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Gifts I Will Give Myself

December usually means some much deserved downtime for the holidays.

December usually means some much deserved downtime for the holidays. It’s when we start to think about what to get that certain audio someone, or even gift ourselves back for another 12 months spent working, or looking for it.

I’ve always had the hi-res audio bug, and in 2015 I’m resolute on upping my portable HD audio game. So for my gift to me, I had ear impressions made and my Ultimate Ears Custom Reference IEMs are in the mail. UE and Capitol Studios collaborated on their design and tuning, and somehow they’ve fit three “proprietary balanced armature speakers” into each monitor. I’m camped by my mailbox. This partners with my Galaxy S5, which has a Wolfson WM5110 192kHz/24-bit DAC. But even with the Wolfson, the analog output of the S5 is the weak link, so the next step up is to figure out how to get digital audio out of my S5’s USB connector for a better analog back end through a third-party DAC. This topic is causing much angst on the Android forums—it seems that Samsung doesn’t allow audio out of that port. Bummer! Pono may be my next stop.

Speaking of Pono, it’s shipping in 2015 and for $399 you can get the slick looking, triangular, high-resolution audio player. It features balanced and unbalanced outputs, supports a 64GB microSD card, and plays FLAC, ALAC, 192kHz WAV, AIFF, AAC, and MP3s (!?) for up to 8 hours. There’s plenty of cool download content now from HDTracks, and soon to come from Pono, that will keep you busy finding great material to own. Yup, I know it’s a streaming world, but with Big Machine Records pulling Taylor Swift’s record off Spotify, and selling 1.2 million units in the first week, ownership may be trending again soon. But not without a fight, high-res streaming is a reality waiting for a pipeline. Orastream out of Singapore allows you to upload music music files up to 24-bit/192 kHz, and losslessly stream them back at 9,216 kbps (bandwidth allowing). It’s getting exciting!

Aratech Labs is bowing a LITE version of its cool Apolarmic augmented reality app that maps a microphone’s polar pattern in real time from a handheld device. The full version is only $119.99 and is perfect for the student, home recordist or audio instructor who wants to bring a high-tech teaching tool to school. It offers full specs and tech info for a range of mic manufacturers, including AEA, Royer, Mojave and many more, with AKG, and Gefell coming soon.

What do you get the audio-head with everything? How about some high-end cable? Swiss-made VOVOX offers a range of speaker, mic, instrument and other cables for those with an audiophile’s heart. Sure they’re pricey, but what says I love you more than high-purity, solid-core conductors? VOVOX sister company Myrnix takes existing microphones and brings them to the next level (see my review in September Mix). You supply the mic (and $1,700), and you get back a very cool-looking and great-sounding upgraded transducer. Everything is swapped out, including the cabling, which comes integrated into the wooden body, and as you might guess, is made by VOVOX. The integrated, and swappable, pop filter is made of an organic material and covers a robust, and proprietary, metal grille.

One of the best buys I saw coming out of AES were the Ashman SOM50 microphones. Like the classic AKG M50, the Ashmans are omni below 2k, and increasingly directional above. It looks like a ray gun from a 1950s movie, sounds excellent, and you can buy a pair shipped in a plastic case with two K&M clips and a three-year warranty for $599. For two great mics, that’s a steal.

Got a 500 Series friend with some open slots? Kush now offers the Clariphonic parallel EQ in the vertical 500 format. It’s certainly a different take on equalization, sporting parameters called Clarity, Focus, Lift, Sheen and Shimmer. I’ve had my hands and ears on the rack version and it’s no BS. This is one of the coolest things you can have in your rack for under $700. If you’ve got a bit more ($899), the Eventide DDL-500 is one of the best delays you’ll hear in any format. I’ve had one to play with for a while now and it’s a time machine with personality. The important bits are analog, with the digital end limited to just the delay. And with a 12kHz to 192kHz variable sample rate, you can go on a tweaker’s holiday and create up to 160 seconds of unique delay effects.

Millennia just released its first stocking stuffable preamps in the 2-channel HV-32P ($1,079.99) and single-channel HV-35P ($719.99). Both offer high quality, low noise gain, phantom power, switchable pads, and the HV-35P throws in a Hi-Z input and 80Hz HPF. You can even run them on a standard 2,000mAh battery pack. Also stocking ready, the Radial Engineering IceCube IC-1 ($69.99) is an ultra-compact balanced line isolator. It’s perfect for nixing hum, buzz and other noisy hangers-on caused by ground loops.

It’s been a great year for Nashville and Mix families. I’m always thankful for the opportunity to connect with you through my column, reviews and on the web. Thank you for reading, and here’s a toast to a healthy and happy new year for us all.