10 Christmas gift ideas for the music-maker in your life under $100

(Image credit: Future)

Sleighbells ring, are ya listenin’?! By Christmas Day you might be a bit tired of them, though - so, whether as a treat for yourself or a loved one, we’ve rounded up a selection of music-focused wrappables that (hopefully) won’t break the bank. 

Looking for other gift ideas, or something more specific? Check out our guides to the best Christmas gifts for musicians, whatever your budget, the best gifts for guitar players and the best gifts for DJs.

1. Oblique Strategies, $67/£50


(Image credit: Alamy)

Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas by Brian Eno and Peter Schmitt. £50 might seem like a lot for what amounts to two decks of worth of cards, each with a few words on them. But, Oblique Strategies is a bit of a classic with nearly 50 years of use in more cerebral art and music-making circles — many of such circles radiating around Brian Eno, the self proclaimed ‘non-musician’, at their centre.

Rather than suggesting ‘have you tried adding more cowbell?’, the ponderments posed by Oblique Strategies are more along the lines of ‘use an unacceptable colour’ and ‘a line has two sides’… cryptic, maybe, but following their description as “a suggestion of a course of action or thinking to assist in creative situations” has helped many of us out of creative deadlock.

Whether your giftee has been a fan of Eno since the 1970s or is more likely to be spurred on by his recent work with Fred again.., Oblique Strategies is a left-field but interesting gift for the musician that definitely has enough gear already (whether they know it or not!).

These are currently sold out on Eno's website, but you'll be able to find a deck on eBay.

2. The Creative Act: A Way of Being, $32/£25

rick rubin

(Image credit: Rick Rubin)

Rick Rubin hasn’t constantly reinvented himself so much as defied categorisation over his storied career. Freely admitting “I have no technical ability and I know nothing about music”, Rubin’s approach is to act as a creatively pure, intuitive conduit to expression.

It’s the kind of thing that you hear pretentious people spout at the work Christmas Party to explain why they’ve not actually got anything you can listen to when they drunkenly tell you they’re into music production, but it’s hard to argue against the approach of a man whose production credits include Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Californication, Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill, Ed Sheeran’s X, Jay Z’s 99 Problems, LL Cool J’s I Need a Beat, System of a Down’s… well, you get the idea. Rubin’s catalogue is vast, varied, and very impressive.

On The Creative Act, Rick offers “I set out to write a book about what to do to make a great work of art. Instead, it revealed itself to be a book on how to be”. One thing’s for sure, even if the words don’t sink in and turn the reader into the world’s next enduringly diverse creative the beautiful hardback book will help to convince guests they just might if it’s strewn in the right place upon a coffee table…

Buy from Amazon

3. Korg Nu:Tekt NTS-1, $99/£89

Korg Nu:Tekt NTS-1

(Image credit: Korg)

There’s something quite magical about a DIY kit. Korg’s ‘build your own’ range of Nu:Tekt products add that little something special to a Christmas synth gift, but fear not: no soldering iron required. A few minutes of connecting the parts and using the included screwdriver to ensure a sturdy end result will culminate in a surprisingly powerful, USB powered desktop synth.

With stereo effects, an arpeggiator, three LFOs and an envelope generator, and a multimode filter, the single monophonic oscillator on the NTS-1 is elevated to excitingly musical levels. What’s more, NTS-1 is compatible with the 'logue SDK; for a developer to whom simply building the synth wasn’t DIY enough, this opens up a world of possibility and an opportunity to create custom oscillators from scratch. 

For the less code-inclined, this compatibility means that there are a wealth of custom oscillators created for the minilogue XD and Prologue that can be loaded into the NTS-1 to expand its music-making potential. 

4. Logic Pro for iPad, $/£49 per year or $/£4.99 per month

logic pro ipad

(Image credit: Apple)

If you or a loved one are lucky enough to have an iPad shaped box underneath the Christmas tree, then Logic Pro for iPad deserves pride of place on its home screen. A jewel in Apple’s pro app crown, Logic Pro has long been a Mac-only piece of software - but in releasing Logic Pro for iPad Apple have managed to transform their touchscreen triumphs from fun sidekicks to a computer setup into entirely capable centrepieces.

