Gifts for Audio Enthusiasts
As the holiday season approaches, I figured that I’d make a list of gifts for the audio professional or enthusiast. In the past, I’ve had friends and family members give me gifts with great intentions, only to have the gift returned or go unused. Non-professionals simply don’t understand what to get, nor should they. It takes years of trial and error to figure out what works and what doesn’t. That said, people who show support for their friend or family member’s pursuit of audio are some of the best people in the world.
Unfortunately, there are very few good options on the market, and not every item will work for every audio enthusiast or professional. Consider this blog post as a starting point, and consider doing some research (read: snooping) as to what your giftee can really use.
First, I’ll start with some obvious poor choices:
Bose or Beats headphones
Bose, Beats, and other designer headphones make music sound great, which is exactly why they make poor choices for audio professionals and enthusiasts. When creating audio, it’s critical to have flat, dull sounding headphones that provide a reference for how the audio actually sounds, not how it should be.
This might work for someone just starting out, but they’re mostly impractical. Even if the microphone is of excellent sound quality and construction, USB microphones can’t be used in multiple-mic setups without complex workarounds. Because USB microphones pose a workflow problem, they’re best avoided.
Netbooks or Tablets
Netbooks and tablets make great gifts, but poor choices for serious audio production. As of December 2018, these devices are either incredibly underpowered or lack the ports and connections to work with most hardware. Plugging a standard microphone into an iPad pro requires an external interface, and transferring recordings to a computer takes some getting used to. In a few years, these will work wonders, but it’s too early to recommend any kind of netbook or tablet for professional recording.
The Audix CX112B is my most recommended go-to microphone. It sounds great on vocals and just about every instrument in a studio environment. Aside from vocal recording, I most often use these on guitar amps, acoustic guitars, violins, cymbal overheads, and bass drums. Unlike a USB microphone, this microphone requires a recording device with an XLR input. For someone with one or more microphones, the Audix CX112B makes a great addition for multiple mic setups. This mic excels at just about everything except for recording snare drums, tom toms, and live stage performances.
This is my favorite handheld stage mic. As an electret condenser, it has slighter better high-end response compared to a traditional dynamic microphone like a Shure SM58. It also has good off-axis rejection compared to a traditional condenser, meaning that it’s less prone to feedback on stage than a studio microphone. Technically speaking, it splits the difference between a studio microphone and stage microphone and sits in a sweet spot that makes it great for both stage and studio use. Particularly unique about this microphone is that it doesn’t pop with plosives (“P’s”, “B’s”, and “Wh’s”) unlike the vast majority of condensers.
Because this microphone isn’t well known, it doesn’t have the popular appeal of a microphone from a more well-known brand like Neumann. It may take some convincing to get someone to switch to this one, but I’ve compared this to similar offerings (particularly the Neumann KMS 105) and the Audix VX5 just sounds better at a fraction of the cost.
These are my favorite headphones and are quite well known in the audio profession. They’re comfortable, great for mixing, and fairly inexpensive.
As great as these are, headphones are always a very personal decision. For someone who already has a pair of good headphones, it’s presumptuous to expect them to change to something else. It’s like asking an artist to use a new paintbrush – even if the new brush is technically superior, the choice is more about familiarity and confidence than anything else. Getting an audio enthusiast or professional a pair of headphones could be risky, but these are a great choice. In the absolute worst-case scenario, they’ll make for a fantastic pair of backup headphones.
The Audix SCX One makes a great addition to any recording studio whose primary focus is recording music. For stage use and live radio broadcasts, there are my go-to microphones for recording acoustic guitars, violins, violas, cellos, and drum cymbals. These have a smaller footprint than the Audix CX112Bs, and also have a smaller pickup pattern. I can use these live environments where Audix CX112Bs won’t fit the bill and still get the crisp, airy sound of a true condenser. Make sure to get the cardioid version, and get a matched pair for stereo recording.
This microphone is absolutely fantastic for recording bass drums, and bass drums only. It’s limited in its versatility, but it absolutely excels at its job. It’s reasonably priced at $200 new and roughly $150 used. The drummer or sound engineer in your life will be thrilled with this microphone.
It’s hard to go wrong with a MacBook Pro, especially one with a 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 processor. A big mistake I see people make is purchasing an underpowered computer that doesn’t allow for low-latency recording while using multiple tracks. That said, this particular version might be overkill for entry-level recording. To save some cash, feel free to buy a used older model, like a 2014 15″ MacBook Pro Retina, 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 Quad Core.
This is a great, portable multichannel audio recording device. For someone without a recording rig or for someone doing remote recording, this really makes for a great, all-in-one unit. Someone can record up to eight microphones into this unit and mix them live, and also offload them onto a computer and mix them later. The device isn’t perfect, but it has more than enough usability to get any reasonable job done. It’s fairly unique, and currently, the best option to work as a portable, standalone multitrack recording rig at a reasonable price.
This is a cool little device that provides a battery backup in the event of a power failure. It’s a helpful little tool for those working on large projects on workstations, or who do long-form audio recording. For those working on laptops or mobile devices with batteries, it’s less of an issue and this device won’t be necessary.
Why a flashlight for someone in audio? You’d be surprised how much time we spend hunting down cables behind a desk or other dark area. Having a small, portable flashlight is indispensable, and has a whole host of other uses in day-to-day life. What makes this such a great gift is that the Surefire Defender is small, virtually indestructible, and completely modular. It also gets major cool points for having a very bright output, a long “throw”, and is used by law enforcement and military around the world.
That’s the end of my short list. As you can see, there aren’t many great options for audio people due to the highly specialized nature of the craft. Hopefully, this gets you started in the right direction and ends up making the person in your life (or yourself) happy.