You say you're a music lover and your pockets are all weighed down by gift cards? Here are 10 great gadgets from the past year that we'd be cashing in our certificates for if we were similarly blessed:
Dr. Dre will probably never make another album, since he's too busy cashing the checks from his super-popular and not-inexpensive line of Beats by Dre headphones. These have single-handedly made it cool to wear large, clunky, over-the-ear headphones in public around the world, even if it's a little premature to call earbuds passe. As you can imagine from the endorsee, bass response is at a premium—but even if you're listening to trebly tunes at the lowest possible volume, these suckers will pretty much cancel out the outside world, unless you're standing inside a jet engine, in which case it might be a draw. You definitely know you've got something on your head when you have these on, but surprisingly enough in 2011, that's no longer considered a minus. The coolest premium: an extra output so you can share your music with friends or particularly foxy strangers.
Here's a thriller. If you're more interested in subtlety than sheer power, or going to be listening to jazz or classic rock instead of hip-hop or metal, you might want to go with Quincy Jones' AKG Q701 headphones, which have also received rave reviews. They may be designed for the slightly more mature listener, but you can offset that image by wearing the delicious-looking lime-green model in public.
There's something a little bit sci-fi about the Jawbone Jambox, which produces room-sized sound out of something that might be characterized as a mini-brick. There's a reason why this item is a mainstay in the shrinking space given over to peripherals at physical Apple Stores: Folks can't resist the look as well as sound of a well-designed, powerful $150 speaker that can easily fit into a mini-purse. And you can go with the serious audiophile's black or grey or geek out with a more gorgeously garish blue or bright red.
This is a led zeppelin you'll want to lead right to your living room. Of all the semi-portable single-speaker components people are now using as permanent replacements for traditional systems, the Bower and Wilkins Zeppelin Air is certainly the most stylish. If you have an iOS device or an iTunes-enabled computer, you can use the built-in Apple AirPlay technology to wirelessly stream music to this beautifully tapered blimp. It also has a component video output if you want to use it as the middleman to your TV. But despite the easily carryable size, know that, at $600, you're not likely to be using this as a boombox.
Looking for something a little less high-end and a little more New Year's Eve party-friendly? The Soulo AM71 Karaoke for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch is a microphone/app combination that allows you to turn your iOS device into a full-fledged karaoke machine, putting voice suppression to use on the tracks you already own so you can bless your friends with your dulcet tones instead. And if your tones really aren't all that dulcet, there's the poor man's version of AutoTune tech that can make you sound a little less painful. Which you'll be grateful for after you've used the built-in camera on your device to make a video of your efforts for posterity.
You wouldn't be caught dead using your iPhone's Voice Memos app to record live music, would you? But the Tascam iM2 Recorder plugs a elegant stereo microphone into the top of your phone and lets it have the same number of ears you do.
The player of choice for streaming audio in the home is the Sonos Play:3, which allows you to stream and play the tens of thousands of music stations or services on the web, via either your Internet router or your computer. The only drawback is that this otherwise excellent $300 stream player doesn't come wirelessly equipped, so you'll either have to keep it close enough to your router to plug it in directly or (more likely) spend an extra $50 on a "bridge" that makes that wireless connection to your other devices. You also have to pay extra if you want a dedicated controller, but probably 95% of the people who'll buy this will control it using the handy apps that turn your laptop, phone, or tablet into a remote control.
There are plenty of turntables out there that can transfer your old (or new) vinyl into MP3s. But if you miss the old 45-rpm players that used to come with a handle for complete portability, the Mini Rechargeable USB Turntable is for you. Encased in classic leatherette, the device comes with build-in speakers and a battery. And it plays (and transfers) LPs and 78s, too, of course. It's perfect if you want to take your records to the beach or ski lodge for a Frankie and Annette-style hootenanny. But, given the suitcase styling, imagine the looks you'll get if you wear a suit onto the subway during the workday rush and then open this baby for a vinyl spin.
If you like listening to thick bass sounds, then you probably long ago gave the earbuds that came with your iPod to your dog for use as a chewtoy. But just because you like a nice bottom end doesn't mean you have to give up earbuds altogether and go with something as big and clunky as Dr. Dre's cans. Shure's SE215s and 315s give you all the subwoofer simulation you could hope for out of in-ear pieces. And they're a comfy fit, too, as long as your sort through the included cushions till you find the ones that fit your ear canal just right.
This device didn't actually come out in 2011, but it's so essential we couldn't resist including it anyway. If you actually use your iPhone as an iPod, you know you're not going to come over close to making it through an entire day of listening to music—much less watching videos or websurfing or (God forbid) making calls—without finding an AC outlet to reattach yourself to for a half-hour of charging. But the best recharge is the one that comes directly attached to the iPhone... or, better yet, encases it. For that, you can't beat the Mophie Juice Pack Air, which just about doubles your battery life and finally leaves you feeling untethered to wall sockets for a day or more. Yes, it considerably thickens your phone. But if, like us, you found your iPhone always slipping out of your pocket anyway, between its thinness and slipperiness, a little extra rubbery heft can be a good thing.