Christmas gift guide 2020: the best audio equipment for classical music lovers to buy this year
Ahead of Black Friday, we review the best floor-standing speakers, noise-cancelling headphones, earbuds, amplifiers and CD players on sale this Christmas
The best floor-standing speakers
Q Active 200 £1,449
(FS75 floor stands £349)
The first active speaker system from Q Acoustics looks like a game changer for anyone keen to enjoy hi-res streaming and audiophile sound quality without the need for a huge hi-fi.
Each powered speaker features two 2.25in drivers and a 4.5in rear-firing subwoofer that can be positioned virtually anywhere without impacting on the sound, while six Class D amplifiers offer 280W of total power.
Streaming wirelessly to the stereo speakers is the control hub (Wi-Fi/Bluetooth) which is compatible with most sources. Choose Spotify Connect, Roon, Apple Airplay 2, Alexa, Google, Qobuz and Tidal, or stream from your computer’s hard drive; you can also connect TV audio via HDMI or optical input and there’s also a phono preamp for a turntable. Most impressively, it converts whatever the file type is to 24-bit/96kHz hi-res audio. qacoustics.co.uk
The best headphones for listening at home
The perfect antidote to long chilly evenings stuck at home, the X3 is a luxuriously comfortable pair of wired open-backed leather-clad headphones designed for long listening sessions in the comfiest of chairs. They’re stylish, despite the size, but importantly the 50mm neodymium drivers, once paired with the best resolution music source you can find, offer the sort of space and detail I’m used to hearing from far more expensive headphones. philips.co.uk
Best value turntable
Pro-Ject Audio has been making elegant and award-winning turntables since the early 1990s, and while the world was going CD crazy it stuck to its guns, creating models with fine sound without the audiophile price tag. OK, so £450 isn’t loose change, but their latest belt-driven design is available in nine finishes, plays 33s, 45s and 78s, features an 8.6in carbon-fibre tonearm, heavy steel platter and gold-plated RCA outputs, and comes with the Ortofon 2M cartridge, itself worth £95. henleyaudio.co.uk
Best amplifier/CD combination
The Marantz PM6 has been winning awards for years, and while the latest upgrade looks remarkably similar to the last, small but important improvements mean this amplifier and CD combination remains one of the finest hi-fis you’ll find for the money. The two-channel integrated amp delivers 45 watts per channel (8ohm, 20Hz-20kHz) and boasts a new DAC and five analogue input options, while the CD Player can handle virtually all music file types including any from USB. marantz.co.uk
Best personal TV speaker
A minor miracle for anyone who struggles to hear the TV but hates the idea of simply cranking up the volume, this battery-powered speaker is your own personal soundbar. A slim dock connects to your TV (optical or 3.5mm ports) and transmits wirelessly to the speaker, allowing you to choose a comfortable volume without disrupting other viewers, or the neighbours. It has three speakers, one of which enhances dialogue, and you can even use the keypad as a remote control. sony.co.uk
Best noise-cancelling earbuds
I adored the original Momentum True Wireless, but was worried about yet another expensive incremental update. Sennheiser, however, has done a superb job, shrinking the earbuds without impacting on performance while squeezing in active noise cancellation. Battery life is seven hours (21 hours extra from the carry case), and the 7mm dynamic drivers work overtime to produce a composed, controlled performance with plenty of space to let individual instruments soar. sennheiser.com
Words by Chris Haslam
Chris Haslam is a freelance consumer technology journalist, specialising in tech, audio, lifestyle, health and interiors. He is the monthly audio columnist for BBC Music Magazine, rounding up the best audio equipment on the market for classical music lovers. He is also a contributing editor for Wired UK.