Need to buy something for the classical music lover in your life? Here are some tech suggestions from our audio expert Chris Haslam
Best audio equipment Christmas gift ideas
iFi GO blu
A gift for the travelling audiophile in your life, this matchbox-sized 26g portable (ten hour battery life) DAC/headphone amp will significantly upgrade the sound from his or her smartphone. Plug in a favourite pair of headphones (3.5 and 4.4mm jacks) and connect to a smartphone via the latest hi-res capable Bluetooth 5.1 connection – or plug in for hi-res streaming up to 24-bit/96kHz if using a portable music player – and enjoy greater expression, detail and depth wherever you are.
Harman Kardon Citation Oasis DAB
Easily the most feature-packed bedside alarm clock radio I’ve come across, with stylish but understated design, this offers built-in Bluetooth, AirPlay and Google Chromecast, can connect over Wi-Fi for higher quality music streaming, and boasts DAB and internet radio. With all the usual alarm clock features, it has voice control and a large wireless charging pad on the top to boost any Qi-compatible smartphone battery, plus a USB socket for charging other devices as you snooze.
Pro-ject Juke Box S2
Based around the award-winning Pro-Ject Primary E turntable, the recently updated Juke Box S2 crams in a built-in phono stage, Bluetooth receiver, pre-amp and 50W-per-channel power amplifier, meaning you only need to add speakers and you’ve got yourself a complete hi-fi, centered, as all good systems should be, around playing vinyl. But fear not, this isn’t a jack of all trades, master of none type of set-up, thanks in no small part to the new Pick-IT 25A cartridge, quality tone arm and new Acryl-IT E platter.
Nothing Ear (1)
Here’s a fresh, new and enjoyably different looking pair of true wireless earbuds from a company backed by Tony Fadell, inventor of the iPod. For those who can’t afford Apple’s AirPods Pro, the Nothing Ear (1)s tick almost all the same boxes for a fraction of the cost, most notably Active Noise Cancellation, five hours of continuous listening (34 hours in total with the battery case), superb fit, reliable connectivity and an impressive, enjoyable performance.
Bang & Olufsen Emerge
I’d be ecstatic to find anything from Bang & Olufsen under the tree this year, but I’ve developed a soft spot for this stylish fabric-clad anodised aluminium Wi-Fi-streaming speaker in gold or black that sits on a shelf just like a hardback book. Audio streaming comes via the B&O app or Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast and Google Assistant, while the 120W amp, 4″ driver, 1.45″ mid-range driver and 0.6″ tweeter sound exceptional through a wide 180-degree soundstage, that’s all the more impressive given the speaker’s size.
Q Acoustic M20 HD
All-in-one active speakers make sense for anyone wanting to enjoy the benefits of stereo sound, but don’t have the room, or possibly budget, for a complete hi-fi system. The M20 is an ideal solution for a home office or smaller living room, consisting of a pair of compact wireless speakers each with 125mm mid/bass driver and 22mm tweeter, powered by a built-in 130 watt amplifier. Wireless streaming is via aptX HD Bluetooth rather than Wi-Fi, but there’s also optical, RCA line-in, aux and USB connections to the rear for connecting a CD player or turntable.
Apple HomePod Mini
Something not much bigger than a cricket ball really shouldn’t sound this impressive, but the HomePod Mini’s downward-firing 360-degree full-range driver manages to be punchy, insightful and enjoyable to listen to. Ably assisted by Siri voice control – which can happily tell the difference between Stravinsky and Shostakovich – if you’re an Apple Music subscriber and fancy some orbs of audio joy dotted around the house, it’s hard to beat.
Grado Prestige SR60x
Each pair of SR60x headphones is hand-built in Brooklyn, New York, which is quite remarkable given the relatively low cost, super durable build and excellent open-backed sound quality. All the effort goes into the quality of the audio components rather than hi-tech wireless features. The result is a pair of wired headphones that are expressive and refined – perfect for the music fan who loves to find a quiet place to indulge for a while.
We’ve been treated to a host of great sounding, beautifully designed audio products over the past year (admittedly, also countless pairs of identical looking headphones!) with highlights for me being the all-in-one brilliance of the Cambridge Audio Evo (from £1,799) and Sony’s WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds (£250). But in truth it has been a year for software development rather than hardware.
Multi-room experts Sonos are finally offering 24-bit 48kHz hi-res music through streaming service Qobuz, Amazon Music and Apple are also introducing hi-res quality streaming, with Spotify set to join in too. Low-quality digital music formats really do let the side down, but this mass adoption means more of us will get to enjoy the difference. And there is quite a difference.
And that is where things should get interesting in the coming year, because in order for everyone to enjoy a higher quality of wireless music wherever they enjoy their music, it is going to involve upgraded hardware and genuine innovation. I for one can’t wait to hear the results.