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Audio360.org's 2013 Stocking
Stuffers Guide

audio360.org> > guides > > Audio360.org's 2013 Stocking Stuffers Guide

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

by Amos Barnett, Arly Borges, Warren Chi, Scot Hull, Brian Hunter, Frank Iacone, Michael Liang, Michael Mercer, Lachlan Tsang, Kevin Venable, Ian White, Ethan Wolf & Bowei Zhao


Here at Audio360.org, we like to keep things light and funny. We especially like being funny when we have a point to get across. Humor is a devastatingly effective vehicle for communicating thoughts and ideas. Hence, Volkswagen commercials.

Luckily, we are aided in those comedic efforts by two assets.

First of all, we've got some naturally funny guys here. Some of the kidding they do in private is hilarious! No, we're not going to reveal what they said, but it was some seriously funny sh*t.

The second (and primary) reason why we're able to maintain a sense of humor is that we have a joke of an operating budget. Because of the latter, we won't be publishing a full holiday guide this year. Instead, we are publishing an equally-useful, but far more economical, stocking stuffer guide!

So if you find your wallet or purse as Lilliputian as ours this holiday season, take a peek at the items we've picked out for your loved ones (or yourselves) below.

Have a happy whatever-it-is-that-you-celebrate this year!


  • Amos Barnett's Stocking Stuffer Picks

    Sony XBA series In-Ear Monitors

    Sony XBA series In-Ear Monitors
    Price: $50 to $234 USD (from Amazon.com)
    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=field-keywords=sony%20xba

    Last year Sony came out with their new balanced armature IEMs, which pleasantly surprised me with their good reproduction of musical instruments, something I'd found lacking in IEMs up until then.

    Depending on budget, Sony offers an entire range from the single-driver XBA-10 up to the 4-driver XBA-40.

    What is more, these are slightly updated versions of their previous offerings, from the XBA-1 to XBA-4, which are still available on Amazon at a considerable discount, making them excellent values.

     

    HeadAmp Pico Power
    MSRP: $475 USD (from HeadAmp.com)
    http://www.headamp.com/pico/index.htm

    Two years in development, the Pico Power is one of the best single-ended portable amps out there.

    It packs plenty of power for most full-sized headphones with 9V batteries packed inside an enclosure only the size of 4 of them. This is because it is a pure amp only -- there is no DAC or charging circuit included. However, the case itself is of the highest quality milled aluminium and the simple design is a work of art in itself.

    While aimed at people wanting a portable amp for full-sized headphones, it does equally well with sensitive IEMs, having an ultra-low output impedance as well as 3 gain settings and good volume pot.

    It so impressed me with IEMs in fact that even it even did a better job with Tralucent's 1plus2 IEMs than if I used them straight out of my iRiver AK100 (with impedance modification). While it isn't as great driving the top planar headphones, with most others it is quite impressive considering its price and size.

  • •   •   •

  • Arly Borges's Stocking Stuffer Picks
     

    Logitech Ultimate Ears 600vi EarphonesLogitech Ultimate Ears 600vi Earphones
    MSRP: $119.99
    http://ue.logitech.com/en-us/product/ue600

    At around $120.00 USD the Ultimate Ears 600vi is a no frills no holds barred earphone for the budget conscious music lover. Boasting a fun, fluid, and pleasantly warm sound signature the 600vi is an economically priced piece of kit that punches above it's price point which can be worn both over ear or straight down. Accessories include 5 silicone tips of various sizes, two pairs of Comply tips, shirt clip, and a plastic hard carrying case. For those sporting iDevice or BlackBerry handsets the 600vi has a microphone, Play, pause, track forward/back, answers calls from accessible on-cord controls, and *volume adjusting from on-cord controls.

