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It’s easier to listen to music today than any other time in human history. With just a few clicks, you can pull up any song, album or artist on Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube. The way we listen has changed, too—through the headphones connected to our smartphone, the speakers attached to our stereo or a soundbar linked to our TV. This is due, in part, to advances in audio technology over the last decade. There are now excellent options across the pricing spectrum. But there is still a discernible difference between good enough and great. With that in mind, here are the best headphones, speakers, turntables and other assorted audio goodies that have caught our eye over the last year. Each will give the audiophile in your life something to smile about this holiday season.
Dan Clark Audio ÆON 2 Over-Ear Headphones
Are you skeptical about whether or not pricey headphones actually sound better? Spend some time with this pair of cans from Dan Clark Audio. They may lack some of the features you’ll find on more accessible mainstream headphones—like a remote, mic and noise cancellation—but they pump out superlative audio that sounds so clear and natural: You may just notice details in songs that you never heard before. Lightweight and comfortable, you can wear them for a whole afternoon without getting a headache.
Sennheiser IE900 In-Ear Headphones
Most audiophiles like to do the majority of their music listening at home so they can control their environment. But if you’re looking for a premier sound option for the road, Sennheiser’s latest in-ear models should do the trick. Thanks to the brand’s new X3R transducer and XWB driver, these tiny headphones sound as powerful as much bigger over-ear models. You’ll have to plug them in—they come with three connectors so they’ll work on practically any device—but you’ll also never have to worry about your music cutting out.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay HX
Serious audioheads tend not to trust wireless headphones because even the strong digital connection can cut out or cause distortion. This pair from Bang & Olufsen will win over more than a few skeptics, though. As with all of the Danish brand’s products, they sound fantastic, producing audio that is clear and well balanced. You’ll never have to worry about an over-powering bassline drowning out lyrics again. They’re also incredibly stylish and easy to wear, two things you can rarely say about over-ear ‘phones. And if that’s not enough, call quality is the best we’ve encountered on over-ear headphones, too.
Sony WF-1000XM4 Wireless Earbuds
If you’re concerned about bluetooth earbuds lacking bite, try Sony’s range-topping wireless in-ear model. These ‘buds sound just as robust as their over-ear siblings, the WH-1000XM4. Their memory foam ear tips also make it easy to get a really tight seal to passively block out sound, an especially nice feature if you’re worried about active noise cancellation causing distortion.
Sennheiser Momentum 2 Wireless Earbuds
The family owned German audio specialists Sennheiser continues its leadership in true wireless earbuds with its latest Momentum 2 offerings—the ergonomically shaped speakers feature five ear-tip options for a perfectly snug fit and comfy all-day use. The 7-mm dynamic drivers supply superior sound with active noise canceling—perfect for music or calls in a noisy environment—IPX4 water-resistance and up to 28 hours of playtime on a single charge via its charging case. The smartphone app also lets you further customize your listening experience by adjusting the built-in equalizers to emphasize deeper bass, natural mids and/or detailed treble. Best of all, they’re currently 33 percent—$100—below their normal price.
Satechi Aluminum USB Headphone Stand
If you have a good pair of headphones, you’re going to want a place to put them, such as this elegant solution from Satechi. Made of aluminum, the stand looks chic and ensures that your headphones are always at hand. Plus it includes a back hook to help organize your cords while multiple USB outlets are available to charge your devices.
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO Turntable
Sometimes it can be a relief to disconnect your device and go analog. What better way to do that than with this refined turntable from the specialists from Pro-Ject. Its precise motor has been fitted with a new suspension that reduces vibration, as does its height-adjustable aluminum feet. A heavy steel platter also helps ensure quiet playback. If you’ve yet to jump on the vinyl revival, maybe now’s the time…
Audio Technica AT-LP120XBT-USB Turntable
On the other hand, maybe you have loads of rare vinyl that you want to digitize. Enter this direct-drive turntable from Audio Technica. It features a USB output so you can take the tracks from your records and download them to your computer (it comes with Audacity software that’ll help you do just that). Beyond that nifty trick, it’s also very solid turntable with dual RCA outputs and Bluetooth connectivity so you can listen to your vinyl on practically any set of speakers.
Pro-Ject VC-S2 ALU Record Cleaner
Whether you listen to vinyl old or new, keep ’em clean. It won’t matter how good your turntable is if the grooves on your records are filled with dust and other gunk. Give your disc two rotations—one forward, one backward—in this powerful device from Pro-Ject, and they’ll sound good as new, even if you’re listening to something you picked up at a garage sale.
Astell & Kern A&ultima SP2000T
If you’re more the type to carry around your entire collection in your pocket, this little number from Astell & Kern is for you. It was designed specifically for hi-res audio and has a built-in vacuum tube amplifier so your music sounds exactly the way it was recorded. It’s got 256 gigabytes of space to store your albums, and it’s also expandable in case you need even more room for your favorite tunes.
Campfire Audio In-Ear Monitors
Although they may look like earbuds, these Equinox In-Ear Monitors are certainly not. You cannot make a phone call, ask for Google help or dictate a text. All you can do is listen to sweet, sweet music—and Campfire Audio would have it no other way. Handcrafted in the US, the Portland-based firm custom 3-D-print its acoustic chambers for a decidedly high-end listening experience, a process that distinguishes it from a crowded field of cheap overseas competitors. Campfire Audio already enjoy a superb reputation in the hi-fi and pro audio communities, and recently they’ve been making inroads into high-end consumer world. Their top-tier Equinox model features professional engineer-level technology like single full-range 10mm ADLC Diaphragm Dynamic Driver, 5Hz–20 kHz frequency response, 105 dB SPL/mW sensitivity, less than 1 percent total harmonic distortion and 19 Ohms at 1kHz impedance. Or, in layman’s terms, plenty of bass and absurd levels of crisp detail. At their best Equinox require a visit to an audiologist to scan your ear canal for the perfect fit and hours of fatigue-less listening pleasure, but they can also be ordered as-is. Note: Campfire Audio also offers an excellent (still handcrafted and a 3-D-printed chamber) more affordable Holocene model for those with a tighter budget.
