Last Minute Gift Guide

photo of sign that reads gifts

Intro from Jay Allison: If you've procrastinated buying a holiday gift for that special audiophile in your life (yourself?), Jeff Towne's last minute Gift Guide will save you. It's chock full of suggestions--from microphones, to studio monitors, to headphones and more. Jeff polled all of us at Transom and we weighed in with our favorite gear. So, read on and give gifts with confidence!

Last Minute Gift Guide

Need some last-minute gift ideas for an audio producer you know? Or perhaps you’re looking to make some gear upgrades before the end of the year?

Here are a few ideas from the folks here at Transom, things we might be giving as gifts, or are on our wish lists. We’ve included a range of items, from inexpensive accessories to major splurges, and plenty in-between. Prices on electronics tend to be very volatile, so follow the included links to check the current pricing. Purchasing items by clicking these links results in a commission paid back to transom.org, so you can give two gifts in one, by purchasing through Amazon or B&H through these included links.

Microphones

Audio productions usually start with microphones, so it’s always worth considering getting a new mic, or maybe a second mic to bring with you, to cover more situations.

Electrovoice RE-50

The classic reporter’s mic is the Electrovoice RE-50. It’s a dynamic omnidirectional mic, and is durable, easy-to-use, and resistant to bad weather, wind, P-Pops and handling noise.

Buy the Electrovoice RE-50 from B&H

Buy the Electrovoice RE-50 from Amazon

Shure Beta 87A

A different take on an interview mic, also a favorite for live storytelling events on-stage, is the Shure Beta 87A. It’s a condenser supercardioid mic, so it has a bright, loud, focused sound that rejects extraneous noise from the sides and behind, which is especially helpful when the mic is connected to speakers for a live event.

Buy the Shure Beta 87A from Amazon

Buy the Shure Beta 87A from B&H

Neumann KMS 104

A similar mic to the Beta 87A, but a bit of a splurge, is the Neumann KMS 104. It can give the detailed sound of a large studio mic, in a smaller, hand-held form.  Buy the Neumann KMS 104 from B&H

Rode NTG2

Rode NTG2Many reporters prefer shotgun microphones. if you’re thinking of adding one of those to your collection, we like the Rode NTG2,

Buy the Rode NTG2 from B&H

Buy the Rode NTG2 from Amazon

Audio Technica AT-897

The Audio Technica AT-897 is another solid, affordable short-shotgun mic.

Buy the Audio Technica AT-897 from B&H

Buy from the Audio Technica AT-897 Amazon

Sennheiser K6/ME66

For a bit of a splurge, consider the Sennheiser K6/ME66

Buy the Sennheiser K6/ME66 from B&H

Sound Professionals Binaural Microphone

Sound Professionals Binaural MicsAlthough we haven’t delved too deeply into Binaural microphone recording (placing microphones to simulate the positions of your ears) we’re curious about it, and have been looking at these mics from Sound Professionals. They come with clips and windscreens, ready to attach to a hat, or glasses, or other objects.  These mics have a stereo mini connector, that will connect to most small field recorders. (note: this stereo mini plug will NOT connect in stereo to the Zoom F1, or Tascam DR-10L recorders mentioned below.)   Buy the Sound Professionals Binaural mics from Amazon.

Roland Binaural Microphone

Roland also makes a pair that combines the microphones with earbud-style headphones, for convenient monitoring, and a very stealthy appearance!

Buy from B&H

Sennheiser Binaural Microphone

Sennheiser makes a set of in-ear headphone/mics that connect directly to an iPhone.

Buy the Sennheiser Binaural Microphone from B&H

Buy the Sennheiser Binaural Microphone from Amazon

 

F3 vr 360 Degree Surround Sound Mic

Zoom H3vrEven more immersive than binaural recording, 360 degree surround audio is becoming popular. These multi-mic systems and decoding software have generally been very expensive, but Zoom has recently released an integrated mic/recorder/decoder system called the F3 vr that seems to have simplified this very complex technique, at a very affordable price. We haven’t had a chance to try this recorder yet, but we’re intrigued… You might know an audio producer who wants to explore this subject too!

Buy from B&H

Buy from Amazon

Mic Accessories

Rycote Medium Hole Softie Lyre Mount & Pistol Grip

Shotgun Mic ISO MountIf you’re getting a shotgun mic, you might want an isolation mount with a grip, to reduce handling noise on the mic. We like this one from Rycote:

Buy the Rycote Medium Hole Softie Lyre Mount & Pistol Grip from B&H

And maybe some wind protection?

