Our annual gift story is more than just an opportunity to dress up some gadgets and parade them around in all their holiday finery: it's a chance to highlight some items that our staff is particulary fond of. On the following pages, you'll see some great items from the usual suspects-Alesis, Digidesign, and Sonic Foundry, for example-but you'll also be introduced to some highly unusual gear and instruments. An amp made out of a cigarette box? A theremin that looks like a psychedelic crystal ball? We got 'em here, plus a lot more. If you want to pick up something for a musician friend or loved one, or you're looking to add a few items to your personal wish list, read on for a slew of intriguing possibilities.
i Call It Mini MeThese miniature guitar amps are small in stature but big on personality. I set them up on my desk, but they attracted such a large audience that I had to hide them away in order to get any work done.
1. The highest fun-factor rating goes to Smokey Amps. The company's mini amp ($29.95) comes in two varieties: a translucent polycarbonate box and (get this) a recycled cigarette box that has been reinforced from the inside for durability. The polycarbonate style is available in purple, orange, green, blue, or clear, and the cigarette box amp comes in a variety of brands. These little amps are more than mere playthings: Smokey amps were used on recent CDs by Korn, the Offspring, the Verve Pipe, and Sepultura.
2. The Marshall MS-4 micro stack and the MS-2 micro guitar amp (Korg USA; $70 and $49, respectively) are great for playing out your rock-and-roll fantasies. Both of these dynamos are scaled down but fully functional Marshall amps, with gain, volume, and tone controls. Both run on a 9-volt battery or an external 9-volt DC power supply. The next three items fall into the "I've been extremely good this year" category.
3. First up is the Alesis ADAT StudioPack ($2,999), which comes with almost everything you need to get your studio up and running: an ADAT LX20, a Studio 24 console, NanoVerb digital effects processor, NanoCompressor stereo compressor/limiter, instructional video on setting up and using the equipment, and all the cables and snakes you need to hook it all together. Add instruments and monitors, mix well, and you're cookin'.
4. For the desktop audio-inclined, there's Digidesign's cross-platform ToolBox XP (Mac/Win; $545). For the Mac, ToolBox XP includes the Audio Media III PCI card and Pro Tools LE software, which incorporates MIDI sequencing and Real-Time AudioSuite effects processing, among many other features. For Windows, ToolBox XP currently ships with Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge XP and Acid Rock instead of Pro Tools LE. Digidesign says Pro Tools LE will be Windows 98-compatible in early 2000. (Registered Windows 98 customers will get a free upgrade.)
5. E-mu's Audio Production Studio (APS) offers Windows users a complete desktop music environment at an affordable price ($699), including audio and MIDI sequencing software, real-time DSP effects, 64-voice software sampler/synthesizer (not CPU dependent), digital mixer, CPU-mounted I/O module, and a full-duplex digital audio recording system with support for eight sample rates between 8 and 48 kHz. And it's easy to install and use. Stay home for the holidays, glued to your computer screen!
Playaround1. If you thought musical spoons were no more intriguing than...well...silverware, guess again. Catpaws ($20) from Catania Folk Instruments (distributed by Elderly Instruments) are fun to play and nice to look at. They are hand carved from Pennsylvania cherry wood, and the package has illustrated instructions on playing the spoons.
2. Another hand-carved beauty is the E.mbira, from Lucinda Ellison Musicial Instruments. There are four base models, which start at $250. Because Ellison handcrafts each of these electric mbiras in her Tennessee studio, they can be ordered with various design options and wood choices. The prices, of course, vary accordingly.
3. If beautiful hardwood is too "last week" for your modern sensibilities, perhaps the Suzuki QChord ($199) is more your speed. This sleek, built-for-the-millenium synth is a big winner when it comes to immediate gratification. Children and seasoned vets alike can just turn on this space-age MIDI Autoharp and rock out.
4. Any theremin lover can get behind the groovy, hand-painted, crystal ball theremin from Theremaniacs ($139.95). It works just like a traditional theremin: a knob controls how close your hand has to be before it starts to make sound, and the antenna is an adhesive metallic disc under the top of the dome. Also available from Theremaniacs is a more traditional black-box-style theremin that mounts on a microphone stand ($139.95). Or you can purchase the circuit board only ($79.95) if you want to fashion your own theremin.
5. For you control(ler) freaks, there's the I-Cube System ($615) from Infusion Systems. The unit has six sensors: two respond to illumination, and the remaining four respond to contact pressure, temperature, close proximity, and rotation angle. In short, the I-Cube lets you use just about anything you can think of as a MIDI controller.
Microphone Merriness1. If you're shopping for good studio mics, the GT Electronics AM mic series is worth checking out. The affordable AM11 ($399) is a large-diaphragm condenser mic with a fixed-cardioid pattern and Class-A FET preamp.
