature a host of features catered towards making life easy for those in the media business.

Additionally, they come certified to work with industry standard software right out of the box. These are by no means meant for beginners but for those who are professionally engaged. Most professional monitors usually sport a hefty price tag but this year was a bit surprising compared to the rest. Read on to find out.

2018 Zero1 Award Winner: Acer ET322QK

Sporting a 31.5-inch 10-bit VA panel, the Acer ET322QK is an absolutely massive monitor, to begin with. It’s got a high contrast ratio of 3000:1 but wasn’t the brightest of the lot that we received this year. However, being a VA panel, it did have a better response time of 4ms against the other contenders which had 5ms IPS panels. And like every good professional monitor, it comes with an Anti-glare matte finish.

Aside from all this, the key point here is the colour reproduction and the Acer ET322QK surely excels in that arena. We measured an average fjE of 0.62 across all colour patches with the lowest 90% averaging fjE 0.48 and the highest 10% averaging fjE 1.91. These numbers were approximately 20-30% lower than the second best candidate. Naturally, the Acer ET322QK had an easy win in the Zero1 Awards in the category of Professional Monitors.

Runner-up: BenQ SW271

The BenQ SW271 is the other 10-bit panel that we received this year. It is a bit brighter than the Acer ET322QK but unfortunately, sports a lower contrast ratio. Also, the panel is IPS so it has uniform viewing angles but the downside is that the response time is slightly greater (5ms). In our benchmarks, the BenQ SW271 exhibited an average fjE of 0.98 for all colour patches and in 90% of all the most accurately reproduced patches, the fjE was 0.64.

In the top 10% with the highest deviation, the fjE was 4.05. This makes the BenQ SW271 a pretty good panel with excellent colour reproduction. For the human eye, this difference is minuscule but for the Zero1 Awards, even such low numbers matter, therefore granting it the position of the runner-up in this category.

Runner-up: ASUS PA27AC

ASUS sent us an 8-bit panel for the professional segment. It was the brightest of the lot with a reported value of 400 cd/m2 but the contrast ratio was the same as the BenQ SW271. The panel is IPS as well and it has a response time of 5ms but the 8-bit panel is where the ASUS PA27AC loses the advantage. In our profiling, the average fjE valued measured was 2.14 which is way higher than all the other contenders.

On a granular level, the lowest 90% of the colour patches averaged at a fjE value of 1.18 whereas the highest 10% averaged at 10.69. This is a bit higher than what we’d expected and subsequently led to the PA27AC dropping down to third place in the category of Professional Monitors in the 2018 Zero1 awards.

IEMs

Zero1 Awards 2018 – Audio – Wired IEMs

December 6, 2018 — by Digit0

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The last year in audio has been more about going wireless than anything else. We have a brand new ‘True Wireless’ category in this year’s Zero1 for those looking to ditch wires in all forms when it comes to IEMs. However, there’s a certain allure with wired earphones that is hard to ignore. In a direct comparison, it is hard to deny the edge that wired IEMs hold over their wireless counterparts.

Established brand names and newer players, have all been focussed on tweaking their technology to help you find the just right signature for your preference. Some are bringing more than a couple of drivers in a compact form factor at an affordable price, whereas others try to bring technologies usually reserved for over-ear headphones. Let’s jump straight into the best wired IEMs of 2018.

2018 Zero1 Award Winner: Campfire Audio Atlas

Campfire Audio is not a new name to the world of quality, boutique audio devices. So when the Atlas made its way into our test labs for this year’s Zero1 awards, we were excited. Sporting signature CA technology like the ADLC diaphragm, the Atlas hosts a pair of 10mm dynamic drivers. These drivers are packed inside a stainless steel enclosure that looks like something right out of a cyberpunk movie. With Beryllium / Copper MMCX connections on the Silver Litz cable, Campfire Audio quite evidently avoids all shortcuts to success with the Atlas.

