7 Speakers, 7 Songs

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Like many people, music is the lifeblood of my day. Whether I’m waking up, working out, driving a car, or riding the subway, everything is better when there’s a soundtrack. To celebrate my love of music and the positive impact music has had on my life, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite portable audio players. With each device, I’ve included a song recommendation, just a handful of personal favorites I’ve been listening to a lot lately. Hope you enjoy.

Sonos Move

In 2019, Sonos released its very first portable speaker: the Move. Across the board, reviews for the Move have been positive, with particular emphasis on the exceptional sound quality. As an owner, I can attest to that high quality, but what I really love about the Move is its versatility. Not its physical versatility (which is a definite plus), but the fact that it sounds great across a wide range of genres and at different volume settings, something you don’t find in a lot of portable Bluetooth speakers. If you’re like me, someone whose playlists jump wildly from genre to genre, from Alabama to Alabama Shakes, the Move is a great portable speaker solution because it can accommodate the gamut of musical tastes and preferences.

Sonos Move
Sonos Move

Song Recommendation: This Year by the Mountain Goats. Front man John Darnielle once described the Mountain Goats’ signature sound as “cheerful desolation,” the strangely hopeful idea that when things have gotten so bad, there’s nowhere to go but up. That might be the perfect sentiment for 2020, and This Year might be the perfect anthem.

Shure AONIC 50

Although the primary focus of this list is sound quality, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love everything about the AONIC 50’s aesthetic. Those big, synthetic leather-wrapped earcups, the stitched headband and aluminum yokes—they look so good. Especially in the dark brown color variant (also available in black). And what’s more, the AONIC 50’s looks are equal to its sound production, which is exceptional. Regardless of song or genre, the AONIC 50 headphones deliver faithful audio with full, clear sound and nice, round bass. Combined with those big, luxurious earcups and ultra-comfy headband, you get a sound experience akin to wrapping yourself up in a weighted blanket.

Shure AONIC 50
Shure AONIC 50

Song Recommendation: This is America by Childish Gambino. While songs like This Year might serve as the perfect rallying cry for the privileged, This is America is a resignation. It’s the last, dispirited response of the despondent and downtrodden, set to infectious trap music and afrobeat. It is brilliant, powerful, heartbreaking, and sincere. Most of all, it provides the most honest and succinct answer to the question so many of us ask every single day: Why? Because: This is America.

Apple HomePod

I've been a fan of the HomePod ever since its debut, back in 2018. In fact, were it not for Apple’s somewhat prohibitive approach to how it handles music (restrictions on file access, third-party app support, etc.), the HomePod might have ranked as my favorite speaker of the year. It was definitely the best-sounding smart speaker I reviewed that year and one of the top performers from any category of speaker at its price range. Now, it’s 2020, and although the competition among smart speakers has increased, the HomePod’s exceptional sound quality keeps it ranked among the very best. In particular, the way it fills a room is second to none. Instead of simply becoming louder, the HomePod uses a sophisticated array of sensors, microphones, and advanced processing technology to determine its environment. Based on that analysis, the HomePod then automatically tunes itself and adjusts the output of its many internal speakers to minimize the damping effects of surrounding surfaces (walls, furniture, etc.) and maximize the overall sound quality. In short, what you get is an unrivaled listening experience, with sound that is as clear and full as anything you will find in the smart speaker marketplace.

Apple HomePod
Apple HomePod

Song Recommendation: Tilted by Christine and the Queens. While music in general tends to perk me up, this song is my panacea. At its core, Tilted is about embracing your flaws and imperfections, accepting who you are—not with resignation, but pride. Whenever I’m feeling down about myself, this song always lifts me up.

Beats by Dre PowerBeats Pro

For my money, the PowerBeats Pro are still the best workout headphones on the market. They’re comfortable. They’re secure. They don’t have that annoying connector cable that drives me insane. Best of all, they offer the kind of bass-thumping, adrenaline-fueling sound quality I need to get me through all of my workouts. Add to all that their waterproof design (good against rain or sweat) and long-lasting 9-hour battery life, and it’s easy to see why I love them. Of all the headphones I’ve ever endorsed, I’ve never been more confident than I am recommending the PowerBeats Pro.

Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats Pro
Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats Pro

Song Recommendation: Who We Be by DMX. Every athlete has a hype song, something that turns them up before a game or activity. For me, it’s always been DMX’s Who We Be. X’s gravelly voice rapping breathlessly over the relentless beat has pushed me through more workouts than I can count. If I’m struggling through an exercise, be it a final set or last mile, this is the song that gets me to the other side.

