The best audio gifts, from headphones to DJ gear
The synth lover in your life has no doubt heard of Arturia. The company is known for building affordable yet impressive instruments. The $299 MicroFreak is not only that but also something more. This little synth is a tiny bit of wackiness that any keyboardist would want in their lineup, even if it's just to point to it and say, "That thing is nuts."
Yet the MicroFreak's eccentricities come with impressive features like 11 digital oscillator modes. All of those are pushed through an analog filter, so the end result is a surprisingly warm sound from a source of zeros and ones. Plus, it just looks cool. Whether it's onstage or in a room surrounded by other gear, it's going to turn heads with its sound and design. -- Roberto Baldwin, Senior Editor
Critter & Guitari create some of the most unique-looking music gear on the market. If the musician on your list is into craft breweries and decorates their house with Etsy prints, there's a good chance anything from Critter & Guitari will make them excited. But even if they're more hard-core nerd than hipster, they'll be happy to unwrap the weird but awesome and hackable Organelle M ($595).
See, it's not actually a synth. Instead, it's a battery-powered computer that plays patches built in Pure Data, a visual programming language. It sounds complex and indeed it can be, but it's also easy to pick up and just start creating music. Since it's based on Raspberry Pi, any musician into circuit bending or programming will be at home digging around the digital guts of the Organelle M. -- R.B.
Give the gift of sick beats. Well, not actual beats. Give the gift of creating sick beats without breaking the bank. Korg's lineup of small, inexpensive instruments has expanded quite a bit in recent years. And the $150 Volca Drum, a physical-modeling drum synth, is perhaps the most impressive in the entire range.
This little drummer box supports the usual 16-step sequencer for creating a backbone of kicks and snares, but it can also be used to create complex, evolving rhythms. Your giftee can even tune the different parts to create something both percussive and melodic. Also, thanks to its compact shape and battery power, as soon as they rip open this present they'll be able to immediately start creating their next masterpiece. -- R.B.
Sennheiser's Momentum headphones have consistently been a solid option for a few years now. This year, the company completely redesigned its over-ear model, adding a host of new features for the $400 set. The battery life is lacking compared to similar models from Sony and others, but the sound quality here is great. Sennheiser also provides reliable touch controls and a comfy fit that holds up during several hours of wear. Active noise cancellation is solid in most environments, and the overall design is a departure from the mostly plastic models we typically see from the competition. -- B.S.
Shopping for an aspiring drummer potentially means you're creating another way for them to drive you crazy with noise. The Sunhouse Sensory Percussion system can be that, but when paired with a silent practice pad, it could also reduce the banging while expanding your percussionist's sound palette. The Sensory Percussion system is a drum trigger that connects to a computer and audio interface. It's unique in that it uses light to determine where a strike occurs on a drumhead. With that info, drummers can map out areas on the pads to make different sounds. So the edge of their snare could trigger a clap while the center could play a sample of shattering glass. The starter kit with a single module costs $550, which is not cheap. But throw in a silent practice pad and some earbuds and your drummer will get to make a bunch of incredible sounds with their kit while you enjoy life without constant banging. -- R.B.
Getting a gift for the DJ or turntablist on your list can be pricey. They typically only want hard-to-find records, turntables, mixers and custom slipmats. But if that person in your life is considering going digital, the Thud Rumble Photon Fader might be up their alley. This little device works with a regular turntable and connects directly to a computer or mobile device for low-latency scratching and mixing. In addition to a smooth fader knob, it has eight light-up buttons for MIDI control of your favorite apps. As a bonus, it's small enough to be tossed into a purse and is powered by USB, so there's no need for extra cables. The best part, though, is its $200 asking price. That's not an impulse buy, to be sure, but it's still way cheaper than that $800 turntable you saw at Guitar Center. -- R.B.