The sound of the Campfire Audio Atlas is beyond anything we’ve experienced so far with wired IEMs. There’s a certain fullness to the overall sound that makes every type of music come alive. The driving force of the Atlas is its bass, with just the right amount of punch that eases you into the lows without sounding harsh. The mids on it are a thing of beauty, driving tracks like Adele’s Hello with a powerful finesse that just puts it a league ahead of its competition.

If we were to forcefully pry apart some minor chinks in the Atlas’ stainless steel armour of audio, it would be in the highs where there’s a tad bit too much brightness, but it still handles tracks with significant high-end density better than most other wired IEMs we’ve heard. The detailing and soundstaging on the Atlas is also par excellence, with tried and tested tracks like Hotel California revealing new musical information at its behest, and Bjork’s vocals on Hunter flowing smoothly through a precise cornucopia of instruments. The Atlas bags this year’s victory.

Runner-Up: Audeze LCDi4

With the entrance of Audeze in the portable IEM market, we expected the iSine 10 and 20 lineups to continue. However, Audeze decided to release a flagship IEM, the LCDi4, that features some technology that goes into the full-sized LCD4. This does give the i4 a higher level of performance than last year’s iSine, but it falls short of the Atlas on a couple of counts.

First, it is quite a chore to wear these units. Featuring a wider than usual trunk, which causes discomfort after a short period of usage. Additionally, due to the elongated trunk, the driver units stick out at a distance from your ear, with nearly no isolation. In the audio department, the LCDi4 is quite close to what we would call a neutral signature.

However, the sound was a little too laid back, lacking the oomph necessary on several tracks. A lot of people might actually prefer this over the Atlas if they’re sticklers for a flat sound and being able to configure their own signature, with the help of external DSPs and EQs. However, for us, that requirement acts against the i4’s case.

Best Buy: FiiO FH5

Coming in behind the Winner and the Runner-up, the FiiO FH5 definitely takes the cake in terms of pricing. Sporting a quad driver configuration with a 10mm dynamic driver for the lows, a single larger mid-range BA for the mids and a dual driver for the lower and upper treble, the FH5’s proficiency in audio shows through in its capable performance across the spectrum.

At its price point, the build quality, options in tips and the connectors available are at par with some of the uber expensive IEMs that have made it into our hands. Definitely a good choice for entering the world of high-end audio with IEMs.

Gaming Desktop

Zero1 Awards 2018 – Desktop – Gaming

December 6, 2018 — by Digit0

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COMPUTEX 2018 saw many component manufacturers come up with their own desktop gaming machines. Most of the components inside were from their own brand which is a worrying trend. Component manufacturers are seeing a drop in sales so selling assembled machines increase their bottom line. Therefore, the company will see a boost in revenue due to bundled sales.

MSI enter the assembled market in a huge way but little of that made its way to India. Even GIGABYTE began selling almost every component in India. Other OEMs will soon start coming up with their own offerings. Those who already had assembled machines, they just went crazy with the configurations.

ASUS and Acer packed flagship hardware into their machines and ZOTAC have revitalised their desktop lineup. We didn’t see a lot of these machines in India, but the coming years should be exciting.

2018 Zero1 Award Winner: Acer Orion 9000

Acer is one of the first companies who started bringing their mainstream launches to India about the same time as they do globally. With the Orion 9000, Acer is going the boutique PC way so, you can get your own customised configuration. The standardised unit config sold in India comes with an Intel Core i9-7900X, 16 GB of RAM, an NVIDIA GTX 1080 Ti, 32 GB of Optane memory and a custom Cooler Master AIO.

The motherboard and graphics cars are Acer’s own. Also, the SMPS is by FSP which is a good option for high-end configuration. This SKU scored 6792 in 3D Mark Fire Strike Ultra and in 4K games, the FPS would be about 65-70 in most AAA titles running at max setting. Acer seems to have gone all out with this configuration and there was no other brand with a configuration to match. So you can see why the Acer Orion ended up getting this year’s Zero1 Award.

Runner-up: GIGABYTE BRIX VR GB-BNi7HG6-1060

The BRIX was a surprise runner-up this time given that it uses a combination of a mobile Intel CPU with a GTX 1060. Other contenders came with desktop grade CPUs and GPUs but lost out to the BRIX.

