Connect with us

Uncategorized

A Biden presidency doesn’t need a Green New Deal to make progress on climate change

Published

on

Even without a Green New Deal, the sweeping set of climate-related initiatives many Democrats are pushing for, President-elect Joe Biden will have plenty of opportunities to move ahead with much of the ambitious energy transformation plan as part of any infrastructure or stimulus package.

Should Republicans manage to maintain control of the Senate, there are still several opportunities to build climate-friendly policies into the infrastructure and stimulus bills Congress will be pushing through as its first orders of business, according to experts, investors and advisors to the President-elect.

That’s good news for established companies and the wave of startups focused on technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global climate change. And these changes could happen despite intransigence from even moderate Republicans like Mitt Romney on climate issues.

“I think people are saying that conservative principles still account for a majority of public opinion in our country,” Romney said on “Meet the Press” Sunday. “I don’t think they want to sign up for a Green New Deal. I don’t think they want to sign up for getting rid of coal or oil or gas. I don’t think they’re interested in Medicare for All or higher taxes that would slow down the economy.”

Already, current market conditions are forcing some of the largest oil, gas and energy companies to transition to renewables. As those companies begin closing refineries in the U.S., Congress is going to feel increasing pressure to find a way to replace those jobs.

For instance, Shell announced earlier this month in Louisiana that it was closing a factory and laying off roughly 650 workers. The closure is primarily due to declining demand for oil brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, but both Netherlands-headquartered Shell and its U.K.-based counterpart BP believe fossil fuel consumption may have reached its peak in 2019 and is headed for long-term decline.

U.S. oil and gas giants aren’t immune from the economic impacts of COVID-19 and a global shift away from fossil fuels either. Two of the largest companies, Chevron and ExxonMobil, have seen their share prices decline over the past year as the oil industry reckons with steep reductions in demand and other market pressures.

Meanwhile, some of the nation’s largest utilities are working to phase out fossil fuel-based power generation.

The markets are already supporting the transition to renewable energy, without much government guidance, at least here in the U.S. So against this backdrop, the question isn’t if the government should be supporting the transition to renewable energy, but how quickly stimulus can be mobilized to save American jobs.

“A lot of the really consequential climate-related stuff that’s going to come out in the [near term] … won’t actually be related to renewables,” an advisor to the President-elect said.

So the questions become: What will economic stimulus look like? How will it be distributed? and how will it be financed?

Image Credits: Artem_Egorov/Getty Images

Economic stimulus, COVID-19 and climate

President-elect Biden has already spelled out the first priorities for his incoming administration. While trying to manage the COVID-19 pandemic that has already killed over 238,000 Americans comes first, dealing with the economic fallout caused by the response to the pandemic will quickly follow.

Climate-friendly initiatives will loom large in that effort, analysts and advisors indicate, and could be a boon to new technology companies — as well as longtime players in the fossil fuels business.

“If we are going to be spending that money, there is an enormous opportunity to make sure that these investments are moving us forward and not recreating problems,” said one advisor to the Biden campaign earlier this year.

To understand how the trillions of dollars that are up for grabs will be spent, it’s helpful to think in terms of short-, medium- and long-term goals.

In the short term, the focus will be on “shovel-ready” projects that can be spun up as quickly as possible. These would be initiatives like environmental retrofits and building upgrades; repairing and upgrading water systems and electricity grids; providing more manufacturing incentives for electric vehicles; and potentially boosting money for environmental remediation and reclamation projects.

In all, that spending could total $750 billion by some estimates and would be used to get Americans back to work with a focus on industrial and manufacturing jobs that could have long-term benefits for the national economy — especially if that spending targets the government-designated Opportunity Zones carved out around the country to help low-income rural and urban communities.

If these efforts incorporate Opportunity Zones, there’s a chance to deploy the cash even faster. And if there are ways to preferentially rank infrastructure projects that also include a tech component, then that’s even better for startups who have managed to overcome hurdles associated with technology risk.

“Any time you craft policy, especially federal policy, you have to be so careful that the incentives line up correctly with what you’re trying to achieve,” said a Biden advisor.

Medium- and longer-term goals will likely require more time to plan and develop, because they’re relying on newer technologies in some cases, or they will have to wind their way through the planning process at the local and state levels before they can receive federal funds to begin construction.

Expect another $60 billion to be spent on these projects to finance development, workforce training and reskilling to prepare a labor force for a different kind of labor market.

