Changes in a speaker's audio quality might not be quite as noticeable as a big jump in a screen's pixel density, but the sound of a movie can have a much bigger effect on how you experience it. In short, good audio ain't just for audiophiles. Here's the sound technology that changed the aural universe this year.
Apple's redesigned buds probably had more of an effect on the world than any other audio product released this year. The previous design was a decade old, and the new Apple EarPods were noticeably better and more comfortable than their predecessors. They're not the highest-fidelity audio product out there. But a tiny improvement multiplied by tens of millions of units makes for a massive impact. [More]
If you've ever watched video or listened to music on tablet, phone, laptop without using headphones, you know the built-in sound on these gadgets absolutely blows. It's never going to be optimal, but sadly, that's how this gear will be used a lot of the time. Amazon was the first to use the new Dolby Digital Plus for mobile devices. The proprietary system from the masters of theatrical sound is designed to optimize the built-in speakers on our portable gear to be all that they can be by using digital sound processing and improved industrial design. The DSP pushes out dialogue in movies and emulates surround sound and Dolby provides consulting on the placement of speakers to maximize their dinky output. Given that people will use the built-in speakers more and more, it's nice to see Amazon leading the charge with some top tech. [More]
The promise of AirPlay has always only been half-fulfilled. They've succeeded in delivering high-quality wireless audio streaming, yes. But so far, AirPlay products have been too expensive or impractical to really hit any kind of mainstream appeal. That started to change this year. The Libratone Zipp is amongst the first truly portable AirPlay speakers, owing to its built-in battery. Maybe more importantly, though, you don't need access to a wireless network because you can skip the AirPlay and connect directly in a pinch. Unlike previous Libratone products, the Zipp didn't cost a damn fortune either. [More]
As with AirPlay, Bluetooth speakers seemed to be missing their mark all along. They were either way too expensive to be Bluetooth speakers, or they were cheap and sounded like garbage. The Soundfreaq Sound Kick struck a solid balance with a stupendous Bluetooth speaker you could buy for $100. [More]
At $1000 a pop, the Sennheiser IE 800 flagship in-ear monitors aren't exactly the buds that will take over the world, but they've got two innovations that will hopefully one day trickle down to more affordable models.
First, Sennheiser designed the smallest wide-band driver in the world specially for the IE 800s. As "Dr. Sennheiser" Axel Grell explained, the dual balanced-armature drivers commonly used in buds just don't cut it for high-quality gear. Second, Sennheiser designed a new replaceable 3.5mm plug. That's the component that fails most often on buds, so it's a super smart change. [More]
Whether we like it or not, we're going to be using our computers to record and transmit audio more and more. It's not just Skype—it's web conferencing, Google Hangouts, and video replies on YouTube. This little microphone from legendary builder Blue is light years better than the built-in mic in your computer or the in-line mic on your headphones. And at $60, it's cheap enough that a college kid can buy one to keep in touch with mommy. [More]
If the high-fidelity audio products that sonic nerds love haven't exactly trickled down to the iOS millions, part of the reason is that they don't fit into the music on-the-go lifestyle easily. The V-Moda Vamp was a valiant attempt at creating a combination headphone amp and high-quality digital-to-analog converter (DAC) specifically for iPhone users. Unfortunately, the case design only fits an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S, which means that as soon as you upgrade to the iPhone 5—or any other phone—your awesome new audiophile kit is obsolete. For a $650 product, that's a pretty raw deal. The company says it's learned from the experience and is working on new products. [More]
Special thanks to our friend Jude over at Head-Fi for his input on this list!