Since 2020 has forced the majority of us to stay home, it's given us more time to read, watch shows and, most importantly, listen to some great music. Thankfully a lot of new speakers, headphones and other audio components have been released this year. Below are some of our favorites.
Apple's first wireless over-ear headphones are anything but cheap, but they're some of the best noise-canceling headphones we've ever tested — read our review, here. They combine all the best features of AirPods Pro, including noise-canceling and transparency modes, quick iPhone pairing and support for Dolby Atmos. They also are made of more premium materials, like stainless steel, instead of the plastic that's sound on more affordable options.
The new Sonos flagship soundbar, the Arc ($799), improves upon its near-decade-old ancestor, the Playbar, in a whole host of ways. It has an all-new design, and updated guts to work as a smart speaker with Google Assistant or Alexa, but its standout feature is without a doubt its support for Dolby Atmos; in fact, it's the first Sonos soundbar to support the immersive sound technology
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
The Bose QC Earbuds have many of the same features and abilities found in the company's flagship noise-canceling over-ear headphones, the Headphones 700, and pack them into a pair of truly wireless earbuds. They're one of the best noise-canceling wireless earbuds that we've ever tested. The only downsides are that they're pretty big and pretty expensive.
JBL L82 Classic
The JBL L82 Classic is effectively a smaller, more affordable version of the company's famed L100 Classic loudspeakers. They're also roughly half the price: $2,500 a pair. Despite the discount, they’re still hefty beasts that pack a serious punch. Each speaker weighs almost 14 pounds and is 18 inches tall — much bigger than traditional bookshelf speakers. As far as sound quality, the JBL L82 Classic delivers the accurate, dynamic and powerful sound you'd expect from a legendary speaker. Each speaker has the same tweeter found in the L100 Classic and a smaller 8-inch woofer; the L100 Classic has a 12-inch woofer and a dedicated midrange driver.
Pro-Ject Carbon Evo
The all-new Debut Carbon Evolution is basically a more hi-fi version of Pro-Ject's most popular turntable, the Debut Carbon DC. It's $100 more expensive and features most of the same bones as the rest of the Debut line, such as the same platter and the same one-piece carbon-fiber tonearm that can work with pretty much any phono cartridge (in case you want to upgrade down the road). But the new model comes with a couple of key upgrades, such as a better phono cartridge and platter, and an improved motor suspension system, all of which are designed to reduce unwanted distortions.
Klipsch The Fives
The Fives ($799) are a true soundbar killer. They are the first powered speakers to have an HDMI-ARC connection, meaning they can be connected directly to your TV without the need of an AV receiver, and just like a soundbar. They also come with a host of other features which make them super versatile. They have an integrated phono pre-amp so you can pair them with most turntables. They support optical, aux (via mini-jack), USB and RCA connections. They have built-in Bluetooth so you use them to stream music wirelessly if you choose.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
The Galaxy Buds Live are utterly unique among wireless earbuds. They have no stem like Apple's AirPods and no noise-isolating tips like so many other competitors. Their strange and unusual kidney-bean shape is almost comical at first glance, but the Galaxy Buds Live are no slouch. Even with their open design, the Galaxy Buds Live boast active noise-cancellation — something none of Samsung's other wireless earbuds have — which is really effective at canceling low-end frequencies. Plus, they feature great battery life and good sound quality.
Astell & Kern A&futura SE200
The world's first portable music player to have multiple built-in DACs, the A&futura SE200 has three in total, including the DAC from Astell & Kern’s flagship SP2000, which goes for nearly twice the price. The SP2000’s unique capabilities give obsessive audiophiles the ability to adjust the sound signature on the fly, cramming sonic versatility into an unprecedentedly portable package.
Ultimate Ears Hyperboom
The Hyperboom isn't what we've come to expect out of Ultimate Ears. Yes, it's a portable speaker. And yes, it sounds excellent. It’s also absolutely gargantuan. At 13 pounds, it's the company's biggest but also most powerful portable speaker, outclassing competitors like Sonos Move in ruggedness and volume. The Hyperboom is a Bluetooth speaker with a very good idea of what it is: the ultimate party machine.
The UE Fits solve the biggest problem that most people have with wireless earbuds — finding a pair that perfectly stay in your ears. Instead of supplying the various silicone or Comply ear tips that come with most wireless earbuds, which then require you to pick the best size to best fit your ears, the UE Fits come with gel-filled eartips that are able to perfectly mold to each of your ears and then are set with UV light.
Sony didn't exactly reinvent the wheel with the WH-1000XM4s. In fact, they look virtually identical to their 2018 predecessor. But that doesn’t mean they haven't improved. They have slightly larger earpads and a tweaked headband to make them more comfortable. They also have improved noise-cancellation, better and more intelligent features — they're simply some of the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy. (And they're significantly more affordable than Apple's AirPods Max.
The Streambar is a tiny compact soundbar that's just 14 inches in length and weighs 2.4 pounds. It's essentially a smaller version of the Roku Smart Soundbar, which was released last year and costs $180. The Streambar has a built 4K HDR streaming player that supports Dolby Audio, which is equivalent to the Roku's $50 Streaming Stick+. This means that in addition to improving your TV's sound, it also has the power to turn your "dumb" TV into a "smart" TV that's able to stream apps like Netflix, HBO Max and Peacock.