This Year in Gear

31 of the Most Notable Audio Products from 2019


December 26, 2019 Tech By

This roundup is part of This Year in Gear, a look back at the year’s most notable releases. To stay on top of all the latest product news, subscribe to our daily Dispatch newsletter.

Amazon Echo Buds

Price: $130
From: amazon.com

Working with Bose to include the company’s Active Noise Reduction, the Echo Buds will be the first true wireless headphones Bose noise-canceling tech (beating out the company’s own buds coming in 2020), and one of just a few pairs that offer the feature at all. Previously, Sony’s WF-1000XM3 buds have been the king of the category as the first to build active noise cancellation in such a small body.

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Amazon Echo Studio

Price: $200
From: amazon.com

The brand new Echo Studio is Amazon’s first true high-end speaker that also delivers 3D immersive sound and supports Dolby Atmos. The speaker has a total of five drivers: three midrange, a downward-firing woofer, and a front-firing tweeter. It’s designed for music lovers who want to get the most out of Amazon’s new lossless streaming service, Amazon Music HD.

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Audio Technica ATH-ANC900BT

Price: $299
From: amazon.com

Audio Technica’s ATH-ANC900BT is a wireless ANC headphone with Bluetooth 5.0 support. Its juiciest features are a slightly more manageable price ($300, which makes it $50 cheaper than a new pair of QC-35IIs or 1000XM3s) and an estimated 35-hour runtime with ANC activated — longer than either its primary competition. A companion app allows users to adjust noise cancellation levels, hear-through, ambient noise and so on.

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Bose Nose-Cancelling Headphones 700

Price: $350
From: amazon.com

Bose’s Noise-Cancelling Headphones 700s have been engineered with a new digital signal processor and a new eight-microphone system, which will supposedly cancel out noise better than the QC35 II. Maybe more importantly, the new microphone system is designed to dramatically improve call clarity; whether you’re in a loud subway or in a crowded office, Bose claims that the built-in mics are able to isolate your voice so that whomever you’re talking to can hear you loud and clear.

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Bose Home Speaker 300

Price: $200
From: amazon.com

Bose’s Home Speaker 300, which is essentially a smaller and cheaper version of the company’s first smart speaker, the Home Speaker 500, lets you decide which virtual assistant you want to talk to; you can choose between Alexa or Google Assistant, but not both simultaneously. Bose’s new speaker will also be able to play in a multiroom setup, but only with Bose’s other smart speakers and soundbars, or with other speakers that support AirPlay 2.

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Bose Portable Home Speaker

Price: $350
From: amazon.com

The Bose Portable Home Speaker has Wi-fi and Bluetooth, meaning you can use it as a wireless multi-room speaker (as long as you link it up with other Bose smart speakers and soundbars) or a portable Bluetooth speaker, in case you want to take it outside. When at home and connected to Wi-Fi, it can be used as smart speaker; you can talk to either Google Assistant or Alexa and control the music with your voice. The speaker speaker supports AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect, too, so you can stream music to it in numerous ways.

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Bowers & Wilkins Formation Flex

Price: $382
From: bestbuy.com

The Formation Flex has a one-inch tweeter and a four-inch woven glass fiber cone woofer. It’s part of the B&W’s Formation line of speakers (if you couldn’t tell from its name), so you can sync the Formation Flex with any of the company’s other Formation speakers in a multi-room system. Like those other speakers, one of the biggest selling points of the Formation line is that they’re able to stream audio files up to 24-bit resolution and at sampling rates as high as 96kHz, which the company claims it has twice the fidelity of other high-end wireless speakers. And the Formation Flex is able to do just that, too.

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Braun LE Speakers

Price: $379+
From: braun-audio.com

Braun’s three new speakers – named LE01, LE02 and LE03, in order from largest to smallest – are designed to be bespoke and minimal, as was true with the original LE speakers, but the new models come with the built-in conveniences of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, with support for AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect and Chromecast, so you’ll be able to stream to them however you want – you can think of the new Braun LE speakers as high-end competitors to Sonos. You’ll be able to designate the same-modeled speakers in stereo pairs, as well as group them all in a multi-room sound system.