    *Volume control not available with BlackBerry devices

     

    Nuforce uDAC-3 Amp/DACNuforce uDAC-3 Amp/DAC
    MSRP: $125.00
    https://www.nuforce.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&layout=item&id=687&Itemid=2746

    The Nuforce uDAC-3 is a pocket sized high res 24 bit 96 khz capable USB powered DAC/amp combo thats a perfect fit for the always on the go laptop carrying audiophile thats a no brainer to install with its plug and play functionality. The strength of the uDAC-3 is it's ability to get out of the way and let the music do the talking. It sounds completely clean and transparent and provides the listener with a wonderfully black background. If you're looking for a transportable solution and need something to drive your C/IEM's or sensitive headphones the uDAC-3 is the perfect answer. Or if instead you're one of those people who need a small sized home solution due to desk real estate being at a premium the uDAC-3 will also serve you well. The uDAC-3 is available in black, white or pimped out red.

     

    Leckerton Audio UHA-6S MKII Amp/DACLeckerton Audio UHA-6S MKII Amp/DAC
    MSRP: $279.00
    http://www.leckertonaudio.com/products/uha-6s-mkii/

    This little mobile amp is a must have for the audiophile who's always on the go. As well as boasting a killer amp section it throws in a USB Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC, the sound signature can be fine tuned by op amp rolling, it has 24-bit/96kHz optical and coaxial S/PDIF digital audio inputs (TOSLINK), has a charging disable feature which allows the unit to be used with tablets and other devices which limit power draw, can be utilized as a DAC/amp for iOS7 devices utilizing the Apple camera adapter and is a no brainer to install on the PC/Mac by utilizing standard USB audio drivers making it plug and play. For the money this little amp swings high in the sonic and features department.

     

    Astell & Kern AK120 Audiophile PlayerAstell & Kern AK120 Audiophile Player
    MSRP: $1,299
    http://www.astellnkern.com/eng/htm/ak120/ak120_feature.asp

    Calling all audiophiles, Pegasus does exist. Marketed towards the upscale audiophile with deep pockets, or the crazy spouse willing to sell a kidney for his/her crazier significant other, the AK120 is the pinnacle of true hi-fi sound housed in a small mobile one box solution. Constructed from premium materials the AK120 has 64GB of internal storage and has Dual Micro SDHC slots boosting storage capacity to a whopping 192GB. You'll need every bit of it considering the unit supports full 24 bit 192 khz high res as well as SACD (Super Audio CD) & DSD format playback. Under the hood we find dual Wolfson WM8740 DAC chips independently separating the left and right audio channels which creates a dual-mono audio output system. Also, this little player can be used as a standalone desktop DAC with it's optical & USB external DAC functionality. Accessories include screen protector, back protector and premium skin tight brown leather case.

     
  • •   •   •

  • Warren Chi's Stocking Stuffer Picks
     

    Schiit Audio Vali Tube Headphone AmplifierSchiit Audio Vali Tube Headphone Amplifier
    MSRP: $99.00 ($119.00 shipped)
    http://schiit.com/products/vali

    Schiit surprised all of us this year with the introduction of their $99.00 tube headphone amp, the Vali. That ridiculously low price point is astounding enough in and of itself. But the true value of this amp lies in its sonic capabilities. Here are my thoughts on it, as taken from our Audio360.org CanJam 2013 Special Report:

    "Auditioning through the supplied LCD-2, I found the Vali to be very nicely-weighted, with surprisingly good bass control typically found in tube amps far in excess of the Vali's asking price. As such, I also found the lower mids to be exceptionally clean and tight, and free of any loose or syrupy bass bleed. The rest of the mids were smooth and lush especially with female vocals, which I had expected. However, the Vali did not seem to veil or smear any midrange detail - which I did not expect. The highs, far from being offensively rolled-off, had a easy-going sparkle about them. Overall, the Vali gels extremely well across the entire frequency range, with excellent staging that was never once stifling."

    If $119 is within your gifting budget, get this for the headphone enthusiasts in your life. They'll love it!

     

    Grado Labs Mini AdaptorGrado Labs Mini Adaptor
    MSRP: $25.00
    http://www.gradolabs.com/page_accessories.php?item=af057189070b2cce5d99b942344ebf73

    What? Don't give me that look! So what if it isn't a very sexy gift? The audiophile in your life will still love it.

    The fact is, we audio geeks find ourselves needing to convert our 1/4" (6.3mm) TRS plugs into 1/8" (3.5mm) TRS mini plugs more often than we would like to admit. And when it comes to that task, few adaptors work better - or last as long - as Grado's.

