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We Pick The Best Sound Products of 2012

By The SmartHouse Team | Wednesday | 14/12/2011

Whether pounding out beats on the long work commute or perfecting the home cinema experience, sound is crucial to the entertainment sphere. Every smartphone and tablet is now its own music player and new content services are turning devices into portable TVs, so getting a good set of cans has never been more important. Apple-attach is the name of the game, and even the most prestiguous, audiophile brands are jumping on board this year.

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Best Headphone
Sennheiser HD 800
$1,999 | www.sennheiser.com.au

Sennheiser is making a statement with the HD 800s. Visually bold with their metallic, industrial design with a noticeable weight behind the speakers, and sonically refined with some of the best sound you'll ever hear in a pair of headphones, the HD 800s sit at the top of the audio food chain. These studio 'phones push output quality with a frequency response of 6-51,000Hz with less than 0.02% harmonic distortion. In other words, they deliver a higher band of frequencies than your ear can even pick up. These aren't for pumping up that little iPod, but for getting the full experience warranted on a 300 ohm headset out of a lossless audio set up. The open-backed design will bleed sound but will retain all of its beauty within the cups, presenting the whole sound stage to the listener in astounding quality. Bass is powerful but never distorted, treble is articulate and crisp and the mid-range is natural throughout. The HD 800s breathe perfection from the extra-large, stainless steel cups to the Kevlar-weaved cables, and they definitely sound the part too.

Highly Recommended
Bowers & Wilkins P5
$499 | www.bowers-wilkins.net


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Best Noise Cancelling Headphones
Sennheiser PXC 310
$599 | www.sennheiser.com.au

Noise cancellation is an essential element to some on-the-go listeners. Whether you're a frequent flyer or a commuter on the noisy sardine-can to the office, noise cancellation was made for you. Lightweight, portable and wireless, Sennheiser's PX 310 make for the perfect travelling companion that ticks all the boxes. NoiseGard 2.0 active noise-cancelling picks up any outside interference and palms it off without throwing ear-bleeding white noise into your music. If you grab the Bluetooth version, Sennheiser throws in aptX Bluetooth transmission that will eliminate the choppy quality you get with ordinary Bluetooth, instead offering wireless listening that is music optimised. Physically they're small, lightweight and portable thanks to a fold-up design that converts these little on-ear headphones into simple travel companions. Not slowing on features any time soon, the TalkThrough function pairs phones in too so that you can start and stop a conversation without touching your headset. While noise-cancelling tends to eat away at battery life, these headsets house a removable battery pack that can otherwise be charged via micro-USB. And just to be a little handier, it comes with a travel case, a 1.4 metre cable and adapters for 6.35mm jacks and the dual-3.5mm ports for in-flight entertainment systems.

Highly Recommended
Bose QuietComfort 15
$499 | www.global.bose.com

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Best Soundbar
Yamaha YSP-2200
$1,449 | www.yamahamusic.com.au

A good soundbar will give you the full range of sound for your home theatre in a single, small package that slots neatly into your existing set up. A great soundbar will give you all that sound clout with virtual surround in a connection-laden box that circumvents the need for any tricky AV equipment. Simplicity is king in a soundbar, and Yamaha trumps the competition. You may not be able to replace a complete 7.1 or 5.1 system with a soundbar, but the YSP 2200 brings you closer than any other to the sensation. Connectivity is catered for with a 3 in/1 out HDMI connections which supports 3D, and it integrates seamlessly with iPods and iPhones using an included dock, which normally retails for RRP$179 alone. Designed to sit in front of a television it is 8cm short, with adjustable feet and has a sub-woofer that can be placed either vertically or horizontally, depending on what space is available.

