It's hard to be a new parent even during the most idyllic times. So what can you do to help? How about gifting a new dad something to make their lives a bit easier. Maybe they just need a breather from the hellstorm of diapers and sleep training. Or perhaps they want a better way to distract their screaming spawn. Here are a few options to consider.
Apple's entry-level iPad is one of the most useful devices for any new parent. It can be your child's gateway to video chatting with their grandparents (and with the new Center Stage cameras, they’ll always be in frame), or a life-saving distraction during long car rides. It could be a new dad's way to catch up on their favorite show while stuck dealing with mealtime. Or it could be a way for growing kids to read interactive stories and play games. The iPad can be whatever you want it to be. And paired with a decent case, it can be durable enough to survive life with tiny humans. (And if it does break, at least it's far cheaper to replace than an iPad Air, or a typical laptop.)
There's no question that we love Jabra's lineup of wireless earbuds. The Elite 85t delivers solid active noise canceling, a slim and light design, and excellent sound. And best of all, they cost around $200 and you can often find them for around $150. No matter which smartphone you have, the 85t are an excellent way to catch up on podcasts while trying to rock a baby to sleep. And they'll be even more useful during the rare bit of downtime for new parents. They're perfect for rocking out to your favorite tunes, or pair them to your TV or set-top box to enjoy late-night movies without making much noise.
This relatively cheap rattle is deceptively useful. It has a light-up face to keep babies interested, multiple textures for them to explore, and a mirror on the bottom for them to learn their own faces. It was a secret weapon during my child's first-year tantrums, so much so that I've gifted it to every new parent I know. It's not high tech at all, but it's a reminder that they’re called classics for a reason.
Sonos' most portable speaker is an excellent choice for new parents, especially if they’ve already bought into the Sonos ecosystem. It's small enough to throw in a bag, giving new parents a way to play some tunes during a picnic. It relies on Bluetooth, so pretty much any device can connect to it. But the best part is that it also works over Wi-Fi with an existing Sonos setup. So if you start playing some songs on your larger Sonos speakers, you can easily pipe that over to the Roam and bring it to your backyard. And since it's from a brand that's known for excellent sound quality, you can expect everything to be much richer than other cheap Bluetooth speakers.
The Apple Watch is great for working out — but it can also be a handy tool for new parents. It's a simple way to keep tabs on texts and other notifications when your hands are full with a baby or baby-related ephemera. It lets you start and stop podcasts when you can't reach your phone. And — here's the kicker — it's also a perfect way to distract youngins and de-escalate shouting matches. It turns out, having a tiny screen on your wrist that can display photos is pretty useful! And it's also a relatively safe device for babies to fiddle with, thanks to its touchscreen. (Of course, you can take your pick of any competing smartwatch for Android users, but we'd recommend Samsung's Galaxy Watch 4.)
Action cameras are great for vacations and high-impact sports, but they can be just as useful for new parents. It's the sort of thing you can strap onto a hat when you go out for a light hike with a little one, or just leave it running in your backyard to capture their first steps. Sure, we've all got smartphone cameras, but it's tough to leave those running for extended periods, and they're still a bit distracting if you're dealing with a child. A camera like the Hero10 Black, on the other hand, is something you can just set, forget and discover little video treasures later.
Keeping up with a new baby can lead to aches and pains in muscles that dad never knew he had. The Theragun Mini can give him the opportunity to get a massage without leaving the house. While there are much bigger and more powerful Theragun machines, the Mini is a good size for beginners and those who want to take its muscle relief power wherever they go. It has a single button that dad can use to change the massage gun’s speed and its ergonomic design makes it easy to reach different parts of the body. And arguably the best part is its 150-minute battery life — while that might not seem like a long time, it truly is when you consider the fact that you don’t need to use it for more than a few minutes each day to feel the results. With that schedule, dad could use the Theragun Mini every day for a month or more before needing to recharge it.
