Christmas/holiday gift ideas for hi-tech musicians
It’s that time of year again, and the responsibility is upon us to search high and low for things our loved ones might like, while hoping to receive something that we might find mildly useful in return. It’s a minefield of decisions, assumptions and expectations that can go wrong with a single misstep.
As a hub for music-making professionals, we can make the exchange much easier, though. Whether you’re looking for a kids’ creativity booster, making a decision for the musician in your life, or racking your brains about what you want yourself, we’ve got 18 options across a number of price ranges that can help.
So, wander through this winter-wonderland of consumerist joy to find the perfect festive gift for musicians, producers and DJs.
littleBits Electronic Music Inventor Kit
littleBits has garnered praise for its modular approach to learning electronics, with a diverse array of components that can be combined to make everything from alarms and lights to games and bionic forearms. But it’s this year’s music-oriented littleBits beginner pack that’s got us especially excited about the platform.
The Electronic Music Inventor Kit comes with an accelerometer, micro sequencer, 9v power supply, speaker, keyboard, oscillator and more - the building blocks necessary to create your own guitars, synths or more.
And at $99, littleBits is not only a learning experience but an investment – thanks to the intellectual property laws in most countries, the cash from the future corporate buyout of your little angel’s boutique instrument manufacturer will legally be yours!
Read more: littleBits Electronic Music Inventor Kit (opens in new tab)
For what looks for all the world like a mere rubber ball, the Skwitch actually turns out to be far more technologically advanced, yet nearly as easy to use. With a Skwitch plugged into your iPhone, it can act as an MPE-enabled MIDI controller for music-making apps, with note and controller data conveyed by assorted types of ball palpation.
While it’s primarily sold as a musical control device, the Skwitch is advertised as being extremely accessible, and even as a tool for coding musical instruments on your phone via the Swift Playgrounds app.
Read more: Skoog Skwitch (opens in new tab)
ROLI Beatmaker kit
ROLI is hoping to shrink your music-making experience with its portable studio setup, which uses flexible ‘five-dimensional’ touch control to generate sounds expressively inside their Noise app for iOS or within your desktop music-making environment.
The Beatmaker Kit comes with Roli’s Lightpad Block and Loop Block hardware, the first for performance and the second for controlling and navigating your projects. There’s plenty of software included, too, including a copy of Ableton Live Lite, a six-month subscription to online music-learning website Melodics, and Player versions of three synths: ROLI's own Equator, and FXpansion’s Cypher 2 and Strobe 2.
Read more: ROLI Beatmaker kit (opens in new tab)
Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators Steel Series
Teenage Engineering’s line-up of diminutive Pocket Operators continues to grow with these new additions, which feature both an in-built mic and Line In port to enable the recording of samples ready for sequencing and processing.
The K.O! Pocket Operator houses 40 seconds of memory, shared between its 16 sample slots, and offers 16 pattern sequences to switch through. With adjustable tempo, swing, and punch-in effects, this is seriously powerful for its size.
Speak, meanwhile, is specifically built for sampling vocal sources and performing vocal processing such as vocoding and digitising. There’s also an implementation of Teenage Engineering and Sonic Charge’s Tonic drum machine tech onboard to give some backing rhythm to your creations.
Read more: Teenage Engineering Steel Series (opens in new tab)
Korg Volca Mix
Korg’s fun-size Volca range includes synthesis, sampling and sequencing, but what’s the point in building up a collection of miniature studio essentials if you can’t pipe them all together? The Volca Mix unit answers that exact question.
With three channel inputs (two mono and one stereo), the Volca Mix offers channel faders, filtering and an auxilliary Send control for each, as well as a synchronisation signal for controlling timing for one Volca unit.
As well as mixing your assorted Volcas and outputting their sounds on its built-in speaker, the Volca Mix goes one step further, acting as a DC power distributor for three units.
Read more: Korg Volca Mix (opens in new tab)
The classic studio headphone design hits the Bluetooth trail, offering 40 hours of battery life for in the studio, at home or anywhere else.
There’s not much to be said about Audio Technica’s closed-back M50 range that hasn’t already been said, spread and verified time and time again by countless users since this model’s first outing in 2007.
The ATH-M50x saw these classic cans updated in 2014, increasing the size of the speaker driver for a higher-quality result. The addition of wireless functionality with the Bluetooth 5.0 protocol, though, should prove a draw to anyone who wants to roam free… or at least as free as your connected sound source will let you.
Read more: Audio-Technica M50xBT (opens in new tab)
As if Nintendo’s Switch wasn’t fun enough already, its Labo kits bring the experience back into the real world, providing the materials and the know-how to build cardboard creations that can turn the console into something completely different.
The Labo ‘Variety Kit’ has you building a fishing rod, a house, a remote-controlled car, a motorbike and – importantly for us – a piano: a one-octave cardboard musical control device replete with knobs and levers to change the sound.
When built, the piano gives you a resting place to insert the console, which runs software that creates and records the sound itself. The 13 keys play notes, as you’d imagine, with the lever on the side changing the octave; three dials each have their own effect on the sound and can be turned to fine-tune it; you even get actual cardboard waveforms to insert to change the oscillator’s tone.
Read more: Nintendo Labo (opens in new tab)
Vibes Hi-Fidelity Earplugs
If you’re a professional musician of any sort, your ears are something you should take very seriously. Not only are musicians likely to be exposed to loud environments, but any significant hearing damage will have an immediate impact on your ability to do your job.
Vibes earplugs offer protection in loud environments, but they claim to go further than the cheap and cheerful generic foam earplugs, isolating the entire frequency range as equally as possible - just watch out for the linear-scale frequency chart in their marketing materials, though.
