2018 has been a fantastic year for audio technology, with lots of incredible new smart speakers, headphones, and HiFi systems coming to the market.
With all those choices, it can be really difficult to know which gadget is best for you, especially when the standard in audio quality has gotten so high across the board this year – and with Christmas fast approaching, you may be wondering which audio gadgets to buy for the music lover in your life.
So, we've put together this handy round up of all the best audio gadgets of 2018, with all the top gadgets from each category, meaning you don't have to spend ages trawling the internet to find out which gadget would suit you best. Read on for our favorite audio gadgets you should be gifting your loved ones this Christmas:
- Looking for a breakdown of the best audio gifts by price? Check out our best gifts for audiophiles and music lovers of every budget
Best headphones 2018: Sony WH-1000XM3
The headphones that can do everything
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 254g | Cable length: 3.94 ft | Frequency response: 4 Hz-40,000 Hz | Drivers: 40mm | Driver type: Neodymium | Sensitivity: 104.5 dB / mW (1 kHz) | Impedance: 47 ohm | Battery life: 30 hours | Wireless range: 33 ft | NFC: Yes
If there’s anything surprising about the new Sony WH-1000XM3 it’s that they’re so consistent with what Sony has released in the last two years in the form of the Sony WH-1000XM2 and Sony MDR-1000X. Like the others, the WH-1000XM3 are a dominant noise-cancelling pair of headphones that can beat out anything Bose has with both arms tied behind its back.
While Bose has done a tremendous job working out its noise-cancellation algorithm over the years, Sony has spent that time perfecting audio playback. The latter simultaneously developed an adaptability algorithm that creates not one sterile sound barrier, but multiple kinds that can adapt to whatever situation you’re in.
Beyond exceptionally keeping external noises at bay, Sony's headphones are Hi-Res Audio-ready, sporting aptX, aptX HD and LDAC codecs, and it will also offer Google Assistant support right on-board. If you need a pair of headphones that can live up to any challenge and excel in any environment, these are for you.
Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM3
Best in-ear headphones: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones
Your search for great sounding, good value headphones ends here
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 20-40,000Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 99 dB/mW | Impedance: 32 ohms | Battery life: N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: N/A
After spending a few weeks with both the 1MORE Triple Driver in-ear headphones and the 1MORE Quad Driver in-ear headphones we were blown away at just how much value each one gave in their prospective price ranges.
For $100 (£100, about AU$168), it’s hard to think of a better sounding and built headphone than the 1MORE Triple Driver. (That said, if you want just that little extra refinement and luxury materials, the 1MORE Quad Drivers are still a bargain at twice the price.)
There’s very little we can fault the Triple Drivers for. Its rubber cable is annoying and its remote control feels cheap but these are just nitpicks. But, for its price, it’s impossible to do better than 1MORE's Triple Driver in-ear headphones.
Read the full review: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone
Best noise-canceling headphones: Bose QC 35 II
Noise-cancelling headphones for folks who don't want to hear a peep
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 23g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 10 hours | Wireless range: 33 ft | NFC: Yes
Despite being nearly identical to the already-excellent Bose QuietComfort 35, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II is updated for 2018 with Google Assistant. This means you still get the class-leading noise cancellation Bose is known for along with good sound quality and incredible comfort, plus a convenient assistant to answer any inquiries you might have while traveling.
Taken as a whole, the Bose QC35 II NC is an excellent headphone for travelers and commuters. Bose has found a good balance of features that will satisfy most mainstream listeners. While we don't love them as much as the better-sounding Sony WH-1000XM3, they're still top of the class for noise cancellation.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Best true wireless earbuds: Jabra Elite 65t
One of the best true wireless earbuds you can buy
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 4.5 hours (13.5 hours in charging case) | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No
All things considered, the Jabra Elite 65t are one of the best truly wireless headphones you can buy today. They cost slightly more than the Apple AirPods but they also offer better sound quality, noise isolation and adjustable ambient noise when you want it. And if you don’t like the design of the odd, alien-looking AirPods, the mature, understated look of the 65t may be to your liking.
While the Jabra Elite 65t are easily one of the highest scoring true wireless headphones we've reviewed, there are a few others on the market worth considering: If you want a pair of exercise earbuds, there’s the Jabra Elite Sport which has a higher water resistance and handy sports-oriented features. For audiophiles who don’t mind stretching the budget, the active noise-cancelling Sony WF-1000X are an excellent choice. Bassheads will want to try the SOL Republic Amps Air.
If you only have the budget for one of these, though, go for the Elite 65t.
Read the full review: Jabra Elite 65t
Best soundbar: Samsung HW-MS650 Soundbar
Be afraid, traditional Hi-Fi speakers. Be very afraid.