Incentives over mandates 

One of the biggest risks that Biden administration climate policies face is the potential for legal challenges heard before an increasingly sympathetic conservative judiciary appointed under the Trump administration.

These challenges could force the Biden team to emphasize the financial benefits of adopting business-friendly carrots over regulatory sticks.

“Whenever possible you do want to let the markets figure themselves out,” said the advisor to the President-elect. “You always want to default to incentives rather than mandates.”

Coming off of the news this week that Pfizer has received positive results for its vaccine, there are some models from the current administration’s progress on a COVID-19 vaccine that can be instructive.

While Pfizer wasn’t involved in the Operation Warp Speed program created by the Department of Health and Human Services, the company did cut a $2 billion deal with the government that guaranteed a market for its vaccines.

The type of public-private partnerships that Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy mentions could also be employed in the climate space — especially in areas that will be hardest hit by the transition away from coal.

Some of that spending guarantee could come in the form of environmental remediation for orphaned natural gas wells or coal mining operations — especially in regions of the country like the Dakotas, Montana, West Virginia and Wyoming, that would be hardest hit by a transition away from fossil fuels. Some could come from the development of new geothermal engineering projects that require the same kind of skills that engineering firms and oil companies have developed over the past decades.

And, there’s the looming promise of a hydrogen-based economy, which could take advantage of some of the existing oil-and-gas infrastructure and expertise that exists in the country to transition to a cleaner energy future (n.b., that’s not necessarily a clean energy future, but it’s a cleaner one).

Already, nations like Japan are building the groundwork for replacing oil with hydrogen fuels, and these kinds of incentive-based programs and public-private partnerships could be a big boost for startups in a number of industries as well.

Image Credits: Cameron Davidson/Getty Images

Sharing the wealth (rural edition)

Any policies that a Biden administration enacts would have to focus on economic opportunity broadly, and much of the proposed plan from the campaign fulfills that need. One of its key propositions was that it would be “creating good, union, middle-class jobs in communities left behind, righting wrongs in communities that bear the brunt of pollution, and lifting up the best ideas from across our great nation — rural, urban and tribal,” according to the transition website.

An early emphasis on grid and utility infrastructure could create significant opportunities for job creation across America — and be a boost for technology companies.

“Our electric power infrastructure is old, aging and not secure,” said Abe Yokell, co-founder of the energy and climate-focused venture capital firm Congruent Ventures. “From an infrastructure standpoint, transmission distribution really should be upgraded and has been underinvested over the years. And it is in direct alignment with providing renewable energy deployment across the U.S. and the electrification of everything.”

Combining electric infrastructure revitalization with new broadband capabilities and monitoring technologies for power and water would be a massive windfall for companies like Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), and other networking companies. It also provides utilities with a way to adjust their rates (which they appreciate).

Those infrastructure upgrades are also useful in helping utilities find a way to repurpose stranded coal assets that are both costly and — increasingly — useless.

“Coal … it doesn’t make sense to burn coal anymore,” Yokell said. “People are doing it even though it’s out of the money for liability reasons … everyone is looking to retire coal even in the assets.”

If those assets can be decommissioned and repurposed to act as nodes on a distributed energy grid using energy storage to smooth capacity in the same way that those coal plants used to, “it’s a massive win,” according to Yokell. Adoption of energy storage used to be a cost issue, Yokell said. “It’s now a siting issue.”

Repowering old hydroelectric assets with newer, more efficient technologies offer another way to move the needle with shovel-ready projects and is an area where startups could stand to benefit from the push. It’s also a way to bring jobs to rural communities.

The promise of infrastructure spending can be born out across urban and rural areas, but the stimulus benefits don’t end there.

For rural communities there are business opportunities in “climate-smart agriculture, resilience and conservation, including 250,000 jobs plugging abandoned oil and natural gas wells and reclaiming abandoned coal, hardrock and uranium mines,” as the Biden transition team notes. And there’s a huge opportunity for oil industry workers to find jobs in the new and growing tech-enabled geothermal energy industry.

The farm subsidies that have skyrocketed under the Trump administration could continue, just with a more climate-focused bent. Instead of literally giving away the farm to the tune of a projected $46 billion that the Trump administration will hand out to farmers over the course of 2020, payouts could be predicated on “carbon farming.” Wooing the farm vote with the promise of payouts for carbon sequestration could be a way to restart a conversation around a carbon price (a largely failed prospect in government circles). Beyond carbon sequestration, rapid innovations in synthetic biology for biomaterials, coatings and even food could take advantage of the big biofuel fermenters and feedstocks in the Midwest to enable a new biomanufacturing industry.