Vibes comes complete with three sizes of earplug, and both a hard case and a bag for keeping them together.
Read more: Vibes Hi-Fidelity Earplugs (opens in new tab)
Blue Yeti Nano
A decade ago, few would have considered a microphone that connected solely via USB, but in the age of YouTube and podcasting, mics with in-built A/D converters have found a real use case, and Blue Mics have been at the forefront of ensuring that everyone can lay their claim to high-quality recording without the need for an external audio interface.
Blue’s 21cm-high Yeti Nano is just one in the company’s range of USB mics, offering 24-bit audio quality, a headphone output jack for monitoring, and a choice of four colours. In a pinch, the Yeti Nano could also feasibly stretch to recording vocals and other instruments in a project studio, the only limit being the length of your USB cable extensions.
Read more: Blue Yeti Nano (opens in new tab)
Numark PT01 Scratch Gold Edition
Numark’s PT01 Scratch is a portable mini vinyl turntable designed for playing, with a DJ scratch switch instead of a crossfader. It’s also got a jack input for accompaniment and a built-in speaker for subjecting others to your experimentation.
The bog-standard PT01 unit is $130, but if that seems too reasonable and thrifty, how about the Gold version? This comes from DJ modification and accessories company Portablism, featuring a brushed gold faceplate and control panel, and optional gold/silver bullet adapters for changing to 45-speed records.
While you’re stopping by the Portablism website, its range of designer components, mods, stickers and apparel is also worth a mention on this gift list.
Read more: Numark PT01 Scratch Gold Edition (opens in new tab)
Joseph Joseph Vinyl worktop saver
Music isn’t the only pursuit that lets you chop, slice and create tasty new cuts - kitchen tool mogul Joseph Joseph has designed the ultimate crossover for the muso-foodie in the form of these glass chopping boards and worktop savers.
Whether you’re cooking up trout a la creme or simply a good old-fashioned turkey bolognese, you can show your true musical artistry with the aid of four designs: Tomato Vinyl, Banana Vinyl, Gold Record and Record Player. And unlike most of your existing music gear, these boards are dishwasher-safe - what’s not to love?
Read more: Joseph Joseph Vinyl worktop saver (opens in new tab)
Cassette Desk Tidy
The Cisixin Cassette Desk Tidy is where your love for nostalgic but objectively bad sound quality meets your desire to keep your desk tidy.
There are large compartments for pens and pencils, and a shallow one for pins, paperclips and the like, but perhaps the most practical feature of this moulded, refined-hydrocarbon-derived product is its sellotape dispenser.
According to Amazon reviews, the Cisixin Cassette Desk Tidy is “Robust enough for pens, pencils etc”. You’d certainly hope so.
Read more: Cassette Desk Tidy (opens in new tab)
Always losing, lending or misplacing your audio jack converters? Do yourself a favour and sort the problem out once and for all. If you’re completely unsure what to ask for from family or friends, stock up on 1/4-inch-to-3.5mm jack converters, audio cable extenders and splitters, and you’ll never be caught short again. That or you’ll become known as 'that person who’s always got a jack converter to borrow.'
Stocking up on the little things in life is a great (if slightly boring) strategy for everyone - guitarists could grab a few years’ worth of plectrums, and writers can make sure they’ve got enough pens to last through a nuclear holocaust.
Read more: Jack Converters (opens in new tab)
Bluetooth Shower Speaker
Most musicians would listen to music everywhere, given the chance, but there are some places where it gets harder to do so. That doesn’t mean there are no musical solutions for your ablutions, though – the magic of Bluetooth has you covered even when you’re taking your morning shower.
Not only is TaoTronics’ shower speaker water resistant for playing audio, it also offers play/pause/next/previous control features for your music, plus an in-built microphone for taking calls in the shower, if you don’t think that’s an incredibly weird thing to do.
Read more: Bluetooth Shower Speaker (opens in new tab)
Cats on Synthesizers in Space merch
Combine the three coolest things in existence with this line of merchandise in Kieran Heather’s Etsy shop. Take classic Rolands, Moogs and modular gear, mix with black cats, tabbies and tortoiseshells, blast it all out into the solar system, and stick the results on a t shirt, a tote bag or a badge. Voila: you’ve got one of the most purrfect gifts for any clothes-wearing electronic musician!
With prices ranging from £7.80 to £20, you can even double up and get one for someone else.
Read more: Cats on Synths in Space merch (opens in new tab)
Sequence Album Print
Turn your favourite albums into art with this Kickstarter project initiated by a design artist and a data visualisation expert.
Half infographic, half artistic homage to your strongest influence, a Sequence is a piece of art derived from your chosen album, the track lengths of which will be broken down and represented in a rectangular or spiral form, in a colour scheme and size of your choosing. The creators are keen to stress the quality of material and the processes behind creating the works. You’ll have to sort a frame for yourself, but with prints available in standard A1 or A2 sizes, this should be a simple task.
The Kickstarter pledge goal of £3,000 has been reached, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that time is limited, as each work is created to order.
Read more: Sequence Album Print (opens in new tab)
Very much the gift that keeps on giving, a subscription to one of our sister magazines will ensure that your giftee is kept abreast of everything that’s going on in the world of music technology for an entire year.
You can choose from print, digital or print plus digital options, and there’s shipping to more than 100 countries.
If you think Computer Music, Electronic Musician and Future Music will make a perfect gift, or any other of our music titles for that matter, then head on over to our MyFavouriteMagazines subs page (opens in new tab).