Apple sells 3 earbud-style AirPods – the differences come down to battery life, design, and audio features

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Apple Airpods 3
Apple Airpods 3

Apple announced its third-generation AirPods on October 18. The AirPods (3rd Gen) offer a few key upgrades over the previously released AirPods (2nd Gen), including better battery life, spatial audio support, IPX4 sweat resistance, and a new MagSafe charger.

The revised AirPods lineup now includes three earbud-style models: the entry-level AirPods (2nd Gen) ($129), the new mid-range AirPods (3rd Gen) ($179), and the high-end AirPods Pro ($249). Apple also sells an over-ear AirPods model, called the AirPods Max ($549), with premium sound geared toward audiophiles.

All three earbud-style AirPods use Apple’s H1 chip and are designed to offer true wireless audio with Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity and seamless pairing with Apple devices. That said, there are some notable differences between each model.

To help you decide which AirPods are right for you, we broke down key features for every earbud-style model, below.

Apple AirPods 2 vs. AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro

AirPods (2nd Gen) AirPods (3rd Gen) AirPods Pro
Full retail price $129 $179 $249
Ear tips No silicone ear tips No silicone ear tips Three silicone ear tip sizes
Battery Up to five hours Up to six hours Up to five hours (ANC off)
Charging case Wired charging case Wireless MagSafe charging case Wireless MagSafe charging case
Sweat and water resistance No IPX4 IPX4
Spatial Audio No Yes Yes
Adaptive EQ No Yes Yes
Active noise cancellation (ANC) No No Yes

Which AirPods model should you buy?

Each AirPods model is geared toward a slightly different buyer.

The AirPods (2nd Gen) are a good fit for shoppers on a budget who don’t need wireless charging, noise cancellation, water/sweat resistance, or spatial audio. They’re good for basic listening, but aren’t ideal for workouts or audiophiles who want to hear music with surround sound-like effects.

We haven’t tested the new third-generation AirPods yet, but the updated specifications should make them a good option for buyers who want an upgraded audio experience with IPX4 water resistance. That said, they lack noise cancellation and do not use silicone ear tips.

Buyers who don’t mind paying extra for the best AirPods experience should opt for the AirPods Pro. They add active noise cancellation and the ability to use three different ear tip sizes for a better fit. They’re pricey at $249, but they’re regularly on sale for $179 to $199 during the holiday shopping season.

AirPods Pro (small)AirPods 3 (small)Airpods with Wired Charging Case (newest model) (small)

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These earplugs help me protect my hearing at loud concerts, and they cost less than $30

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the acoustic filters on mumba's concert ear plugs close up
The Mumba Concert Earplugs are comfortable and affordable.

  • Concerts are making a comeback, so I got these Mumba earplugs to help protect my hearing.
  • The Mumba Concert Earplugs are the cheapest and most comfortable earplugs I’ve tried.
  • They allow me to enjoy live music and loud events while minimizing potential hearing damage.

Concert Earplugs (small)

Before the coronavirus pandemic put a pause on in-person events, I went to a lot of concerts. But while I loved listening to live music, I never gave much thought to the damage it could cause to my hearing. Now that concerts are making a comeback, I’m turning over a new leaf – I’m going to wear earplugs.

According to the CDC, noises measuring above 70 dB over an extended period of time can start damaging your hearing. In my experience going to concerts, I’ve found that, on average, loud music ranges from 90 dB to 110 dB – as measured by my Apple Watch Series 6. EDM music festivals and raves are even louder.

To test your level of hearing loss, you can try the Mimi app on iOS and Android. It’s not going to be as accurate as a hearing test conducted by a professional, but it’s neat to get an idea.

I’ve been lucky enough to avoid any permanent hearing loss or tinnitus, but I have to be careful to keep it that way. That’s where earplugs come in. I’ve tried a couple of different brands, but the Mumba Concert Earplugs have proven to be a solid combination of comfort, affordability, and effectiveness.

For a sale price of $22 (usually they’re $29), you get the earplugs, keychain case, and two sizes of in-ear shells.

mumba earplugs set with earplugs, carrying case, plastic case, and box

After some trial and error, I’ve found the smaller size shells (left) to be far more comfortable for my ears. Both sizes are a bit finicky to clean, though.

mumba concert earplugs both sizes

The carrying case gets a second look every time I pass through security, but it’s super convenient to keep on my keys. I have yet to misplace them, too, which is easy with something so small.

mumba earplugs carrying case on my keys

They have a low profile and fit in nice and snug. I’ve found that they cut down on sound without muffling it, and I can still hear people nearby talking to me.

sarah's ear with the mumba earplug in it

These earplugs are designed to reduce noise by up to 24 dB, potentially bringing loud concerts below the harmful level. Exactly how many decibels hit your ears depends on how close you are to the speakers, though.

mumba concert earplugs with the carrying case

Should you buy the Mumba Concert Earplugs?

Mumba’s Concert Earplugs have been a good investment for me, and they’re worth considering if you attend a lot of loud events, too.

The Mumba Earplugs are high quality, effective, and comfortable. Compared to Loop brand earplugs that I’ve tried previously, the Mumba earplugs stay in my ears more securely, and muffle less sound. They also make it easier to hear people around me, which I couldn’t do with Loops.

It’s important to remember, however, that while earplugs like this can help prevent hearing damage, there will always be a risk associated with concerts and other loud events.

You can order the Mumba Concert Earplugs right now for $22.

Concert Earplugs (small)Prime 30-Day Free Trial (small)

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These easy-to-install cord covers help me hide all my TV’s pesky cables

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Living room home theater with cord covers on floor and wall
  • I love my home theater system, but it requires a bunch of long cables in my living room.
  • To help keep all these unruly cords out of sight, I bought some affordable cable covers from Amazon.
  • I got models for my floor and wall, and they cost about $15 each depending on the size you want.

TV Cord Cover (small)Floor Cord Cover (small)

There’s really no getting around it: Home entertainment setups require a ton of cables. With multiple wires running from your TV and speakers, even a basic home theater can turn your living room into a mess of ugly cords.

I recently ran into this issue while setting up a new surround sound system in my own apartment, resulting in a bunch of unsightly speaker wires and HDMI cables thrown across my wall and floor. Rather than deal with the eyesore and constant threat of tripping, I decided to buy some inexpensive cord covers to manage my cables.

These simple and affordable products let you hide your wires out of sight and keep them secure. Various sizes and styles are available with different mounting and adhesive options.

Here’s a look at the cord covers I decided to go with for my setup and why they’re a good fit for my needs.

To take care of the wires running from my wall-mounted TV, I opted for this 36-inch cable raceway from ZhiYo ($15).

ZhiYo cord cover on living room wall under a TV

The cover comes in four pieces, each measuring 9 inches. You can stack the pieces to get the length you need.

ZhiYo cord cover features two pieces stacked on top of each other mounted on a wall

The tool-free installation uses built-in adhesive on the back. I placed two pieces toward the left of my TV to run HDMI cables, and two pieces toward the right to run the power cord.

ZhiYo cord cover on left and right underneath a TV

Though the cover is paintable, the beige color option is already a good match for my wall.

Cables coming out of the end of the ZhiYo cord cover

The raceway has a handy snap-on feature so you can open it to remove wires without taking the cover off the wall.

ZhiYo cord cover open to reveal cable on wall

The built-in adhesive keeps the cover in place well enough if left undisturbed, but the tape isn’t foolproof. The raceway can get knocked off if you or a pet fiddles with it too much.

ZhiYo cable covers on a wall under a mounted TV

This is Merlin, my lovable but mischievous cat. He’s upset that his favorite cables got hidden so he managed to swat the cover off the wall. The adhesive remains sticky enough to place back on, but you may prefer adding stronger tape or screws to secure it.

Cat next to cord cover on a TV stand.

For the speaker wires running across the floor of my living room to my rear surround speakers, I went with this 6-foot floor cover from D-Line ($16).

D-Line 6-foot cord cover running across a living room floor

I need to run four cables in total and they’re a bit thick, so I ended up needing two covers to comfortably fit two cables in each.

Two D-Line floor cord covers paired next to each other in a living room

The covers have a non-slip base, so D-Line says you don’t need additional adhesive, but I recommend using some type of double-sided tape just to be safe.

The bottom of the D-Line floor cord cover with tape attached

I run the covers from under my TV stand to my living room rug. The remaining portion of each speaker wire then runs under the rug out of sight.

D-Line floor cord covers in a living room

The grey color option isn’t a perfect match for my floor, but complements it well enough, offering a neat and secure alternative to exposed cables.

D-Line cord cover on a living room floor.

Should you buy the ZhiYo and D-Line cord covers?

Cord covers on the floor and wall in living room home theater

If you’re looking for an easy solution to hide and manage your HDMI and speaker cables, the ZhiYo wall cord cover and D-Line floor cord cover are both solid and affordable options.

The ZhiYo’s built-in adhesive might not be strong enough for all uses, so some people might prefer to get stronger tape or screws to mount it. Likewise, though the D-Line has a non-slip build, you’ll probably want to secure it with some extra double-sided tape. 

Despite those small drawbacks, I’ve been totally satisfied with my purchase. The ZhiYo 36-inch cable raceway for walls is available on Amazon for $15 in beige. The price varies for other color options. The D-Line 6-foot floor cord cover is available on Amazon for $16 in gray, beige, or black.