    Their cable adaptors are built-to-last and infinitely better than anything you'll find at Radio Shack or Best Buy. They are loved, coveted, and often stolen at headphone meets and audio shows alike - a testament to just how sexy we truly think they are deep down inside.

     

    Etymotic EtyēPlugs (ER-20) High-Fidelity EarplugsEtymotic EtyēPlugs (ER-20) High-Fidelity Earplugs
    MSRP: $12.95
    http://www.etymotic.com/hp/er20.html

    Protect the ears of those you love! Unlike typical foam earplugs, Etymotic's EtyPlugs attenuate sound evenly across the entire audio spectrum. This means that your family and friends won't hear a muddy version of real life. They'll simply think that they've turned down the volume of the world around them.

    While the official NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) is listed as 12dB, Etymotic claims that EtyPlug users can experience up to 20dB of effective noise reduction using proper insertion techniques. Hearing damage is rarely reversible, so whether 12dB or 20dB, every last bit counts.

    Actually, you should probably invest in a pair of these for yourself as well. This hobby begins and ends with our hearing. So let's guard that ability fiercely.

     

    Headphone Commute's <EM>...and darkness came</EM> Ambient Compilation Album (Various Artists)Headphone Commute's ...and darkness came Ambient Compilation Album (Various Artists)
    MSRP: $10.00
    http://headphonecommute.bandcamp.com

    If someone you know is a fan of Ambient music, then this gift should make quite an impact, even if it's intangible. It's a digital album with 87 Ambient tracks available in various digital formats - including mp3, FLAC, and more - with unlimited mobile streaming using Bandcamp's free listening app.

    And in the spirit of truly giving, you can feel all warm and fuzzy about this gift: it was put together to benefit the victims of Hurricane Sandy (the largest Atlantic hurricane on record). As such, 100% of the proceeds earned from the sale of this album go directly to charities that benefit others.

  • •   •   •

  • Scot Hull's Stocking Stuffer Picks
     

    iFi Audio USB PurifieriFi Audio USB Purifier
    MSRP: $99
    http://www.tweekgeek.com/ifi-purifier/

    It's possible that USB audio will take over the universe.

    Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that your laptop doesn't completely suck as a power source for your USB audio gear.

    The USB Purifier from iFi is a brand-new widget that sits inline and may help take out some of the crap, fuzz, and grunge out of your system's audio signal.

     

    Resonessence Labs Herus Headphone DAC/AmplifierResonessence Labs Herus Headphone DAC/Amplifier
    MSRP: $350
    http://resonessencelabs.com/herus/

    While a bit expensive (ha!) for a stocking stuffer, the Herus from Resonessence is just tiny and comes with a stunning number of supported features, including high-resolution audio up to and including 352kHz sampling for PCM and DSD128 ("double DSD"). A 1/4" phono plug and a female USB-B port are the the only things on the box; everything else is run from your laptop.

    Sound quality is outstanding and the output impedance is only 1/10th of an ohm, but power output is a bit low (126mW at 32 ohms and 19 at 300 ohms), so plan accordingly.

     

    ALO Audio Island USB DAC/Headphone AmpALO Audio Island USB DAC/Headphone Amp
    MSRP: $299
    http://www.aloaudio.com/amplifiers/the-island

    A big, chunky pure-analog volume control is the big differentiator on this portable DAC/amp combo. File support runs up to 24bit/192kHz (no DSD, sorry), but does support significant power output with a variety of gain options make this widget worth a spin.

    The sound quality is enough to earn it a place on the desk. Oh, and it looks really cool!

    For a full review of the Island at Part-Time Audiophile, click here.

  • •   •   •

  • Brian Hunter's Stocking Stuffer Picks
     

    AudioEngine D3 DAC and Headphone AmplifierAudioEngine D3 DAC and Headphone Amplifier
    MSRP: $189
    http://audioengineusa.com/Store/Digital-Audio-Converters/D3-24-Bit-DAC

    The latest USB stick-sized DAC and headphone amplifier to hit the market is a welcome addition. From the guys at AudioEngine, known for their budget-oriented wireless digital and desktop loudspeakers, this little guy plugs directly into your computer's USB port and packs quite an acoustic punch.