Klipsch R-51PM Bookshelf Speakers
If you’re looking for an easy way to upgrade your home audio system, a pair of bookshelf speakers should be near the top of the list. They may not be as powerful as tower speakers but they can still pack a serious punch while taking up a lot less space (as their name suggests, they’ll fit on a shelf). This is especially true of this powered duo from Klipsch. The set produces a warm and natural sound, and more bass than you would expect considering their size. They also have a phono input, so you won’t need a preamp to connect them to your turntable.
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Emerge Bookshelf Speaker
If you’re looking for a speaker that doesn’t look like a speaker (it’s possible), look no further than Bang & Olufsen’s Beosound Emerge. The compact creation (25.5 by 16.5 by 6.7 cm) supports Apple Airplay 2, Google Chromecast, Bluetooth and Spotify. It can also be paired with any of B&O’s connected speakers to deliver music throughout your home, and features a built-in radio and microphone for voice control. The Danish company known for its design doesn’t fail here, offering either a gold version of the Beosound Emerge with oak wood “cover” or Black Anthracite high-grade aluminum with a pearl-blasted grill.
Polk Audio Signature Elite ES60 Tower Speaker
A powerful tower speaker can help you turn your home stereo system into a professional-grade setup. If this is what you want, this model from Polk audio should do the trick. Sitting atop the company’s Signature Elite line, this speaker generates audio that sounds both loud and natural. Its design helps direct airflow in a way that reduces distortion while producing commanding bass, even when it’s not connected to a subwoofer. Even better, it can also be integrated into your TV’s surround sound system for a more cinematic experience.
MartinLogan Dynamo 800X subwoofer
In order to really feel the beat of your favorite club anthem, you’ll want to make sure your audio setup is equipped with its own subwoofer. MartinLogan’s model may not be the biggest—its inverted poly cone woofer measures just 10 inches—but it peaks at 600 watts, meaning it can pump out bass that really booms. It also offers multiple input options, including wireless connectivity so that you can control the whole thing from your smartphone. With this little cube, you’ll be able to transform your audio system into one that would make any nightclub jealous.
Wrensilva Loft Club Series All-in-One Hi-Fi System
Building a home audio system can be intimidating. Luckily, Wrensilva has created a device that features everything you could want in one stylish package. The audio company’s retro-inspired hi-fi system includes a Pro-Ject turntable, a solid-state pre-amp, Bang & Olufsen amplifier and powerful two-way bass-reflex speakers. Best of all, it’s smaller than your parent’s old system, making it perfect for homes and apartments where space is at a premium.
Sonos Five Two-Room Speaker Set
We all know Sonos, right? It’s also worth knowing that it offers its Five wireless speaker as a set, so that your favorite tunes or podcasts aren’t limited to the living room. The pair, which can stream music or connect directly to nearly any audio device, lets you and your family listen to the same recording in different rooms. Positioned horizontally by itself, the Five generates two channels of ultra-clear, room-filling sound with plenty of bass. You can also set up both units in the same room as mono speakers if you want to experience even more detailed stereo sound. Each speaker is also equipped with the company’s Trueplay tuning tech, so it adapts to the acoustic of whatever room its located in.
Marshall Emberton Bluetooth Speaker
The Marshall Emberton is compact, as all good Bluetooth speakers should be. That means you can easily move it from room to room or toss it in your bag before a day at the beach (its IPX7 water-resistance rating means it can withstand the elements). Despite its slight frame, it still has room for a pair of 2-inch drivers powerful enough to fill a room or patio with sound. And even if you turn it all the way up to 11, that Drake LP will still sound clear and natural, without any annoying distortion. Its best feature, though, may be the 20 hours of playtime, so you never have to worry about the music cutting out just as the party is getting started.
Bose Smart Soundbar 900
Picture resolution on modern TVs has improved dramatically in recent years, but audio quality can still be hit and miss. That’s why a top-class soundbar like the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is a necessity. The audio brand’s device is easy to set up and even easier to use (and can connect to other devices, like your smartphone). It also includes Bose’s True Space technology and supports Dolby Atmos, allowing it to produce sound so immersive you’ll swear you’re on set the next time you watch Succession. If you want even more oomph, or something closer to an actual movie-theater experience, you can add two of the company’s surround sound speakers to your setup.
Hi-Fi: The History of High-End Audio Design by Gideon Schwartz
Some of history’s greatest hi-fi systems, like the Clairtone’s Project G2 stereo, don’t just sound good, they look good, too. This gorgeous coffee-table book, which was written by Gideon Schwartz, traces the history of high-end audio design all the way back to the middle of the 20th century. Across 272 pages, the former attorney showcases plenty of sets that suggest that audiophiles care just as much about style as they do about sound quality.
Mr Porter Sonic Editions Prints
There are other ways to admire your favorite musicians. Gaze upon them doing what they do best via these gorgeous limited-edition prints from Mr Porter. Each mounted and framed photo—whether it be Ray Charles, David Bowie or Jimi Hendrix—will be a great way to spruce up your audio space.