Tech Tuesday: Great Gifts For Music Lovers – Under $50 (Or So!)

This week’s column is a gift giving guide for the music lover in your life. The $50 range seems like the sweet-spot for many people when giving gifts so we are going to keep most of the suggestions under that price point – but a couple were too good to skip so we’ve included a few that are a little more than that. So read through and find the perfect gift for your significant other, boss that “gets it” and lets you schedule around summer festivals, roommate, neighbor, family member or anyone else that loves music as much as you do.

Some of the items below are products we’ve previously reviewed on Technology Tuesday.  Others, we haven’t yet written about. In both cases, you can be sure that your gift recipient will love the item and it comes highly recommended! If you have any other great ideas, by all means, leave them in the comments. The gift idea suggestions are listed in no particular order. Good luck with all your shopping!

Item: iFrogz Boost or Boost Plus

Price: $39 or $59

What: “Near Field Audio” speaker that works seemingly magically. Simply place your mobile phone or portable player on the Boost and the sound is amplified through the speakers without wires, pairing, configuration or any other hassles. Powered by AA batteries (which last for an extraordinarily long time) or a USB connection. Surprisingly good sound for the small speakers but don’t expect high fidelity. Meant for casual listening and when you need more volume than the built-in speaker on your device. We reviewed the Boost earlier this year & now the Boost Plus has been released which offers a big step up in audio quality and volume in addition to being more stylish.

Where to Buy: Official Website

[ifrogz Boost $39]

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Item HiFiMAN HM 101 Portable DAC

Price: $39

What: It is a portable, external DAC that is USB powered and connected. Whether you know it or not, anytime you plug your headphones or desktop speakers into the headphone jack of your computer, you are using a DAC that converts your digitally stored or streamed tunes into the analog output that you hear when you play them. Of course, this type of DAC is simply referred to as your internal sound card. DACs, like speakers or headphones, range from entry level devices like this, all the way to tens of thousands of dollars. By using this DAC, you will plug your audio device into it and it will bypass your internal sound card. This DAC is lightweight (about an ounce), portable and sleek. Its solid and stylish design is complemented by a single, seamless band of metal forming the sides that would make Cupertino proud. It will markedly improve your music listening for desktop speakers or headphones. This item is only compatible with computers- not for tablet or mobile phone use.

Where to Buy: Amazon

[HiFiMAN HM - 101. $39]

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Item: RHA MA-350 earphones

Price: $39

What: RHA MA-350′s offer stunning sound with their unique trumpet horn shape and 10mm drivers. The $25-$75 earphone market is riddled with products of a dizzying array of quality and performance, but at $39.95, RHA has produced a true winner with crisp, bright tones and ample bass. This British audio company may not be a household name in the United States quite yet, but they are winning rave reviews and becoming well known for their quality products.

Where to Buy: Amazon

[RHA MA-350. $39]

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Item: Daytrotter Annual Membership

Price: $24

What: Daytrotter is an extraordinary value. Five new sessions of some of the most incredible and compelling acts- national, regional and up-and-coming, are posted daily Monday through Friday- roughly 100 new songs. These mini-sets are all recorded on-location at their studio in Rock Island, IL. Over 2,000 sets have been recorded and members can not only stream all the content- but also download it.

Apps for Android & iPhone allow you to listen to the content anytime you want. The web player is a joy to use and playlists can be saved and edited.  The Daytrotter recordings are made with minimal mic’ing to analog tape. The analog master is later transferred to a computer and converted to the digital files you hear on the site – offering a sound that harkens back to the age when recordings were not overproduced. It is a JOY to listen to. Everything is live with no overdubs and straight to tape. What you hear is what happened in the room that day.

As I write this column, I am listening to the Tallest Man of Earth session and realizing, that quite literally, this may be the best $24 I’ve ever spent. Incredibly, in a current promotion, the $24 membership comes with a $20 credit in the Daytrotter store – so you can pick up some nice vinyl, T-Shirts, posters or other great items. It is like giving two gifts in one! Highly recommended.

Where to Buy: Daytrotter Membership

[Daytrotter Website. $24/year membership]

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Item: Ticket Stub Diary

Price: $11

What: Can you say “No Brainer?” Absolutely perfect price point for the stocking stuffer or Secret Santa gift recipient. Know someone that hits a lot of shows throughout the year? So many people have a drawer stuffed with old stubs or a shoe-box of some sort. Why not store those memorable stubs in this beautiful diary that comes with clear sleeves that fit all different sizes of tickets.  Extra margin space allows you to jot down who your crew was, special memories & other things so that you can flip back after a few years of collecting and have dozens of special memories all neatly laid out. I saw you- with your ticket stub in your…diary!

Where to Buy: Uncommon Goods

[Ticket Stub Diary. $11]

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Item: Monoprice 8320 Earbuds

Price: $8

What: I think I am up to my 10th set purchased of these as I keep remembering people that I want to have try them out. Another perfect stocking stuffer or Secret Santa gift when the budget is tight. Despite the cheap price- expect a lot from these little gems! Overall, the sound is fantastic with bright, crisp and well balanced tones. Regardless of what type of music you listen to, the results are always quite impressive with especially stunning bass. Besides the incredible sound, another nice touch is a mesh corded cable which feels pretty high-end and resists tangling.

Where to Buy: Amazon or Monoprice

[Monoprice 8320 Earphones. $8]

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Item: Swann Mp3 Doorbell

Price: $50

What: Sick of “ding-dong!” when someone rings your doorbell? More interested in hearing a lick from one your favorite guitarists? Or the chorus from your favorite song? Or some chops from your favorite keyboardist? The Swann MP3 wireless doorbell lets you load up your favorite songs and use those for your doorbell “ringtone”. A decent speaker offers plenty of volume and great audio quality. Pre-program it for your gift recipient for an even nicer surprise! This is indeed, a doorbell that rocks!

