It’s that time again, and with the festive season looming, it’s time to think about what to buy for your tame hi-fi enthusiast, or drop heavy hints about what you’d like Santa to bring you. Here are ten audio gift ideas, chosen by our Audio Editor’s little helpers...
Voice-control device with Bluetooth
The word is that voice activation is the Next Big Thing, and Amazon shows how it’s done with this new, more affordable version of its Alexa speaker. You can summon up music from the likes of Amazon’s Music Unlimited library and Spotify, and play it through any Bluetooth equipped audio device around the home. And the Echo will also let you voice control Alexa-compatible devices such as lighting, heating thermostats and so on. Also available is the Echo Plus, complete with built-in speaker, at £140.
Find out more at amazon.co.uk
Network Music Player
The Chromecast audio is such a good one that we’re beginning to see hi-fi components with Chromecast Built-in technology. However, this little ‘puck’ lets you add this capability to any hi-fi product, allowing you to stream music on any network-connected device, as well as accessing online streaming services. It’s a great way into online audio if you’re not sure whether you’re ready for this brave new world, and simple to set-up and use. It’s widely available both online and in the shops – look out for special offers.
Find out more at google.com
Record cleaning machine
Whether you have a turntable enthusiast in your life, are a vinyl revivalist or never gave up on LPs, music will sound better when played from clean discs. And that’s where this improved machine from one of the best-known names in vinyl playback comes in: using eco-friendly Wash-IT record cleaning solution and an upgraded vacuum system, it can clean a whole side of a record in minutes, working much more deeply than simple record brushes to shift dust and dirt from the grooves to give a sound with much less of the snap, crackle and pop.
Find out more at henleydesigns.co.uk
If you’re using your TV to stream music programmes from online services, or just to watch broadcast programmes, chances are you’ve noticed the major drawback of the ever-slimmer sets now on the market: they don’t have much space for speakers, and thus struggle to match their picture quality with good sound. A simple, slimline soundbar like the Polk Signa Solo will make more of your festive viewing and beyond with better bass, a more impressive spread of sound and, in this model, a VoiceAdjust feature to tackle those mumbly dramas!
Find out more at polkaudio.com
Network Music Player
from approx £80
If you were one of those people who had a junior electronics kit for Christmas when you were young, you’re going to love this one: a complete DIY network music player you can control from a computer or tablet, and all for under £100. It comes with everything you need, including the Raspberry Pi mini-computer on which it built, and is capable of excellent results, not to mention the pride of having built it yourself. Just don’t tell anyone there wasn’t a soldering iron in sight!
Find out more at hifiberry.com
Turntable with USB and Bluetooth
Thanks to the much-vaunted ‘vinyl revival’, turntables are everywhere again, and TEAC has developed a wide range of models including heavyweight direct drives. And some have novel twists: the TN-400BT not only has a built-in phono stage for connection to any amplifier or system, plus a USB output to allow you to record your favourite LPs to a computer, but also comes complete with onboard Bluetooth to stream directly to wireless loudspeakers and headphones. However you use it, it sounds very good, too.
Find out more at teac-audio.eu
If you carry your music with you on your phone, there will be times when you want to listen to it without a pair of headphones – in a hotel room on your travels, for example, or when working a solo late night in the office. The tiny Denon Envaya Pocket is ideal for those occasional listens: as the name suggests, it’s truly tiny, and yet will play music streamed via Bluetooth for up to 10 hours from a few hours’ charge. It’ll even let you make hands-free calls with your Android or iOS phone.
Find out more at denon.co.uk
QED has an enviable reputation for value-for-money speaker cable, going back to its famous 42- and 79-strand models, and its new XT25 features technology trickled down from its flagship Supremus cable, including a hollow ‘air-core’ design called X-Tube Plus, around which are arranged its oxygen-free conductors. Designed as an upgrade for all speakers, from small bookshelf models upwards, and developed in extensive listening tests, it comes pre-terminated to suit the user’s needs at £5 per plug, meaning that a 3m pair is less than £90.
Find out more at qed.co.uk
Digital music player
Ideal as a Christmas gift for a close music-lover (or as a treat for yourself), this little pocket machine not only allows you to play music all the way up to ultra-high-resolution ‘double DSD’, but also has Wi-Fi built-in plus MQA capability, so is able to stream Tidal Masters hi-res files. It has a great range of adjustments to get the music how you want it, can drive even very serious headphones, and also sounds really good when connected into a hi-fi system as a source. In fact, it’s everything the modern pocket music player should be.
Find out more at uk.onkyo.com
Network Music system
OK, so here we’re in the super-luxury gift arena, but this special edition of Naim’s excellent Mu-so music system is finished in premium aluminium to echo the metal used by the car manufacturer to which Naim supplies audio systems, with a Portland grille matching one of Bentley’s upholstery options and signature knurled finishing to the main control. It will stream music from your computer, online services and Internet radio, and features a six-driver, 450W audio system for a room-filling sound.
Find out more at naimaudio.com