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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    I love how a Gizrank of 2.5 stars or less puts you under the category of "amazing", providing you're tied to Apple...

    Well done Mario, well done.

      Exactly, that's like saying a new pop song is amazing just because it doesn't suck quite as much as Justice Crew.

      These devices aren't supposed to be "amazing". They're "exciting". And I think that the Apple Earpods fit that title, given they're a big step in the right direction for mass-market earbuds. Sony tried a similar thing a long time ago (Discman) but it obviously didn't take hold. No more will people be content with those terrible metal-grill uncomfortable earbuds. Tens of millions of users moving from 1 star to 2 stars is a big deal.

      Last edited 20/12/12 2:22 pm

        I stand corrected - nothing quite gets my blood pumping like a pair of slightly less crap earphones...

    Earpods were not an advancement in technology. Even if Apple did release them

    Dear Mario,
    I want to become a tech journalist but I am not sure about how much I will get paid. Any chance you can tell me how much Apple is paying these days?

      Dear Mavx4,
      Thanks for your quick note.

      Just thought I'd drop you a line to let you know that you're particularly unfunny.

      Regards and GTFO,
      Luke Hopewell

        Hahahaha, on ya luke!

        Dear Luke,
        mavx4 has a point. The "best of"/"most exciting"/"most influential" lists have had absolutely blatant Apple pandering, when only one product really deserves to be on any of those lists, and not for any of the reasons you mentioned. If you're not being paid by Apple, your Apple fanboyism has certainly affected your journalistic integrity.

        Also, I thought it was quite a witty comment, and I would upvote it if I could be bothered to register (but I only comment one a blue moon, so why bother?).

        Regards and quit being a whiny baby in the face of criticism.

        P.S. Any usage of "you" or "your" refers not just to you specifically, but to Gizmodo as a whole.

    I stopped reading at earpods.

    Seriously, they are still crap.

    The earpods were not an advancement in audio, they may have been an advancement in in-ear headphone comfort, but they still sound like crap

    Ear pods. Ear Pods. Really? It only took 11 years of shipping round earphones with the iPod for Apple to work out ears are not round.

    Apple Fanboy: "It doesn't actually work properly, but we sold 5 million units of it. That's really all that matters".

    What's this "we" business Kimosabe ?

    Last edited 21/12/12 7:45 am

    Am I the only one connecting the dots that for the same price as that PC mic you could buy a Shure PG57 brand new or an SM57/58 second hand? I get that it's portable and what not, but that's still crazy overpriced.

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