TV Cord Cover (small)Floor Cord Cover (small)

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Amazon is starting Black Friday early with big deals on Apple AirPods, including $70 off the AirPods Pro

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airpods pro
Apple’s AirPods are on sale now at Amazon as part of an early Black Friday deal.

It’s a good time to buy a pair of AirPods. To welcome the upcoming holiday season, Amazon is offering some excellent deals on all models of the wireless earbuds, bringing them down to some of the best prices we’ve seen all year.

The AirPods Pro are our top pick for Apple users, but earlier models are still worth considering for the budget-conscious. If Beats earbuds are more your speed, you can find a pair discounted from Amazon right now as well.

Best Apple AirPods deals available on Amazon now

AirPods Pro (medium, Preferred: Amazon)AirPods with Wireless Charging Case (medium, Preferred: Amazon)Airpods with Wired Charging Case (newest model) (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

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The 5 best computer speakers of 2021 for audiophiles, budget shoppers, and gamers

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Desktop speakers for your computer or laptop are essential if you want the best audio quality. Though some gaming monitors and ultrawide monitors have decent built-in sound, a dedicated set of computer speakers will take your listening experience to the next level.

Computer speakers are available at many price points and in a variety of sizes. Some packages even include a separate subwoofer for extra bass. Wireless streaming support and surround sound capabilities are also featured on more expensive models.

Most computer speakers feature built-in amplification so all you need to do is plug them into an outlet for power. We made our picks with convenience in mind, so all of our recommendations fall into this category, which saves you the cost and hassle of buying a separate amp.

Here are the best computer speakers you can buy

Best computer speakers overall

The Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 speakers on a computer desk

The Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 speakers lack advanced features, but they deliver incredible sound for the money.

Pros: Impressive audio performance, affordable price, includes subwoofer, 3.5mm ports

Cons: No wireless support, no USB port

Klipsch’s ProMedia 2.1 speaker system is the definition of a tried-and-true audio product. In fact, the ProMedia 2.1 has been on the market in one form or another for nearly two decades.

Though the speakers lack extra features, like wireless streaming, they excel in the two areas that count the most: audio performance and value. The package includes two satellite speakers with 3-inch midrange drivers, MicroTractrix horns, and 19mm tweeters. You also get a dedicated 6.5-inch subwoofer for deep bass. 

You don’t get a remote, but separate knobs for volume and subwoofer levels are integrated on one of the satellite speakers. The system uses a 3.5mm connection on the subwoofer to hook up to your computer or laptop, but it doesn’t have a USB option like some newer speaker systems. Two 3.5mm ports are also included on one of the speakers, allowing you to easily connect a pair of headphones for private listening. 

What really makes the ProMedia 2.1 so special, however, is its audio performance. With clean highs, rich mids, and deep lows, the speakers excel at music, gaming, and movies. This versatility makes them a perfect fit for any multimedia computer setup. 

Though this system has been available for nearly 20 years, we’ve yet to hear better sounding computer speakers in this price range.

Best budget computer speakers

Logitech_Z313

While the Logitech Z313 speakers don’t impress with their sound quality, the low price tag makes them an excellent upgrade to built-in monitor speakers.

Pros: Very inexpensive, easy to set up, includes a subwoofer

Cons: Mediocre audio quality

The Logitech Z313 speakers can’t measure up to more expensive speakers when it comes to sound performance, but they make up for any audio woes in value. With such an affordable price tag, the Z313s are the de facto choice for budget computer speakers. While not reaching the quality heights of Klipsch, the low price tag and simple setup of the Z313s makes them worthy of consideration.

For the price, you’re getting a 2.1 system, meaning there are stereo speakers on your desktop and a subwoofer below. Everything is wired, but with only three cords going between each of the components, cable management shouldn’t be too difficult.  

As far as audio quality goes, the Z313s are best summed up with “good for the money.” The satellite speakers are fairly tinny and the subwoofer doesn’t reach too deep into the lows. The system won’t get loud, either, with a total power rating of 25 watts (five for each satellite and 15 for the subwoofer).

The flaws show up most when you trying to play music loudly through the speakers. Logitech attempts to duck the sound coming out of the satellites as the subwoofer gets loud, making for a wobbly effect when listening to bass-heavy music at high volumes. These speakers are best used when listening to music at low volumes or, say, watching YouTube videos.

Despite their audio limitations, as a replacement for your monitor’s built-in speakers, the Z313s are great, especially for how cheap they are. If you’re interested in high-quality audio or just want to blare music, however, you’ll need to spend a little more.

Best high-end computer speakers

Klipsch_R 51PM

Klipsch’s R-51PM computer speakers look as good as they sound, delivering high-end audio and wireless support.

Pros: Look great, high-end sound, plenty of connection options, Bluetooth support

Cons: A bit pricey, doesn’t include a separate subwoofer

The speakers you use are somewhat of a status statement, and no company more clearly understands that than Klipsch. However, a company isn’t adopted in homes and theaters around the world for its looks alone. Klipsch has substance to its style, and that’s no more clearly exemplified than it is with the R-51PM computer speakers.

As a long time fan of the R-15PMs — which the R-51PMs replaced — to say I was excited for an update would be an understatement, and Klipsch definitely delivered. When I broke out the speakers for the first time, I was impressed with their style. The copper spun tweeter is a familiar hallmark, adding a perfect accent to an otherwise blank chassis.

The sound is really what sells these speakers. Small woofers are notorious for either lacking bass or crowding the rest of the audio field with it. The R-51PM’s humble 5.25-inch woofer sounds much bigger than its size would suggest, partly aided by the large rear-firing port.

If you’ve ever demoed Klipsch speakers — or any audiophile brand, for that matter — none of this should come as a surprise. The R-51PMs aren’t just for audiophiles, though. With a surprisingly clear 120W amplifier powering the two speakers, the R-51PMs are a plug-and-play speaker solution that anyone can pick up.

While my pair lives on my desktop, I’ve moved them around for various purposes in the past. They support a variety of connections, including your phone, computer, and TV. You could, for example, hook the speakers up to your computer through the USB connection and pop over to streaming music on Bluetooth with a single remote click.

Best computer speakers for gaming

Razer_Nommo_Pro

The Razer Nommo Pro system is expensive, but for the sound and features it offers, the price is justified.

Pros: Clear midrange, impressive bass, RGB under-glow

Cons: Expensive

Razer is well known for its gaming peripherals but only recently did it make a serious contender for desktop audio. While PC gamers usually use headphones for the best audio experience, the Razer Nommo Pro speaker system is a clear and powerful alternative for gaming audio.

That comes at a price, though. In fact, the Nommo Pros are the most expensive speakers on our list. That said, you get a lot for your money. The Nommo Pro system is a 2.1 audio setup, meaning you get two satellite speakers and a subwoofer. Each of the satellite speakers has a dedicated woofer and tweeter, too, so you get clear highs and midrange.

First, the satellites. Each speaker is equipped with a 3-inch woofer that’s angled towards your ears as well as 0.8-inch tweeter. The midrange woofers make the difference here. With a dedicated subwoofer, the Nommo Pros aren’t trying to reproduce bass with the satellites and, because of that, the midrange is clearer. Gunshots in games like “Overwatch” give just the right kick to the chest.

The low-end is filled out by the subwoofer, which gets surprisingly loud. In fact, the whole system can get loud. Razer has managed something special with the Nommo Pro in that it can easily shake your room without distorting. Even when explosions are pushing the subwoofer to its limit and bullets are flying across the screen, the sound is clear.

Gaming isn’t the only use case for them, either. Razer includes THX, Dolby, and music modes. THX and Dolby go a lot heavier on the bass, which makes it ideal for watching movies. However, these modes sound dull when listening to music or gaming as the subwoofer overpowers the high-end finesse of the dedicated tweeters.

Best computer speakers for surround sound

Logitech_Z906

While it’ll take a lot of legwork to set up, the Logitech Z906 5.1 surround system delivers excellent audio quality at a good price.

Pros: The Z906 system is one of the cheapest ways to buy 5.1 surround sound

Cons: Setting up the speakers can be a pain

If you’re an avid movie fan, surround sound is the way to go. While not the most convenient for your desktop, the Logitech Z906 surround sound system has small enough speakers with multiple mounting options to make it worthy of consideration.

The package is comprised of four satellite speakers that are meant to be placed around you, a central speaker, a front-firing subwoofer and control module for controlling the output. Across the speakers, the Z906 system delivers 500 watts of continuous power with the ability to go up to 1,000 watts. In short, it can get really loud.

At the center is the subwoofer, which contains the amplifier and all necessary inputs and outputs. Most surround systems are designed to work in a home theater and, while the Z906 system can be used for that purpose, the number of inputs makes it a great choice for desktop applications.

On the back, you’ll find three 3.5mm jacks, a pair of RCA inputs, two optical inputs, a coaxial input, and a plug for six-channel direct connections. Furthermore, you can run these connections simultaneously and switch between them using the included wireless remote. If you use Logitech’s Bluetooth adapter (sold separately) you can stream wirelessly to the system, too.

As far as sound goes, the Z906 system is excellent, worthy of official THX certification. According to Trusted Reviews, this Logitech system “delivers a very impressive sound with depth, punch and decent detail reproduction.”

