Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you

Pickr 2023 Holiday Gift Guide: Listeners

Know someone who wish their earphones were a little better? Whether they’re looking for something personal or something to share, our audio gadget guide can help.

If there’s one area we know really, really well at Pickr, it’s sound. We cover a lot of headphones and earphones, and also a decent amount of speakers, too. And it’s no wonder: we love sound.

Music is always running in the homes of folks who write at Pickr, thanks in part to how many great speakers there are to share music, plus how many amazing personal audio devices there are, as well.

And movies need to be delivered with maximum impact using great speakers supporting the latest spatial technologies, too, something you just can’t go back to once you’ve heard.

So if you know someone who really wants an upgrade on their listening experience, we know the tech for you to check out, with some suggestions in this headphone and speaker holiday gift guide.

For watching movies

A great movie experience at home may start with a TV, but it always needs great sound, too. In fact, it’s the area we’d consider first in an update.

While TVs improve in technology and look amazing the bigger you go, the sound is often something that’s overlooked when it should be the first thing.

So if you’re considering buying a great movie experience for someone and don’t want to buy a new TV, here are some choices.

BlueAnt XT100

Price: $349

An introductory soundbar for people on a budget, BlueAnt’s XT100 remains one of the options to consider simply because of what it brings: virtual spatial sound for not too much money.

For the price, it’s a fantastic soundbar, getting a taste of dimensional audio that won’t break the bank in a price point where spatial normally doesn’t touch.

Bose Smart Soundbar 600

Price: $800

Normally in the mid-range soundbar world, you’ll get the same sort of virtual speaker system as what BlueAnt offers in the entry-level. We’re not always good for that, and if you can get a mid-range soundbar for movies with better tech, you should.

Bose’s Smart Soundbar 600 sits in that category, a mid-range model offering upwards firing speakers to give an actual dimensional experience that isn’t all virtual.

Sonos Arc

Sonos Arc

Price: $1399

Several years on from its release, our favourite spatial soundbar is still the Sonos Arc, thanks in part to just how it improves over time and how solid it sounds.

Yes, it’s a little on the wide size, matching the widths of many modern and large TVs, but it’s also very upgrade compatible, and if you decide you ever want a small Sonos Sub Mini to extend the bass or even extra speakers in the back for added dimensionality via the Era 300 speakers, the ability to add extra Sonos speakers makes for a more comprehensive sound system through the years.

Samsung Q990C 11.1.4

Price: $1999

Bigger again, if the idea of upgrading a soundbar doesn’t seem like the sort of thing someone you’re buying for will do, you may want to consider the whole package. Quite literally, actually.

Samsung’s Q990C is a massive package mostly geared at Samsung TV owners, though it should work with any TV, for that matter, coming with a package for 11 channels of sound around, one subwoofer, and four spatial signals.

Supporting both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, it’s just about the most complete spatial setup for an entire package, and delivers a staggering 22 speakers in one place. Yikes.

For sharing sound

Sound is great when it’s personal, but it’s also something that can be shared.

Whether you’re listening in the backyard, on your deck, throughout your house, or even out and about at the park or beach, taking your sound to go and sharing it something only a speaker can do, so here are some options there, as well.

Ultimate Ears Wonderboom

UE Wonderboom 3

Price: $149

One of the smaller and better combinations of sound, the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom takes UE’s original can of wireless and water resistant sound, and smushes it into a pudgy can still designed to be taken with you.

There’s up to 14 hours of battery life in a floatable design, handy for the pool or even the bath (if you must), and the sound quality isn’t bad, either.

BlueAnt X-3D Max

Price: $279

A surprisingly large portable speaker with a battery built-in that can recharge your phone, Australia’s BlueAnt has a surprise for folks keen to share their sound with the X-3D Max.

Less a can of sound and more a bottle of music, BlueAnt’s X-3D Max comes with four speakers in its cylindrical form, and manages to get it all in there with up to 12 hours of battery life for under $300.

Sonos Move 2

Price: $799

Bigger again, the Sonos Move 2 upgrades the portable Sonos package by making a speaker you can slip in and out of a Sonos multiroom system, and then take elsewhere.

There’s up to 24 hours of battery life in the speaker plus some changes to the audio that help it deliver a better sound, making it great option if you have the money to spend.

For travel

If you’re buying for someone planning to get on a flight in the near future, there are some great ideas to keep them happy, too.

Flying with noise cancellation is one of those technological blessings we’re still thankful for, and with so many great options to listen to for various price ranges, we have some ideas you might want to consider.

Soundcore Liberty 4 NC

Price: $170

A pair of noise cancelling earbuds made for budgets, Soundcore’s Liberty 4 NC make sense as a gift because they’re great value with great sound, complete with decent noise cancelling thrown in, too.

