Many have lamented how recent advances in technology and design have changed the music industry. But even luddite naysayers might have to admit that levitating Bluetooth speakers, machine-washable headphones, and personalized 3-D printed earbuds are pretty cool. Here, eight of the best products for design-minded music junkies we came across last year. Time to return that ugly sweater from your aunt and blow your refund on something from this list.
The Om One is a Bluetooth speaker with an anti-gravitational twist. It hovers and spins in mid-air, spitting out tunes like some sleek Death Star of sound. Weighing just 3/4 a pound, this black sphere maintains its position in the air with the help of a magnetic base. Inside the Om One speaker is a strong magnet, which the base station (housing, we’d guess, a metallic conductor) is keeping levitated through relative motion. As it hovers, the Om One speaker spins. You can pre-order one for $179 here.
Designed by Duncan Lamb, formerly head of product design at Skype, the cone-shaped portable speaker is the first gadget to come out of his San Francisco company Aether. Cone’s software pays attention to what you listen to, and when, so that it can start autonomously supplying you with context-appropriate playlists. Its algorithm uses sonic and category clues to choose the next song for any given mood. The Aether Cone is available here for $399.
It’s a design-minded germophobe’s dream listening experience. Swedish headphone makers Urbanears teamed up with designer Marc Jacobs to create a line of fashion-forward headphones that are, unlike most electronic accessories, washable. Urbanears’ “Humlan” line of headphones are designed to allow you to peel off the headband and ear cushions and throw them straight in the washing machine, just like any old T-shirt. Get them from Urbanears for $60.
Most earbuds are uncomfortable and don’t fit snugly. A new startup called Normal replaces awkwardly shaped speaker housings with 3-D–printed forms of soft plastic tailored for anyone’s ear. Customers snap photos of both ears using Normal’s app, which converts them into renderings. Printers then make individually sized buds. Within hours, the Normals are on their way. They’re available from $199 at Nrml.com.
The Pebble 2 is a round disc that can juice up a phone or a tablet–while also playing music. Designing a portable speaker isn’t for the unambitious—the market is saturated. Orée’s Pebble 2, however, does something different: It renders a beautiful product relevant. If we get charging cords with our phone purchases, it seems unlikely we’d splurge on extra charging docks. But if we can play music without losing battery power, we’re sold. Pebble 2 is available here for $136.
LSTN, which makes elegant, pared-down headphones with wooden accents in muted colors, gives the bulk of its profits to the Starckey Hearing Foundation. Buy a pair here for $150.
Master & Dynamic is the brainchild of Jonathan Levine, who realized that of all the headphones on the market, none had branding that spoke directly to creatives. From a visual perspective, Master & Dynamic headsets channel the aesthetic of an old-timey radio—thanks to grills on the ears and a leather and metal combination (no plastic). Levine added a mini boom microphone (something other headphones don’t often include) so that workers can seamlessly switch between listening to music and taking conference calls. Master & Dynamic’s over-the-ear headphone start at $350. Shop here.
The Unmonday designers were keen on making the Model 4.3, a portable speaker that can play on multiple channels and still look svelte on a mantel–an heirloom-caliber product. Translation: no plastic, no tinny acoustics. The shell is handmade from porcelain, so it has an organic, earthenware feel to it, and is optimal for letting Wi-Fi signals in and out. Perhaps the most defining feature of the Unmonday Model 4.3 is the cash you’ll spend: both the speaker and its crossover leather bag cost a small fortune, with the Model 4.3 priced at about $738. Buy it here.