This story is part of the GP100, our annual roundup of the best products of the year. To see the full list of winners, grab the latest issue of Gear Patrol Magazine.
The tech behind audio gear is always changing but its purpose generally stays the same: record players spin vinyl, headphones are for portable listening, amplifiers amplify. But this year has brought us innovations in how and what. Bose’s headphones don’t just help you listen, they help you talk. While Sonos’s bookshelf speaker is, thanks to Ikea, a literal bookshelf. All that in addition to stellar headphone amps, mobile DACs, record players and more.
Products are listed alphabetically.
Astell&Kern Kann Cube
While it might be adequate for podcasts, a smartphone can’t deliver quality, hi-fi-level audio. However, with its great built-in digital-to-analog converter and powerful headphone amp, the Astell&Kern KANN CUBE can power your nicest pair of cans. You’ll also need music, of course, and it has support for services like Spotify, Tidal, Deezer and Amazon Music, along with the ability to play virtually any lossless codec imaginable. Topped off with fast USB-C charging, it’s virtually a full kit for the audiophile on the go.
Audio Playback: Native 32-bit/384 kHz
Supported Formats: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, ACC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF, MQA
Digital-to-Analog Converter: Dual ESS ES9038PRO SABRE DACs
AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt
AudioQuest carved out a nice little niche in the hi-fi market, making high-quality USB digital-to-analog converters (DACs) for smartphones and laptops, but its latest portable powerhouse, the Cobalt, is poised to be a breakout hit. The highest performing DAC AudioQuest’s portable DragonFly series has delivered to date, it’s powerful enough to properly drive professional-grade headphones and monitors. It’s also power-efficient enough not to savagely sap your smartphone’s battery like its predecessors, making the Cobalt a small luxury actually worth considering.
Audio Resolution: Up to 24-bit/96kHz
Digital-to-Analog Converter: 32-bit ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Watch Now: The 10 Best Audio Products of 2019
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
With its all-new system of eight noise-detecting microphones, the new Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 aren’t just the best ANC headphones out there and heir the throne of the legendary QuietComfort line. Their ability to isolate your voice and mute ambient noise can give you an almost magical ability to speak softly and achieve a sense of privacy while on the phone in a public place. It’s a truly innovative feature that fundamentally changes the way we use our tech.
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Charging Port: USB-C
Battery Life: Up to 20 hours
Ikea Symfonisk WiFi Bookshelf Speaker
For years, Sonos has been the comfortable king of mid-range audio, but the Sonos x Ikea WiFi Symfonisk Bookshelf speaker is the company’s confident expansion of its domain. At a paltry $99 (available through Ikea exclusively), the still great-sounding speaker makes it almost too easy to enter the Sonos ecosystem, or extend its reach throughout your home. That it can double as an actual, literal bookshelf? That part is just gravy.
Availability: Exclusively through Ikea
Drivers: One tweeter; one mid-woofer
Maximum Load in Shelf Mode: 6.5 pounds
Cambridge Audio Alva TT
Cambridge Audio has been in the high-end audio business for over half a century, but its latest turntable, the Alva TT, looks forward to the next 50 years. The first turntable with Bluetooth aptX HD streaming, it’s able to stream high-resolution vinyl tracks (up to 24-bit/48kHz) to any compatible wireless headphones, speakers or Bluetooth receiver for top-tier sound without all the wires. And if you’re feeling old school, you can still wire speakers directly to the Alva TT’s RCA connections.
Turntable: Direct drive
Cartridge Type: High-output moving coil
Bluetooth Codecs: SBC, aptX, aptX HD
Fender American Acoustasonic Telecaster
The lines between genre, once codified and reinforced by the recording industry, are blurrier than every before. It only stands to reason the lines between instruments would follow. Fender’s American Acoustasonic Telecaster, with a body designed to merge the traditional characteristics of electric and acoustic guitars like never before, is a innovative tool for a new generation of guitarists looking to create new sounds as much as they replicate classic ones.
Wood: Mahogany neck, back and sides; solid A Sitka spruce top
Pickups: Under-saddle piezo; internal body sensor; N4 magnetic pickup
Controls: Master volume; “Mod” knob; 5-way switch
JBL Link Bar
Soundbars can give your TV’s subpar sound quality a boost, but JBL’s Link Bar also upgrades your “dumb” TV to a smart one. Acting as a set-top box and a Google Home smart speaker, the Link gives you access to Netflix or YouTube and lets you control your TV with your voice. Even if your TV has built-in smarts, the Link is a one-step solution to clunky interfaces and infrequent upgrades, and one that can plug right into your next TV, too.
Drivers: Two 20mm tweeters, four 44x80mm racetrack drivers
Connectivity: Chromecast, Google Home, Bluetooth 4.2
TV Audio Out: HDMI Arc, Toslink optical
McIntosh MTI100 Integrated Turntable
All-in-one turntables make listening to vinyl easy and cheap, so it’s no wonder they’re in vogue. For high-end audio nerds, the lack of customization options is generally a significant downside, but not so with the McIntosh MTI100. Yes, it’s an all-in-one, but it features the company’s renowned high-end phono stage, tube preamplifier and class-D power amp. Add in MacIntosh’s signature black lacquer finish, large tactile knobs and lime-green glow, and the result is a form factor audiophiles like to scoff at elevated to a product of undeniable appeal.
Cartridge Type: Moving magnet
Playback Speeds: 33-1/3 and 45 rpm
Schiit Ragnarok 2
Schiit Audio is a small California company that sells high-end audio components directly to consumers, resulting in superlative products that are surprisingly affordable. The company’s Ragnarok 2, a stereo integrated amplifier, is much more than the sum of its parts — but what makes it truly unique is its versatility. You can use it to power bookshelf loudspeakers and hi-fi headphones, or you can integrate it into a larger hi-fi system.
Power Output, Speaker Outputs: 60 watts RMS per channel (8 Ohms); 100 watts RMS per channel (4 Ohms)
Frequency Response: 20Hz-20Khz, -0.1db, 3Hz-350KHz, -3dB
Power Consumption: 500W maximum
Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones
As soon as true wireless headphones hit the market, the dream has been to see noise-canceling versions and 2019 has proven to be the year they have arrived in force. Sony’s WF-100XM3s, with their mouthful of a name and virtually peerless ANC abilities, are not only some of the best buds you can put in your ears right now, but a triumphant victory for the relative underdog which has beaten Bose and its upcoming 2020-release ANC earbuds to the punch.
Battery: 6 hours per earbud; up to 24 hours of battery life total with ANC turned on (with case)
Charging Port: USB-C
Key Features: noise-canceling, adaptive sound control, Quick Attention, works with Google Assistant
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