The holidays are almost here. If you haven't yet found the perfect gift for the music and/or movie lover in your life, we're here to help. We decided to look beyond the major categories, like TVs, Blu-ray players, multichannel speaker systems, gaming consoles, and tablets. Instead, we've assembled a list of 10 cool but not exorbitantly priced gifts that might be flying under your radar.
Paradigm Shift A2 Powered Tabletop Speaker (starting at $279 each)
The new Paradigm Shift brand is targeted at the mobile, gaming, and computer audiences. The versatile Active Atom (A2) speaker can be used in a stereo pair, as a left/right audio system, or as a standalone tabletop speaker. It sports an internal 100-watt amp, and the connection panel includes RCA and 3.5mm inputs and outputs. An adjustable speaker setting lets you dictate left, right, or mono. The A2 has a 1-inch anodized pure-aluminum dome tweeter and 5.5-inch Satin-anodized pure-aluminum cone woofer, and it's rated down to 30Hz. Mate it with an Airport Express or add the optional Bluetooth receiver to wirelessly stream music from other devices. The A2 is available in a variety of finishes, and an optional stainless steel stand is available.
Cambridge DacMagic USB Digital-to-Analog Converter ($429)
We love the convenience of digital music files stored on a computer, iPod, or other hard drive, but we don't always love the sound quality we get from these devices. The DacMagic is a widely acclaimed yet inexpensive way to bring out the best in your digital music by utilizing the company's Adapted Time Filtering (ATF) asynchronous upsampling technology to convert 16- or 24-bit audio (at any standard sampling frequency between 32 and 96 kHz) to 24-bit/192-kHz. The DacMagic sports S/PDIF, Toslink, and USB inputs, as well as balanced and unbalanced analog outs.
Gift Certificate from Acoustic Sounds or Music Direct
Did your beloved music lover recently acquire a new universal disc player (perhaps our product of the year, the OPPO Digital BDP-95)? Or did you just buy said player to give as a gift this year? Then you certainly need some high-resolution audio to go with it. These sites have a great selection of SACD and DVD-Audio discs, with a lot of vinyl thrown in for good measure. If you want to give something a bit more personal than a gift certificate, might we suggest Pink Floyd's much-anticipated Wish You Were Here on SACD?
Buy a gift certificate from Acoustic Sounds.
Get one from Music Direct.
Orb Audio Booster Mini Amplifier ($188)
Got an extra pair of speakers lying around, begging to see some action? With the new Booster Mini amplifier, you can easily set up a system for your bedroom, office, or other secondary environment. The "Mini" refers to the box's dimensions, just 6 x 6 x 1.75 inches. This two-channel amp offers 20wpc and supports the addition of four analog sources. The connection panel includes two RCA and two 3.5mm inputs, plus speaker connectors and a subwoofer output (with the ability to choose between large and small speaker settings). The package includes a simple remote, and an IR port is onboard. Orb Audio is currently selling this product at a holiday price of $164. And, if you don't yet have the extra pair of speakers, Orb Audio has a few of those, too.
Check out the Booster Mini amp on Orb Audio's website.
Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray Boxed Set ($139.99)
Yes, there are a few reasons to fear/resent the new Star Wars boxed set. George Lucas has yet again employed audio and visual wizardry to alter things that didn't need altering. At the end of the day, though, we're talking about the original trilogy on Blu-ray, looking and sounding better than ever before with 1080p video and DTS-HD MA audio. How can a devoted Star Wars fan resist? If you'd prefer to skip the second trilogy altogether, you can pick up Star Wars: The Original Trilogy ($69.99), but then you won't get the three bonus discs that come with the nine-disc Complete Saga, which feature a ton of documentaries, deleted/extended scenes, spoofs, and much more.
IOGEAR Wireless 3D Digital Kit ($379)
Say goodbye to the expense and hassle of physically running wires in order to transmit your A/V signal to a second zone. With IOGEAR's new kit, you can wirelessly stream 1080p video (even 3D) and multichannel audio up to 100 feet throughout the home. The transmitter unit offers two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output, so you can hardwire HDMI to one HDTV while wirelessly transmitting the signal to another HDTV in a remote location. The kit also includes an IR blaster cable and remote control.
A Streaming Media Player
Feel like you're missing out on all the streaming VOD fun because you haven't upgraded your main A/V components lately? Well, there's now an easy and inexpensive way to add services like Netflix, VUDU, Pandora, YouTube, and many others to your HT system. A number of standalone streaming media players exist, many priced around $100 or less. For advice on which one is best for you, check out our forthcoming buyer's guide.
PSB M4U 2 Headphones ($400)
That's right, PSB is getting into the headphone business. The company's first product is the M4U 2 over-the-ear headphones with a built-
in amplifier and active noise cancellation (up to 18dB below 1000Hz). Each ear cup contains a 40mm high-performance driver with a neodymium magnet structure, and the design includes oval-shaped, gyro-suspended ear pads for increased comfort, plus a high-gloss headband and brushed aluminum accents. The M4U 2 has a tangle-free cord, and there's an input connector on each ear so that the cord never has to run across your body. The package includes a second cord with a microphone and button for controlling music playback and answering phone calls. Also included are a quarter-inch adapter, a dual 1/8-inch airplane adapter, and a travel case. The new PSB headphones will be available in January, so your intended will have to be patient for a few weeks.
Achtung Baby Super Deluxe Edition ($139.99)
Achtung Baby was a game-changer in the evolution of one of the biggest (and, in my opinion) greatest rock bands in the world. Designed for the most devout U2 fan, this 10-disc collection includes six CDs, four DVDs, a 92-page hardbound book, and 16 art prints. On the music side, you get Achtung Baby, the follow-up Zooropa, and a whole lotta B-sides and remixes of content recorded during the Achtung Baby sessions. On DVD, you can check out the new documentary From The Sky Down, Zoo TV: Live from Sydney (from 1993), the full slate of videos from the album, and other bonus content. The slightly less hardcore fan might be satisfied with the new two-CD set, which sports the reissued album plus B-sides and other rarities.
Learn more on Achtung's website.
Russound AirGo Powered Outdoor Speaker ($399.99)
The new AirGo makes it easy to enjoy your tunes outdoors, without fear of the elements. This all-in-one system includes a weatherproof speaker, amplifier, and docking station designed to house and protect an Apple AirPort Express (not included). Once the AirPort Express is installed, you can wirelessly stream content from any AirPlay-enabled device, be it an iPhone, iPad, computer, or A/V receiver. The single stereo speaker includes dual 0.75-inch dome tweeters and one 6.5-inch woofer. The system also creates a nice little Wi-Fi hotspot in the process.