Where to Buy: Swann Website

[Swann MP3 Wireless Doorbell. $50]

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Item: Korg Kaossilator

Price: $99

What:  A small synthesizer device made by Korg that runs off of AA batteries or a power cord as used by many musicians including Mike Gordon of Phish. Rather than playing with keys or strings, it is “played” by touching the pad. Manipulating the pad horizontally or vertically effects either the pitch or modulates the sound in another way. While a finger works perfectly fine on the pad, some users prefer using a stylus for more fine grain control. Depending on the effect desired, you can either tap the pad or move around it like a laptop track pad. There are 100 built-in programs that include woodwinds, voice, brass, strings, bass, chord patterns, percussion and scores of other options. Once a particular sound is achieved, the user can record several bars and then continue playing on top of that, or continue recording unlimited layers. Korg has released a new version making this original much easier to find deals and should be easy to find under $100.

Where to Buy: B & H Photo and Video

YouTube Preview Image

[Korg Kaossilator (skip to 45 seconds or so) $99]

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Item: Creative D100 Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

Price: $49

What: Wireless, portable Bluetooth speaker with big sound and a fantastic value. Just a couple years ago, portable Bluetooth speakers were tremendously expensive and offered relatively mediocre sound quality. Sadly, some manufactures are keeping that tradition alive (poor sound and overpriced!) but Creative has packed a pair of 3″ full-range drivers into the D100 offering 20+ hours of music streaming on four AA batteries. For devices without Bluetooth, there is also an AUX port. I’ve listened to this side-by-side with Jawbone’s Jambox  and while the D100 is larger and slightly less portable, the value can’t be beat.

Where to Buy: Amazon

[Creative D100 Bluetooth Wireless Speaker. $49]

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Item:  Live Downloads from Nugs.net

Price: $5 – $250

What: C’mon- don’t even think about giving an iTunes Gift Card. That’s as grossly impersonal as just giving your gift recipient a twenty-dollar bill. Another idea would be to get a flash drive and load it up with some pristine shows from eTree or Archive.org. However, if you don’t have the time & still want to give music as a gift- consider a Nugs gift card that can be customized and sent in any denomination from $5-$250. With thousands of live shows & hundreds of bands in the catalog, you can be sure there will be plenty to choose from.

Where to Buy: Nugs.net Gift Certificates

[Freshly designed Nugs.net website. Gift Certificates in any denomination]

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Item: Zoom H2 Portable Recorder

Price: $119

What: Portable digital recording device with four mic capsules including Front 90° cardioid, Rear 120° cardioid and 360° polar patterns. Despite the small size, this device produces pristine results. Absolutely perfect for recording live music in small clubs or theaters. Likewise, perfect for recording your own jam sessions, recitals, impromptu garage gigs or any other time you need a high quality recording.  Records onto an SD card in WAV 96kHz/48kHz/44.1kHz at 16-bit or 24-bit, MP3 to 320kbps and Variable Bit Rate (VBR) data formats.

 I scratched my head a bit when I was gifted this several years ago from my brother as I couldn’t believe such a small or affordable device could pack such a HUGE punch. I shouldn’t have questioned it though as my brother knows a thing or two about sound quality and recording having worked several years as Prince’s sound engineer. Not convinced on the H2? There’s plenty of recordings on both Archive.org & eTree that were recorded with the H2. Listen for yourself! Also- keep an eye on in the near future for a full review & breakdown of this stellar recorder right here on Technology Tuesday. Also- interested in taping? Keep an eye on Hidden Track for a new series of articles on the subject by Justin Marinoff.

Where to Buy: Pixel Pro Audio

[Zoom H2 Portable Digital Recorder. $119]

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Item: Polk Audio PSW10 Powered Subwoofer

Price: $79

What: 10″ diameter cone offering a huge upgrade to your sound system. If you’ve yet to hook up a subwoofer to your home theater audio or stereo system, the PSW10 is a fantastic entry level subwoofer to dramatically boost bass & overall sound quality without breaking the bank. No matter if it is music, concert videos, games or movies: everything will simply sound better as your other speakers don’t need to strain to deliver all the bass. This 26 pound speaker has great build quality and will fill a decent sized room. This subwoofer is worth double or triple its price and from an audio brand that you can trust.

Where to Buy: Amazon

[Polk Audio PS100 Subwoofer. $79] 

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Good luck shopping! Hopefully one or more of these will be helpful in getting just that perfect gift for the person who loves music. Any other suggestions? Questions on any of the items? Need further details or help? I’d be more than happy to help where I can- feel free to leave comments, hit me up on Twitter or shoot me an email!

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Hidden Track Technology Tuesday

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2 thoughts on “Tech Tuesday: Great Gifts For Music Lovers – Under $50 (Or So!)

  1. Grones Reply

    Curious to hear your thoughts on the PSW505 vs. the PSW10. Consensus online appears to be the 505 is definitely worth the increase in price ($190 vs. $80).

    Will be for use in a bedroom or living room in a Brooklyn apartment, though, so will have some restrictions on volume levels. Doesn’t seem like the size profile is all that much larger on the 505′s either.

  2. Parker Reply

    That’s a great question Grones- I am really not sure as I haven’t heard the PS505′s. My guess is that they are a quantum leap in quality. I’m sure the PSW10′s will be more than adequate to fill your space, but if you can invest the extra dough- you will definitely get a much better sounding product. Good luck.

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