With MP3 players all but dead, phones are now the dominant portable music devices. While smartphones have gotten better at this task over the years, they do have some glaring limitations when it comes to music. On the bright side, we can use these limitations to help find the perfect gifts for the audiophiles in our lives.
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Whether it's because you don't want to spend too much or you really don't know what to get, a great gift for any person is the gift card. And for the music lover in your life, few gifts help more than a gift card because honestly, streaming HiFi audio is expensive.
With a $20 Gift Card from Tidal, you can cover a month of HiFi streaming music for them. Outside of that, the other streaming options are all high quality, but not technically high fidelity — however, they're the more popular options if you're buying for someone who isn't an audio snob.
This next gift isn't the sexiest gift, but it truly embodies the idea of a "stocking stuffer," and it does help with the experience. I am talking about headphone adapters, aka dongles.
If you're buying for an iPhone user, Apple stopped including a dongle with iPhones three years ago, and even if the person had one, it's likely lost or broken by now. The best option at this price point is the $19.99 Maxboost HiFi Lightning Audio + Charging Adapter. It lets you listen to music and charge your phone at the same time, use Lightning headphones, and have playback control on the adapter. If you're still not sold, we have some other options after the jump.
- Moshi Integra Lightning Dongle (from $23.95) on Amazon
- Apple Lightning Dongle (from $8.79) on Amazon
- Tynokun Lightning Dongle (from $7.95) on Amazon
- CHARGEWORX Lightning Dongle (from $13.95) on Amazon
If the person you're buying for is using an Android device, you can get them a dongle to convert their USB-C port to a 3.5 mm headphone jack. Audiophiles will want an adapter capable of playing back high-quality audio files and the best one we found was ACCGUYS USB C to 3.5mm Headphone Audio Jack Adapter (from $10.99) on Amazon. Its DAC supports up to 24-bit/192 kHz, the maximum audio quality of Tidal's mobile app.
But not everyone is a true audiophile. If the person you're buying for is just a fan of music in general and doesn't need the absolute best in audio quality, one of these dongles might be a better pick:
HiFi audio files are large, so for the Android user in your life, consider a microSD card. While prices range based on the size of memory card, we recommend that as long as recipient's phone supports it (which is usually the case if it a flagship caliber phone of the last three years), get them at least 256 GB (such as the $39.99 Samsung 256 GB EVO Select). That usually gives them around 2,400 HiFi songs.
- 256–512 GB Samsung EVO Plus (from $39.99) on Amazon
- 256–512 GB SanDisk Ultra (from $38.65) on Amazon
- 256–512 GB Silicon Power Superior Pro (from $32.99) on Amazon
However, if you are buying for an iPhone user, memory cards don't work. One of the better options we found is the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive ($71.88 on Amazon). It's one of the few drives that support 256 GB storage and have a USB 3.0 connector to make it easy to transfer music files off your computer.
If you know this person absolutely loves music, there's really no better option than wired headphones. Wireless headphones fall short in audio quality and have their own set of problems. For those who want the very best, few headphones are better than the Philips SHP9500 at this price. They're super comfortable, durable, able to drive what you can send at them, and are currently under $70 on Amazon.
If you want to go wireless, we recommend getting the $69.99 Mixcder E9 Active. It has active noise canceling technology, which isn't common at this price point, 30 hours worth of playtime (an impressive stat), and includes a wired connector in case they prefer a wired connection or when their battery dies.
Music isn't always a personal experience. Sometimes we wish to share it. The $62 Anker Soundcore Flare Wireless Speaker can deliver that and then some. It has an IP67 rating, which means it is both dustproof and resistant to water immersion up to 1m (40 inches). It delivers 360° Sound, improved bass, and has RGB.
If you're looking to upgrade a music lover's car audio game, look no further than a Bluetooth car adapter. While most new cars include Bluetooth in their sound system, if they are driving in an older car (10+ years), chances are they're limited to an auxiliary port. With an adapter such as the AUKEY Bluetooth Receiver Car Kit with 3-Port USB Car Charger ($23.99 on Amazon), they can wirelessly stream music to their car speakers.
LG is the only OEM currently who still includes the headphone jack in their flagships, and they power this port with a Quad DAC. This allows it to deliver music to better headphones the way the manufacturer intended, which includes not having to max out the volume to use them. If this is their first smartphone or they are using another Android phone, this is the way to go. And the best option from LG is the G8 ThinQ ,which is currently $849.99 on Amazon. Below are the only other current-generation flagships with headphone jacks.
If buying a smartphone isn't an option, another idea is to get a portable DAC, or digital-to-analog converter. For music lovers and audiophiles, we recommend the AudioQuest DragonFly Red ($199.93 on Amazon). It's compact, supports 24-bit/96 kHz audio output, and is an MQA decoder for Tidal. And to connect it to your device (it uses USB Type-A connector), you will need all you need either CableCreation ($6.99 on Amazon) or Apple Lightning to USB3 Camera Adapter ($39.00 on Amazon, depending on what type of device they are using.
We discussed midrange wired headphones above, but these are premium quality devices. One of the better options you can get is the HiFiMan Sundara ($349 on Amazon). Rting gave it an 8.3 for critical listening, which makes it tied for second on their list. It uses planar magnetic drivers that deliver a great frequency response and soundstage (hearing the music around you). It is also comfortable on the ears even during longer listening sessions.
For wireless, this is an easy recommendation — Sony WH1000XM3. Terrible name aside, these headphones are the real deal. We recommended them in last year's gift guide, and they easily made our list again. Do you like bass? Check. You want voice control? Check. Noise cancellation? It has that, too. And at $348.00 on Amazon, it doesn't break the bank either.
If you have more than $100 to spend and want one of the best wireless speakers available without breaking the bank, look no further than the Marshall Stanmore II. It starts at $258.23 on Amazon (the white one, the other colors are a bit higher). It has a Bluetooth 5 connection, which means more bandwidth for streams and a more extended range. It has analog controls on the top to adjust the bass, treble, and volume, and has an auxiliary input for wired connection. The sound is clear and crisp while loud enough for small rooms.