The holidays are a good time to upgrade an audio setup, whether it’s for yourself or for someone on your shopping list. We’ve compiled a group of the best audio gear that ranges from noise-canceling headphones to true wireless earbuds and speakers. There are also a range of prices for each product type, so you don’t necessarily have to break the bank unless you’re really looking to splurge this year.
If you’re shopping for the complete package in a new set of headphones, there’s one clear best choice. No other company packs in as many features as Sony does on the WH-1000XM5, and they’re combined with a stellar sound and effective ANC. With this model, Sony redesigned its flagship headphones, making them way more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The company also made noticeable improvements to the active noise cancellation, adding a separate V1 chip in addition to the QN1 that was inside the M4. The 1000XM5 still has all of the features that typically make Sony’s premium headphones so good. 30-hour battery life, a combo of touch controls and physical buttons, Speak-to-Chat automatic pausing when you talk, and the ability to change noise modes based on your activity or location. — Billy Steele, Senior News Editor
Buy WH-1000XM5 at Amazon – $398
Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2
If sound quality is the primary factor in your next set of headphones, Bowers & Wilkins pair impressive audio quality with solid ANC performance. The Px7 S2 are my favorite headphones I’ve reviewed this year in terms of sound. There’s also a more refined design that doesn’t look overly plasticky and the headphones fit comfortably even after hours of use. Call quality, ambient sound and automatic pausing need some refining, but they get the job done. At the end of the day, the design, sound quality and noise cancellation make the Px7 S2 a strong pick in the current field. Plus, they’ll last way beyond the stated 30 hours of battery life. — B.S.
Sennheiser Momentum 4
When picking the best-sounding headphones from 2022, it’s difficult to choose between the Px7 S2 and the Momentum 4. However, Bowers & Wilkins gets the edge in terms of design, but they’re evenly matched on sound quality and the rest of the competition isn’t close. Sennheiser does have an impressive 60-hour battery life in its favor and improved ANC performance. Those two items alone might be enough for you to overlook the very generic design for the music lover on your list this year. — B.S.
Buy Momentum 4 at Amazon – $350
Audio-Technica’s affordable wireless headphones have consistently offered solid performance that would make a great gift, even with the lack of noise cancellation. The company’s latest are the M20xBT, a Bluetooth version of the A-T’s popular M20x wired cans. A comfy fit and up to 60 hours of battery life will cost you just $79. Connect to multiple devices at once with Bluetooth multipoint connectivity and reliably control tunes with physical buttons. The design isn’t as refined as the company’s pricer models like the M50xBT2, but you get the bulk of what makes Audio-Technica’s cheaper options so good. — B.S.
Sony LinkBuds S
Sony’s first set of LinkBuds were a unique open-wear concept, but they weren’t for everyone. To expand the lineup with more universal appeal, the company debuted the LinkBuds S back in the spring. These earbuds may be tiny but they still offer active noise cancellation and the smaller size means they’re more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. That’s the entire point of the LinkBuds S as Sony built them to be worn all the time, although you can expect up to six hours of use with ANC enabled. Transparency mode makes this possible and features like Speak-to-Chat and Adaptive Sound Control highlight the list of additional features. — B.S.
Buy LinkBuds S at Amazon – $198
Beats Fit Pro
If you’re shopping for a set of workout earbuds this year, the best option is the Beats Fit Pro. These offer a lot of handy features from AirPods thanks to Apple’s H1 chip. The overall size is smaller than a lot of earbuds, which leads to a comfy fit. Plus, the added wing helps keep them in place during physical activity. Punchy bass brings energy to cardio sessions but the low-end tone remains balanced, rather than overpowering, and six-hour battery life should be enough to get you through the bulk of the day. — B.S.
Buy Beats Fit Pro at Amazon – $200
JLab Go Air Pop
Thanks to JLab, you can give a decent set of true wireless earbuds as a stocking stuffer. For $20, the Go Air Pop covers most of the basics. Eight-hour battery life, on-board controls, EQ presets, IPX4 moisture protection and the ability to use just one earbud at a time are all on the features list. The Go Air Pop is smaller than its predecessor, the Go Air, and this model comes with a case that completely closes. What’s more, the company kept the integrated USB on the charging case, so you don’t have to worry about looking for a cable when you’re out of power. — B.S.
Buy JLab Go Air Pop at Amazon – $25
UE Wonderboom 3
If you’re shopping for a Bluetooth speaker this year, the UE Wonderboom 3 is an affordable, tiny option that still packs a punch. It’s adventure-proof thanks to an IP67 rating, audio quality is bright and an outdoor mode boosts treble and bass so sound can be heard over a greater distance. You can also easily pair two Wonderboom 3 units for stereo sound, which won’t cost you a fortune thanks to the low price. And with up to 14 hours of battery life, you should be able to keep the tunes going for a while. — B.S.
Buy Wonderboom 3 at Amazon – $100
If someone on your list asked for a Bluetooth speaker but has a more refined audio taste, perhaps the Marshall Tufton will fit the bill. It’s pricey, but the investment gets you up to 20 hours of battery life and the option of a wired connection via 3.5mm aux jack. As is the case with all of the Marshall wares, the Tufton carries the look of the iconic guitar amps and this model has an audio quality that’s equal parts dynamic, warm and almost analog in its performance. On-board treble and bass knobs are also there to assist with any adjustments. — B.S.
Marshall Acton III
While portable Bluetooth speakers are great on-the-go, there are benefits to the set-it and forget-it options like Marshall’s Acton III wired model. It’s ideal for someone’s bedroom, living room or kitchen and offers 60-watts of power for just $280. Marshall’s classic amp-styled exterior looks great too, with its fabric grille and soft-touch exterior made up of 70-percent recycled materials. On top, you’ll find backlit physical controls so you can adjust settings in the dark and won’t always need a phone to control playback.
The Acton III delivers a rich and dynamic sound across a wider soundstage than previous models, with a bass response that’s also hefty for its size. On top of the sound quality, you get app support with EQ controls, OTA updates and a placement compensation feature to adjust for the acoustics in your space.
The overall build quality and sound makes it a gift anyone can appreciate, even as a stationary companion to a small portable speaker. There are two larger options as well, if you know someone who likes it loud. Either way, you’ll be a shoe-in for the party that will inevitably follow. – Jon Turi, Homepage Editor
Buy Acton III at Marshall – $280
High-res streaming subscriptions
If you’re unsure of what to give the music lover in your life this holiday season, why not allow them to give high-resolution streaming a shot. Several services offer the option of higher quality audio, but unfortunately not many of them allow you to gift a subscription. Instead, you’ll simply need to purchase a gift card that your recipient can apply to a high-res plan. Gift cards are available for Apple Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Tidal and others, although you may just need to buy a generic gift card for the company in cases like Amazon and Apple. I’d also suggest giving an App Store or Google Play gift card for someone to apply to a Nugs.net plan to unlock a vault of high-resolution live performances from Bruce Springsteen, Jack White, Pearl Jam, Dead & Company and more. — B.S.
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