Logic Pro for iPad retains a significant amount of the desktop app’s features, instruments, and effects, and is indeed cross-compatible with Logic Pro desktop projects. In typical Apple fashion the interface has been carefully considered to make the most of the iPad’s large, multitouch screen, with beautiful and easy-to-use control of an entire studio quite literally at your fingertips.

Logic Pro is £49.99 for a year’s worth of access. For a bit of extra pizazz, you can gift the app from the App Store on any Apple device and the year starts when the app is downloaded by the recipient - just be careful not to ruin the surprise by jumping the gun and sending the gift early!

As a fully-featured and pretty heavyweight app, Logic Pro for iPad requires an iPad with an A12 Bionic or later chip running iPadOS 17.

Download Logic Pro for iPad

5. Zoom H1N, $99/£89


(Image credit: Zoom)

There’s really nothing that compares to making your own music with your own sounds, and the Zoom H1N is a bit of a 'wunderkit' piece of gear. Its stereo microphone is surprisingly crisp and clean, and can be used for everything from vocals to instruments to ambient field recordings. Its 24-bit, oversampled 96KHz recording is pristine, and with a 10-hour battery life from two AAA alkaline batteries combined with 60g (plus batteries) weight, the H1N is a complete no-brainer for on-the-go sound capture.

The H1N has an overdubbing feature that allows for unlimited iteration on a recording, allowing for a budding singer-songwriter to play their lead instrument, accompaniment, sing, harmonise, and export all from the unit itself, and its direct output allows it to be used as an external camera microphone for content creation. It can even be used as a USB microphone when connected to a computer!

All you need to add alongside the H1N is a (up to 32GB) MicroSD card and a pair of AAA batteries.

6. Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators, from $99/£82


(Image credit: Future)

It’s tough to find music gear that strikes a balance between being ‘serious’ and ‘toy’, but the Pocket Operator series from Teenage Engineering is perhaps the best example of this balance being well and truly nailed down. And while most people are clamouring for the new, $299 EP-133 KO II this Christmas, the OG POs are still undoubtedly worth consideration. 

Each of the nine more-or-less credit card sized options (with additional special editions) offers a particular strength — be it bass, sampling, drums, or lead synth — and combining it with intuitive and surprisingly powerful pattern sequencing and the ability to listen with an onboard speaker or a 3.5mm audio jack.

The cutesy Game and Watch-style LCD screens and pocket calculator looks belie an inspiring workflow and serviceable sound quality and the ability to connect and synchronise multiple units together can turn them into an entire studio. Whether you’re lucky enough for the £89.99 price tags to be a stocking filler or it’s more of a ‘main present’, there isn’t really anything standalone and portable that can scratch a music-making itch quite like a Pocket Operator.

Add two AAA batteries to the stocking for a month of playing time.

7. Sennheiser HD 25 Light, $99/£79


(Image credit: Future)

There are few headphones with the recognition and staying power of the venerable Sennheiser HD 25. 

Versatile, hardy, and with replacement parts readily available to ensure decades of service, the HD 25 is a loud, high quality pair of headphones that are suited not just to music production but stands up to the rigours of live use and DJing. For what it’s worth, they were the headphone of choice in the Concorde cockpit… although I’m not sure how much music they were making in there.

There are three variations of the HD 25, all with the same drivers and closed-back, over-ear design with rotatable cups. The base ‘HD 25 light’ model comes in at under $100 and implements a simpler headband than the ‘standard’ model, but sounds just as good.

8. Akai MPK Mini MK3, $99/£85


(Image credit: Future)

Pads, knobs, keys and control — plus a raft of software, sounds, and tutorials. For an aspiring music-maker aching to get started the MPK Mini Mk3 is everything (except a computer) needed to dive into the world of music production in one box, and for an established creator it’s an addition that will almost certainly afford some extra tactile opportunities.