    Amazing bass definition and ruler flat frequency response sets this converter apart from the rest of the pack. The difference between the D3 and a computer's built in headphone jack is night and day.

     

    Astell and Kern AK100Astell and Kern AK100
    MSRP: $699
    http://www.astellnkern.com/eng/htm/ak100/ak100_feature.asp

    While this high-end portable player has been recently overshadowed by it older, more expensive brother the AK120, the original AK player is still a dynamic, amazing player in its own right.

    Reigning in at almost half the price of the 120, this DAP still features clean playback, a fairly intuitive interface and (thanks to a recent firmware update) DSD playback. When paired with IEMs, the AK100 is one of the blackest, quietest backgrounds I have ever heard from any system, large or small.

  • •   •   •

  • Frank Iacone's Stocking Stuffer Pick

    Beyerdynamic T51p Portable HeadphoneBeyerdynamic T51p Portable Headphone
    MSRP: $289
    http://north-america.beyerdynamic.com/shop/hah/headphones-and-headsets/mobile-portable/t-51-p.html

    No one listening to portable audio should be without the T51P from Beyerdynamic. This baby tesla has outstanding sound quality.

    The T51P has a small footprint but the sound is very large and dynamic. This little road warrior will provide endless hours of sonic bliss and can be taken everywhere it is slick traveling case. Makes me smile all the time.

  • •   •   •

  • Michael Liang's Stocking Stuffer Picks
     

    Sennheiser HH-10 Headphone HolderSennheiser HH-10 Headphone Holder
    MSRP: $19
    http://en-us.sennheiser.com/hh-10

    If you own one or more headphones, a headphone holder is an invaluable accessory. The Sennheiser HH-10 is not a headphone stand, those take up precious desk real-estate. The HH-10 is a headphone holder that works like a c-clamp. It clamps on to the edge of your desk or your audio system's rack, taking up very little surface area. The HH-10 is made of high-strength plastic and is very light weight. The adjustable clamp has a soft rubber pad to ensure no damage to the surface it's attached to. The surface area where the headphone's headband meets the holder is wide, very well padded, and curved to a natural shape. This provides even weight distribution to avoid uneven pressure points that may cause damage to the headphone's headband. This $19 Sennheiser HH-10 Headphone Holder may just be the most often-used audio accessory you own.

     

    Beats Drenched-In-Color SoloHDBeats "Drenched In Color" SoloHD
    MSRP: $199
    http://www.beatsbydre.com/headphones/beats-matte-solohd.html

    The original Beats by Dr. Dre SoloHD was manufactured in conjunction with Monster aka Monster Cable. After a 5 year partnership, Beats by Dr. Dre and Monster separated in 2012. The current line of Beats products are manufactured at the hands of Beats Electronics. The refreshed 'drenched in color' SoloHD is available in 9 new matte colors. Aside from a fresh paint job, Beats have made some under the hood improvements. Gone are the boomy, overwhelming bass and muffled sounds of previous SoloHDs. The refreshed SoloHD now sounds clean, with crisp highs and punchy low bass. The sound difference from the original SoloHD to the current version is like going broadband, you won't go back. Beats headphones are undoubtedly "cool" among young people. That coolness is now matched with great sound in the 'drenched in color' SoloHD. I like the direction Beats is heading and I urge you to give their new products a listen.

     

    ADL H118 Headphones and X1 Portable DAC/AmpADL H118 Headphones and X1 Portable DAC/Amp
    MSRP: $269 (H118); $479 (X1)
    http://www.adl-av.com

    Working at Audio360, I come across a lot of gear. Some I love, while some don't make the cut. One company that comes to mind for 2013 that myself and a couple of staff members can unanimously recommend is Alpha Design Labs (ADL) by Furutech. Being a newcomer to the high-end personal audio market, ADL has been turning out some very high-quality, high-value products. If you're shopping for a audiophile in the family, but you cringing at some of the high-priced items on his/her wish list, check out ADL by Furtech. Or if you want something small to stuff some stockings, their premium audio and headphone cables are a great choice. We currently have their full-size headphones H118 and X1 portable DAC/headphones amp in review so look out for that in early 2014.

