Hey folks, it’s that time of year again! I know a lot of you like myself are wondering what in the world you’re going to get for the folks on your gift list! Well if you have any music lovers or audiophiles on that list, then we have the Holiday Gift Guide for you!

In this installment of the Holiday Gift Guide For Music Lovers & Audiophiles 2021, we lay out the best hi-fi oriented gifts under $500, including the Hifiman SUNDARA, one of my all-time favorite headphones, and currently the best headphone under $500. We also list the Andover Audio Spinbase, a remarkable powered speaker for turntables. Think of it as a soundbar for your favorite vinyl record player. I use it in my office, and I think it sounds excellent despite its compact size.

This year, most consumer reporters are advising that you pick up your holiday gifts early due to supply chain issues. That means stuff like back-ups at shipping ports may keep stock from reaching stores, and give you fewer gift options if you wait until the last minute. Pick up one of our recommendations and don’t get caught short!

Also, check out our Amazon Influencer page at https://www.amazon.com/shop/hifitrends for our regularly updated list of the best Cyber Monday/Black Friday deals on Amazon.

Quick Recommendations:

A quick reference list for those in a rush…if you need more info then keep scrolling for our full impressions!

Vinyl made easy: Andover Audio Spinbase Turntable Speaker System ($299)

Great gift for: Vinyl Enthusiasts who don’t have much room to spare

For those looking to make a quick and easy jump into Vinyl records, but don’t want to sacrifice sound quality (or take up a lot of space), the $299 Andover Audio Spinbase is one of the best solutions.

The Spinbase is a compact powered speaker that’s designed for use with your favorite turntable. Although it’s small, its four-speaker array produces a crisp, room-filling sound with a ridiculously wide sweet spot (270º Sound Dispersion). Additionally, Andover’s patent-pending IsoGroove Technology makes sure none of the speaker’s vibration feeds back through the turntable.

When I first heard it, I was amazed at how big and clear the sound was, plus I was impressed at how it didn’t transfer any feedback to the turntable sitting right on top of it!

Available in either Black or White, the Spinbase has a built-in phone pre-amp, Bluetooth connectivity, plus bass and treble tone controls.

By the way, if you don’t have a stand to put the speaker on, Andover Audio also has the $199 SpinStand, which fits it perfectly. In addition, if you feel like the system doesn’t have quite enough bass, Andover makes the $299 SpinSub, which fits on the bottom of the stand and fills out the sound nicely.

Andover Audio

The perfect analog companion: Andover Audio Spindeck Turntable ($349)

Great gift for: Budding Vinyl Enthusiasts looking for a good sounding plug and play turntable

If you’re looking at the Spinbase mentioned above, but don’t know what turntable to pair with it, then Andover Audio has you covered for that too!

Their $349 SpinDeck is a plug-and-play turntable made by Pro-Ject in Europe for Andover Audio, and it has a finish that perfectly matches the Spinbase. Pro-Ject is known for making affordable hi-fi turntables that sound good, and the Spindeck is yet another example of their skill and know-how.

When I reviewed it, this turntable was super easy to set up because it came with a pre-mounted Ortofon cartridge, and had a pre-adjusted tonearm and tracking weight. All I had to do is put on the platter and belt, then plug it in. Keep in mind, there’s no built-in phono pre-amp, the Andover Spinbase your system needs to have one.

Like the Andover Spinbase, it comes in black and white, and it sits on Pro-Ject’s special decoupling feet which soaks up vibrations from the surrounding environment. Comes with a felt mat for the platter and a Gold-Plated RCA Interconnect Cable. If you’re looking for a fully automatic turntable to match the Spinbase, Andover also has the new Spindeck MAX for $599

Andover Audio

Just add Wi-Fi: iFi ZEN Stream Network Audio Transport ($399)

Great gift for: Those who play a lot of music from streaming services like TIDAL

The $399 iFi ZEN Stream is a streaming “transport”, which means it has no built-in DAC to convert digital streams to an analog signal. This is actually an advantage because it allows iFi to put all the money into providing a crystal-clear digital audio stream via Wi-Fi. Then you can buy a separate DAC (like the stellar Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200) that fits your budget and sonic preferences.

