6 Best Earbuds & Audio Gifts Under $50

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5 Cheap Audio Gifts Under $25

5 audio gifts under 25 dollars
NXG Nebo Monoprice Chesky Panasonic

Whether it's listening to talk shows on AM, playing the Katy Perry channel on Pandora or spinning Miles Davis records on a $10,000 turntable, we all love and use audio gear on some level. So we can all enjoy an audio gift.

But with Chinese factories working 'round the clock to crank out every manner of audio product known to man, there's just so much... stuff out there. And when you're giving a gift, you want it to be great. (Unless, of course, your secret Santa turns out to be that office IT guy who still hasn't fixed your printer. In which case your choice of gift is obvious.)

That's why all the gifts I'm recommending below are ones I've actually used myself. I stake my meager reputation on your satisfaction, and promise tears of joy — or at least a sincere thanks — from the lucky recipient.

If your budget's a little higher, check out these audio gifts that are under $50.

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Dr. Chesky Binaural Demo CD: $15.98

Dr. Chesky binaural CD cover art
Chesky Records

Binaural recordings are made with microphones placed inside the ear canals of a dummy head. When you play them back over good headphones — or even bad headphones — it sounds uncannily like you're really in the recording venue. There aren't a lot of binaural recordings out there, but composer and audiophile recording wiz David Chesky has recently launched an extensive line of them. The one to start with is Dr. Chesky's Sensational, Fantastic, and Simply Amazing Binaural Sound Show, available as a CD or as a digital music download.

Any headphone enthusiast has to hear this disc, which has some of the most amazing demonstrations of binaural sound ever recorded. My favorite is the one where Chesky starts out talking from about 30 feet away, then keeps talking until he's whispering just an inch or two from your ear. There are also 17 different music tracks you can hear: all sorts of ensembles and genres, each one recorded binaurally. You'll wish all recordings were made this way.

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Monoprice Model 2943 Banana Plugs: $1.76/pair

monoprice banana plugs

Every audio enthusiast needs banana plugs. Threaded ones like the Monoprice 2943 are the easiest way to terminate a speaker cable — just strip about 3/8-inch of the cable, stick the end in the side of the banana plug, and twist the knurled knob at the top until the connection is secure. You now have a nice, neat and electrically excellent connection.

I bet I've tried every threaded banana plug in the world. I've even sought out new ones to try in the world's greatest electronics bazaars, Tokyo's Akihabara and Seoul's Yongsan district, yet these inexpensive plugs are my all-time favorite because they're rugged, easy to use and offer a secure connection. Any audiophile would appreciate a few pair in the bottom of the stocking.

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Larry Work Light: $9.99

Larry work light
Nebo Tools

No, it's not an audio product per se, but the Larry work light is one of the most useful audio tools I've found.

Audiophiles often need a little extra light to see the connections behind their gear rack and speakers. Home theater enthusiasts need a good work light even more, because they spend so much of their lives with the lights off. (Not criticizing, just sayin'.) With its eight bright LEDs, the three-AAA-powered Larry can light up half a room, every component in your audio rack, or whatever else you need to see.

Here's one more great design twist: The pocket clip at the top is magnetized on the back, so if your rack has steel parts, you can just stick the Larry right there where you need it.

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Panasonic RP-TCM125 In-Ear Headphone: $14.99

Panasonic RP-TCM125 in-ear headphone

Everybody needs a decent set of in-ear headphones. Even if they're already got a decent set — or a great set — eventually they'll lose 'em or break 'em, and they'll need a backup. Well, the Panasonic RP-TCM125 sounds so good that the backup might just become their primary headphone. Best of all, it's currently selling for just $14.99 on Panasonic's site. 

The RP-TCM125 proves that the most important aspect of a headphone isn't the parts that go into it, but how it's voiced. This is the most perfectly voiced cheap in-ear I've heard to date; it sounds better than a lot of $200 in-ears I've heard. In fact, in probably the most extensive test of cheap headphones ever conducted, The Wirecutter just picked the RP-TCM125 as the best in-ear headphone under $30.

The best part is that the midrange is super, super clean, so voices sound extremely natural. The bass is just a tad too present for my fussy audiophile ears, which means it'll be perfect for most people. The treble isn't super-extended, so you don't get tons of detail in high-pitched instruments like acoustic guitar and cymbals, but the flipside is that the treble is never harsh — as it so often is in cheap in-ears.

It even has an inline microphone with play/pause button that's compatible with Apple iPhones and Android mobile devices.

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NXG Head Trip Hush Noise-Cancelling In-Ear Headphone: $13.49

NXG Head Trip Hush noise cancelling in-ear headphones

And you thought the Panasonic was cheap! Here's an in-ear with noise cancelling for just 50 cents more! While the Hush is only sporadically available on the Internet, I did find it on geek2seek for the crazy-low price of $13.49, with a promised two- to four-week arrival time. Order now if you want it for the holidays. (Maybe order something else as a backup, too.)

The Hush recently came in second to the $299 Bose QC-20 in The Wirecutter's big shootout of in-ear noise-cancelling headphones.

Yes, the Hush suffers from a rather ugly, cheezeball design that seems to have taken its inspiration from cheap 1960s office furniture, But its half-in-ear design — similar to that of Phiaton's great in-ear models — helps prevent noise from entering your ear canal, and most of the noise that does get in will be squelched by the surprisingly effective noise-cancelling circuitry.