Read our recent article about windscreens, and be careful to match the zeppelin, or softie, or windjammer to the specific dimensions of your microphone.

Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1 Mic Activator

CloudlifterIf you record with a dynamic mic, either in the studio or in the field, you may have had some trouble getting enough volume. Dynamic mics generally have a lower output level than condenser mics, and sometimes even turning the input gain all the way up on your recorder, or interface, doesn’t quite give you enough (or creates too much noise.) You might try a device that converts phantom power into a level boost for dynamic mics. Phantom power is meant to provide power for condenser mics, dynamic mics don’t use phantom power. But a few years ago, a few devices arrived on the scene that could use that small phantom power current to add some level boost for dynamic mics. Cloudlifter was the first on the scene, and still a solid choice.

Buy Cloudlifter from B&H

sE Electronics Dynamite

Se Electronics DynamiteMore recently, some similar devices have been made that can plug directly into the mic, eliminating the need for an extra cable, and a heavy box added to your rig. Our favorite is the sE Electronics Dynamite.

Buy from B&H

 

Headphones

Sony MDR-7506

Sony MDR 7506 HeadphonesOur favorite audio production headphones are the Sony MDR-7506. They isolate well, allowing you to really hear what’s coming down your microphone. They have a wide-range frequency response, high sensitivity (leading to plenty of volume, even when the headphone amp on your source is not super-powerful), and they fold-up to a convenient, packable size.

Buy the Sony MDR-7506s from Amazon

Buy the Sony MDR-7506s from B&H

One of the few things we don’t like about these headphones is that the ear pads tend to wear-out and start leaving little flakes of vinyl on the sides of your face. There are many different replacement ear pads available, but we especially like these velour alternatives. They’re comfortable, and don’t feel as hot and sticky as vinyl, leather or pleather pads can.

Buy Sony MDR-7506 replacement ear pads from Amazon

Buy Sony MDR-7506 replacement ear pads from B&H

Koss Porta Pro Headphones

Koss Porta Pro HeaphonesAlthough we’re pretty obsessed with the Sony MDR-7506 headphones, sometimes you need something smaller, lighter, and cheaper. These won’t give the isolation or bass-response that the Sonys do, but they’re remarkably good-sounding for their size and price.

Buy the Koss Porta Pro Headphones from Amazon

 

ER3 In-Ear Earphones

Earbuds don’t tend to be very reliable for assessing your audio in the field, but high-quality in-ear headphones can do a good job, Just be careful: they can sometimes be TOO isolating, making you less-aware of your surroundings.

There are many good in-ear headphones, but we’re especially fond of the ones available from Etymotic Research. They have a variety of models at a range of price points. The ER3 series makes a pretty good balance between price and function.

Buy the Etymotic ER3 In-Ear earphones from Amazon

Etymotic Earplugs

While discussing things we stick in our ears, it’s worth contemplating high-quality ear-plugs. Audio producers rely on their ears, and it’s a good idea to protect those ears in loud environments. Simple, disposable foam earplugs can be handy, but they muffle sound pretty severely. Several companies make high tech versions that reduce the volume without muffling high frequencies. We like these from Etymotic:

Buy Etymotic Earplugs from Amazon

Speakers

Mixing on headphones is often the only practical solution for folks working out of a home studio, or any space without elaborate sonic treatment. But mixing exclusively on headphones can result in some balance problems: a good set of near-field monitors is pretty important for anyone doing their own mixes. Ideally, you’ll listen on both speakers and headphones, and make sure the mix works on both. Self-powered monitors, which have amplifiers built-into the speaker cabinets, are the easiest solution: you can plug them directly into your mixer or computer audio interface.

KRK Rokit Self-Powered Monitors

KRK RokItOn the budget end, we like the KRK Rokit self-powered monitors.

The smallest we’d recommend have a 5-inch woofer, which can’t produce some of the lower frequencies that are important to hear, but will still sound fairly good.  Larger speakers can help with this problem: the version of this speaker with 8-inch woofers is a good full-range solution.

Buy KRK RokIt 5″ Self-Powered Monitors from Amazon

Buy KRK Rokit 8″ Self-Powered Monitors from Amazon

Or, adding a sub-woofer can fill-in those missing low notes (although subwoofers might not be a great idea for apartment dwellers with downstairs neighbors.)

