This article is a part of RS Recommends, an editorial series reviewing products in music and entertainment. Items are independently selected; Penske Media may earn a commission from purchases made from our links.
As summer break draws to a close, the ever-looming reality of school begins to solidify in the not-so-distant future. Much like that sobering feeling that comes from waking up, only to realize it’s Sunday and the weekend is all but over, so too does the start of August feel like every day is just one small step towards school.
While we can’t delay the school year, we can help you or your music-loving kids prepare for the next year. With a special focus on university students, though anyone can appreciate our list, here is a roundup of our back to school essentials for every music lover. From posters of legendary artists, to noise-cancelling headphones and portable turntables, we’ve gathered some of the best products that any music fan will enjoy in between classes. Give those morning walks to class a little more pep with headphones able to block out the noise or a pair that can survive the rain. And turn any dorm or studio apartment into a sanctuary with a comfy listening chair and high-quality speakers.
1. Big Joe New Fuf
After a long day of taking notes, working on projects, cramming for tests and taking quizzes, a respite from the academic world is a must. But a scene change and a cold beer won’t always cure the overworked blues. Instead of sitting on a bed or a desk chair to enjoy some relaxing tunes, we opt for a beanbag like this one from Big Joe.
Coming in an array of colors and sizes (though we prefer the Large in Cobalt), the New Fuf by Big Joe provides a fluffy oasis to enjoy music, brews or a book when you or your favorite college student needs a break from studies. Paired with some noise cancelling (like the COWIN listed below) the Big Joe New Fuf quickly becomes hideaway from the rigors of school.
As an added bonus, the New Fuf by Big Joe is also a green product. Using upcycled foam instead of beans, every Big Joe product is made in the USA in a Zero Landfill certified facility. Purchase: $106.65 on Amazon.
2. COWIN E7 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones
Wireless (by way of Bluetooth), noise cancelling, comfortable and enough battery to last for 30 hours on a single charge, these COWIN E7 over ear headphones paint a pricey picture. However, these headphones are the epitome of affordable. At $59.99 on Amazon, these headphones seem too good to be true. And if it weren’t for Amazon’s review section, we would assume they are a scam. However, 11,820 reviews don’t lie, especially when 83% gave these a 4 out of 5 stars, and 63% gave them a perfect 5 out of 5.
With all the features that come packed in these COWIN E7’s, you can buy them or gift them with confidence, knowing that even if they don’t last all four years, you got your money’s worth and then some. Purchase: $59.99 on Amazon.
3. Otium Bluetooth Headphones
Sporting a formidable IPX7 waterproof rating (meaning they’ll function in rain and while immersed in 1 meter of water for under 30 minutes) these Bluetooth earbuds from Otium make a fantastic option for working out or walking to class. Whereas our over ear picks above are ideal for long flights or ignoring roommates, these semi-wireless headphones (wired together but not to your device) make a great everyday carry to stuff in a backpack and use throughout the day. Otium’s headphones can last up to 8 hours on a single charge and come with a 1-year Manufacturer’s warranty and a 30-day, no questions asked refund policy. Purchase: $18.99 on Amazon.
4. Bowie StarDust Poster
Though you could easily pick up one of several generic band posters from Urban Outfitters like the majority of other students rolling into college next month, we found this Ziggy Stardust poster from Society6 made a unique alternative. Over an all white background, this poster sports the iconic look of Ziggy’s painted lightning bolt in blue and red, with a water color aesthetic that gives an organic look to the piece. To top it all off, the artist painted in the detail of Ziggy’s closed eye, to add some extra life and presence to the piece.
5. Victrola Vintage Suitcase Turntable
In our eyes, the ultimate gift for a college student is something that is inexpensive but not cheap. In other words, well-priced but also well-crafted. There’s no point saving money if the product falls apart immediately, right? For that reason, we had to include Victrola’s Vintage Suitcase turntable.
Portable, sturdy and durable, this $43 turntable is the ultimate starter turntable. It packs built-in speakers (with the added ability to outsource via RCA outputs if you own better speakers), a convenient carrying handle, adjustable pitch controls and the ability to play music by way of Bluetooth through the Victrola’s speakers. For anyone starting to collect records, this turntable makes an easy entry point that won’t break the bank. But, most importantly, it’s quality will last as your collection grows. Purchase: $43.38 on Amazon.
6. DemerBox Bluetooth Speaker
Far from inexpensive, the DemerBox Bluetooth speaker may seem out of place on this list. It is, after all, $300. However steep the price, this speaker is worth it. The DemerBox is waterproof, crush proof and about as rugged as a speaker can be. The shell is made by Pelican (maker of military grade cases) and comes with a plug to allow the entire speaker to be completely waterproof. What’s more, you can actually open the DemerBox and place valuables inside, allowing the speaker to double as a carrying case.
Combined with its powerful sound, impressive battery life (40 hours on a single charge) and near indestructibility, the DemerBox makes sense for a back to school present as it is built to last through whatever life throws its way. Regardless of how many times it’s kicked, dropped in the pool, spilled on or tossed, this speaker will keep working. Purchase: $299 on Amazon.
8. KAIU Vinyl Record Frame
Outside of the Ziggy poster mentioned above, a true music lover is going to want to show off his or her record collection, which is why we love these record frames by KAIU. Available in either a black or natural finish, use these sturdy wooden frames to display some of your favorite LPs and further decorate your walls. Though slightly more expensive than other options, we like these frames by KAIU because they’re a bit sturdier and sport a slightly larger bezel, giving a more elegant look to the frame and record. And with 67% of reviewers giving these frames a stellar 5 out of 5 stars on Amazon, we think this is a must-have for anyone headed back to school. Purchase: $26.99 on Amazon.
9. Fluance Fi20 High
Though we already listed a Bluetooth speaker, we wanted to include one more to give our list some variety, and to give you some options. We’re fans of Fluance and their high-quality products. Their Bluetooth speaker, the Fi20 High warrants that same admiration.
Offering 360-degree sound, a sophisticated and elegant wooden cabinet, a convenient carrying handle, an LED accent light and the ability to use the Fi20 as an extension of your speaker phone, this Bluetooth speaker makes an excellent parting gift for a son or daughter shipping off to college. While it’s not as rugged as the DemerBox featured above, the Fi20 High nestles itself well in any dorm room or first apartment to become not just a speaker, but a piece of furniture. With its long list of features and relatively affordable price (half that of the DemerBox) this speaker rates well in both the form and function categories. Purchase: $149.99 on Amazon.
10. Vinyl Me, Please Gift Membership
Now that you’ve picked out the appropriate poster, purchased the speaker and grabbed the portable turntable, the only thing missing is, well, the music. While Amoeba and Discogs offer options for the adventurous record collectors, it’s easy to help someone get their record collection started with a membership to Vinyl Me, Please.
Vinyl Me, Please will send a new LP once a month, every month until the subscription is canceled. As a gift, you’re locked into either a 3-month, 6-month, or 12-month subscription, but their deep collection makes the service worth a try, and you can cancel at any time. To figure out your musical preferences, Vinyl Me, Please will ask you a few questions upon signing up. From there, they will send a new record each month, with limited edition features such as colored records, exclusive content or a custom lyric books, as well. And with a collection that ranges from Method Man and Phoenix to Outkast, Al Green and Buddy Guy, you can be sure they’ll have something you’ll enjoy. Plus, when you gift the membership, the recipient will also receive 1 to 2 bonus records. Purchase: $99 on Vinyl Me, Please.