AudioStream 2011 Holiday Gift Guide

'Tis the season and we offer a short but sweet selection. This time of year I also like to reflect upon all the things we have in addition to all of the things we don't and take a moment to be thankful for just being here.

Happy Holidays and may your 2012 be filled with music! On with the list...

Logitech Squeezebox Touch
Price: $299.99
The Squeezebox Touch (SBT) may as well be a cult or a sect. Some followers offer it up as the answer to nearly any and every question regarding computer audio. And I can understand their enthusiasm. Wired Ethernet and wireless streaming, play your music files from a USB-attached hard drive or SD Card, stream Internet radio or one of the streaming services like MOG and more (read Kal Rubinson's full review).

The SBT offers its owners near plug and play convenience thanks to some very user-friendly software and an in-built DAC that sounds just fine. There's also a pair of digital outputs (Coax and Toslink) if you'd like to add an outboard DAC. Tack on an included remote, a number of web-based apps, remote apps for iOS and Android devices, a host of enthusiast tweaks and wrap it all in a touchscreen-sporting attractive little package and I say you've got yourself a winning solution. With a street price closer to $235, the only question is, how do they do it?

The Buddha Machine
Price: $20.00-$23.00
The original Buddha Machine personal music player hit the streets with a big splash in 2005 but its creators Christiaan Virant and Chinese keyboardist and computer musician Zhang Jian did not rest on their looping laurels. We're up to rev. III ($20) of the mini loop player and this most recent version samples the Chinese Qin, a seven-string zither, for four extended loops. Versions I and II ($23/each) are still available and offer nine loops each, a volume control, mini-jack out and II adds a pitch control. For your self-generated zen musical moments.

Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman
Price: $4,499.00 - $6,498.00 depending on finish
The all-time classic audiophile listening chair. Good enough for The Chairman Of The Board, good enough for us.

Eames molded plywood lounge chair - LCW
Price: $779.00 - $1,279.00 depending on finish
Another classic sitter from Charles and Ray Eames, the LCW has been in production since 1946. I've owned and sat in one, on and off of course, for the past 20+ years and I find them very comfortable even for long listening sessions. A classic.

Boomkat Gift Voucher
Price: £5 - £200
What better gift to give or receive. I chose Boomkat for their musical selection even though there's no HD music (16/44 FLAC downloads) because in the end its the music that matters most. I wrote about this exact subject for Stereophile Magazine back in 2010 and I haven't changed my mind. If it's HD you're after, check out our list of HD Download sites.

The Wire
Price: US$85/year for US print subscription
The Wire is by far my favorite music-only publication. Pick one up on the newsstand if you haven't yet and you'll be treated to more new music in all shapes and sizes than you could possibly imagine. Warning - hazardous to your music-buying budget.

Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit
Price: $29.00
Use your iPad as a wi-fi receiver or play music stored on it (up to 24/96) to an outboard DAC via USB. Read all about it here.

Protect Your Ears!
Price: $15.28
Hearos High Fidelity ear plugs work. Bring a pair to every concert and your cochlear hair cells will thank you in the morning. And yes, those are real audiophile gag Ear Guards ($4.08).

Play an Instrument!
Price: £4.00
The Original Tin Kazoo from Clarke's has been buzzing its way into young at heart's and minds since the 1930's. Or if you'd prefer to strum how about a ukelele, another instrument guaranteed to bring a smile to every audiophile's face. Other options for cheerful tune-makers include the accordion, harmonium and bongos but the point being, everyone who listens to music (and that is everyone, right?) should have and play an instrument. We are after all musical beings.

Leica M9 "Titanium" or Do Different DACs Really Sound Different?
Price: $Priceless
The Leica M9 "Titanium" is all of $29,000. You can get the standard M9 for a mere $7,750, a point-and-shoot for a hundred bucks or so and a disposable digital camera (seems wrong I know) for about $13. When people are confounded by the prices of hi-fi equipment and suggest price and performance should be inexorably tied together at the hip and that there is a "reasonable" limit on the former but not the latter, you have to ask yourself why should audiophiles be any different from any other group of enthusiasts (shh I know the answer—we're not).

Daniel J. Levitin: This Is Your Brain On Music
Price: $16.00
Here’s another indispensable entry for the Audiophile library – Daniel J. Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music (2006) which explains why music is much more important than an expensive car.

“In a clever study, women at various stages of their menstrual cycle -some during their peak of fertility, others at their minimum of fertility and others in between- were asked to rate the attractiveness of potential mates based on written vignettes describing fictional males…The results showed that when they were at their peak fertility, women preferred the creative but poor artist to the not creative but rich man as a short-term mate, or for a brief sexual encounter.”
And Levintin quotes Darwin:
“I conclude that musical notes and rhythm were first acquired by the male and female progenitors of mankind for the sake of charming the opposite sex. Thus musical tones became firmly associated with some of the strongest passions an animal is capable of feeling, and are consequently used instinctively…” Charles Darwin from The Descent of Man
Or, as PJ Harvey put it, “Music for me is a very sexual thing.”

I highly recommend This Is Your Brain On Music to anyone who spends time listening to music and who feels that music is an essential part of their life.