It’s hard to keep up with comics when kids are around, but Comixology makes it easy to catch up on your favorite releases. If you know a comic nerd who’s eager to see what the X-Men are up to, or who just wants to catch up on long-running graphic novel series, it’s worth sending them an Amazon gift card that they can use with Comixology. It’s particularly useful for anyone who has an iPad or a decent Android tablet. Not surprisingly, bright and portable screens are one of the best ways to appreciate comic art!
A perfect gift for any gamer dads in your life, the Laugh and Learn Controller is basically a baby-proofed version of a modern gamepad. There's a joystick, directional pad, and array of buttons for kids to fiddle with. But like any good distracting toy, it also lights up and makes sounds to keep them entertained. It's not exactly complex, but it's inexpensive and effective. That's particularly true for parents of little ones who always gravitate to their expensive console controllers.
Coffee, tea or another caffeinated beverage is an essential for many new dads and Greens Steel’s insulated tumblers can keep their drink of choice hot or cold for hours. While we all appreciate that luxury, it’s especially important for parents who often find themselves sipping tepid coffee hours after they brewed their first cup because they got distracted with kid duties. These tumblers are made of 18/8 food grade steel and they have a double wall vacuum that maintains temperatures for up to 12 hours. And regardless of which size you get (20-, 30- or 40-ounce) they all fit into standard-sized cup holders, so dad can bring his drink with him when he runs out for an emergency diaper restock.
As some of you might know, I’m a runner. On occasion I review sports watches, and outside of work I’m a certified marathon coach. So when Engadget wanted to round up the best wireless workout headphones, I raised my hand.
In addition to fit and battery life, I considered factors such as style; ease of use; the charging case; the strength of the Bluetooth connection; support for assistants such as Siri and Alexa; water resistance ratings; and audio features such as noise cancelation and ambient sound modes. You’ll notice I don’t have much if anything to say about audio quality. Engadget’s resident expert Billy Steele has written about this plenty in his standalone reviews, which I’ve linked throughout, but for my purposes the differences were too subtle to make or break a purchasing decision.
In the end, I never quite mastered some of the over-complicated controls, but at no point did an earbud fall out while I was exercising. I also never came close to running out of juice. So, participation trophies for everyone? Ha: The companies wish. I do indeed have some favorites, while some fell short in key areas.
How we tested
Even if earbuds aren’t marketed specifically as workout headphones, a durable, water-resistant design will, by default, make them suitable for exercise. To avoid repeating myself throughout this guide, I’ll drop a quick primer here on durability, or ingression protection (IP), ratings. The first digit you’ll see after the “IP” refers to protection from dust and other potential intrusions. That spec is measured on a scale of 1 to 6. The second refers to water resistance or even waterproofing, in the best cases. Higher numbers mean more protection, while the letter “X” means the device is not rated for protection in that regard. The ratings for water resistance are ranked on a scale of 1 to 9.
All but one of the models we tested for this guide is rated IPX4. That means there’s no dust protection, and the buds can withstand splashes from any direction but probably shouldn't be submerged. The most durable set of earbuds we tested, Jabra’s Elite Active 4, is rated IP57, which means a high level of both dust and water protection. Whereas the IPX 4 models can handle splashes, the Elite Active 4 can be immersed for up to 30 minutes in up to a meter (or about 3.2 feet) of water.
For a detailed breakdown of all the possible permutations, I recommend checking out this guide published by a supplier called The Enclosure Company.
Earbuds we tested
Beats Powerbeats Pro
Beats Fit Pro
Jabra Elite Active 4
Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro
Active noise cancelation
For the 2022 update to this guide, I decided to add a note up top about active noise cancelation (ANC), simply because most of the available models now offer it. And since the user experience is actually pretty similar across different brands, I thought it would be easier to share what they have in common, rather than repeat myself.