What else we considered

Audioengine_A5+

Audioengine A5+ ($569): Audioengine’s A5+ speakers were recently one of our picks. Though they still serve as very worthwhile desktop speakers, current price adjustments make it hard to truly recommend Audioengine’s speakers over Klipsch’s R-51PMs.

Both speakers are actually very similar. The woofers are the same size, as are the bodies, and both have excellent audio quality. However, with a slightly lower power rating, the A5+ speakers may not stay as clear at high volumes. Despite that, CNET says the 5+’s “deliver phenomenal sound.”

As far as connectivity goes, the A5+ speakers are slightly worse than their Klipsch counterparts. One speaker has the amplifier inside, and you’ll connect that speaker to the other using an included speaker cable. For connecting to your source, Audioengine includes a 3.5mm jack (standard headphone jack) and stereo RCA inputs and outputs.

While fine for connecting the speakers to your computer, a USB or optical output would allow the A5+ speakers to be used in a more diverse range of situations. Thankfully, that’s offset by support for Bluetooth. You can connect any Bluetooth device to the speakers and switch to that source using the included remote.

Despite missing optical and USB inputs, the A5+ speakers have one major strength in connectivity: an RCA output. With that output, you can pair the A5+’s with Audioengine’s powered S8 subwoofer. While the speakers alone have “solid bass depth” according to PCMag, adding a dedicated subwoofer helps the lows a lot.

The looks aren’t shabby, either. You can choose either satin black or hi-gloss white, both of which look excellent with the Kevlar woofers. For a premium, you can also purchase the speakers in a natural bamboo finish that looks great.

Check out our other speaker buying guides

Sonos Move
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The best Apple AirPods deals you can get now, including $70 off the AirPods Pro

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the best apple airpod deals available now including the airpods, airpods pro, and airpods max
  • Apple’s AirPod lineup makes listening to audio on iPhones easy.
  • AirPods and AirPods Pro are frequently on sale, but some discounts are better than others.
  • Right now, you can get the AirPods Pro for $70 off their full retail price.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Apple’s AirPods are popular for a reason: they’re among the most convenient and best options for wireless earbuds. They automatically pair with your Apple devices the moment you open the case nearby, and you can use your Apple devices to help you pinpoint a misplaced AirPod.

Apple products, like AirPods, go on sale regularly. In fact, you can find them for less than what you’d pay at Apple nearly every week. During Apple’s back-to-school promotion, you can get a free pair of AirPods with a Mac or iPad purchase.

Below, we’ve highlighted the best AirPod deals available in September 2021, including $70 off the AirPods Pro. If you know which model you’re looking for, you can skip ahead by clicking its name in the table of contents to the left.

You can also check out the best iPhone deals and the best iPad deals for more Apple savings.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Comparing AirPods models

AirPods AirPods Pro AirPods Max
Our review Best on a budget Best overall Best for audiophiles
Typical price $120-$160 $200 $500
Features Quick pairing, “Hey Siri,” automatic switching, charging case Same as AirPods, plus active noise cancellation, spatial audio, water resistance, and multiple ear tips Same as AirPods Pro, plus over-ear design, better active noise cancellation, improved audio with adaptive EQ, digital crown for media playback

The best AirPods deals happening now

AirPods Pro (medium, Preferred: Amazon)AirPods with Charging Case (medium, Preferred: Amazon)Airpods Max (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

AirPods with regular charging case deals

airpods pro wireless charging
It’s easy to check what version your AirPods are running.

AirPods with Charging Case (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

The standard AirPods with Charging Case are the cheapest AirPods you can buy. The included charging case charges via a Lightning cable, the same cable you use to charge your iPhone.

The AirPods have a five-hour battery life, and the case stores 24 hours of battery charge. A quick 15-minute charge in the case gives them an extra three hours of listening time. They are not sweat- or water-resistant – you’ll have to check out the AirPods Pro below if that’s important to you. You can read our full AirPods review here.

Contrary to what MSRP would like you to think, AirPods typically only sell for $120 across online retailers – a good $40 less than listed. During Black Friday and Cyber Monday we saw them fall as low as $99, but that kind of promotion is rare.

AirPods with Wireless Charging Case deals

airpods next to iphone

AirPods with Wireless Charging Case (medium, Preferred: Target)

The AirPods with Wireless Charging Case are identical to the 2nd-gen AirPods with Charging Case, except the case can be charged wirelessly as well as via a Lightning cable. That means you can power the case on a wireless charging pad that uses the Qi wireless charging standard. You can read our full AirPods with Wireless Charging Case review here.

Though they’re listed for more, the typical price for the Wireless Charging Case AirPods is $160 across online retailers. During Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we saw them fall as low as $140; it’s unlikely they’ll drop that low again outside of short-lived discounts from one or two retailers.

AirPods Pro deals

Airpods BF

AirPods Pro (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

The AirPods Pro are Apple’s flagship AirPods, and they’re also our pick for the best wireless earbuds for Apple fans. They have a shorter stem than the original AirPods, and they have an in-ear design with tips for three different sizes. If you’ve ever had difficulty keeping Apple’s earbuds in your ear, these are the solution. The wireless charging case is also wider than the standard charging cases.

Despite their smaller size, they come with active noise cancellation, and they sound a little better than the regular AirPods. Battery life with noise cancellation enabled isn’t as long as the regular AirPods, but it’s still pretty good (4.5 hours versus 5 hours). The wireless charging case holds a 24-hour total charge.

The AirPods Pro are also sweat- and water-resistant, whereas the regular AirPods are not. You can read our full AirPods Pro review here.

A pair is listed for $249, but the typical price hovers around $200 across online retailers like Walmart and Costco. We’ve seen them drop lower during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but if you need a pair now, don’t settle for paying any more than $200.

AirPods Max deals

AirPods Max being worn

Airpods Max (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

If you’re an Apple aficionado looking for the best audio you can find, the AirPods Max are for you. Audio from the AirPods Max is crisp, clear, and open; their noise-cancellation is powerful. They’re surely pricier than other headphones with similar performance from Sony and Bose, but the AirPods Max are a huge listening upgrade from the AirPods and AirPods Pro. You can read our full review of the AirPods Max here.

Since release, the typical price for a pair has dropped to $500, with some colors as low as $490.

Tips for finding the best AirPods deals

Apple products, despite their reputation for never going on sale, see discounts frequently. Unlike most other electronics, AirPods see discounts year-round and, in some rare cases, see better discounts than we see during Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

To make sure you get the best price on Apple AirPods, don’t shop at Apple. Best Buy, Target, and Walmart frequently mark down Apple’s headphones.

Where to find Apple AirPods

AirPods are available in most retailers that sell tech, in addition to the Apple Store. You can find them at Best Buy, Target, Costco, Walmart, and anywhere else you’d see electronics.

Apple’s year-round education pricing includes discounts on Macs and iPad. During its back-to-school promotion, you can get a free pair of AirPods with a Mac or iPad purchase.

Read more about how the Insider Reviews team evaluates deals and why you should trust us.

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The 6 best gaming headsets in 2021 for consoles and PC

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As the video game industry continues to grow, more and more people are gaming online via PS5, PS4, Xbox, PC, and the Switch. But, not all gaming setups are created equal. For the best multiplayer experience, you’re going to want a an over-ear headset with a built-in microphone.

Thankfully, gaming headset options are plentiful. We’re no longer forced to use cheap bundled headphones with limited features. Instead, 3.5mm ports, stereo support, surround sound capabilities, and wireless connectivity abound. This means that everyone can plug in, hear better, communicate better, and be more comfortable – all while alleviating noise pollution for everyone else in your home or office.

To meet today’s gaming needs and beyond, we put together the following headset recommendations. Through hands-on testing, our picks represent the best gaming headsets you can find across a range of budgets and platforms. We’ve selected our picks based on a number of important factors, and we personally own or have thoroughly tested every headset on this list.

Here are the best gaming headsets you can buy:

The best gaming headset overall

SteelSeries Arctis 7X and 7P

The SteelSeries Arctis 7X is a versatile, comfortable, lightweight, and dependable wireless headset.

Pros: Multiplatform wireless and wired support, retractable mic, comfortable fit, strong battery life, lightweight design

Cons: Uses Micro USB cable for charging, no game/chat mix control when used on PlayStation, mobile cable has a proprietary port on the headset side

SteelSeries’ Arctis 7X, carries over several familiar options from previous models while adding some important new features. Chief among those new features is a handy USB-C dongle for convenient multiplatform wireless support. 

The dongle is compact enough to connect directly to a smartphone or Nintendo Switch when it’s in tablet mode. Thanks to the included USB-C to USB-A cable, it’s also easy to connect to larger systems, like the Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, and even a PC.

There’s a little switch on the transmitter that lets it go from Xbox mode to USB mode for everything else. The headset uses a 2.4GHz wireless connection which has a strong signal that avoids dropouts and lag.

The 40mm speaker drivers are the same ones that SteelSeries uses in more expensive headsets, and they’re not overpowering or bass-heavy. Audio performance is strong in single player and multiplayer games, letting quiet environments breathe while keeping chat audio clear.

The drivers go well with the headset’s retractable microphone which does a great job of minimizing background noise. There’s a mic mute button on the left ear cup and, when muted, a red light on the mic activates. 

