The holidays are always a good time to help someone upgrade their audio setup, whether that’s earbuds, headphones, speakers or something else. We’ve curated a list of the best sounding gear you can buy right now, with options for true wireless, noise cancelling, immersive audio and more at a range of prices and in a number of product categories. There’s even a set of $20 earbuds that would make an excellent stocking stuffer.
Sony’s excellent WF-1000XM3 true wireless earbuds were in desperate need of an update, and the company obliged earlier this year. The WF-1000XM4 are completely redesigned with a new look and smaller, more comfortable body. Sound quality is excellent and powerful active noise cancellation (ANC) can be configured to adjust automatically based on your activity or location. Sony increased battery life to eight hours (ANC on) and tacked on wireless charging this time around There’s also LDAC support for high-res audio over Bluetooth and DSEE Extreme upscaling to recover details lost to compression. The company’s speak-to-chat feature, although imperfect, is handy when you need to have a quick convo.
I said “the best just got better” during my review of the WH-1000XM4 last summer and that sentiment still holds true. No other company comes close to what Sony offers on its flagship noise-cancelling headphones when you combine sound quality, ANC performance and features. Multi-device connectivity is handy for jumping from your laptop to your phone during the workday while speak-to-chat and quick-attention mode allow you to take brief pauses for short conversations. 30-hour battery life, deep punchy bass and 360 Reality Audio support are also items Sony checked off the wish list.
Jabra Elite 3
Jabra was a surprise when it burst on the true wireless scene with its Elite 65t earbuds in 2018. Since then, the company has continued to refine its lineup of mid-range and premium options. In 2021, Jabra debuted the Elite 3: a tiny, comfortable set of earbuds that cover all of the basics for just $80. The comfy fit, impressive sound quality, reliable on-board controls and solid battery life make the Elite 3 as close to a no-brainer as it gets if you’re looking to give someone earbuds this year without breaking the bank.
For the audio aficionado in your life who has seemingly everything, it might be time to give Sony’s 360 Reality Audio a try. And even if you’re not willing to splurge for a top-tier streaming plan to unlock the requisite content, the company’s SRS-RA5000 speaker is still a nice centerpiece for a modest setup. With crisp and clear audio quality, the RA5000 handles all music well thanks to upscaling tech, so you’re not limited to Sony’s immersive format. There are plenty of ways to customize the sound and the speaker automatically calibrates itself to the room where it’s placed. Connectivity options abound, so the person on your shopping list can control everything from their phone without leaving their seat.
Sonos’ second attempt at a portable speaker is a more compelling product which makes it a solid option for your holiday shopping exploits. On the Sonos Roam, good audio quality only gets better when you use two of the speakers in a stereo pair. Even if you just opt for one, the compact design is much more portable than the larger Move. It’s durable and waterproof, plus you get all of the benefits of other Sonos speakers — like multi-room audio, TruePlay tuning, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect and more.
Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50xBT were my top pick for non-ANC headphones since their debut. The combination of a fold-in design, comfy fit and warm sound quality made these so great. The company returned in August with the ATH-M50xBT2: an updated version that offers an even more compelling headphone option for anyone on your list. Alexa is now built in and multipoint Bluetooth allows you to connect to more than one device simultaneously. There’s also a low-latency mode for games and video on top of LDAC support to recover some of the sonic details typically lost to compression. And with claims of 50-hour battery life, there’s no need to plug these in often.
JLab Go Air Pop
Earbuds aren’t typically something you’d purchase as a stocking stuffer, mostly due to cost, but JLab has an extremely affordable option if you really want to go that route. At just $20, the Go Air Pop covers a lot of the basics, including eight hours of battery life with three additional charges in the case. Touch controls and EQ presets are in play as well, alongside IPX4 water resistance so these can easily double as a workout companion for any New Year's resolutions.
What do you give the person who already has a set of headphones they really like? Something to make them sound even better. The THX Onyx is a tiny USB-C DAC (digital-to-analog converter) that supports master-quality audio content, though it obviously requires using wired headphones. LEDs indicate which format you’re listening to, including standard, high resolution, Direct Stream Digital (DSD) and Master Quality Authenticated (MQA). Inside, the Onyx packs a THX AAA-78 amplifier chip: the highest-powered mobile THX Achromatic Audio Amplifier configuration. THX says the AAA-78 makes the Onyx just as powerful as a desktop DAC or amplifier setup, but it's much smaller. The chip reduces three types of distortion by up to 40dB and maximizes output power for more dynamic range and sound pressure level (SPL). That’s a lot of power in a tiny device.