Gift buying is hard. During the Christmas holiday season, it's easy to be drawn in by beautiful but frivolous gifts that your loved ones gush over on Christmas morning but then never pick up again.
After years of being on both the giving and receiving end of gift-giving, we can all agree there’s nothing better than a practical gift you’ll actually use – rather than something you'll just stuff in a drawer for the next 12 months.
And there’s nothing more practical for audiophiles and music lovers than a great pair of headphones or a Bluetooth speaker.
You might want to check they haven’t already invested in something similar first, but even if they’ve got a brand new home cinema system with best-in-class audio, if they love listening to music then chances are they’re still going to find a place in their home for a cool smart speaker, or put a new pair of headphones to good use at the gym.
These days there are so many great audio products on the market with top features to shout about, whether that’s crisp and clear sound, good bass or best-in-class noise cancellation.
The good news is that many of these top features, which you had to pay a serious premium for in the past, are now being added to more affordable products – which is great news for those of us with less than $100/£100 to spend.
Don’t worry, though, we’ve done all the hard work for you. We’ve collected together our favorite audio gifts that’ll cost you $100/£100 or less this holiday season.
We’ve done our best to include a mixture of products, from quirky portable radios and a fitness tracker with music playback through to our favorite Bluetooth headphones and the best smart speakers you can get your hands on right now.
Most of the products we’ve selected top our 'best of' lists too, so you’re getting quality recommendations here, as well as budget ones.
A few of the products in our list aren’t usually in the sub-$100/£100 price bracket, but have recently been discounted. We’ll do our best to keep it updated – and if anything shoots up in price we’ll remove it from the list. But please bear that in mind when you’re gift shopping for the holidays, as some retailers might still be showing the higher prices or the discount might be temporary at the time of writing.
If you can’t stretch to these prices this year, then check out our collection of cheap gift ideas from Amazon for less than $30/£30.
1. Grado SR60e
The best on-ear headphones for under $100/£100
We’re kicking this list off with one of our favorite audio buys of the moment.
For your money, you really can’t do much better than the SR60e headphones from Grado. They’re the third-generation of the Brooklyn, NY-based company's Prestige Series and they’re its best and most refined yet.
They make a fantastic gift because they’re an entry-level set of headphones, but they sound like they should cost you way, way more than they do – meeting the standards of any audiophile you’re buying for this year.
They have an open-backed ear cup design, which makes them a more breathable experience than what most on-ear headphones can deliver, although this does mean that they're not ideal for use in loud environments where sound can 'leak' in a little and disrupt your listening.
But in terms of pure sound quality, they're our gold-standard when it comes to on-ears.
Read the full review: Grado SR60e
2. Marshall Acton Bluetooth Speaker
A great-looking speaker for the vintage-loving and style conscious
If you’re willing to push your budget to its upper limits, then we’ve found a great-looking and high-performing multi-room speaker for you to wrap up this year.
It has ChromeCast, AirPlay and Google Home all built-in to this really gorgeous vintage-styled speaker. It can form part of a multi-room music network and connects up via Bluetooth. It provides a solid sound and super high volumes, which at 40W will suit most homes and give most similar-sized speakers a run for their money.
Unfortunately we found in our testing that the Bluetooth isn’t always 100 percent reliable, so we did experience the occasional drop out.
The Marshall Acton speaker entered most markets at more than £200/$200, but now it’s had a serious price reduction and can be picked up at some retailers for just under $100/£100. Although we imagine it’s because there are now newer versions of the Marshall speaker range on the market, we can’t guarantee whether this big price drop will last forever.
Read the full review: Marshall Acton multi-room speaker review
3. Spotify Premium
Don't just give a speaker, give the gift of music instead
Nowadays there are so many music streaming services to choose from, with new offerings entering the market every month or so, but the one that always comes to mind first for us, and which consistently delivers, is Spotify.
Not only did Spotify get there early and claim the crown of the coolest, easiest-to-use, and arguably best music service around, it’s also still the most popular, despite stiff competition from the likes of Apple Music, Google Play Music and other music-specific services like Pandora Music and Deezer.
You can use Spotify for free, but a Premium account means you don't have to listen to annoying adds, can select songs at random, and download your playlists for offline listening. You can also take advantage of Spotify’s very cool features, like Wrapped 2018, which is an interactive look at all your top songs, genres and artists of the year.
If you know someone who hasn’t committed to a music service yet or someone who’s struggling along with Spotify Free at the moment, buy them a gift card that's exchangeable for Spotify Premium this Christmas.
Read the full review: Spotify review
4. Audio Technica ATH-S200BT
Reliable headphones with a budget price tag
It turns out you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a pair of headphones that look good, have some useful features baked in and serve up great sound.
The Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT are a well-built, great-sounding, long-lasting pair of headphones. Their features constantly outweigh their modest price and we can’t get enough of that 40-hour battery life. While technological advancements usually mean a premium price, that's just not the case with the Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT.
They’d make a great gift for those who love the look and feel of over ear headphones and need a great-sounding reliable pair. It’s worth bearing in mind they won’t offer the best-in-class noise cancelation that the top of the range models will, but it’ll be more than enough for casual listening.
Read the full review: Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT
5. Amazon Echo (Second Generation)
One of our favorite smart speakers for audio quality
The Amazon Echo was the first smart speaker to enter the market back in 2014. Now it faces fierce competition from the Apple Homepod, Google Home and a bunch of third party speakers. But in 2017 Amazon refreshed its flagship smart speaker, which is the current Amazon Echo you see today.
Despite mounting competition, this remains one of our favorite choices. That's because the Amazon Echo is a solid speaker, with an improved design, and an admirable AI smart home helper in the form of Alexa, too. While the Amazon Echo Plus (2018) has better sound, you'll be paying with a more premium price tag.
This would make a great gift if you’re buying for someone who’s been looking for an excuse to get into smart home tech. Or even for someone who has no clue what it’s all about – though you may have to offer your ‘tech expert’ services to get them up and running.
The Amazon Echo Dot would also make a great Christmas gift if you’ve got a smaller budget, but its speaker credentials aren’t nearly as good as the full-sized Echo so if you’re buying for someone who would like to tell Alexa to play music, opt for the Echo not the Dot.
Read the full review: Amazon Echo review
6. Jabra Move Wireless
Great sports headphones on a budget
If you want to buy a pair of wireless headphones that’ll do for on-the-go lifestyles and fitness without breaking the bank, try the Move Wireless from Jabra.
We know what you’re thinking. These headphones may look like a budget buy, but don't let that fool you: this set of on ear Bluetooth headphones is nothing but an all-around stellar product.
From the fun and edgy design to excellent performance, these cans come recommended for anyone interested in wireless on the cheap and would make a great gift.
Read the full review: Jabra Move Wireless
7. Anker Soundcore Flare
A waterproof Bluetooth speaker for tunes on-the-move
Anker has a history of making excellent budget wireless speakers. The Anker Soundcore Flare, is an excellent waterproof Bluetooth speaker that can stand toe-to-toe with the competition and makes an excellent gift for portable music on-the-go.
The Soundcore Flare is an amazing value in the sub-$100/£100 wireless speaker segment. Competitors like the UE Wonderboom give the Flare a run for its money in terms of build quality, but we give the Flare the slight edge with sound quality.
We recommend the Flare for anyone looking for a wireless speaker that can do it all without breaking the bank.
Read the full review: Anker Soundcore Flare
8. TomTom Spark 3
Best fitness tracker for music playback under $100/£100
Before you read any further, it looks like the TomTom Spark 3 has had a big price reduction recently that places it just under $100/£100. You might want to go and check major retailers to make sure that wasn’t an anomaly. But if it’s not then do we have one great value fitness tracker for you.
We know what you’re thinking. Why the hell is a fitness tracker in an audio-lovers gift guide? Well, this is aimed at those who love music and those who love fitness and want a piece of tech that’ll happily marry the two.
The TomTom Spark 3 Music GPS fitness watch brings you all the best bits of TomTom’s fitness tracking, including a range of multi-sport tracking features, built-in GPS, a sports app and a built-in music player that allows you to store 3GB of music and then play it back with any pair of Bluetooth headphones.
Read the full review: TomTom Spark 3
9. Palomar The Monkey Radio
An unusual buy for the design conscious
If you’re looking for something a little different, then take a look at Palomar's The Monkey Radio. It’s called 'The Monkey’ Radio because its snap-on antenna has a metal core that means it can be attached to all kinds of places and surfaces, serving up radio and music on-the-move.
It functions as a standard FM radio, but it can also sync up to a phone via Bluetooth as well to play all your favorite tracks. It comes in black, red and white, it’s waterproof and it looks like the kind of gift you’d find in a quirky design studio.
10. 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones
The best in-ear headphones for your money
Although most audio-lovers are bound to like the other devices on our list, we think the safest possible option might be a decent pair of in-ear headphones. And decent really is an understatement for these Triple Driver headphones from 1MORE.
Although there are lots of earbuds that sound great, many at a low price usually have a fatal flaw, whether it’s less-than-stellar build quality, incompatibility between devices or they simply don’t fit your ears well enough to be comfortable. We've found it’s hard to find a pair of headphones that tick all of the boxes without breaking the bank.
But all that changed with the 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones. They serve up stellar audio, great build quality and an attractive design for not that much money. You really can’t go wrong.
Read the full review: 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones Review
- If you’re not interested in sticking to a budget, check out our pick of the best of the best over ear headphones of 2018.