Final-minute presents for the intense audiophile in your life
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Greatest bang-for-the-buck headphones: Meze Audio 109 PRO
Since being launched in 2015, the Meze Audio 99 Classics headphones have been a gateway drug to the audiophile habit due to the fast rush delivered by the detailed however never-fatiguing sound. Properly, that precision-driven excessive is heightened 10x by the Meze Audio 109 PRO, one of many all-star introductions of 2022 for its comfy steadiness of euphoria and technicalities. A dynamic, open-backed headphone, the 109 PRO shares the design language and agreeable ergonomics of its sibling however refines and reinforces the natural texturing and heat however by no means congested bass response because of a brand new beryllium-coated polymer + cellulose-carbon driver within the sustainably harvested walnut ear cups. Punchy with panache that performs effectively above its $799 worth level, the 109 PRO could be one other taste to some and end-game to others, in a position to please an audiophile no matter expertise.
Greatest professional-grade headphones: Audeze MM-500 Planar-Magnetic Headphones
Know somebody with a house studio that needs they may work on their mixes extra however is frightened about disturbing housemates or neighbors? However they’re additionally only a music lover generally? Audeze—the Southern California-based headphone designers that most likely did essentially the most to popularize planar-magnetic headphones—has launched what quantities to a set of transportable, private near-field studio displays in 2022. And so they’re equally wonderful for much less analytical, extra leisurely listening—particularly with vocal materials. Developed with famend combine engineer Manny Marroquin, the $1,699 MM-500 feels stable within the hand however not extreme on the top. And, as soon as music begins taking part in, it’s just like the headphone itself isn’t even there—the music laid out earlier than you with out ever being overly diffuse, completely poised for a scintillating playback session or figuring out the place to use that final little little bit of EQ glue. Because of the lithe transients, spacious midrange, and energetic bass of its orthodynamic drivers, the MM-500 headphones could be each a day by day driver and a sonic scalpel because it makes music extra approachable and extra clear. It’s an imminently pleasuring, pure not simply impartial response. (And, for those who’re in search of one thing transportable and potent, the Audeze Euclid is the most effective planar-magnetic in-ear monitor you’ll be able to reward earlier than going all-in on one thing customized just like the superlative Campfire Supermoon. And each of those tackle much more life/reveal much more layers when paired with the XBass II and XSpace processing of the iFi xDSD Gryphon, featured beneath.)
Greatest summit-fi headphones: Focal Utopia 2022 Headphones
Suppose somebody you’re keen on is seeking to replicate the indulgence of a luxurious listening station. In that case, the Focal Utopia headphones are as near a pair of freestanding loudspeakers as you’ll be able to slap on a head. These flagship open-back over-the-ear headphones produce an ultrawide frequency response and holographic imaging with startling realism because of 40mm M-shaped beryllium drivers impressed by high-end audiophile towers. Gentle lambskin earcups and headphone padding make these headphones really feel nearly as good as they sound. As we mentioned in our greatest headphones roundup, the Focal Utopia 2020 (nonetheless a compelling purchase at its $3,399 “closeout” worth) is “the idyll excellent—impressing not with its sheer energy, however with its absolute prowess.” And the $4,999 2022 mannequin additional enhances the emotional resonance whereas lowering the detrimental vibrations. Each highs and lows are prolonged with out lowered focus or lightning-quick finesse, particularly when paired with a DAC/amp such because the Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Version.
Greatest transportable DAC/amp: iFi xDSD Gryphon
These new ‘cans can’t showcase their finest with out correct energy, which could be tough to get on the go … tough, that’s, if somebody doesn’t have the iFi xDSD Gryphon. The magic of the Gryphon lies in its versatility, which greater than justifies its $599 worth. You’ll be able to lower the twine and use it, when absolutely charged, for as much as 8 hours on the go together with Bluetooth streaming over SBC, AAC for iOS, and as much as 96kHz utilizing LDAC, LHDC/HWA, or aptX HD/Adaptive on Android units. Otherwise you plug it in by way of USB, Coax, or Optical and make sure that no audio bit will get adulterated by wi-fi compression. When you’re listening, you’ll be able to improve bass and/or higher midrange presence, in addition to soundstage with iFi’s revolutionary XBass II and XSpace analog enhancements. Related to your PC over USB-C, it’ll act as an exterior soundcard, eliminating the necessity for a devoted desk setup—good with headphones and, when the Gryphon accepts a digital supply, ports on the again may even be used to feed an exterior amp or powered displays. The super 1000mW @ 32 ohms of energy on provide over its balanced connection additionally means this DAC can drive even very demanding headphones. The one-ended connection is rather more restricted at 320mW however continues to be sufficient to drive the overwhelming majority of cans obtainable at present. And for those who’re a fan of delicate in-ear displays (IEMs), don’t fear. The Gryphon additionally presents an iEMatch mode (assignable to both output) to forestall hiss from invading your favourite tracks, whereas sustaining dynamics.