KRK 10S2 V2 10″ 160 Watt Powered Studio Subwoofer

KRK sells a subwoofer in this same Rokit series. (Because bass is relatively non-directional, you only need one subwoofer to accompany your stereo speakers.)

Buy the KRK 10S2 V2 10″ 160 Watt Powered Studio Subwoofer from Amazon

Mackie MR524 & MR824 and M-Audio BX5 and BX8

There are many variations on this theme of affordable small-studio powered monitors. We’ve also had good luck with versions from Mackie (MR524 Buy Mackie MR524 from Amazon and the the larger MR824 Buy Mackie MR824 from Amazon) and M-Audio (BX5 Buy M-Audio BX5 from Amazon and BX8 Buy M-Audio BX8 from Amazon)

The Focal Shape 50

There are many higher-priced studio monitors out there. One splurge we think worth the expense is for speakers from Focal. The CMS-50 monitors we especially like have been discontinued, but the Shape 50 is similar.

Buy the Shape 50s from Amazon

Buy the Shape 50s from B&H

The Focal Alpha 50

There’s also a lower-priced Focal line that is worth considering: the Alpha 50 has a 5″ woofer,

Buy The Alpha 50s from Amazon

Buy the Alpha 50s from B&H

The Focal Alpha 80

The Alpha 80 has an 8″ woofer.

Buy the Focal Alpha 80s from Amazon

Buy the Focal Alpha 80s from B&H

Audio Interfaces

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and 18i8 and the Audient iD22 and iD4

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2For getting audio in and out of your computer, we’ve found that the Focusrite Scarlett series is a good value.

The 2i2 has two combo mic/line inputs, which can cover most basic studio set-ups.

Buy Focusrite 2i2 from Amazon

Buy Focusrite 2i2 from B&H

The 18i8 has four mic/line inputs, which can be handy for panel discussions, or basic music recording. It can be expanded to route 18 inputs into your computer, with additional accessories.

Buy the Focusrite 18i8 from B&H

Buy the Focusrite 18i8 from Amazon

For a little bit of a splurge, we like the Audient iD22 interface, which has two mic/line inputs, and can be expanded to accept 8 more inputs.

Buy the Audient iD22 from B&H

There’s also a more basic interface from Audient, the iD4, with only one mic input, and a direct input for recording one channel of a musical instrument.

Buy the iD4 Audient from B&H

Recorders

We’re continually upgrading our audio field recorders, or adding small, cheap ones for back-ups, or for carrying with us at all times.

Zoom H1n

Zoom H1nWe’ve been impressed by the upgraded small and cheap stereo recorder from Zoom, the H1n.

Buy the Zoom H1n from Amazon

Buy the Zoom H1n from B&H

It might not be quite full-featured enough to be a primary recorder, but it’s great for beginners, or as a back-up, or for something to just toss in your pocket in case you might come across something interesting to record. Read a review here>>.

Zoom F1

We’ve also been surprised to discover how useful we’ve found the Zoom F1. It’s a tiny recorder that comes with a lavalier mic. The mic can be placed on a subject, and the recorder slips right into a pocket, allowing recording of a free-ranging subject without the expense of a wireless mic system.

Buy the Zoom F1 from Amazon

Buy the Zoom F1 from B&H

Tascam DR-10L

There’s also a Tascam version of this style of recorder: the DR-10L

Buy the Tascam DR-10L from B&H

Buy the Tascam DR-10L from Amazon

Read more about these recorders here>>

Tascam DR-10X

Tascam DR10XThere’s also a variation on this Tascam recorder than can plug directly onto the XLR jack of a reporter’s microphone, the DR-10X, making for a very small, self-contained recording system.

These tiny recorders only have a few adjustments, which makes them easy to use, but also harder to assure an ideal recording. But the convenience sometimes outweighs the compromises one has to make in setting levels perfectly, or actively monitoring the audio signal.

