Music to your ears


Beats by Dre Studio headphones

The choice of English Premiership footballers and celebrities everywhere, the Beats by Dre range has been a huge success since its launch in 2008 by rapper Dr Dre and record company boss Jimmy Iovine.

The Studio headphones, the first product the firm released, have undergone several updates but kept their unique look, with the distinctive logo and red cables making them quite a fashion statement to wear outside the house or office. They are supremely comfortable, with large ear pads making them easy to wear all day.

Most importantly, the sound quality is fantastic. Unsurprisingly, given they were developed by Dr Dre, bass reproduction in particular is superb, and your music will sound clearer than ever – which can actually be a problem if you’re listening to older, low-quality MP3 files, as every flaw is laid bare.

PROS Superb sound quality

CONS Bulky

JBL On Air Wireless

It’s one of the weirder-looking products on the market, but JBL’s wireless dock manages to pack in lots of features. The ring houses the speakers and a screen shows the time when in alarm clock mode, or album artwork when playing a song.

The speaker supports Air Play, Apple’s easy-to-use wireless streaming system, which enables you to send music straight to it from an iPod. Sound quality is good and bass is decent, but vocals lack clarity. It is a decent option for use in small rooms such as kitchens or bedrooms.

PROS Great wireless streaming

CONS Bizarre appearance

Sonos Play 3

Sonos has built a name for itself with high-end audio kit, but with the Play 3 speakers, it is making a bid to move into every home. The speakers can wirelessly play back music from Macs or PCs, and access online services such as Spotify.

Set-up is easy – plug in to a router, run the software on your computer, iPad or phone (it supports Android and Apple), and it automatically indexes your music. Mobile phones can be used as remote controls and you can drag and drop music to create playlists, just as with iTunes (it can also import your iTunes playlists).

The Play 3 works perfectly well on its own, but for bigger rooms can be set to stereo mode, connected to a hi-fi via another Sonos box, or synced to dozens of speakers throughout the house, all controlled by the same software.

PROS Easy to set up and use

CONS Expensive, no iPod dock on the speaker

iPod Nano

It may lose out in the publicity stakes to the iPhone and iPod Touch, but the tiny iPod Nano, measuring only 4cm x 4cm x 1cm and weighing 21g, is an astonishing piece of kit. So small you can wear it as a watch or attach it to your clothes with an inbuilt clip, the Nano manages to pack in a colour touchscreen media player.

The interface is simple, intuitive and surprisingly powerful. Menus are straightforward, and you can use multiple fingers on the screen to perform tricks such as rotating the display. Sound quality is excellent, and there is also a radio. It’s ideal for runners who don’t want to carry anything big, and the built-in pedometer can be used to upload data to the Nike Plus website. If you don’t want to ruin the line of your suit while travelling, it’s a superb gadget.

PROS Tiny size

CONS Limited functions, no extra apps to download

etymotic ER-4PT custom headphones

Etymotic’s ER-4PT in-ear headphones are phenomenally good, and are used by musicians and sound engineers. The company has partnered with a firm called ACS to create the ultimate in headphones – buds moulded to the exact shape of your ear.

Getting them made is a bizarre experience involving having pink foam injected into your ears, which hardens to create an impression. The finished product will fit like no other, virtually cutting off outside noise and, since they’re putting no pressure on your ear, you can keep them in for hours.

The sound quality is astonishing. Everything is bright, crisp and clear. Bass is strong, and vocals perfect. This is the nirvana of headphones, and the only quibble is the lack of a remote control or microphone.

PROS Incredible sound quality

CONS No remote control or microphone

Arcam rCube

The rCube is possibly the best iPod speaker dock on the market. It’s incredibly simple to use – just slot in your device and you’re away. It also streams wirelessly with an rWand or rWave, sending audio from an iPod or PC.

The looks are minimalistic, but the key to the rCube is sound quality. For a speaker of this size (20cm x 20cm x 20cm), the sound is loud, rich and deep – more so than some models costing double. It comes in black or white, so you can match it to your Apple device, and has a carry handle.

PROS Amazing sound

CONS Accessories are fairly pricey

B&W C5 headphones

These odd-looking in-ear headphones are a novel concept. In a nutshell, a loop of cable is used to keep them wedged securely in your ear, something nobody else has done. It’s a simple, though slightly fiddly, process to get them in, but once in place they feel more secure than most.

The design helps the music sound more open and clear, with really impressive bass. They bring out the detail in vocals and classical music sounds great. A minor niggle is the protective case, which is tricky to use.

PROS Excellent sound quality, unique design

CONS Fitting can be fiddly

Jawbone Jambox

A tiny speaker, at 15cm x 6cm x 4cm, the Jambox has quickly become an essential part of many travel bags. Simply pair it with your phone or computer via Bluetooth, or plug it in via an audio cable.

The sound is excellent and capable of filling all but the biggest hotel rooms. It’s so portable that you can use it in meetings as a speaker phone, or in the car.

The Jambox also has a downloadable 3D audio feature that gives a much wider soundspace, and it’s very impressive, although it affects higher volume levels. The battery life is particularly good (about ten hours) and, overall, despite the price, it is a great compact travel option.

PROS Superb sound and ease of use

CONS Not cheap

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