Furthermore, the expansion of rail lines thanks to the fracking and oil boom means opportunities and the potential to build out other types of manufacturing capacity that can be transported across the U.S.

vw-plant-tennessee

Volkswagen broke ground Wednesday, November 13, 2019 on an $800 million factory expansion in Tennessee that will be the North American hub of its electric vehicle plans. Image Credits: Volkswagen

Sharing the wealth (urban edition) 

The same spending that could juice rural economies can be equally applied in America’s largest cities. Any movement to boost the auto industry through incentives around electric vehicles or federal mandates to upgrade fleets would do wonders for automakers and the original equipment manufacturers that supply them.

Public-private partnerships for urban infrastructure could first receive support from funds devoted to planning and managing upgrades. That could boost the adoption of new tech from startup companies around the country, while creating new jobs for a significant number of workers through implementation.

One large area where urban economic revitalization and climate policies can intersect is in the relatively unsexy area of weatherization, energy efficient appliance installation and building retrofits.

“Local governments across the country are highly interested in the green economy and transitioning to the low-carbon economy,” said Lauren Zullo, the director of environmental impact at the real estate management firm, Jonathan Rose Companies. “Cities are really looking to partner with the private real estate sector because they know we’re going to have to get buildings involved in the green economy. And any work that you do retrofitting local buildings is literally local economy.”

By channeling dollars into green retrofits and the deployment of distributed renewable energy, local economies will get a huge boost — and one that disproportionately will go to helping the communities that have been on the front lines of climate change.

You saw … a lot of investment made just this way out of the Recovery Act,” Zullo said, referring to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the stimulus bill passed in the first term of the Obama administration. “A lot of [funds] focused on low-income weatherization that were earmarked for low income and affordable housing. [Those] funds have allowed us to reduce energy consumption anywhere from 30% to 50% … and being able to gain those utility cost savings have been transformational to those communities.”

Why are these programs so important? Zullo explained further, “Low-income folks are disproportionately burdened by utility and energy costs. Any sort of energy-saving opportunities that we can earmark or target in these low-income communities is truly impactful … not just on a carbon footprint, but on the lives and success of these low-income communities.”

Paying for it

For even this more-modest legislation to make it through Congress, a Biden administration will have to answer the questions of who would pay for the stimulus and how it would get distributed.

In a tweet, the political commentator Matthew Yglesias proffered that the country could afford “to throw an ice cream party.” That policy would enable Republicans to keep the tax cuts while allowing the government to continue to spend on stimulus measures.

“[Interest] rates are very low. The country can afford an ice cream option where we spend money on some good things and ‘offset’ with tax cuts,” Yglesias wrote.

To distribute the funds, Congress could set up a body similar to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), which was established by Herbert Hoover’s administration back at the start of the Great Depression. It was expanded under Franklin Delano Roosevelt to disburse funds to financial institutions, farms and corporations at risk of collapse.

While the success of the institution itself is somewhat murky, the RFC along with federal deposit insurance and the related Commodity Credit Corporation (which, unlike the RFC, still exists) laid the groundwork for the country to emerge from the Great Depression and gear up manufacturing to engage with a world at war in the 1940s.

The durability of the CCC could provide a model for any infrastructure credit corporation that the government may want to establish.

Some investors support the idea. “It’s more about channeling dollars to state, municipal or private businesses with the ability to underwrite heavily subsidized loans to any entity proposing a modern infrastructure project that could be paid through municipal bonds or tolling,” said one investor in the infrastructure space. “It would offer a credit backstop to anyone who wanted to invest in infrastructure and could have a technological requirement associated with it.”

Several investors suggested that capital from loans paid out through the infrastructure bank could finance the reshoring of industry, with potential tax revenues from the businesses offsetting some of the costs of the loans. Some of these measures could have additional economic benefits if the loans get funneled through local financial institutions as well.

“If you think about a vehicle to deliver these funds, you already have an existing architecture to deliver this … which is the municipal bond market,” said Mark Paris, a managing partner at Urban.us, a venture capital fund focused on urban infrastructure. 

The infrastructure answer

There’s no shortage of levers that the Biden administration can pull to reverse the course of the Trump administration’s policies on climate change, but many of these federal policy changes are likely to face challenges in courts.

