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Darko.Audio’s Holiday Gift Guide 2018

  • You won’t see it in the nighttime happy snaps of Berliners huddled in groups at Christmas markets, sipping on Glühwein and eating Pfannkuchen. And you won’t see it in the opulence of KaDeWe’s seasonal displays, nor in Friedrichstraße’s understated lights.

    At this time of year, Berlin says Auf Wiedersehen to the sun until March to deliver day after day of slate grey skies and snow unable to make good on any threat. The temperature barely makes it above 5C (41F). Daylight vanishes at 3.30pm after showing up at 9am only to spend the day kicking around the house in its pyjamas.

    Bah Humbug then to the extremes of the holiday season where too much company (stressful family gatherings) or insufficient (loneliness) cause unhappiness in equal measure. Bah humbug to the obligatory gift buying and fake smiles. Bah bloody humbug to insipid Christmas songs and the excessive eating and drinking.

    Perhaps time for a deep breath and an attempt, this year, not to spend big money on yourself simply because it’s the holiday season. Buy something because you need it and not simply because you find yourself limping toward the end of the year. How about serving yourself a few slices of restraint with a side of moderation to find delight in the small things. Here are ten (self-)gift ideas that sell for well under US$100:

    Raspberry Pi 3B+ (€35)

    The single most cost-effective entry point to network audio streaming. Snap the Pi into a case, connect Ethernet and power brick — and boot. Use Etcher to write different operating systems to the microSD card and discover a world of streaming possibilities. And with the 3B+ version, WiFi connectivity is now possible.

    AudioQuest Jitterbug (€49) / iFi iSilencer 3.0 (€49)

    The problem with the Raspberry Pi is its electrically noisy USB output. The data will (almost) certainly make it to the DAC untarnished but the electrical noise spill will disturb the clock timing inside the downstream DAC. The result can manifest itself audibly as a metallic sheen on music’s stiffer upper lip. Fortunately, we can filter out some of that noise with a €50 widget from high-end audio company’s well-versed in such matters: iFi and AudioQuest. Their respective iSilencer 3.0 and Jitterbug make the Raspberry Pi a more palatable proposition.

     

    VE Monk Plus earbud (US$5)

    The VE Monk Plus isn’t just affordable by high-end head-fi standards. At US$10, delivered to your door, it’s mainstream affordable. And even deployed with a smartphone, the Monk Plus defy all expectations for a $5 earbud. A sharp reminder that there are bargains galore spilling out of Asia these days, ready to reward anyone prepared to step off the high street and into web stores selling lesser-known brands.

     

    KZ Bluetooth Module Upgrade Cord (US$12)

    Turn almost any IEM with detachable MMCX or 2-pin cable into a Bluetooth IEM with this adaptor from China’s Knowledge Zenith — an 8-hour rechargeable battery fuels both aptX transmission (for supported Android devices) or AAC transmission (for iOS devices). This is the same company that gave us the rather splendid KZ ATE IEM but whose other shell designs take questionable inspiration from Ken Ball’s work at Campfire Audio.

     

    Bloom 10 Worlds by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers (US$14)

    Don’t just listen to Brian Eno, become Brian Eno with the Bloom smartphone app. Now celebrating 10 years on iOS and available for Android for the first time, the 10 Worlds edition brings generative ambient music to the man in the street. Use hand gestures to generate tones and patterns and let the internal software engine take care of the rest (or not): hear them develop and/or decay.

     

    Dayton Audio B452-AIR (US$32)

    Your Bluetooth speaker is all well and good but it’s still playing stereo from a single point in the room. Proper stereophony comes from fully separated left and right channels. This Dayton Audio model, paired with a $20 Lepai amplifier, allows anyone to hear proper stereo for themselves for less than the cost of the average Bluetooth speaker. Or maybe the Dayton are a pair of beat-em-ups for the garage. On sale right now at US$32/pair, you probably couldn’t source a pair of the Dayton’s AMT tweeters for less.

    IKEA Dalfred barstool (€40/each)

    A few months back, Finnish active loudspeaker company Genelec shared re-posted an Instagram snap of an 8341 ‘The Ones’ user who’d repurposed IKEA barstools as speaker stands. Forget that the Dalfred aren’t filled with lead shot or spiked to the floor. They look pretty darn decent, will accommodate a wide range of standmounts and their adjustable height means ear-height tweeter positioning is guaranteed.

    Aphex Twin Windowlicker umbrella (£40)

    You don’t use this umbrella only to keep yourself dry (or cool). You swing it in the rain (or at the sun) because you want to tell the world you’re a connoisseur of electronic music. Not only, but that thanks to Chris Cunningham’s visuals, you recognise Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker as one of the most outrageously innovative music videos of all time: just the right mix of scary, funny and obscene.

    Brainwavz Truss headphone hanger (US$15)

    Not everyone is a show-off. Not every headphone owner needs to display his/her headphones on the desk, prepped for appreciative noises from visiting friends. Many are just as happy to tuck them away out of sight when not in use and in the process save a little (valuable) desk space. The all-metal Truss headphone hanger from Brainwavz accommodates two pairs of headphones but puts them under the desk for more discrete, less show-pony storage.

     

    Fucking Hell beer (€13 and up)

    A Pilsner named after the Austrian village Fucking but brewed in Germany. Hell is the German word for bright but in this context, it means light or pale. Also a sharp reminder of how affordable beer is in this part of the world – €13.20 for 12 x 33cl bottles. Shame you’ll have to be in Germany to take delivery. Fucking hell, indeed.


    Our 2017 holiday gift guide is here and the 2016 guide here.

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile. John used to live in Sydney. Now he lives in Berlin.

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