Audio / Buying Guide

Last-Minute Audio Gifts


It’s that time of year again! The holidays are upon us, and you have yet to get yourself something special to celebrate surviving the past 12 months—or maybe you still need to purchase gifts for those important, tech-savvy people in your life. Whatever the case may be, before you make a hasty decision to buy anything—just so you can say you bought something—here are some suggestions for gear you may not have considered purchasing. 

Oldies but Goodies

If one or more of your close relatives is a Baby Boomer—like my parents—chances are they have a bunch of old vinyl (records) stored away in boxes somewhere in the garage. If you don’t know what a Baby Boomer is, and/or you think that vinyl only refers to the siding of your house, then you should just move on to the next article: I kid, I kid! The reason I mention vinyl is that although it’s an incredible format through which to listen to music, it’s not always the most convenient, particularly if you want to enjoy those tunes on the go. Sure, streaming services like Spotify and iTunes offer access to thousands of songs, but there are often old, hard-to-find albums that are not available online.

Behold, the USB turntable! This is an oft-overlooked piece of gear that can really bring a smile to the face of anyone who treasures his or her record collection. Not surprisingly, USB turntables have a USB output to allow for easy vinyl archiving directly to a computer (many models include audio-recording software in the box, too). Support for 33 and 45 RPM speeds is standard and, depending on the model you purchase, there may be further control over pitch variation during playback. Once the content has been imported via the audio software, the user can upload the music to the computer’s music player (think iTunes or Windows Media Player) and ultimately transfer the songs to a more convenient playback device, such as a smartphone or portable digital media player.

In terms of specific models, I recommend the Audio-Technica AT-LP120USB Direct Drive Professional DJ Turntable, because it is Mac and Windows compatible, includes a USB output (for digitizing vinyl records), as well as RCA output cables, which allow for hooking the turntable up to a home entertainment system.

Audio-Technica AT-LP120USB Direct Drive Professional DJ Turntable with USB Output

Power in a Pocket

Imagine being able to make music with an item small enough to fit in a shirt pocket! The folks at Teenage Engineering did, and they produced a line of instruments called Pocket Operators, devices that enable the user to approach music-making in a fun, professional, and portable way. The Pocket Operator is a 16-step sequencer with 16 patterns, a built-in speaker, animated LCD display, 3.5mm audio I/O, and more. There are six different models to choose from: PO-12 rhythm 16-sound drum machine, PO-14 sub deep bassline synthesizer, PO-16 factory lead synthesizer, PO-20 arcade synthesizer, PO-24 office percussion drum machine and sequencer, and the PO-28 robot live synthesizer and sequencer. Each has its own assortment of sounds, effects, and play styles, and all models can be synced with mini sync cables (sold separately). Conveniently, pocket operators run on 2x AAA batteries, and an optional custom-made silicone case is available, which provides battery protection and anti-slip feet to keep the unit safe during use and transportation.

Factory Synthesizer

Listen to Your Music, No Strings Attached

It seems that every electronics company is making headphones these days, and with the steady advancements in Bluetooth technology, a set of wireless headphones is easily available to people at all budget levels. Although I tend to prefer an over-ear design for critical listening, it’s nice to have a set of in-ear headphones, since they tend to be much more portable than bulky over- and on-ear models, can be used during physical activity such as working out in the gym or running, and tend to feel a bit more comfortable during long listening sessions.

The Bose™ SoundSport™ Wireless In-Ear Headphones give you good bang for your buck. I own a pair of these, and I can say from experience that even after four hours of straight use, they maintain a fit that remains comfortable and non-fatiguing. In addition, the sonic reproduction of the source material is impressive, with bass response that is deep and clear—which is often hard to find in a pair of in-ears. Included with the purchase of these headphones is a convenient padded carry case, three sets of eartips (S, M, L), a USB charging cable, and a clothing clip to help keep them in place during rigorous activities.

Bose™ SoundSport™ Wireless In-Ear Headphones

Portable Recording Solution

Don’t you just hate it when you come up with an amazing musical arrangement in your head, but you have no way to record it because all of your gear is sitting at home, while you’re stuck out of town celebrating the holidays with the in-laws? We musicians don’t like to let obstacles get in the way of our creativity, and one of the most frustrating things to deal with is not being able to record a musical idea properly, simply because we aren’t at home where we keep most of our good gear. And who wants to lug their expensive, heavy audio interface with them when they travel?  

Well, have no fear! Shure has solved this problem with its MOTIV MVi Digital Audio Interface, which is a great tool for the on-the-go musician who has a need to record music on the fly, no matter the location. Housed in a rugged enclosure, the MOTIV MVi is a versatile digital audio interface that includes a Class-A XLR + ¼" combo mic/line input, built-in DSP presets (for speech, singing, acoustic recording, and adjustable control for gain), mute, and headphone volume. It comes with a USB cable for charging, and a lightning cable for seamless audio capture to iOS devices. You can simply connect a microphone or instrument to the input jack, then track that new riff or melody to a computer, smartphone, or tablet, without compromising on sound quality.

Shure MOTIV MVi Digital Audio Interface for Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPod, iPad and Android

When used with the SHurePlus MOTIV App, the user has more in-depth control over recording specs such as sample rate, dynamics and effects settings, and file sharing. Extremely versatile, the MOTIV MVi is compatible with iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows devices, and weighs slightly more than 1/2 a pound, making it extremely convenient to carry.

Have you any other ideas for last-minute audio gifts? Share them below, in the Comments section.