  • •   •   •

  • Michael Mercer's Stocking Stuffer Picks
     

    AudioEngine D3 DAC and Headphone AmplifierAudioEngine D3 DAC and Headphone Amplifier
    MSRP: $189
    http://audioengineusa.com/Store/Digital-Audio-Converters/D3-24-Bit-DAC

    The new D3 from the Audioengine camp could be their greatest sonic triumph thus far. In my opinion, itís one of the most musically engaging USB stick/dongle-style DAC/headphone amps on the market today. This from the guys that bring you two-hundred dollar desktop speakers? Donít get me wrong: I love the Audioquest Dragonfly. It was a ground-breaking product. Same goes for the HRT microStreamer (which stays in the messenger bag, for now) and the Meridian Explorer. Audioengine however, has elevated the game. The D3 packs far more dynamic slam, dimensionality, and itís more addictive to listen to. It can also drive a multitude of cans from my new Audeze LCD-Xís (a grand musical combination) to my V-MODA M100ís w/ new XL pads, Mr. Speakers Alpha Dogs, and my cherished Grado SR225iís. Perhaps one of its greatest attributes is not that it merely drives these varied styles of headphones: It marries well with them sonically. Thatís a key piece of the puzzle for a product like this: Versatility.

    I love it. Highly recommended.

     

    ALO Audio Island USB DAC/Headphone AmpALO Audio Island USB DAC/Headphone Amp
    MSRP: $299
    http://www.aloaudio.com/amplifiers/the-island

    I wrote a full review of the ALO Island for Part-Time Audiophile which can be found HERE. This can be the perfect travel mate for somebody lookin' for a USB DAC/headphone amp (192k/24-bit capable) with a slick modern design and the musical goods to match. I've been glued to it since I got mine at CanJam at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. It offers both 3.5mm and RSA balanced outputs: A nice touch. I prefer to listen via the balanced output. There seems to be more gain, better control in the bass, and a cleaner, more transparent midrange. The 3.5mm output also sounds great however. The Island also features low, medium, and high gain to accommodate all sorts of headphones, from sensitive IEMs to power-hungry over-ear designs. Plus: This may sound a lil' strange, but I love the textural feel of the over-sized volume knob! It's makes getting the level just right a cinch. This is one of my favorite new products of the year. It's also a killer small DAC/headphone amp combo for somebody with cans that require a little juice but they don't have the budget for a full-sized desktop DAC/amp. I don't say this about many products in this price category, nor this size frankly, but the ALO Island hung in there with some of my larger desktop rigs. As my cousin Kenny Gould said at CanJam this year: ALO's got a winner here.

     

    V-MODA Crossfade M-100 Headphones (w/ XL Memory Cushions)V-MODA Crossfade M-100 Headphones (w/ XL Memory Cushions)
    MSRP: $310
    http://v-moda.com/crossfade-m-100/

    The V-MODA Crossfade M-100's are one of only two pairs of headphones that I've purchased based on a friendly recommendation alone. That recommendation came from my dear friend Jude Mansilla, Founder of Head-Fi.org. I called Jude looking for his advice on an easily portable (preferably foldable with a case) set of cans that were great for electronic music. I have to say: He nailed it out of the park. The moment I got the headphones I loved em. The problem was, and this really sucked, that the original ear-pads would bother the outer rims of my ears after about a half hour of listening time. They'd get really sore. I was heartbroken because I loved their sound, especially when it came to reproducing not only the bang, but the soul of underground electronic music. Well, thanks to Karl Detken from V-MODA, I walked away from CanJam with their new XL Memory Cushion Ear-Pads! He was nice enough to remove the pads from his own M-100s, while they were hangin' around his neck, and lace me up. I am forever grateful, as the XL Pads have transformed my listening experience with the Crossfade M-100s! I loved em before, and I love them even more now. Not only are they more comfortable: I can rock them for hours, but the new pads seemed to increase the control of the bass. The low end is articulated with greater impact, greater velocity; sounding far more tight and airy at the same time. If you're a fan of electronic music (or pop for that matter) I recommend you give the V-MODA Crossfade M-100s a listen. They're very stylish, and also do a great job with telephone calls via iPhones or Androids. This was an easy pick for me.

