As we say goodbye to 2018, let us look back and remember the good times—and the good products. It’s pretty hard for me to forget all the gadgets, tools, and toys I’ve enjoyed this year, considering my apartment is starting to look like a storage warehouse. It’s full of stacked beige boxes of objects I bought online, gadgets sent from PR firms, or new items from companies that I requested to try out. (The process for that, by the way, is pretty simple. If I like a product, I write about it. If I just think it’s OK, I don’t. Either way I’ll send it back.) I judge products based on how useful they are and how often I can imagine myself—and you—using them.
Throughout the year, I’ve written about hundreds of things I know my friends and family would like, but there are a select few that I’d made me extra stoked. These are the things I would be overjoyed to receive as gifts for my birthday. If you’re curious, here’s a list of the stuff I loved most 2018. Consider this your excuse to buy new wireless headphones.
My favorite headphones
Master & Dynamic Amazon
As I write my music, I need something to listen to the masterpieces. Master & Dynamic’s over-ear headphones provided me the best sound quality this year. The wired headphones—they also have a wireless version that I haven’t tried—are stylish, comfortable, and produce top-notch sound. The MW40 model has 45mm Neodymium drivers, removable lambskin, and memory foam ear-pads, and can fold flat so they don’t take up much room in your bag while you travel to and from work. The body is made of leather, stainless steel, and aluminum, materials designed to make the set more durable than cheaper models. There are 12 color options and it comes with a two-year warranty. $200.
My favorite wireless headphones
Anker’s Soundcore Space NC wireless headphones are my favorite budget (and wireless!) pick. The sound is well-balanced, and they feature extra comfortable memory foam ear pads. They have 20 hours of battery life with noise-cancellation—50 hours of battery when used with the 3.5mm wire—and tap and swipe controls on the right ear to adjust volume, pause the song, or switch tracks. $99.
A card game I just tried
Like card games and competition? Splendor became my favorite game of the year after my first time playing it. Unlike my other favorite games of the year—mostly still just Catan—Splendor is a card and token game that can take as little as 15 minutes to play. And you can play with two players. It also doesn’t require all that much space, since there’s no board. $36.
My favorite speaker
If I had to put a sound bar on every television in my house, I’d choose ZVOX’s AV203 sound bar. As a normal speaker, the sound quality is excellent, but it also enhances the dialogue by using digital algorithms to manipulate the audio signal to boost people’s voices in a show or movie. Basically, the soundbar lowers the background noise and raises the volume of the voices. This makes it perfect for people that constantly ask “what did they say?” while watching TV shows or movies. There are six levels of this AccuVoice function to choose from; if you don’t have a problem hearing what actors are saying, it’s also just a well-balanced, great sounding speaker. The ZVOX comes in five colors and can be programmed to be controlled by your TV’s remote. Or you could plug it in via an optical audio input or a 3.5mm headphone jack. $270.
A smart lighting starter kit
Lutron’s Caseta wireless smart lighting system is truly the most reliable, easy-to-install, and universal smart lighting solution I’ve come across. Lutron controls your existing, dimmable bulbs—from within the free app, using the included remote control, or via the switch on the wall—and works with most systems, including Alexa, IFTTT, Wink, Samsung SmartThings, Sonos, and Apple HomeKit. The minimal design means the system won’t be an eye sore. From within the app, you can control single lights, create scenes that’ll change multiple lighting products at once, and set schedules for your lights to turn on by the time you’re home. Each smart bridge can control up to 50 Lutron devices, so you don’t need to worry about installing a bunch of switches. Since these work so well, I’m excited to try out Lutron’s Serena shade line as well. $100.
A dog bed and two bowls
Home Kit bundle Wild One
Wild One makes my favorite canine products of the year. The home kit comes with one bed and two, four-cup stainless steel bowls with a silicone base ring to prevent slipping and splashing. The 6.5-inch tall beds come in three sizes, have a slip-resistant bottom, and are made with a soft memory foam. To protect the foam, the bed comes with a soft cover and water-resistant liner. The cover is washing machine safe but should be air-dried. The liner can be washed with a mild soap and then left out to dry. Get the kit for $150.
After music and dogs, my passion is coffee. This year, I purchased a device that totally changed my java drinking habits and saved me from spending money in coffee shops. The Barista Touch is expensive, but if you want to learn how to make espresso drinks like lattes and cappuccinos at home, it’s fun and totally worth it. If you drink a latte once a day for a year, it’ll end up costing you about $1,460 (or $1,825 with the tip your barista deserves). That’s way more than the $1,000 this machine will set you back in the long run. The Barista touch has a built-in automatic grinder and an automatic steam wand. Also, the digital display gives you the exact right coffee temperature with every cup. The touchscreen display lets you pick settings for the grind, brew, and milk froth level, too. $1,000.
This air fryer
This non-stick, 2-quart compact air fryer uses air instead of oil to fry your food. When you’re not dealing with vats of boiling oil, home-fried foods become healthier, safer, and cleaner. The basket for this fryer is dishwasher-safe and comes in five colors—grey, red, black, aqua, and white. This model has a digital display with presets for things like fries, meat, and baked goods. It also comes with a recipe book. $50.
