We’ve made it. Another year and another holiday season has come and gone, and whether or not Santa got you what you wanted, few music industry professionals will argue: it was a banner year for music tech.
From speakers to synths, if some gadget hasn’t caught your ears another probably caught your eye. To put it lightly, resisting the urge to spring for all the shiny new gear from suppliers like JBL, Harman Kardon and Bose has been more than a little challenging.
From more technical gear providers, like Teenage Engineering, KORG and Roland, we’ve even seen items like the OP1 rise in popularity to the point that today it stands strong at Reverb’s list of top selling gear for 2023. Even old-school brands like Victrola reached new echelons of popularity with modern spins on tech that has been available to consumers for years, proving they still can grip ears enough to turn heads.
After seeing, hearing and finicking with the knobs and buttons on more than 50 of 2023’s best-selling gadgets, we’ve assembled a list of the 10 at the top. Some are simply necessary and some are flashy and fun, while others are unlike anything we’ve seen to date. Whether you’re looking for new gear as part of a New Year’s resolution to step up your game onstage or in the studio, or you just want to know what else is out there, check out the products below.
For getting serious in your home studio
JBL MKII-305P with LSR-310S Sub
When building a studio-grade setup for making music at home, balancing quality gear with a frugal budget can be more than a little challenging. Luckily, JBL has the MKII-305P Studio Monitors with the optional but supremely beefy LSR-310s subwoofer.
Sporting polished fiberglass accents that are sleek and sexy like a flashy new car, a pair of these bad mama jamas will hit hard enough to serve as monitors for any DJ on a small stage. They’re also suited to handle at-home music production with ease.
For making your own beats on the go
Teenage Engineering OP-1 Portable Synthesizer and Sampler
When this tech was hitting the market at the NAMM show years back, Flying Lotus and The Gaslamp Killer were some of its earliest adopters who eagerly awaited word from the company in their infancy just to be the first to have one. Today, they use Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 regularly in their live sets and the latter even told EDM.com it’s “a piece of gear I bring with me more than any other.”
Despite the hefty sticker price at around $1,500, it’s intuitive and easy to operate. Plus, this year it cemented its place in the hearts of producers far and wide when it landed at the top of Reverb’s list for Best-Selling Electronic Gear from 2023.
For fun with music production and a flashy new toy
Artiphon Chorda and Orba 2
Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes, just like the ingenuity in devices you’ll find from Artiphon. The Orba plays like the popular 80s game Simon and a MIDI controller made a baby, but with a spin so alien it’s almost futuristic. The Chorda, on the other hand, plays both like a keyboard and a guitar with a few other fun flairs.
Both provide beat looping, an array of stock sounds and you can use a mobile app to augment, record and upload new sounds on the go. They’re exceptionally compact, so they’re perfect for the music producer on the go. They’re also both aesthetically fresh, so they turn heads just about wherever they appear.
For the first time your best friend hears your new song
JBL Authentics 500
When the conventional bluetooth speaker just isn’t enough, the JBL Authentics 500 delivers gratifying bass and decadent, gooey mids. It’s probably the sexiest way to introduce your new track to a friend or love interest, with your clothes on. It’s also distinguished by a stylish retro-reminiscent design that proves nostalgia doesn’t have to feel old-fashioned.
More importantly, it’s the ideal home dancefloor unit with enough oomph in a down-firing sub to keep vibes pumping well into the afterparty. In addition to being seven (yes, seven) speakers in one, the Authentics 500 comes armed with bluetooth 5.3, built-in Wi-Fi and Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, so it doubles as a high-end, multi-room smart speaker too.
For a futurist’s upgrade to the conventional surround system
Bose Smart Soundbar 900
If you’re making music for films or television, or you’re just a YouTube-watching audiophile in search of crystalline, cinema-grade sound, then give a listen to Bose’s Ultra Smart Soundbar 900. Stellar either as a standalone or as a complement to an existing system, its enclosed nine-speaker array keeps vocals clear, builds suspense and wallops hard.
With Bose’s exclusive and proprietary “TrueSpace” technology, it sounds scintillating in any room you put it in. For added muscle, spring for the Bass Module 500, and between the two you’ll discover sturdy engineering balanced with such precision that it can rattle the soul without so much as vibrating the room.
For deep-diving crate-diggers
Victrola Hi-Res Onyx Record Player
True vinyl connoisseurs know not just any record player will suffice when it’s time to unpack a treasured collection. In fact, in the pantheon of options few brands even come close to what Victrola offers in the Hi-Res Onyx.
Along with being a sleek complement to any home-listening array, the Onyx is compatible with SONOS, uses a hyper-smooth AptX link and it’s bluetooth ready. So whether or not you’ve got a big system, it will play crispy, clean sound right out of the box.
For looping enthusiasts and multi-instrumentalists
Line 6 DL4
For the ultimate in delay pedals with enough looping power to satisfy even legends like Reggie Watts and Marc Ribellet, try the Line 6 DL4. The unit works just as easily with a guitar or a synthesizer or a microphone and it also packs several reverb algorithms and multiple inputs.
And the newer MKII edition of the DL4 is equipped with an array of updated features, like tweeze functions and tempo controls. You can even use the tap toggle as a one-switch looper. In a recent Instagram post, Watts said it’s an “indispensable piece of gear.”
For sharing your music in public places with style
Harman Kardon Go + Play 3
Where the Authentics discussed above suits superbly as an at-home unit, Harman Kardon’s Go + Play 3 is our top portable pick this year. It comes pre-calibrated with room-filling sound design, quad drivers and 80db of over-the-top bass all in a compact package smaller than your mom’s favorite purse.
Perhaps the best feature yet: multiple units can wirelessly team up to tackle audio needs across several rooms—a truly rare feature in a portable speaker of such caliber.
For the always-on-the-road music industry pro
JBL Live Free 2 TWS
When traveling is a must and there’s simply not enough room in your carry-on, JBL’s 11mm in-ear (and yet still somehow noise-cancelling) Live Free 2 TWS headphones are the perfect tool for the job. They charge wirelessly and boast an ultra-long 35-hour battery life, making them well-suited for life on the road. They also sport six microphones in each earbud so they handle interrupting calls from tour managers and show promoters like a dream.
If all that wasn’t enough, in 2022 they took home CES’ innovation award, so you know only a year ago they were the hottest thing on the shelves. The only difference now is they’ve got a price tag that’s easier than ever to afford.
For the music-making mad scientist
Korg Nu: Tekt NTS-2 Oscilloscope & Spectrum Analyser
Visual learners can’t always sift through the minutiae of a busy track by ears alone. That’s why the Tekt NTS-2 is so essential for synth players.
The waveform generator and onboard tuner fast-tracks beat production, and makes it easier than ever to analyze, compare and blend up to four channels of music. The process of mastering tracks for different listening devices seems to streamline itself when you’ve calibrated your tunes by voltage too.