Vox’s David Roberts has an excellent run down of some of the direct actions that Biden can take along the path toward decarbonization of the U.S. economy. They include restoring the over 125 climate and environmental regulations that the Trump presidency reversed or rolled back; working with the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a new, more sweeping version of the original Obama-era Clean Power Plan; push the Department of Transportation’s development of new fuel economy standards; and supporting California’s own, very aggressive vehicle standards.

Biden can also encourage financial markets to make more of an effort to price climate risk into their financial models for investment, which would further encourage investment in climate-friendly businesses and a divestment from fossil fuels, as Roberts notes.

Some of America’s largest financial services institutions are already doing just that, and oil-and-gas companies are wrestling with the need to transition to renewable or emission-free fuels as their share prices take a pummeling and demand plummets on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Mother Jones suggested last year, a Biden administration could declare climate change a national security emergency, in the same way that the Trump administration declared immigration to be a national security emergency. That would give Biden extensive powers to reshape the economy and directly influence industrial policy.

Declaring a national climate emergency would give Biden the powers he needs to enact much of the infrastructure initiatives that comprise the President-elect’s energy plan, but not a popular mandate to support it.

Before taking that step, Biden may choose to try and exhaust all legislative options first. In a divided Congress that means focusing on infrastructure, jobs and industry incentives.

“The impacts of climate change don’t pick and choose. That’s because it’s not a partisan phenomenon. It’s science. And our response should be the same. Grounded in science. Acting together. All of us,” Biden said in a September speech.

“These are concrete, actionable policies that create jobs, mitigate climate change and put our nation on the road to net-zero emissions by no later than 2050,” he said. “We can invest in our infrastructure to make it stronger and more resilient, while at the same time tackling the root causes of climate change.”

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

Continue Reading
Comments

Uncategorized

Daily Crunch: Slack and Salesforce execs explain their big acquisition

Published

on

We learn more about Slack’s future, Revolut adds new payment features and DoorDash pushes its IPO range upward. This is your Daily Crunch for December 4, 2020.

The big story: Slack and Salesforce execs explain their big acquisition

After Salesforce announced this week that it’s acquiring Slack for $27.7 billion, Ron Miller spoke to Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield and Salesforce President and COO Bret Taylor to learn more about the deal.

Butterfield claimed that Slack will remain relatively independent within Salesforce, allowing the team to “do more of what we were already doing.” He also insisted that all the talk about competing with Microsoft Teams is “overblown.”

“The challenge for us was the narrative,” Butterfield said. “They’re just good [at] PR or something that I couldn’t figure out.”

Startups, funding and venture capital

Revolut lets businesses accept online payments — With this move, the company is competing directly with Stripe, Adyen, Braintree and Checkout.com.

Health tech venture firm OTV closes new $170M fund and expands into Asia — This year, the firm led rounds in telehealth platforms TytoCare and Lemonaid Health.

Zephr raises $8M to help news publishers grow subscription revenue — The startup’s customers already include publishers like McClatchy, News Corp Australia, Dennis Publishing and PEI Media.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

DoorDash amps its IPO range ahead of blockbuster IPO — The food delivery unicorn now expects to debut at $90 to $95 per share, up from a previous range of $75 to $85.

Enter new markets and embrace a distributed workforce to grow during a pandemic — Is this the right time to expand overseas?

Three ways the pandemic is transforming tech spending — All companies are digital product companies now.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

WH’s AI EO is BS — Devin Coldewey is not impressed by the White House’s new executive order on artificial intelligence.

China’s internet regulator takes aim at forced data collection — China is a step closer to cracking down on unscrupulous data collection by app developers.

Gift Guide: Games on every platform to get you through the long, COVID winter — It’s a great time to be a gamer.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Continue Reading

Uncategorized

Gift Guide: 9+ caffeinated gift ideas for your favorite coffee lovers

Published

on

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.

The pandemic has meant we leave our homes far less often, and that means fending for ourselves when it comes to coffee. But too many of us have old, cheap coffee makers or worse, pod-based ones at home. Here are the best ways to elevate your coffee game or delight the java lover in your life.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

Superior drip coffee makers

Every grocery store sells a cheap drip coffee maker that does the job adequately, but if anyone is going to use a device every day, it should be something they look forward to, not the bare minimum.

That said, a coffee maker shouldn’t be an IQ test — you have to operate it before you’ve had your coffee, after all. I personally find the ones with touchscreens and apps add nothing but new ways to get it wrong. So I tested a few coffee makers that balance quality with simplicity, and after a few weeks of jitters here are my favorites.

