Top 5 Audio Holiday Gift Ideas Under $200
A nice pair of headphones or earbuds are always a welcome gift, but it can be a tightrope walk to find something impressive that isn't terribly expensive. Luckily, there are plenty of high-quality options available if you know where to look. If you're reading this a week before Christmas, take a deep breath. We know where to point you to find the top 5 audio gift ideas under $200.
Grado SR125x ($175)
Brooklyn-based and family-owned Grado Labs has been around for a while now, churning out on-ear headphones that are truly unlike anything else on the market. The Grado SR125x is a mid-tier option from their Prestige X series, and comes with all the fixings that make a Grado headphone what it is. The SR125x's sound signature can be categorized by its fiery and aggressive mids and high mids. What really makes the unit stand out, however, are the intense vibrations that slam against your ears and provide an unusually physical listening experience. While there are plenty of headphones that can offer rumbling physical sensations when dealing with deeper bass frequencies, the SR125x offers those physical sensations well into its mids, making snare drums and tom-toms pop out of the drivers and tap you on the ear. Like most Grado headphones, the SR125x is a lot of fun, and offers a listening experience you can't quite get from any other brand.
FiiO BTR7 Portable High Fidelity Amp/DAC ($199)
Regardless of which side of the “Do DACs really affect sound quality?” debate you fall on, the BTR7 is an undeniably convenient and high-quality recent release from FiiO. While capable of a standard USB-C connection, it also supports Bluetooth connections and is compatible with virtually all commonly-used Codecs, including particularly high-quality ones such as LDAC and aptX HD. The BTR7 can switch in and out of “dongle” mode, meaning it can either use your device's battery or its own battery. In its companion app, buttons can be customized, allowing you to control the DAC in whatever way suits your preferences. As a cherry on top, wireless charging is also featured on the BTR7. It supports 3.5mm unbalanced headphone jacks, and 4.4mm balanced for the audiophiles. The list of convenient features keeps going, and makes the FiiO BTR7 one of the best DACs sub $200 to have come out this year.
Final Audio ZE3000 and ZE2000 Wireless Earbuds ($150 and $140)
These wireless earbuds from Final Audio get way too little attention. While most wireless earbuds understandably focus on convenience and offer a plethora of additional features, the ZE3000 and ZE2000 from Final Audio are primarily concerned with being the best-sounding wireless buds in their price range. It's pretty refreshing to see that the main attraction of these buds isn't an elaborate companion app, but rather audiophile features such as “F-Core for Wireless” to achieve exceptionally low distortion levels. In a similar vein, the f-LINK damping mechanism optimizes air pressure in the acoustic chambers to maintain a highly balanced sound that doesn't overemphasize low or high frequencies. Why are these two off from each other by just $10? Final Audio went so far as to create the ZE2000 just to provide subtle differences in balance and imaging. If you have some experience with wireless buds, you probably have some opinions on the thicker, coated sound they often produce. The ZE3000 and ZE2000 will take you by surprise with how crisp and clean they sound right out of the box, making them quite a premium stocking stuffer.
Strauss and Wagner ANCBT501 Wireless Headphones with ANC ($130, currently $80)
Strauss and Wagner is an up-and-coming audio company that does some of its finest work with high-quality and affordable consumer audio products. The ANCBT501 is an exceptionally inexpensive over-ear wireless release from the company with a battery life that outdoes Bluetooth headphones that are two or three times more expensive (40 hours of playback, 5 hours of battery per 5 minutes of charge). Though the ANC isn't the most powerful feature, it's the sound quality, surprisingly wide sound stage, and battery life that really make these a stand-out, inexpensive wireless release. Charge these while you're getting your shoes and coat on and you'll likely be set with hours of listening time for the rest of the day. With a transmission range of 32 feet and a lightweight, comfortable fit, these are a perfect set of headphones for home, the office, and commutes. Also, if you're ahead of the curve on Christmas shopping, these are on sale for just about $80 (38% off) at the time of writing.
JBL Flip 6 Bluetooth Portable Waterproof Speaker ($130)
As far as I'm concerned, this one checks all the boxes for a useful and inexpensive audio gift. The JBL Flip 6 has an IPX67 waterproof rating, and while I don't necessarily encourage anyone to go swimming in the deep end with one in hand, they're the perfect beach, pool, and shower speaker for worry-free listening. Beyond its IPX67 waterproof rating, its rugged design brings additional durability to the speaker. With a loud bass response and a battery that supports 12 hours of playback, JBL hit the nail on the head for a fun and casual portable speaker that can withstand most of the elements. At the end of the day, come on, just look at this thing: the Flip 6 Christmas Gift written all over it.