Last month, we compiled a few gift-worthy gadgets for Ars readers to grab for Mother's Day. Today, it's Dad's turn. With Father's Day on the horizon, we've once again revisited the many devices that have rolled through the Ars labs in recent months and picked out a list of favorites.
The following Father's Day gift ideas should placate the kind of tech-savvy Dad (or any parent, really) we'd expect to raise an Arsian. Feel free to nudge a loved one toward getting something if you're a father yourself. And if nothing below works, try to at least give your old man a call this weekend.
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If you think your dad could get into the smart speaker craze, the Sonos One is his best bet. It’s essentially a better-sounding Amazon Echo. It has the same Alexa digital assistant and can do virtually all of the same things—checking the weather, setting timers or reminders, reading the news, and, most importantly, starting and controlling music.
Alexa is Alexa at this point: it’s probably going to mess up from time to time (like every other voice assistant), but relatively speaking it’s smart enough to be useful. The privacy precautions we’ve noted before still apply, but the One does have a mute button if things ever get uncomfortable. If there are times where Dad just doesn’t want to talk to a machine at all, Sonos also has companion apps that make it easy enough to connect and control dozens of music services in one spot on a laptop or mobile device.
The Sonos One gained the ability to control Spotify through Alexa a few weeks after it came out, and it’ll garner AirPlay 2 support in July. The latter should make it particularly appealing for Apple users, as that update will let users beam any music from an iPhone or Mac straight to the Sonos—Apple Music and iTunes included. It’ll even add a modicum of Siri support. Sonos is promising Google Assistant support in the future, too.
Even before all that, the One is a strong value right now. It doesn’t sound quite as full as Apple’s HomePod or Google's Home Max, but it’s more than close enough for $150 less. With some tracks, it arguably sounds clearer. It's miles better than the Echo regardless and also a breeze to set up.
The One isn't without issues: it can't do Bluetooth or wired audio input, its mic array isn’t quite as strong at hearing commands as an Echo, and somehow it can't make a stereo pair with a Sonos Play:1. If your dad already has a speaker he likes, it's easier and cheaper to just buy an Amazon Echo Dot and add smarts that way. But if you look at it as a "first smart speaker," the One is the closest there is to a total package, currently.
Google Chromecast Audio
Google’s Chromecast Audio won’t be as useful if your dad doesn’t have non-smart audio gear, but if he does, it’s an effective and very affordable way to make it Sonos-like. Just plug the dongle into an older speaker or receiver (with a 3.5mm or optical audio port), and soon he can send music to that device from various streaming services.
Those services do not include music apps from Apple or Amazon, which is unfortunate, but Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Google Play Music, YouTube Music, and most other known names are covered. If your dad has an Android phone, he can send any audio from that device to a speaker connected to the dongle. If he happens to own a Google Home device, he could also play music through voice commands (though those aren’t immune to the occasional hiccup in translation).
Google’s app for controlling all the services and devices tied to a Chromecast Audio isn’t as tidy as the one Sonos offers, which can make this slightly more cumbersome to control. But the fact that one Chromecast Audio costs $35 goes a long way in making up for that. Provided your dad uses the right music services, the cost difference between hooking up a few of these to create a multiroom audio setup and buying in to multiple Sonos speakers should help you look past any extra friction. Since it streams over Wi-Fi—up to 24-bit/96kHz, which isn’t the highest-resolution audio but clear enough for most—it won't muddy up the audio itself, either.
Bose QuietComfort 35
The market for wireless noise-cancelling headphones has become surprisingly competitive over the past year, with Sony in particular making a serious run at Bose’s crown. But if you want your dad to have the best pure noise cancelling option possible, Bose’s QuietComfort 35 headphones are still on top.
They aren’t the best sounding headphones in this class: they boost the bass and treble more than Bose typically does, for instance. Like their predecessors, these may sound a bit too bland for people who seriously care about audio quality. They also leak sound at higher volumes. For most people, though, the QuietComfort 35 headphones should at least sound pleasant and inoffensive. The real reason to get them anyway is for their noise-cancelling quality: they’re simply more effective at shutting out noise in testing than any of their sonic peers. (Bose owns crucial patents in this field, so it makes sense.) A supremely comfortable design and 18-20 hours of battery life helps seal the deal.
The model linked below is the “Series I” version of the QuietComfort 35. A “Series II” version released last year sounds almost exactly the same, but it adds a dedicated Google Assistant button we don’t find essential. Those updated cans actually lose a pinch of noise-cancelling strength to our ears, too. For $20 less, the Series I is the better buy while still available.
You have options, though. If you think your dad would be OK trading some noise-cancelling strength for better sound, Sony’s WH-1000XM2 are great, albeit not as comfortable as the QC35. They also use occasionally finicky touch controls instead of physical buttons. And if your dad doesn’t want to go wireless at all, Bose’s QuietComfort 25 has the absolute strongest noise-cancelling available, but it will require him to carry an external battery pack.