First of all, no noise cancellation is perfect. If you’re looking for earbuds that you can continue wearing even after you’re done working out, you might still hear some background noise, whether it be your robot vacuum or cars honking. The difference in quality with ANC enabled is undeniable; just don’t take these companies’ marketing claims too literally. Besides, I don’t recommend active noise cancellation while exercising outdoors; it’s not safe. And even if you are working out indoors, I still think a noise cancellation horse race is probably beside the point for the purpose of this guide.
The best all-purpose option: Jabra Elite 4 Active
What you get: A stylish, compact pair of wireless earbuds with a lightweight charging case to match.
Pros: Reasonably priced for the feature set; sleek, compact design; one of the lightest charging cases we tested (and some of the longest battery life); more durable than most; active noise cancelation, a transparency mode and customizable equalizer; works with Spotify Tap on Android.
Cons: Onboard controls aren’t intuitive, but Jabra offers helpful instructions in its app; less comfortable after prolonged use than other brands.
Much like the Elite Active 75t we tested in 2020, the newer Elite Active 4 earbuds ($120) make a strong first impression, with a compact, stylish design and a lightweight charging case to match. Available in three colors, the earbuds aren’t just small and light, but they look especially sleek given that they don’t have any wingtips. Though they felt comfortable when I first put them in, my ears did feel a little sore by the end of a run.
Meanwhile, the 37.5-gram case is also among the lightest we tested, but still offers some of the longest battery life, promising a total of 28 hours. (Each individual earbud on its own is rated for seven hours. Jabra says you can return to an hour’s worth of juice after a 10-minute charge.)
In my testing, the earbuds were easy to insert and pair. Less easy is learning how to use the things. As you might expect, you press the right earbud once to stop and resume playback. You can also double-press the right bud to skip a track, and triple press it to play it again. But some of the other onboard controls are less obvious. To increase the volume, hold down the right earbud for a second; to lower it, long press the left earbud. Meanwhile, single-pressing the left earbud allows you to toggle between active noise cancelation, HearThrough mode, or neither. Lastly, double press the left bud to use a voice assistant.
The good news is, you don’t have to commit all those finger gestures to memory: Jabra’s Sound+ App for iOS and Android contains a helpful illustrated tutorial, which I recommend keeping open on your phone as you get settled in with your new earbuds.
I mastered the controls quickly enough, but the physical buttons on the earbuds require a little more pressure and coordination to get an accurate press in. I found myself waiting until I had slowed to a walk before I started fiddling with the tracks. Even then, I needed to be very deliberate to make sure I got it right. And usually I did. That said, given there’s no physical volume rocker, I did wish there were an aural cue confirming I had moved the volume up or down a notch; the progression from louder to softer (or vice versa) is very subtle.
After a roughly 35-minute run the battery was still at 90 percent – a similar showing to what I saw on the Beats Fit Pro, also featured in this guide. Like the Elite Active 75t I tested previously, the Elite 4 Active uses Jabra’s HearThrough technology. With that enabled, I could hear cars along my running route, though on an especially windy day the gusts drowned out softer noises like footsteps behind me. That’s despite the earbuds having four built-in mics with what Jabra calls a “mesh covering” for added wind noise reduction.
Although I tested the Elite 4 Active on an iPhone 12, the earbuds have some additional features on Android, including support for Spotify Tap, which resumes where you last left off listening to your Spotify account on any device. Android users also get support for Alexa and Google’s Fast Pair tech.
While I recommend the Elite 4 Active for most people, it’s also worth quickly mentioning the $180 Elite 7 Active, which adds Jabra’s ShakeGrip technology for what the company claims is a more secure fit. You also get slightly better battery life – eight hours per bud, or 30 hours with the case – and even faster charging (an hour of playback after a five-minute charge). Lastly, choosing the Elite 7 Active over the Elite 4 Active gives you the option of either Google Assistant or Alexa, as well as voice guidance. However, you’d be giving up call controls, which you do get on the Elite 4 Active.
