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Affordable audio gifts that you've never heard of: Headphones, earbuds, speakers

These are no Bose or JBL but make for surprisingly great-sounding audio gifts that won't break the holiday budget.

'Tis the season of giving -- and if you're like me, you've got the next few weeks to scramble through all the circulars to find gifts for friends and family. So, how do you decide what to get? For starters, you should probably check our ZDNet's holiday gift guide. But if you've clicked into this article, then you may already have something in mind. Audio products -- whether it's headphones, earbuds, or speakers, make for stellar gifts during the holidays. If you're feeling adventurous, I've rounded up a list of some excellent-sounding audio gifts that will please the ears of any recipient, while keeping your budget intact.


Super EQ Q2 Pro earbuds

Over seven hours playing time

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Super EQ

To start, the Q2 Pro from Super EQ is an all-around pair of wireless earbuds that will give you up to 7.5 hours of playtime and up to 30 hours from its compact charging case. From my testing, the audio from these earbuds is rich across the ranges with no tinny sound and hardly any bass distortion. Quick to pair, you can connect the Q2 buds to up to two devices -- making for a seamless audio experience.

For controls, you can press the earbud for two seconds to toggle ANC on or off, or switch to transparent mode. Tap three times to activate the voice assistant, twice to navigate through tracks, or once to play and pause music or answer a call. Unfortunately, you can not adjust the volume with these earphones.

Pros

  • Rich sound
  • Active noise-canceling
  • Affordable

Cons

  • No volume adjustment

Earfun Free Pro 2 earbuds

Deep and rich bass

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Earfun

The Earfun Free Pro 2 earbuds can deliver up to 6 hours of playback at medium volume and up to 24 hours with the charging case. The earbuds are light and fit nicely in the ear thanks to a rubber bumper cushion in addition to the soft ear tips. For a fairly affordable price, I found the sound to be really good across all ranges, and the bass is deep and rich.

You can toggle between ANC, ambient sound, and normal mode by tapping and holding the left earbud. For only 10 minutes of quick charging, Earfun promises two hours of playback. These earbuds are IPX5, making them sweat and water-resistant.

Pros

  • Light and well-fitting
  • Active noise-canceling for an affordable price

Cons

  • IPX5 doesn't include dust-resistance
  • mic quality could be better

Tronsmart Splash 1 Bluetooth speaker

Waterproof speaker and hanging cord

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Tronsmart

The Tronsmart Splash 1 Bluetooth speaker is a handy-sized compact speaker with a lanyard to keep it hanging. It is IPX7 waterproof so you can play it in the shower and you can even connect the speaker to two devices. The Splash 1 has lights that pulse across the spectrum, making it quite the festive speaker. Sound is reasonable across the ranges – although not as loud as I would expect from a 15W speaker. More importantly, bass and mids ranges are superb and upper ranges are not tinny, even when I upped the volume.

For battery life, two hours of charging time for its 2,200mAh battery, on average, delivers up to 24 hours playback at medium volume.

Pros

  • 24 hours playback time
  • Will automatically sleep after 15 minutes of inactivity
  • Just as durable as it is portable

Cons

  • Quiet for a 15W speaker

Tribit MaxSound Plus speaker

Loud 24W speaker

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Tribit

The Tribit MaxSound Plus is a superb loud speaker that delivers 24W from its two 12W speakers. Still, Tribit manages to pack that arrangement into a relatively small form factor. Super quick to connect to Bluetooth, this IPX7 speaker will deliver up to 20 hours of play time at mid-volume before it will need a charge. And when it does, you can expect to have it plugged for about four hours.

When testing, the bass was superb, and mid and high ranges were crisp and clear. The MaxSound Plus has an XBass button on top if you like that hard-hitting, thumping bass. The only thing missing is the ability to pair two speakers together. Still, this speaker is certainly worth the price.

Pros

  • Extra loud sound
  • IPX7 waterproof

Cons

  • Charging takes longer than similarly sized speakers
  • Can be a tad cheaper

SuperEQ S2 headphones

Superb sound across all ranges

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Super EQ

The Super EQ S2 headphones deliver superb sound across all ranges – including rich, thumping bass sounds and clear mid-ranges which do not distort even at maximum volume. You can pair these headphones to more than one device and easily switch ANC on or off with a flick of the side switch.

Simple to operate, you can adjust the volume, play and pause music, use the voice assistant, and answer calls using one of the four areas on the right ear cup. More notable is the design of these headphones. They come in a plethora of fun and poppy colors (Orange/green is my favorite) and the overall listening experience is just as good. I will say that S2 headphones might be a little tight for you if you have a larger-sized head.

Pros

  • Active noise canceling
  • Clear sound across all ranges

Cons

  • Could feel tight on larger heads

FAQ

Which Bluetooth device should I choose?

When choosing between Bluetooth audio devices, start by asking yourself: what audio range do I enjoy listening to my music in? If you like deep booming bass, some earbuds will fall short of delivering the sound you want, and if you like clear mid and high ranges, some devices, like speakers, might distort at loud volume. Fortunately, in many cases, there are audio products out there that can deliver on all fronts, but at a cost.

Are the IP numbers important?

If you play a lot of sports or use your audio device outside, then it is best to choose a Bluetooth device that is rated at a minimum of IPX4. Some Bluetooth audio devices are waterproof and won't break if they are splashed by rain or if used in the shower. Likewise, having dust resistance is important if you listen to your audio device in areas with a lot of debris or micro-particles, like the beach or a construction site.

Which is better: In-ear buds, speakers, or over-ear headphones?

This comes down to personal choice. Some people want to carry a compact set of earbuds in their pocket and are prepared to compromise a little on sound quality for portability. Others prefer the over-ear experience, which can give a richer sound with fewer disturbances from ambient noise. Some want to share their sound with others - so a Bluetooth speaker is best for enjoying tunes with family and friends

If you struggle with putting objects in your ear or feel discomfort, then over-ear headphones or Bluetooth speakers should be your go-to choice.

How did we choose these Bluetooth audio devices?

We chose these Bluetooth audio devices based on three factors: functionality, sound quality, and price.

Some of these earbuds are low cost and have fewer features than higher cost models. However, for the price, the sound quality was excellent, and playing time and charging capability was good.

Some of the devices have extra features such as the ability to adjust the volume in the ear buds and to modify the active noise cancelling settings. This entire range of audio devices have little distortion -- even with the cheaper models.

If price is not an issue, then the Tribit MaxSound Plus Bluetooth speaker are certainly worth a try -- especially if you like a loud immersive experience when listening to music.

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