Premier audiophile brands owe Doctors Amar Bose and Dre a begrudging thanks for opening the eyes of the public to the value of investing in a set of headphones. Thanks to their savvy marketing and branding, the luxury hi-fi headphone market is exploding as an entire generation of consumers look to replace their bass-blasting, noise-canceling sets with something more refined. Perhaps the most ready to profit is KEF, the British hi-fi manufacturer best known for selling six-figure sound systems. Their flagship M500 headphones ($300) capture the luxury bent of potential buyers and hold up their end of the elite audio bargain, all at a price well below the company’s mortgage-your-house standard fare.
The Meridian Audio Explorer ($299) is a portable USB DAC designed for the Jony Ive age that transforms traditional computer listening into a hi-fi experience with minimal fuss. It’s small, incredibly easy to set up, and designed to blend seamlessly with other high-end electronics you already own. It also retails for a reasonable $299, despite being made in England using the same exacting standards Meridian applies to gear with price points that make car dealers blush.
Abbey Road, to Go
It’s 2013. Zoom has held an iron grip on the portable recording industry for seven years and needs to improve on an excellent product. What do they do? They release the H6 ($400), a new recorder that takes everything that mobile maestros loved about the previous H4 and H4n models and adds versatility and power.
It used to be that if you wanted superb audio, you’d have to shell out top dollar for a pair of clunky over-ear headphones. That’s all well and good when you’re sitting at home on Sunday night, quietly enjoying a glass of Scotch and listening to Schwarzkopf and Ackermann’s 1953 recording of Strauss’s “Vier letzte Lieder”, but what happens when you’re on the go? After all, if you’re going to pay $1,000 or more for something, shouldn’t you be able to show it off? Sennheiser’s IE 800 ($1,000) in-ear headphones have been heralded by many audiophiles as the best combination of sound and portability on the market.
Music to His Ears
Thought purchasing a Christmas gift for your in-laws was tough? Try shopping for someone who knows everything about media gadgetry and can’t abide anything but the best. The Mediaphile’s affinity for films, games, music, and yes, eBooks, goes beyond the bounds of reason and continues to expand as the consumer market welcomes the latest tech innovations daily. Best believe he’s on top of everything from next-gen gaming consoles to popular subscription-based apps. This presents a problem, because you think HDMI, DSLR, DAC and WAV are medical tests and/or prerequisite exams for grad school applications. Don’t run to the Geek Squad yet. We’ve pulled together some awesome media-primed options worth your coin this holiday. He’ll thank you — and then you won’t see him for a couple months, save for Doritos runs and the rare bathroom break.
See the Difference
February of 2009 was a sad month for videophiles: Pioneer, maker of the critically acclaimed Kuro (“Black” in Japanese) line of premium HDTVs with best-in-class blacks, announced that it was throwing in the towel. Carrying the torch for the ailing plasma market fell to Panasonic, who dutifully purchased many of Pioneer’s patents. While consumers saw plenty of bells and whistles grafted onto TVs launched in the following years, no set managed to best the Kuro’s picture quality — until now. Panasonic’s flagship ZT60 series ($3,000) has finally dethroned the king.
While anything bearing the McIntosh signature blue meters is guaranteed to catch our eyes faster than Brooklyn Decker at the pool, the MT5 Turntable ($6,500) deserves special attention. That’s partly because its 5-pound, 1.5-inch thick silicon acrylic platter glows greener than the envy of all who gaze upon it. But this beautiful piece of audio machinery has much, much more than just some literal flash.
Talk about shopping in advance
Oddly enough, the proliferation of electronic gadgetry, computer stuff and other digital goodies has made buying for the discerning sparkhead (we just coined that — please enjoy and proliferate at will) tougher. With this list, we aim to make the shopping a little simpler by covering suggestions for readers, photogs, movie buffs and gamers. Take a gander and start clicking; your techie giftee will thank you, probably with an email or holographic video message or something.
This one goes to 29
Smart folks in Cambridge, Massachusetts have estimated that the average American will spend a little under five and a half years driving during their lifetime. Meridian Audio and Land Rover have teamed up to make those years a bit more enjoyable. Drop 135,995 of your bucks on the Autobiography edition of the 2014 Range Rover and you’ll get the honor of experiencing the Meridian Signature Reference System: a 1700-watt, 29-speaker goliath of a system. And it’s even better than those numbers suggest. We break it down for you.
