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This story is part of Mother's Day Gift Guide 2021. CNET editors round up the hottest gadgets for Mom this year.

Once upon a time, headphones were prized for their usefulness while traveling -- be it on a plane, a train, a subway or any crowded venue in between. But with the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, the utility of headphones has flip-flopped: They're more important than ever, but now it's all about better communications or a private listening experience while you're in lockdown or quarantine, often with plenty of other family members in the same boat. 

That's why, with Mother's Day in the US fast approaching, it's a better time than ever to make sure that mom has a solid pair of headphones. And while mom deserves the best of the best, we know money is tight right now -- which is why we're including some options that are priced as low as $30. All have been fully reviewed or anecdotally tested by CNET editors.

Read more: Best Mother's Day 2020 gifts under $50  

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Samsung's Galaxy Buds Plus look essentially the same as the original Galaxy Buds, but their battery life is rated at a whopping 11 hours for music playback (up from 6), and they pack dual drivers for better sound and an additional microphone in each bud to help with external noise reduction while making calls. And now they work well on both Android and iOS. 

I was impressed with the sound. It's detailed and smooth, with deep, well-defined bass. The sound is richer and more spacious than that of the original Galaxy Buds. Well-respected Austrian audio company AKG, which Samsung acquired when it bought Harman, is behind the audio. While the original Buds were also "tuned" by AKG, these are a nice upgrade over the originals -- the features are right up there with the Jabra Elite 75t, if not even a touch better. They use Bluetooth 5.0 and support for AAC (there's now an iOS app) and Samsung's scalable codec, which is similar to aptX but is proprietary to Samsung Galaxy phones. 

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Bose's Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the long-awaited successor to its Quiet Comfort 35 II models, may not be a quantum leap forward but these wireless headphones offer slightly better sound quality, call and noise-canceling quality. These over-ear headphones cost $400, but they're strong all-around performers with up to 20 hours of battery life for listening to podcasts, favorite tunes and more. I slightly prefer the Sony WH-1000XM3's design and fit (and lower price tag), and while you can argue about which pair of headphones sounds better, one thing is certain: This device works significantly better as a headset for making calls. It's a great all-around headphone that mom will certainly appreciate.

Read our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Why buy AirPods or other name-brand truly wireless headphones, which can cost $160 and up? The Anker Soundcore Life P2 earbuds deliver solid sound quality for around $60 and are also decent for making calls.

Read our Anker Soundcore Life P2 review.

 

At first glance, the Elite 75t seem more like an evolutionary upgrade from the highly rated Elite 65t. But the updates turn out to be a little more substantial than I first thought. The Elite 75t's smaller size (the buds and case are 20% smaller than the Elite 65t's), their boosted battery life and USB-C charging are significant upgrades. And then there are the smaller changes, like the new charging case design, which uses magnets to make it easier to open and close and to keep the buds inside. While the Elite 75t aren't quite as comfortable to wear as the AirPods Pro and don't have active noise cancellation, they do sound better, with clearer overall sound and better bass definition, so long as you get a tight seal

While these are sweat-resistant, if your mom is a runner, you may want to opt for the more rugged Jabra Elite Active 75t which cost $20 more, but they're the perfect headphones for running.

Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

During the holidays last year, JLab had its JBuds Air true wireless buds on sale for $30 or $20 off their list price of $50. That was a decent deal. Now we get the Go Air, which is 20% smaller, lists for $30 and is otherwise similar to the Air. It's available in four color options.

Like the Air, for the money ($30), the Go Air is pretty good. Battery life is rated at five hours (there's an integrated USB cable on for charging), the sound better than you might expect and they're sweatproof with an IP44 rating (meaning splashproof). While there's no app for adjusting bass and treble, you can toggle through a few preset EQ settings -- JLab Signature, Balanced and Bass Boost modes -- by tapping either bud twice (yes, they have touch controls). I went with Bass Boost to take some of the edge off the treble and give them a slightly warmer sound. 

There's no top to the charging case, but the buds stay inside the case just fine thanks to magnets. To be clear, these aren't fantastic -- and they work only OK for making calls -- but you're not going to do much better for $30. That said, they did fit my ears well. I was able to get a tight seal from the largest of the three included ear tips. 

Amazon

Yes, it's true. Some moms like wired headphones and just can't quit the standard white Earpods with a Lightning connection. Well, Belkin's Rockstar is a wired Lightning in-ear headphone that has a noise-isolating design and sounds better than Apple's wired buds. You can also make calls with them, of course. They're available in black or white for $30 and there's a USB-C option for Android users. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

I liked the fit of these Danish true wireless earbuds -- they stayed in my ear well (I was able to run with them) and the case is only a little bigger than the AirPods Pro's case. They also sound good. Maybe not quite as open and airy as the AirPods Pro's sound, but the audio is clearer and it has well-defined bass. The noise cancellation is also decent -- maybe not quite on par with the AirPods Pro, but close.

The Track Air Plus works well as a headset for making calls, and a firmware upgrade did improve headset performance. That said, the noise reduction isn't quite as good as that of the AirPods Pro. People said they could hear me clearly and loudly, but the earphones didn't muffle background noise quite as well as the AirPods Pro. 

These use Bluetooth 5.0 and have support for AAC and aptX. 

Note that Libratone also makes the Track Air, which is $150 (Amazon is currently discounting it by $10 with a coupon) and doesn't have noise-canceling features but is otherwise similar.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Anker's Soundcore Life Q20 is arguably the best value in noise-canceling headphones. Not only do these over-ear headphones sound quite decent for their regular list price of $60 (they often sell for $10 less), but they're also comfortable to wear thanks to the secure ear cups.

No, the Life Q20 doesn't sound as good as premium Bluetooth headphones such as the Sony WH-1000XM3, but the audio quality pretty good, which is all you can ask for noise-canceling headphones at this price. It's fairly well balanced with a reasonable amount of clarity and plump bass that's not bloated or muddy (there's a bass boost or BassUp mode if you want an extra helping of bass with your music). Also, the noise cancellation is acceptably effective and it's solid as a headset for making calls. Battery life is good at 40 hours. A simple carrying pouch is included.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Solo Pro is the first Beats on-ear headphone to feature active noise cancellation and the first full-size Beats headphone to charge via Lightning. It uses the company's Pure Adaptive Noise Canceling (Pure ANC), "derived from the over-ear Studio3 Wireless, with updated tuning to accommodate the on-ear form factor," Beats says. With a tap of button, you can turn off that noise cancellation to save battery life or hit the button a second time to enter an audio transparency mode that allows you to hear the outside world, not just the music you're listening to.

Available in multiple color options, the headphone is equipped with six microphones, two of which are beamforming mics that are designed to hone in on your voice when making calls or talking to your voice assistant (Apple's H1 chip is on board for always-on Siri). The sound is smooth and well-balanced with punchy bass that doesn't make music sound boomy. It's comfortable for an on-ear model and its more compact design travels better than some full-size models on this list. I just wish it cost a little less and came with a cable to plug into in-flight entertainment systems. Alas, the Lightning-to-3.5mm is an optional accessory that costs $35, which is ridiculous.

Read our Beats Solo Pro review.

 

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