Saturday, December 24, 2016

Now Hear This: The Best Audio Products of 2017

I've been an audiophile since I was a kid and discovered my father's over-the-ear headphones that plugged into his Sony receiver. Audio headsets have come a long way in the past 35 years. A significant change has been the move to wireless, but it's also worth noting that our headphones have become fashion accessories. We wear them at the gym, through the airport and just chilling at Starbucks. It's no longer unusual to see teens wearing a pair of expensive Bluetooth headphones around school as they listen to their favorite songs streaming on their iPhone. I've put together a list of some of my favorite personal audio electronics below:


Grado RS2e - This multi-generational family business takes their headphones seriously. Very seriously. Each pair is handmade and they're the preferred headphones of the likes of Neil Young, Phish and Aerosmith. The South Brooklyn factory is where the magic occurs. Grado's headphones are assembled in such a way to enhance their sonic qualities, with even the cord being constructed to diminish vibrations. Sold by Grado's official retailer 4OurEars, the Grado RS2e has an upgraded driver and the new 8 conductor cable design. It's made of beautiful hand crafted mahogany and boasts an overall sound that is like nothing you've ever experienced with a pair of headphones. Grado describes it as a warm harmonic color, full bodied vocals, excellent dynamics and ultra smooth top end. $495

MASTER & DYNAMIC MW50 - Hands down, the best wireless cans you can put on your ears in 2017. The only reason I wasn't very surprised by the amazing sounds when I threw these babies on my head is because I've come to expect this level of quality from Master & Dynamic. I use the ME05 in-ears too and I've come to appreciate my music even more ever since. These over-ear phones are lightweight (a third lighter and smaller than last year's MW60 model), stylish and ridiculously comfy. If you're questioning why have to really splurge to get these, it's all about the premium everything that goes into these, but you'll appreciate them for years and years to come. $449

3D Sound One - These wireless headphones offer high quality drivers (40mm) and a strong battery life (18 hours). They charge with a micro-USB connector and are lightweight enough to forget you’re even wearing them. These headphones are ideal for the gamer who anyone who loves watching movies with enhanced audio quality. $249

VXi’s BlueParrott S450-XT - The first Bluetooth headset to give you both hi-fi stereo sound and clear conversations thanks to VXi's advanced noise-canceling microphone technology. Enjoy over 24 hours of music, movies or calls. Plus you can customize these headphones with the Parrott Button. $179.99

Hifiman Edition S - Hifiman is known as a producer of top-quality planar magnetic headphones. With the Edition S you get two headphones in one as you can switch from an open to a closed back. The incredible sound quality would lead you to believe these cans cost a lot more than they do. Prepare to be impressed and enjoy the comfortable sonic perfection of the Edition S. $249


Bragi Dash - The Dash, which is completely waterproof and comes in black or white, has been getting a lot of attention over the past year and deservedly so. It's actually a microcomputer that fits into your ear (yes, that sounds very futuristic and spy-like). The Dash stores and plays 1,000 songs without needing a secondary device. It boasts 27 sensors that measure fitness tracking including heart rate, distance cadence and breaths. It's compatible with Google Fit and Apple Health. With everything it does it's actually impressive that it gets four hours of battery life per charge. $299

Rowkin Bit Charge - Rowkin now offers a Mini Plus+ and a Bit in addition to the Bit Charge, which I tried out. Billed as the world's smallest stereo wireless Bluetooth earbuds, you can't help but feel that the future has arrived when you put these in your ears. The high fidelity listening experience you get with the Bit Charge doesn't make sense considering the size of the two tiny earbuds you just place in your ears. With the iPhone 7's headphone jack removal, Rowkin Bit Charge offers a fitting solution for users who want a completely cordless experience. All three of the Rowkin earbuds are exclusively available on Amazon in three colors: Space Gray, Silver, and 24K Gold Edition. $59.99 (single) $119.99 (dual) Search Rowkin on

Earin M1 - I've been watching this company for years and was amazed by their Kickstarter campaign (one of the most successful campaigns on Kickstarter ever). These are ideal for anyone who is sick of cables and wires. These earbuds are as small and as light as possible to create the most immersive sound imaginable. They are built with high-precision balanced armature speakers for incredible acoustic detail and clarity to deliver a breathtaking audio experience. $199

Libratone Q Adapt Lightning In-Ear - New for the holiday season, these in-ears are Powered by the iPhone's Lightning connector and come in four colors. The remote has four buttons to activate a hush function, access CityMix, play and pause. You can also take phone calls. One of the nicer features is CityMix, which provides four adjustable noise cancellation levels, letting you customize your listening experience from completely blocking out external noise to letting in just enough to stay safe. $149 (discounted from $179)

Etymotic Research ER4XR - When you buy a pair of Etymotic headphones, you're buying the research that went into ensuring the best sound quality. For three decades, Etymotic has been producing noise-isolating, in-ear earphones. In fact, this is the company that invented it. These earphones completely seal your ear providing 98% noise isolation (reducing outside noise reduces the risk of listening to music at unsafe levels). Etymotic also makes a number of more inexpensive earphones, such as the MK5 and the MC5 models. $349

Jaybird X3 - Ideal for working out, these secure-fit, sweat-proof premium sport buds deliver superior audio performance. The metal accented design is beautiful and you get 8 hours of play time for a full week of workouts. Estimate 15 minutes for an hour of play time. Comes with the Jaybird MySound App to save your sound profile. Available in four colors with metal accents: Blackout (Black and Silver), Sparta (White and Gold), Alpha (Military Green and Dark Chrome) and Road Rash (Red and Dark Chrome) $129.99

