Once again it’s time for my audio gift guide and I’m trying again to offer options at different prices – while mostly sticking to premium products.
For me, a top audio product is one of the best possible gifts for music lovers, for two reasons. First, most people listen to music every day, so it’s a gift they’ll enjoy more often than anything else you can buy them. Second, giving some access to better sound quality can significantly increase the pleasure they get from listening to music…
I give recommendations in five categories:
- In-ear headphones
- Headphones over your ears
- Portable speakers
- Home speakers
Within the majority, I give you my top recommendation; a good alternative with lower costs; and a popular model that may not be my personal choice, but by definition many like it.
Of course, AirPods are mentioned, but we have a dedicated audio guide for gifts for them, along with accessories for them.
My selection: Master & Dynamic MW08 (299 USD)
Master & Dynamic were my brand of choice for real in-ear wireless headphones, and every year I try out competing models to see if someone has stolen their crown. I even recently tried a pair with planar drivers, but the latest MW08 for me still offers the best combination of the best sound quality in the earphone category, with a simply beautiful charging case that really delivers a superior look and feel. See my full review here.
Lower price: Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus (from 191 USD)
The older model MW07 offers almost identical sound quality with equally sleek housings, only in a slightly larger form. Some colors are available for around $ 200, while others cost $ 249 – as for the latter, I suggest paying an additional $ 50 for the latest model.
Popular: AirPods (150 USD) / With Wireless Charging Case (200 USD) / Pro (249 USD)
If you are shopping for a teenager, then there is a good chance that this is the only brand they care about. But AirPods are also popular with anyone who is fine with sound quality and appreciates easy pairing and / or surround sound function.
Headphones over your ears
My selection: Bowers & Wilkins PX7 (399 USD)
As with the in-ear category, I still haven’t found anything that would surpass the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 in sound quality combined with very effective noise cancellation (too effective, according to my girlfriend…). They are also comfortable to wear, and their double-pairing capability is something you will never want to stay without once you experience it. You can be connected to, say, an iPhone and a Mac at the same time, and as soon as you play sound from one or the other, the headphones simply work. With 30 hours of battery life and a 15-minute fast charge for an extra five hours, they’re also super handy.
Lower price: Bose QQ35 Series II (about 200 USD)
These used to be the king of noise canceling headphones, and are still a great and popular choice today – at about half the price of the PX7. In my opinion, you’re sacrificing some sound quality as well as double pairing, but they’re just as comfortable, and they’re still a top-notch audio product.
Popular: Apple AirPods Max (549 USD)
For over $ 500, this would be a generous gift, but I can’t help but include them. Sound quality is truly at the pinnacle of established premium brands, plus you get Spatial Audio and a unique Apple pairing experience.
The pandemic meant that many more people spent half their day on Zoom calls, where speech is just as important as listening. Then, there are the fans of the games, who must be able to talk while playing. All of these headphones have microphones, of course, but you’ll always get better sound output than something designed for the task, the so-called. handset.
Best for Calls: AfterShokz Aeropex (160 USD)
These are headphones with bone conduction, which will always be more comfortable than headphones that are put in the ear, and cooler than those that are put over the ear. So, for anyone who spends the whole day on the phone or on video conferences, AfterShox Aeropex is a great choice. I find them so comfortable that I honestly forget to wear them, and the microphones ensure that you can hear yourself as clearly as you can hear others. I also use them for cycling, because they allow me to listen to podcasts without blocking the surrounding sounds.
Best for Playing: Master & Dynamic MG20 (449 USD)
They won’t be available until tomorrow (November 22nd), but I had a chance to try them out before launch and they seem to be in line with the company’s goal of creating the ultimate gaming headphones. They offer 50mm beryllium drivers and support for 7.1 surround sound for fantastic in-game sound, along with independent volume controls for gaming and chatting. The lightweight construction of magnesium, lambskin and alcantara makes them comfortable to wear for longer, while the detachable microphone holder ensures excellent quality for your voice. Comes complete with a low latency wireless adapter for fast action games. And they look great.
Lower price: Sony SRS-NB10 (about 100 USD)
If you are shopping for someone who works alone from home, the SRS-NB10 neck strap system is another very comfortable option. Lightweight, 20 hours of battery life and great microphones. However, it uses the speakers facing upwards, not the headphones, so that everyone around you will hear everything.
My selection: Sonos Move (399 USD)
This could be more wearable than portable, but if you’re looking for great outdoor sound, enough volume for fun, and enough battery life to last all evening (up to 11 a.m.), the Sonos Move is hard to beat. It offers two Class D amplifiers that power the mid-range woofer and tweeter, and you also get AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth connectivity. However, be warned that it is difficult to find at the moment and that there are scalpers looking for more than the retail price of $ 399.
Lower price: JBL Charge 5 (180 USD)
This is a mid-range Bluetooth speaker with truly amazing sound quality for its size and price. It is water resistant, comes in a wide range of colors, offers up to 20 hours of battery life, and you can pair two for stereo output.
Popular: Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2 (from 73 USD)
If you want to get under $ 100, then the popular option is the one I would recommend. The sound quality is decent in size and offers the same advantages as JBL in terms of color selection, waterproofing and stereo pairing. Battery life up to 13 hours.
For me, the biggest development of home sound in the last few years has been true single-box hi-fi systems that are worthy of the name – or worthy of Naim, because my main recommendation has not changed.
My Choice: Naim mu-so (about $ 850)
This would be an incredibly generous gift, but also a gift that will probably be appreciated for a very long time. I reviewed Naim mu-so back in 2016 and was incredibly impressed. The British audio company best known for its $ 150,000 amp has produced an absolutely amazing hifi system that costs less than $ 2,000. The Naim mu-so 2 adds stereo, more intelligence – adjusting each driver’s output to the room – and a little more power, but costs $ 1,700. You can buy the original for about $ 850, which I think provides significantly better value given the very close performance in actual use.
Lower price: Original HomePod (from 250 USD)
I said then that I was really sad when Apple discontinued the original HomePod, which I described as Apple’s most misunderstood product. Forget about the arguably limited Siri smart devices, the HomePod was an extremely capable, highly advanced speaker that offered superior sound quality for money. I have Naim mu-so in my living room, and HomePods everywhere else. You will now need to look for examples, especially if you want them to be packaged and unused as you would most likely do for a gift, but it really pays off for the right person.
Popular: Homepod mini (99 USD)
There was never any doubt about what this place was supposed to take! Of course, the sound quality cannot be compared to its larger and more expensive predecessor, but this gives many what they want: good enough sound and smart home control at a price that provides affordable music in multiple rooms. You can even pick up new units and units in boxes for less than retail.
Featured photo of the audio gift guide: Brett Jordan / Unsplash
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