Forget the ties and argyle socks. This year, give dad a gift he'll actually use, and maybe even brag about to his buddies: a great set of stereo headphones. You don't have to spend a lot to make a lasting impression. None of the models we picked cost more than $50, and one can be found for as little as $10.
For those with a bit more bang in their budget, consider the Klipsch Image S4i II, an Apple-centric in-ear model that's offered in either black or white. Although some retailers—such as Target—sell this model for about $100, you can find it at a few dealers on Amazon for as little as $50.
This model delivers very good sound—it's the best-sounding headphone in this bunch—with a warm character, and it comes with a three-button inline control and mic that lets you control the music and answer calls when the phone isn't handy. Also, its in-ear design will muffle some external noise and limit the amount of sound that escapes from the earpieces.
Find the right model for your needs and budgets with our headphones buying guide and Ratings.
If you have a bit less money to spend and dad likes a larger, over-ear design, then check out the Monoprice HiFi DJ-Style Over-the-Ear Pro headphones, which generally cost about $25. (These are my own favorite cheap headphones, and I got them from Monoprice during a sale for about $18.) They won't win any style awards—they're basic-looking black headphones—but they deliver surprisingly good sound for the money, and the closed, over-ear design does a decent job of muffling outside sounds.
Even if your budget this year is tighter than Joan Rivers' face, you can still get dad a set of headphones he'll actually enjoy: Panasonic's RP-TCM125K earphones, which generally cost about $15, though I've seen them online for as little as $10. These in-ear earphones not only have very good sound and come with a one-button remote and mic, they're offered in a variety of colors—some striking—in the event your dad likes to let his freak flag fly.
Of course, these are only a few of the nearly 150 models in our headphones Ratings, which are available to subscribers. The Ratings encompass all types of models, including in-, on-, and over-ear headphones, those with built-in noise-canceling circuitry, and even wireless models. In addition to these budget models, we also have some of the top-selling higher-priced models from companies such as Beats and Bose.
So don't let a limited budget this year stop you from showing dad how much you care. After all, you don't have to tell him how much they cost, and he'll never guess just by listening with them.
—James K. Willcox