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Great Gifts for the Music Lover

For the Jazz fan who has everything: some audiophile gifts from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Here are a few ways to make that Diana Krall CD sound even better. New audio technology as well as good old fashioned high-end audio equipment can make some pretty

satisfying holiday gifts, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve added to or upgraded your hi-fi system. And these gift ideas will fit most budgets-from $30 to $10,000!

New Advancements in Headphone Technology

Used to be that listening to music with headphones was perhaps the most sedentary method. You had to place your chair within about three feet of the receiver and stretch the cord on over. Forget about getting up to grab the beer you left on the coffee table. And going to the bathroom meant pausing Bird in mid-swing. Now, with the advent of the Walkman as well as 900 MHz technology, you can dance to your own private jam, while the rest of your family and friends look on in bewildered silence.

Sony Noise-Canceling Headphones

The Sony MDR-NC5 noise canceling headphones have a built-in amplifier that emits an inaudible signal that is 180 degrees off phase from the approximate frequency of an airplane engine. This frequency cancels out the annoying hum so that you can hear your Discman or laptop much more clearly. In fact, you don’t even have to listen to music. Just put the headphones on your head and flip the switch. The noise-canceling frequency will reduce ambient noise by 70% automatically without making a sound. Since the hum of a train, bus, or car is also around the same frequency as a plane, you can use the MDR-NC5’s for quieting those modes of transportation as well. This handy travel mate sells for under $100.

JVC 900 MHz Wireless Headphones

Say you’re at home and want to listen to music without disturbing the rest of your housemates. But you also don’t want to be tied down by the cord. Enter the miracle of 900 MHz technology. The 900 MHz spectrum was designated by the FCC exclusively for use with consumer electronics products. That means that there is far less interference with 900 MHz headphones and cordless phones than other models.

A good bet is the JVC HA-100RF wireless headphone. Simply hook up the transmitter to the headphone jack of your receiver and you can receive excellent sound up to 150 feet away! And 900 MHz is a radio frequency, so unlike infrared technology that has to be within line-of-sight, these headphones transmit through walls, floors, etc. Now you can walk around the house-even mow your lawn while listening to your own stereo system. Control the volume on the headphones themselves. The rechargeable battery lasts for twelve hours. Pick up a pair for under $80.

Sony “Street-Style” Behind-the-Head Headphones

A new fad among the “GenY” streetwise set is the Behind-the-Head headphone. This format uses full-size ear pads for full-range sound, but the shortened band goes behind your head rather than on top. The theory is that not only is this design more comfortable, but you can wear a helmet for biking or blading without the phones getting in the way. I guess it also looks cooler (admittedly, I can no longer be trusted to make this evaluation).

Sony’s 2nd generation B-T-H headphones are the MDR-G52LP, which sound great and sell for a scant $20.

Protect your Equipment

Power surges are one of the main causes of electronic equipment failure. Generally lightning causes power surges. But they can also be caused by problems at the power grid, etc. Monster Cable, the recognized leader of audio and video accessories, has a new line of power surge protectors that not only protect your components from surges in the A/C line, but also surges from your telephone line and from your cable TV line, or roof antenna.

The Monster Cable HTS-800

Accommodates eight A/C outlets-3 spaced for transformer use. There is also one gold contact coaxial connection for cable TV or DBS; and two phone line connections for satellite receiver pay-per-view connections. There is also a Monster DataSpeed™ 100 modem/phone cable.

Not only does the HTS-800 protect your equipment, but it also conditions the current, which enhances its performance. It sells for under $100, and comes with a lifetime warranty and $50,000 equipment protection guarantee!

Portable Audio-It’s a Whole New Game

There are a few technologies new on the market that deliver incredible digital sound from a package so small, it never would have been thought possible just a few years ago. It’s true that the portable CD player or Discman (a trademark of Sony) has gotten extraordinarily slim. But enter the MiniDisc and MP3 technology.

Besides the sheer diminutiveness, portable digital apparatae also skip far less than CD players did only a short time ago. All MiniDisc players as well as most portable CD players include digital buffer memory. Tantamount to a computer’s RAM, a buffer memory stores up to 40 seconds (or more) of music in an IC chip so if the laser mistracks, the music continues until it’s corrected. MP3 players play music from a floppy disk or flash card so there are no moving parts to skip.

Aiwa Portable MiniDisc Player/Recorder

New from portables giant Aiwa, is the AM-F70 MiniDisc player/recorder. Invented by Sony almost ten years ago, MiniDisc technology uses a revolutionary magneto-optical system to record digitally onto a CD-like disc. And what makes it very cool is that it’s easy to erase so you can record over and over on the same disc without any degradation. It’s called a MiniDisc because unlike a CD, which measures over 5 inches, the MiniDisc is smaller than a floppy and measures merely 2.5 inches. The combination of digital recording, size, and virtually skip-proof buffer memory makes MD a superior portable format.