Home Theater, Redifined
Buying a projector can be deceptive: the thrill of viewing on a much larger screen often blinds shoppers to the installation migraines ahead. The high starts to fall away at home when the need to run power and signal cables to the back of the living room becomes apparent. Where do you find HDMI cables longer than six feet in length? How do you discreetly get them to the projector? The BenQ W1500 ($1599) hopes to finally break the cycle. It’s the first projector to include a wireless HD transmission technology called WHDI, which broadcasts uncompressed, full HD video and audio signals (including 3D) over a 5GHz channel up to 65 feet away from the transmitter.
Bump the bass -- and finish that report
The majority of us have become extremely comfortable with the mediocre phonics that ooze through the speakers of our laptops and PCs or the less-than-stellar resonance produced from our headphones. This is sad, seeing as how providing a significant audio boost can transform your desk into the ultimate home entertainment console.
For those seeking a more potent and louder alternative to their built-in receivers or noise-canceling cans, we assembled this collection of awesome stereo monitors sure to have your ears ringing. No, they don’t have to break the bank (though they certainly can, if you’re the splurging type). From portable blasters to music studio amplifiers, each is Bona fide audio hardware powerful enough to enliven any Netflix, Spotify, or Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 sessions at the computer counter. Now get jammin’.
You've never seen anything like this
Laser beams. Why aren’t laser beams everywhere? It’s 2013 — we’re supposed to be living in yesteryear’s science fiction by now, right? Leave it to the not-so-mad scientists at LG to second that notion. This 100-inch Smart TV (but one of many Smart TVs from LG) has a laser diode-based light source, which means more displayable colors with richer saturation, and since lasers are, well, lasers, the picture is fast enough to practically eliminate motion blur.
Luxury to Go
The recent rise in popularity of luxury headphones has created a large pocket of those who want high-quality audio, integration with their phone and portability but don’t want to look like they’re DJing a set at The Tunnel. The KEF M500 ($300) sits at the top of the heap for top-tier, portable headphones.
It's got you surrounded
Film fans scramble for the enhanced viewing experiences of 3D and IMAX, though they’re charged a premium. There’s a new technology trickling its way into movie houses across the globe, though, that represents another leap forward in cinema viewing — and it’s all about sound. It’s called Dolby Atmos. We experienced the next evolutionary step in surround sound firsthand — here’s what we think.
Thanks, Dr. Bose
Dr. Amar Bose passed away several weeks ago, after what can only be described as an incredibly productive life as an innovator, scholar, designer and mastermind behind some fantastic products that made lots of customers very happy.
Quite exciting, this computer magic!
While the rest of the world was busy lambasting the newest Ryan Gosling movie, Apple quietly released the long-awaited update to its famed Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), Logic Pro. To many Logic Pro X may seem like a yawn compared to retina displays and tube-shaped towers — but if you spend most of your day behind a sound board, this is like Kate Upton dancing on the hood of a a Jaguar with that Whitesnake song playing in the background. We break it down.
Putting products on a pedestal
We’ve all experienced it before — that overwhelming desire to stop and marvel at something. For some, the response is sparked by the sight of art, a beautiful landscape or even particular members of the fairer sex (uncouth, we know). Certain things in this world simply demand more than a passing glance or two. For people like us, though, it’s all about great things that live at the intersection of impeccable design and remarkable engineering. Chances are you feel the same way.
Today, we’re introducing a new way of telling stories — one with fewer words and a higher focus on bringing products we test to life through the magic of short-form video, one perfect for a quick moment of inspiration (or awe) that’s mobile friendly and ready to go. We’re calling them GP SHORTS.
Click to watch our first take.
Little Big Sound
Listening to music surely isn’t seasonal — but listening outside is. Now that the warmer, more relaxing months are upon us, it’s time to invest in a Bluetooth speaker that will just as easily perform backyard barbecue DJ duties as it will rainy day basement dance offs. Gone are the days of guarding against every fatal spill or doggy dry-off shake. A new crop of portable boomboxes presents rugged, well-designed and, yes, decent-sounding speakers. We size up five (plus one) of our favorites.