  • •   •   •

  • Lachlan Tsang's Stocking Stuffer Picks

    I grew up in a strictly no stocking and no stuffing household, but I have learnt the strange customs of your species. Here are some appropriately humanoid gift ideas.

     

    Shure SE215Shure SE215
    MSRP: $99
    http://www.shure.com/americas/products/earphones-headphones/se-earphones/se215-sound-isolating-earphones

    While Kevin has already picked my other favourite $99 earphone, the SE215 is a demonstration that even the big players in the market can scale down to deliver plenty of bang for buck. The SE215 is the complete package - detachable cables, a comfortable negative profile fit with fantastic noise isolation, a generous selection of tips and accessories, and a warm, bombastic sound from the dynamic driver that will put a grin on your face during a daily commute. While it's not the last word in finesse, I think most people would be thrilled with the practical design and rich sound of these small wonders.

     

    Audio Technica ATH-ES700Audio Technica ATH-ES700
    MSRP: $229.95
    http://www.audio-technica.com/cms/headphones/85b7822ee8285045/index.html

    The Audio Technica ATH-ES700 is in my opinion one of the most well priced, well rounded options on the portable headphone market today, with a slightly warmer than neutral sound, punchy bass and Audio Technica's signature performance in delivering a brilliantly engaging vocal range.

    It is also a tremendously gorgeous set of cans, with a mirror finish on its stainless steel cups that will turn heads (and probably give a heart attack to those nervous about scratches). Click here to watch my video review of these decidedly classy cans!

     

    Sony MDR-MA900Sony MDR-MA900
    MSRP: $299.99
    http://www.sony-asia.com/product/mdr-ma900

    The MA900 is one of my favourite all-round home/desktop headphones. It is fantastically lightweight, astoundingly comfortable, has an easy to live with, balanced sound and a relaxed, open soundstage. It is like a cheaper and more comfortable Sennheiser HD600, and it would make a wonderful gift for music lovers, movie watchers and gamers alike. Availability of this overlooked gem seems a little patchy outside of Japan nowadays, but if you ever try this set of ear pillows you will probably want one for yourself. I made a video review of these a while back, and still love them to bits today!

  • •   •   •

  • Kevin Venable's Stocking Stuffer Picks

    Stocking stuffers... Cool! I had a Christmas tree stocking when I was a kid and I remember that thing held some of the coolest though small and inexpensive gifts of the year. For my stocking stuffer recommendations I am actually going to put together a small and cost effective music system that I personally enjoy.

     

    HiFiman RE-400 Waterline IEMHiFiman RE-400 Waterline IEM
    MSRP: $99
    http://hifiman.com/Products/?pid=143

    These IEMs are one of the best values in audio listening today in my opinion.

    For $99 you get a glorious warm and detailed midrange, nice highs that are not overbearing and a low end that while not extended or textured does well by the music.

     

    HRT microStreamerHRT microStreamer
    MSRP: $189.95
    http://highresolutiontechnologies.com/microstreamer

    A small Headphone amplifier/DAC that offers 24 bit 96 khz playback and very musical performance. I personally can't think of a product that I could recommend more. This is a superb product that gives performance and musicality I only found surpassed in DAC/amps closer to the $1K price point. As a system the microStreamer pairs extremely well will the RE-400, and are easily tossed in your computer bag to follow you to work or on a trip.

     

    Streaming Music SubscriptionsStreaming Music Subscriptions
    MSRP: $10/month
    https://mog.com
    https://www.spotify.com/us/

    I have subscriptions to both MOG and Spotify and use them daily. Both sound very good these days, though I give the edge to MOG in sound quality and to Spotify in ease of use and social media integration. Both are making improvements all the time and the idea of having that much music available for a $10 monthly fee almost makes this a no brainer addition to a budget conscience music system. Also it allows you to preview something before spending money on Hi-Rez version or record which saves you money in the long run as well.

