The holidays give us precious time with our loved ones, as we gather around dinner tables, living rooms, and all other types of communal spaces with those we hold near and dear. And sometimes you just need a good pair of headphones to drown them out when they start badgering you about why you aren’t married yet.
Whether that applies to your family situation or not, great headphones are more important than ever. They can make boring commutes pleasant and keep you focused at work, whether your distractions come from office noise or a cat who just wants a little bit too much attention. The holiday season is as good a time as any to take stock of what you or your loved ones need from a pair of headphones, hunt for deals, and snatch one up.
That said, there are way too many good headphones to choose from. Let us help you out with a list of just a few great picks from the last year or two.
For someone who wants it all: Bose Noise Cancelling 700
It’s generally inadvisable to start the show with a show-stopper, but times are weird and rules don’t matter anymore. Bose’s Noise Cancelling 700 headphones from 2019 are probably the best all-round option you can buy these days. Unfortunately, that means they also retail for $400 when there isn’t a sale.
That’s a ton of money to spend on headphones and we get why that might not be appealing now — or ever. But if you can swing it or if you find a good deal, you’ll get an all-purpose headphones juggernaut. The Bose NC 700s bring top-tier sound quality that shines a light on every instrumental and vocal element of a song, while excellent active noise cancellation shuts down sounds around you.
If you don’t like the noise cancellation, there’s a button to soften and/or turn it off completely on the headphones themselves. To top it all off, Bose packed in a noise rejection feature for phone calls so you can have a nice conversation in a noisy area and the person on the other end will barely notice.
For cheaper noise cancellation: Microsoft Surface Headphones
Over-ear noise-cancelling headphones like the Bose NC 700s are great, but they can be way too expensive. Microsoft released an update to its Surface Headphones line earlier this year that helps fix that problem.
Though the new Surface Headphones are bulky and might make you look a little goofy out on the street, you’ll be hard pressed to find better functioning headphones for the relatively meager $250 price tag. The sound quality is generally excellent and the noise cancellation does its job more than adequately. Microsoft’s best innovation is a rotating dial on the left side to control noise cancellation, which is more nuanced and intuitive than the single button on the Bose NC 700s.
The Surface Headphones may cost $150 less than Bose’s option, but rest assured that you aren’t getting many compromises if you go that route.
For the iPhone lover: AirPods and AirPods Pro
This one is obvious. If you or the person you’re buying a gift for has an iPhone, a pair of AirPods is one of the best gifts imaginable.
The only decision to make is whether you go for the regular AirPods or the noise cancelling AirPods Pro. It’s $160 for the traditional earbuds, which come with a charging case and provide totally decent sound quality while working seamlessly with iOS. However, the $250 AirPods Pro use active noise cancellation to enhance the experience and ear tips for extra comfort.
One is clearly better than the other, but you can’t go wrong either way.
For the Android owner who wants AirPods: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live or OnePlus Buds
AirPods are great, but Android owners have to swim through a bit of muck to find great wireless earbuds tailored to their preferred mobile operating system. There are lots to choose from, but the recently released Samsung Galaxy Buds Live and OnePlus Buds are quality choices at different ends of the price spectrum.
First, Samsung’s $170 bean-shaped earbuds have shockingly excellent sound quality that will rival plenty of over-ear headphones. The active noise cancellation isn’t always amazing, but it’s better than not having it at all. Either way, they cost way less than the AirPods Pro. As a bonus, they fit pretty snugly inside the ear without any silicone or rubber acting as a magnet for earwax.
If $170 is too much for you, the OnePlus Buds have your back at just $80. There’s nothing fancy about these AirPods knockoffs, but they can quickly pair with Android phones, don’t feel bad in the ear, and the sound quality is as good as you can expect for the price. It’s tough to beat at $80.
For someone who loses things frequently: Skullcandy earbuds and headphones
Losing headphones is a real bummer. It’s especially easy with wireless earbuds. Fret not, however, as Skullcandy’s most recent releases give you a way around it: built-in Tile support.
For fans of wireless earbuds and working out, the Skullcandy Push Ultra earbuds ($99) are built to stay on your ears despite any activity on your part. The battery is massive and the sound quality is acceptable. It’s the Tile support (enabled through the Tile mobile app) that pushes them over the top, as you can always find out where your earbuds are even if you aren’t near them.
The same goes for the $200 Crusher Evo over-ear headphones. Skullcandy included a physical bass slider that turns the headphones into a portable subwoofer for your head, which is pretty fun if you like bass. They may not have noise cancellation, but thumping bass, Tile tracking, and an agreeable price point make the Crusher Evos a good holiday gift.
For someone who can’t sleep: Bose Sleepbuds II
Our last recommendation is a strange pair of headphones that will sound like a tough sell to most, but could seriously help some folks. Meet the Bose Sleepbuds II, which cost $250.
Let’s make one thing clear up front: The Sleepbuds can’t play your own music. They are only compatible with pre-made tracks courtesy of Bose that are designed to help lull users to sleep. Bose claims to have constructed the Sleepbuds specifically to keep outside noise where it belongs, so they should theoretically prevent snoring and yowling cats from ruining a good night’s sleep.
But again, these earbuds serve a very specific purpose and will not be useful outside of the bedroom. They could change a life, but only if you’re comfortable spending $250 on highly specialized earbuds.