Even though the headset supports just about every gaming device under the sun via wireless, it still comes with a mobile 3.5mm cable to ensure compatibility with wired devices, like a 3DS or older iPad.

On the downside, while the included dongle uses USB-C, the headset itself is charged via Micro USB, which is less convenient. Fortunately, the build quality and general feel are both top-notch.

The best gaming headset for PS5

sony pulse 3d bottom view

Sony’s Pulse 3D is wireless, seamlessly pairs with the PlayStation 5, and has helpful controls for game and chat mixing built right in.

Pros: Integration with PlayStation consoles, wireless support, game/chat mix controls, PS VR compatible, stylish design, USB-C charging, 3.5mm port

Cons: No boom mic, some questions about long term durability

To coincide with the launch of the PS5, Sony debuted the Pulse 3D. It’s a wireless headset that uses a small USB-A dongle, and it should be very familiar to gamers who owned the PlayStation Gold Wireless or Platinum Wireless headsets. 

Like those headsets, the Pulse 3D integrates seamlessly into the PlayStation ecosystem, with an onscreen UI indicating power, battery level, and volume level. The Pulse 3D also has controls on the left ear cup for setting game/chat mix, volume, power, mic mute, and even a toggle for turning mic monitoring on or off.

The Pulse 3D works with the PS5, PS4, PC, and even a docked Nintendo Switch. The performance of the drivers is similar to the PlayStation Gold headset, which I really like. Unfortunately, the invisible mic design is similar as well. It works fine, but this style just isn’t as good as a boom mic as it lets in a lot of background noise.

On the plus side, the headset achieves the rare feat of not only being compatible with PlayStation VR via its 3.5mm jack, but also actually being able to fit over the VR headset. It’s a nice match for the DualSense controller as well since the Pulse 3D can charge over USB-C. 

When it comes to aesthetics, the Pulse 3D has been designed to complement the PS5, as it perfectly matches the color scheme and general style of the console and its controllers. Coupled with the headset’s solid performance and easy integration, this look helps make the Pulse 3D an ideal fit for PS5 owners.

The best gaming headset for Xbox

xbox headphones

Microsoft’s official Xbox Series X|S wireless gaming headset can connect to Xbox consoles without a dongle and supports multipoint connection.

Pros: Xbox Wireless radio support without dongle, works with gaming PCs, simultaneous support for Xbox and Bluetooth devices, physical dials for volume, game audio and voice chat balance, microphone mute button

Cons: No 3.5mm headphone port, plain design, lacks versatility for use with PlayStation and Switch

Xbox consoles use a proprietary radio signal to give wireless headsets and controllers a better connection than Bluetooth offers. Microsoft’s official Xbox headset isn’t the only set that works with this signal, but it is one of the most affordable while offering quite a few premium features.

The headset also works with Bluetooth devices, and you can even pair it with an Xbox and Bluetooth device at the same time, so you can listen to music from your phone or computer while still hearing game audio and voice chatting on Xbox Live.

The Xbox Series X|S headset feels lightweight but sturdy; the headband contains a steel band with foam cushioning, while the ear cushions use polyurethane leather and foam. Like the PlayStation 3D Pulse headset, the Xbox wireless headset features two dials on either ear cup, allowing you to control the volume and manage the balance between your game audio and voice chat. The microphone can be folded around the left ear cup when not in use and features a physical mute button as well.

The Xbox Series X|S headset has an average battery life lasting about 15 hours, and can be used in wired mode with a USB-C cable on Windows computers.

The best budget wired gaming headset

HyperX Stinger

The HyperX Cloud Stinger is the ultimate distillation of everything important in a wired headset, and it has a price that’s tough to beat.

Pros: Good build quality, comfort, and sound at an affordable price, swivel to mute mic, on-ear volume control

Cons: No mesh ear option, fixed cable

To be sure, the majority of first-time or repeat headset buys happen right around the price point where the HyperX Cloud Stinger lands. The Stinger is a wired passive stereo headset with 50mm drivers, a flip-down boom mic, swivel ear cups, a volume slider on the right ear, and a fixed in-line volume control. 

It’s suitable for connecting to PS5/PS4 controllers, Xbox controllers, the Switch, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and most anything modern with a 3.5mm jack. Unlike many nicer and more expensive headsets, the HyperX Cloud Stinger isn’t impedance hungry. This means it works fine connected to a PlayStation DualShock 4 controller, but does still have some headroom for improved performance with a better source.

When it comes to HyperX and its headsets, the company owes much of its reputation to the imperfect but still stellar HyperX Cloud. With the Cloud Stinger, HyperX has taken almost everything that made the Cloud great and put it in a lighter, more essential, and more original package.

The build of the Stinger is light but solid, and the headset is comfortable while having a sedate look. It’s a purposeful headset that should satisfy the majority of users looking for something wired to connect right to the headset jack. When HyperX made the Cloud Stinger, it made sure that anyone trying to dip their toes into gaming headsets would have a quality option.

The best wireless gaming headset for the money

SteelSeries Arctis 1 wireless headset for xbox

The SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox makes impressive wireless performance affordable for Xbox, PlayStation, PC, and Switch buyers.

Pros: Painless multiplatform wireless support with good sound, strong mic, excellent battery life

Cons: No chat/game mix controls on headset, headset and mic don’t sit well when not being worn

The Arctis 1 Wireless was pretty incredible when it debuted as a PlayStation-focused headset, and the Arctis 1 Wireless for Xbox is not only just as good, it’s better. That’s because the new model adds support for Xbox platforms.

There’s a little switch on the USB-C wireless dongle. Buyers can simply flip the switch to Xbox for Xbox platforms, and to USB for everything else. The small USB-C dongle is also compatible with the Nintendo Switch (both in dock and tablet mode) and even some smartphones (including my LG V40) for 2.4Ghz wireless audio. 

Under the hood, the Arctis 1 features speaker drivers taken from the main Arctis line. This helps the Arctis 1 provide well-tuned sound out of the box. The mic is also excellent, with performance so good it’s likely to draw compliments from fellow players. The battery life is stellar as well. It’s rated at 20+ hours, and boy, does it last.

While the headset is wireless on just about every recent console, the device also retains a 3.5mm jack and cable. This means that it can be used on a ton of devices in wired mode. That extra bit of functionality is a handy feature, and it doesn’t seem to make the headset bulkier, heavier, or more expensive.

The best audiophile gaming headset

Sennheiser Game One

The comfortable, open design of the Sennheiser Game One headset offers the high-quality sound performance most audiophiles crave.

Pros: Open-back design, comfortable, good mic, fabric pads, won’t break the bank, on-ear volume wheel and flip to mute mic, detachable cable

Cons: Needs a Mixamp rather than controller jack for optimal performance, will leak sound

Combining a gaming headset with audiophile performance is tricky. The audio punch that we seek when we game isn’t necessarily the same tuning we’d enjoy when listening to music. And often, the microphones on certain audiophile headsets just don’t impress. 

Fortunately, I’ve found the Sennheiser Game One to be one of my favorite headsets in all aspects. What really gives it that audiophile feel is the open-back design. Open-back headphones are known for their sublime audio performance, and this design allows the ears to breathe more. With that said, open-back headsets are prone to sound leakage, so they’re not ideal if you have someone sitting within a few feet as they are sure to hear everything you hear.

The heavy duty boom mic doesn’t merely look serious, it delivers — as I can attest since it’s my choice for gaming while having a sleeping newborn in the next room. Likewise, the headset contains a volume wheel on the right ear, a satisfying click -to-mute function in the mic, and a composition of fabric, padding, and shape to achieve maximum comfort. The cabling is detachable, and this is really helpful when choosing between a long split cable on PC or a short combined cable on console.

While the comfort, feel, and quality are ever-present, to get the best sound performance, you’ll need a dedicated source such as a MixAmp or GameDAC. With that in mind, we recommend pairing the headset with an Astro Gaming MixAmp Pro TR.

Other gaming headsets we considered

Arctis 9x headset on desk

The $150 Hyper X Cloud II Wireless is an excellent wireless headset that will suit most gamer’s needs on PlayStation, PC, and Switch. It boasts an impressive 30-hour battery life, USB-C charging, and a detachable microphone with physical mute and volume controls. However, it lacks wired support, and physical controls to balance game and chat audio. Ultimately, there are more versatile choices in the $100 range, so the Cloud II Wireless ranks below our top recommendations.

The $200 SteelSeries Arctis 9X can connect wirelessly to an Xbox console without the need for a dongle, while also being able to simultaneously pair to a mobile device via Bluetooth.

The headset’s ski goggle headband is also convenient since it’s removable for cleaning or even replacement — and there are some different designs available. That said, I wouldn’t recommend walking around much while using the Bluetooth function as the Arctis 9X will tend to move around on your head.

The Arctis 9X has a retractable mic with a mute light, 40mm drivers, and reliable controls built right onto the headset. These functions include a mute toggle, volume wheel, power button, and chat/game mix controls. The battery life is rated for 20 hours, which is solid but not as good as some competing models. Another minor drawback is that the headset still uses a Micro USB connection for charging rather than USB-C.

The $270 Corsair Virtuoso RGB Wireless XT gaming headset offers an impressive set of features, including memory foam earpads, multipoint Bluetooth connection, customizable lighting, a Dolby Atmos license, and an automated sleep function that will detect when you put the headset down. Virtuoso RGB Wireless XT also boasts a wider frequency response range than competing headsets, reaching up to 40 kHZ as well as support for hi-res 24bit, 96KHz audio, but those features usually won’t come into play when gaming.

