Last-Minute Audio Gift Ideas


The holiday season is approaching rapidly—again—which means you should stop procrastinating and start buying those last-minute audio gifts before it’s too late. Yes, I know that Winter NAMM is just around the corner, and the temptation to wait for all those new audio goodies is strong, but there are plenty of products out there right now that would make great gifts, either for you or your loved ones. Let’s take a look!

Cancel Them Out

Listening to everyone else’s problems while you travel is annoying, particularly during the holiday season, which is why noise-canceling headphones should be near the top of your wish list. There is no right or wrong, as we all have our preferences when it comes to form factor—over-ear, in-ear, wired, or wireless. Variety notwithstanding, you should check out the Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones; this model has a bevy of features that allow you to personalize your settings for the optimum listening experience.

Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise-Canceling Over-Ear Headphones

The WH-1000XM3s enable you to adjust the amount of outside noise you’d like to hear. Virtual Surround Sound lets you choose a desired sonic landscape to match the music, while the Quick Attention feature is a convenient way to turn the volume down instantly with a simple gesture of your hand. If you’re a frequent flyer, you’ll appreciate Sony’s Atmospheric Pressure Optimizing, which tailors sound for high-altitude travel. Also, the included airline adapter is an added convenience when traveling by air.

It should be noted that these headphones employ Bluetooth 4.2 with LDAC—when used with a compatible sound source, LDAC enhances your Bluetooth, letting you stream High-Resolution Audio cable-free.

For those of you who aren’t fans of noise-canceling headphones, a suitable alternative would be noise-isolation earphones, which are designed to create a sound-isolating seal in the ear canal to greatly reduce ambient noise. The Shure SE112 are just such a model. In addition to blocking outside noise up to 37 dB, they feature a wireless design with Bluetooth 4.0; multipoint pairing for switching between multiple sources and media; a three-button remote and mic for phone calls, voice commands, and other voice-activated device features; and a zippered carry pouch to keep them safe while you’re on the go.

Shure SE112 Sound Isolating Earphones with Bluetooth Communication Cable

Passive, but Not Aggressive

Mackie has been in the pro audio game for more than a quarter of a century, and one of its best-known product lines is the Big Knob, which includes three models designed to provide monitor-control solutions in the recording studio: Big Knob Passive, Big Knob Studio, and Big Knob Studio Plus. While the Studio and Studio Plus are impressive units themselves, the beauty of the Big Knob Passive lies in its simplicity. If you’re looking for a rugged, no-nonsense piece of gear for multiple-monitor listening, it’s hard to beat this little unit. Built like a tank, the Big Knob Passive gives users the ability to switch between two monitor sources, which is particularly useful if you’re mixing a song and need to reference your masterpiece on different monitors for accuracy. There is also an integrated stereo 1/8" jack for connecting a portable player—or any source terminating in an 1/8" output—which makes it easy to reference songs from your personal music library. Additionally, there are convenient buttons for Mono, Mute, and Dim, which give you further control over your sound sources. Lastly, it’s worth noting that since this Big Knob model utilizes passive circuitry, it won’t impart any strange artifacts onto your audio; you can trust that what you’re working on sounds the way it should.

Mackie Big Knob Studio Plus Monitor Controller and Interface

We Have the Keys, Keys, Keys

“Man, I wish I could learn to play the piano, but I just can’t afford it.” If you’ve ever said these words to yourself—or anyone else, for that matter—you’re not alone. A lot of us have had hopes of learning a new instrument, only to be deterred by the cost of equipment, lessons, and any other convenient excuses we use to talk ourselves out of our potential pursuits. Well, fear not! Even though there is no true substitute for a great teacher, the technology found in today’s musical instruments facilitates learning the basics of playing an instrument without the guidance of a good instructor. Take, for example, the Casio LK-265. This 61-key, piano-style keyboard with touch response has a clever key-lighting system, which is designed to make the process of learning to play the piano as painless as possible. The LCD shows you music notation and correct hand positioning, and the built-in, Step-Up Lesson System tracks your progress as you work your way through the 60 included song tutorials, giving you an overall evaluation of your performance once you complete each song. You can even download the free Casio Chordana Play app, which integrates seamlessly with the LK-265.

Casio LK-265 61-Key, Piano-Style Keyboard with Touch Response and Key-Lighting System

I’m a Bad…

Mod Rex Polyrhythmic Modulator Pedal from Electro-Harmonix (a previous version of this article said “Moogerfooger” here, but that pedal has been discontinued). If you’re looking for a piece of hardware that will instantly throw just enough of a curve-ball into your workflow to get the creative juices flowing, check out the Electro-Harmonix Mod Rex. This pedal is essentially four independent modulators and sonic-manglers in one housing. You get a filter section, a tremolo section, a panning section, and a modulation section capable of flanging, phasing, chorusing, or vibrato, tap tempo, MIDI functionality, and more, this pedal gives you access to an incredible range of effects—from simple, subtle tremolos to distortion-filled, maniacal soundscapes. Use it with your synth, guitar, bass, or any other instrument.

Electro-Harmonix Mod Rex Polyrhythmic Modulator Pedal

Don’t Be a Fool—Buy a Tool

For those of us who are accustomed to working in music studios, there’s nothing worse than not having the right tools at our disposal, and in this case the tool I’m referring to is hardware—a screwdriver, hex wrench, scissors, etc. It is my opinion that every music studio—and musician—should own a reliable multi-tool, and few are more formidable than the Victorinox SwissTool Pocket Knife, which is basically a toolbox that fits in the palm of your hand. Whether you need a screwdriver (Phillips or flathead), scissors, a blade, or the very necessary bottle opener for those late-night—or is it early morning—sessions, this robust tool provides you with more than 37 functions, measures only 4.5 inches long, weighs a paltry 10 ounces, and has a limited lifetime warranty.

Victorinox SwissTool X Pocket Knife

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