Tech360's Christmas Gift Guide: Audio Edition
Nowadays, everybody needs a good pair of earbuds. Whether it's to block out all that noise on commutes to the office or to avoid hearing your neighbours quarrel when you're working from home, or even just so you can enjoy your music in higher fidelity, getting the right audio equipment is paramount. Here are our top picks for earbuds, headphones and speakers for gifting this Christmas season.
1. Sony WH-1000XM5
These headphones are some of the best on the market, and their active noise cancelling (ANC) performance is second to none. For frequent fliers, this would most likely be a very welcome gift. At just 250 grams, the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones are light enough to wear for long periods of time and the padding on the headband and ear pads are plush and comfortable too.
Sound quality hasn't been neglected either, with Sony changing the driver inside to a 30mm carbon fibre composite driver, providing emphasised bass and bright, sparkly treble. Battery life is more than sufficient as well, with 30 hours in the headphones when ANC is turned on and 40 hours when ANC is turned off. And of course, you get all the great features like 360 Reality Audio, speak to chat, multi-point connectivity and more.
At US$399 or S$569, these aren't the cheapest headphones around, but they're certainly the best if you're looking for the strongest pair of ANC headphones.
2. Sennheiser Momentum 4
But if you just need decent ANC and you're looking for excellent sound quality though, the Sennheiser Momentum 4 will be up your alley. The headphones scream premium, with nicely padded ear pads that can be easily removed and replaced if needed. The carrying case is also sturdy and comes with a flight adapter included, which is a very nice touch.
There's also support for aptX Adaptive and multipoint connectivity here, with a jaw-dropping 60 hour battery life with ANC turned on. This means most people will probably only need to charge these once every few weeks, or even once a month if you're using the headphones less intensely.
As for the sound quality here, wow. Music is clear and detailed, with a sense of liveliness and plenty of resolution. The soundstage is also incredibly impressive, with a wide and spacious sense of where instruments are. Priced at US$350 or S$499, these are firmly in the premium category, but they're well worth the cash.
3. Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X
For creators though, a wireless headset might not be what they need. If you're looking for something that you can use with your workstation, it might be more prudent to look for something wired, which is where the Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X comes in.
While Beyerdynamic calls the DT 900 Pro X their headphones for creative professionals, we feel that this is a good option for anybody who wants a pair of accurate headphones. These are open-back headphones, which means that they do let in environmental noise, and if you're listening at high volumes, people close to you can hear your music as well. This makes the headphones a bit unsuitable for use in public areas or in the office, so this is probably better suited to enjoying your music at home.
Beyerdynamic struck an excellent balance between analytical and musical with these, and the soundstage is great, with nicely done instrument imaging and layering. Coming in at US$299 or S$399, these are a good choice for people who don't like overly bassy headphones.
4. Astell & Kern AK UW100
Moving on to true wireless earbuds, there have been plenty lately, but one of the best sounding earbuds I've tried lately are the Astell & Kern AK UW100. These are truly some of the few earbuds on the market that I would say have audiophile-esque sound quality.
These come with a balanced armature driver inside instead of a dynamic driver, which does mean they sound quite different from most offerings in the market. The bass is tighter and more controlled, focusing on detail and cleanliness rather than sheer power. The mids also shine here, with a lush, detailed and full-bodied response. Soundstage in these earbuds is great too, with fantastic separation that still culminates in a cohesive, well-balanced presentation.
Even the price is surprisingly good, with a US$299 or S$379 price tag. The one major downside of these earbuds is that there is no ANC feature, but if noise cancelling isn't a must-have, then these are a no-brainer.
5. AirPods Pro 2
Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll have heard of Apple's newest AirPods Pro 2 earbuds. As we've mentioned countless times before, Apple products work best with other Apple products, and if you or whoever you're buying a gift for has an iPhone, iPad or other Apple device, the AirPods Pro 2 will be one of the best choices.
Even though it's taken a few years for Apple to give their best-selling earbuds a refresh, the new features like Adaptive Transparency, personalised Spatial Audio, the new low-distortion driver and more make the AirPods Pro 2 one of the most fuss-free and convenient earbuds around, especially if you're using an iPhone.