For the industrial design appreciator: OXO 8-cup coffee maker

Pros:

  • Compact, well-thought-out design
  • Lots of actually useful features
  • Thermal carafe included

Cons:

  • Single cup brewing is a bit over-complicated
  • Could be more coffee-efficient

OXO’s reputation as a kitchen goods designer is well deserved, but I often find their items a bit much for the job. Not so with the 8-cup coffee maker, which manages to balance thoughtful design with simplicity and quality. I can say with confidence: if you aren’t sure what coffee maker to get… get this one.

The OXO 8-cup is the (obviously) smaller alternative to the 9-cup, losing the ability to schedule brewing but gaining simpler operation and a single-cup option using a separate, Kalita-compatible basket. The lids of the reservoir and basket area flip up (the latter allowing condensed water to flow safely into the filter) and the basket itself sits securely but pops out easily.

The coffee is uniformly good; I would say as good but slightly less strong than the KBGV below. It flows directly into a thermal carafe with a dedicated hole in the top, simplifying even that part. Pretty much everything about this machine is made to simplify and foolproof itself, making the brewing process extremely reliable.

I honestly struggled to find any complaints, but I would say that the necessity of keeping a second basket that uses a different filter type, then adjusting the various bits so that you can slip the mug in, etc., is arguably more trouble than it’s worth. But the capability for single-cup brewing is there and doesn’t take away from the rest at all.

It also recommends somewhat more grounds per cup than the KBGV, not a crazy amount but enough that you’ll probably get one less pot out of a standard 16 oz bag of coffee.

Price: $170 from OXO

For the FBI stakeout: Technivorm Moccamaster KBGV

Pros:

  • Streamlined retro-institutional look
  • Strong, reliable brew
  • Automatic hot plate

Cons

  • Lots of removable parts
  • Materials unremarkable for the price

The KBGV brewed my favorite coffee and in my opinion has the best look, like what you’d expect in the background of an FBI stakeout field HQ in a 70s movie. Where the OXO is rounded-off and unassuming, designed to disappear in a modern kitchen, the KBGV is bold and shiny.

The coffee it makes is bold, too: reliably strong and flavorful. Its #4 filter process to me was also pretty efficient with grounds.

The squat glass carafe sits on a hot plate that remains on for an hour or so after brewing, which is great but also means you must remember to turn it off — it won’t start a fire or anything, it’s just going to sit there being hot.

My main issue with the KBGV is that the reservoir and basket covers just sit on top rather than being on hinges, making the process of brewing involve removing and replacing several pieces. A small complaint, but they, like the carafe lid and basket, are also made of a rather ordinary plastic rather than something more durable. I feel like given the premium price you should be given something a bit more classy and convenient.

The good news is they’ll be easy to replace if they break, and Technivorm has an excellent warranty.

Price: $330 from Technivorm

For the ‘gram: Ratio 8

Pros:

  • Extremely handsome
  • Excellent materials
  • Very simple operation

Cons:

  • Nothing to keep coffee warm
  • Quite large!
  • Very expensive

Objectively the most good-looking of the machines here (even if I prefer the quirky charm of the KBGV), the Ratio 8, with its wood and textured metal finish, is obviously meant to be a display piece. And you couldn’t hide it if you wanted to — this thing is big, and the thick power cord juts straight out of the back, making it difficult to put anywhere but somewhere central.

The machine is basically an automatic Chemex brewer (Chemex makes one of their own that I tried to test but never heard back on), which kind of tells you everything you need to know. Chemex, with its wood-collared, single-piece carafes and luxuriously thick filters, is almost like the BMW of drip coffee, with all that implies. I like it, but I also acknowledge that it’s a bit over the top. And a machine that does it for you — well!

But as a Chemex brewer goes, it’s a lovely thing. You get that special extra clarity that the Chemex process brings, and there’s something wonderful about the way the coffee comes out of those carafes. Operating the machine is a single-button affair, which activates a short bloom period then showers the grounds over time with however much water you put in the reservoir.

I found that the Ratio 8 was best when making a full carafe, as with a half-portion I felt it over-watered and consequently under-extracted what I put in there. Unfortunately that full carafe will have to be consumed with a quickness as the Ratio 8, despite its size and price, has nothing to keep the coffee warm once it’s been brewed.

For a showy and unique machine the Ratio 8 is great. But if all you want to do is make great drip, the OXO or KBGV is a much better use of your funds.

Price: $495 from Ratio

More exotic methods

There are lots of ways to make coffee, and while drip is the easiest and most reliable for most people, the following slightly more unusual options are also viable and perhaps more interesting as gifts.