Buy the Tascam DR-10X from Amazon

Buy the Tascam DR10X from B&H

Zoom H5

For a more full-featured recorder, we’re fond of the Zoom H5. It’s got two XLR inputs, and built-in stereo mics that sound great. Read a full review here >>

Buy the Zoom H5 from Amazon

Buy the Zoom H5 from B&H

Sound Devices MixPre Recorders

Sund Devices MixPre-6For a splurge, we’re big fans of the MixPre recorders from Sound Devices. These little boxes have a little bit of a learning-curve, but they can operate as multi-track field recorders, as field mixers (sending a live mix to a camera or other output), and as USB audio interfaces. Even more impressively, they can do all of those things at the same time. Read a full review here>>

Buy the MixPre3 from B&H

Buy the MixPre6 from B&H

Sound Devices has released newer versions of these recorders that are oriented toward musicians. You lose Timecode, and a few operational features of the originals, but they’re also about $100 cheaper than the models aimed at pro field recordists and film sound techs.

Buy the MixPre3m from B&H

Buy MixPre6m from B&H

Software:

Izotope Audio Rx and Izotope Rx Elements

Izotope Audio RXWe’ll avoid the great debate about the best audio editing software, but we DO have one piece of code that we rely on more and more: Izotope Audio Rx. This program can clean-up audio in ways that sometimes approach magic. On the bargain end, there’s a very basic package called Izotope Rx Elements, that still has some very effective processes for fixing clicks, rumbles and other common noises.

Buy Izotope from B&H

You get many more tools, and a LOT more control with the Standard version, which is a bit more money, but still a bargain if you’re confronted with noisy audio.

Buy the Standard version from B&H

For a real splurge, the Advanced version of the software adds even more amazing processes, and even more control. This might be best reserved for the dedicated audio expert on your list, but the high price is actually justified by the minor audio miracles it can perform.

Buy the Advanced verison from B&H

Other stuff

Data Storage

SD memory cardMemory cards and hard drives are always on our wish-lists: we can always use another larger, or faster, memory card, USB thumb drive or external hard drive. Thankfully, these devices keep getting cheaper and faster, allowing longer record times, or quicker transfers, or easier archiving.

Most audio recorders use SD memory cards, and although most audio recording tasks do not require the same high rates of data transfer that photography and video do, it’s still worth investing in good quality cards. Just be sure to check whether your device has a maximum size card that it can use.  And remember that some of the more compact recorders, such as the Zoom H1n, and F1, and the Tascam DR-10L and DR10X, use the physically-smaller micro-CD cards.

Although there are many good brands of SD cards, we’ve had good luck with SanDisk, which are generally a good value as well.

SD cards: full-size

Buy a 32 GB SD Card on Amazon
Buy a 64 GB SD Card on Amazon
Buy a 128 GB SD Card on Amazon

Micro SD cards

Buy a 32 GB Micro SD Card on Amazon
Buy a 64 GB Micro SD Card on Amazon
Buy a 128 GB Micro SD Card on Amazon

USB Thumb Drives

USB Thumb DriveUSB “thumb drives” provide a convenient way to transfer audio or projects from one computer to another.  We’ve probably all got a few cheap ones floating around, but those tend to have painfully-slow data-transfer rates, and are prone to failing at the worst possible times. So, like with the SD cards, it’s worth spending a little more on high-quality drives.

Again, SanDisk offers a good balance of value and reliability:

Buy a 64 gig SD Thumb Drive on Amazon
Buy a 128 gig SD Thumb Drive on Amazon

If you want to spend a bit more, the Patriot Supersonic Rage 2 series offer much faster data transfer speeds, which can reduce frustration when copying large projects.

Buy a High-speed 128 GB Patriot Supersonic Rage 2 Thumb Drive on Amazon
Buy a High Speed 256 GB Patriot Supersonic Rage 2 Thumb Drive on Amazon

 

Solid State Drives

SanDisk Portable SSDThumb drives are still too small, slow and unreliable for storing and transporting large projects, so we still need large-capacity external hard drives. Small, fast, quiet Solid State Drives (SSD) are starting to become affordable, although they’re still much more expensive per GB than the traditional spinning-drive versions. Very large capacity SSDs will surely become affordable soon, but for now, 500 GB or 1 TB drives are the most practical.

Buy a SanDisk portable SSD – 500 GB on Amazon
Buy a Samsung portable SSD – 500 GB on Amazon

LaCie RuggedConventional spinning drives still offer a better price per GB, and it’s practical now to have very large drives that are small enough to carry with you.  We like the LaCie Rugged series, partly because the rounded corners and rubber casing offer some protection when the drives are bouncing around in a backpack.

