Audio gifts are always a great idea for anyone who likes music or home theater. Here's a quick round up of affordable goodies, priced from $100 or less!
Logitech Mini Boombox
First thing, the "Boombox" name might be a little misleading; this tiny thing can't boom, but the Logitech Mini Boombox does sound better than I could have imagined for its size, and price, $100. I'm not of fan micro speakers, but this one ain't bad.
The Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder
The Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder ($100) is exactly what the name implies. Measuring just 8 inches by 2 inches by 5 inches, it's very portable, and this little thing records 320 kbps MP3s or high-quality WAV files at 44.1KHz to 96KHz sampling rates with 16-bit or 24-bit resolution. I use the H1 all the time; it's great!
Thinksound ts002 in-ear headphones
The ts02 in-ear headphones are offered in silver cherry or black chocolate finishes, and they come with four sets of eartips in a cotton carry pouch. They make a lot of bass, but it's solid, defined, and clear. This is my favorite under $100 in-ear headphone.
I'm giving MonoPrice a lot of space in today's blog, but they deserve it, their 8250 ($28 per pair) bookshelf speakers aren't dinky plastic things. The textured black wood cabinet is about 8 inches wide, 12 inches tall, and 6 inches deep. The 8250 is a two-way bookshelf speaker with a 6.5-inch polypropylene woofer and a 0.5-inch dome tweeter. It sounds surprisingly decent.
Under $100 subwoofers can be pretty awful, but I really liked MonoPrice's 8-inch, 60-watt powered sub (model 8248). It sells for $57. Want more low-down oomph? Go for their 12-inch, 150-watt model, the 8249, that goes for just $84!
CD box sets
Downloads and streaming music can't touch physical media for sound quality, or the pleasures associated with truly deluxe packaging. Here are a bunch of CD box set reviews ranging from Pearl Jam to Elvis (Presley, not Costello).
Top 10 music Blu-ray discs
Not all music Blu-rays sound great; the variables of the original recordings and mixing can make or break the sound. For example, Tom Petty's "Mojo" Blu-ray doesn't sound much better than the CD version of the same music, but it does have an uninspired 5.1 surround mix. So I put together a top 10 of awesome-sounding music Blu-rays, starting with Peter Gabriel's "New Blood: Live in London," which was recorded earlier this year.
Hifiman Express HM-101 USB DAC/headphone amplifier
I wasn't expecting much from the Hifiman Express HM-101; it's just a $39 outboard USB digital-to-analog converter and headphone amplifier. Well, this tiny USB-powered (it doesn't need batteries or an AC power supply) device definitely pumped up the sound of my Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones! They sounded significantly better with the Express than they did plugged directly into my Mac Mini's headphone jack. Sure, the Mac's sound is perfectly acceptable--until you compare it to something better.
Dayton Audio DTA-1 amplifier
It weighs almost nothing and looks cheap and flimsy, but Dayton's Class T amps have developed a strong following for one really good reason: people really love the sound. The $35 DTA-1 puts out 15 watts a channel and has a mini 3.5mm stereo analog input jack on its rear end. It's also nice and little, just 2 inches by 6.3 inches by 3.3 inches. The DTA-1 T-amp can run on 8 AA batteries or the included power supply.
Coming soon: Awesome-sounding over-$100 audio gift ideas.