The old adage “good things come in small packages” has never been more true than it is for the personal studio. This year's holiday gift guide celebrates the diminutive desktop, the pint-size studio, and the wee workspace by focusing on items that fit in the palm of your hand. Our list includes something for everybody — from gadgets for the guitarist to gizmos for the gear geek. Prices range from $2.45 to $995, so no matter what your budget permits, you can share something fun with a friend or loved one this season. So sit back, kick up your feet, and enjoy our latest gift recommendations. Happy Holidays!
1. With the cleverly designed Audio-Technica AT8459 dual-swivel mic clamp ($54), positioning a microphone has never been easier. A single knob controls a pair of gimbals that gives you unprecedented control — perfect for spot miking in tight places. Web: www.audio-technica.com.
2.The American-made Josephson Series Four C42 ($480 each; $1,060 matched pair) is perfect for both studio and live recording. This cardioid condenser microphone has an exceptional transient response and is capable of capturing an impressive amount of sonic detail. The pair comes with a sturdy black plastic Pelican case and heavy-duty shockmounts. Web: www.josephson.com.
3.Following the success of the Ball powered dynamic mic, Blue Microphones has released the 8-Ball ($279), a cardioid condenser with discrete Class-A circuitry. The base of the mic has a threaded swivelmount for added positioning capabilities, and the handy LED on the front indicates that the mic is receiving phantom power. (Stand not included.) Web: www.bluemic.com.
4.The diminutive Zoom PS-4 Palmtop Studio ($359.99) from Samson Technologies can record 2 tracks at a time, play 4 tracks simultaneously, and hold 40 virtual tracks using SmartMedia cards. The built-in omnidirectional mic, onboard drum and bass samples, and ¼-inch and ⅛-inch analog I/O give you extra recording flexibility. Web: www.samsontech.com.
5.The Zoom PFX-9003 Palmtop Effects Processor ($259.99) from Samson Technologies isn't much bigger than a deck of cards, but it has a mic, ¼-inch and ⅛-inch I/O, a rhythm machine, a phrase sampler, a tuner, and a karaoke function. The effects have tempo-sync capabilities and include amp simulation, compression, noise reduction, EQ, and reverb. Web: www.samsontech.com.
6.The Phonic PAA2 Personal Audio Assistant ($469) is a portable audio test device combining a 31-band, ⅓-octave real-time spectrum analyzer with SPL and line-voltage measurement capabilities. The PAA2 is easy to use and has a built-in omnidirectional microphone, a case, an AC adapter, and a CD of test signals. Web: www.phonic.com.
7.If you're serious about recording direct, check out the BBE DI-1000 ($299.99). Featuring a Jensen output transformer and a BBE Sonic Maximizer circuit, it can be used as an active or passive DI and offers two pad levels and a ground-lift switch. Web: www.bbesound.com.
8.The Boss Dr. Beat DB-60 ($89) isn't your average metronome. It lets you program rhythms and supports time signatures with as many as 17 beats per measure. It also has tap tempo, loop functionality, a tuner, a stopwatch, and a timer. Dr. Beat DB-60 can even store song tempos. Web: www.bossus.com.
9.The Korg MM-2 MetroGnome ($35) is a miniature time keeper that hooks onto your ear. The metronome has 39 tempos, ranging from 40 to 208 bpm, with as many as 7 beats per bar. The volume control lets you set the tiny piezo speaker to a suitable playback level. Web: www.korg.com.
10.Peterson thought of everything when it designed the StroboStomp ($309). The tuner offers 1/10-cent accuracy and can be used with guitar or bass. The device can also be used as an active DI, and the 9V DC output can provide power for other stomp boxes. You can also program your own tuning temperaments. Web: www.petersontuners.com.
11.The Z.Vex Nano Head ($499) is a colorful 0.5W tube guitar amp with two little duotriodes that are strong enough to power a 4×12 cabinet. The controls include a 3-position highpass switch, a 3-position lowpass switch, a brightness switch (for low-volume use), and a volume control. Web: www.zvex.com.
12.Need some space between your instrument and amp without going wireless? The Little Labs STD Mercenary Edition ($140) goes the distance without sacrificing tone or increasing noise in the line. The included cable has a discrete buffer circuit that allows you to use a mic cable or tie line to extend the distance of your instrument cable. Web: www.littlelabs.com.
13.Whether you are reamping your guitar or bass or running a vocal track through a stompbox, the Radial X-Amp ($200) helps you maintain the proper impedance. This Class-A device has an output-level control, two ¼-inch outputs (one with transformer isolation and a polarity switch), and separate ground-lift switches on the input and output. Web: www.radialeng.com.
14.The DVForge JamPlug ($59.99) is a tiny amplifier that plugs directly into your electric guitar or bass, so you can practice anywhere (even while walking around). The amp, which can be driven into distortion, is powered by a single AAA battery and comes with matching earbuds. Web: www.jamplug.com.