The AM-F70 is one of the smallest recorders on the market. It can record direct-to-digital from a CD player with an optical output, or can record live by inserting the optional microphone. It will playback or record up to hours of sound with the combination of rechargeable and standard batteries. There is a wired LCD remote control to easily change tracks without handling the player itself (great for bicycling). They are selling this holiday season for less than $300.

Panasonic “Shockwave” Joggable CD Player

Panasonic has pushed CD portability to the limit with the SLS-W505J “joggable” portable CD player. That one could actually jog with a portable CD player would have been thought ludicrous back when they were introduced in 1985. But with the advent of anti-shock buffer memory, as well as a dual-lock transport, and the greatly reduced size of the laser and spindle mechanisms, it’s a reality. The key is to utilize the supplied neoprene-like sports belt while jogging, which reduces vibration even further. The SLS-W505J also features XBS bass system so that you can hear much deeper bass sound than typical portable CDs. They sell for around $170.

Sensory Science Portable Digital MP3 Player & Audio Recorder

One of the most controversial new music technologies is MP3. MP3 is a data compression/reduction algorithm that compresses a digital music file into a package that can be sent over the Internet. By logging on to any number of Web sites including and, you can download the MP3 player (merely a software package that works on any PC), as well as any one of thousands of songs.

The ramifications are pretty huge, especially since MP3 music right now is free, which doesn’t make people in the music business very happy. It does make some hungry up and coming bands excited, since millions potentially can hear their songs. Very quickly, the record labels have funded a digital “watermark” called SDMI (Secure Digital Music Interface) which will purportedly allow for a pay-per-play scenario.

Due to the current compression technology, MP3 music doesn’t sound as good as CD or MD. But as technology continues to develop, chances are good that MP3 or another downloadable format will equal or even surpass the sound quality of the compact disc.

The Sensory Science MP2100 features 64MB of memory, which is upgradable to 96MB. This translates into about an hour of digital music, or four hours of low-fidelity voice recording. Since it is a data storage format, the MB2100 will also store pure data, such as 128,000 telephone numbers! And it interfaces quickly and easily to any PC. They sell for around $270.

JVC “Kaboom” CD Boom Box

The Kaboom series from JVC has become some of the most popular boom boxes around because of their superior sound and unique styling. They are cylindrical in shape and resemble a bazooka! The RV-B90GY delivers 40 watts of total power (gobs for a portable stereo) and sports dual six-inch woofers (typical boom boxes use 3-inch ones). This combination produces much deeper, cleaner bass response than one is used to from a boom box. And JVC’s Super Exciter bass circuit enhances the bass even further.

There is also an auto-reverse, full-logic cassette deck, as well as a wireless remote control. Use the DC input to plug it into your car’s cigarette lighter adapter. The RV-B90GY sells for about $300.

The High End

Maybe the products listed above are a bit too bourgeois for you. If the market has been exceedingly good to you this year (as it has for many folks), and you’re feeling a bit saucy, here are some suggestions for the music lover to whom price is no object. Three reference-quality audio manufacturers who have for years delivered perhaps the finest high fidelity audio gear in the world are Conrad Johnson, Mark Levinson, and Soliloquy. I have taken the liberty to compose a fantasy system that features a component from each company.

The Conrad Johnson Premier 15 Phono Preamplifier

As many audiophiles know, the preamplifier can make the difference between a good system and a great one. Signals of the smallest voltage pass through this component and therefore are the most delicate and need to be handled with the most care. This is especially true for the signal from the phonograph because that has the lowest level of them all. This top-of-the-line preamplifier uses vacuum tube technology, as well as the highest-quality polypropylene and polystyrene capacitors in the power supply. Its straightforward “zero feedback” design means that the sound output is about as pure as you’re going to get (in this lifetime anyhow). The price? $3995.

The Mark Levinson No. 334 Power Amplifier

Unlike the Conrad Johnson preamplifier, the Mark Levinson amp uses transistors rather than tubes to do its work. But they are of a pure “class A” design for optimal sound quality. It also features dual-mono construction eliminating inter-channel “cross-talk” for the most pure form of stereo. It does deliver quite a load, at 125 watts per channel into eight ohms, capable of driving some of the most finicky speakers. But make sure that you set up this amp with lots of ventilation, because it gets really hot! It sells for $5900.

The Soliloquy 5.3 Loudspeaker

These speakers are quite a fine value because they are of audiophile quality but sell for far less than comparable ones. In fact, at a mere $1895 per pair, they are perhaps a tenth of the price of some of the more typical audiophile speakers.

The 5.3’s are a simple design: they are two-way with a 1.125” silk-dome tweeter, and two 5.25” polyfiber bass-midrange units. Their rear-ported design helps them to deliver a solid bass response. They come in curly maple, cherry, and rosewood finishes.

For more information about these

high-end audio companies,

please call or write:

Conrad Johnson Design

2733 Merrilee Drive

Fairfax, VA 22031

(703) 560-5360

Mark Levinson/Madrigal Audio Labs

PO Box 781 Middletown, CT 06457

(860) 346-1540

Soliloquy High Fidelity Loudspeakers

2613 Discovery Drive

Raleigh, NC 27616

(919) 876-7554

Originally Published