Highly Recommended
Bowers & Wilkins Panorama
$1,999 | www.bowers-wilkins.net


Best Bookshelf Speakers
Bowers & Wilkins PM1
$3,299 | www.bowers-wilkins.net

Although petit, in a small to medium sized room these speakers emanate unavoidable presence through impressive bass power and heavy sound. Its small Kevlar mid/bass driver, combined with the traditional B&W dimpled reflex point, produces plenty of gusto at low frequencies. There's a wonderful achievement with the PM1, producing the theatrical audio it does without needing to be as clunky as most alternatives. Beyond its small parameters are sky high standards, with immensely dynamic sound, delivering precise transients with complete cohesion. When cranked up, its loud tones conjure hearty presence—even aggression—which for this kind of money is exactly what you want. When it comes to rhythm and timing, these standmounters shine right through, playing musical tones with razor sharp accuracy. Fastidious engineering, intelligible design and mind boggling sound have all been squeezed into a tiny body. Combine them with some good sound gear, and its performance will blow you away every time.

Highly Recommended
Monitor Audio Bronze BX2
$599 | www.monitoraudio.co.uk

Check out this year's Winner of the Best Premium Speakers Award here


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Best Digital Radio
Pure Sensia
$749 | www.pure.com/au

Up until recently radio technology had stagnated relying solely on frequencies that would transmit scratched sound. Pure is a company that has honed the new generation of technology with its internet connected digital audio system. Thanks to its large, colour touchscreen, radio enthusiasts can easily navigate internet and FM radio stations, podcasts, and online applications. Flow technology has been used to enable the scrolling and spinning of playlists, controls sliding and swiping to change views. Pure employed its home-baked Sensia technology to produce stereo sound that is impressive and encased in a stylishly modern body. A remote makes it convenient to put your feet right up and listen to your favourite tunes.

Highly Recommended
Tangent Dab2Go
$399 | www.syntec.com.au  


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Best Amplifier
Yamaha Aventage RX-A3010
$2,699 | www.yamahamusic.com.au

The RX-A3010 receiver heads Yamaha's Aventage series and out of the box it's compatible with 9.2 channels, although an external amplifier can boost it up to 11.2. There's loads of innovative features that work hard to produce enthralling sound, such as Cinema SDP HD technology, 3D processing and two front presence channels. Intelligent software has to manage the sound by running different tones and frequencies to the right speakers. Yamaha's nifty Reflex Sound Control (RSC) analyses a room's acoustic qualities and then adjusts the system to accommodate, making sure it delivers the best possible sound in any kind of environment. It also takes various surfaces into consideration, correcting early sound reflections, while taking speaker angle measurements to ensure precise calibration. Easily rocking its class, modulating sound to match any rooms acoustic puts this receiver out in front.

Highly Recommended
Pioneer SC-LX83
$3,499 | www.pioneer.com.au


Best DAC
Arcam rDAC-kw
$775 | www.absoluteaudiovision.com.au

Arcam has always known how to convert digital signals into high quality music and they continue the tradition with the rDAC-kw. More often than not, music streaming comes at the expense of audio quality to the distaste of audiophiles. Arcam's rDAC-kw will stream music while upgrading tracks to the best possible quality. The 'kw' separating this device from the introductory model is its wireless capabilities. By simply plugging in a dedicated USB dongle into a computer, it will stream audio files directly to the rDAC device while it resides behind the HiFi system. Combining ease of use with a premium finish makes this DAC a stand out for serious music enthusiasts.

Best DAC
NAD DAC 1 Wireless USB DAC
$349 | www.audioproducts.com.au

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Best Turntable
Rega Planar 3
$1,099 | www.synergyaudio.com

Hi-Fi aficionados choose vinyl over digital to deliver the best quality tracks to their sound systems in their pure analogue form. Rega's upgrade on the P3-24 turntable takes an already premium product and throws in some major tweaks to touch that perfect note. It uses the lightest but firmest parts to avoid unnatural distortions to your music in a minimalist design that'll still turn heads. The hand-assembled RB303 tonearm and the super lightweight yet rigid plinth come together with an improved precision main bearing that all work to minimise resonance and distortion. These little additions come together to perfect the turntable by dropping the noise floor from distortion you get from motor vibes and the plinth for a more natural end-result in your output. This handcrafted beauty is tweaked down to a tee, with the low-vibe, low-noise 24v motor assembly being hand-tuned to the circuit as an added vibration reducer. It's not a milestone in turntable design, but just another step forward and above the rest of the competition in premium audio gear.

Highly Recommended
Clearaudio Concept
$1,499 | www.clearaudio.de

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