Also, keep in mind, many of the integrated amps and receivers out there already have a DAC built-in, so you can plug the ZEN Stream right into your amp’s digital input.

Then you can play music from a bunch of online audio services like TIDAL or Spotify, a Network Drive, or from a storage drive plugged into the Stream’s USB input. After listening to it for many hours, I feel this streamer has the best sound quality at its price point. It’s also very flexible, so it will be easy to integrate into your system.

If you’re looking for a similar streamer with a built-in DAC, you should check out the also excellent $599 Bluesound Node.


The best stereo receiver under $500: Cambridge Audio AXR85 ($400)

Great gift for: Those who want to put together an excellent starter hi-fi system

The $400 Cambridge Audio AXR85 is a powerhouse amplifier that provides a lot of high-current power for the money. It will give you 85W per channel at 8 Ohms and can play down to 4 Ohms if needed for demanding speakers.

This amp provided a nice clean and lively sound when I hooked up a pair of Q Acoustics 3030i Bookshelf Speakers and played some tunes from the matching AXC35 CD Player, and it sounded equally as good when I hooked up the $149 Andover Audio Songbird network streamer. The built-in Bluetooth receiver also sounded good for quick listening sessions while I worked at my desk.

The AXR85 comes in a nice matte grey finish and is equipped with a built-in phono stage for turntables, AM/FM tuner with RDS, four RCA line inputs for connecting a wide variety of components, plus two sets of loudspeaker terminals. If you want a little more power or digital inputs, you can pick up Cambridge Audio’s AXR100 Stereo Receiver for another $200 more.


A great all-rounder: Triangle Borea BR03 Hi-Fi Bookshelf Speakers ($499)

Great gift for: For those who want an affordable hi-fi speaker that can do it all

It’s hard to find a speaker under $500 that can both groove with more energetic music, and yet provide enough refinement to bring out the nuance in audiophile recordings.

Enter the $499 Triangle Borea BR03, a 2-Way Bookshelf Speaker with a 22mm (1 Inch) Silk Dome tweeter and 16cm (6 inch) midbass/woofer which does all of the above. This relatively small speaker has much of the punch and scale delivered from floor standing speakers, but at the same time, it has a lot of the midrange and image clarity offered by monitor speakers. They also have a silky smooth treble which lets them provide good detail without being fatiguing to the ear.

The Borea BR03 is offered in a wide variety of cabinet-level finishes, including White, Black, and Walnut, plus they are easy to drive, so they will make a great first pair of speakers for newbies. They are also good speakers for those looking to upgrade from a pair of old speakers without spending a ton of dough.

I thought these speakers were a great deal when I reviewed them at their original price of $549, but now you can find them at prices well under $500, which now makes them an amazing deal. These beautiful speakers will make a really nice gift, and they also match well sonically with the AXR85 receiver mentioned above.


The best headphone under $500: Hifiman SUNDARA ($350)

Great gift for: Those looking to pick up a true audiophile headphone at a value price.

If you’re looking for the best headphone under $500, then look no further. The $350 Hifiman SUNDARA has detail, soundstage, and separation that actually competes with headphones above $500, and the tuning is darn near perfect. It’s basically neutral through the midbass with a gentle lift in the bottom end to keep things interesting. This headphone matched with the $129 EarMen Eagle USB Dac or $189 iFi Hip Dac 2 will make an amazing starter headphone rig, and give any music lover tons of enjoyment.

This Planar Magnetic headphone has a relatively high sensitivity rating so you can drive it with a wide variety of devices. It also has cushy earpads and a nice suspension headphone for a great fit and excellent comfort. I currently use the SUNDARA a reference headphone for my reviews, because it is the standard by which all headphones under $500 should be measured.


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