More importantly, the Virtuoso RGB Wireless XT only works in wireless mode with PlayStation consoles and PC, forcing you to use 3.5mm wired mode for Switch. Additionally, you need to use Corsair’s iCue software to make the most of the headset’s lighting and EQ features, which might be disappointing for console gamers.

The $250 SteelSeries Arctis Pro + GameDAC was previously one of our top picks but has been downgraded in favor of newer models. That said, the headset  continues to be an excellent choice, particularly for the PC and PS4/PS4 Pro. On the PS5, it loses the ability to control game/chat balance and its integrated surround sound feature, so it’s not as easy to recommend for gamers primarily using Sony’s new console.

How to pick the best gaming headset

SteelSeries Arctis 1 wireless headset

Wireless versus wired support: Determining whether you want a wireless or wired headset is one of the first decisions you’ll have to make when choosing a gaming headset. Wireless headsets are untethered by pesky cables so they’re typically more comfortable to use. Wireless headsets tend to use a 2.4GHz signal in order to avoid the audio lag associated with Bluetooth. 

With that said, since many home Wi-Fi networks also use 2.4GHz, a smaller home (like an apartment) that’s saturated with a bunch of different Wi-Fi signals can be problematic due to interfering signals. If interference is an issue for your setup, then a wired headset is probably a better choice. Wired headsets also don’t require charging, and are generally compatible with any system that has a headset jack. 

Platform support: With gaming spread over PC, consoles, and even tablets and smartphones, it’s important to know which platform you plan to use your headset with. Though most wired models offer compatibility across different devices, platform support is especially important to keep in mind when choosing a wireless headset.

Xbox consoles, in particular, only support specific wireless headsets. Meanwhile, the Switch has a headphone jack on the console but not on the Joy-Cons or the Pro Controller. Pay close attention to the connection specifications and compatibility details listed by the manufacturer in order to ensure that the headset you choose has the necessary wired or wireless connections for your devices. 

Comfort and build: A good headset should be comfortable to use for hours on end, but that comfort will be influenced by both the ambient temperature and the size of a user’s head. These factors are nearly as important as the design of the headset itself. Generally speaking, if a headset doesn’t feel comfortable to wear after a few gaming sessions (around two hours each), then it’s likely a poor fit. The more durable headsets tend to use stronger materials, but that means that they’re likely to be heavier. On the other hand, plastic headsets are lighter but more fragile. 

Surround Sound: One attractive feature that’s pretty common in nicer gaming headsets is surround sound. This effect is usually done by processing sound to the left and right drivers to simulate the effect of audio coming from multiple directions. Though not true surround sound in the strictest sense, these simulated effects can create a more immersive experience.

In addition to surround sound options included with certain headsets, both the PC and Xbox One have an array of virtualization solutions (like Windows Sonic) to enable surround sound on any headset model. Meanwhile, the PS5 features Sony’s Tempest 3D audio tech. Of course, it’s worth noting that regular stereo sound is still quite good on many platforms, including PS4 and Switch. Stereo sound also tends to be less laggy since it isn’t as processed as surround sound. 

Price: Most gamers should be satisfied with a headset in the $50 to $150 price range. That said, if a headset is being used every day, it becomes difficult to expect years of use out of cheaper models. Frequent users can expect their headsets to wear out a bit faster than their controllers. Headsets that cost $300 or more usually include extra features, some of which can help extend their lives, such as replaceable earpads and even batteries. 

The best deals on gaming headsets from this guide

Whether you’re a pro gamer or a first-time player, a quality headset is essential for sprucing up your interactive experience. Not only will a good pair help give you an edge during gameplay, they will save those around you from hearing your game. 

Gaming headset deals are scattered throughout the year. The best time to shop for one is Black Friday or Cyber Monday, since they’re popular gifts. Discounts on our SteelSeries picks rarely exceed $15, but the affordable HyperX Cloud Stinger drops by up to $20 during the holidays. 

Below, you’ll find deals on our picks for the best gaming headset, from top brands:

Cloud Stinger Gaming Headset (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

Read more about how the Insider Reviews team evaluates deals and why you should trust us.

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The 5 best Alexa-enabled speakers in 2021 for home use, on-the-go listening, and TV audio

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Amazon Alexa is a reliable and feature-packed smart home assistant. Alexa can answer your questions, enable hands-free voice control, set alarms, and even connect with other compatible smart devices.

Amazon’s Echo speakers all feature Alexa built-in, including the fourth-generation Echo and Echo Dot. Amazon has also partnered with dozens of other manufacturers to bring Alexa to speakers outside the Echo brand, including models from Sonos, Yamaha, Ultimate Ears, and more.

These third-party models deliver the same key digital assistant functions and skills you’d expect from an Alexa device, while offering buyers more options when it comes to sound performance and design. For instance, there are portable Alexa speakers for outdoor use, and there are even soundbars with Alexa for customers who want a smart speaker in their home theater.

Though Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot remain top choices for their convenience and reliability, third-party Alexa speakers could be a better solution for specific features.

Here are the best Alexa speakers of 2021:

The best Alexa speaker overall

Amazon Echo (4th generation)

The latest Amazon Echo features Alexa, an updated design, improved sound, and Zigbee integration.

Pros: Affordable, integrated Zigbee hub, 3.5mm port, modern design

Cons: Audio performance not as good as more expensive speakers

The fourth-generation Echo is Amazon’s best Alexa speaker yet. For most buyers, it delivers the perfect balance between audio quality, price, and smart-home capabilities. 

The new Echo is shaped like a sphere instead of a cylinder. This gives the speaker a unique design that makes it look like a glowing orb.  

Audio quality has also been improved compared to older models thanks to the addition of a second tweeter and new front-firing placement. That said, sound performance still can’t match the quality you’d get on a Sonos speaker. 

Full Alexa capabilities are integrated for easy access to Amazon’s reliable digital assistant. A blue light glows on the bottom when Alexa is listening. Amazon also implemented its new, first-generation AZ1 neural edge processor to enable more responsive performance.

A microphone mute button is included for people concerned about privacy. On the downside, Amazon still uses your voice recordings by default to help improve Alexa’s functionality, but you can disable this from the Alexa app.

Buyers who want easy compatibility with other smart devices should like the Echo’s Zigbee hub integration. Zigbee is a smart-home standard that accessories use to pair with one another. A third-generation Echo would have to talk to a separate smart-home hub to access some devices, like light bulbs. The latest Echo can create a direct link. 

The best high-end Alexa speaker

sonos one

The Sonos One is perfect for the serious audiophile, and it also supports both Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as Apple AirPlay 2.

Pros: Great sound quality, well-designed, Google Assistant support in addition to Alexa, AirPlay 2

Cons: A little expensive, doesn’t support Bluetooth streaming

The Sonos One is one of the best smart speakers out there today. The device works with Alexa, to be sure, but it also has Google Assistant support and it works with Apple’s AirPlay 2 for users of iOS devices. In other words, while you may buy the speaker for its Alexa support, you’ll be getting a ton of other smart features, too.

You can ask Alexa questions, have her play music, set reminders, buy items on Amazon, check your shipments, control your compatible smart home gadgets, and more on the Sonos One. On top of that, you can access third-party services like Spotify.

Smart features aside, what really sets the Sonos One apart from Amazon’s own lineup of Echo speakers is its excellent sound quality. It boasts plenty of volume without distorting, plus it delivers solid bass response for a speaker this size. There’s also plenty of clarity in the high end, helping things like cymbals shimmer, and vocals cut through a mix.

If you can afford to buy two, you can get an even more balanced and sweet sound with stereo pairing.

On the downside, unlike the Echo, there’s no Bluetooth support or auxiliary port, so it’s a closed system that locks you into the Sonos ecosystem. The speaker is also a little more expensive than some of the others on this list, but it earns its higher price by delivering better audio performance than those cheaper options.

The best portable Alexa speaker

UE Blast speaker in use.
UE Blast portable speaker with Alexa

The UE Blast sounds good and has a nice design, plus it’s one of the only portable speakers with Alexa.

Pros: Good battery life, nice sound quality for size, relatively durable, waterproof

Cons: Alexa needs Wi-Fi to properly function

If you’re looking for an Alexa-enabled speaker that you can take on the go, then the UE Blast speaker is an ideal buy. In addition to Alexa support, the speaker features an integrated battery for portable use and it also boasts a waterproof design.

Alexa support does require internet so you’ll need to be in range of a Wi-Fi connection to use the speaker’s digital assistant. But, as long as you’re connected, you’ll get all the essential Alexa features you’d expect, including hands-free control and most digital assistant functions.

The speaker is also well-built for portable use with a solid 12 hours of battery life. Plus, it carries a water-resistance rating of IP67. That makes it great for taking to the beach without having to worry about it getting too wet.

On top of that, the speaker also sounds great for its size, offering decent bass response and a nice, cutting sound to deliver 360-degree music no matter where you are. That said, low frequencies aren’t as deep as you’d get on a larger speaker. Bluetooth is integrated as well so you can easily connect a mobile device to stream music from.

