If you’re buying gifts for music lovers in your life, there has never been a better time to do it: there’s a vast range of products to choose from at every price level. But here I’m focusing on the premium end of the market – a main gift for someone who you love as much as they love music!
These are products consistent with my philosophy of buying the right thing once. Gifts that will be appreciated as much a few years down the line as they will when first unwrapped.
Let’s start with headphones …
B&W P5 wired or wireless headphones
My trusty Bowers & Wilkins P5 on-ear headphones go with me anytime I’m using public transit – music, audiobooks or podcasts helping the time fly by. The sound quality is fantastic, they are really comfy to wear, let in just enough background sound to hear announcements and fold flat when you want to tuck them away into a bag. I’m not the only fan here.
The P5s are available in both wired and wireless versions. While I do generally hate wires, they do make it slightly easier for my typical mobile usage, which involves switching between iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air as my audio source. For most people, though, I’d say the wireless model would be the one to get them.
B&O BeoPlay H8 Wireless ANC headphones
A great alternative to the P5 for someone who wants full noise-cancelling wireless headphones with equally great audio quality is the Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H8 ANC (for Active Noise Cancellation).
Usually noise-cancelling headphones carry a weight penalty, but at 255g, B&O has somehow kept these extremely light.
I’ve so far only had a brief play (with a full review to follow), but that was enough to reassure me that you’re getting the audio quality you’d expect from B&O. The RRP is rather steeper at $499, but you can currently get $50 off at $449.
Beats by Dr. Dre Solo 2 Wireless Active Collection
I hesitate to include these in a premium audio guide, as I’m definitely no fan of the audio quality, but there’s no denying the market appeal. Chances are, if you’re buying for a teenager in your family, they are going to be more excited about getting a pair of Beats headphones than either B&W or B&O.
Forget wired for the teenage market – that’s obsolete in their eyes. The latest and greatest model here is the lengthily-named Beats by Dr. Dre Solo 2 Wireless Active Collection. These retail at $299.95, but you can get them for $224.99, saving $75.
There’s a wide range of colors, so take a good look at their clothes and other kit to get a sense of which one they might prefer.
B&W MM-1 computer speakers
B&W offers what I consider the best wired computer speakers around: the MM-1s. Suitable for both Mac and PC, they don’t rely on the digital to analog converter (DAC) built into the computer – they instead use a high quality B&W DAC built into the speakers. They connect via USB so that you’re feeding in a digital signal.
They look great, the sound quality is amazing and the volume they pump out is truly incredible – it’s really hard to believe that they can deliver so much sound from such compact units.
Again, you’re unfortunately going to need to pay next to full price for them, at $494.49 – but they are totally worth it. Any music lover will be delighted with these.
Harman Kardon computer speakers
I’ve always adored the gorgeous and retro-looking Harman Kardon Soundsticks (left), with their glass-look casings. The sound quality isn’t quite up there with the MM-1s, but they still offer very acceptable quality and plenty of volume at a more affordable price.
But if you’re an AirPlay fan (as I mostly am), the company has also introduced a single-unit AirPlay speaker that borrows heavily from the original design while giving it a cleaner look, the Aura. Despite being a single unit, it is still a stereo speaker, and offers Bluetooth support in addition to AirPlay. RRP is $480, but you can save $120 at $359.96.
B&W A7 & A5 AirPlay speakers
Speaking of AirPlay, if you’re looking for a single-unit speaker system for a medium-sized room, the B&W A7 is an excellent choice, with remarkable capacity to fill the room with sound. There’s zero distortion no matter how high you crank up the volume, thanks to a 6-inch subwoofer alongside the 1-inch and 3-inch speakers.
There’s no shortage of input options, with AirPlay supplemented by USB, 3.5mm socket and mini Toslink.
At an RRP of $799.99, and a tiny $20 discount bringing it to $779.49, this is an expensive gift by anyone’s standards – but to call it a speaker system really doesn’t do it justice: this is a hifi in a box.
The smaller A5 variant retails for $499.99, and while not in quite the same league volume-wise, it is more than enough for a smaller room. Also worth checking out is the Zeppelin, though the design is quirkier.
Sonos PLAY 5
If you have a Sonos owner in your life, the latest addition to the range is the new PLAY 5 – a single unit that incorporates six speakers, each of which has its own dedicated amplifier. Not to be confused with the older 1st-generation model.
Sonos does rather lock you into its own audio ecosystem, so it wouldn’t be the best choice as a standalone gift, but for anyone already invested in Sonos, this is a fantastic way to bring another room online. Both sound quality and volume are excellent, and it’s available in a choice of black or white casing. It’s a delightfully understated design that makes a fairly chunky unit blend into its surroundings remarkably well.
The unit contains some impressive tech. Once you’ve positioned it, the setup process prompts you to walk around the room with your iPhone, and the app uses audio from the speaker and the iPhone’s microphone to measure the acoustic properties of the room in which it’s placed and automatically adjust the speaker output to suit. I also love the flush touch-sensitive controls on the top of the unit.
As a new product, don’t expect any discount on the $499 price tag.
Spotted any new premium audio products you think I should take a look at? Let me know in the comments.