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SoundGuys' favorite audio products of 2023
It’s the end of another year, and it’s time to look back at 2023’s high points. If you’re looking for rock-solid products to pick up to get the new year started right, our staff has a few suggestions. These products may not be our top scorers, but they’re worthy of special mention enough that they merit their own article. Read on to see a few of our favorite things.
The Shure SM7dB is the most important microphone of the year
Professional microphones don’t often see big refreshes, but we saw a really important one in 2023: the Shure SM7dB. A successor to the popular Shure SM7b (but with a preamp built-in), Jasper had this to say about the mic:
Many audio interfaces don’t have enough preamp gain for the original (SM7b), or do — but introduce noise. A lot of people use the SM7b already, so we know that one is virtually the standard for podcasters. Is it expensive for a dynamic mic? Yes, but it sounds good, and should be less of a hassle.
As noted in David Carr’s review, this product takes one of the previous market-leading mics and adds functionality to prevent a novice buyer from needing additional equipment. That’s a significant way to reduce the barrier to entry into the high-quality voice mic world, and should take the amateur (and professional) podcasting scene by storm in the coming year. In production, any links to the chain you can cut out mean less opportunity for failure, and cutting out a separate preamp for your mic is significant.
Snapdragon Sound makes the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones futureproof
Chris isn’t generally a fan of mass-market products, but with the advent of Snapdragon Sound, things will be changing over the next few years when it comes to personal audio. Even a curmudgeon like him will admit that wireless audio is overcoming its weaknesses, and the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are among the first headphones to do so. Chris had more to say:
Snapdragon Sound is going to become more important as time goes on for headphones, providing the first real competitor to LDAC. Over time the platform is going to be more and more important for Android users who want higher-quality wireless listening. So if you want headphones that will get better over time as you upgrade your phone, it’s a no-brainer: pick one of the only two products on the market that support aptX Lossless.
The headphones aren’t without their foibles, but with excellent ANC, decent sound quality, and good battery life, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are an easy win.
The Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless made top-flight ANC headphones much more affordable
In late 2023, Sennheiser made waves with its ACCENTUM Wireless headphones: a set of active noise cancelers that were priced below competitors, but with comparable performance to higher-end models. Though these headphones aren’t perfect for everyone, we wager that they’ll make even the picker people in your life happy. Heck, Adam Birney uses them quite often in his day-to-day life:
I think honestly the (headphones) I’ve used most at the office are the Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless. The sound quality is great, and I am sensitive to the pressure that the strong isolation on things like the Bose QuietComfort Ultra create, so the ANC is adequate enough for me. Very light and comfortable and given the price.
We’re big supporters of the idea that not all headphones are right for everyone, and the Sennheiser ACCENTUM are an excellent alternative for those looking for ANC on a budget. There’s very little in the way of downsides, and it’s good to know that sometimes you really can have it all.
The Jabra Elite 8 Active are our favorite earbuds of the year
Jabra is well-known for its commitment to earbuds and headsets, so it’s no surprise that its latest set of Elite Active earbuds had a lot to like. Chase, in particular, found them to be the most appealing earphones to him this year. He explains:
Jabra Elite 8 Active (are the) best all-around earbuds and best workout earbuds. (They’re) extremely durable, good sound with EQ, good noise canceling, good battery life, for $100 less than the flagship competitors.
The testing bears this out in our review, as the earbuds scored well in sound quality, battery life, and ANC. AirPods may get a lot of headlines, but you should take the Jabra Elite 8 Active for a spin if you get the chance.
The Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC True Wireless Earbuds are affordable, surprisingly good
Our video star Harley has seen his fair share of products pass through the office — more than anyone else on the team. He had one standout to praise for people who may not be as nerdy as the rest of us.
The Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC True Wireless Earbuds really surprised me this year, and I mean that in a good way! These earbuds offer A LOT of features, including good fit, good ANC performance, LDAC support, and great app support — all for less than $100. It’s a great AirPods alternative that will play nice on both Android and iOS, and I’d recommend it for anyone looking for great earbuds without having to sell an arm or a leg.
So there you have it: if you’re looking for earbuds, but don’t want to spend much money, you want to check out the Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC True Wireless Earbuds.
The Anker Soundcore Motion 300 is our favorite portable speaker
Though it’s a very recent release, our staff has had a lot of fun with the Anker Soundcore Motion 300. In particular, David Carr has been using it on his adventures outside. He had this to say about it:
As an avid camper, it’s my ideal outdoor Bluetooth speaker. The Motion 300 is built like a tank, waterproof, and designed to sound great wherever you place it around camp. The Soundcore app is also handy. You can access the customizable graphic EQ to really fine tune your settings if you like to tweak. At $79, you can’t go wrong with this one. It’s durable and versatile with great sound.
Just be aware that we like this speaker primarily for its portability and unexpectedly good performance — not because it will replace your studio monitors or anything. Still, sometimes you just need that cheap speaker, and this is a great option.
The gaming headset of the year is the Audeze Maxwell
If you want a gaming headset that can do it all, the Audeze Maxwell was our favorite this year. Released shortly before Audeze was purchased by Sony, the Maxwell represents some seriously cool audio tech in a package that really does cram in every feature a gamer could want. Chris had this to say in the review:
Despite a few caveats, the Audeze Maxwell is one of the best-performing gaming headsets on the market and should top the ranks for a few buyers — provided the budget (and neck strength) is there. Gaming headsets have their work cut out for them, and their audience is historically unkind to performance flaws … The battery life is excellent, the sound is a cut above, and the features are about as future-proof as you’ll find. Under the hood, the Audeze Maxwell has everything necessary to satisfy the pickiest person out there.
Just be aware that this gaming headset is not only pricy at $299-329, but it’s also quite hefty. You’re not going to be taking this out and about with you, so don’t entertain any notions of leaving the computer with them for any extended period of time.
These are just our favorites from 2023, but there’s plenty more to look through in our reviews and best lists. Even if your favorite product didn’t make our list, you should still share with your friends and family! Good audio is universal.