Even if you haven’t put up your tree, opened that first bottle of Baileys or written a single Christmas card yet, it’s not too early to start Christmas shopping – especially as Black Friday deals may still be lingering.
So yule nail the art of gift-giving, we'll be bringing you a whole host of gift ideas over the coming weeks. We're kicking off with a round-up of cool products under £50, including headphones, tablets, portable music players and even… wait for it… a £20 dongle promising better smartphone sound. Because we know as much as anyone the run-up to Christmas is never too kind on your bank balance!
Tested at £50 / Best price £45 at Amazon
Knocking the multi-crowned Soundmagic E10Cs off top spot and claiming a 2017 Best Buy Award for their efforts, these budget Beyerdynamic buds join lords and burgers in doing the Byron name proud. Offering an authoritative, revealing sound, they’re the new standard-setters under £50.
Tested at £30 / Best price £30 at Argos
If the idea of streaming movies and TV shows from Netflix, NOW TV and all the UK catch-up TV services to your telly with just a couple of presses on your smartphone screen sounds appealing to you (and why wouldn’t it?), it probably would to a loved one too. Enter the reliable and easy-to-use Google Chromecast.
The 4K-supporting Chromecast Ultra may be the latest Google stick, but we don’t think it’s worth the extra £40 over this formidable original.
Spotify Premium gift card
Nothing quite says, “I couldn’t be bothered with presents” like a gift card – except, perhaps, one gifting the world’s most popular music streaming service. After all, the gift of music is one of the best presents of all. Gifting Premium means completely unlocked, ad-free access to the service’s catalogue, as well as being able to take advantage of the Spotify Connect feature.
Tested at £50 / Best price £50 at Amazon
Amazon is proving just as reliable for budget tablets as England is for drizzly winters. The latest beginner- and kid-friendly Fire tablet may not be great for camera or music playback use but, with smooth performance, good battery life, well-built (kidproof) frame and the bonus of Alexa integration, it really is a backslapping bargain at £50.
More after the break
It should be a truth universally acknowledged that we can do better than smartphone sound quality. Portable DACs (like the £400 Chord Mojo) and myriad dedicated music players help fight the good fight, but none promise “better sound” for as little as £20. This plug-in dongle’s goal: to compensate for the loss of audio quality that occurs when you lower volume. Just be prepared on Christmas morning for the inevitable: “what… what is it?”
Tested at £50 / Best price £49 at Amazon
If you know someone faced with the conundrum of not wanting to clog up their smartphone with tunes or part with hundreds of pounds for a portable music player, you could do much worse than popping this tiny, talented and hugely portable hi-res-supporting player in their stocking.
Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Mini
Unless you’ve spent the last year under a rock, you’ll have heard of wireless, voice controlled smart speakers. Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home are currently stealing the limelight from the many, many smart speaker purveyors out there, but both tech giants have smaller, cheaper and just-as-obedient offerings. They can be added to your existing sound system and perform your commands – whether that’s playing (Christmas) songs, ordering pizza or controlling smart home lighting.
Tested at £40 / Best price £39 at Future Shop
It’s the device you didn’t know you needed between your computer and DAC! Think of it as a kind of USB port purifier, acting as a passive filter to dissipate noise and interference coursing through the circuitry of your computer or laptop before the music signal enters your DAC. Audioquest’s USB-stick-sized device is a clever little critter, indeed, and an effective one at that.
Tested at £40 / Best price £36 at Amazon
Perhaps better suited to snuggle-on-the-sofa listening sessions than on-the-fly commutes, these big, closed-back AKGs bear-hug ears and deliver music very well to them while they’re at it.
If you already feel you’ve spoilt your loved one(s), you can save a fiver buying the K52s instead and spend it on chocolate coins for yourself.
Marsno iPhone 8 Plus charging case
The biggest First World Problems for owners of an iPhone (or any extortionately priced smartphone, for that matter): smashing it and/or running out of battery. To help relieve an Appleite’s chronic panic is Marsno’s iPhone 8 Plus case (also suitable for the iPhone 7 Plus too), which has 1.2mm raised lips to protect the screen for the floor and a built-in 4000mAh battery for on-the-go charging.