Audio gift guide: the best choices for the music lovers in your life

It’s time for my audio giveaway once again, and I’m trying again to offer options at a price range – while sticking mostly to high-end products.

For me, a premium audio product is one of the best gifts possible for music lovers, for two reasons. First, most people listen to music every day, so it’s a gift they’ll appreciate more often than almost anything you could buy them. Second, giving someone access to better audio quality can greatly increase their enjoyment of listening to music …

I make recommendations in five categories:

  • In-ear headphones
  • Over-ear headphones
  • Helmets
  • Portable speakers
  • Home speakers

In most cases, I give you my best recommendation; a good alternative at a lower cost; and a popular model which may not be my personal choice, but which by definition appeals to many.

Of course, AirPods are mentioned, but we have a dedicated audio guide for those, as well as accessories for them.


In-ear headphones

My choice: Master & Dynamics MW08 ($ 299)

Master & Dynamic have been my go-to brand for true wireless in-ear headphones, and every year I try out competing models to see if anyone has ripped the crown off them. I even tried a pair recently with planar drivers, but the latest MW08 for me still offers the best combination of the best audio quality in the in-ear category, with a simply gorgeous charging case that really delivers a look and feel. an upscale feel. Check out my full review here.

Lower cost: Master & Dynamics MW07 Plus (From $ 191)

The older model MW07 offers nearly identical audio quality with equally stylish cases, just in a slightly larger shape. Some colors are available around $ 200, while others are priced at $ 249. As for the latter, I suggest paying the extra $ 50 for the latest model.

Popular: AirPods ($ 150) / With wireless charging case ($ 200) / Pro ($ 249)

If you’re buying for a teenager, chances are it’s the only brand they’re interested in. But AirPods are also popular with those who are fine with sound quality and appreciate the simple pairing and / or the Spatial Audio feature.


Over-ear headphones

My choice: Bowers & Wilkins PX7 ($ 399)

As with the in-ear category, I still haven’t found anything to beat the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 for audio quality coupled with very effective noise cancellation (far too effective, according to my girlfriend…). They are also comfortable to wear and their dual pairing ability is something that once experienced you will not want to be without. You can be logged in simultaneously to say an iPhone and a Mac, and as soon as you play audio from either, the Just Work headset. With a 30-hour battery life and 15-minute quick charge for an additional five hours, they’re also pretty handy.

Lower cost: Bose QQ35 Series II (around $ 200)

It was once the king of noise-canceling headphones, and they’re still a great and popular choice today – at around half the price of the PX7. In my opinion you are sacrificing some audio quality, as well as dual pairing, but they are just as comfortable and remain a premium audio product.

At well over $ 500 that would be a generous giveaway, but I can’t really go without including them. The audio quality really does live up to the established premium brands, plus you get Spatial Audio and Apple’s unique pairing experience.


Helmets

The pandemic has caused many more people to spend half their day on Zoom calls, where speaking is as important as listening. Then there are the in-game monsters, who need to be able to talk while they play. Sure, all of the headphones listed come with microphones, but you’ll still get better quality audio outgoing from something designed for the task, aka headsets.

Ideal for calls: AfterShokz Aeropex ($ 160)

These are bone conduction headphones, which will always be more comfortable than in-ear headphones, and cooler than on-ear headphones. So, for anyone who spends all day on the phone or video conference, the AfterShokz Aeropex are a great choice. I find them so comfortable that I honestly forget I’m wearing them, and the microphones ensure you’re heard as clearly as you can hear others. I also use them for cycling, as they allow me to listen to podcasts without blocking out surrounding sounds.

Ideal for games: Master & Dynamics MG20 ($ 449)

These won’t be available until tomorrow (November 22), but I had a chance to try them out before launch, and they seem to live up to the company’s goal of creating the ultimate gaming headset. . They offer 50mm beryllium drivers and 7.1 surround sound support for fantastic in-game sound, as well as independent volume controls for game sounds and chat. Lightweight magnesium, lambskin, and Alcantara construction make them comfortable for extended wear, while the removable microphone rod ensures great quality for your own voice. Comes with a low latency wireless adapter for fast action games. They look great too.

Lower cost: Sony SRS-NB10 (around $ 100)

If you are buying 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 excellent microphones. However, it uses upward-facing speakers rather than headphones, so everyone around you will hear everything.


Portable speakers

My choice: Sonos Move ($ 399)

It may be more transportable than portable, but if you’re looking for great sound outdoors, enough volume for a party, and enough battery life to last a night out (up to 11 hours), the Sonos Move is hard to beat. It offers two Class-D amps driving a mid-woofer and a tweeter, and you get both AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth connectivity. Be warned, however, that it’s hard to find right now, and there are scalpers asking well above the retail price of $ 399.

Lower cost: JBL Charge 5 ($ 180)

This is a mid-range bluetooth speaker with truly amazing sound quality for the size and price. It’s waterproof, comes in a variety of colors, offers up to 20 hours of battery life, and you can pair two for stereo output.

If you want to get under $ 100, the more popular option is also the one I would recommend. The sound quality is decent for the size and offers the same advantages as the JBL in terms of color choices, waterproofing and stereo coupling. Battery life up to 13 hours.


Home speakers

For me, the biggest development in home audio in recent years has been true monoblock hi-fi systems that deserve the name – or Naim-worthy, because my main recommendation hasn’t changed.

My choice: Naim mu-so (around $ 850)

It would be an incredibly generous gift, but also a gift that could be enjoyed for a very long time. I reviewed the Naim mu-so in 2016 and was incredibly impressed. A UK audio company known for its $ 150,000 amplifier had produced an absolutely incredible all-in-one hi-fi system for less than $ 2,000. The Naim mu-so 2 adds stereo, more intelligence – tailoring the output of each driver to the room – and a little more power, but it’s $ 1,700. You can buy the original for around $ 850, which in my opinion offers significantly better value considering the very close performance in real use.

Lower cost: Original HomePod (from $ 250)

I said at the time that I was really saddened when Apple ditched the original HomePod, which I described as Apple’s most misunderstood product. Forget Siri’s arguably limited intelligence, the HomePod was an extremely capable and highly advanced speaker that delivered superb sound quality for the money. I have the Naim mu-so in my living room and HomePods everywhere else. You’ll have to examples hunt now, especially if you want them in a box and unused like you probably would for a gift, but well worth it for the right person.

There was never the slightest doubt about what should occupy this niche! Of course, the sound quality doesn’t compare to its bigger, more expensive predecessor, but it gives a lot of people what they want: pretty good sound and smart home control at a price that offers affordable multi-room music. You can even pick up new and boxed units for less than retail.

Featured photo from audio gift guide: Brett jordan/Unsplash

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