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Cambridge Audio Alva TT

Price: $1,700
From: cambridgeaudio.com

Separating hi-fi aficionados from their favorite cables is proving a slow process since wireless audio has so far not quite matched the quality of actual physical links between components. But Cambridge Audio just dropped a solution for retro-modern enthusiasts at CES: a wireless aptX HD audio turntable. The just-announced Alva TT is the world’s first vinyl player with that distinction, meaning it can stream high-resolution 24-bit/48kHz sound wirelessly to amps, speakers and headphones.

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Cambridge Audio AX Line

Price: $350+
From: amazon.com

Cambridge Audio is best known for its beautiful hi-fi audio components that, unfortunately, most people simply won’t be able to afford. However, the British audio maker’s new AX range — consisting of a CD player, integrated amplifier and two stereo receiver — strikes the perfect balance between hi-fi and value. The range brings the list price down to something very manageable. The AXC35 CD player and the AXA35 integrated amplifier, for example, both cost $349; and the two stereo receivers, the AXR85 and the AXR85, cost $399 and $499, respectively.

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Cambridge Audio Melomania 1

Price: $100
From: amazon.com

There’s good reason(s) to be excited by Cambridge Audio’s wireless earbuds. The company has recently made a push to be affordable, as shown with its recently announced AX range of audio components, and the Melomania 1 also fit that bill. At $130, they’re more affordable than Apple’s AirPods ($159+) and significantly so compared to other high-end true earbuds like the Sennheiser Momentum TW ($299) and the B&O’s Beoplay E8 2.0 ($350). It’s going to be interesting to see how the sound quality stacks up, given the low cost and Cambridge Audio’s high audio standards.

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Fluance Ai60 Bookshelf Speakers

Price: $200
From: amazon.com

The Fluance Ai60 are powered bookshelf speakers, meaning that they don’t require additional amplification or components because each speaker has a 100-watt class D amplifier built directly into it; you can hook them straight into your turntable, CD player, stereo or AV receiver, or even your new 4K TV (via optical), and they’ll just work. Basically, it simplifies the setup process. There’s also a subwoofer output in case you want to add additional bass. And the speakers support Bluetooth aptX, too, so you can stream audio straight from your smartphone or tablet if you like.

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Harman Kardon Citation 100 Wireless Speaker

Price: $280
From: amazon.com

Harman Kardon’s new take on the conventional multi-room speaker system is unique. The new Citation Series is a build-it-out-yourself, completely customizable multi-room speaker and home audio system. You can get individual countertop speakers which work similarly to, say, a Sonos Play:1, or you can build a robust 5.1-channel surround sound system, comprised of a powered soundbar, floorstanding speakers. Not only are the speakers in the Citron Series designed to look sharp — they feature the brand’s signature industrial design — but they have a modern twist. each speaker has a built-in high-resolution LCD touchscreen for touch controls (You’ll be able to do things like play/pause and adjust volume.

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iFrogz Airtime Earbuds

Price: $42
From: amazon.com

If you’ve never used a pair of iFrogz headphones, you’ve definitely seen them; they’re some of the most popular earbuds that are sold in airports. The company’s first ever true wireless ear buds are called Airtime and the main selling point is price — Airtime can be had for $60, which is a fraction of what Apple AirPods ($159+) and most other true wireless earbuds cost. Despite the affordable price, the iFrogz Airtime have a lot of the features you’d expect in other true wireless earbuds. They have a good battery life (15+ hours), adjustable EQ, Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity and are voice compatible with either Apple Siri or Google Assistant. The Airtime true wireless earbuds are also sweatproof (IPX4), which AirPods are not.

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Jabra Elite 85h Wireless ANC Headphones

Price: $198
From: amazon.com

The new Jabra Elite 85h have a really long battery life, which the company says can last up to 32 hours with active noise-cancellation turned on. The Elite 85h also work with all the major smartphone assistants, including Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant. Finally, there’s noise-cancellation. The Elite 85h are compatible with a companion app that will allow users to customize the strength of the noise-canceling, as well as tweak the EQ. But Jabra also decked out the Elite 85h with what it’s calling SmartSound, an adaptive audio technology that ensures you’re getting the best listening or calling experience.

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Jaybird Vista

Price: $160
From: amazon.com

The Jaybird Vista, which are effectively the next-generation of the Jaybird Run and Run XT are tiny. Both the individual Vista earbuds and the charging case are slim and lightweight; the case is actually designed to take on long runs, too. Each individual earbud has a roughly 6-hour battery life, with the case giving each earbud an extra 10 hours.