2. The drummer on your list would love the Audio-Technica drum microphone KitPak ($259). This is a complete drum-miking kit: four cardioid dynamic drum mics, heavy-duty carrying case, and drum-miking instructions.
3. The Blueberry ($1,295) from BLUE is a top-notch large-diaphragm condenser mic that works especially well for vocals and percussion. Don't let the cute name fool you; this is one handsome and solidly built mic.
Gear Fab1. The Cyclodon ($265) from Technosaurus is a fascinating and compact 16-step analog sequencer. Roughly the size of a VHS tape, this little cutie has 16 potentiometers for tweaking to your heart's content.
2. Fold, spindle, and mutilate your music well into the new year with the Moogerfooger MF-102 ring modulator ($299) from Big Briar. Add the EP-1 expression pedal ($40), and you're in for some hands-free fun.
3. Also from Technosaurus is the Micron ($265), a mono analog synth with one resonant filter and one CV/gate input. It's about the same size as the Cyclodon, which makes it "the smallest analog synth available," according to the company.
The Well-Read Gift1. The Inventor of Stereo: The Life and Works of Alan Dower Blumlein, by Robert Charles Alexander (Focal Press, $56.95) is a fascinating read. Don't mistake this as some dry textbook about arcane microphone facts. Rather, it reads at times like a spy novel about top-secret radar development during WWII, with Blumlein (who patented binaural recording in 1931 at age 28) as one of the main characters. Engaging and enlightening, and not the least bit nerdy.
2. Magic Music from the Telharmonium, by Reynold Weidenaar (Scarecrow Press, $62.50), is the first comprehensive look at one of the the world's earliest electronic music instruments. Thaddeus Cahill's Telharmonium was a 200-ton mass of gears and wires that allowed residents on the East Coast in 1906 to hear music over telephone wires.
3. The Computer Music Tutorial, by Curtis Rhodes (MIT Press, $58), is the definitive text on any and all subjects related to electronic and computer music. It's all here: the evolution of musical instruments, all aspects of MIDI hardware and software, and everything you ever wanted to know about digital audio and modern synthesis methods. Depite its forboding appearance (1,200 pages on computer music!), it's very readable with numerous informational graphics. A must for the desktop musician in your life.
Gizmos Galore1. Everyone could use a set of good cables, such as the Wyde Eye A/D cable from Apogee Electronics. These durable cables are designed to minimize noise and are great for both analog and digital applications. Prices start at $37.95 (for a 0.5-meter cable) and go up to $89.90 (for a 10-meter cable).
2. The Mic-Mute ($249) from PureSound is an infrared switch that turns the mic on when you approach it and off when you walk away. The user determines "hot zone" parameters-at what distance the switch kicks in and how long it stays on after you leave the zone. A way-cool gift for the musician onstage!
3. The SPK Universal Noise Suppression System ($129) from Sabra Som is ideal for the recording musician. It includes the SSM-1 shock-mount, the ST-2 double support bar, and the SPF pop filter. These Brazilian-made accessories fit almost any mic and mic stand and are very affordable. Each item in the package is also for sale individually.
4. The interestingly named Rat Sniffer ($24.95) from AudioControl Industrial is a handy phantom-powered inline cable tester. The company also has a battery-powered tester called the Rat Sender ($24.95). The two testers are offered together as the Rat Pack ($45.95).
5. The WOW Thing box ($29.95) from SRS Labs plugs right into your computer and enhances the quality of compressed computer audio. A fun stocking stuffer for anyone who spends a lot of time listening to audio through a computer.
The Soft Sell1. Perhaps the hottest music software on the market is Sonic Foundry's Acid family of products (Acid Pro, Acid Music, and Acid Style). The company has a ton of loop libraries and the selection is growing all the time, so you're sure to find styles that will please the Acid heads on your gift list. Check out such loop offerings as Methods of Mayhem, Bill Laswell Sampler, Classic Country, and Syntonic Generator ($59.95 each).
2. The songwriters on your list would most certainly appreciate receiving A Zillion Kajillion Rhymes (Mac/Win; $64.90) from Eccentric Software. It's very easy to use: load it on a computer from the floppy disk, boot it up, type in a word, and let the rhyming begin. Eccentric is now packaging A Zillion Kajillion Cliches with Rhymes. The Cliche program functions much like Rhymes: type in a word and the program lists cliches that use that word.
3. Yamaha's XGWorks 3.0 (Win; $99) is a versatile and inexpensive digital audio sequencer. In addition to its sequencing functions, it offers pitch-to-MIDI conversion and functions as an editor for Yamaha's XG synths.
4. If someone on your gift list is a devotee of Cycling '74's MSP, consider fueling that software desire with Cycling's Pluggo (Mac; $74). This package of 74 VST-format plug-ins is a good deal in itself. But wait, there's more! The exciting feature is that you can use Pluggo to create your own VST plug-ins. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!