Gift Guide: 9 fantastic pairs of headphones

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Gift Guide: 9 fantastic pairs of headphones

Want to buy someone a pair of headphones without accidentally buying them junk? We can help. Looking for something else? We can help with that, too.

Headphones have this beautiful regard for tradition and progress, and the best headphones to buy in 2017 weren’t all released this year. Some of these designs are decades old, but there were definitely some recent trends that have found their way into some of my favorite pairs.

The march to good, truly wireless earbuds was in full force. This accompanied an increase in the quality of Bluetooth headphones across the board, likely the result of phone manufacturers dropping headphone jacks to the objections of most. Through innovations from Apple and Google on the connectivity front, some of the annoying quirks of Bluetooth connections have gone by the wayside at last, but there’s still more to be done.

Here are some new releases and some old classics for your end-of-the-year holiday shopping. Tap that right arrow to proceed (or if you’re on mobile, just scroll.)


Sony WH-1000XM2

Despite their consistently non-impressive audio quality, I’ve always had a soft spot for Bose QC’s when it comes to air travel — they just do a great job at hushing the jet engine blare. Bose’s shortcomings have left more than enough room for a competitor to emerge, and the WH-1000XM2 have more than filled that need.

The noise-cancelling is nearly up to snuff with Bose, but the sound quality is noticeably better, delivering deeper base and more overall crispness.

Currently $298 on Amazon.


Grado SR60e

Ah, I have such a soft spot for these headphones. They’re an oldie, but their quality-to-price ratio is still unmatched. At $79, these are a fairly inexpensive trip into the world of headphones that don’t sound like crap.

Depending on the money you want to spend, Grado can ride the low-end to the high-end and every stair step will be worth it. The build quality of the SR60e leaves much to be desired, but the audio is far more than $80 will get you elsewhere.


Koss PortaPro

Okay, yes, they look ridiculous, but with a design that’s decades-old, the Koss Porta Pro also have some very evident hipster credit and sound that is shockingly good for a $40 pair of headphones.

Their build quality, like the SR60e’s, is just not good, but they’re still an endearing, fun pair of headphones that are especially good for the younger audiophiles in your life.

Currently $42 on Amazon.



These are, quite frankly, one of the best products Apple has built this decade. They were pretty impossible to get last year, but they’re finally in stock and are a slice of the future that’s in reach. They are so well though-out and unobtrusive that I can almost guarantee that owning these will make you listen to music more.

You can definitely find better audio fidelity for the $159 price tag — but though other Bluetooth headphones may offer superior highs and lows, that doesn’t mean much when connection issues leave you stranded. That has never been a problem with the AirPods.

Their design is admittedly not perfect, and remains a bit dorky, but if the EarPods that came with your iPhone fit you well, so will these.

$159 at Apple, but… good luck getting a pair before the holidays.


Sennheiser HD 800 S

For the aspiring audiophile, at some point, you’re going to want to take the plunge on a pricey pair of headphones to go along with your newly purchased amp. The HD 800 S are an excellent candidate.

In addition to the better-looking all-black aesthetic and an added XLR-4 cord, Sennheiser claims that they’ve made some improvements to bass response, though I had a tough time isolating the differences. It’s not much of an upgrade for listeners who already own the HD 800 headphones, but if you are looking to buy-in to a pair of high-end Sennheiser and want to stay on the bleeding edge, these may be the call.

These things leak sound like nobody’s business, so they’re not exactly the best call for bumping music in the office, but these are the perfect pair for home listening.

The HD 800 S headphones currently go for $1,499 on Amazon. You can still nab a pair of the originals for $1,069 there, as well, which is a pretty worthwhile discount.


Jabra Elite Sport

The AirPods aren’t a perfect workout companion, though their Watch integration nearly gets them there. One area where they’re limited is form factor, and while fit will definitely differ across ear shapes, I haven’t found them to be reliable enough to put them in and forget they’re there.

The Jabra Elite Sport are a very capable pair of wireless headphones with the definite emphasis: workout wear. The fit is great and the heart-rate monitor makes these a great singular device to build into your workout schedule.

Currently $149 on Amazon.


Beats X

The wire isn’t always an evil accessory to headphones, especially when it comes to a pair of workout buds. The Beats X make use of the fantastic W1 chip allowing fast-pairing with iOS devices, but at $99 they’re a tad cheaper than the AirPods and you’ll worry a lot less about them falling out of your ears.

Currently $99 on Amazon.


Sennheiser HD1 (wireless)

These have long been among the best wireless headphones available. They’re definitely a pricey option, but with killer sound and a battery life that lasts, these are a pair of general use wireless headphones that will check every box. I haven’t had the opportunity to try their cheaper, on-ear alternative, but other reviewers have had good things to say.

On a broader note: Even if your current phone supports a headphone jack, if you’re investing in a decent new pair of headphones for 2018, it’s worth investing in the Bluetooth variety. Love it or hate it, phone manufacturers are moving in the jack-less direction.

Currently $350 on Amazon.


Audeze Sine

Audeze has long made particularly excellent headphones using planar magnetic drivers, which most simply keep distortion low while ensuring responsiveness.

At nearly $400, calling the Audeze Sine a “bargain” feels a bit disingenuous… but the company has distilled much of what makes their $1,000+ headphones special into a package much smaller, with a closed-back design that makes these better suited for plugging into your phone and listening on the go.

Currently $390 on Amazon.