The most comfortable option: Beats Powerbeats Pro
What you get: A comfortable, behind-the-ear hook design that’s easy to use and is deeply integrated with iOS.
Pros: Comfortable, stable fit; pairs seamlessly with iOS devices; intuitive controls with mirrored access on the left and right sides; tied with Sony for the longest earbud battery life.
Cons: Ear-hook design isn’t the most discreet, and doesn’t fit so well with sunglasses; relatively heavy charging case; no active noise cancelation, transparency mode or customizable EQ; speaking to an assistant is slightly less convenient if it’s not Siri.
For the purposes of this guide I tested two pairs of Beats headphones: the $200 Beats Fit Pro earbuds, and the $200 Powerbeats Pro, earbuds with an over-the-ear hook design. I’ll start with the Powerbeats Pro, which I like better for exercising.
Other than being slightly conspicuous, the Powerbeats Pro comes in four colors and fits comfortably, though it doesn’t play as nicely with glasses and face masks as more compact in-ear designs. Compared to the other earbuds I tested, though, I felt especially confident the Powerbeats Pro would stay put during workouts.
Like Apple’s newest AirPods, the Powerbeats Pro use Apple’s H1 chip, which allows for particularly deep integration when you pair the earbuds with an Apple-made device. In addition to a fast, seamless pairing process, you can activate Siri by saying “Hey Siri,” without having to press a button. You can also share audio with other AirPods or Beats headphones, and can enjoy automatic switching between Apple devices.
For better and worse, the integration is so complete, in fact, that there’s no companion app; instead you check the earbuds’ and cases’ battery via other methods, such as a homescreen widget or by asking Siri.
The earbuds themselves are rated for nine hours of use, which is among the highest we’ve seen. The case is rated for a total of 24 hours of use, which isn’t bad, but given that it's not best in class you have to wonder why the case is as heavy as it is. (Heavy enough that my purse feels a little lighter without it.) iOS users won’t mind that the case charges via a Lightning cable and not USB-C, but others might be slightly put out.
If you’ve ever used AirPods or Apple’s old-school wired headphones, these should be pretty easy to master. Double-press the physical button on the earbud to skip tracks and triple-press it to go backward. I quickly came to love the physical key; it’s less finicky than a touch surface. I was also grateful for the mirroring of controls between the left and right earbuds — both left- and right-handed people should be happy.
Having tested other wireless earbuds that either lack onboard volume controls, or make it tedious, I have come to particularly appreciate the Powerbeats Pro’s onboard volume rockers – one for each earbud. I don’t know of any other workout earbuds that make it easier to adjust the volume, not even the Beats Fit Pro.
While it’s nice to have easier volume access, the audio experience is otherwise basic. There is no active noise cancellation or transparency mode. Not a dealbreaker for workouts, but something to consider if your goal is to get one pair of earbuds you can wear for everything.
Other features include support for voice assistants (yes, Google and Amazon too), but only Siri can be summoned by a voice command. You can also wear just one bud if you like (the right one) if all you need to do is talk on the phone, or if you want to keep an ear open to what’s going on around you.
Honorable mention: Beats Fit Pro
What you get: Many of the benefits of the Powerbeats Pro, with a more discreet design, a lighter charging case and the addition of ANC.
Pros: Comfortable, stable fit; pairs easily with iOS devices; compact, lightweight charging case; adds ANC and transparency modes, which the Powerbeats Pro lacks.
Cons: A smaller design than the Powerbeats Pro means shorter battery life and the loss of a physical volume rocker; no customizable EQ.
One of my main complaints about the Powerbeats Pro is that they don’t fit as well if you’re wearing sunglasses (or, in pandemic times a mask). This is where the Beats Fit Pro have the advantage: Their discreet design that promises to stay out of the way and safe even during sweaty workouts.
