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Artistic Tools for Musicians/Engineers
Great gifts for your musician/engineer friends

By Kevin Convery

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It's that time of year again, when the crisp air is pierced by the wail of distorted feedback, the early dark is lit by the LED indicators of mixing consoles, and holiday wishes glow in children's eyes like overdriven analog tubes. Just remember, whether you're looking to record your neighborhood carolers for a Yuletide techno remix, or just record your holiday greeting in pristine 24-bit sound, B&H is your personal Audio North Pole. Here are ten prime choices from our wide array of professional-grade gear to dance in your head instead of sugarplums (what's a sugarplum, anyway?):

Sennheiser HD-280 Pro Monitor Headphones
A pair of high-quality headphones is the first order of business for any aspiring DJ, recordist, or home musician. The Sennheiser HD-280 model has all the critical features needed, including an extended but linear frequency response for an accurate reproduction of the sound you're producing, swiveling earcups, -32dB of outside noise attenuation for unimpeded listening, a single-sided cord that helps avoid cable "spaghetti,"and the kind of soft but firm construction that makes for hours of comfortable use. Apartment dwellers and night owls will appreciate that theyíre as good at keeping sound in as they are at keeping environmental noise out. These are serious headphones, suitable for recording and mixdowns, at an approachable price.

Serious headphones at an approachable price

Brand-new for the holiday season is this USB audio interface from Native Instruments. The Kontrol 1 weds high-powered audio features to a slick, innovative design, and it's quite a match. Along with what you'd expect from an up-to-date audio interface - a hi-Z instrument input, phantom power, 24-bit/192kHz sound - you get four assignable controls (a large knob and three buttons) and an extensive software bundle that includes soft synths, guitar modeling software, and Traktor DJ LE, which puts a virtual "two turntables and a microphone" right on your screen. The icing on the cake is the sleek, futuristic design of the interface, which would look right at home on the Space Shuttle. See also Digidesign's Mbox 2 Mini.

Native Instruments' Kontrol 1

TranzPort DAW Controller
The TranzPort is a double-whammy DAW controller. It provides hardware versions of all the main buttons of your on-screen digital audio workstation - and it does it with no wires. The first (and so far, the best) wireless DAW controller frees up your workflow in several different ways, with reliability and precision that have earned it rave reviews from home-studio musicians and professional engineers alike. Almost every major DAW now supports the TranzPort. Its radio-frequency operation lets you place the Tranzport all the way in another room (up to 30 feet or so). Line-of-sight is not required, unlike infrared-based wireless devices. DJs, VJs, tour managers, and a host of other musical professionals are using this affordable breakthrough in computer recording to remotely control computers in live performance, as well as in the studio. Musicians who record themselves can now insert, arm, and trigger new tracks from the isolation booth! And for headache-free operation, the TranzPort is shielded from interference from other nearby radio frequencies.

TranzPort DAW Controller

ACID Pro 6.0
With version 6.0, ACID makes the great leap from a loop-based sequencer with great features to a full-fledged digital audio workstation. ACID has thrived in the competitive world of computer audio on the strength of its interface and workflow, which is intuitive and flexible, and its time-stretching and tempo-matching abilities. In this latest edition, ACID has become a DAW that can satisfy even the most "avid" producer. 24-bit/192kHz resolution, odd-time support, multitrack recording, groove quantization, 5.1 surround mixing, frame-accurate video scoring - the list of professional features goes on and on. It even has a Media Manager to tag and cross-reference your loops and record takes, so you can instantly find the perfect sounds for your project. ACID 6 comes with its own collection of top-shelf effects, a loop collection to get you started, and a free "ACID version" of the KOMPAKT soft synth by Native Instruments. ACID 6 is a total audio solution, packed both with features and value. Also check out Native Instruments' TRAKTOR DJ Studio 3.

ACID Pro 6.0

Zoom MRS-8 - Portable 8-Track SD Card Digital Recorder

Portable digital audio workstations offer a valuable alternative to using a full-fledged computer to record audio. They offer all the advantages of digital storage and non-destructive editing, at a lower price and without the memory issues computers can present. The ZOOM MRS-8 is a full-featured all-in-one digital recorder. It allows you to record up to eight tracks (two at a time) of CD-quality audio anywhere you want to, operating on AC or AA batteries and recording to SD memory cards. But thatís not all. In addition to the 8-channel mixer and the high-quality effects you expect from ZOOM, thereís a built-in stereo drum machine with bassline generator. Itís a complete system, and that makes it a great tool for songwriters who want digital quality without the usual digital hassle. See also Boss' extremely popular Micro BR 4-track digital recorder.

Digital recording without the PC

Yamaha PSR-E303 - 61-Note Touch-Sensitive Portable MIDI Keyboard
Yamaha has been helping the world learn to play for decades, and this portable yet complete keyboard continues the tradition. The PSR-E303 delivers all the innovative, helpful features that Yamaha has helped to develop: built-in bass-ported speakers for full, rich sound without the need for an amplifier; Dual and Split keyboard modes that utilize multiple tones; Auto-Accompaniment and Auto-Harmony; and even a 2-track MIDI recorder built right in. The large selection of authentic sounds are augmented by the built-in effects processor. And, as usual, Yamaha helps out the students and beginners by building in a Chord Dictionary and music lessons. This is a feature-rich keyboard to begin with, and the inclusion of a free Yamaha Survival Kit means youíll be making music right out of the gate.

Yamaha's feature-rich PSR-E303 Keyboard

Blue Snowball Microphone
Blue Microphones stand out from the competition both in their sound and their often strange appearance. The Snowball, as the latest in Blue's line of perfectly spherical Ball microphones, is no exception. True to its name, it's round, white, and really cool. Instead of an XLR jack, this mic connects directly into your computer's USB port. No pre-amp or mixer is necessary. Its dual element design lets you switch between a tight cardioid pattern for solo takes and voiceovers and an omnidirectional pattern that can pick up the whole band. Along with the switchable -10dB pad, that makes this a very versatile microphone, whether for remote recording with a laptop or podcasting on your desktop.

Among the coolest USB microphones on the market

M-Audio Black Box Guitar Interface
Is it an audio interface? Is it a multi-effects processor? Is it a drum machine? Itís all of these things, in a sturdy, futuristic Black Box. This 21st-century tool can be used on its own or, using the USB connection, you can send the output into your computer for recording using the included Ableton Live Lite software. Twelve classic amps are modeled, and there are a host of high-quality effects that can be applied to instruments, to vocals through the XLR mic input, or to the built-in drum machine. The dedicated controls make the interface a breeze to use, and the large backlit LCD display can be read from a distance. The sound presets can be tweaked any way you like, and saved to one of the 99 user memory locations. Thereís even a tuner included, so once you plug in, thereís no looking back. The Black Box can be expanded with an available foot pedal that allows for expression pedal input as well as hands-free parameter switching on-the-fly. This is a comprehensive solution that leaves you nothing to do but plug in and play. See also Native Instruments GUITAR RIG 2

The highly versatile M-Audio Black Box

These are just a few of the cutting-edge audio innovations available from B&H - at our Superstore, online or over the phone. And if you're not sure what it is you're looking for, or have questions about anything on your shopping list, our expert salesmen are at the ready. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good mix!

Still not sure? Try these related gift categories:

- Recording
- Desktop Audio
- Keyboards & Synths
- ENG, EFP & Broadcast
- Live Sound & PA
- Accessories
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