AfterShokz Sportz Titanium - I've been a fan of AfterShokz for years because I like that they don't really go in your ears. Rather, it uses  bone  conduction  technology  to  transmit  audio  waves  to  the  inner  ears through the skull, bypassing the eardrums completely. You simply place them on your cheekbones leaving your ear canals open to allow you to remain alert and aware of ambient sounds while you enjoy your music. Expect exceptional  sound  quality  thanks  to  PremiumPitch+, which delivers dynamic range and truly powerful bass. I'd happily pay twice as much for these. $59.95

ROAM GameON Earphones - After announcing a partnership with Atari over the summer, ROAM recently launches the GameON wired earphones for both gamers and music lovers. These earphones deliver extraordinary sound quality with a beautiful, brushed titanium exterior. Launched as an indiegogo campaign, these earphones boast the SureFIT ear tip horns to accompany the traditional silicone ear tips, providing up to 27 variations for maximum comfort and performance. $169

AUKEY Bluetooth Wireless Sport Earbuds - Not all earbuds have to be pricey to deliver great sound and the AUKEY line is proof of that. These lightweight and secure wrap-around earbuds sell on for under $20 and you'd never believe the price after listening to your music for a few minutes with them. You get 8 hours of playback or up to 160 hours of standy time, plus the microphone works really well for taking calls. AUKEY throws in an extra set of ear-tips and offers a 24 month warranty. $19.99 Search AUKEY on


B&O BEOPLAY H9 - What's that? I can't hear you (at all)! These are noise cancelling cans like you've never seen before. With the H9s you get Bang & Olufsen's Signature Sound plus amazing noise cancellation and the most comfortable over-ear headphones on the market. These are all about sound, comfort and luxury. With the soft lambskin and adaptive memory foam on the ear cushions, I promise you'll never want to take these off. Worth every last penny here. $499

Plantronics BackBeat PRO2 SE- If Plantronics only gave you the immersive, high-res sound that would be enough. The active noise cancellation in these absolutely beautiful Special Edition headphones is the gravy. Boasting Class 1 Bluetooth power with an amazing range of up to 100 meters and up to 24 hours of continuous listening time on one charge, I keep kicking myself for not discovering Plantronics earlier ("Where have you been all my life?"). Like other quality noise cancelling headphones they fold flat for easy travel storage and comes with a handsome carrying case. $249.99


Altec Lansing's Super LifeJacket - powerhouse with booming base with double power banks.
Everything-Proof: Certified waterproof, shockproof, snowproof – they even float! Built for On-the-Go: Your perfect everywhere speaker, equipped with power banks to charge other devices and 50 hours of battery life. All with Great Sound: After 90 years, Altec knows audio. Both speakers deliver powerful, omni-directional sound. $299.99

B&O A2 Active - I absolutely love this portable Bluetooth speaker with True360 sound. The idea that you can now take a speaker with Bang & Olufsen's premium sound quality with you to the pool or beach is crazy to think. It's both dust and splash resistance and comes with two canvas straps. This little bad boy boasts up to 24 hours of battery life. Comes in sand stone or natural colors. $399

Bluesound Pulse Flex - This two-way speaker delivers the best of performance and portability. It's truly a game changer. Simply connect the speaker to your Wi-Fi network and listen to all your music from anywhere in your home or office. Plus you can stream any music service or library directly from your smartphone, tablet or laptop in CD-quality with aptX Bluetooth. Attach the rechargeable BP100 battery pack and take your music with you. $299

iClever Loud Bass (BTS09) - I am consistently being impressed by iClever's audio products. They are inexpensive, but not cheap products at all. Quality is clearly a priority along with providing amazing audio performance. The BTS09 speaker lets you stream incredible stereo audio from any enabled mobile device. It works flawlessly with a Amazon Echo Dot or Fire TV Stick giving Alexa a very nice output for sound. Charge time is about 2 hours. $79.99 Search iClever on

Jam Audio Voice - This little speaker is powerful! Jam Audio's Voice is among the first non-Amazon speakers with Alexa Voice Service technology to learn your habits like calling Uber, control smart home devices, stream music and get the latest news. It streams from your favorite music services and gives you news, traffic and weather updates as well. $79.99

Kef Muo Portable Bluetooth Speaker - This speaker is truly packed with innovative technologies including Kef's Uni-Q technology, which provides high quality sound when streaming music wirelessly from a computer or mobile device. 12 hours of playback time and approximately 3 hours to charge fully. Has memory for up to 8 Bluetooth devices. Comes in 6 colors. $349.99


Deezer - I use a lot of different music streaming services. For a long time I went back and forth between Spotify and Pandora. Then I shifted to Google Play Music and I continue to enjoy my SiriusXM mobile app to listen to Howard Stern. This fall, however, I was introduced to Deezer and I haven't looked back. Deezer is one of the world’s leading, on-demand digital music streaming services, offering a unique, personalized experience for every user. It is super easy to create the ultimate playlist. Deezer Premium+ gives you access to Deezer’s full library of 40M+ tracks (the world’s largest) and to FLOW, Deezer’s signature feature that functions as a personal assistant that intuitively knows what you want to hear and when you want to hear it. $120/year subscription