Bose® Home Speaker™ 500

When it comes to home audio, few brands are as trusted and esteemed as Bose®. Its 50-plus-year catalog of audio equipment includes some of the finest speakers ever made. Among them, the Home Speaker™ 500. I reviewed the Home Speaker™ 500 shortly after its 2018 release and quickly decided it was a near-perfect device, with a surprisingly large soundstage and a not-so-surprising sound quality that ranks among the best of any smart speaker. However, the Home Speaker™ 500 is not immune to criticism. Specifically, some users don’t appreciate the Home Speaker 500™’s front-facing LCD. In fact, they have some pretty strong feelings about it. Personally, I love it. Whenever a song is playing, the Home Speaker 500™’s color LCD shows the corresponding album artwork, which I think is really cool and unique and appeals to my love of album design. But that’s just my personal take. If you are of the opposite opinion (and from what I can tell, you are not alone), I recommend you check out the Home Speaker™ 300. It’s got all the great sound features and smart functionality of the Home Speaker™ 500, minus the color display.

Home Speaker 500
Bose® Home Speaker™ 500

Song Recommendation: Sunday Candy by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment with Chance the Rapper. Part gospel, part funk, part hip-hop, Sunday Candy is an amalgam of musical influences joined together into a single motif: familial love. Specifically, Chance’s unabashed love for his grandmother, which shines through in every soulful verse and energetic rap. Few songs in the world are as unrepentantly joyous as Sunday Candy, and I can’t think of one that inspires me more to be a better son, a better grandson, and a better person.

Amazon Echo 3rd Gen

Truth be told: When I think about the Amazon Echo, sound quality isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But that’s only because it does so many other, non-music-related things really well, from ordering groceries or takeout to competently answering the majority of my everyday queries. In fact, it’s such a handy device, with more than 100,000 useful skills, it’s easy to forget that the Echo isn’t just smart, it’s a smart speaker. In fact, it’s probably the best-sounding smart speaker in its price range. The Echo can definitely fill a decent-sized room with good sound, and the bass production makes it great for a party or at-home workout. Now, that doesn’t mean the Echo sounds as good as some of the other speakers on this list. It doesn’t. Nor should it, considering it costs a fraction of the price. But the Echo’s sound quality is good, its smart features are exceptional, and when you put those things together (along with its sharp-looking design), you get what I would argue is the best C-note speaker available today.

Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo

Song Recommendation: The Temptation of Adam by Josh Ritter. Ritter is generally regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, and tracks like The Temptation of Adam are good reasons why. In it, Ritter tells the story of Adam and Marie, a scientist and troubadour who fall in love in a missile silo while the rest of the world teeters on the edge of nuclear Armageddon. It’s the sort of romantic narrative only Ritter could pull off, sung so sweetly and with such earnest conviction it’s hard not to be moved.

Ultimate Ears MEGABOOM 3

Though COVID-19 has forced many of us to shy away from or altogether abandon our outside gatherings, I still want to recommend the MEGABOOM 3, which, to me, is still the best outdoor Bluetooth speaker. With sound that’s as big and discernible as its all-caps moniker, the MEGABOOM 3 is a musical must-have for any barbecue or pool party (don’t worry, it’s also waterproof and it floats). Now, the MEGABOOM 3 might not have all the same bells and whistles of a smart speaker, nor does it come with as many extra features as some of the other speakers out there, but that’s not why you want this speaker. You want the MEGABOOM 3 because you can take it anywhere, it’s super durable, and, most of all, it is capital L-O-U-D loud. And we’re not just talking volume for volume’s sake. Crank it all the way up and you’re still going to get rich, full sound with deep bass that will make the whole park vibrate. COVID-19 has made it impossible to know when my next cookout will be, but I do know this: today, tomorrow, or next year, whenever the pandemic lifts and it’s once again safe to go outside and gather round, I’m firing up the grill and my MEGABOOM 3.

MEGABOOM 3
MEGABOOM 3

Song Recommendation: Feel Me Flow by Naughty by Nature. When it comes to barbecues, putting together a playlist is nearly as important as picking out your regional style of sauce (here’s a hint: it’s Kansas City). Similar to my unwavering dedication to KC-style BBQ, I refuse to fully endorse any playlist that doesn’t include Naughty by Nature’s Feel Me Flow. With a funky, head-bobbing, syncopated sample and lead rapper Treach’s signature sound, Feel Me Flow is a timeless track that I will forever associate with summer. It doesn’t resonate quite the same from the confines of my apartment, but as soon as it’s safe to go out again, this will be the first song I play.

Got any speaker or song recommendations for us? Let us know down below. We would love to hear them!

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