Looking to upgrade your audio experience? Thinking of upgrading someone else's during the Holiday seasons? Here we have rounded up the best audio gifts for 2019 for you.
Whether you're looking for a new soundbar, a new speaker or a new pair of headphones, we've taken a hard look at what the market has to offer and narrowed down the best options for the money.
Of course, audio can be a subjective thing and not every product listed below will suit everyone's tastes. However, we felt the ones here are some of the best all-round options for most buyers.
To make it easier to look through this gift guide, you can use the links below to jump to a specific section. Otherwise, if you're unsure of what to gift someone then it's probably best to take a look through the whole list.
Table of contents
Even if you have a brand new TV with an excellent picture quality, that's not to say the sound is good enough. In fact, there's a good chance the sound on your expensive new TV is letting down the experience completely. It's not your TV's fault, it's just the way the market works. You pay a lot for the TV but the audio doesn't match up.
Yes, it is true that TV speakers have gotten better in recent times. However, they are still a far cry away from offering the viewing experience you deserve. That's where soundbars come in. While some are expensive, others are not and even some of the cheapest solutions will drastically improve the TV experience.
Here's our picks for best soundbar gifts in 2019.
|Sonos Beam (Editors' Pick)||$399||Amazon|
|Roku Smart Soundbar||$149||Roku|
Best soundbar for quality: Samsung HW-N950
The alternative title for this entrant could have been 'best Dolby Atmos soundbar' because that's exactly what you are getting here.
Dolby Atmos is a big selling point in audio right now, and understandably so. If you're still new to the concept, then in simple terms it refers to a more cinema-like listening experience in the home.
Instead of audio just just fired at you, Dolby Atmos is about creating sound that suits the environment and the content. This is achieved through the use of additional speakers that fire sound around and above you. With the Samsung HW-N950 you get 17 speakers in total, including side and upward-facing speakers. The end result being a more immersive sound overall.
Add to that, you're also getting a Samsung quality product backed up by a sound crafted by Harman Kardon. How much more name-dropping do you need?
Best affordable soundbar: Vizio SB3621
When we talk about 'best affordable' most of the time you are best of buying a slightly older product. While there are plenty of new budget soundbars with a decent sound, the older a good soundbar gets, the lower the price becomes. So opting for a slightly older product normally nets you the a better deal.
That's the case here. For example, the Vizio SB3621 is a very good "affordable" soundbar although it is priced similar to the Roku Smart Soundbar – our pick for best streaming soundbar. As you get more features with the Roku option, it is difficult for us to flat out say the Vizio SB3621 is better at the same price.
However, if we are taking purely in terms of sound quality, and providing you don't need any additional features, then you'll be hard-pressed to find a better soundbar at the same price. Dolby Digital and DTS support is included, as is Bluetooth audio for music streaming.
At under $150 it is all the more impressive as the price also includes a wireless subwoofer. The Roku Smart Soundbar doesn't. So, yes, it looks like it was easier than we thought to say the Vizio SB3621 is better at the same price
Best smart soundbar: Sonos Beam
The Sonos Beam is not the best soundbar our there. It does not offer the best sound quality or the loudest output. It's also not technically the smartest sound bar when you consider some soundbars also now double as streaming devices.
However, all in all, when you take everything into consideration, the Sonos Beam offers great value. It's not only a smart soundbar, but also a smart purchase.
For one thing, this is a soundbar with solid voice assistant support thanks to both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant built-in. Regardless of your voice assistant of choice, the Sonos Beam has you covered.
In addition, it is also a fairly simple to install and use soundbar. There's nothing too complicated here with this one designed to be a ready to use solution straight out of the box.
You can add to that a sound quality that is good enough for most TV viewers and the option to connect the Beam to other speakers in the home.
Overall, the Sonos Beam is a reliable purchase. Yes, you will find better options in most categories, but across all categories, and for a reasonable price, maybe not.
Best streaming soundbar: Roku Smart Soundbar
To be honest, the best streaming soundbar for you will mostly come down to the streaming platform best-suited to your needs.
This is a product category that's still maturing and so there's not a huge amount of choice. Although this should at least makes it easier for consumers to pick from. For example, if you are interested in an Android TV soundbar then go for the JBL Link Bar (see on Amazon). Those interested in a Fire TV soundbar will get the best experience by opting for the Nebula Soundbar Fire TV Edition (see on Amazon). While those more interested in the Roku platform should go for the Roku Smart Soundbar.
Of the three just mentioned, in our opinion the Roku Smart Soundbar is the best streaming soundbar. It not only comes with a popular and easy to use streaming platform, but you get a decent sound quality overall. As well as the option to combine the soundbar with a subwoofer.
Probably more importantly, the Roku Smart Soundbar is very competitively priced. For example, you can pick up the soundbar and wireless subwoofer for less than $350. You can't even buy the JBL Link Bar for that price.
