Whether you are a music enthusiast or a casual listener, picking an audio device can be daunting. The choices go on and on and the high prices of many make it easy to make an expensive mistake. To help, make a playlist of your favourite tunes to use while sampling speakers and headphones in store to make sure you like what you hear. Here are some devices worth trying:
V-Moda Crossfade Wireless Headphones, $300
They are popular among both DJs and trendsetters because their quality sound is matched by their stylish look. Having built a reputation for blending fashion and performance, V-Moda seemed reluctant to jam extra technology into the headphones to create a wireless version, since it is easy to lose sound quality when going wireless. But the company has managed to incorporate Bluetooth technology into the Crossfade Wireless without sacrificing anything noticeable in either performance or design. The wireless headphones run on a rechargeable battery, but if you run out of battery power, V-Moda provides a rugged audio cable for wired use. And you can personalise the look of your V-Moda headphones with interchangeable shields for the exterior of the ear cups, including new luxury 3-D printed shields in precious metals like sterling silver, 14-karat gold and platinum.
Apogee Groove USB DAC, $295
Stand-alone digital-to-analog converters, known as DACs, are commonly used to reroute music stored on a computer, bypassing the computer’s sound card and converting the digital sound into analog so it can be heard through speakers or headphones. A good DAC can open up music, allowing subtleties to come through and offering a new listening experience for music stored on a computer or streamed through an app. But a high-quality DAC can be expensive, often costing $1,000 or more. The Groove DAC from Apogee offers many of the upsides for under $300. The company, which has three decades of experience developing technology for recording studios, has built the device to adjust the sound to any type of headphones. And a sleek, compact design—it fits in the palm of your hand—makes it easy to carry.
Harman AKG N90Q Headphones, $1,500
In collaboration with the music legend Quincy Jones, Harman Audio has produced the AKG N90Q, luxury headphones that it says can personalise sound with its “TruNote” technology. Using microphones in the ear cups, the headphones reproduce sound optimised to the shape of your ears. Listeners can choose from standard, studio or surround-sound settings, and control rings on the ear cup can be adjusted to fine-tune the bass and treble. The listening experience is remarkable, whether you are playing music on your home stereo or streaming it from an app on your smartphone. The headphones, which will be available in November, also feature active noise-cancelling. Unfortunately, the headphones don’t work if the battery runs out of juice and can no longer power the noise cancellation. Harman says a full charge lasts 12 hours, and it provides a backup battery, tucked away in a sturdy carrying case.
Zettaly Avy Smart Speaker, $200
Wireless speakers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but many have the same features. Zettaly is trying to mix it up by adding a 7-inch integrated Android tablet. With the device, called the Avy Smart Speaker, users have access to the Internet and millions of apps, as well as 32 gigabytes of external storage, eliminating the need to stream audio from another computer or mobile device. A front-facing camera and a built-in microphone allow users to keep in touch with others, with calling apps like Skype. The compact Avy is easy to carry into a bedroom to watch a movie on Netflix or into the kitchen to watch a cooking video on YouTube. The speaker has a rechargeable battery that Zettaly says will last seven hours on a full charge; it can also be plugged directly into an outlet.
Astro Gaming A40 TR Headset and MixAmp Pro TR, $250
With e-sports gaining in popularity, Astro Gaming has released a line of professional gaming products called the Tournament Ready series. The A40 TR Headset features swappable components like speaker tags, microphone and ear cushions that allow users to adapt to many environments, from quiet living rooms to raucous tournaments. The MixAmp Pro TR includes new digital circuitry intended to improve communication, allowing users to balance game and voice volume so they can chat with gaming buddies or livestream their gameplay to fans. The included Astro Command Center software can be used to customise every setting and create equaliser profiles.
Fuhu Nabi Headphones, $70
Little pitchers have big ears, as the saying goes, but those ears still need protection from loud music. Audio played through headphones at a high volume can damage children’s hearing. To ease the concern of worried parents, Fuhu, a maker of children’s tech gadgets, created the Nabi Headphones, which feature two listening modes, one for adults and one for children. In children’s mode, the volume is capped at 80 decibels and the ear cups are illuminated. The soft ear cups and an adjustable headband were made to fit children ages 13 and up. The Nabi Headphones include a tangle-free audio cable with an in-line microphone and volume control.