Dimensions: 1060 x 78 x 130mm (W x H x D) | Speaker configuration: 3.0 | Claimed audio power: 9 x 20W | Connections: Single 4K/HDR HDMI loopthrough, one optical audio input, 3.5mm audio port, 2-way Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
Not content with dominating the TV world, Samsung now seems to have its sights set on becoming the number one brand for home entertainment audio, too. All this effort has already delivered outstanding results in the shape of both the HW-K850 and, especially, HW-K950 Dolby Atmos soundbars, as well as a range of ground-breaking multi-room wireless speakers.
But, above everything stands the South Korean manufacturer's HW-MS650. No other one-body soundbar has combined so much raw power with so much clarity, scale and, especially, bass, or excelled so consistently with both films and music. It’s the sort of performance that only genuine audio innovation can deliver - and with that in mind, it’s well worth its $450/£599 price tag.
Read the full review: Samsung HW-MS650 Soundbar
Best stereo speakers: Definitive Technology BP9080x
Incredible towers that earn their hefty price tag
Dimensions: 7” x 50.5” x 16” (W x H x D) | Weight: 62 lbs | Dolby Atmos / DTS:X enabled: Yes | Active or Passive: Active sub, otherwise passive | Subwoofer: 12 inch powered | Frequency response: 16 Hz - 40 kHz
In life, money isn’t everything. In sound, however, it’s pretty important.
Case in point: the Definitive Technology BP9080x speakers. Right off the bat we want to make it clear that this stereo pair is a luxury item that is made only for the most avid audiophile on the market.
If that’s you, then let us tell you just how amazing these speakers are.
From beginning to end of the covered frequency range, the BP9080x speakers are crystal clear, articulate, and genuinely moving. The passive design is aided by an active subwoofer, giving the user independent control of the subwoofer volume on each tower, meaning it can be adjusted to fit any room with any standing waves.
The midrange is as full and clear as any speakers we’ve ever heard, never getting overworked or muddy no matter what songs and sounds we threw at it. The pitch-perfect mid range blends perfectly into the gorgeous treble frequencies that never got harsh, even when the windows were shaking from the volume. The clarity from the top of the frequency range to the bottom can’t be overstated.
On top of it all (literally) there are two “height channel” speakers that make this a perfect centerpiece in your Dolby Atmos or DTS:X home theater.
All of this audio goodness is wrapped in a tall and slender package made from premium materials that is impossibly discreet, especially considering the amount of volume it can pump out. All we can say is that if you’re looking to spend the money (and it is a lot of money), we can’t recommend Definitive Technology’s BP9080x speakers enough.
Best Wireless / Smart Speaker: Sonos One
For the time-being, the Sonos One is the king of connected speakers
Weight: 1.85kg (4.08 lbs) | Size: 6.36 x 4.69 x 4.69 in | Drivers: 1 x tweeters, 1 x woofer | Supported Connectivity: AirPlay, Bluetooth 4.2, Google Cast, Spotify Connect, 3.5mm, RCA | Ethernet: No | Aux-in: Yes | USB: No
If you're in the market for a cleanly-designed, exceptional-sounding connected speaker, you'll find none better than the Sonos One. Offering the best of both Sonos' multi-room speaker platform and Amazon's smart home prowess, the Sonos One is the pinnacle of connectivity.
Want to hear your favorite song from Spotify? All you need to do is ask! Want every speaker in the upstairs to play the same song? Group them together via the Sonos app and you'll have a house party in minutes.
While there are more powerful (and more expensive) speakers listed down below, for the vast majority of folks, the Sonos One is the best deal in 2018.
Read the full review: Sonos One
Best portable speaker: UE Boom 2
The best Bluetooth speaker
Weight: 1.2 pounds | Battery life: 15 hours | Wireless range: 30+ feet | Frequency response: 90Hz-20kHz | Drivers: Two 1.75" drivers and two 1.75" x 3" passive radiators | NFC: Yes | Aux-in: Yes USB charging: Yes
This sequel to the UE Boom nails everything a Bluetooth speaker should be. It's loud, yet its audio detailed. Portable, but still incredibly durable. Plus, even better, the addition of waterproofing turns what used to be the best Bluetooth speaker around for most occasions into the best one for every occasion.
If you're deep in the search for your next – or first – Bluetooth speaker, you can stop looking now. (But if you're looking for a little more power, the Megaboom – also from UE – is a great choice, too.)
The UE Boom 3 recently came out if you're looking for a more up-to-date version of the portable speaker. Read our full UE Boom 3 review for everything you need to know.
Read the full review: UE Boom 2