Last-Minute Gift Guide 2011: Things For The Audio Lover In Your Life

You’ve got a few hours left before all of the free “Get it before Christmas!” shipping deals come to a close, and you’ve still got people left gift-less. What ever will you do?

Give’m the gift that just about everyone would love: pornography booze the gift of music! We’ve had all sorts of aural accessories come through our office in the last year, so join us for a quick, last-minute recap of some of our favorites.

For The Pirate Who Has Everything:

In the age of digital downloads, everyone seems to have everything.

Even for folks with dedicated seedboxes and more storage space than any one man could feasibly utilize, there’s something nice about music subscription services. Maybe it’s that it’s more convenient; maybe it’s that it’s, you know, legal.

While there are countless music subscription services out there, two tend to stand out: Rdio and Spotify. The latter has a bigger catalog and some snazzy social features, but lacks an iPad app and inexplicably makes purchasing gift subscriptions next to impossible (for anyone not in Spotify’s home-turf of Sweden, at least.)

Rdio’s music catalog is still pretty dang big, they’ve got an iPad app, and gift subscriptions are a one-click affair. Accounts begin at $5 a month ($10 a month gets you smartphone access), so it scales pretty well to just about any budget. (You can also supposedly buy physical Rdio gift cards in Target stores — but after going on a wild goose chase to every damn Target in my area last week, I’m convinced they don’t actually exist.)

For The Home Office Gamer With A Taste For Bass:

In the Office-Chair-jockey circles, Logitech’s all-in-one Z-5500 5.1 system is legendary. It's also discontinued. That's why nabbing a set of these (once $400) speakers nowadays can set you back nearly a grand (seriously, check Amazon.)

The Z-5500's spiritual successor, the Z906, lacks a bit of the absurd thump that the original packed (the sub is two inches smaller) — but makes up for it with its waaaay prettier styling and improved connectivity. While it’s not quite the champion that the Z-5500 was, it’s still one of the best all-in-one sets you can get for $400. (Oh, and, for what it’s worth, Logitech’s customer service can’t be beat.)

For The One Who Throws Ragers In His Mini-Mansion:

Few new products make me feel like I’ve traveled in time and have come back with something from the future. Sonos feels like it’s ripped straight out of the Jetsons. Why? Ease of setup.

You plug the $50 brain (the “bridge”) into your router. Then you plop one of Sonos’ speakers (either the $299 Play:3 or the bigger, badder $400 Play:5) in another room, hit two buttons, and start up the app on your smartphone/laptop. Bam, wireless music from Rdio, Spotify, Pandora, or your iTunes library. Add a few more speakers, and you’ve got music everywhere in your house — all synced (or not — each can be playing its own track), all controlled from whatever device you’ve got handy. Plus, they sound really, really good.

Sonos’ entire array of applications (be it iOS, Android, or the desktop controllers) could use a ton of UI work, but on a hardware front, it’s wonderful. This is the most expensive offering on the list, as a Sonos set for a 3-4 bedroom house can run over a grand.

For The One Who Can Never Hear You Because He’s Always Got Those Damned Headphones In:

Sick of the constant WUBWUBWUBWUB leaking out of your best friend’s crappy, poorly-sealed (but oh so trendy!) iPhone ear buds? Here’s a range of rock-solid headphones that’ll make sure his music stays in his ears.

$20-$50: Cans in this range (don’t buy cheaper — you’re just buying trash) all tend to sound about the same (read: meh), with one exception: Sennheiser’s stuff. Sennheiser has an uncanny ability to pack a ridiculous amount of sound into remarkably cheap packages. Check out their CX 215’s (MSRP $60, but can be easily found for sub-$40). They sound great for the price, can take a beating, and come in all sorts of fun colors.

$50-$100: In this range, it’s hard to recommend anything but the Klipsch S4’s (MSRP $80, easily found for less than $70). They’ve reigned supreme in this price range for 3+ years now, and with good reason: they just sound great. These are particularly good for those with eclectic music tastes, as they’re incredibly well balanced.

$100-$200: This is the range most audiophiles just start to consider as acceptable, so I’m sure someone will contest me — but Sennheiser’s metal-crafted CX 980’s (MSRP $350, but easily found for around $190) are truly spectacular. Load up a playlist with a few lossless tracks, plug these things in (make sure you test all the seals for the best fit. Like any upper-end pair of cans, a proper seal is make-or-break here), and experience music you thought you knew in a whole new way.

$200+: Don’t do it. Anything above $200 (in terms of actual retail price — not MSRP) falls into the “personal purchase” zone. If someone needs headphones like that, they know it — and they know exactly which ones they want.

Disclaimer: As with many things we review, a number of products here were loaned to us temporarily by the companies (with no obligation to review or mention any of them.)