Shop around and you’ll find a variety of retailer-exclusive colours, all sharing the core features of velocity-sensitive pads and mini keys, endless encoder knobs, a combined pitch and modulation joystick, and a built-in arpeggiator.

Although designed for Windows and Mac based software, the USB-connected MPK mini Mk3 can be used with iPads, too. In a modern ‘did you remember the batteries’ type scenario, it’s worth knowing that there’s a USB-B to USB-A cable included in the box, and for many (especially Mac) computers, a USB-B to USB-C cable might be required to facilitate some Christmas Day fun!

9. Shure PGA58, $59/£79


(Image credit: Shure)

The Shure SM58 is a certified classic in modern recording - perhaps the most famous and well-used dynamic microphone of all time. The PGA58 is essentially a cost-reduced alternative, one that offers a very similar sound for well under $100. In fact, many retailers include kits with the required cable and a microphone stand and still keep comfortably under our breakwater point.

Both ideal for vocals and versatile enough for most types of instrument recording, perhaps the biggest practical difference between the PGA58 and the SM58 is the lack of internal shock reduction in the PGA58, making it less suitable for handheld use. Alongside that, impedance differences make the PGA58 less well suited to long cable lengths. 

For a home recording booth, though, these aren’t big issues; the PGA58 is a fantastic way for anyone who places the microphone in a stand to shave a decent amount off the price of an SM58 whilst getting most of the sound quality.

10. Etsy hauls 

If you prefer to shop a little more on the boutique side of the fence, there’s a world of very affordable and fun smaller makers that are ready to supply you with a vast array of curios. If Christmas Day is important for you, keep an eye on lead and delivery times — we’re more likely to be dealing with one-man-bands than international juggernauts here, so don’t expect Amazon Prime levels of snappiness.

Classic synth and sampler users are known to wear their affinity for their gear on their sleeve. Now they can literally as well as figuratively! Scouring Etsy will uncover a world of enamelled brass pins, produced by AudioToysCo, that pay tribute to hallowed classics from the Roland Jupiter 8 to the Akai MPC 3000 and the Moog MiniMoog, all for very reasonable asking prices.


Cute pin, right? (Image credit: AudioToysCo)

Despite having the potential to be an endless well to throw money down, a modular synth obsession doesn’t need to be an alternative to home ownership if you know where to look. Tidbit Audio’s designs can add control and sound-shaping possibilities to your rig for less than the price of a night at the movies, like FUZZ!, a diode-based and CV-controllable distortion that’s barely any bigger than a 3.5mm jack plug itself. 

tidbit audio

FUZZ! Is a passive, transistor/diode-based distortion (Image credit: Tidbit Audio)

DIY Synths and Sounds has the very cool-sounding Invaders Must Die, an “Atari punk console style synth with LFO and CV input”, for under $30. If you’re looking for stocking fillers that will set you back less than a selection box, their Passive Aggressive Bundle of high pass filter, low pass filter, attenuator, and VCA is under $30 but can also be bought separately for around $5 each!

invaders must die synths

Invaders Must Die is "Atari punk console style synth with LFO and CV input" (Image credit: DIYSynthsandSounds)

Finally, Rakit will satisfy the more industrious DIYer with its kits, including the Baby 8 step sequencer, the Atari Punk console synth, and the Analogue Drum Synth. These are soldering-required kits that will appeal to the electronically minded, with the Atari Punk coming in at $20 and a great introduction to the world of electronic circuitry. A beginner’s soldering kit is all that’s needed to start a hobby that could endure well beyond the festive season. 


Rakit's Baby 8-step sequencer DIY kit (Image credit: Rakit)
Chris Cartledge

Chris has been making music since 1997 when the box for Mixman Studio Pro called out to him at HMV — the perfect time to watch VSTs get introduced to the world and the computer music revolution gain speed. His experience of producing and performing in the worlds of hip-hop, turntablism, and electronic music saw him featured in legendary publications Hip Hop Connection and RWD, tutoring and managing organisations dedicated to introducing music-making in the community, creating, writing and editing for leading DJ and music production websites during the digital boom, and he now runs howtomakemusic.co from his studio.