15.The latest version of the venerable EBow, the PlusEBow ($120) offers greater sensitivity, a smoother drive, and an additional setting that is strong enough to pull out harmonics. But the PlusEBow is not just for guitarists: try it on piano, mandolin, banjo, dobro, and even snare drum. It's a sound designer's dream. Web: www.ebow.com.
16.Monster knows cables, so it's no surprise that the company created one especially for desktop recording. With its stylish Apple-chic design, iStudioLink (Mac/Win, $19.95) combines a ¼-inch jack and a ⅛-inch plug for direct-to-computer interfacing, whether you're using Apple GarageBand, Cakewalk Guitar Tracks Pro 3, or another digital-audio sequencer. Web: www.monstercable.com.
17.The Yamaha Magicstomp (Mac/Win, $299.95) lives up to its name by offering a wide range of editable amp models and effects, as well as USB connectivity and an editor/librarian. The presets include distortion, modulation effects, reverb, pitch shifting, delay … the works! Just plug it in, and you're on your way. Web: www.yamaha.com.
18.The Planet Waves Pro-Winder ($12.99) is a durable plastic string winder with a built-in wire cutter that folds into the handle when it's not being used. As a bonus, the winder has a notch for pulling out bridge pins on an acoustic guitar. Web: www.planetwaves.com.
19.The Wedgie Micstand Pick Holder ($3.99) easily wraps around a stand and holds ten standard guitar picks. The 3-inch-long holder is made of a tough, flexible rubber that is designed to last a tour's worth of gigs. The Wedgie ($2.49), which attaches to the strings on your guitar's headstock, holds two picks. Web: www.wedgie.com.
20.The HFI-650 ($249) closed-back headphones feature Ultrasone's distinctive S-Logic Natural Surround Sound technology, which offsets the drivers in a forward position so the sound reaches your ear naturally. The headphones have an exceptional frequency range (10 Hz to 25 kHz) and fit comfortably. Web: www.ultrasoneusa.com.
21.If you're looking for a USB audio and MIDI interface with a small footprint, the Edirol UA-25 Audio Capture (Mac/Win, $295) fits the bill. This portable device supports 24-bit, 96 kHz audio and has a pair of phantom-powered mic preamps, a built-in limiter, a +4 dBu balanced output, and MIDI I/O. Best of all, it's USB powered. Web: www.edirol.com.
22.The TC Electronic PowerCore Compact (Mac/Win, $995) is a lightweight and portable version of the company's popular FireWire-based DSP host. It supports VST and Audio Units plug-ins and 24-bit, 96 kHz audio. It also comes with 12 plug-in effects, including Noveltech Character, Filtroid, and Master X3 Virtual Finalizer. Web: www.tcelectronic.com.
23 & 24.The Griffin iTalk ($39.99) turns your Apple iPod (Mac/Win, $399 for the 40 GB model pictured here) into a portable recorder. Just plug it in and start recording. In addition to the built-in mic, the iTalk has a speaker for playback, and the ⅛-inch jack on top supports an external mic or stereo headphones. Web: www.griffintechnology.com.
25.The Philips Wearable Digital Camcorder (Win, $249) encompasses an MP3 player and a 2-megapixel camera. The camcorder records 25 minutes of MPEG4 video, and you can download your files and charge the battery using your PC USB port. Headphones, external battery, and remote control are provided. Web: www.ThingsToDoYourThing.com.
26.The TerraTec Producer MIDI Hubble (Mac/Win, $99) combines a USB hub and MIDI interface in one box. From a single USB 1.1 port, it runs three additional USB 1.1 ports and two sets of MIDI I/O ports. This handy device is bus powered, but it also accepts a 6 VDC adapter. Web: www.terratec.com.
27.What do Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Thelonious Monk, Bobby Darin, and Ray Charles have in common? You'll find out in Tom Dowd & The Language of Music (DVD, $24.99) an engaging documentary about this legendary producer and recording engineer. In addition to interviews with Dowd and a star-studded line-up, the film takes you behind the scenes for a look at how recording has progressed since the late '40s. Web: www.thelanguageofmusic.com.
28.Bruce Swedien discusses his life and work in a homespun and informal way in this part how-to book, part autobiography called Make Mine Music ($29.95). The book covers his sessions with Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, and Jennifer Lopez, with anecdotes and specific recording techniques peppered throughout. Web: www.musicdispatch.com.
29.The Tipbooks ($9.95 each) are pocket-size guides for beginners of nearly every musical subject. Keyboard & Digital Piano covers the buying, setup, and use of electronic keyboard instruments. Amplifiers & Effects introduces the reader to amplification and signal processing. Music on Paper presents the basics of musical notation and theory. Web: www.musicdispatch.com.