Available in four colors, the buds are easy to insert and comfortable to wear – just twist the bud to fold the wingtip into your upper ear. And, because the earbuds are smaller than the Powerbeats Pro, the case is markedly lighter and more compact (55g versus 80g on the Pro). Between the lightweight case and the less dorky design, the Beats Fit Pro make a strong case for themselves as earbuds you can wear not just during workouts, but everywhere.
Because the Beats Fit Pro were released more recently than the Powerbeats Pro, they have active noise cancellation, a feature older Powerbeats and AirPods products are lacking. At the same time, Apple built in a transparency mode – ideal for runners like me who would feel safer if they could still hear ambient cues like footsteps and car horns. Lastly, it supports Apple’s Spatial Audio format for a more immersive sound and will automatically kick in if you’re playing a compatible track.
For working out, the audio is fine. But if you can only afford one pair of earbuds, my colleague Billy Steele indicated in his review that the sound quality is mediocre. He found calls could be patchy and, as he notes, Beats is one of the few brands that doesn’t offer users a customizable EQ.
Out of the box, the earbuds are set to active noise cancellation. There are two ways to adjust this: You can hold down the physical button on either earbud to cycle through audio profiles. Or, you can find the earbuds in your Bluetooth settings menu and click further to see a more detailed menu of options. Not only can you adjust the mode there, but you can also change what those physical buttons do. By default, they’re for toggling audio profiles, but you can also set them up so that one earbud controls volume up, and the other volume down. Personally, I preferred having the option of adjusting the volume from my earbuds mid-workout; it’s easy to just pick an audio mode before your run and stick with it.
Other than the slightly limited volume controls, the Beats Fit Pro works much like other Beats- and Apple-branded headphones. Press the physical button once to play or pause tracks; double press to skip forward; and triple press to replay a track. For anyone upgrading from an older pair of Beats or Apple earbuds, the transition should be easy. My only word of caution is that I found the physical button on the Beats Fit Pro harder to find by feel, as it’s smaller and less indented than the button on the Powerbeats Pro.
Apple rates the Beats Fit Pro for six hours of listening time per earbud, plus an additional 18 hours from the USB-C charging case. You can also wear just one bud if you like, to squeeze out even more runtime. In my testing, the battery on the buds dropped down to 89 percent after a 35-minute run. Extrapolate that, and the math comes close to Apple’s six-hours-per-bud claim. If you’ve managed to completely exhaust both the earbud and case, Apple says its “Fast Fuel” feature will get you back to one hour of use after five minutes of charging, the same claim Jabra makes for the comparably priced Elite Active 7. (Note: Apple’s one-hour estimate assumes you won’t be using ANC.)
Under the hood, the earbuds have the same Apple-made H1 chip as the Powerbeats Pro and Apple’s newer AirPods, allowing for hands-free “Hey Siri,” audio sharing with other AirPods or Beats headphones, and automatic switching between devices. The headphones also work with the Find My app, even on Android.
The best budget workout earbuds: Sony WF-C500
What you get: Reasonably priced earbuds that prioritize a light design and good audio quality.
Pros: Lightweight; reasonably priced; support for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format; the earbuds themselves claim relatively long battery life; customizable EQ; supports Google Fast Pair.
Cons: No ANC or transparency mode; slightly trickier to pair on iOS than other earbuds we tested; the charging case has lower capacity than competing models; they have a larger, more bulbous design than others we tested (but are no less comfortable).
With the $100 WF-C500 earbuds, Sony is really emphasizing the small design: The earbuds themselves weigh 5.46 grams, while the charging case is 35g. That would be the lightest case we tested, and nearly the lightest pair of earbuds, barring the much pricier Elite Active 7. It’s worth noting that a lighter charging case means shorter case battery life (a relatively low 20 hours). Even then, the earbuds themselves offer some of the longest battery life of the bunch: 10 hours per bud. If you do run low on charge, you can get back up to an hour’s worth of capacity in 10 minutes, Sony says.
