THOUSANDS OF NEW audio products are released every year. Sometimes the big names are the best, but at other times there are hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Here's our guide to the headphones, speakers and other audio gems that will float our boat during 2016.
This article will be updated throughout the year, so do keep checking back.
Optoma NuForce Hem6 Earbuds
If you're not an audiophile, knowing what to do with a £350 pair of earbuds is like knowing what to do with a billion quid. Let's make no bones about it, these are stunning earbuds. But they're not for the likes of you and I, they're for studio engineers and musicians and people with a lot of money. The buds come separately and you can choose to attach them to a coiled fabric cable or a more standard inline phone one. The earbuds are memory foam so they actually slurp into your ear canal, and as for sound bleed, there is none, at top volume. We tried. Repeatedly. They're insane. They're unnecessary. But that doesn't stop them being spectacularly good.
Inateck BH1001 Earbuds
Essentially, the Inateck BH1001 are the same earphones as the iClever ones we posted a while ago, and given our love of iClever, that's no bad thing. Offering a CSR8645 chipset and apt-X, these entry-level Bluetooth phones sit comfortably in the ear, sound leakage is minimal and the quality belies the price. They're described as 'sweatproof' but there's no specific accreditation given. That usually means they're alright for a jog, but not for swimming and we wouldn't fancy your chances in a rainstorm. Finally - always a winner - the two ends are magnetic so you can make them wrap round your neck when you're not using them, making them pretty loss-proof.
Jabra Halo Smart
The Halo Smart is part of a growing trend for Bluetooth headphones designed to be worn all day. The 17-hour battery life echoes the claim, does the specific button to summon Siri or Google Now, depending on your persuasion. The quality of the music is certainly nothing to be sniffed at, and reflects Jabra's growing competence in making half-decent sounding music. Additionally, the "wind and water resistant" (no specification) design is supposed to make it easy to forget them. But here's the thing. It's TOO easy to forget them. During our "test evening out" we nearly lost them several times because, despite the relatively malleable neckband, the only way to make it comfortable was to make it loose, resulting in it falling backwards off the neck and down the back.
Sol Republic Shadow Wireless
If you've noted our criticisms of the conceptually brilliant Jabra Halo Smart, allow us to introduce the antidote. Sol Repulic has been quietly producing bar raising headphones since 2011, and their answer to the neckband problem is simple. Make it floppy. Or technically "biomorpic". Surprisingly, this actually makes it less prone to slip off and although the battery life is lower (8 hours) and although there's no cheeky OK Google/Siri button, the bass booms without smothering the mids, and the mic controls allow you to control your music from the neckstrap. You can also switch between two different devices without all that messy fiddling in your phone settings.
House of Marley Smile Jamaica
So they're wooden, they're noise isolating, and they have inline controls. All good. They're wired, unlike most of the headphones here, and that's where the problem lies. We got a few weird looks walking down the street with these noise-isolating buds on because the fabric cable is in a red/yellow/black Rastafari pattern. It's a strong religious statement, and it should be made with caution.
RIVA TURBO X Bluetooth speaker
It's not the first time we've seen a Riva speaker and thought it was a bit over the top. They're heavy, they're pretty and the bass on them is huge, but somehow, for us, they manage to simultaneously be a bit tinny too. There's no question that the Riva X could easily and effortlessly serve as your main speaker for a room and would do a fine job, despite being the size of only a couple of hardback books.
Speedlink Medusa Street XE
Over-ear headphones for under £30 can be good, but it really depends on your standards. While there's no noise isolation, Speedlink's Medusa Street XE headphones look funky, are incredibly comfortable and have inline controls. The bass is a bit watery and overall the sound, while excellent, feels like it's somehow in another room. At this price, they're flipping marvellous, but the fact that we can still hear the keyboard clattering as we write this while listening to music tells you what to expect. Manage your expectations and you'll be pleased.
iClever outdoor wireless speaker
People say: 'Why do you keep including iClever products?' and the answer is simple: they're incredibly good value. The waterproof iClever Bluetooth Speaker looks brilliant, sounds great for the money and will survive a rainstorm. Ruggedised rubber edges and a solid metal grille make for a product which is a no-brainer if you're going on a camping trip. It's worth three or four times the asking price.
Jabra Move Wireless
Not a particularly new product, but consistently lovely and for some reason being repromoted right now. Available in a variety of colours (black, blue, yellow, red), the headband is padded fabric making them super comfy to wear and the ear cushions manage to be light enough not to squish delicate ears. There's an option to use them wired (great for planes or if your battery runs out) and the sound quality is nothing short of pleasing. The Move Wireless is a great all round Bluetooth headset that is designed to be capable of more than just playing Dr Dre. Oh, and it works as a hands-free kit too.
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