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Klipsch Heresey III, Special Edition

Price: $2,798
From: amazon.com

The Klipsch Heresy floor-standing speakers are part of the company’s famed Heritage series; they date back to the 50s and each speaker is handbuilt at the company’s Arkansas factories. And now? You can get them in matte black.

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Klipsch T5 True Wireless Earbuds

Price: $199
From: amazon.com

On the surface, Klipsch’s T5 True Wireless earbuds look similar to the Jaybird Run. They have the same shape and should fit in most people’s ears; plus, they come with swappable silicon tips, which Klipsch says provide an “excellent seal for noise isolation and superior bass.” As you’d expect, they’re supposed to deliver the same excellent sound that you’d expect from Klipsch. Maybe the neatest feature of the Klipsch T5 True Wireless is its carrying case. It’s small, roughly the same size and shape of the AirPods’ charging case. It’s also strikingly metallic and looks like a Zippo lighter. I have to admit, it definitely looks cool.

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Logitech Z606 5.1 Speaker System

Price: $130
From: amazon.com

The Logitech Z606 5.1 speaker system brings surround sound to your TV, computer or smartphone — almost any source — and it only costs $130. It has built-in Bluetooth so you can wireless stream audio to the system from a number of different sources, and it’ll also work with any device with RCA or 3.5mm inputs.

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Master & Dynamic MW65 ANC Wireless Headphones

Price: $399
From: amazon.com

Master & Dynamic used anodized aluminum instead of stainless steel to keep the MW65s ultra-light — they weigh just 250 grams. For comparison, Master & Dynamic’s similar-looking MW60 headphones, which are made with stainless steel, weigh 345 grams; and the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, which are the lightest and most comfortable active noise-canceling headphones we’ve tested, weigh 235 grams. The new lightweight design caters to the fact that most people looking for noise-canceling headphones also want to be able to wear them for longer periods of time (while traveling, commuting or working in noisy business environments). The MW65 headphones have custom 40mm Beryllium drivers, and even though they’re housed in a lighter material, the company claims you expect the same “signature rich, warm sound” that Master & Dynamic has become known for. The headphones feature two different active noise-canceling modes — high or low – depending on how much of the outside world you want to hear. You can shut ANC off altogether, too, if you want to get more battery life out of the headphones.

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Naim Mu-So 2 Speaker

Price: $1,349
From: amazon.com

The Mu-so 2 home speaker has more than 10 times the processing power of the original Mu-so, which helps it stream higher-resolution audio (up to 32bit/384kHz) and create an even bigger sound. While the Mu-so 2 looks nearly identical to the Mu-so, Naim radically improved its volume knob, which is what all Naim’s speakers have become known for. It’s still huge and wonderful, but the new dial now has a built-in proximity sensor. Whenever you place your hand near it, the dial will automatically wake up and become illuminated. This is also the most obvious way to tell if you’re dealing with a first-generation or second-generation Mu-So speaker — just stick your hand near it.

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Naim Mu-so Qb V2

Price: $899
From: naimaudio.com

The Mu-so Qb 2 looks almost identical to the original Mu-so Qb, but the most obvious physical change is with the new volume dial; it now has a proximity sensor, so it will illuminate when it detects your hand hovering over the volume dial, and it now has a completely new UI with 15 touch-sensitive buttons. You can preset Spotify or Tidal playlists to the speaker, that way you don’t have to take out your smartphone.

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Panasonic HTX90N headphones

Price: $120
From: amazon.com

The Panasonic HTX90N headphones have 40mm drivers with neodymium magnets, which the company says helps deliver of rich sound. They have a 24-hour battery life with noise-canceling turned on, which is actually really impressive. And they also have a built-in voice assistant function, in case you want to ask your phone something without taking out of your pocket or bag. Lastly, for listeners who really want to turn up the bass, there’s also a “bass enhancer” button on the side of the headphones.

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Powerbeats Pro

Price: $200
From: amazon.com

Like the second-generation AirPods, the Powerbeats Pro are true wireless earbuds that are powered by Apple’s new H1 chip. They can fast pair to your iOS devices and they support hands-free “Hey Siri.” They also promise to deliver nine hours of battery life between charges and more than 24 hours (total) with the charging case, which is better than what the AirPods can do.