The screen of your dreams
If you’re like us, you have a long list of gear you’d love to own. But reality (almost) always steps in, along with bank accounts and eagle-eyed spouses, leaving your gadget desires unfulfilled. Gear Patrol’s series “Want This, Get This” presents a lust-worthy piece of gear along with a more affordable alternative that scratches the same itch. In this installment, we put the Sharp Elite PRO-60X5FD and the Panasonic TC-PST60 head to head.
What's that, now?
A respite from noise might seem thin on paper, but spend a few hours on an inescapable airplane with crying babies, heaving green-faced passengers or even a chatty cathy neighbor and get back to us on what you’re willing to pay for a little peace and music. What’s more, NC options have some of the best sound profiles available, making them true gems for audiophiles and the easily distracted alike. Considering the vastly small market for noise-canceling headsets available at the moment, the problem isn’t necessarily narrowing down the field — it’s choosing the best one for your audio needs. From pioneering audio staples to buzzing newcomers, these are the noise cancelers worth turning your ears to.
Speakers that speak for themselves
Pursue perfection. Some people — people at the top of their games — consider it a personal mantra. That theory holds for the design world, too, and it’s why industrial designer Joey Roth recently released a third version of his celebrated speaker system. Apparently, he just wasn’t satisfied yet.
The term “noise canceling headphones” almost always summons images of big puffy over-the-ear numbers. As wonderful as those can be, they’re bulky to pack if you’re traveling light, and during workouts, they suck — providing a feeling akin to sweating with scones strapped to your head. Austrian headphone maker AKG’s K391 NC offer up noise canceling features in a compact package. We tried out a pair.
There’s no shortage of speakers vying for your computer’s affections. The trouble is, most have land grab aspirations that put Ted Turner’s to shame. Nocs NS2 Air Monitors ($450) are precisely designed to suit even the “coziest” of desktop environments, but like any child of the information age, prefer not to be pigeonholed by any single role.
Free your TV
Ever since Sonos entered the streaming audio biz, couch potatoes with money to blow have wondered when they’d get some wireless TLC of their own. The Sonos Playbar ($699) is their long-awaited answer, boasting nine total drivers (six mid woofers and three tweeters), each powered by their own Class D amplifier.
Terms like all-metal enclosure, analog, and hand-made may conjure up thoughts of exorbitant price tags — most often you’d be right — but Meridian proves that occasionally pigs do fly. The British audio stalwart, known for stratospheric priced speakers and components, has unveiled the Meridian Explorer ($299), a pocket-sized USB DAC and headphone amplifier, and we got to try it out.
Take it outside
Music lovers don’t want to be tethered to an indoor system — loud enough to be heard outside is too loud for inside — but even “outdoor” systems rarely last long out in the wet and cold. Bowers & Wilkins AM-1 exposes your music to the elements with impunity, thanks to a durable, weather-resistance speaker enclosure.
Turn on the tube(s)
Looking more like a miniature robot monolith than audio componentry, the WOO Audio WA7 Fireflies ($999) is a convenient (ideal) solution to poor desktop sound. As both a high-grade vacuum tube headphone/speaker amplifier and a state-of-the-art USB digital to analog converter, the Fireflies puts everything serious audiophiles crave in a 5-inch cube.
Soup up for the Superbowl
Properly calibrating your TV and sound system is essential for getting the best picture and sound out of your gear — but few do it. Short of hiring a professional to take the work off of your plate, DIY solutions are grim: buying special discs and wading through various complex menus to get the job done. The THX Tune-Up App (Free, for now, $2 later) is a welcomed update to the process in a smartphone-dominated world.
To each their own
The world may not be in black or white, but a glance at today’s most popular gadgets would make you think otherwise. Wouldn’t it be grand if technology could mirror your tastes and preferences (Swarovski crystal crusts excluded) — and not cost a bloody fortune? Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro headphones ($195) are just that. Even in their stock form, a metal frame, metal ear cups, metal y-forks and a removable 2.5mm connector give the made-in-Deutschland set a premium feel.