This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2021, our list of ideas, by topic, by recipient and by price, to help you discover the perfect gift.
Black Friday has become more of a sweeping concept spanning multiple weeks rather than an actual single-day sale. Sure, you might find a few deals on Black Friday that may be true low-price sales, but in many cases the discounts you see in the weeks leading up to Black Friday — and in the days following it — are arguably just as good or better. That means you can find bargains on some of our favorite headphones right now.
Note that I’ve only included headphones that are recommendable at their sale price. Also, prices and availability were accurate at the time of publication, but they may fluctuate.
Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds have some of the best noise-canceling out there. They also sound good. And once again, they’re being significantly discounted. Several retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy and Bose, have the QuietComfort Buds on sale for $199, matching last month’s low price.
Recently, Bose released a substantial firmware update for the earbuds, adding “full transparency with dynamic noise reduction, new modes for specific activities, Spotify Tap integration, audio controls, easier device switching — and more.” So the buds have been improving over time.
The biggest downside to the buds is that they’re a little beefy and stick out of your ears. However, a lot of people, including me, love the fit of Bose’s StayHear ear tips. Read our full review of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds.
You can also get some limited-time discounts on a few other Bose earbuds and headphones, though the deal on the QuietComfort Earbuds is arguably the best of the bunch.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II: $199 ($100 off)
Bose Sport Earbuds: $149 ($30 off)
Sony’s WF-1000XM4 may not fit everybody’s ears equally well, but if they do fit, they’re a fantastic set of true-wireless earbuds. Both their sound and noise-canceling capacity are excellent, and their performance as a headset for making calls is significantly improved over the earlier WF-1000XM3.
However, they’re normally expensive at $280, and due to high demand after their release this year, they haven’t really gone on sale (they occasionally sell for $10 off). But Amazon, Best Buy and other retailers now have them discounted to $248 — that’s $32 off their list price for a limited time.
The buds are available in two color options — black and silver (more like a sand color). As I said, they’re the best-sounding true-wireless buds. While they fit my ears well — and should fit the majority of ears well — they are a little bit on the bigger side, so they may not work for some people with smaller ears. Both Amazon and Best Buy have good return policies, however, if they don’t work for your ears. Read our full review of the WF-1000XM4.
Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review.
With Apple releasing the new AirPods 3rd Generation and Beats Fit Pro, we should see regular sales on the AirPods Pro this holiday season. Note that there’s an updated version of the AirPods Pro that like the AirPods 3 includes MagSafe wireless charging (it’s a minor upgrade, but if you have Apple’s MagSafe charger — or another magnetic wireless charger — the AirPods Pro will stick to it). Since both both the older and upgraded model are the same price right now, just make sure you get the one that’s MagSafe compatible. You might as well.
Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.
Sony’s flagship WH-1000XM4 noise-canceling headphones are once again on sale for $248, matching their low price for the year. That deal returns to Amazon and other retailers like Best Buy. Their list price is $350, but this is the second time in the last two weeks that the headphones have hit this price, and I expect the WH-1000XM4 will regularly be on sale this holiday buying season.
Note that the WH-1000XM4) were released last summer and probably won’t get an upgrade until next summer. Bose recently released its new $329 QuietComfort 45 headphones, which arguably have better noise canceling, so we expect to see discounts on this Sony moving into the holiday season.
Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.
Juan Garzon / CNET
Samsung’s bean-shaped Galaxy Buds Live were arguably the most innovative new true wireless earbuds of 2020. Like the standard AirPods, they have an open design so you don’t jam an ear tip into your ear. They’re comfortable to wear and fit my ears more securely than the AirPods. These wireless buds are discreet and basically sit flush with your ear, which reduces wind-noise while biking. I regularly use them for running and biking, and they’re great for sporting activities if they fit your ears well. But one warning: Some people won’t get a secure fit, so buy them from a retailer that has a good return policy.
They deliver good sound and work well as a headset for making calls, with good background noise reduction so callers can hear you clearly even when you’re in noisier environments. While they feature active noise canceling, it’s mild compared with the noise canceling in earbuds that have a noise-isolating design. In other words, buy them for their design and sound, not their noise-canceling features. Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review.
Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review.
Released in mid-2020, the Jabra Elite 45h was essentially billed as the best on-ear headphone for the money. While there’s nothing terribly fancy about it, it is one of the best on-ear headphone values right now, with good sound quality, a sturdy design and comfortable fit (for on-ear headphones, anyway). Additionally, this Bluetooth on-ear headphone performs well as a headset for making calls and includes a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the headphones so you don’t talk too loudly. Battery life is also good.
Sony’s new entry-level C500 earbuds were released just a few weeks ago. Now they’re already on sale in white at Amazon for $78 or $32 off their $100 list price for a limited time. They have been as low as $68 in a one-day flash sale.
While the C500’s design sensibility has more in common with the high-end WF-1000XM4 than their predecessor, the WF-XB700 Extra Bass, the C500 is not a noise-canceling model and is pretty basic as far as earbuds go, with no ear-detection sensors or transparency mode. But the buds are compact, lightweight, fit comfortably and sound good for an entry-level model.
Read our Sony WF-XB700 Extra Bass first take.
The Jabra Elite 75t earned a CNET Editors’ Choice award a couple years ago. Jabra recently released its Elite 7 Pro buds ($200), so now we’re seeing the Elite 75t at a nicely discounted in all color options.
The Momentum True Wireless II remain Sennheiser’s flagship true-wireless earbuds. But shortly after the release of the CX ($130), Sennheiser’s second-generation midrange buds, the company has followed up with the CX Plus, which adds noise canceling for $50 more ($180). They look nearly identical to the standard CX buds but have a glossy black finish on the bud’s exterior touch-sensitive surface. Cosmetically, they’re more akin to the older and slightly larger CX400BT.
I like the CX for the money and the CX Plus deliver the same excellent sound while rounding out the feature set with active noise canceling and a transparency mode. Battery life is rated at up to eight hours at moderate volume levels and these are splash-proof, with an IPX4 rating. They do stick out of your ears a fair bit.
The noise canceling isn’t quite as good as the Sony WF-1000XM4’s noise canceling, but I thought it was quite effective and headset performance was also decent, though not necessarily stellar. These are all-around solid noise-canceling earbuds that can count sound quality as their biggest strength.
Also on sale:
The second-generation Bose Frames haven’t really seen any discounts since their release (the previous versions have been on sale). Now the Tempo, Tenor and Soprano are all $30 off or $220. The Tempo has the biggest drivers and delivers the best sound, but it is a sport model. I use it for biking and running.
Read our Bose Frames review.
Beats’ Powerbeats Pro, which have been out for a few years, list for $250 but have recently dipped to $150, their lowest price yet. With Beats new Fit Pro buds arriving (read our review), we should see the Powerbeats Pro regularly on sale.
Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review.