Greatest Bluetooth turntable: Audio-Technica AT-LP120XBT-USB Handbook Direct-Drive Turntable
Audiophiles don’t emerge like Athena, absolutely fashioned from one other’s headspace and innately imbued with knowledge. No, they should be nurtured and taught the ins and outs of signal-chain foibles. And so they’re not all going to have the area or inclination to begin stacking parts. An amazing entry level for the budding music-first audiophile is a turntable filled with connectivity choices. The $399 Audio-Technica AT-LP120XBT-USB—that includes a high-torque DC servo direct-drive motor with selectable 33-1/3, 45, or 78 rpm speeds—is appropriate with nearly any music system, because of its number of outputs, each digital and analog. On the digital facet, you’ll be able to pair the turntable by way of aptX with Bluetooth audio system, headphones, or DAC/amps just like the Gryphon above. Listeners can even use the USB port for copying your albums digitally to a pc. Within the analog area, the built-in preamp lets you join the turntable to line-level inputs on a preamp or receiver. It’s also possible to bypass the preamp to connect with an exterior unit. Because of its multiplicity of output varieties, the AT-LP120XBT-USB is a turntable you’ll be able to maintain onto as you amass a rig and checking account extra in keeping with boutique turntables that value within the multi-thousands. If you happen to’re extra involved with funds, perhaps since you’re gifting a teen their first turntable, Audio-Technica additionally presents a extra reasonably priced belt-driven Bluetooth possibility, the AT-LP60XBT-BK.
Greatest streaming audio system: KEF LS50 Wi-fi II + KC62 Subwoofer
If you wish to give somebody sonic depth with no deep footprint, package deal the KEF LS50 Wi-fi II standmount audio system with the KC62 subwoofer. The twin 6-inch woofers within the improbably small sealed subwoofer couple completely to one in every of our high powered audio system, an effortlessly built-in element able to bringing a large candy spot to a small room. KEF’s putting, copper-hued Uni-Q driver—backed by Metamaterial Absorption Know-how to scale back undesirable reflections and distortion—orients a 1-inch vented aluminum-dome tweeter within the acoustic middle of a 5 ¼-inch magnesium-aluminum alloy woofer cone to create a large listening candy spot. A bass-reflex cupboard with elliptical rear ports is designed to maximise correct, musical low finish. And people bass notes can attain as little as 11Hz as soon as handed off seamlessly by way of DSP to the KC62, opening the LS50’s headroom to soar. Plus, copious connectivity (Spotify to TIDAL to Apple Music; AirPlay 2, Google ChromeCast, and Roon to Optical, Coaxial, and HDMI, plus extra) means you’ll by no means need for showcase sounds. At a bit beneath $4,000 for the pair, it’s not an inexpensive set-up, however its wow issue is priceless.
Suppose you’re trying only for bookshelf audio system that also provide loads of lows and hi-fi pedigree. In that case, we suggest the JBL 4305P ($2,200/pair), which debuted at CES in January 2022 and is the primary powered mannequin in its client Studio Monitor sequence. This absolutely loaded speaker incorporates a 45-25,000 Hz frequency response, built-in Class D amplification, 24-bit/192 kHz converters, and 6 audio inputs that may connect with an enormous vary of digital and analog sources to offer complete, hi-res wired and wi-fi connectivity. Every speaker incorporates a 2410H-2 1-inch compression driver mated to a Excessive-Definition Imaging horn for crystal-clear highs and lifelike dynamics. A 5.25-inch cast-frame, fiber-composite cone woofer operates in a bass-reflex configuration with twin front-firing tuned ports. The tip result’s the energetic dynamics anticipated from a horn-guided tweeter offered with punchy authority, particularly in its beefy midrange, that’s not stunning for a corporation with heritage firmly entrenched in each management rooms and dwell sound reinforcement. Relating to high-res streaming, the 4305P takes high quality to the following degree, because of an built-in streaming engine that gives wired and wi-fi community audio capabilities by way of Ethernet, Google Chromecast Constructed-in, Apple AirPlay 2, and Bluetooth 5.1, combo XLR and ¼-inch TRS phono connectors, asynchronous USB and optical digital inputs and a 3.5mm analog in.
Greatest compact sensible speaker: Bluesound PULSE M
To this point, we’ve recommended plenty of gear for an optimized listening station. However perhaps you’re looking for somebody enthusiastic about a multiroom set-up. An amazing place to begin is anyplace with the $449 Bluesound PULSE M, a compact cylinder of a speaker that runs off BluOS, letting it stream music from a myriad of sources over Wi-Fi. Whether or not within the nook of a kitchen counter or on a bedside desk, the PULSE M’s upward-firing woofer and twin tweeters (angled outward 45 levels) disperse a surprisingly expressive, expansive soundstage contemplating its extra diminutive dimensions. Pair two in parallel and you’ll have a wider, true stereo setup, or put them all through a house and arrange them by zones to handoff audio simply to the speaker the place the listener is or broadcast the identical monitor all through all rooms. (You’ll be able to combine these with any speaker system working BluOS; for instance, increase them with the Bluesound PULSE SUB+, put them as rear channels with the $999 Bluesound PULSE SOUNDBAR+, or use them on the identical community because the $1,499 PSB Alpha iQ stereo audio system, if you need one thing extra highly effective.) AirPlay 2 or aptX HD Bluetooth allow you to stream on to the PULSE M (from, say, a Bluetooth turntable like we beneficial above), plus the PULSE M has a USB-A port for connecting file-filled thumb drives and a 3.5mm twin analog/digital enter for connecting a supply with an aux cable.