FrankOne

PA150003Want to get the first coffee maker to come out of Colombia — you know, coffee central? The FrankOne is a cool device that quickly makes a pourover-like cup by steeping the grounds then creating a vacuum in the chamber below it, sucking the liquid out but leaving the grounds up top. It works great, operates on a rechargeable battery, and is easy to clean (especially if you have a garbage disposal).

Price: $80 from FrankDePaula

ROK manual espresso maker

Image Credits: ROK

I avoided the many fancy espresso machines out there for this review mainly for the reason that they are complex, expensive, and require considerable upkeep. The ROK is about as simple an espresso maker as you can get, bested only by a stovetop Moka pot.

To work the ROK, you pack your grounds into the included espresso filter and attach it to the machine like any other. Then you pour your hot water into the reservoir up top, raise the arms, and depress them with a slow, steady pressure that forces it through the filter. It really is that simple.

It may not be quite the high-pressure espresso you get from a “real” machine but it’s quite good, and the process can be repeated to increase the volume and produce something like an americano. The coffee produced by the ROK is a bit like a Moka Pot’s, but a bit less strong and far less likely to be burnt.

The machine itself is bulletproof — and I mean I think it’s actually bulletproof. It’s practically solid metal, though the reservoir and bellows are rubber. Use this to make coffee while camping and then fend off a bear attack.

For a unique, electricity-free coffee experience the ROK is a great option, though not necessarily a practical one.

Price: $189 from ROK

Osma

Image Credits: Osma

I haven’t gotten to test this one yet (though I will), but designer Joey Roth hasn’t done me wrong yet. This new device from his workshop uses a completely new method of circulating hot water through grounds, making a drip-like cup in a very short time, or cold brew, or tea. If your loved one is a gadget fiend, this is one they probably haven’t had the chance to covet yet. Technically it uses pods, but they’re totally biodegradable and you can fill them with your own grounds or leaves.

Price: $185 from Osma

Pourover cones

I’ve used pourover as my main method of making coffee for years, and it reliably produces the best single cup you can have, though at the cost of being somewhat time-consuming.

Kalita Wave 185

Kalita makes a couple sizes of these pourover cones, and although I have happily used my 155 for many years, if I could do it over again I’d opt for the slightly larger 185, which is more forgiving when you’re pouring and can brew more than the 16 ounces that is the realistic upper limit of mine.

Price: $36 from Amazon

OXO’s pourover cone with tank

If hovering by the stove and watering your grounds for the two to three minutes it takes to make a cup is not something you enjoy, OXO has a nice little gadget that simplifies things. It’s basically a pourover cone with a reservoir that sits on top, dripping water through a few tiny holes at a steady rate.

It made a good cup and with minimal fuss, but the capacity is limited, so if you want more than 12 ounces you’ll have to refill the reservoir.

Price: $16 from Amazon

Kone and other metal filters

These permanent filters have gotten quite good, and I have one that sits right on top of a cup. No more paper! However I would recommend these only to people who have a garbage disposal or sink that can handle a lot of grounds, because cleaning the filter involves losing a lot of grit down the drain. Occasional deep cleaning is required but it’s nice to reduce waste even a little bit.

Price: Around $30-40, depending on brand.

Coffee subscriptions

Just as a general note: These types of subscriptions are great, but you need to do a little bit of research or your loved one will end up with a roast they don’t like. I don’t want to recommend any in particular, since they all specialize in different things, but aim to prop up independent roasteries and fair trade rather than just getting a steady supply of the same old thing from a major chain.

Some good options:

 

Continue Reading

Uncategorized

Review: Wireless headsets from Logitech, Audio-Technica, SteelSeries, HyperX and more

Published

on

With the amount of time you’re spending at home these days, you deserve a better headset. A wireless one that works with your computer and maybe your console as well, with a mic for calls and great sound for games and movies. Fortunately there are a lot to choose from, and I’ve tested out your best options.

I asked the leading audio and peripheral companies to send over their flagship wireless headset, with prices ranging from about $100 to $250. Beyond this price range returns diminish swiftly, but right now that’s the sweet spot for comfort, sound, and usability.

For years I’ve avoided wireless headsets because there were too many compromises, but I’m pleased to say that the latency has been eliminated and battery life in the ones I reviewed is uniformly excellent. (NB: If the wireless version feels too expensive, you can often get wired ones for $50-100 less.)