  • •   •   •

  • Ian White's Stocking Stuffer & Chanukah Gift Picks
     

    Meridian Audio Explorer USB DACMeridian Audio Explorer USB DAC
    MSRP: $300
    https://www.meridian-audio.com/en/collections/products/explorer-1000/4/

    British high-end audio manufacturer, Meridian Audio, is best known for its mega-buck digital playback devices and active loudspeaker systems, but it is also a company that has always had its pulse on the shifting winds within the digital playback space. USB DACs that will fit in the palm of your hand have been all the rage since rival, AudioQuest (with a lot of help from Wavelength Audio's Gordon Rankin), introduced the diminutive DragonFly to universal acclaim, but it took some for a major loop when the next really big shoe to drop came from our friends over on the other side of the pond in the form of the Explorer 24-bit/192kHz asynchronous USB DAC/headphone amplifier which retails for an affordable.

    Fantastic build quality combined with first-rate sonics makes the Explorer a great choice for a desktop system or a pair of quality headphones like the Sennheiser Momentum on-ear or Grado RS1i which are very easy to drive. If you're interested in joining the high resolution audio revolution and enjoying some of the great music available from HDTracks, Acoustic Sounds, or even Bowers and Wilkins Society of Sound, the Meridian Explorer is a major step forward.

     

    Wadia Digital 151 PowerDAC miniWadia Digital 151 PowerDAC mini
    MSRP: $800.00
    http://www.wadia.com/en-US/Products/151

    Winter always comes a tad early for the folks at Wadia Digital which is based in the Detroit-suburb of Saline, Michigan (Wadia was purchased in 2012 by Italy's Fine Sounds Group which now owns Audio Research, Sonus Faber, McIntosh, and Sumiko), but nothing will warm up your desktop-based audio system faster than the extremely versatile 151 PowerDAC mini which is remarkably affordable considering its performance with a multitude of loudspeakers; including the pesky planar-magnetic Super MMG loudspeakers from Magnepan.

    The 151 PowerDAC mini includes a class 'D' digital amplifier (50 watts/8 ohms) and plethora of digital input options. Its Coaxial and Toslink inputs accept data rates up to 24-bit/192kHz, while its USB input will accept data up to 24-bit/96kHz. Wadia's proprietary sampling algorithms up-sample all incoming data to 24-bit/384kHz and its compact design allows it to vanish on your desktop or inside a media console. Pair up the 151 PowerDAC mini with the aforementioned Maggies, or something less visually intimidating as the Wharfdale Diamond 10.1 2-way loudspeakers, and you will be shocked at how affordable great sound quality can be.

     

    Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear HeadphonesSennheiser Momentum On-Ear Headphones
    MSRP: $230.00
    http://en-us.sennheiser.com/momentum-on-ear

    With lifestyle headphones all the rage thanks to the enormous success of Beats by Dre, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that even the major players within the headphone space are trying to get lucky right now with designs that differentiate themselves from the competition, and nobody did that better in 2013 than Sennheiser. Not to be confused with their more expensive sibling, the $350 Momentum headphones, the $230 Momentum on-ear are ideal for the listener on-the-go who wants quality and style for their smart phone or digital audio player such as the Astell & Kern AK100. Remarkably light, the Momentum on-ear have a clean, yet slightly laid-back sounding presentation and while they may not be the last word in bone-crunching bass response, they are more than ideal for a healthy diet of rock, pop, electronica, jazz, classical, and whatever else gets your cronuts in a twist.

    The Momentum on-ear also include controls for your iOS-based smartphone or tablet (Android users get left out again) positioned on the supplied headphone cord and the entire series comes in a variety of brushed metal colors that'll make you stand out on the train ride home or standing in-line at your local coffee shop each morning. A well-executed design that offers comfort, style, and excellent sound quality for the money.

  • •   •   •

  • Ethan Wolf's Stocking Stuffer Picks
     

    Woo Audio HPS-H Headphone StandWoo Audio HPS-H Headphone Stand
    MSRP: $34
    http://www.wooaudio.com/products/wahps.html

    This thing is cheap for what it offers: a full aluminum build. It is compact and luxurious. I have found headphone stands to be extremely useful, they minimize the compressing of your headphone pads, allowing your headphone pads to live a longer life; they add a look an upscale look to your setup, making your desk look more pleasant; and they clean up the clutter on your desk, allowing for also, a more pleasant look.

