Maybe you’re thinking more along the lines of a new pair of headphones or a lovely new TV for presents this year. It could be a gift for the family, or maybe even for you — hey, we won’t judge! If this is what you’re thinking, we have some ideas.
Not quite sure what anyone wants? Consider a pair of headphones or a portable speaker, and we’ve checked out so many this year that we know the decision is hard for anyone out there.
We’ll start this guide with a lovely pair of ultra-light earphones that are comfortable and support replaceable cable, with great sound to boot. Most people know the Bose name represents quality, but it isn’t known for many pairs of headphones under the $300 mark, and with what we’ve seen on the SoundTrue, it certainly should be.
Plantronics Backbeat Pro headphones
Without doubt one of the most feature packed pairs of headphones this year, Plantronics entered the full-size headphone
market with a bang, including active noise cancellation with a built-in rechargeable battery, easy to use on-ear controls, and Bluetooth for wireless functionality. While they can look a little strange to some, the Backbeat Pro headphones are definitely worth checking out.
KEF is one of those brands known for audio, and while the M500 were its first play with headphones, you can almost see the perfectionism in the first effort. Simply put, the KEF M500 were brilliant with amazing sound that is incredibly well balanced, while featuring an aluminium frame that is compact and easy to put away and very comfortable to wear.
Highly recommended. Hell, we didn’t want to give them back.
Parrot Zik 2.0 headphones
One of the more intriguing pairs of headphones out there, Parrot’s Zik 2.0 comes with dynamic drivers, allowing you to change the sound of your music dynamically. Think of it as the evolution of the equaliser with celebrity made profiles to match specific styles of tracks. The Zik isn’t just about that, though, with touchpad controls built into the headset, noise cancellation, and Bluetooth support.
Not everyone likes on-ear cans, and if you know someone who prefers in-ears and demands high quality audio, AudioFly’s AF180 catered for that area this year. It’s also an Aussie brand, one of the few we have, and is very comfortable and very loud.
There’s no microphone included as the AF180 are more designed for music than for phones, but if you don’t care, and if the person you’re buying for doesn’t care, we’d take a look at these specialised set of earphones.
Hand-made and from France, the Aedle VK1 are one interesting piece of kit, with titanium drivers and leather pads, they’re the equivalent to owning an old Jaguar E-Type, except for your ears. Without a doubt, one of our surprise favourite pairs of the year.
Probably the most luxurious pair we’ve ever seen, the LCD2 will make you look like a lunatic if you wear them in public, but at home, the sound is equivalent to listening to music live, provided you have something beautiful to run through them. Amazing.
We may well be living in a digital world, but that doesn’t mean your audio has to start that way. Vinyl is back, and if you like listening to a warmer sound, it’s good for that. Alternatively, there’s high resolution audio bought from online, and while it’s not necessarily warm like vinyl, it is a higher fidelity that doesn’t have to be stuck in your living room.
Looking for a way to get those records over to digital for playback through modern equipment (like the ones we’re about to mention)?
You might want to check out the Numark PT-01 turntable, a digital ready USB turntable that has a few settings, software to help you make the conversion, and a built-in speaker powered by several batteries, making it a record player you can take on picnics.
Sony NWZ-ZX1 High-Res Walkman
Fancy taking those vinyl rips with you in the 24-bit quality you extracted them in? You’ll need something for that, because while the iPod and iPhone are great for MP3s, neither will play back audio in 24-bit.
That’s where Sony’s high-resolution Walkman comes in, the NWZ-ZX1. It’s a very specific product, aimed at providing solid reproduction and large amounts of volume on the go in a gadget that’s small enough to bring with you but dedicated to high resolution sound.
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
One of Sony’s best phones, the pint-sized Xperia Z3 provides support for high-res audio out of the box, just like the Sony Walkman we just mentioned, making it possible to bring high-res audio on the go and still have a phone included.
It’s not the same experience, that said, and the ZX1 has more going for it as a dedicated audio player with more volume and sound enhancement technology, but if the person you’re buying for doesn’t need or want a new Walkman and would prefer a phone, we’d look at this option.
Alternatively, there’s LG’s G3 smartphone, offering more of that high-res audio support as far as mobile phones go. LG was first in the 24-bit space for mobile phones, supporting the technology ahead of the other companies, and if you want to save a bit more money, you can even look for the LG G2 which saw support for the technology late last year and should be available for less cash than LG’s more recent phone.
BlueSound multi-room range
Price: from $649
You might be noticed a trend in the HiFi category of this gift guide, and that is “high-resolution audio.”
Yes, this is the new vinyl, and it’s like vinyl in so many ways. Clearer, more detailed, and with a bit-rate like that of vinyl at 24-bit, so wouldn’t it be nice to have a way of playing this high-end format in every room? That’s what the BlueSound gear does, and while it’s not cheap, it does promise to keep a home audio enthusiast happy thanks to its ability to off crystal clear high-res audio in several rooms at once.