To test the headphones, I used them all for a variety of everyday tasks, from video calls to movies and music (with only minimal EQing to get a sense of their natural sound) to AAA games and indies. None require an app to work, though some have companion software for LEDs or game profiles. I have a fairly large head and medium-sized ears, for what it’s worth. All the headphones are rather bulky, though the angle I shot them at individually makes them look huge — you can see in the image up top that they’re all roughly the same size.

None of these headphones have active noise cancelling, but many offer decent physical isolation to the point where they offer a “monitor” feature that pipes in sound from the outside world — useful if you’re playing a game but waiting for the oven to preheat or something. Only the first set has a built-in mic, the rest have detachable ones of generally solid quality, certainly good enough for streaming and chatting, though for broadcast a separate one would be better. All these headphones use a USB-A style dongle, though the 7P/7X also has a USB-C connector.

SteelSeries 7P/7X – $149

The 7P and 7X headsets, designed with the PS5 and Xbox Series X in mind (as well as PC) respectively, are my first and most unreserved recommendation.

The standout feature on these is, to me, a truly surprising sound with an almost disturbingly broad stage and clarity. I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing when I put on some familiar tracks I use for reference. This isn’t a 7.1 simulation or anything like that — but no doubt the gaming focus led to creating a large soundstage. It worked!

I also found the headphones to be very comfortable, with a “ski goggle” strap instead of a per-band adjustment that lets them sit very lightly as well as “remembering” your setting. The spacious earcups rotate for travel or comfort.

The built-in mic is unobtrusive and stows away nicely, but if you’re picky about placement it was a bit floppy to adjust. Many of the other headsets have nicer mics that completely detach — maybe that’s a plus for you but I tend to lose them.

My main issues with these are that the controls feel cheap and not particularly well laid out. The bottom of the headset is a jumble of ports and buttons and the volume dials don’t have much travel — it’s 0 to 100 in one full swipe. (Volume control is independent from system volume.)

The dongle is different from the others in that it is itself USB-C, but with a USB-A cable attached. That’s good for compatibility, but the cable is three feet long, making it kind of silly to attach to some laptops and whatnot. You could easily get your own short cord, though.

At $150 I think these are an easy recommendation for just about anyone looking at that price range.

Audio-Technica AT-GWL – $250

Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The high price on these is partly because they are the wireless version of a headset that also comes wired, so if you want the solid audio performance and comfy fit, you can save some money by going wired.

The sound of the AT-GWLs is rich and naturally has a focus on the upper-mid vocal range, which makes voices in media really pop. I did find the sound a bit confined, which hitting the “surround” setting actually helped with. I know that this sort of virtualization has generally been frowned on, but it’s been a while since these settings have been over the top and distortive. I found surround better for games but not necessarily for music, but it’s very easy to switch on and off.

The headphones are light and adjusted with traditional, no-nonsense metal bands, with a single pad on the top. I would say they are the lightest-feeling pair I tested, with the SteelSeries and Razer coming in just behind owing to some extra weight and bulk. Despite being compact, the AT-GWLs felt airy but not big. The leather-microfiber combo cups are nice, and I think they’ll break in well to provide better isolation over time.

Where they fall short is in the interface. First, a note to Audio-Technica: Turn down the notification noises! Turning the headset on, the mic on or off, or hitting the system-independent volume max produces loud, surprising beeps. Too loud!

Second, the buttons and dials are stiff, small, and same-feeling. Lifting a hand quickly to turn down the volume (maybe after a huge beep) you may very easily mistake the power switch for the volume dial. The dial also doubles as a button for surround mode, and next to it is a microscopic button to turn on and off the sound of surroundings. It’s a bit of a jumble — nothing you can’t get used to, but considering how nice other headsets on this list made their controls, it has to be said.

HyperX Cloud II wireless – $100

Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

HyperX (owned by Kingston) wasn’t exactly known for audio until fairly recently, but its previous Cloud headset got the crucial Wirecutter endorsement, and it’s easy to see why. For less money than any of the other headsets in this roundup, the follow-up to that headset (which I’m wearing right now) has excellent sound and isolation.

I was surprised to find a soundstage nearly as wide as the 7P/7X, but with more of a focus on the punchy lower register instead of on detail and placement. My music felt big and close, and the atmosphere of games likewise, more immediately present.

The Cloud II’s controls are simple and effective. The volume dial, tied directly to the system volume, is superb: grippy, with smooth motion and just the right amount of friction, and just-barely-there clicks. There are two good-size buttons, the power one concave and the mic mute (which gives different sounds for muted and active) convex.

