Do you know someone who loves music? Sure, that covers most people, but if you’re looking to buy a gift for someone who is truly passionate about making music – whether just listening to it or actually making it – this is the gift guide for you.
While reading this list, keep in mind prices for audio gear fluctuate regularly – the prices listed are those at the time of writing. And if you’re buying for yourself, don’t forget to shop for used deals to get the most bang for your buck.
Traditional speakers for the audiophile
These are speakers that do not come with their power sources and thus need to be plugged into an amplifier like an A/V Reciever. These are best for the dedicated audiophile or someone who already has a receiver for their home theater system. Listed prices are for a pair of speakers, though some models are sold individually.
Q Acoustics 3020i
At less than $300 nowadays, the Q Acoustics 3020i are standout performers. You can read my review here, but the 3020i present a wide, enveloping, and slightly laid back soundstage that makes for an enveloping listening experience. They are also available in a variety of nice finishes and are one of the nicest looking speakers in their price range.
And if you want a very similar sound signature that’s just a bit more refined, you can look into the Q Acoustics Concept 20 at $525, though things become more competitive at that price.
PSB Alpha P5
PSB has been known for designing great speakers at a reasonable price and the company’s new Alpha P5 is no different. They sound like speakers costing a fair bit more, with an enveloping soundstage and surprising dynamics out of speakers that are quite minuscule. They also feature surprisingly nice build quality, with a metal magnetic front grille and classy wooden veneers.
Polk LSiM 703
These speakers used to be Polk’s flagship model. They originally sold for $1,500 a pair and were arguably already a steal at that price, but they can be found for under $600 now that Polk has a new flagship bookshelf. Though I normally am remiss to include speakers I haven’t properly tested myself, the speakers have both universally excellent reviews and admirable measured performance. I’d be remiss not to include such a formidable option going for a budget price.
Focal Chora ($1000)
The Focal Chora is a pair of darned-good speakers with three classy, modern finishes to boot. They do most everything right, with a wide soundstage, ample detail, and good bass extension. They’re excellent options at $1,000 but are even more of a steal in Europe, where they retail for as low as 600 Euro.
Buchardt S400 ($1,800)
These are all-around excellent speakers with precise imaging and impressively deep bass extension. They are pretty, sounds great no matter where you’re listening from, and are not finicky about placement. If you’re looking for new speakers and have $1,800 to blow, the R3 should be near the top of your list.
Desktop and home studio speakers
For the budding musician or those who just need good music at their desk, these are great options to consider. They might even work well in your living room too.
JBL One Series 104 ($100)
These capsule-shaped speakers are an absolute steal at their going price of $100. They sound excellent, with a wide sweet spot that isn’t fussy about where you’re seated or whether you’re sitting or standing. They have a decent about of bass heft and an excellent, enveloping soundstage. An easy recommendation for the price.
Fluance Ai60 ($200)
Big Bookshelf speakers with solid sound quality – these speakers reach down real low. Though they sound good in a living room, I actually found myself preferring their sound in a desktop setup, where they have the freedom to play loudly without overwhelming the drivers. They pack Bluetooth, optical, and USB connectivity, and the fact they look nice doesn’t hurt either.
iLoud Micro Monitors ($295)
These tiny desktop speakers may be named like cheap Apple knockoffs, but make no mistake: these little speakers are the real day. An impressively flat frequency response and more bass than something this small has any right to have, the iLoud Micro Monitors are fantastic little speakers. Oh, and they have Bluetooth too.
Neumann KH80 ($800)
Neumann is one of the most respected names in pro audio, but their speakers are equally at home for recreational listening. Whichever use case applies to you, the KH80 are state-of-the-art speakers with impeccably flat frequency response, excellent imaging, and impressive dynamics and bass extension considering their size.
Speakers that help cut the wires without cutting down on sound quality.
Sonos Move ($400 for one/$800 a pair)
The Sonos Move might be the best portable speaker ever. It sounds fantastic, it’s extremely durable, it works in stereo, and it can be tuned to match the sound of your room. It works great via Sonos’ software, but it makes for a solid Bluetooth speaker too. Keep in mind the price is for a single speaker.