The best Alexa soundbar

Yamaha YAS 209 soundbar lifestyle

Yamaha’s YAS-209 delivers great sound for movies and TV, and it features built-in Alexa support for hands-free control.

Pros: Room-filling sound, wireless subwoofer, diverse connection options, sleek appearance

Cons: No onboard display, doesn’t support Dolby Vision passthrough

The YAS-209 soundbar mixes home theater audio quality with Alexa features for a reasonable price. This space-saving audio option makes for a great upgrade to most built-in TV speakers, and it can double as a digital assistant.

The 2.1-channel soundbar delivers impressive stereo playback and the system includes a wireless subwoofer for dedicated bass. DTS Virtual:X technology is also included for a simulated surround sound effect. 

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity are included as well for simple music streaming. Wired connections to a TV can be handled via the bar’s HDMI ARC or optical audio ports. An additional HDMI port is also included to connect a media device, like a Blu-ray player or game console.

Of course, the YAS-209 also boasts integrated support for Amazon Alexa thanks to built-in microphones, enabling digital assistant features and hands-free control for functions like volume. 

Though we think the YAS-209 is the best soundbar with Alexa built-in, buyers who want a soundbar with multiple digital assistants and a more compact design should also consider the Sonos Beam. Its home theater performance isn’t as good as the Yamaha, but it includes Alexa and Google Assistant support so you can choose which platform you want to use.

The best budget Alexa speaker

Amazon Echo Dot 4th gen

The Echo Dot is the best speaker for people who want a compact and affordable Alexa device.

Pros: Small, smart, affordable

Cons: Audio quality isn’t as good as the standard Echo

The Echo Dot is the best entry-level Alexa speaker you can buy. For around half the cost of the standard Echo, you get a tiny, orb-shaped gadget that can answer questions, play music, set alarms, control other smart devices, and more. 

The Echo Dot’s best feature is definitely its small size. You can stick it just about anywhere, and because it has the same microphone array as its bigger siblings, it won’t have a problem hearing your requests. Whether you’re going for subtlety or want the best way to dip your toe into the smart-home ocean, this is your best choice.

The latest Dot features a spherical design and slightly improved sound quality over the previous third-generation model, but overall performance is very similar. There’s currently only about a $10 difference between both models, so we recommend the newer version. That said, if you prefer the puck-shaped look and want to save some money, the third-gen Echo Dot is still a good buy.

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The 5 best soundbars of 2021 for clear and crisp TV audio

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

A soundbar is the perfect solution for anyone who wants a space-saving and budget-friendly way to upgrade their TV audio experience. Even the best TVs on the market tend to have lackluster sound. After all, TVs are focused on picture quality, so built-in speakers are usually more of an afterthought than a priority.

A good soundbar can provide better audio with cleaner highs, richer mids, and deeper low frequencies. Soundbar models are available at all price points, including solid entry-level options with simple stereo playback and more expensive models with surround sound capabilities.

Some flagship soundbar systems include support for advanced home theater formats like Dolby Atmos, enabling sound effects that come from all directions – even above your head. Voice control and wireless music streaming are also supported on select models.

Whether you just want a simple upgrade from your TV’s wimpy speakers or you want a full home theater experience, we’ve selected the best soundbar options for a variety of needs.

Here are the best soundbars of 2021

The best soundbar overall

Yamaha YAS-209 Soundbar

Yamaha’s YAS-209 delivers great sound and Amazon Alexa for a reasonable price.

Pros: Easy setup, Alexa support, room-filling sound, diverse connection options, sleek appearance, smartphone app makes fine-tuning a breeze

Cons: No onboard display, doesn’t support Dolby Vision passthrough

The YAS-209 soundbar offers the perfect blend of audio quality, features, ease of use, design, and price. This is the type of space-saving audio option that most people think of when shopping for a soundbar, and it makes for a great upgrade to most built-in TV speakers.

Despite being a modest two-piece kit, the YAS-209’s most impressive feat is its ability to fill a room with great audio. Though still a 2.1-channel design, the hardware pairs with audio-processing smarts like DTS Virtual:X for a simulated surround sound effect. It’s not as convincing as having actual rear speakers, but Yamaha’s processing does a solid job of creating an immersive experience.

The YAS-209’s specs include HDMI ARC, a technology that allows compatible TVs to control volume adjustments of connected devices, as well as an extra HDMI-in port that supports 4K HDR passthrough (but not Dolby Vision). A Toslink optical audio port is also featured for TVs without HDMI, and you can also wirelessly stream music from a mobile device via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

The YAS-209 even includes integrated support for Amazon Alexa thanks to built-in microphones, enabling digital assistant features and hands-free control for functions like volume.

The best budget soundbar

A group of people watching TV in a furnished living room using the V-Series V21d-J8 soundbar

With a simple design and solid audio performance, Vizio’s V-Series soundbar is a great pick for budget buyers.

Pros: Affordable, easy to set up, ample sound for basic needs, Bluetooth, HDMI ARC port

Cons: Doesn’t support Wi-Fi, bass not as powerful as soundbar models with a separate subwoofer

Vizio got its start as a budget brand, so it’s no surprise the company still excels at affordable soundbars. This includes its entry-level V-Series V21d-J8, which serves as the successor to our previous pick in this category, the SB362An-F6

Like its predecessor, the V21d-J8 is a convenient 2.1-channel bar with built-in woofers, meaning you’ll get two main channels for pure stereo sound and a little extra bass without the need for a separate subwoofer unit.

Standing out from the typical boxy design we see on most soundbars, this Vizio model has angled sides that slope down to create a hexagonal profile. Buttons for various controls rest on the side of the bar, including volume, source, Bluetooth audio, and the all-important power button.

Vizio employs audio technology from DTS and Dolby to enhance playback, including DTS Virtual:X. This feature can create a virtual soundfield from the device’s 2.1-channels, resulting in simulated surround and height effects. Processing like this is never as convincing as a genuine multi-speaker system, but it can provide an enhanced soundstage, especially for the price.

As a welcomed upgrade over the previous model, the V-Series now includes an HDMI ARC port for easy connection to modern smart TVs. You also get an optical audio port if your TV doesn’t have an HDMI connection, and you can hook other sources up directly with a 3.5mm auxiliary port.

For wireless playback, the soundbar also supports Bluetooth, making it easy to stream music from your smartphone. An included remote handles all your needs for adjusting volume, accessing basic equalizer options, and toggling various modes.

The best smart soundbar

Sonos Beam

With the Sonos Beam, your living room becomes the center of a blissful smart home.

Pros: Offers solid sound, your choice between Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, blends seamlessly into the Sonos family, AirPlay 2 support, compact build

Cons: Lacks Bluetooth audio streaming, no DTS support

The Sonos Beam is a bit different from other options on this list. While positioned as a home theater device, it can’t quite match the audio performance of bigger soundbars. It still sounds solid, but it’s really the Beam’s smart features and multi-room audio capabilities that make it so appealing.

The Beam can work with other Sonos products to facilitate a fully wireless multi-room audio setup. It syncs with other Sonos devices using a Bluetooth LE connection before letting Wi-Fi take over the data transmission duties. This means you can’t stream tunes via Bluetooth, but you can access many of your favorite services through the Sonos app to play music over a Wi-Fi connection.

The Sonos Beam’s other claim to fame is built-in support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. With five far-field microphones in play, you can choose which assistant you’d like to use to issue hands-free voice commands, manage music playback, control your smart home, and more. There’s also native AirPlay 2 support for Apple users, and the Beam even includes an Ethernet port for those times when Wi-Fi just isn’t cooperating.

Despite its lack of deep audio processing technologies (it supports standard PCM stereo and basic Dolby Digital sources), the Sonos Beam etches out a nice spot in its niche for those who want a simple all-in-one soundbar solution with wireless music playback, HDMI, and voice assistant capabilities. 

The best soundbar with Dolby Atmos

Vizio Elevate soundbar lifestyle

Vizio’s Elevate soundbar offers a 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos experience with performance that rivals many full-fledged home theater systems.

Pros: Full 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos support, DTS:X capabilities, unique rotating speakers, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

Cons: No voice assistant built-in, separate satellites and larger subwoofer take up more space than typical soundbar systems

When it comes to Atmos-capable soundbar systems, few options are as immersive as Vizio’s Elevate soundbar. It’s pricier than standard soundbar packages, but it’s still one of the most affordable ways to enjoy a full 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos experience.

Dolby Atmos, if you aren’t aware, is an audio format that allows soundbars to produce height effects, adding an extra layer of immersion to movies. For instance, when rain falls from the sky or a helicopter flies overhead, you can actually hear the sound coming from above.

The Elevate offers left, center, and right channels in the soundbar itself, along with two upward firing channels that bounce sound off your ceiling to create overhead effects. Two separate rear speakers with their own upward firing drivers are also included, along with an 8-inch wireless subwoofer.

The front height speakers also feature a unique rotating mechanism that allows them to automatically tilt up or forward depending on what you’re listening to. When they’re up you can hear overhead effects. When they’re down, they help to create a wider front soundstage. 

Unlike older Vizio soundbars, the Elevate even includes support for DTS:X. Like Atmos, DTS:X provides height effects on certain Blu-ray discs. DTS:X titles are less common than Dolby Atmos, but it’s still a nice option to have.

The Elevate‘s relatively large size and separate rear speakers make it less space-saving than most soundbar options, but the system provides audio performance that’s nearly on par with many genuine home theater packages.