It’s unfortunate that they’re not as comfortable, for me anyway, as the others on this list. The cups (though a bit on the warm side) and band are perfectly fine. It’s that there’s little rotation to those cups, meaning there’s no play to accommodate the shape of your head. I don’t know, maybe it’s just my big dome, but they were noticeably tighter at the front of my ear than the back, so I was constantly adjusting or trying to twist them.

I’ll say this: if they add a bit more adjustment to the cups, these would be my default recommendation over the 7P/7X. As exciting as the SteelSeries sound is to me, the Cloud IIs seem more like what people expect and $50 cheaper.

Logitech G-733 – $130

The matte texture of the G733s had a weird interaction with my camera — they don’t look speckly IRL. Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

These are Logitech’s streamer-friendly, color-coordinated, LED-sporting set, but they’re better than the loud design would suggest.

The sound is definitely gaming-forward, with a definite emphasis on the low end and a very central, present sound that was a lot like the Cloud II.

To be honest, I was not expecting the G733s to be very comfortable — their stiff plastic look suggested they’d creak, weigh down my ears, and crush my noggin. But in fact they’re really light and quite comfy! There’s a lot of play in the positions of the earcups. The fit is a little odd in that there’s a plainly inferior version of the 7P/7X’s “ski goggle” strap that really only has four settings, while the cups slide up and down about two thirds of an inch. It was just enough to accommodate my (again, apparently very large) head.

The mic boom is rather short, and sadly there is no indicator for when the mic is on or off, which is sometimes a minor inconvenience and sometimes a major pain. You can tell from the sound the mute button makes, though.

The volume dial is nice and smooth, though the “clicks” are really far apart. I like the texture of it and the mic mute button, the power button not so much. But it works.

The colors may not be to everyone’s liking, but I have to hand it to Logitech for going all the way. The headset, mic, and even the USB dongle are all the same shade, making it much easier to keep track of them in my growing pile of headphones and widgets.

Logitech Pro-X – $200

Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

Currently Logitech’s most premium set of gaming headphones, the Pro-X abandon the bright, plasticky look of its other sets and goes for understated and black.

The sound of the Logitech is big and very clear, with almost a reference feel in how balanced the bands are. I felt more presence in the mid-lows of smart bass-playing than the other sets. There is a “surround” feel that makes it feel more like you’re in a room of well-configured speakers than headphones, something that I think emerges from a de-emphasis of the center channel. The media is “out there,” not “in here.” It’s not a bad or a good thing, just distinct from the others.

The controls are about on par with the Cloud II’s: A nice frictiony volume wheel controlling system volume, a nice mic toggle button, and a fairly meaty on-off switch you’re unlikely to trip on purpose.

Also like the Cloud IIs, there is no rotation to the earcups, making them less comfortable to me than the ATs and SteelSeries, and Logitech’s cheaper G-733s. A larger head than my own, if that’s possible, would definitely feel clamped. I do think these would wear in well, but all the same a bit of play would help a lot.

The external material, a satinized matte plastic, looks truly lovely but is an absolute fingerprint magnet. Considering you’ll be handling these a lot (and let’s be honest, not necessarily with freshly washed hands), you’re going to need to wipe them down rather more than any of the others I tested.

Razer Blackshark V2 Pro – $180

Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The understated Razer Blackshark V2 Pro soon became my go-to for PC gaming when the SteelSeries set was attached to the PS5.

Their sound is definitely gaming-focused, with extra oomph in the lows and mid-lows, but music didn’t sound overly shifted in that direction. The soundstage is full but not startlingly so, and everything sounded detailed without being harsh.

The Razers look heavy but aren’t — it varies day to day but I think they’re definitely competing for “most comfortable” with the A-Ts and SteelSeries. The cups feel spacious and have a nice seal, making for a very isolated listening experience. Adjustment is done with the wires attached to the cups, which is nothing special — I kind of wish this setup would let you adjust the cant as well as the height. The material is like the Logitechs — prone to fingerprints, though a little less so, in my experience.

Their controls are very well designed and laid out, all on one side. The protruding (system-independent) volume knob may seem odd at first but you’ll love it soon. The one big notch or click indicates exactly 50%, which is super useful for quick “calibration,” and turning the knob is smooth yet resistant enough that I never once accidentally changed it. Meanwhile there are conveniently placed and distinguishable buttons for mute and power, and ports for the detachable mic, charge cord, and 3.5mm input.

I’m hard pressed to think of any downsides to the Blackshark except that it doesn’t work with consoles.

Continue Reading

Trending