Astell & Kern Blue Note Kit
As long as you don’t mind spending almost ten grand on someone, if they like jazz, you’d be hard pressed to find a kit more interesting than this. A limited edition thing, this pairs a high-resolution audio player up with a Blue Note special edition collection, storing 75 of Blue Note’s best albums in high-resolution on the player.
Now all you need is a pair of great headphones to use it on, though we’re probably giving you some ideas for that in here…
HD Tracks Gift Certificate
Price: from $25 USD
Don’t have any high-resolution audio? There’s a fix for that, and while there aren’t many places to find high-resolution audio, HD Tracks is one of the places you can find it. Gift certificates from this online store come in the regular amounts, and while some of its albums may not be obviously available for Aussies, we’ve already found a loophole that makes this easy to get around.
Sound at home doesn’t necessarily have to be stuck in the living room, with speakers available all throughout the house thank to multi-room audio and Bluetooth speakers you can take with you.
The entry level to the Sonos system, the Play:1 is a surprisingly powerful compact speaker that can rock the living room, kitchen, or bathroom, and if you have a few, they can be synchronised in a party mode, playing music throughout the home together.
While we’ve yet to experience Panasonic’s answer to the Sonos, it gets our attention this holiday season because unlike Sonos, uses an open standard developed by Qualcomm to get sound working throughout your home.
This standard is “AllPlay,” and while Panasonic is the only developer with products currently available in Australia (that we know about), it means you won’t necessarily have to buy Panasonic products only as more companies begin to support the “AllPlay” multi-room technology.
Samsung’s effort in multi-room audio isn’t the open standard Panasonic is using. Rather, it’s closer to what Sonos has succeeded in, with a range of products allowing music to be synchronised across small, medium, and large speakers, as well as having quite a few soundbars. If the person you’re buying for already has a recent Samsung soundbar, this could provide some extra sound throughout the home.
Harman/Kardon’s first Bluetooth speaker grabbed high marks from us this week not just because it’s an elegant leather bound portable speaker, but also because it has a lovely warm tonality to it and can even charge two devices simultaneously, making it a good speaker to keep around with you, not just for sharing your music with the world.
B&O BeoPlay A2
A clear speaker with a design focused on taking it with you, the BeoPlay A2 is bright and cheerful and offers loads of volume, making it ideal for filling a room, or even a park and potentially annoying all the other guests.
Marshall Stanmore Bluetooth speaker
The problem with Bluetooth speakers is they often look the same. Basic blocks with a clean look, a couple of ports, and a simple on switch that’s often found somewhere on the body you’d check last.
But not Marshall’s Stanmore. No, this thing is pure rock god beauty, looking like it walked out of an Aerosmith video from the 70s, and with a quality of audio that really does max it to eleven.
If there’s a musician in your life, this is a great gift idea.
Home theatre evolved
Finally, if you have a relatively large packet to spend on someone (could be you), consider an upgrade to their living room. Now that Ultra HD TVs are becoming relatively common, our TV suggestions are based in them, while audio evolves with Dolby Atmos sound.
Soniq 55 inch E55S14A Frameless Full HD TV
Not everyone needs Ultra HD yet — hey, we don’t even have the content for the new TVs — so if you can live without it and want to save a buck, Soniq might have the answer with a frameless TV that is almost all screen and then a stand.
Sony 55 inch X8500 Ultra HD TV
Sony’s X8500 isn’t quite flagship level, but it does offer the 4K picture new TV owners are craving, support for 3D, a Triluminos display for brighter and more dynamic colours, and is even one of Sony’s few TVs that will offer five UHD movies over the holidays.
This might not seem like a huge draw in the beginning, but there’s virtually no UHD content in Australia, making this a gimmick that could grab sales.
Samsung 55 inch HU9000 Ultra HD TV
Prefer the allure of a curved screen to one of those flat ones everyone has? Samsung has the edge this year, offering curves throughout both the Series 8 and Series 9 TVs. If you go with Series 9, you’ll find Ultra HD, but if you forgot the new level that constitutes higher definition — higher than Full HD, that is — you’ll save around $1200. It’s your call.
LG 65 inch EC970T Ultra HD OLED TV
OLED TVs have been called the next generation of plasma now that the gas-based TV technology is gone, and if you see one for yourself, you can totally see why: the colours are so vivid, the images almost pop out of the screen, presenting a picture that you just can’t take your eyes off.
But few companies are producing OLED TVs, with LG the only company releasing a 4K model in Australia, supporting the Ultra HD and the OLED technology.
We don’t have this much money for a present, but if you do, power to you, and this telly is worth considering.
Onkyo TX-NR636 Atmos amplifier and speaker 5.1.2 package
We’ve had 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound for so long that it’s high time we had something new for this area, and now we do. Movie theatres overseas have had Dolby’s even more immersive Atmos sound for a while, and while only one cinema in Australia supports the technology, now Aussies can bring it home.
It’s not cheap, and there’s even less content here than in UHD (amazingly), but loads of movies are Atmos ready, so now we’re just waiting for companies to release the titles, and then you can get into a deeper sound experience.