Audio in 2021: the year we had AirPods 3 and the cool girls ditched wireless headphones


It has been a fantastic year for audiophiles. Whether you are a casual music listener or an avid audiovisual enthusiast, 2021 has seen landmark product launches, innovations in wireless music streaming, unexpected trends, and continued growth in space audio technologies.

2021 has been a difficult year for many industries, with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and global chip shortages making it nearly impossible for companies in the tech world to continue operating as usual.

Despite all the trials and tribulations of the past year, the audio industry has thrived, with worldwide sales of headphones and speakers. steadily growing in 2021.

Dry sales numbers aside, there has been a definite change in the way we listen to music this year. Music streaming services like Apple Music and Amazon Music HD have brought high-resolution sound to the masses, delivering standard audiophile streams at no additional cost to their existing subscribers – and advances in Bluetooth technology mean support for the Lossless audio will soon be the standard for wireless headphones and true wireless headphones. Which is great, unless you’re one of the growing cohort of people who think wireless headphones are downright out of date …

Advances in technology mean that home and personal audio devices get better and better every year – but the booming vinyl and record player market proves that many of us still appreciate the old ways when it comes to ripping every single one. drop of detail and warmth of our music.

As 2021 draws to a close and we start to look forward to all the new audio gear we’ll see at CES 2022, we’ve reviewed the announcements, launches, trends and innovations that have made the past 12 months. a year of sound to remember.

Apple releases AirPods 3

the airpods 3 in their charging case next to an iphone 13 mini

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The AirPods 3 were the most anticipated release of 2021 – and after months of rumors and disappointment, Apple finally delivered the new true wireless earbuds in October.

It’s not the game-changing, gesture-controlled fitness tracker earbuds, but the AirPods 3 are a significant step up from their predecessors and a good alternative to the AirPods Pro for those who don’t care. not. active noise cancellation.

We were pleasantly surprised with their sound quality, especially with Spatial Audio turned on, which makes the sound of your music, movies, and games appear to be reaching you from all angles.

Now everyone’s attention is on the so-called AirPods Pro 2, which are set to launch in late 2022. It never ends, does it?

True wireless headphones still dominate …

A woman's face with Nuratrue buds in her ears

(Image credit: Nura)

The AirPods 3 were just one of the brilliant models of authentic wireless headphones released in 2021, proving that the form factor still has a lot of life.

Chief among them was the NuraTrue, a pair of wireless headphones that exceeded our expectations when it comes to customizing a pair of headphones. Through a smart accompaniment app, the NuraTrue headphones can be tuned exactly to your ears, measuring how you hear and how well the headphones fit your ears for the best possible sound.

It would be remiss of us not to mention the Sony WF-1000XM4. The brand’s true wireless headphones are our pick for the best wireless headphones you can buy today, picking up where their predecessors, the WF-1000XM3, left off.

These aren’t the best noise canceling headphones, or even the best headphones for audiophiles. However, they’re arguably the best all-rounders, offering impeccable ergonomics, fast, full-bodied sound, and some really useful features like adaptive noise cancellation, Speak-to-Chat, an IPX4 water resistance rating, and a control application.

… .But the cool girls wore wired headphones

True wireless earbuds and wireless earbuds might be getting better all the time, but 2021 was the year cool girls embraced the cables of yore.

In October, an Instagram account called Wired It Girls sprang up, running an ambitious gallery of women wearing wired earphones and headphones. Lily-Rose Depp, Zoë Kravitz and Bella Hadid are among the young women who ditched wireless headphones in 2021, in a move that fashion historian Rachel Weingarten equates to the renewed interest in Y2K styles.

Wired headphones now have the same retro-styled credentials as Juicy Couture hipster jeans and tracksuits – and in a year that many of us would call “tough,” at best, who can blame young people for turning to the. early 2000s for inspiration?