The earbuds, available in four colors, were larger than I was expecting given their light weight, but they’re easy to insert and fit comfortably. They are slightly trickier to pair on iOS than other buds I tested for this guide, though Android users will benefit from support for Google Fast Pair.
By default, a robotic voice will tell you the earbuds’ battery charge as you’re putting them in. I found this useful, though it meant that there was a delay in getting to hear whatever I had been listening to. You can always disable voice guidance in Sony’s Headphones app if that bothers you.
The truth is, I rarely had range anxiety with these headphones anyway: Unlike other earbuds, which took a roughly 10 percent hit after my usual 35-minute run, these were still at 100 percent. It’s unlikely I’ll ever wear out both the buds and charging case before getting to a wall charger.
The controls were also easy to master without having to consult Sony’s companion app. On the right earbud, press once to play or pause audio playback, or to answer or end a call. Double press to skip tracks, and triple press to go to the previous song. Long-pressing the right earbud launches or cancels a voice assistant. You can also long press to decline a call. On the left earbud, some of the controls are mirrored: you can press once to receive/end a call, and long-press to reject it. The left bud is also where the volume controls live: press once to raise it, and hold the button down to lower it.
As one of the cheaper options in this guide, the WF-C500 are the only ones without active noise cancellation. Which to me, isn’t a dealbreaker. The eartips already do a good enough job passively blocking noise, to the point where I was startled when a group of runners ran up from behind in the park and passed me. If anything, I wished the earbuds had a transparency mode that would allow more ambient noise through. Fortunately I could still hear louder noises like nearby traffic.
The lack of ANC aside, the audio quality is quite good – which makes sense, given Sony’s heritage in audio and home theater gear. Like other models listed here (barring Beats, anyway), you can adjust the EQ in the companion app. And, as you might expect, the earbuds support Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format, which is similar to Apple’s spatial tech, which in turn is built on the Dolby Atmos format.
The most customizable: Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro
What you get: Comfortable ANC earbuds with long battery life and customizable controls.
Pros: The only buds we tested with wireless charging; long battery life, especially on the charging case; active noise cancelation, a transparency mode and customizable equalizer; lots of options for setting up the controls to your liking.
Cons: Larger and a little harder to insert than competing models; touch-sensitive controls can be finicky; worse sound quality than the competition; in-app battery indicator doesn’t give you a percentage.
The $170 Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro earbuds are available in four colors, and carry a big emphasis on ergonomic fit. That includes air-filled wings, silicone ear tips (similar to other brands) and a promise of air-pressure relief, per Anker. The earbuds don’t come with the eartips or wingtips attached, which adds some friction to the setup process but, on the plus side, you get a choice of four ear tip sizes, compared with three from most other headphone makers. Inside the Soundcore app you’ll find a fit test, but I actually ended up with a more comfortable fit by just following my gut. But it’s certainly worth playing around with.
The Liberty 3 Pro is right up there with the Sony CF-500 in terms of being some of the larger earbuds I tested for this guide. That said, they fit comfortably and stay put. I will say, however, that these were consistently harder to insert than some other brands I tested, even after I’d had a bit of practice.
When I originally published this guide, in September 2020, I ruled out Anker’s $55 Soundcore Spirit Dot 2 earbuds on account of their fussy touch controls and the fact that you couldn’t adjust the volume from the buds themselves. I’m happy to report that the situation has improved – mostly. First, the bad news: The controls are still finicky, and especially difficult to get right while moving. But, they do offer volume control. (Thank goodness.) The controls are also programmable inside the Soundcore app. So you can at least customize the long press and single, double and triple taps in a way that feels intuitive. In addition to music and volume playback, you can also use the controls to toggle audio modes or to activate a voice assistant (Google or Alexa).
