I never realised just how many different sets of headphones, earphones and speakers we report on and review here at Ausdroid until I was tasked with compiling this guide. Maybe I should have put my hand up for something else…. anyway, there are some good audio devices and there are some great audio devices and in the end it is hard to separate one from another when a lot of it is down to sound preference and the type of music you listen to.
I’ve done my best at weeding out what I feel is the best of the bunch and without further ado let’s get into it.
I will preface this section with a quick summary of what I will include here. Here I will include all of the “traditional” headphones that fit over or around the ear — NOT in the ear.
Throughout this year we have reviewed and tested out and reported on quite a few sets of headphones but for this category it really came down to two sets of headphones. I have ruled out the Parrot Zik 3 because although they were announced and released here this year and even though I have found the Zik series to produce some very high quality sound Parrot have been unable to relieve or alleviate the extreme discomfort experienced while wearing them found in Zik 1 and 2.
At over $500 a pair the uncomfortable nature of the Zik series makes it very difficult to recommend them over the others available.
It was hard to separate three of the sets — Sony H.ear On, Bose QC35 and Sennheiser PCX 550. In the end I ruled out the Sennheisers for two reasons — while the sound was amazing, it just wasn’t quite up to the quality of Sony’s and their price, at over $600, is easily the most expensive out of the three.
The final two sets to make the grade were the Sony H.ear On and the Bose QC35 with both of these sets being wireless noise cancelling headphones. We did a head-to-head comparing the two, by two different reviewers and they found it hard to separate the two. In the end the best sound was from the Sony’s while the Bose were more comfortable (subjective measurement here). After comparing all the features I feel that the Sony H.ear On pull ahead due to their superior sound and the fact that you can turn off noise cancelling when surrounding sound is required.
The Sony H.ear On will set you back just under $500 from either a Sony Experience store or Sony’s online store. They get my two thumbs up for a top notch, quality set of headphones the special someone for Christmas.
In 2016 we did not review many wired in-ear headphones (earphones in layman’s speak) because, well, we weren’t offered many. Is it possible that for most people the day of the wired in-ear headphone is gone? I have reviewed a few Bose in-ear headphones in the past and have tried out a few others from other brands this year. If you simply must have a wired in-ear experience I find you can’t go past Bose for a top notch quality sound at a half decent price.
Phil on the other hand tried out the Focal Sphears and had good things to say about them saying that they were “well designed, comfortable in-ear headphones that offer an excellent listening experience to users at a reasonable (not cheap) cost.” Focal may be harder to find out in the stores and is more expensive than the Bose I have seen so I’m going to stick to my Bose recommendation.
There are quite a few wireless earphones available and released this year, the most notable to me was the Bose SoundSport Wireless Headphones. We saw some, what I will call gimmick, earphones from Samsung that we did not get to test out and I find hard to believe produce sound quality anywhere near that of other wireless offerings. Bang & Olufsen released a $379 pair but without testing them I find it hard to recommend them.
In the end I have to recommend the Bose SoundSport Wireless Headphones if you are looking for something in this category. They sound amazing, battery life is great, they speak to you to tell you when they are paired to a device or cannot find it, the also speak to you to tell you the percentage of battery left, they fit the ear beautifully and stay in them throughout vigorous exercise with their shaped earbud, and they can connect to more than one device simultaneously. At only $250 from JB Hifi they are not cheap but it is a case of “you get what you pay for” with these earphones. Bose also offer the same headphones but with an additional heart rate sensor built in for an extra $50 if that is something you feel you would use. Personally I think the in-ear heart rate sensors aren’t there just yet though.
My two thumbs up for wireless in ear headphones and recommendation for a top notch present guaranteed to put a smile on someone’s face on Christmas Day thus goes to the Bose SoundSport Wireless Headphones.
Speakers are everywhere but decent speakers are not. Many of the smaller ones you will find in somewhere like JB Hifi will sound tinny and be fairly painful to listen to when compared to a decent speaker.
For a cheaper, wireless speaker with decent sound I find you cannot go past the Sony SRS-XB3. I have listened to them and found the sound to be quite impressive. It was loud and clear and Duncan found the same when he reviewed it. The bluetooth capabilities, the NFC pairing, the water resistance, great battery life and of course great sound it is hard to go past recommending this $250 speaker. The only downside is that it does not include any Chromecast Audio capabilities but this can be added for just an extra $50 or so with a Chromecast Audio dongle.
Even though both Klipsch and Bang and Olufsen released some high end speakers this year it is hard to go against the mature platform and experience that Sonos delivers. While the review for the Sonos Play:5 was published on December 29 last year I am going to include them as Sonos have been top of the heap for a while and deservedly so.
While Sonos does not offer Chromecast Audio they have their own solution (remember you can easily ass a Chromecast Audio dongle to it for just $50). You can cast most music and other audio apps to your Sonos system without any issues. The level of control over their system is impressive but you don’t have to dive that deep if you don’t want to. Most importantly they sound amazing. They are loud and they are crisp and clear. The sound they produce is great. Combine multiple Sonos speakers together and you have a multi-room, high quality experience that can be easily controlled from their app.
Sonos speakers are not cheap but boy are they good. I have used other Chromecast speakers and the experience is woeful in comparison to the Sonos experience. Sonos speakers start from $249 for a single PLAY:1 speaker up to $699 for the Sonos PLAY:5 speaker. If connecting multiple speakers throughout a house then you may be interested in some of the extras such as an amp (Sonos Connect:AMP), a connect system, a booster, a playbar or a subwoofer. Moneywise it adds up pretty quickly but you have to start somewhere and you may as well start with the best. Sonos. Buy one for someone this year and you will be the toast of the town.
An honourable mention goes to Chromecast Audio and if you are looking for a relatively cheap stocking stuffer you cannot go past one of these.
There you have it. Remember, sound and experiences are subjective but if you choose one of the above for a gift this year you should be fine.