Somewhere along the way, audiophiles became as obsessed with looks as with sound quality. So set aside for a minute your ears and your skepticism: Here are the world's most beautiful-looking audio devices.
The ClearAudio Statement: At $US100,000 the ClearAudio Statement, seen above, is everything that is wrong with the audiophile culture, combined into one four-foot, 350kg, variously suspended, NASA-electronics-adorned turntable (check out a full-length shot here). But it's a design triumph, coaxing a polished, demure aesthetic out of what should by all means be an ostentatious CNC-machined mess.
Speak-er: Spawned by a playful concept that nobody honestly expected to get made, the Speak-er isn't fancy, powerful or technologically impressive. It's a dead-simple desktop speaker in a fantastic shell, which opens up a slew of design possibilities for your office, room, or live-action comic book troupe.
Sonnance Freewheeler: Continuing the simple-but-perfect theme, the Sonnance Freewheeler is a wireless speaker disc, about the size of a car's wheel and able to run for about 8 hours on a full charge. It's also $US21,000, but that neither here nor there, "here" being "within the range of you to buy" and "there" being "at all worth it, even if it was." But, pretty!
BeoSound 5: It's somehow heartening to see so much design go into a remote control. That's what the BeoSound 5 is: a 1024x768 screen with a brushed aluminium control wheel that serves solely as an interface for the BeoMaster 5, a giant B&O media server.
Montegiro Lusso Turntable: Apparently designed in the Towers of Hanoi tradition, this conical turntable is adorned with enough expensive-sounding features for even the most
credulous discerning audiophile. It's just under $US50,000, but really, you can't put a price on tying a room together, can you?
Sony Sountina: So, it's a speaker in a glass stick, but it's also one of the rare speakers that would work in virtually any setting. As a bonus, it can be illuminated in blue, amber or purple light, though I think it looks best without any at all.
V-Moda Vibe Earphones/Headsets: This is one of the few items on this list that people actually buy, and with good reason. They're capable (though not outstanding) earphones, on which V-Moda has shown extreme attention to design. The corrugated bodies, Mont Blanc-esque pen-tip wire accessories and (sometimes) fabric wire casings make for the most stylish earphones on the market today.
Harman Kardon Soundsticks: You've seen these at Apple Stores and Best Buys for years, but they're due some credit. They bring a stunning transparent aesthetic to mainstream buyers, perfectly complementing a generation of Apple hardware while being generally gorgeous enough to be appealing to the PC crowd too. You'd still be hard-pressed to find a lovelier set of speakers for under $US200.
Opera Sonora Speakers: Every once in a while, questionably scientific theories of audiophilia result in extremely handsome products. That's the story of the Opera Sonora line of speakers. The theory: Bolting little speaker driver on to the back of tonewood—the same stuff used in high-end violins—will provide a rich, warm sound. The result: Speakers that look like they were designed by a reanimated Antonio Stradivari, with a sound—well, not many people have actually heard them yet.
Sony Qualia 010: Priced at over $US2500, slapped with a painfully pretentious name and jinxed forever to be rejected by mainstream-averse audiophiles, these futuristic headphones were doomed from the start. But whatever, these are subtly good-looking cans, blending in for day-to-day use but revealing meticulous design and construction on close examination. (Image from Head-fi)