Just as you can modify the earbud controls, you have options as far as sound quality, too. There are ANC and transparency modes, along with a “normal” setting in between. Also, like Sony and Jabra, Anker allows you to customize the EQ from within the app. Interestingly, wind reduction is a feature you have to actively opt into. Anker says this is because the wind reducing mode dings ANC performance, and since it’s unlikely people will often find themselves in strong winds, it may as well not be turned on by default. Later this year, Anker will push out a software update that will add “enhanced vocal mode,” which promises to increase vocal pickup in the area around you, according to an Anker spokesperson.
Additionally, Anker touts three mics per earbud, along with AI noise reduction. I can’t prove that there’s a connection here, but I did notice they sounded a little tinnier compared with other headphones. Sometimes, some random buzz even crept in. It’s hard to know if that slight distortion is a result of the AI doing its work, but I wonder.
As for battery life, the Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro has the distinction of being the only earbuds we tested for this guide with a case that can charge wirelessly. The buds themselves are rated for eight hours apiece, or 32 hours with the case, making this the longest-lasting charging case we tested for this story. Anker also says that you can return to three hours of capacity after 15 minutes of charging. After a 35-minute run, the battery indicator in the app showed a mostly full charge, though unfortunately Anker doesn’t give you a percentage.
What’s better than one good webcam? Three of them… and with 4K resolution, no less.
With the ability to fit an entire boardroom into its FoV, the Jabra PanaCast uses 3 individual lenses to capture more in the same small webcam form factor. Quite literally upstaging Apple’s Center Stage, the PanaCast has a dizzying 180° field of view, capturing what Jabra calls ‘three whiteboards’ worth of content, digitally. Equipped with Jabra’s Intelligent Zoom feature, the PanaCast can also detect faces and expand its bounding box to fit multiple people into its frame. The 4K lenses do a phenomenally better job at capturing board meetings in vivid detail (along with the whiteboards behind them), bringing enterprise video conferencing to the next level.
While the Center Stage is more of a feature for Apple’s customers, the PanaCast is an entire product and solution marketed toward businesses. Companies are still operating online for the most part, with employees working from home, personnel scattered across countries and time zones, and clients too. That’s where the Panacast comes in, allowing people to effectively communicate with each other without being ‘talking heads’. People in the same building can convene at the same meeting table, with the PanaCast capturing the entire FoV.
The PanaCast additionally works with leading conferencing software, including Skype, Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Slack, and even the obscure Hangouts (among many others). Additionally, the Jabra Vision app lets you set up and adjust your PanaCast, and even toggle individual lenses within the 3-lens setup, focusing on any part of the room.
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 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.
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.
In the last two years, true wireless earbuds have made quite the leap. There’s no doubt the popularity of Apple’s AirPods helped make these headphones a mainstay, but companies’ ability to offer reliable connectivity, great sound and active noise cancellation (ANC) in an increasingly smaller form factor has hastened widespread adoption. You can also get features that used to be reserved for premium models on mid-range devices. Of course, the popularity means that new earbuds are popping up all the time and the list of options is longer than ever. To help, we’ve compiled the best wireless earbuds you can buy right now, including noteworthy features for each selection.
Best overall: Sony WF-1000XM4
No one comes close to Sony’s true wireless earbuds with its overall mix of sound and features. That was true of the WF-1000XM3 in 2019 and the company distanced itself even further from the competition earlier this year with the WF-1000XM4. A smaller design offers a better fit, but Sony still packed in the features — from adaptive ANC and wireless charging to 360 and high-res audio support. The company’s app gives you the ability to let the M4s do a lot of the adjustments for you based on activity and location. What’s more, tools like speak-to-chat, although imperfect, are handy when you need to have a quick conversation.
I’m not a huge fan of the new foam ear tips, but based on other reviews, I’m in the minority there. Still, it’s easy enough to find alternatives, and those tips shouldn’t deter you from an otherwise excellent set of buds.
Master & Dynamic typically stands out from other audio brands due its attention to detail when it comes to design. When most companies are using spruced-up plastic, M&D chooses aluminum, ceramic and leather — even for its true wireless earbuds. The leather is reserved for its headphones, but Master & Dynamic still pairs premium elements with a stellar set of features on the MW08. 12-hour battery life, improved noise cancellation and excellent sound quality are the highlights, plus the company reduced the overall size of the earbuds for a better fit.