The sound quality and ANC has also been greatly improved, thanks to the new driver as well as the new H2 chip in each earbud. Thankfully, battery life has also been improved, from four hours to six. Although this is still rather average, any improvement over the original four hours is incredibly welcome in our books. Apple has even kept the price the same as the original AirPods Pro, at US$249 or S$359, so that's fantastic.
6. Oppo Enco Air Pro 2
If you're looking for something a bit more affordable, the Oppo Enco Air Pro 2 performs admirably for a pair of earbuds under US$100. While there are tradeoffs like no wireless charging, the earbuds come with features like ANC, touch controls and a companion app.
ANC performance is even surprisingly decent, managing to remove train rumble and the likes. Battery life is pretty average, at around seven hours with ANC on, although there is another three charges in the case for a total of 28 hours. Sound quality is also good, thanks to that 12.4mm driver inside. The bass is weighty and powerful, while the mids are clean and detailed.
The soundstage is also surprisingly wide, which was nice. At US$85 or S$119, these are an excellent gifting option, both in terms of sound quality and value.
7. Marshall Emberton II
Looking for something to gift to that person who always throws parties? Well, the Marshall Emberton II is a pretty nice choice. While it does look almost identical to the original Marshall Emberton speaker, there have been small improvements here and there.
First off, the Bluetooth connectivity has been upgraded to Bluetooth 5.1 now, although it still only supports the SBC codec. That being said, you can pair multiple speakers together for an even larger sound if needed. The speaker now has IP67 dust and water resistance, so perfectly fine to bring to the beach or to the pool and not have to worry about it.
Battery life has also improved quite substantially, from 20+ hours to 30+ hours. What makes this really impressive is the fact that the speaker is the same size and weight as the first generation. The sound quality still remains about the same as before though, and it's a good thing that Marshall didn't ask for a price increase with these, as most people would find the improvements rather incremental if they were paired with an increase in price.
At US$189 or S$299, it's a decent price. People who don't already have the original Emberton or who are looking to get a new portable speaker will definitely enjoy the Emberton II for what it offers.
8. Sennheiser Sport True Wireless
For the exercise junkies and athletes, a pair of reliable earbuds is a must to have when they're in the gym or out and about exercising. And when it comes to exercise earbuds, the Sennheiser Sport True Wireless is a great pair. Not only do they come with IP54 dust and water resistance for the earbuds, the case also feels rugged, with a loop included for a lanyard as well as a cover for the charging port to keep water out.
These run on Bluetooth 5.2 and there's aptX support, which is nice. Sound quality is the brightest spot of these earbuds though, they sound absolutely fantastic for exercise or sport earbuds and I'm glad. Most exercise earbuds end up compromising on sound quality to focus on features like water resistance and the likes, so people who want great sounding music while they're exercising can now get it with these.
Priced at US$129 or S$199, these are very affordable as well, and for something from Sennheiser, it makes it even more enticing.
9. 1More ComfoBuds Z
These are an interesting pair of earbuds, because they're actually meant to aid sleep. If you've ever heard of the Bose Sleepbuds, the 1More ComfoBuds Z is essentially a more affordable and perhaps even better version of those earbuds. These earbuds are tiny, allowing them to sit snugly and flush in the ear so you can lie on your side and slowly doze off even with these in. They also block out plenty of noise, acting almost like a ear plug, so light sleepers won't have to wake up with every breeze or door creak.
The companion app comes with 30 sounds in the Soothing Mode section, which are designed to lull one into sleep with gentle sounds like the crackling of a fire, rain drops and more. But these earbuds have something that the Bose Sleepbuds don't, and that's the ability to play your own music and podcasts from your phone. This means that users have the choice between which they prefer, and that's important.
With 3.5 hours of battery life in the earbuds, it's usually more than enough to help get someone to sleep, and there are auto-off timer presets as well. At US$99 or S$159, these are certainly very affordable and a perfect gift if you know someone who has trouble falling asleep.