The best media player soundbar

Roku Streambar front

The Roku Streambar is a compact soundbar and streaming video player in one convenient device.

Pros: Affordable, solid stereo playback, compact design, 4K HDR video streaming, includes a voice remote

Cons: Audio performance isn’t as good as bigger soundbars, doesn’t include a separate subwoofer, no Dolby Vision support

If you happen to be in the market for a soundbar and a new streaming media player, then the Roku Streambar could be the convenient all-in-one device you’re looking for. Not only is the Streambar smaller than any other soundbar on our list, but it also includes integrated support for streaming all your favorite video apps.

When it comes to audio performance, the 2.0-channel soundbar features four 1.9-inch full range drivers for basic stereo playback. There are no fancy virtualization options for simulated surround sound, and there’s no included subwoofer for extra bass — but the Streambar sounds surprisingly engaging for a device its size.

To be clear, you won’t get the range or separation you’d get on a bigger soundbar model, but the Streambar still offers a nice upgrade over most built-in TV speakers. Its compact design also makes it an ideal fit for apartments, dorms, and bedrooms.

As a media player, the Streambar provides access to Roku’s extensive library of channels, including popular services like Netflix, Disney Plus, Prime Video, Hulu, and more. You also get support for up to 4K playback with high dynamic range using the standard HDR10 format.  

Roku’s handy voice remote is included as well, enabling you to easily search for content. Though digital assistant functionality isn’t built-in, the bar is compatible with separate Alexa and Google Assistant devices.

There are other soundbars on the market with built-in video playback, but the Streambar‘s compact size, affordable price tag, and reliable Roku interface make it our favorite of the bunch.

What you should look for in a soundbar

Yamaha YAS 209 soundbar lifestyle

When choosing a soundbar, there are several key factors you should pay close attention to.

Speaker channels

In particular, it’s important to note how many audio playback channels a soundbar supports. Channels essentially refer to audio separation, letting you know how many directions sound can from with your device.

Channel specifications are listed as a string of up to three numbers separated by decimal points. The first number represents how many standard ear-level channels are included (left, right, center, surrounds). The second number indicates if the device includes a dedicated low-frequency channel or separate subwoofer for extra bass. The final number indicates how many height channels are included for Dolby Atmos support.

A few common channel configurations found on soundbars include:

  • 2.0-channel: This kind of soundbar includes two channels for basic left and right stereo audio separation.
  • 2.1-channel: Like the above but includes a built-in low-frequency channel or a separate subwoofer unit for dedicated bass. 
  • 3.1-channel: In addition to left, right, and low-frequency channels, a 3.1-channel soundbar also features a center channel for dialogue when watching movies.
  • 5.1-channel: Soundbars with more than three channels step things up through the addition of surround sound. These extra channels can be simulated via special acoustic and virtualization techniques, or they can be physically added through separate satellite speakers meant to be placed behind or to the side of your listening position.
  • 5.1.2-channel and above: Soundbars that have a third channel designation include support for Dolby Atmos and/or DTS:X audio. This means they feature special virtualization or upfiring speaker drivers designed to simulate the effect of sound coming from above. The final number in the sequence specifies how many overhead channels are included.  

Buyers who just want a simple upgrade from their TV’s integrated audio will likely be satisfied with a compact 2.0 or 2.1 soundbar system. If you’re looking for a more complete home theater experience, however, you’ll want to opt for a 3.1 system or above.

Wired connections

Beyond channel support, connectivity is another key factor you should look at when buying a soundbar. Most include standard wired audio ports for connecting to a TV or other media device. The most common connections are Toslink optical and HDMI ARC.

Many soundbars also feature video passthrough capabilities via one or more additional HDMI ports. This allows you to connect a separate media device, like a Blu-ray player, to the soundbar via its HDMI in. The HDMI out connection from your soundbar to your TV then allows the media device’s video to appear on your display.

Wireless connectivity

In addition to wired ports, most soundbars also now support wireless connectivity, including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. These features enable easy music streaming from a mobile device or music service like Spotify, Tidal, or Apple Music.

Some wireless soundbar models also support multi-room audio playback, enabling them to pair with other audio products throughout your home. Popular multi-room connectivity formats include Yamaha MusicCast, Apple AirPlay 2, DTS Play-Fi, Sonos, and more. In order to pair your soundbar with another multi-room audio product, both devices will need to include support for the same multi-room format.  

Smart features

Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant functionality are becoming more common as well, giving select soundbars integrated hands-free voice control and digital assistant support. This is an especially nice feature to have for buyers who don’t already own a smart speaker.

A few soundbar models even include integrated video streaming capabilities. Though a dedicated streaming stick or box will still offer the best performance, a media player soundbar can be a convenient purchase for people who don’t have a smart TV.

The best deals on soundbars from this guide

Vizio Elevate Dolby Atmos soundbar

Soundbars go on sale every week, but some discounts are better than others. Though we tend to see the best prices during events like Black FridayCyber Monday, and Amazon Prime Day, many retailers offer worthwhile deals throughout the year.

Below, we’ve rounded up the best deals currently available on some of our top soundbar recommendations, so you’ll be sure you’re getting a great value.

YAS-209 Soundbar (small, Preferred: Amazon)Elevate 5.1.4 Soundbar (small, Preferred: Amazon)Streambar 2020 (small, Preferred: Amazon)

Read more about how the Insider Reviews team evaluates deals and why you should trust us.

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The 7 best cheap headphones in 2021 – all under $50

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Audiophiles will happily spend a ton of money on high-end headphones, but most people don’t want to drop several hundred dollars on a pair. Even audio enthusiasts will admit that inexpensive headphones have come a long way in recent years.

In the budget-friendly range, you shouldn’t get into the weeds with technical specifications like frequency response – these are more of a concern with high-end gear. At lower price points, your primary considerations should be durability and sound quality: Your headphones should be well-built enough to withstand regular use and should offer good sound for casual listening.

With these criteria in mind, we’ve selected the best affordable headphones you can get right now. Our top picks include a variety of styles, like over-ear, on-ear, wireless, wireless earbuds, and gaming headphones.

Here are the best cheap headphones you can buy:

The best cheap headphones overall

headphones bluetooth

Bluetooth headphones can be hit or miss, but the wireless Mpow 059 offer a surprising level of comfort and sound quality at an incredible price point.

Pros: Folding design, sound is surprisingly good for a pair wireless headphones, cable for wired use, strong value

Cons: Wireless sound signal won’t be as deep or detailed as a wired connection, the mic is only usable in Bluetooth mode

One of the most popular applications for Bluetooth connectivity is headphones. In the past, wireless headphones have been rather hit or miss, but today’s Bluetooth headphones, like the top-rated Mpow 059, are head and shoulders above those of yesteryear.

In terms of design, the Mpow 059 don’t re-invent the wheel. They feature two 40mm neodymium magnet drivers and a full-size over-ear design with rotating padded ear cups and an adjustable cushioned headband. The 059 also include a convenient built-in mic for hands-free calling when synced to your phone, and the earpieces fold inwards for added portability.

What sets the Mpow 059 apart from other inexpensive headphones is that what they do, they do quite well, delivering good wireless sound along with a sleek design and solid build. One really nice touch is that you can actually use the Mpow 059 as wired headphones with the included cable. When used wirelessly, the Mpow 059 draw power from an integrated 420mAh battery for around 13 hours of juice.

For this price range, the Mpow 059 headphones represent an excellent value given their sound quality, great design, and wireless convenience.

The best cheap true wireless earbuds

JLab Audio JBuds Air

The JLab Audio JBuds Air offer a truly wireless design, are relatively comfortable, and sound pretty good too.

Pros: Well designed, great sound, very inexpensive

Cons: Buttons can be tricky, some connectivity issues

True wireless earbuds have become increasingly popular over the past few years, and thankfully, there are some great options out there on a budget. The JLab Audio JBuds Air offer a comfortable, secure fit, great sound, and a very reasonable price tag.

The headphones have plenty of bass response, a decently tuned midrange, and solid clarity in the high end, especially for a pair of headphones in this price range. 

The earbuds are pretty comfortable, too. While they’re not as reliable at staying in your ears as the company’s more expensive headphones, they’re still good at staying put during day-to-day use. And, you’ll get a battery life of six hours on a single charge, and the battery case will get you an extra 18 hours, bringing the total to 24 hours. 

The JLab Audio JBuds Air aren’t perfect. Some reviewers found the buttons were a little tricky to use, and that they sometimes remained connected to your phone even in the battery case. Still, considering the price, those issues are relatively minor. — Christian de Looper

The best cheap wired headphones

Audio Technica ATH M20x 1

If you’re looking for a well-made pair of entry-level headphones that sound great, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x are more than up to the task.

Pros: Well-made, comfortable, great sound for the price, sturdy 3.5mm cable comes with a 6.3mm adapter

Cons: Bass response is lacking compared to more expensive models

Audio-Technica is one of the biggest names in the world of studio-quality headphones. The company offers a big lineup of professional-grade cans that will set you back hundreds of dollars, but it also makes a variety of affordable alternatives, including the ATH-M20x over-ear headphones.

The ATH-M20x are designed to be an entry-level pair of studio headphones and they feature a full-sized over-ear design with 40mm drivers. 

