The AudioFile (Mothers Day Edition): Help Mom Rock Out

This Sunday is Mothers Day. (Sorry if I just made you snarf your coffee.) As usual, I’ve left it till the last minute to get my mom something. And naturally, now that she finally understands what it is I do, she’s slowly getting more interested in portable audio. So I think this is the year I splurge and get her some solid, simple, affordable audio gear, but I’ve got to do it quickly. And I need bread left over to pay my exorbitant Brooklyn rent. Here’s my plan of action…

A little background: My mother was a computer programmer at IBM in the 70’s, but although she had techie beginnings and a longtime Windows user, she’s not exactly a consumer electronics whiz these days. Whatever I get her has to be toaster-simple so I don’t have to do too much tech support, but high enough quality that I would listen to it myself, audio snob that I am. And I don’t want to be forced to pawn anything borrow money from her to buy it.

About a year ago I gave her a non-Apple MP3 player (the original free Napster player) in hopes that she would get into the idea of digital music. While she loved having the two albums I put on there for her (Best of Bobby Darin and a Neil Diamond album), she was never able to get the hang of using Windows Media Player to rip and transfer music.

With that in mind (I think you see where this is going), I figured an iPod would be a foolproof plan. As it turns out, I had a chance to test whether this is true or not when she bought her husband a 4GB iPod nano…. The phone calls I got when they were trying to set it up were pretty hilarious, culminating in a problem removing the plug from the iPod’s dock connector. Oy.

So what’s simpler than an iPod? Well… for music management software, you can’t get a whole lot simpler than iTunes, even if it’s not your favorite app. (I thought something like one of those flash-drives that can also play music would be easiest, but ripping isn’t as intuitive, and organization can be a pain.) Sorry WMP 11 and Winamp fans, but I just don’t buy it.

If I had to pick an iPod alternative, it would have to be the second-gen iriver Clix, since it’s got an excellent interface and works with Windows Media Player as well as with Windows Explorer (USB Mass Storage Class). Since many Windows users are used to file/folder organization, that’s the best candidate for someone who’s not into music management software.

Being the audio gear nut I am, I’m always disappointed to see someone wearing regular earbuds. That said, getting mom to stick stuff deep into her ears just isn’t going to happen, and I’d like her to be able to hear what’s going on around her when she’s walking around.

My hands-down choice for mom-friendly headphones are the Sennheiser MX-500. They’re just regular ‘buds, and with the earpads on they don’t fall out too easily. They also sound surprisingly good for $13 — better than any stock earphones and less likely to get mom mugged than the iPod whities. If I wind up getting her the Clix, though, the earbuds that come with it should be fine.

If she didn’t like putting things in her ears, I’d go with Sennheiser PX-100’s, which are amazing-sounding flat-pad-style headphones for about $40; they also fold up nicely in a purse. I bet she’d love a set of Bose QuietComfort 3’s though.

Of course, no matter what I get her, I just know I’m going to be spending at least a couple hours setting it all up for her and showing her how to use it. I think the bottom line is that nothing is ever quite easy enough for people who are resistant to learning about new technology.

But at least this year my gift will be more thoughtful than just a gift certificate.

(The illustration of my mom above was done by Leah Perrotta, a Brooklyn-based artist and all-around lovely gal.)