This year has been full of some pretty excellent and innovative tech products, and that includes audio/video and home theater gear — from blisteringly bright TVs to headphones with Wi-Fi and earbud charging cases with LED screens to new-and-improved products from all the big shots like Apple, Sony, Amazon, and more.
But I’m here for the weird stuff. The interesting stuff. The stuff that made our eyes widen and our eyebrows do funny things. Throughout 2023, there have been a few good ones, including a fire-breathing $3,900 surround sound setup, a turntable you might want to eat with a side of fries, and a James Bond-worthy TV in a suitcase. Here, then, is some of the weirdest AV gear of 2023.
The smoke-and-fire puns were laid on thick, but you can’t fault our own Caleb Denison for that in his excellent video review because the surround system pretty much set our studio aflame (great, now I’m doing it). Denison called it “without a doubt the most over-the-top home theater-in-a-box I’ve ever seen” — and for good reason. The $3,900 system consists of a main soundbar unit that weighs 32 pounds, is made of stainless steel, and features 14 drivers, three tweeters, and seven amplifiers. Then, there are two surround speakers (each with five drivers) and two subwoofers, each with two 8-inch woofers in them. The whole thing blasts out a total system power of 3,000 watts at a peak output of 125 decibels. And like Smaug laying waste to Lake-town, this Dolby Atmos system is just a face-melting home theater in a box.
Would you like fries with that? Back in the mid-1980s, when vinyl records ruled, the original Audio-Technica Sound Burger was sold as the iPod of its time — a compact, battery-powered record player that you could take anywhere … if you were willing to lug a milk crate full of LPs along with you. Its sandwich-like design and basic features were popular enough that Audio-Technica saw fit to reissue the this year, striking while the spatula’s hot (man, I’m hungry) to take advantage of vinyl’s still-sizzling nostalgia factor (someone please feed me). This time around, though, A-T has given it some upgrades, including Bluetooth connectivity and new rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Sadly, there’s still no getting around transporting your heavy vinyl records, but maybe you can hit a drive-thru for some burger power first.
The LG StanbyME Go is the kind of espionage-tinged monitor-in-a-briefcase you could see Mission Impossible‘s Ving Rhames hunkered over in the back of a van as he helps Ethan Hunt shimmy through air ducts. Coincidentally, it’s also not too far off from the kind of briefcase you’d see housing the golden-glowing soul of one Marsellus Wallace (see what I did there?). Sadly, you won’t find Marsellus’ soul inside the 28-pound, . Instead, there’s a 27-inch, 1080p LCD touchscreen that can swivel vertically, horizontally, up, down, left, and right. Throw it in the back of the pickup for your next tailgate party (like we did with it). And while it’s technically not a TV as it doesn’t have a tuner, its Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as its webOS operating system, means you can cast to it from your devices via AirPlay or access streaming services like Netflix. Plus, you get to look like a badass spy.
We couldn’t talk about weird and wild 2023 tech without mentioning the Apple Vision Pro mixed-reality headset that Apple unveiled at its annual WWDC event in June. And while it isn’t strictly an AV device, Apple gave us a lot to talk about with the headset’s TV- and movie-viewing features that promise an immersive experience that simulates a screen up to 100 feet wide that can live within a range of simulated environments. The micro-OLED display inside features 4K resolution and can display 3D content, and the headset supports spatial audio. Aside from the fact that it looks like it was ripped directly from Ready Player One, the Vision Pro received more than its share of criticism, mainly for its soaring $3,500 price tag but also because the VR space has been well-trodden, leaving many wondering what makes this any different from, say, a Meta Quest. However, several hands-on reviews from WWDC reported an impressive experience, and if Apple can address its many issues before its launch next year, 2024 will give us a ton to talk about with the Vision Pro.
In addition to vacuums, hand dryers, and hair accessories, James Dyson has obviously invented a Time Machine. That’s the only plausible explanation for the But until earlier this year, when they were finally released, we mere civilians mustn’t have been ready for their Optimus Prime-like stylings. At a whopping $950, the , a device that is clearly from our dystopian future.Dyson Zone features ANC (active noise cancellation) and sound quality that got pretty favorable reviews across the board, but it’s the magnetically connected air purifying “visor” that’s hard to get past visually. But do they work? When connected, air is pulled in through the earcups and through two layers of electrostatic filters before streaming out to your nose and mouth. And while the mask doesn’t seal up tightly like an N95 mask or filter out viruses, the Dyson Zone can filter gases, odors, and air pollutants as small as 0.1 microns. Weird, yes, but definitely more than meets the eye.
OK, so it’s more of a wild experience than one single piece of AV tech, but the McIntosh House of Sound, a five-story townhouse in New York City that’s decked out top to bottom with some of the best and most expensive audio gear in the world, is something that has to be seen (and heard) to believe. Opened to the public in the late summer for private, guided listening sessions, the swanky apartment features six curated listening rooms that the McIntosh Group has outfitted with the amplifiers, speakers, turntables, and other gear of its many brands, including McIntosh, Sonus Faber, Pro-Ject Audio, and Rotel. Highlights include its main music listening room that features McIntosh’s 7-foot-tall flagship XRT2.1 speakers (pictured above) and a total output of 8,000 hair-blowing watts, and the ground floor’s home theater with its 9.16.4 sound system that includes 16 butt-rumbling subwoofers and a giant projector screen. It’s a must-visit the next time you’re in the Big Apple.
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