Buy for $400 ($800 a pair)
SVS Prime Wireless ($600)
These classy little speakers feature impressive sound quality with a wide soundstage, good detail, and impressive bass output for their size. They come with a multitude of inputs for connecting to whatever source you want, and they support both DTS Play-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity for wireless playback. Of course, they’re even better if you get the subwoofer kit.
KEF LSX ($1000)
An impressive little pair of speakers available in a variety of beautiful colors, the KEF LSX is hard to beat in a pair of compact speakers. Though you should consider the aforementioned KH80 if you’re looking for sound quality alone, the LSX are far more convenient speakers. Add a subwoofer via the integrated port, and these little speakers become especially formidable.
Devialet Phantom Reactor ($2,180)
The Devialet Phantom Reactor feels like it shouldn’t exist. A speaker small enough to fit in a purse should not be able to have this much bass. And yet the Reactor is able to push out clean bass better than many subwoofers, let alone compact bookshelf speakers. It does so without compromising the rest of the frequency response, with a linearity that’d put many studio monitors to shame. It comes in two models distinguished by volume output. I’d recommend the Reactor 600 for small rooms and desk use, while the Reactor 900 should work in all but the largest of setups.
You know, speakers that go in your ear.
JLab Air Executive ($69)
These little earbuds have solid battery life, an easy fit, and a stylish AirPods-like design. Their sound quality is nothing crazy, but they come in with built in EQ modes to better approximate your tastes. At just $69, it’s hard not to recommend them.
Master & Dynamic MW07 Go ($200)
Some of the most stylish true-wireless Earbuds are also some of the best. The MW60 Go has excellent sound quality, strong signal reliability, sweat resistance and good comfort – despite their peculiar shape. They’re some of the most well-rounded-true wireless earbuds on the market.
If you’d like to get something even fancier, the MW07 Plus feature noise-canceling a slightly more premium acrylic design.
Sony WF-1000XM3 ($230)
These true wireless headphones do almost everything right. Fantastic sound quality, battery life, and noise isolation in a comfortable package. Wireless connectivity is more reliable than most true wireless headphones, and they look pretty nice to boot. Their case is a little chunky and their controls aren’t great, but it’s hard to find better headphones. As a bonus, they’re one of relatively few true wireless headphones with native Google Assistant support for extra speedy responses.
RHA CL2 ($462)
Want to give earbuds that can basically qualify as jewelry? These planar-magnetic earbuds feature a stunning ceramic design, come with a wealth of accessories, and can alternate between wired wireless setups. And oh yeah, they sound fantastic.
Over-ear headphones to keep you warm these cold winter days.
I love these minimalist headphones. UrbanEars isn’t the first brand that comes to mind when I think of sound quality, but I was impressed by the Pampas’ balanced tonality and soundstage. They have marathon battery life that can often go days without a charge, and I’ll be darned if their joystick-based control scheme isn’t the best on any headphone.
Sony WH-1000XM3 ($279)
Sony’s WH-1000XM3 are some of the most well-rounded headphones on the market. They sound great, they look good, they have class-leading noise cancellation, they have tight integration with the Google Assistant. Honestly, Sony got just about everything right with these headphones, and they remain an easy recommendation a year and a half after their initial release.
Master & Dynamic MH40 Wireless ($300)
If you’re just looking for premium headphones without noise canceling, Master and Dynamic’s MH40 is worth your consideration. A revival of the company’s first headphones – but this time with Bluetooth – they block out a decent amount of sound passively. More importantly, they sound fantastic. That they are some of the best looking headphones on the market doesn’t hurt.
Sennheiser Momentum 3 ($400)
If you want noise canceling and sound quality is paramount, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 are hard to beat. They don’t block out the world as well as the Sony’s but I prefer how they sound. I’m also a fan of the physical controls, which are more reliable than touch surfaces.
This post includes affiliate links to products that you can buy online. If you purchase them through our links, we get a small cut of the revenue.
Did you know we have a newsletter all about consumer tech? It’s called Plugged In – and you can subscribe to it right here.
Published December 19, 2019 — 08:00 UTC