Buy a LaCie 2 TB Rugged USB Hard Drive on Amazon

Buy a LaCie 5 TB Rugged USB Hard Drive on Amazon

Buy a LaCie 2 TB Rugged Thunderbolt/USB on Amazon

USB Power

Anker PowerCoreWhile recording out in the field, power is always an issue. Many recorders can be powered through a USB connection, including many Tascam recorders, and the Sound Devices MixPre3 and 6. So having a rechargeable USB power supply can be much more convenient than trying to swap-out AA batteries.  Additionally, it’s very convenient to be able to power up a cell phone or tablet from the same device. There are lots of these power bricks, mostly oriented toward keeping a cell phone charged, but for audio production use, be sure to get the largest capacity that’s practical. Anker has many variations on this device, we like the PowerCore 26800.

Buy an Anker PowerCore 26800 Portable Charger from Amazon

Tentacle Sync

Tentacle SyncIf you’re working with professional video crews, and using audio recorders that accept Timecode, a pair of Tentacle Sync boxes are a great way to keep the camera and recorder in perfect sync, without cables.

Buy Tentacle Sync from B&H

Zoom Mic Clip adapter

Zoom Mic Clip AdapterFor recording out in the field: this little handle was designed for the Zoom H2 and H4, but we’ve find ourselves using it to mount all kinds of devices in a standard microphone clip. It’s got a standard tripod screw on one end, which fits into the bottom of most hand-held audio recorders (as well as many action cams and other small audio and video devices)  so we have ordered several, for quick mounting of various devices on standard mic stands.

Buy the Zoom Mic Clip from B&H

Jeff Towne

About
Jeff Towne

During more than 25 years as a producer of the nationally-syndicated radio program Echoes. Jeff Towne has recorded interviews and musical performances in locations ranging from closets to cathedrals, outdoor stages to professional studios, turning them into radio shows and podcasts. Jeff is also the Tools Editor for Transom.org, a Peabody Award-winning website dedicated to channeling new voices to public media. At Transom, he reviews field recorders, microphones and software, helping both beginning and experienced audio producers choose their tools. In his spare time, Jeff will probably be taking pictures of his lunch in that little restaurant with the strange name that you've been wondering about. 

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  • Rene

    12.19.18

    Reply

    Any thoughts on the difference between a MixPre3 and MixPre3m? I’m planning to use it for tape Syncs, interviews and possible ambi. I don think I’ll miss the time code, are there other differences?

    • Jeff Towne

      12.20.18

      Reply

      I think the M versions should work just fine for most interview use. I rarely (never?) use time code either…

      There are a few functional differences. The original version has three modes of operation: Basic, Advanced, and Custom. The M versions just have one operating mode, similar to Advanced mode on the original. This is a slight drawback: in this mode, the input gain of each input is set in a menu, with the headphone encoder, not with the front-panel fader knobs. This works OK, but gives less flexibility for riding the gain on-the-fly than is possible in Basic and Custom mode, where the front panel knobs can be set to control input gain.

      The original MixPres record multitrack audio as “poly” files, which bundle all the tracks together into one file. The M versions always records a mono wav file for each armed input.

      The M versions only have one meter view – which shows 12 internal tracks and the stereo mix. For most documentary-style field recording, there will be a lot of dead space, and a comparatively small display for each track. But, it’s still useable…

      The M series adds the ability to do overdubs and punch-ins, effects, internal bouncing, and some other music-oriented functions. Those capabilities seem like potential trouble to me: when doing basic field recording, I’d much rather not have the option of overdubbing, or punching-in, etc! If you DO want some of those musician-oriented functions, the original MixPre recorders can add that way of working by installing an optional plug-in ($99).

      The M-series is less-flexible as a USB audio interface for your computer if you’re on Windows. They’re the same on Macs.

      Weirdly, the M versions ship with an AC power adapter that plugs into the USB-C connector. The standard versions do not ship with a power adapter, but one is available as an option.

      But the electronics are identical: you’d get the same great mic preamps, excellent analog limiters, and overall high-quality signal path. The original version is a little better-suited for the kind of work you want to do, but I’m sure the M-version would work fine too, after you get used to it the way it operates.

  • Covington

    1.06.19

    Reply

    I’m curious why the Neumann KMS 104 is recommended over the Neumann KMS 105?

    The 105 has a supercardioid polar pattern like the Shure 87A so I would think that would be a closer match. What am I missing?

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