Sure, there are cheaper options, but for $80, it’s hard to beat the Anker Soundcore Spirit Dot 2. These true wireless earbuds are smaller than a lot of the competition which makes them more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Anker also delivers ample bass, which means they can handle hip-hop, electronic and other genres better than many budget buds. They’re also IPX7 rated, so they’ll easily double as your new workout partner.
There’s no denying that AirPods are extremely popular among iPhone owners. And there’s a good reason. The earbuds integrate seamlessly with iOS. Plus, the more recent models offer hands-free access to Siri, on top of core features like quick pairing. In addition to active noise cancellation, the AirPods Pro have one very important thing the “regular” AirPods don’t: comfort. And when you factor in the spatial audio improvements in iOS 14, the Pro model is well worth the extra investment at this point.
In 2020, Google debuted redesigned true wireless Pixel Buds. They were a massive improvement over the original model, but they were also far from perfect. Instead of issuing a minor update in 2021, the company took nearly all of the best features and put them in the more affordable Pixel Buds A-Series. Hands-free access to Google Assistant, handy language translation and actionable notifications will help with tasks and productivity while improved sound quality makes the A-Series a better option for music than its predecessor.
Best overall sound quality: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
Sennheiser made quite the leap from its first true wireless earbuds to version 2.0. The company figured out the touch controls, extended the battery life and added active noise cancellation. The Momentum True Wireless 2 is also the best sounding set of true wireless earbuds we’ve tested. As we noted during our review, Sennheiser consistently creates an audio profile that highlights minute details of songs, from the subtle attack of acoustic guitar strumming to the deep sub of synths and drum machines. The company’s trademark tone is warm, pleasant and inviting. The downside is these are pricey at around $300 and you can find better battery life (and wireless charging) elsewhere. In terms of pure audio quality though, this is the clear top pick.
Best overall noise cancellation: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
It’s no surprise Bose built a set of true wireless earbuds with impressive active noise cancellation. The company has spent years perfecting its QuietComfort technology to block out the world around you. Most of the time, that’s easier said than done with true wireless, but Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds stand above the rest in the ANC department. The company allows you to select one of 11 levels of noise cancellation in its app and you can assign three of those to the on-board controls for quick access. It doesn’t match the isolation of its over-ear headphones, but Bose is clearly ahead of the true wireless competition when it comes to blocking unwanted noise.
Samsung’s recent Galaxy Buds have all been well-designed — perhaps with the exception of the Galaxy Buds Live — and offer a comfy fit due to their small size. The company merged its noise-cancelling Galaxy Buds Pro with the more affordable Galaxy Buds+ to create the Galaxy Buds 2. At $150, this true wireless model remains tiny and comfortable with improved audio quality, adjustable ambient sound and wireless charging. That combination of features makes the Galaxy Buds 2 a solid option for the Android faithful that won’t break the bank.
Beats is no stranger to true wireless earbuds, but until recently, the only option was its over-the-ear hook design that isn’t for everyone. With the Studio Buds, the company offers a more “traditional” true wireless fit and surprisingly balanced sound. Plus, the small size keeps things comfortable, even during extended listening sessions. iOS users get hands-free access to Siri and the company offers Android users a similar quick-pairing experience iPhone owners have enjoyed on previous Beats headphones.
Jabra’s true wireless earbuds are always a solid option, offering a lot of features for less than the typical premium flagship prices. The company made an impression with its Elite 65t earbuds in 2018 and followed up in late 2019 with the new-and-improved Elite 75t. Jabra redesigned nearly everything, offering smaller buds with a better fit, in addition to improved sound quality, longer battery life and optional wireless charging. The company also added ANC via a firmware update in 2020, so these don’t seem outdated by any means.
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