Audio Products Gift Guide for the Holidays

Jazz audio guru Brent Butterworth recommends his favorite audio products for the discerning listener on any budget

Audio_Technica

Audio-Technica AT-LP60-BT turntable

Audio products have always been welcome holiday gifts, but in the last few years they’ve become so much easier to give. The explosion of new brands of headphones, Bluetooth speakers and even traditional products like speakers and amps has brought us new gear at practically any price point. Here are a few of our favorite products, most released in the last year.

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Fender Newport Bluetooth Speaker
Fender Newport Bluetooth Speaker

Fender Newport Bluetooth speaker
Fender seems to have put as much love and effort into its $199 Newport as the company puts into its renowned guitar amps. With “witch hat” knobs, including bass and treble controls that let you tweak the tone; a real on/off toggle switch with jewel-style power indicator; and aesthetic touches that recall Fender’s “Silverface” amps of the late 1960s and ’70s, the Newport builds on the Fender vibe while delivering an exceptionally clear and full sound that any jazz (or R&B or rock or country or classical) fan will dig.

AKG N60NC Wireless Headphones
AKG N60NC Wireless Headphones

AKG N60NC Wireless Bluetooth/noise-cancelling headphones
The $299 N60NC Wireless are an updated version of what I’ve long considered the world’s best travel headphones, AKG’s N60NC. The Wireless add Bluetooth but have also been redesigned with plush earpads that will keep your ears in comfort all the way from New York to Tokyo. The noise-cancelling feature, combined with an unusually neutral and natural sound, lets the subtleties of Paul Motian’s brushwork come through even in a loud airliner cabin.

Ortofon 2M Red phono cartridge
Ortofon 2M Red phono cartridge

Ortofon 2M Red phono cartridge
There are many jazz fans who own older turntables but aren’t sure if they’re worth fooling with. That’s sad, because many of those vintage models are solidly built and sound great. Fortunately, a makeover for those old ’tables can cost just $99: the price of Ortofon’s 2M Red, a moving-magnet cartridge compatible with almost any receiver or preamp with a phono input. Bolt a 2M Red onto a ’70s-era Japanese turntable and you will have the best of both worlds: modern clarity in a classic audio component.

JBL Link 10 wireless speaker
JBL Link 10 wireless speaker

JBL Link wireless speakers
Voice-command speakers such as Amazon’s Echo have become hyper-popular despite so-so sound. But JBL’s Link speaker line proves there’s no reason voice-command speakers can’t sound terrific. With the same voice-recognition technology as that found in the Google Home smart speaker, plus JBL’s solid audio engineering, the Links are the first voice-command speakers worth an audiophile’s time. The line includes the $149 Link 10 and $199 Link 20, both waterproof and portable, and the $249 Link 300.

Dayton Audio SUB-1000L subwoofer
Dayton Audio SUB-1000L subwoofer

Dayton Audio SUB-1000L subwoofer
Most smaller speaker systems can’t convey the pure acoustical power of Dave Holland’s double bass—but they will if you add the $148 SUB-1000L. The SUB-1000L’s low-profile enclosure measures just 6 inches tall, so it can slip behind (or even under) a couch. With its 10-inch woofer and 100-watt amp, it puts out some of the best bass I’ve heard for under $300.

Audio-Technica AT-LP60-BT turntable - one of the audio products recommended by Brent Butterworth
Audio-Technica AT-LP60-BT turntable

Audio-Technica AT-LP60-BT turntable
Every jazz fan ought to have a turntable, because there are so many sides that were never released on CD and can often be found for less than $5. The $179 AT-LP60-BT is unquestionably the easiest way to add vinyl records to your listening queue. With a phono preamp and Bluetooth built in, you can plug it into a conventional stereo or beam straight to a Bluetooth speaker or Bluetooth headphones. No, it’s not an audiophile-grade turntable—but it is the model audiophiles usually recommend as the least-costly choice for vinyl newbies.

Audeze iSINE 10 in-ear headphones
Audeze iSINE 10 in-ear headphones

Audeze iSINE 10 in-ear headphones
Any jazz fan would love true state-of-the-art sound, but many think they can’t afford it or fit it in their living room. Audeze’s iSINE 10 open-back in-ear headphones deliver what I think is some of the best sound I’ve heard from any audio system, and they cost just $399, including the digital, Apple-compatible Cipher cable. The iSINE 10s have the incredible detail and spaciousness of large, expensive audiophile headphones, but they’re small enough to fit in your pocket. One caveat: Because the iSINE 10s are an open-back design, they let in outside sounds, so plan on using them only in fairly quiet environments.

Naim Uniti Atom
Naim Uniti Atom

Naim Uniti Atom
While some high-end audio companies rage against the popularity of compact stereo systems, Naim has embraced the trend with some of its most appealing products ever—including the $2,999 Uniti Atom, which packs all the audio electronics most people need into a chassis measuring about 10 by 10 inches. A built-in 20-watt-per-channel amp powers the speakers of your choice. You can stream music wirelessly via Apple AirPlay, Bluetooth or Google Chromecast, or connect straight to a computer to play high-resolution digital audio files.

Read Brent Butterworth’s AudioFiles “Gear of the Year” column on the best audio products of 2017.