DAR’s holiday gift guide 2017

  • Another holiday season rolls around. Time then for another look at possible gifts, most likely for yourself, but maybe also for another audiophile in your life. I’ve tried to keep this selection as affordable as possible, penultimate item excepted where playing Scrooge only invites trouble. To compensate, the final item is a freebie.

    Oh – and this is important – the Amazon links embedded in each product’s sub-heading are 100% not Amazon affiliate links. DAR makes zero cash from readers clicking through to the checkout.

    AudioQuest Conductive record brush (US$20)
    AudioQuest’s latest record brush, like many other record brushes, uses fine carbon fibres to remove dust from the record’s surface. However, this goes a step further than the competition: those same carbon fibre bristles carry static charge away from the record’s surface, through the brush’s body to its gold metal side contacts for the end user to act as ground. This draws static charge away from record’s surface and prevents it from attracting yet more dust particles.

    1more Dual Driver ANC IEM (US$119)
    Train travel is noisy. Bus travel is noisier. Streets are just as noisy. Aeroplanes are probably the noisiest of all transportation. For the iPhone user in need of cancelling some of that noise as s/he travels but without resorting to a pair of full-size Bose, Sony or B&W, this reasonably affordable IEM from China/California’s 1more are a tidy solution. Housed in a sturdy brown faux-leather pouch when not in use, this hybrid IEM are the perfect travel companion. And because they extract sound digitally from the iPhone’s Lightning port, the in-line mic/remote also houses bespoke DAC/amp circuitry for a sound that mainlines how one might imagine that of vintage loudspeakers: big, bold and warm.

    Twelve Inch vinyl art display bracket (US$20)
    The traditional way of showing off vinyl art as exactly that – art – is to hang a frame housing our favourite record sleeves on the wall. That’s fine for those who want to play set and forget on their vinyl art display but switching them up can be a pain. Twelve Inch’s ‘invisible display bracket’ invites us to go frameless by sliding a 12”-sized slip sliding inside the record sleeve itself and the dropping in onto the smaller, wall-mounted disc. In the immortal words of Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman, “Magnets, bitch!”.

    Fasmov Heavy Stainless Steel Door Stopper Door Stop (US$15)
    What’s a 1kg stainless steel door stop gotta do with hifi? Minimising vibrations without and within a MacMini or NUC serving as USB transport might improve either’s sound. Might. No guarantees here. I use mine in a more traditional fashion: to prevent the USB, power and Ethernet cables from dragging a Sonore ultraRendu rearwards into the black hole that exists behind the hifi rack.

    Les Davis Audio (US$125 for a set of sixteen)
    From Sydney, Australia: shiny silver discs that use constrained layer damping – pressure-sensitive viscoelastic polymer sandwiched between industrial-grade soft aluminium foil – to minimise the SQ-eroding vibrations from entering hifi equipment via its feet. Put them under your turntable or amplifier or DAC or whatever. I use Davis’ v1 3D discs, two under each foot of a Devialet Expert 200 to net superior image specificity. The ‘3D-2’ are the latest version.

    Brainwavz Hengja / Konig & Meyer headphone hangers (~US$15)
    Headphone stands that elegantly display one’s pride and joy are commonplace. And expensive. For those who don’t have the funds to go all in on that ostentatious handmade cocobolo wooden stand they’ve been lusting after should point their browser at Amazon for all manner of screw-on solutions that sell for close to US$15. For my office headphone setup, I have a Konig & Meyer attached to each side of an IKEA Molger – yes, a bathroom cart. I promise you it doesn’t look as as ghetto as it sounds. Streamers, DACs and headphone amplifiers occupy the Molger’s shelves allowing headphones to hang off side-mounted hangers. In the USA, the Brainwavz Hengja does the same job as the Konig & Meyer but for fewer dollars.

    Blue Jeans Ethernet cable (US$10 – $25)
    Buying an Ethernet cable from a local big box retailer is a gamble many audiophiles aren’t prepared to take. How do we know if what we’re buying meets the Ethernet cable spec? We don’t. Blue Jeans are different. They supply a test report with each cable purchased, showing how the cable performed via a Fluke DTX-1800 machine and therefore confirmation of its spec-meeting build quality. Peace of mind at no extra cost to you. A 3m length of Blue Jeans’ Cat 5e is what I use to join one KEF LS50 Wireless to the other. Price? US$10. A similar length of Cat 6 will run you US$15. Belden and BJC termination options available.

    Dual-band Asus AC3100 router / Google wifi system (~US$270)
    If domestic arrangements don’t permit long runs of Ethernet cable through the house – across floors or down stairs – then streamer connectivity permitting, wifi is your Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. Just make sure your wireless router can cut the mustard. Forget the one that ships from your ISP. It simply won’t do for hi-res audio streaming, especially once the rest of the family bring their phones, laptops and tablets home to fire up Netflix. Use the Fing network scanner app to count the number of devices living on your home network. Ten bucks says there are far more than even you expected. This is one piece of electronics on which we shouldn’t skimp – not ever. Money spent on a good dual-band wireless router (2.4Ghz and 5Ghz) like the Asus AC3100 is one way to sidestep future bandwidth / audio drop-out pain, especially when every single one of your ten neighbours is running a wifi network. If your streamer/server doesn’t enjoy line of sight to the router or if your home requires wifi repeaters, the Google solution could be the better fit.

    Roon (60 days for free)
    Whatever your network configuration, when it comes to library management, navigation, Tidal integration all tied together in an hyper-linked webzine layout, Roon is a king among men. Its gotcha is the price: US$119/year isn’t chump change. Just ask anyone who pays for Spotify Premium – they cost the same. And at US$499 for a lifetime license, not everyone is sold on the idea of seeing software as a bona fide hifi component. So – in the spirit of this the giving season, the guys from Roon are giving DAR readers a 60-day license, completely free of charge. Use this code: DARK-BK4F-A2Y2 for which the only condition is that the 60-day period must be activated before 1st January 2018. No ifs, not buts and not to be used in conjunction with any other Roon offer.

    Need more options? Check out DAR’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guide here.

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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