On balance, when taking streaming features, audio quality and price into consideration, the Roku Smart Soundbar is the best streaming soundbar for most people.
Best Bluetooth speakers
Audio remains one of those areas where more is usually better. Yes, speakers are now smarter and more sound can be generated from a smaller enclosure, but sometimes you can't escape physics.
For example, while a smart speaker will use algorithms and tech to improve the sound, a bigger smart speaker will still win out on sound quality. Put very simply, size still matters. Of course, that doesn't mean you have to buy the biggest or best speakers the market has to offer. It is just, size and power, should be something you take into consideration, along with smarts.
If you're planning on buying new speakers for yourself, or gifting one to someone else, then here's our best Bluetooth speaker gift picks for 2019.
|Marshall Tufton (Editors' Pick)||$379||Amazon|
|Ultimate Ears BOOM 3||$119||Amazon|
|JBL Link 20||$149||B&H|
Best Bluetooth speaker for sound quality: Marshall Tufton
We love the Marshall Tufton. Others might disagree, but for us it just offers an incredible sound and the volume to match. If anything, this is one of those speakers that you'll find you'll need to turn down more often than you need to turn up.
By Bluetooth speaker size, this is a fairly large speaker overall. However, Marshall has designed it with portability in mind. It not only comes with a substantial battery to keep the party going, but also a strap for easier transportation.
You're also getting Bluetooth 5.0 here which looks to offer a more reliable and solid connection with your smartphone, and even from further distances.
On top of everything else, you also get a rugged build quality and that iconic Marshall guitar amp look. What more could you want?
Best affordable Bluetooth speaker: Ultimate Ears BOOM 3
Marshall actually also sells a smaller version of the Tufton for about half the price called the Stockwell II (see on Amazon). So if you want our honest opinion then that's probably the best all-round affordable option for the money. Arguably, if you want something even smaller than you could also opt for the Sonos One (see on Amazon) as that also offers great quality with an even smaller speaker footprint.
However, with the Marshall Stockwell II and the Sonon One both costing $200 apiece, they are still on the expensive side when it comes to affordable speakers.
With that in mind we've opted for the Ultimate Ears BOOM 3. The BOOM 3 does retail for around $150 in the U.S. but you can often find it on sale for much less. Right now for example you can pick it up from Amazon for $119.99
At this price you can't really go wrong with this speaker. Its design results in a 360-degree output so you can hear from all sides. It is also a highly durable speaker. For example, not only can it be totally submerged in water (up to 30 minutes to a depth of 1 meter), but it floats as well. Making it ideal for pool parties – as seen in the image above.
While we have yet to mention the sound quality, that's not intentional. The BOOM 3 is a good-sounding speaker overall and likes to accentuate the bass.
All in all, for the price, this is a good affordable speaker to buy for yourself or gift to someone else.
Best smart Bluetooth speaker: Sonos Move
The Sonos Move is one of those do-it-all speakers. Yes, it comes with a decent sound quality, but that's just for starters.
The Sonos Move is also a speaker equipped with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support. So you literally have the choice of how you connect to this one. If at home, connect over Wi-Fi and when away you can fall back on the Bluetooth support.
Speaking of which, this is also a speaker designed to be used both indoors and outdoors.For example, its outside features include a battery rated to offer up to 10 hours of usage and an IP56 rating to protect against the elements. That's all in addition to an ergonomic handle for easier transportation and a shock-resistant case to protect it from damage.
What's more, this is a smart speaker so you also get to benefit from all the features associated with a speaker being smart, including feedback from questions asked and the ability to control other smart home products. In fact, the Sonos Move comes with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant built-in, so you are covered regardless of which voice assistant you prefer.
If you didn't get the message the first time around – the Sonos Move really is a do-it-all speaker.
Best affordable smart Bluetooth speaker: JBL Link 20
For reference, if you want a good-sounding smart speaker at a good price, then the Amazon Echo 3rd Gen (see on Amazon) is a great option as it offers surprisingly good quality for just $99. The issue with the Echo is it's more designed for use in the home and that's where it falls down in the land of Bluetooth.
If you want a decent Bluetooth smart speaker that you can take with you, then take a moment to check out the JBL Link 20. While it might be double the price of the Amazon Echo, it is only half the price of the Sonos Move and offers a lot of the same features.
For the price, not only do you have Bluetooth and Google Assistant built-in, but also a 6,000 mAh battery that's rated to offer up to 10 hours of usage.
Further adding to its dual indoor/outdoor purpose, the Link 20 also sports a durable and waterproof outer casing. So this is another one of those Bluetooth speakers that's designed to withstand the elements.
For the price, and for what you get, the JBL Link 20 is a good all-round smart speaker you can use inside or out without breaking the bank… too much.
The headphone market has changed massively in the last few years and this has resulted in a splintering of product categories.
For example, if you still want a proper pair of cans, then you can still buy them. However, if you want something more discreet, or wireless, or sports-focused, or even a pair that controls your smartphone, then there's a subsection catering to you as well.