The Haven foot massager
This device is parked in front of my couch, so my feet are somewhat constantly kneaded by the 22 massage heads. Mynt’s massager also uses rollers for the bottom of your feet and air pressure to aid in blood flow and alleviate aches. Within the machine, a heating system keeps your feet from getting too cold or too warm. There are programmable settings for things like temperature, air pressure, intensity, speed, and roller pattern, but I always go with the 20-minute preset mode. $180.
Sonicare’s DiamondClean Smart Toothbrush
Don’t neglect your teeth. Before I tried an electric toothbrush, I didn’t really get why I’d need one. After about a week of testing, I started to notice areas I wasn’t brushing enough or for long enough. Philips Sonicare comes with a charging travel case and has five cleaning modes: a standard “2-minute clean” mode, a natural whitening mode, a gum care mode, a tongue care mode, and a deep-clean mode. There are four smart brush head types. The toothbrush will also tell you when to replace the brush head. $240.
Native Instruments Amazon
I’ve been focusing on writing music this past year. Naturally, I’ve been experimenting with and testing out some new music gear. My favorite company of the year is Native Instruments. I’ve used their software for years, but just recently got the chance to test out their Kontrol keyboard A25, Maschine Mikro Mk3 drum pad, and as their newest update to their Komplete sample library and software line. It’s felt very luxurious to use exclusively Native Instruments software and hardware; all the features are designed to sync with one another, which has made music-making a lot easier.
The first thing worth mentioning: The Kontrol A25 keyboard, a 25-key MIDI controller designed to make playing and recording music easier than similar products. Instead of having to manually scroll through settings using your mouse on the computer, the keyboard lets you access and load sound libraries and instruments directly from the controller. Knobs and buttons on the device control the sound, change tempo, switch octaves, and loop sections of your song, if you so desire. It’s quite helpful to control the volume, pitch, how much reverb there is, and what sound filters the instruments go through, since it gives a live performative element to recording electronic music. The Af25 is a sturdier keyboard than other MIDI controllers in this price range and features keys with enough spring to emulate a piano. $159.
Similarly, the Maschine Mikro Mk3 drum controller makes programming drum beats much easier than performing them on a keyboard or inputting MIDI notes one at a time. The controller allows you to access sounds, effects, and even adjust the amount of swing your drum beat has. There are 16 pads that can be used in four ways: it acts as a normal drum pad, it can play chords (for those that don’t know how to play the piano), it plays single notes, and it acts as a sequencer if you’re trying to create music loops. It’s small enough to fit in your bag but powerful enough to create complex music. The device comes with over 1.5 gigabytes of samples, loops, and instruments. $259.
Finally, Komplete Kontrol 12 is a software package with more than 100 instruments and more than 45,000 sounds. The software works with any DAW—like Pro Tools, Ableton, Logic Pro X—and is designed and optimized be used with Native Instruments hardware like the A25 or Maschine Mikro. I’ve used it to compose everything from scores for silent films to demoing songs before going into a recording studio. $1,200.
An electronic acoustic drum module
A product I almost forgot about—since I wrote about it all the way back in February—is Yamaha’s new EAD10 electronic acoustic drum module. As a drummer, it is one of the only pieces of drum tech that’s excited me. To use it, you place a sensor box—inside are two high-sound pressure level stereo microphones that capture the performance from your entire drum kit—to the top of the kick drum. That sensor box is connected to a brain module that processes the sound, lets you add effects, and record your performances. It also lets the musician play along with their own performance, or just see themselves practice. If they want, they can then share that performance on Facebook, Instagram or Youtube. You can record drums straight or tweak elements like reverb and compression.
The EAD10 also allows for two external pads and bonus drum triggers to incorporate electronic elements. There are 50 presets and you can create up to 200 custom pre-sets for effects and configurations. While the EAD10 won’t replace a clean studio recording—individually mic’d drums will always give you more control over a mix—it’s a positive step forward for making drum recording more accessible. $590.
A customizable PS4 Controller
SCUF Vantage SCUF Gaming
The SCUF Vantage wireless PS4 controller is an officially licensed controller that’s more comfortable and customizable than whatever boring sticks your opponents will be using. You can fine-tune the tension of the trigger system for a quicker response time for more or less resistance depending on whether you’ve been doing your finger workouts. All the buttons are customizable, including the removable paddle switches on the back and “SAX” buttons on the sides. Say you hate reaching for the triangle button. You can now remap that button to the back or sides for quicker, more ergonomic experience.
The SCUF Vantage also features a touch audio bar at the bottom that allows you to mute the microphone or change volume during gameplay. The controller has a gripped texture on the back to help you hold on even if you’re the kind of gamer that sweats during long sessions. You can change the faceplate, add extended trigger lengths, change out the D-pad and thumb sticks, and even remove vibration modules from within the controller. Other noteworthy features include a built-in speaker, a 3.5mm audio input, and anti-friction rings that help the thumbtacks glide during playing. It comes with a carrying case and a 10-foot cable. $170+.
The best mug
Because they released some sweet new colors and were featured in our Best of What’s New list this year, the Ember ceramic mug is still one of my favorite products of 2018. The mug keeps your drink at whatever temperature you want and comes with a matching coaster that acts as a charger. The mug is $80.
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