It’s because the BRIX has a Core i7-7700HQ which is a quad-core processor with multi-threading while the other contenders were either using Intel Core i5 desktop processors or low-power mobile processors. There’s also the simple fact that it’s really compact, taking us just 2.6L of space. Want more? Well, it’s priced at `76,500 which makes it our Best Buy in this category as well.

Runner-up: ZOTAC GAMING MEK1

ZOTAC has had their ZBOX machines for a really long time. Earlier this year, we started to see the MEK1 gaming PCs make an appearance. ZOTAC simply gave the ZBOX a brand new avatar and bundled peripherals with the package. Their MEK1 machines are not only designed to appeal to a modern aesthetic but they’re also more focused on the gaming aspect.

The only downside that we see is that all the SKUs that are sold in India feature the older 7th Gen CPUs. For folks wanting to build a gaming PC, the 8th Gen CPUs offer a marked increase in performance so there’s little reason to settle with the older gen CPUs.

However, that doesn’t make much of a difference with real-world performance and the MEK1 ends up being our other runner-up. The only reason it lags behind the BRIX is because the MEK1 uses a Core i5-7400 which lacks Hyperthreading.

IEMs

Zero1 Awards 2018 – Audio – Wireless IEMs

December 6, 2018 — by Digit0

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Cutting the cord has been the way to go in audio this year. This needs a special mention for wireless IEMs this year which face stiff competition from wired IEMs. They offer better quality while true wireless IEMs on another taking portability to the next level. Wireless IEMs, with cords tying the two buds together or with a neckband design, have the responsibility of making both worlds meet and do so in a way that is impressive yet budget-friendly.

Things look promising on the higher end too. With better codecs coming into play on smartphones packing better hardware, IEMs have caught up with the trend and have packed in support for quite a few advanced codecs. As a result, wireless IEMs this year sound better than ever and form an interesting category for Zero1 awards. Let’s have a look at this year’s winner.

2018 Zero1 Award Winner: Beoplay E6

Bang and Olufsen need no introduction. The Beoplay E6 follows their signature design style and definitely looks and feels premium. The Beoplay E6 defies its size and makes quite a few tracks sound grander than you would expect from a wireless IEM by featuring sound that is big and full. The bass response is quite perfect, without any unnecessary overpowering.

While it doesn’t compare to the best that wired IEMs had to offer this year, it offers a great option to people who need to go wireless and don’t want to cut corners when it comes to build quality and audio performance. Coming back to the audio, the E6 also handles the mids exceptionally well. with powerful vocals in the high mids like those of Adele soaring amid the detailed instruments around it. The lower mids are also handled well.

Tracks like Choti Si Asha let the E6 showcase its ability to handle detail, with each individual instrument being reproduced accurately, with just the right amount of balance between warmth and brightness. The highs are also well rendered throughout the listening experience. The E6 allows you to fine-tune the sound but we went with its default performance which was enough to get it the top position.

Runner-Up: Sennheiser Momentum Free

Sennheiser’s Momentum series has a reputation to maintain and the Momentum Free it did not fail to impress. The Momentum Free held its own in our tests with most tracks that we could throw at it but it lagged a bit behind the E6 in terms of detail and soundstaging. On the lows, it packed an adequate punch but lost out on timbre, which was handled well by the E6.

The Momentum Free sounded much better on tracks that are quieter overall as compared to densely packed music. The overall sound can be described as warm, but with a sweetness that the Momentum lineup is known for.

Best Buy: Jays a-Six Wireless

Not winning material but the Jays a-Six is definitely going to strike a chord with fans of popular music. Its sound signature is considerably on the warm side. However, it also does justice to the rest of the spectrum, to the best of its abilities. The a-Six wireless is the Swedish audio house’s first wireless piece. The inexperience does show through when pitted against more capable counterparts.

However, there’s a significant price difference between them and the a-Six Wireless, which makes it an excellent choice in case you’re looking to get a good sounding pair of wireless headphones on a budget.