    Shipping for the HPS-H stand is $6, thus, for only $40, you get all of the above!

     

    Astell & Kern AKR01Astell & Kern AKR01
    MSRP: $200
    http://www.astellnkern.com/eng/htm/accessory/akr01.asp

    Astell & Kern is a branch of iRiver, iRiver is a company that makes various DAPs, all of them relatively cheap, that are without the specifications of the A&K DAPs. A&K is for the audiophiles inside of you, specifically the on-the-go ones. Recently, A&K teamed up with Final Audio to bring the Final Audio IV to people in the States; they did this to lower the price of the IV in the US, as importing the IV is relatively expensive.

    The AKR01 presents a warm and musical sound signature, with a mild bass boost. The AKR01's sound can only be described with one word: addicting. The mids are absolutely beautiful, and are very sweet. It is absolutely beautiful, with a stainless steel enclosure. It features a flat cable, while there will be no tangling because of the design, there will be microphonics. This IEM is an all-around player, so don't hesitate if you listen to a variety of music styles.

    One of the best parts for your wallet is that its only $200! Though, the very best part, is that the AKR01 was optimized for the AK DAPs, thus, they sound much better with the AK100 or the AK120.

  • •   •   •

  • Bowei Zhao's Stocking Stuffer Picks
     

    RHA SA950iRHA SA950i
    MSRP: $59.99
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008JFRRYK/

    It's a guilty pleasure in some audiophiles to truly enjoy their music. Some high end gear just cannot make music sound enjoyable. The engineers may have just tuned it for the mass market after all. What better headphone to choose but one built for the same market? Introducing this little beast of a headphone.

    The RHA SA950i is abusive to audio purists, built just a bit too weak for the daily punishment , and misses the spot in physical ergonomic design. However, it succeeds in the area that matters; the sound. The RHA's are completely smooth in their presentation. Do you have music that sound bad and artists that don't work well with your current headphones? Well then the RHA's are going to be your baby at that moment. They play every genre well for the purpose of it being bassy, mid centered, and smooth throughout to accommodate almost every song and genre you can think of. Too many headphones at this price range try to incorporate audiophile elements into the sound. The SA950i's almost seem to reject that idea. That in itself, is the shining characteristic of the headphone. The SA950i is a bit lacking in the physical dimension, but makes up for it with its beautiful all encompassing sound. Its a performance machine for music lovers on a budget.

     

    Banana HoldersBanana Holders
    MSRP: $15
    http://www.walmart.com/ip/Spectrum-Euro-Banana-Holder-Chrome/14935415

    Banana stands are the pinnacle of a ragtag headphone setup. Not only are they extremely cheap, but are also usable. You can use them as they are, but I recommend using a cloth 'pullover' on them. I had a family member sew a mini sock that would go over the 'hook' portion of the banana stand. This is optional of course as the hook itself already works for a wide variety of headphones. You can feel both accomplished and smart with this purchase. It was a smart purchase as it was so cheap, and using it past its 'true' function will bring out the inner badass feeling within. Did I mention that they also work well with bananas?

     

    3M Double Sided Tape3M Double Sided Tape
    MSRP: $2~$6 (depending on length)
    LINK

    This may just be an actual stocking stuffer. We all know what they say about duct tape right? Well, double sided tape may be the next big thing. Have 'stuff' around the room that just won't stay put? Fixtures like lights that keep moving around? Maybe even a poster you want to put up on your wall. Well the double sided tape is your answer and mine. Use it on your desktop amps, portable stacks, headphone stands, and more. Heck, you can even use it to keep the family happy. Fix stuff around the house with this to keep your family happy, and then use some more to get the gear all prepped up and neat. The uses are endless!

    What do I use it for? I mainly use it to keep my computer speakers, computer gear, and desktop amps in place. In the past, it also worked well to keep a portable amp attached to my DAP. I would only recommend this if you have a case in between the two as this tape does leave a mess on some types of material. What are you still waiting for? Double Sided Tape awaits.

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