I was preparing to write my gift article when a thunderstorm came through town. In a flash, none of the equipment I had recently installed for a client was no longer communicating. Thankfully, all of the pieces still worked fine on their own.
Why did this happen? Because I hadn’t insisted on including a properly designed outlet strip and power conditioner with the system.
For this reason, my first gift item is a real outlet strip and power conditioner. You don’t just get more outlets. The power is filtered—cleaned of high-frequency harmonics and electronic noise that eats away at the picture and sound quality. Every piece of sensitive equipment you have will work better if the power is cleaned up. The system will give you less trouble if it is also protected from momentary power surges, whether from a lightning strike or from your heater and fridge motors coming on at the same time. Even your appliances should be protected from harm caused by imperfections in our rural power grid.
These power conditioners are now quite affordable. They’ll make your audio and video equipment look and sound better, and you’ll remove a major source of trouble. The ultimate power conditioners can cost thousands, but the Tributaries brand starts with a single-outlet model for $27 (with a five-year warranty) and tops out with a 10-outlet model for $205 (with a lifetime warranty).
When I was considering opening my store on the Fairfield square, I expected that I’d be bringing in musical gift items for impulse sales. You wouldn’t believe the little gadgets that are available. My favorite was a keychain that had a very tiny boombox on it. When the button was pressed, it emitted a chukka, chukka, chukka, chukka sound like someone shredding it on an electric guitar! Fortunately, I decided to take a more educational approach and bring in useful items that make your music sound better at home.
With the resurgence of records, possible stocking stuffers are record cleaners, stylus cleaners, antistatic devices, and phono cartridges. Do you have a friend with a big record collection but a beat-up or basic phono cartridge? The right phono cartridge will allow the best sound ever from any record collection.
Every cable is a potential upgrade. Stock or big chain-store cables are poorly made, so replacing them gives immediate sonic results.
All HDMI cables may look the same, but the ancient ones can keep you from sending your TV the best possible picture and sound. The earliest HDMI cables can’t handle the ARC (audio return channel), so sound from the TV and its audio apps can’t even reach the receiver.
The newer the HDMI, the more likely it will handle the highest resolutions of both audio and video sources. A modern HDMI cable handles video all the way to 8K, but the original HDMIs don’t have a chance. If your friend or family member has a new set with old HDMI cables, quality cables are the perfect gift—one that will be appreciated every day for years.
Not only speaker wires, but audio, video, and even digital cables can give you huge improvements to the sound and picture. For the price, they make a very effective gift.
If you live a bit too close to your neighbors, you may not be able to play your speakers loud enough before the neighbors start pounding on the walls or ceiling. That brings me to the world of headphones and accessories, an area where smaller is better.
When I decided to pick headphones for my store, I went to my old friend Ray Samuels, who is known for building one of the best headphone amps in the world. He recommended HIFIMAN headphones, and I have not been disappointed. They make world-class ribbon phones, and their $299 pair, the SUNDARA, sounds better than most of the world’s best high-end speakers. Private listening definitely has that advantage.
My favorite phones have Bluetooth wireless performance, with one of the best digital converters and the highest quality amps built in that I have ever heard in headphones. No wires, exquisite sound, high comfort, and about 20 hours before a recharge.
It’s harder to demonstrate the earbud phones, but if you need to go that direction, some fine examples exist. I have very picky listener friends who prefer them, but I like the powerful sound of a great over-the-ear model.
May your holiday shopping also get you into the best listening you’ve ever done.
Paul owns Golden Ears Inc. in Fairfield, Iowa.