Soundcore has really come a long way, and you can find its great Space Q45 over-ear headphones for travel, too, but in terms of solid ANC and sound that won’t break the bank, the Liberty 4 NC is definitely a great option.

Sony CH720N

Price: $249

Next up is a great pair of headphones with a terrible name: the Sony CH720N.

Designed a little like the more premium Sony WH-1000XM5, the CH720N deliver a similar sound profile with slightly less of the flagship noise cancellation, plus a more useful price. We wish it came with a case, but if you’re after a brand someone will know in a price point that won’t hurt, this pair definitely makes sense.

Sennheiser Momentum 4

Price: $550

A little more on the premium side, even if its street price is much lower than the RRP found here, the Sennheiser Momentum 4 deliver great sound and great noise cancellation with one extra trick: the battery life is one of the best in the business.

Simply put, these headphones sport up to 50 hours of use, making it possible to charge and wear throughout the course of much of the flying someone might do over the holidays.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

Price: $649

Easily one of our favourite pairs for 2023, Bose’s Quiet Comfort Ultra Headphones are a return to brilliance for Bose, which has a whole lot more competition in this space.

The headphones are comfortable, portable, and even find a way to provide a spatial sound for everyone, even folks on Android that don’t have that ability in any other pair of over-ear headphones. They are exceptional, and one of the best pairs you can find, complete with some of the best noise cancellation for travelling anywhere.

For shutting out the world

Noise cancellation has another purpose: shutting out the world and throwing yourself into a bubble of sound.

You might laugh at how glib we are in saying this, but when you work or head into town on transport, sitting in a world made up of your own audio can be the best thing possible.

If you’re buying for someone keen to do just that, there are some options worth considering, all of which use fantastic ANC to block out the world and keep you stuck inside your own sound.

Apple AirPods Pro 2nd-gen

Price: $399

The first great pair to check out for shutting out the world is from Apple in the AirPods Pro 2nd-gen. These are still one of our favourite go-to pairs, and now it comes with a USB-C case, making it easier to charge.

Apple’s AirPods Pro are really focused on iPhone owners, thanks in part to how the tech plays with iOS. Though they can work with Android, there are better options for folks with an Android phone.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

Price: $449

If you’re buying for someone with an Android, Bose’s QC Ultra Earbuds are probably worth more of a look than the AirPods Pro, simply because they provide a more Droid-friendly experience, complete with an app and the ability to deliver spatial sound for Android and any music service on it.

There’s so much going for these earphones, except for maybe the lack of wireless charging in the case, which is a surprise but not a deal breaker.

Sony WF-1000XM5

Price: $499

Like the Bose QC Ultra, the Sony WF-1000XM5 are one of the best pairs in the business right now, and deliver what may well be the best noise cancellation tech around.

We’re not as enamoured with the controls in this generation, but the sound, form-factor, and noise cancellation is so good, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone complaining. Android or iPhone, if you know someone who loves music and doesn’t care about turning their head in spatial, Sony delivers one of the best audio experiences in the WF-1000XM5 earphones.

For listening

Of course, there’s always just wanting to listen to music, and we have a few great options if you’re buying for someone who loves music. And we mean loves it.

Sennheiser HD 25

Price: $349

Easily one of the nicest pairs of headphones we’ve ever checked out, the Sennheiser HD 25 deliver such a stellar sound and great level of comfort, they’re a pair of headphones made for anywhere where the clarity of sound is the most important thing.

They come with a cord and lack noise cancellation, but they’re perfect in just about every other way.

Sony WH-1000XM5

Price: $499

One of last year’s releases, the WH-1000XM5 noise cancelling headphones are still one of the best pairs of headphones around, providing a warm sound not unlike what a great loudspeaker can do in a design that’s genuinely comfortable to wear.

These are great for lots of things: listening in your home, listening when you’re out of home, listening on a flight, and just generally listening to what you love.

Technics AZ80

Price: $499

One of the surprising pairs of noise cancelling earphones we heard this year, the Technics AZ80 cost a little more than what we’d like, but deliver some of the best listening you can find.

The audio quality here is the main focus and the sound just delivers. You won’t get spatial audio or even the best ANC, but you will get a delivery of sound that just doesn’t quit in a properly compact form-factor.

Focal Bathys

Price: $1399

Very much another high-end pair of headphones, the Focal Bathys are super premium noise cancelling headphones where most of the attention hasn’t gone to the level of cancellation, but instead to the sound quality and the design.

They look a little different and certainly more premium, and even support high-res audio by way of plugging directly into a computer, making for a pair of headphones for a more discerning listener of sorts.

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