The Most Exciting Audio Advancements Of The Year

Even if changes in audio quality on products aren't quite as perceptible is big jumps in pixel density on screens, the sound of movies might have way more of an effect on how you experience it. In short, good audio ain't just for audiophiles. Here's the sound technology that changed the aural universe this year.

Apple Earpods

Apple's redesigned buds probably had more of an effect on the world than any other audio product released this year. The old design was a decade old, and the new Apple EarPods were noticeably better and more comfortable than their predecessors. They're maybe not the highest-fidelity audio product out there, but its tiny improvement multiplied by tens of millions of units make for a massive impact. [More]

Kindle Fire HD

If you've ever watched video or listened to music on tablet, phone, laptop without using headphones, you know the built-in sound on these gadgets absolutely blows. It's never going to be optimal, but sadly, that's how these devices will be used a lot of the time. The Amazon Kindle Fire HD was the first device to use the new Dolby Digital Plus for mobile devices. The sound system from the masters of theatrical sound is designed to optimise the devices so that the built-in sound is less crappy. The system includes both digital sound processing and some industrial design. The DSP pushes out dialogue in movies and emulates surround sound. Dolby also provided consulting to Amazon on the placement of speakers to maximise their dinky output. Given that people will use the built-in speakers more and more, it's nice to see Amazon leading the charge with some top tech. [More]

Libratone Zipp

The promise of AirPlay has always only been half-fulfilled. They've succeeded in delivering high-quality wireless audio streaming, yes. But so far, AirPlay products have been too expensive or impractical to really hit any kind of mainstream appeal. That started to change this year. The Libratone Zipp is amongst the first truly portable AirPlay speakers owing to its built-in batter. Maybe more importantly, though, you don't need access to a wireless network because you can skip the AirPlay and connect directly in a pinch. Unlike previous Libratone products, the Zipp didn't cost a damn fortune either. [More]

Soundfreaq Sound Kick

As with AirPlay, Bluetooth speakers seemed to be missing their mark all along. They were either way too expensive to be Bluetooth speakers or they were cheap and sounded like garbage. The Soundfreaq Sound Kick struck a solid balance with a stupendous Bluetooth speaker you could buy for $150. [More]

Sennheiser IE 800

At $US1000 a pop, the Sennheiser IE 800 flagship in-ear monitors aren't exactly the buds that will take over the world, but they've got two innovations that will hopefully one day trickle down to more affordable buds.

First, Sennheiser designed the smallest wide-band driver in the world for the world specially for the IE 800s. Until now, designers have had to use dual-balanced armature drivers, Which Dr Sennheiser Axel Grell explained are never going to cut it. Furthermore, Sennheiser designed a new replaceable 3.5mm jack. The worst thing about buds is that they wear out so quickly because you use them on the move. After studying usage, Sennheiser realised that most of the time, the plug is what fails. [More]

Blue Microphones Tiki

Whether we like it or not we're going to be using our computers to record and transmit audio more and more and more. It's not just Skype — it's web conferencing, Google Hangouts, and video replies on YouTube, and more. This little microphone from legendary microphone builder Blue is light years better than the built-in mic in your computer or the inline mic on your headphones. And at $80, it won't break the bank. [More]

V-Moda Vamp Lightning Review: Glorious Overkill for iPhone Audio

If the high-fidelity audio products that audio nerds love haven't exactly trickled down to the iOS masses, part of the reason is that they don't fit into the music on-the-go lifestyle very easily. The V-Moda Vamp was a valiant attempt at creating a combination headphone amp and high-quality DAC specifically for iPhone users. Unfortunately, the case design only fits an iPhone or iPhone 4S, which means that as soon as you upgrade to the iPhone 5 — or any other phone — your awesome new DAC is obsolete. For a $US650 product, that's a pretty raw deal. The company says it's learned from the experience and is working on new products. [More]

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