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This year's graduation season won't quite be a return to normal with the coronavirus pandemic still lingering. But that just provides an even bigger reason to celebrate the grads in your life with a present that they'll love, like a pair of new wireless headphones.

With a multitude of models on the market, figuring out the best headphones to gift can be tricky, but we're highlighting several of our highest-rated wireless headphones to help narrow down your gift choice this graduation season. And a few options here cost less than $100, so there are affordable gifts for those on a budget. 

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The Sony WH-1000X4 is arguably the best all-around noise-canceling headphone. While it lists for $350, it frequently sells for closer to $275. That's still expensive for a headphone, but compared to the AirPods Max at $549 it seems like a bargain. 

Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.

Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

If you;re looking for an AirPods alternative that costs a lot of less, Tribit's new Flybuds C1 are top-notch as far as inexpensive true wireless go. Not only do they sound good for their modest price, with good clarity and strong, punchy bass, but their call quality measures up well to the AirPods' with good noise reduction -- the earbuds have two microphones each -- and a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the 'buds when making a call.

Clip the instant 15%-off coupon on their Amazon product page to bring the price down to around $60.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splashproof).

If you get a tight seal (three different sized ear tips are included), 1More's ComfoBuds Pro not only sound quite good but also perform well as a headset for making calls, with three microphones in each earbud. There's a touch of presence boost in the treble and the bass packs good punch, which gives these a dynamic sound profile (they're not laid-back) and they play loud for those looking for that.

You can toggle between two levels of noise cancellation (as well as "off") using the touch controls -- and there's a pass-through transparency mode and a wind noise-reduction mode. You can also toggle through all of those modes using the companion app for iOS and Android. Battery life is rated at six hours with noise canceling on and eight hours with it off. The earbuds are IPX4 rated for water resistance, which means they're splashproof (same as the AirPods Pro). 

In short, if you don't want to spend $200 or so on the AirPods Pro, the 1More ComfoBuds Pro are a good budget alternative. Note that 1More also makes an open version of the ComfoBuds (see below) that is similar to the standard AirPods and cost around $50 (see below). This Pro version is better.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX5 rating -- withstands sustained spray).

Master & Dynamic's earlier MW07 and MW07 Plus delivered top-notch sound for true wireless, but they were a little lacking in the features department and weren't so great for making calls. The new-for-2021 MW08 offers some significant improvements, including the addition of solid noise canceling and call quality, that makes it one of the top models for 2021. Alas, it's expensive at $299.

Samsung

If your grad has a Samsung Galaxy smartphone -- or just an Android phone of some sort -- Samsung's noise-canceling Galaxy Buds Pro are geared toward Android users.

The Buds Pro are mostly impressive, although how good you think they are will ultimately depend on how well they fit your ears. The other caveat is that Samsung's new 360 Audio virtual surround feature (similar to Apple's spatial audio) only works with Samsung's latest Galaxy S21 models. I do expect that, over time, firmware upgrades will offer small improvement and we'll see some discounts sooner rather than later.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splashproof).

If your graduate doesn't already have these, they probably want them. The ultracompact, lightweight AirPods Pro feature a noise-isolating design that fits most ears securely and delivers top-notch performance for making calls, truly perfect for high school graduation gifts or college graduation gifts. (If your grad has an Android, check out the Jabra Elite 75t instead.)

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splashproof).

In many ways, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are excellent true-wireless earbuds, particularly when it comes to their sound and to their noise canceling, which is arguably the best out there right now in a set of earbuds. In performance they clearly have a leg up on Apple's best-selling AirPods Pro true wireless noise-canceling buds. However, the AirPods Pro's smaller design, somewhat more comfortable fit and superior voice-calling capabilities make it hard to declare the Bose the straight-up champ. Ultimately, it depends on what your priorities are, but your grad will appreciate either set of buds.

Read our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the long-awaited successor to Bose's QuietComfort 35 II model, may not be a quantum leap forward, but these headphones offer improved sound and noise cancellation along with top-notch headset performance for voice calls. They're a strong all-around audio performer with up to 20 hours of battery life and a more durable design than their predecessor.

Read our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

Yes, they're expensive, but the AirPods Max deliver richer, more detailed sound than lower-priced competitors from Bose and Sony. They also feature arguably the best noise canceling on the market along with premium build quality and Apple's virtual surround spatial audio feature for video watching. While they're heavy, they manage to be surprisingly comfortable, though I did have to adjust the mesh canopy headband to sit a little more forward on my head to get a comfortable secure fit when I was out walking with them. They should fit most heads well, but there will be exceptions.

Read our Apple AirPods Max review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX5 rating -- withstands sustained spray).

Bowers & Wilkins, the venerable British audio company acquired last year by Sound United, has released its first true wireless earbuds. They are well worth the wait -- if you can afford them. The new flagship noise-canceling PI7 earbuds sound terrific but cost a whopping $400. The step-down noise-canceling PI5 buds retail for $250.

Aside from stellar sound and good noise canceling, the PI7 buds have a few bonus feature that may or may not help you rationalize paying $400 for them. For starters, they're the first earbuds I've encountered where the wireless charging case converts into a transceiver, so you can plug the case into the headphone port on an airplane's inflight entertainment system and wirelessly stream audio from the case to the earbuds.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splashproof).

Yes, the Beats Powerbeats Pro's jumbo charging case is a notable drawback. But the combination of incorporating all the features that make Apple's AirPods great while delivering richer sound quality and better battery life in a wireless earbuds design that won't fall out of your ear (ear hooks for the win!) ultimately is a winning proposition for earbuds for running. Just make sure you buy these running earbuds somewhere that has a good return policy in case you're in the small minority that has ears that aren't quite a match for the buds. Note that these headphones are frequently reduced from $250 to less than $200 -- don't pay more than that if you're buying them.

Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review.