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Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar

Price: $2,500
From: sennheiser.com

Sennheiser’s first-ever speaker, the Ambeo Soundbar has 13 total drivers — six four-inch woofers, five tweeters and two top-firing speakers — and is designed to create a completely immersive experience. Unlike traditional 2.0 soundbars, or 2.1 soundbars which are also decked out with a wireless subwoofer, the Ambeo soundbar is an incredible 5.1.4 speaker that’s, surprisingly, basically the same size as most other soundbars that you’ll find. With its six woofers, it’s able to produce incredibly low bass (30hz), while its top-firing speakers create virtual height channels so you’re able to get a completely immersive experience.

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Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

Price: $400
From: amazon.com

Sennheiser’s Momentum Wireless headphones are much more customizable when it comes to noise-cancellation. There are three different noise-canceling settings you can toggle through, and there’s a new transparency mode so you can better hear the sounds around you. You can even adjust the EQ settings via the Momentum app. Also new, the headphones are now integrated with optical sensors so that they’ll automatically turn on and play music when you put them on your head, and pause the music when you take them off.

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Sony WF-1000XM3

Price: $198
From: amazon.com

The Sony WF-1000XM3 are a big deal because they promise similar levels of sound quality and noise cancellation as the Sony WH-1000XM3 — the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy (although we’ll have to test Bose’s newest headphones to see if that still stands up).

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Sony’s PS-LX310BT Turntable

Price: $150
From: bestbuy.com

Sony’s PS-LX310BT turntable sends audio directly to wireless speakers, soundbars or headphones via its own Bluetooth transmitter. It will automatically maneuver the tone arm in a single-step playback feature; it has a built-in phono pre-amp for use with amplifiers; and it has a USB output to digitize vinyl collections. The aluminum die-cast platter helps balance sound and a sturdy dust-cover protects the tone arm from bouncing around by the acoustic pressure from the speakers. Finally, for those who prefer their audio delivered via cables, the turntable comes with that option, as well.

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Soundcore Anker Liberty Air

Price: $80
From: amazon.com

The Liberty Air won’t blow you away with features, but that’s not what they’re designed to do. They’re meant to be affordable, and compared to AirPods they definitely are. The Liberty Air come with a charging case that’s a similar size and shape to the pocketable AirPods housing and charges with a micro-USB cable. It packs Bluetooth 5.0 (and a simple pairing process), which may be the next best thing to Apple’s W1 Bluetooth chip. And the Liberty Air come with several silicone eartip options, which not only help with fit — AirPods don’t fit in everybody’s ears — but also makes these true wireless earbuds water- and sweat-resistant (IPX5), which AirPods are not.

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TCL Alto 5 and Alto 7

Price: $80
From: amazon.com

TCL’s Alto 5 and the Alto 7 are the company’s first-ever audio products. Both of TCL’s new soundbars are designed to work really easily with any existing TCL Roku TV. And beyond ease of installation, TCL’s new soundbars are designed to deliver a “premium home theater experience.” The two different soundbars are actually very similar; their main difference is size. The Alto 5 soundbar is designed to fit 43-inch TVs and larger, while the Alto 7 soundbar is really optimized for 55-inch-and-up TVs. It’s worth noting that both soundbars come in plus-sized models – the Alto 5+ and the Alto 7+ – that come equipped with a wireless subwoofer to deliver the extra bass you want while watching action movies or playing FPS video games. Additionally, since both soundbars have built-in Bluetooth, you can use them as wireless speakers and stream music directly from your smartphone or tablet.

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Technics SL-1200MK7 Direct Drive Turntable

Price: $1,000
From: bhphotovideo.com

Audiophiles and DJs rejoice. After a nearly 10-year hiatus, Technics revived its SL-1200 turntable series. The new models, dubbed the SL-1200 MK7 for the US and Japanese markets, will be the direct follow up to the SL-1200MK6-K and SL-1200MK6-S turntables released in 2008. With it, Technics promises “outstanding sound quality,” highlighting a new coreless direct drive motor to safeguard against cogging and rotation irregularity.

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The 10 Best Audio Products of 2019

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All the best gear to hear from the year. Read the Story

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