They work great with phones, but when hooked up to a PC or TV, the ATH-M20x really shine. They deliver excellent sound quality in the high and mid ranges, with sufficient impedance to eliminate annoying interference (like faint buzzing) when hooked up to your electronics. The sound is clear, crisp, and accurate, but don’t expect super-deep bass.

The cushioned headband and leatherette-covered padded ear cups are comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, and the cups also provide good noise isolation that filters out the majority of ambient sounds and won’t bother others around you unless you’re really cranking up the volume.

The ATH-M20x could be considered the little sibling of Audio-Technica’s ATH series, as these are essentially a budget-friendly alternative to the M40x and M50x — two highly rated headphones that cost more. But, for about half the price of the M40x, the ATH-M20x are an incredible value.

The best cheap on-ear headphones

Koss Porta Pro 2

If you’re looking to ditch your earbuds for something beefier but still portable, then look no further than the Koss PortaPro.

Pros: Impressive sound quality for size, lightweight and comfortable, folding design is super-portable

Cons: The on-ear design doesn’t isolate noise

When it comes to portable on-ear headphones, one pair stands above the rest: The famous Koss PortaPro. The PortaPro have been around for decades and have earned something of a legendary status among the head-fi crowd. This fame is owed to their impressive output relative to their small size and low cost. They’re not going to put out the same deep sound as a pair of over-ear studio headphones, but the PortaPro nonetheless punch well above their weight in the audio department.

The on-ear pads are connected to a slim, flexible metal headband. This headband features a simple slide adjustment, and the plastic ear pieces fold inwards for portability. The lightweight construction might take some getting used, but the PortaPros are surprisingly durable.

The PortaPro also shine when it comes to sound quality. The lows, mids, and highs are all punchy and responsive. Just bear in mind that the on-ear design won’t isolate noise as well as over-ear headphones. If you like to crank the volume, others are going to hear it.

The Koss PortaPro might just be the perfect pair of travel headphones and they’re a solid value. If you’re willing to pay a bit more, you can even buy a version with Bluetooth support for wireless listening.

The best cheap gaming headphones

HyperX Cloud Stinger

Kingston’s excellent HyperX Cloud Stinger offers everything you need for intense gaming sessions without cutting corners.

Pros: Outperforms similar headsets in its price range, comfortable design, good audio and microphone quality, compatible with all modern gaming platforms

Cons: The microphone folds up but cannot be removed

Gaming headsets have something of a bad rap among the audiophile community. Yet, these headsets have improved considerably in recent years, with brands like Kingston releasing impressive models, like the excellent HyperX Cloud series.

Our pick, the Cloud Stinger, is Kingston’s budget-focused HyperX model. One of the reasons gaming headsets get the side-eye from audio enthusiasts is because the built-in mic means that makers have to pack more electronics into the housing, potentially causing sound quality to suffer. The Cloud Stinger doesn’t skimp on hardware, however, with beefy 50mm directional drivers that deliver big sound.

The drivers are contained in large rotating memory foam ear cups that are comfortable enough for hours of gaming. The padded headband is adjustable via a steel slider, and while the rest of the headphone housing is polymer, it feels durable without being too heavy.

Although the drivers are large, they’re fairly basic, and the sound quality is very good but not mind-blowing. You’re simply going to have to spend a lot more money if you want super-detailed studio-quality sound. The directional drivers make it easy to pick up in-game environmental details and they also isolate noise very well.

The microphone feels very sturdy but you can’t remove it when you’re just using the Stinger as normal headphones. It simply folds up out of the way. For the price, however, it’s hard to find fault with the HyperX Cloud Stinger.

The best cheap wireless earbuds

iFrogz

The iFrogz Impulse Duo headphones deliver good sound quality for the price.

Pros: Excellent design, affordable, Bluetooth connection

Cons: The sound quality isn’t as good as other options on this list

Besides sounding pretty good for the price, the reason iFrogz Impulse Duo earbuds made the cut over all the other budget earbuds we’ve tried is their design.

The dual driver construction is what gives these earbuds an audio-edge over the competition. But mostly, these earbuds succeed where most Bluetooth models fail: Instead of having all of their technology built into an unwieldy dongle that hangs off the cable connecting both buds, iFrogz built it all into a magnetic clip.

Clip the dongle onto your clothes, pop in the earbuds, and you’re ready to listen to music. In terms of audio quality, you shouldn’t expect an audiophile experience at this price point, but don’t expect a bad one, either. These are actually the upgraded version of the earbuds iFrogz previously released, and while the design is the same, time was spent in improving the sound quality.

I’ll put it to you this way. These headphones are so easy to use that they’re my go-to pair between reviews. It’s just so convenient to coil them up and pop them in my pocket after a commute. — Brandt Ranj

The best cheap wired earbuds

Panasonic ErgoFit

The Panasonic ErgoFit earbuds are about as basic as a pair of wired earbuds headphones can be, but they feature surprisingly good sound quality.

Pros: Impressive value, comfortable fit, integrated microphone and call remote

Cons: Some build quality issues, audio performance is good for the price but not on par with more expensive earbuds

If you don’t mind a fully wired design, it’s hard to ignore the value that Panasonic’s ErgoFit earbuds provide. Sure, you don’t get Bluetooth playback and you do have to deal with wires running down your ears, but when it comes to in-ear headphones in this price range, few can compete with the overall quality of the ErgoFit.

Each earbuds uses a 9mm neodymium magnet driver, and the resulting sound is very solid for the price. To be clear, you won’t get anything near audiophile-quality, but reviews from Tom’s Guide and Reviewed both note the ErgoFit’s deep bass performance. Though overall clarity is only decent, the earbuds offer a lot for very little.

The ErgoFit earbuds don’t provide much in the way of extra features, but the headphones do include an integrated microphone and call remote for easy use with smartphones. You still won’t get the convenience of a Bluetooth wireless connection, but the mic is a nice inclusion. 

Overall build quality is nothing to get excited about, but that’s to be expected for such a budget-friendly headphone model. If you want to save even more, Panasonic also has a version of the ErgoFit without the microphone and remote for an even lower price. 

What else we considered

The Soundpeats T2 wireless earbuds are incredibly affordable and sound surprisingly good for their price. They also come with active noise cancellation, but don't expect premium Bose performance.

We’d feel remiss if we didn’t mention the SoundPeats T2 wireless earbuds as an upgrade option over the JLab Audio JBuds Air if you’re willing to spend $60.

The T2 have surprisingly good sound quality and feature active noise cancellation (ANC) as the justification for their higher price tag. At $60, the T2 are an easy recommendation if you’re looking for cheap-enough wireless earbuds with ANC. You’re not getting the best noise cancellation, but it’s still better than no noise cancellation.

How to shop for headphones

WH-1000XM4 headphones lifestyle

Headphones are available in a variety of styles and sizes specifically designed to suit different needs. A large pair of over-ear headphones, for instance, can offer impressive sound quality for listening at home, but they’re not ideal for portability.

Below, we’ve detailed some common headphone types, explaining the basic advantages and disadvantages of each style. Wired and wireless options are available for all of the headphone types we’ve listed.

Over-ear headphones: This style of headphone features large ear cups that are designed to rest over your ears to create a seal around them. Over-ear headphones are typically capable of offering better sound performance and noise isolation than other headphone types. On the downside, they tend to be larger and less portable. 

On-ear headphones: Like over-ear headphones, on-ear models also feature ear cups, but instead of completely covering your ear with a seal, they simply rest on top of your ears. Though they can still provide good audio, this design makes them less suitable for isolating outside noise. However, on-ear models can be more compact than over-ear models.

Earbuds: Unlike on-ear and over-ear models, earbuds are compact headphones with separate left and right buds that can be designed to either rest just outside your ear canal or be inserted inside. In-ear buds can feature different size tips to better fit different ear shapes, allowing them to create a tight in-ear seal for better sound and noise isolation. Some earbuds feature a wire to connect the left and right buds together, while true wireless models are completely free of cables. This design makes earbuds great for portability and use with smartphones.  

Gaming headset: Designed for use with video game consoles and computers, gaming headsets include an integrated microphone for online multiplayer chat, allowing you to communicate with other players. Headsets can be on-ear or over-ear, and certain models feature support for advanced surround sound processing and 3D audio formats. Some gaming headsets are built for specific platforms while others feature universal compatibility with multiple systems. 

The best deals on budget-friendly headphones from this guide

While it’s tempting to pick up a pair of headphones for dirt cheap, it’s also easy to spend your money on a pair that doesn’t sound very good, or isn’t very comfortable. We tested several pairs of headphones to find the ones that are an especially good value.

Better still, headphones see discounts all the time; picks like the Koss Porta Pro and HyperX Cloud Stinger are usually available for $5 to $10 less than retail, year-round. You can also look forward to deeper discounts during Black FridayCyber Monday, and Prime Day. 

We’ve rounded up the best deals on budget-friendly headphones below.

059 Bluetooth Headphones Over Ear (small, Preferred: Walmart)Porta Pro (small, Preferred: Amazon)JBuds Air (small, Preferred: Walmart)Impulse Duo Headphones (small, Preferred: Amazon)Cloud Stinger Gaming Headset (small, Preferred: Amazon)

Read more about how the Insider Reviews team evaluates deals and why you should trust us.

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Read the original article on Business Insider