Updated: Aug 21, 2021
We’re slightly more than halfway through 2021, and there have been a lot of really cool audio stuff released this year. Here are our top picks for some of the best audio products you might wanna take a look at.
First up, let’s talk about the AirPods Max. Sure, it was released on 15 December 2020, but hey, it was released late enough in 2020 that it didn’t make its way into our best of 2020 video, so we really have to talk about this one.
Putting everything else like the price and the controversial case aside, these are a pair of really great headphones. Apple did a great job with small touches like the fabric earcups and stretchable mesh headband to ensure that you get a really comfortable wearing experience, and the sound? Absolutely incredible. You get such a nicely balanced sound with a really wide soundstage, and with the new spatial audio feature in Apple Music? These sound even better. If you’re on the lookout for a pair of headphones that sound great and have pretty effective ANC, you’ll definitely have to consider these. And if you’re using an iPhone or other Apple devices, well, it’s a no brainer.
Next up, we have something a bit different. A lot of people like using wireless earbuds and headphones, hell, I like it too. The convenience is pretty great. But for people who want the best sound quality, nothing beats wired gear. I had the chance to try the Sennheiser IE300 earlier this year and they’re really great. You get impactful bass and stunning treble that’s clear and accurate. They’re not ALL that pricey either, at S$449, especially when you put them beside the newest flagship IEMs from Sennheiser, the IE900.
Now, I’m actually going to get a chance to try the IE900 two days after I film this review, so I’m pretty sad I can’t show it to you guys right now, but just take a look. The shells are milled out a single block of aluminium and feature a triple-chamber absorber system, the new X3R transducer and they look absolutely stunning.
Coming in at S$1,999, they are pricey with a capital P. But honestly, I’m super excited to take a listen to them, and hopefully, I’ll be able to get my hands on a review unit for a while so I can do a proper review for you guys. Cross your fingers for me!
Back to the IE300 though, they deliver great performance in a really small package, and I think anybody who likes the Sennheiser sound and wants to get a pair of wired earphones for quality listening should try these out.
If you’re more into speakers though, you’re in luck. Sony launched their SRS-RA5000 speaker earlier this year, and if you have a large living room or open space in your house, this might actually be a pretty good product to look at. The SRS-RA5000 has up-firing, out-firing and down-firing speakers that end up bouncing sound off the ceiling for a real surround sound experience.
Sony said it sounds like listening to music in a cafe, and I couldn’t agree more. The music is really all-encompassing, no matter where you stand in a room. It’s pretty much the perfect party speaker since you can plunk this in the middle of a room and everybody will enjoy the same sounding music no matter where they’re standing or sitting.
The sound quality is pretty good, it’s the warm, lush Sony sound with plenty of detail. It is a bit pricey at S$849 or around US$700, but if you’re planning on just getting one speaker for a living area, I think it’s fine. Also, the tech is super cool. You should really find a Sony shop near you to have a listen.
We’ve talked a lot about expensive stuff, so let’s take a break and talk about some more affordable products. If you’ve seen my 1MORE ComfoBuds Pro video, you’ll know these are great options for people on a budget. 1MORE claims these are AirPods Pro killers, and while they’re not at that level yet, in my opinion, what the company has done with these are pretty incredible. You get USB-C, passable ANC, great wind noise reduction and they cost just US$95. All in all, pretty darn good if you don’t mind the unique pointed stem.
For headphones though, I have to talk about the HIFIMAN HE400SE. Planar magnetic headphones can get pretty pricey, and when audio gear starts getting too cheap, you get problems like distortion, murkiness and such. The HIFIMAN HE400SE, though, are a really great pair of entry-level planar headphones. You get a decently wide soundstage, a well-balanced sound and pretty natural vocals.
The major problem I had was with the stock cable, which is really quite terrible. If you guys do get this, I highly recommend buying a third-party cable.
Okay, the affordable interlude is over. We have the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 up next, and boy, are they expensive. At US$399, these are actually the most expensive true wireless earbuds I’ve tried… ever. And honestly, a lot of people are gonna ask if they’re really worth it. Well, I can tell you this. If you’re just looking for the best sound quality in true wireless earbuds, these are the absolute best sounding earbuds on the market right now.
There’s just an insane amount of detail and accuracy, you get this richness in the bassline while not compromising on the mids and highs, and the case is really cool. It’s a retransmitter, which means you can plug it into your laptop, tablet, phone or whatever and the audio will be transmitted through the case to your earbuds. This supposedly even works with in-flight entertainment systems on planes, although since I haven’t been able to travel, I haven’t had any opportunity to test it.
But essentially, this takes the cake for the best-sounding true wireless earbuds in 2021. I’m not even sure if there’ll be any other earbuds coming out this year that will sound as good as these do.
Last but not least, we have the new king of ANC earbuds, the Sony WF-1000XM4. It’s not just the ANC that’s great here. You get Bluetooth 5.2, a whopping 8 hours of battery life with ANC turned on, LDAC support and really great sound quality. Bass is impactful and textured, and the mids are accurate and well-controlled while there’s plenty of airiness and really natural vocals. For ANC, these are definitely the one pair that I recommend.
That about sums it up for the coolest products I’ve tried so far, but there’s still plenty of time left in the year for more products to make their way to us consumers.
Written by Cheryl Tan