Here's our picks for best headphones in 2019 based on different user needs:
|Bose QuietComfort 35 II||$349||Amazon|
|Sony WH-1000XM3 (Editors' Pick)||$278||Amazon|
|Jabra Elite Active 65t||$139||Amazon|
Best headphones for quality: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Strictly speaking, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II are not the best quality headphones on the market. To be clear, you can pay more and you will get better. However, with all things considered, these are the best quality headphones for most people. This is probably why the Bose QuietComfort 35 II are also one of the best-selling headphones.
Bose is no stranger to good sound and that's exactly what you get with these headphones. On top of that, you also get what is arguably one of the best noise-cancellation headphones on the market. Some might even say the best.
In the grand scheme of things, these are not new headphones and so they have gone through a few evolutions over the last few years. Which is another selling point at Bose keeps adding new features making the latest pair as relevant today as they were when the headphones first launched. For example, the latest version comes with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support.
Best affordable headphones for quality: Audio-Technica ATHM40x
On paper the Audio-Technica ATHM40x don't have a lot going for them. They're fairly big and chunky, a bit plasticky, they're not wireless, and there's no real "features" to speak of. However, that's also what makes them a worthwhile purchase.
Put simply, if you are just after a great-sounding pair of headphones, priced under $100, then these are them.
The Audio-Technica ATHM40x have been around for a long time and they are considered as monitor (studio) headphones which is sort of the point. These headphones look to cater to professionals in the industry who are on a budget but also demand a good and accurate sound representation.
The main takeaway here is besides being cheap, the Audio-Technica ATHM40x are just about the music. Nothing else. They offer a very balanced sound with a respectable level of bass response.
If you're looking for an affordable pair of headphones then you'll be better off focusing on the sound and not compromising that aspect in favor of additional features.
Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM3
Some will argue the Bose QuietComfort 35 II are the best noise-canceling headphones, and they may be right. Others will argue the Sony WH-1000XM3 are the best quality headphones overall (all things considered) and they also may be right. While that debate eternally rages on, we've opted to lay our hat with the Sony WH-1000XM3 being the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy today.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 did indeed set the benchmark for noise cancellation. However Sony has made massive strides since then with its WH-1000X line. To the point where Sony's take on noise cancelling has not only caught up with Bose's but flat out surpassed it. Sony is just continually getting noise cancelling right and this can be seen in products outside of these headphones. When you then factor in the additional features and sound quality, the WH-1000XM3 are well worth the purchase.
If you're still not convinced the WH-1000XM3 are the better noise-canceling choice, then take a moment to consider the battery life. The QuietComfort 35 II are rated to run for 20 hours while the WH-1000XM3 are rated up to 30 hours – and that's with noise-canceling switched on.
Best true wireless headphones: Sony WF-1000XM3
Another category and another audio win for Sony.
True wireless headphones are all the rage right now. While you are still going to get a better quality from real headphones, the portability and freedom offered with true wireless headphones is appealing to many.
The problem is, the quality and consistency of the connection remains a major hurdle. That is, unless you opt for the Sony WF-1000X headphones. While many will talk about AirPods, in our opinion the Sony WF-1000X are the best true wireless headphones you can buy today.
That's best in terms of quality, best in terms of connection and absolutely the best in terms of noise-cancelation. Yep, one of the major selling points with these earphones is that Sony has migrated its noise-canceling chops over from the WH-1000X line to these headphones.
Another point to keep in mind with true wireless headphones is battery life and the Sony WF-1000X perform good here as well. On their own they offer up six hours of usage and with the case that increases to 24 hours. A quick 10-minute charge will net you 90 minutes of playback.
with a true wireless design, good battery life, good sound quality and excellent noise-cancelation, the Sony WF-1000X really are the best true wireless headphones you can buy today.
Best headphones for sports: Jabra Elite Active 65t or the Jaybird X4
Not all headphones are created equal and that's very much the case with sports headphones. These headphones tend to be more lightweight and better-fitting, as well as more durable.
If you're looking for a pair of headphones for the gym or running, then choosing a sports-focused pair is a must. Now, there's quite a few choices to pick from but our current favorite is the Jabra Elite Active 65t.
When all things are considered, including the price, battery life, bulk of case, the Jabra Elite Active 65t just check to many of the boxes.
It should be pointed out that the Jabra Elite Active 65t are true wireless headphones. That's one of the reasons we like them so much for the gym and running as they offer a greater level of freedom.
However, as we've already mentioned, true wireless earbuds are not without their own unique problems. For some, they are just not going to be able to keep up with a workout, and the problems might be even worth for runners.
This is where sticking with a semi-wireless pair of headphones will prove to be the smart choice. If you want to avoid any connection or reliability issues but do want a pair of sports-focused that offer as much freedom as possible, we'd suggest going for the Jaybird X4.
You won't be disappointed and you'll save a few dollars in the process.