When Apple removed the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, we were hopeful. In the months since our new iPhones arrived, we have tried to adapt. Here at iLounge, we have reviewed the latest Bluetooth headphones, gushed over the W1 chip, and praised innovative Lightning headphones that have pushed the boundaries of mobile headphones. However, one problem remained: charging. iPhone 7 users who wanted to listen to music and charge their phones at the same time were stuck with Bluetooth which, at best, left them with one more battery to manage. Pioneer’s feature-packed Rayz Plus ($150) is, to our knowledge, the first Lightning headphone to solve that problem.
The Rayz Plus ships with nothing more than three sizes of ear tips and an instruction card. The design of these IEMs is also simple, with a gray cable and simple gold accents. Its inline control pod is sleek, with four distinct buttons (volume up, volume down, play/pause, and a “Smart Button”). At the bottom of the cable is a side-entry Lightning charging port; this module is rectangular and slightly awkward, but we assume that it’s probably not possible to make it any smaller. The Rayz Plus is minimalist, but don’t let that fool you — its tiny electronics pack a very interesting set of features that we’ve never seen before in a wired headphone.
Rayz Plus’ extra features are best accessed through Pioneer’s free Rayz app. The app is well-designed and easy to use; users can calibrate the headphones to their ears, adjust equalization, set various functions for the control pod Smart Button, and toggle features like Pioneer’s HearThru ambient-aware function, Autopause, battery-saving Eco Mode, and active noise cancellation. We loved the ability to disable the voice prompts (a feature we sorely missed in the Beem’s BeMe D200) and program the Smart Button to our needs. We’re also excited that there’s a “Coming Soon” section promising future feature additions — the quickest way to a tech nerd’s heart is free updates.
Though Rayz Plus’ charging port works exactly as it should, we found the rest of its features to be hit-or-miss. The Autopause function automatically stops the music when the Rayz Plus is taken out of our ears and restarts it when they’re inserted, but in motion we found that it would occasionally stop music while the IEMs were still in our ears. We found the HearThru function nearly useless, since playing music at any reasonable volume seemed to overpower the volume of any ambient sounds that the Rayz Plus let in. ANC is, unfortunately, a disappointment — on NYC subways, we found that it only slightly attenuated midrange ambient noise and seemed to actually amplify wind noise. Unlike Beem’s BeMe D200, we were not able to escape from the rumbling wheels of the subway, even after re-calibrating the Rayz Plus several times.
In testing, we experienced one apparent “glitch” with the Rayz Plus: for no clear reason, the volume level began changing on its own, limiting itself and not responding to the iPhone’s volume controls. This problem continued through re-calibration and even after we restarted the phone. We were ultimately able to fix the error by using the “Factory Reset” function in the Rayz app, and though we never experienced the error again, we can’t help but wonder if the problem could have been fixed at all without using the app.
We listened to the Rayz Plus for a full week in both noisy and quiet environments. At home, we heard a mostly balanced and pleasing sound signature. If we had to nitpick, there were some tracks where we heard slightly hot treble, hints of sibilance, and a slightly recessed midrange that thinned out guitar tone. We would be quick to recommend this sound signature, except that we didn’t hear it out in the world. Though the Rayz Plus is light and comfortable in the ear, we could not get its tips to seal well enough to make its full frequency response audible over ambient noise, even with ANC activated. Walking on noisy streets and commuting on the subway, we heard a sound with greatly recessed low-end, producing a relatively nasal or tinny sound. This reminded us of Apple’s EarPods, where the lack of a good seal makes low-end disappear in noisy environments. Your experience may vary, of course, since IEMs are very sensitive to fit and individual anatomy.
The Pioneer Rayz Plus is a very interesting device that makes yet another great argument for the use of more advanced headphone connectors at a very good price. For the past several months we’ve been complaining about not being able to charge our iOS devices with Lightning headphones, but it was Pioneer – not Apple – who solved the problem. That’s why it is such a shame that the Rayz Plus didn’t quite live up to expectations in testing. On the bright side, we think that many of the issues we encountered are software dependent, and might be improved in future firmware updates. Until then, the Rayz Plus gets our Average rating.
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