Spatial Audio was the sound buzzword

an iphone displaying music on Apple Music

(Image credit: Apple)

Immersive audio technologies like Dolby Atmos quickly became part of the average home theater setup, with more streaming platforms and soundbars supporting them as standard – but 2021 was the year the spatial audio has really taken off in the headphone world.

Google’s global searches for “spatial audio” peaked in June 2021, just weeks after Apple announced that its music streaming platform would offer music remastered in Dolby Atmos.

In an unexpected move from a company little known for being particularly economical, Apple Music made its own Spatial Audio technology available to its subscribers at no additional cost, while Amazon Music HD did the same for music mixed in Dolby. Atmos and 360 Reality from Sony. The audio.

Hi-res audio has come to everyone – except Spotify users

amazon music hd

(Image credit: Amazon)

As we mentioned, 2021 was the year that Apple Music and Amazon Music HD introduced high-resolution lossless audio streaming to their subscribers – but they didn’t include a price hike, making the audio premium. more accessible than ever.

The news came shortly after Spotify announced it would be launching its own level of hi-fi streaming; Spotify HiFi would not offer true high resolution sound, but it would offer better quality streams than what is currently available to its users.

Its release was scheduled for 2021 … but it never materialized. Additionally, Spotify HiFi is rumored to lead to a price increase over the company’s usual Premium subscription level.

Spotify may have pushed back the release of HiFi to find a way to offer it at no additional cost to its users – if they haven’t, there’s not much stopping people from skipping. to Apple Music or Amazon Music HD.

Sonos has increased its prices … for no real reason

a woman pressing the top of the sonos movement

(Image credit: Sonos)

One of the most surprising stories of the year was the announcement that Sonos would raise its prices. Existing speakers, soundbars, subwoofers, and amps – some of which have been on the market for years – have been hiked by $ 100 / £ 100 / AU $ 100 in 2021. And the reasons aren’t particularly clear …

In a statement, Sonos said it has and will continue to price on a “market-to-market” basis, and that the price increases are part of its promise to sustainably grow the business and maintain “the simple and connected experience “. his clients are waiting.

The company also cited supply and demand as factors in its decision to raise prices, which may refer to the continued shortage of chips that affects everything from automakers to IT companies.

That’s a little consolation for anyone who saved up for a Sonos speaker and is now way short of the cash they now have to pay.

At the time, we were having trouble understanding the ad. After all, it’s very rare for a company to significantly raise its prices – more often than not we see older devices cut down as newer models take their place.

While there are legitimate reasons for these price increases, we wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling ripped off by the company. Sonos speakers might be some of the best on the planet for those who want to build a hi-fi system without annoying cables, but it’s hard to feel you’re getting your money’s worth if these products are more expensive than previously.

Vinyl continued to thrive in a music streaming world

a record player with a vinyl

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

2021 was a year of innovation in the audio world – but an old-fashioned format continued to flourish, with vinyl surpassing CD sales for the first time since 1986.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) year-end 2020 report found that in 2020 vinyl sales rose 28.7% to $ 626 million, while CD revenue declined. by 23% to $ 483 million, continuing a long-term decline that began when music downloads and streaming became all the rage.

While the report noted that vinyl still only accounted for 5.2% of total music sales – which is heavily dominated by streaming – the fact that the old physical format thrives as CDs continue to languish is testament to our fascination. persistent for turntables and records.

One of the reasons for its survival could be attributed to a sense of nostalgia for the tangibility of the physical recordings; pride in owning your own music collection was largely erased as the industry went digital.

Today’s turntables are getting better all the time too, with features like wireless connectivity making them more accessible to young enthusiasts who don’t want to mess around with lots of cables.

As much as we love the warm crackle of vinyl, there’s no denying that streaming music is the most convenient way to listen these days. But however you listen to your music, one thing is clear: 2021 has given us more choices than ever before. And it’s worth raising a drink as we head into the New Year and all the audio possibilities it brings.


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