2011 Holiday Shopping List: Top Headphones and Earbuds

Patrick Nosker December 19, 2011 1
2011 Holiday Shopping List: Top Headphones and Earbuds

If smartphones are not quite the item you’re looking to give this holiday season, maybe you want to give the gift of sound. If so, you’ve come to the right place. I will help you choose the best for the price and application for your lucky gift recipient.

Noise Canceling Headphones – Able Planet True Fidelity – $94.00:

If you read my review of the Able Planet True Fidelity headphones you would know why these should be the noise canceling headphones you give rather than more expensive Beats Studio by Dr. Dre or Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones. If you didn’t, the Able Planets are the BOMB! They cost less than 1/3 as much as the two competitors but stack up extremely well in terms of sound quality. Don’t make the mistake that most people do and go with brand recognition here. Unless you want to drop notebook computer prices on a set of headphones, get the iPod Nano priced Able Planet True Fidelity as a gift. Whoever you choose to give it to will be a lucky person.

Budget Audiophile Headphones – Grado Prestige Series SR-60i – $79.00:

Grado Labs has been producing top quality headphones in New York City (Yes, they’re actually American Made and they’re actually produced in NYC) for decades. Their “budget” line consists of the SR-60i and SR-80i. But being “budget” is not a knock on the Grados. These headphones have been heralded as the best sounding headphones for under $100, and some say even the best under $200. With an open design, these aren’t office friendly as a lot of noise leaks out, but they seriously bring listening to music to an entirely new level. Grado enthusiasts stand behind the SR-60i and SR-80i so much that they’ve even built their own modding community to tweak the sound exactly how they like it. When you give these, the only issue is that you might need to explain what they are. Yes, they look a bit retro (isn’t that cool now anyway?) and the box design looks as if it was made during the prime of the 1970s, but the entirely hand made nature of Grado products and the simple fact that they are so rarely revised just shows the quality of the product. And when the lucky recipient listens for the first time, they will know why you got these instead of a set of Sony or Panasonic headphones.

Top-Of-The-Line Audiophile Headphones – Sennheiser HD 650 – $351.46:

If your special someone is a real listener, and I mean a true audiophile, they will probably already know what this is. And the HD 650 is not something that should be given to everyone as the Grado SR-60i will appease most casual listeners and even some audiophiles, so don’t waste your 3.5 Benjis on them. But if you want top quality sound, and by this I mean something that sounds 98% as good as the $1499.95 Sennheiser HD800, then this is a bargain. Your recipient will appreciate you for years after you give this to them. They will be in aural bliss. If you want to really impress, the HD 650s are the way to go. But don’t waste the precious HD 650 resources on just anybody. Make sure they are deserving. Oh yeah– the HD 650 earcups are velvety soft and feature silk drivers for the truly luxurious listening experience.

Universal In-Ear Monitors/Earbuds – MEElectronics A151-BK – $50.43:

Unless you are a big audio follower, you probably haven’t heard of MEElectronics. That’s ok since they’re a relatively new and small company. But what small and new do not mean in this case is cheap and crappy. In fact, MEElectronics makes some mind-blowing earbuds for almost insane prices. This is why instead of going with some of the more established brands, I chose the MEElectronics A151 earbuds over the Logitech Ultimate Ears 700 (a great other option, though). MEElectronics makes magic with its single balanced armature driver stuffed inside. What you get it a set of earbuds, different tips to help you get a good fit, and a case. Simple enough. You probably won’t be impressed by just looking at them but when you slide the silky smooth silicone tip into your ear and the entire world goes to “mute” you will appreciate the noise-isolation. What will really impress, though, is yet to come. Plug those babies in and press Play! Your ears will scream in excitement at the fast response and wide sonic range of the A151. What you should not do is give this set away as a gift. Keep them and get another for your friend. They are too good to not own.  Now, with your second set, wrap it up and give it away. Then tell them what it was like when you tried them out for the first time and explain why you just HAD to give them a set of their own.  If you’re still interested, check out our full review.

Budget Custom In-Ear Monitors/Earbuds – JH Audio JH5 Pro – $399:

JH Audio is one of my favorite companies. And not just for in-ear monitors. The history behind the designer, Jerry Harvey, is just incredible. From the invention of the studio in-ear monitor to working directly with hundreds of top bands throughout his career as an audio expert, Jerry has learned his stuff. This lets him make the best of the best. Now when I say budget custom, you need to know that custom in-ear monitors are never cheap. They range from $300 to over $1000 and also require a visit to an audiologist which adds up to roughly $100 more depending on where you live and what’s available.  Still, the JH5 Pros give off exceptional sound. And they’re completely customizable. You can send them your own artwork and it will be silkscreened onto the faceplate to give you some bling. Now the main point: The JH5 Pro are insane. They are for studio and live musicians and crazy people. I’m a crazy person. If you knew how they sounded you would be too. If you want Sennheiser HD 650 quality sound to go and have it all fit in your head, the JH5 Pro can give you that. Just expect to spend around $500 for a set for you or a friend. If they’re a musician, they will love you forever. Or if they’re like me and demand the best and want to be able to walk around without giant cans around their ears. Oh, and lastly, the JH5 packs two speakers into each ear.

Top-Of-The-Line Custom In-Ear Monitors/Earbuds – Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor – $999:

Finally– my personal favorite personal listening system. The Logitech Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors. Designed by a world-class studio to allow the most balanced sound and perfect reproduction on-the-go, the UERM are the best of the best. Even better than the more expensive options from any other in-ear custom company. What you get is extreme precision in sound and top quality reproduction. You can hear everything from the sweet melody to the quiet and almost lost sound of a guitarist sliding his fingers across strings. If you want to hear everything, this is what you need. Packed with 3 tiny speakers in each ear, you won’t me disappointed. Just expect to spend a small fortune. Read our full review for more.


If you want to give the gift of sound this holiday season, you can’t go wrong with anything on this page. If you decide to go the custom route, unfortunately it can take a few weeks to make impressions, send them in, and get the monitors back. You might have to rely on an order confirmation as the gift and go to an audiologist with them later.

One Comment »

  1. Monster Beats by Dre In-Ear February 15, 2012 at 10:39 pm - Reply

    How beautiful the headphones are!

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