You don't have to be an audiophile to appreciate good sound and music, so I've put together a healthy selection of great gift ideas, all priced under $300. Tuesday's blog has nine more, and they're all less than $100 each!
The Sherwood RX-4503 stereo receiver ($130) would be a great way to start building an awesome-sounding budget hi-fi. I briefly auditioned the Sherwood and came away really impressed with its sound quality. The stereo receiver serves up 100 watts into each of its two channels, and includes a mono preamp output if you decide to add a powered subwoofer. It has Dolby Virtual Surround and Dolby Headphone faux surround processors. A front-panel connection is also included for the Sherwood BT-R7 Bluetooth Audio adapter, allowing wireless streaming from your mobile phone or other devices. The Sherwood could also work wonders in a stereo home theater system.
B & W is one of the more legendary names in British hi-fi, and its speakers are used in many of the world's top studios, including the Beatles' favorite, Abbey Road. B & W is also known for its sleek styling, and its P5 on-ear headphone ($300) is definitely a looker. Its real leather earpads and chunky tubular metal construction put all of the other similarly priced headphones on the market to shame. The P5 sounds best plugged into an iPod or other portable music players.
The Audioengine P4 is a bona fide audiophile mini speaker that sells for $249 per pair. I gave it a very positive review last year, and now I love it so much I retired my self-powered Audioengine A2 ($199 a pair) speakers. While the A2 is still amazing in its own right, the P4 is better in every way, but it has to be used with a receiver, like the Sherwood on this list, so the P4 winds up costing a lot more than an A2. If you have the dough, or a spare amp, the P4 is the way to go.
The Audioengine N22 desktop amplifier ($199) is an unobtrusive, vertically oriented design--7 inches high, 2.75 wide, and 5.5 deep--and it weighs 3.5 pounds. It's so small I thought it was a digital amp, but it's analog through and through. The clean front panel has just a volume control and a 3.5mm headphone jack; the rear end has stereo RCA inputs and subwoofer outputs; metal speaker wire binding posts; and a USB port for charging portable devices. The N22 accepts analog signals only and sounds swell teamed with Audioengine P4 speakers.
Head-Direct's nifty HM-601 ($259) music player sounds a lot better than an iPod. The HM-601 is also more powerful than an iPod, so it can play full-size headphones that overtax iPods' puny built-in amplifiers. I've heard it totally rock out with Sennheiser HD 600 headphones. Man, they sounded great together!
Miles Davis' Bitches Brew 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition box set ($125) comes with a 48-page book; three CDs (two CDs with the original 94 minutes of music and six bonus tracks); a third CD with a previously unreleased concert by Davis' group with Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira, and Gary Bartz at Tanglewood in August 1970; a DVD of a previously unreleased show with Miles' quintet lineup in Copenhagen in November 1969; and a pure analog (no digital processing whatsoever) 180-gram double-LP set. It's a feast for the ears!
The Pioneer PL-990 turntable ($166) is just a turntable, with no USB capability, but it appears to be a pretty decent performer. In other words, my goal here is to recommend the best-sounding 'table for the money, and directing some of the budget toward USB capability would likely take something away from that. The PL-990 has a built-in phono preamplifier so you can connect this turntable to any auxiliary or line input on your amplifier or receiver.
I love designer Jonas Damon's handsome 2B tube table radio ($242). Damon, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, was raised in Germany and worked in Paris and London before establishing his design consultancy, Office For Design, in New York City in 2001. The radio, which measures 7 inches by 12.8 inches by 8.8 inches, is a beauty and has three tubes handling amplification duties.
"West Coast Seattle Boy: The Jimi Hendrix Anthology" ($70) is loaded with more than four hours of rare and previously unreleased Jimi Hendrix music. The career-spanning box set tracks Hendrix's remarkable journey from little-known R&B sideman to international star. The set also includes "Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child," a new DVD documentary directed by Grammy award-winning Bob Smeaton (Beatles Anthology, Festival Express, Beatles: The Studio Recordings). The film tells Hendrix's incredible story in his own words.