Old St Nick will be slipping down the chimney in just a few more sleeps, so it’s time to brace yourself and hit the stores if you haven’t already. We know that gift hunting can be more painful than having your teeth drilled at a Simply Red concert, so allow us to ease the pain by suggesting some excellent music accessories (speakers, headphones and more) that will be excellent stocking fillers for your favourite music lover.
And if you've got kiddiwinks to buy for, check out our toys/games Christmas gift guide too!
Creative Aurvana In-Ear 2 Noise-Isolating earphones (uk.store.creative.com, £70)
Those dreary commutes are tons more fun if you take in a movie or your favourite show on your trusty phone or tablet. Of course you’ll need a good pair of noise cancelling earphones to be truly immersed in your media, and these Creative efforts help to block out all the groaning, coughing and wailing that goes on in those packed train carriages.
The Aurvanas are seriously comfortable inside your ear, and well-built so they won’t fall apart if you yank on them. Best of all they pack some strong audio, so your music sounds amazing. You’ll have to hold yourself back so you don’t get jiggy right there on the train. You also get a case and some spare buds of differing sizes. The price may be up there, but these ‘phones are worth every penny.
AfterShokz headphones (www.aftershokz.com, £49.99)
The idea of headphones that don’t actually touch your ears is a strange one, but it’s actually an important safety feature that could possibly save lives. Unlike standard headphones, the AfterShokz wrap around the back of your head, with the buds resting on the fleshy bits in front of your ears. ‘Bone conduction technology’ helps to transmit the sound of your music, keeping your ears unblocked so you’re aware of your surroundings – a good idea for cyclists, joggers and anyone else who takes a risk when they slip in normal earphones. The rugged build is sweat and splash proof, ideal for those intense workouts.
The AfterShokz are comfortable to wear even during extended use, although the non-adjustable band kept catching on our shirt collar, pushing the ‘phones out of position, so they’re best used when wearing a t-shirt or similar. You also have to turn the volume up high to get a decent sound out of them, so don’t try using them on a train or other quiet public places – your fellow humans will not appreciate it. You need to charge the dongle via USB, but you’ll get a good few hours of use from each charge.
Creative ZiiSound D3x (uk.creative.com, £95)
This narrow speaker bar blends in well with the rest of your furniture, sitting on a spare shelf or surface. You can hook up to your phone via Bluetooth in under a minute – simply push the connection button on the speaker and search for devices on your handset, and the two should pair regardless of which phone you own. Play any tunes or other media on your mobile, and the sound will automatically blast out of the ZiiSound D3x, filling the room.
As well as powerful volume, the ZiiSound D3x offer strong sound quality, perfectly reproducing all types of music from classical to heavy metal. You can use a single speaker as a standalone, or chain together a number of ZiiSound D3x units to fill your room with more full-bodied sound – or even play the same music in a number of different rooms.
Sennheiser CX 275s earphones (www.sennheiser.co.uk, £50)
Music fans after some good quality earphones for the commute will love the CX 275s from Sennheiser. These in-ear efforts plug straight into your smartphone’s audio jack and are a snug fit, with different size replacement buds to ensure they’ll fit any ear. They’re comfortable to wear for lengthy journeys. We used them while walking and never had any issues with them slipping out, while the 1.2m cable is long enough even for lanky users. They also do a good job of blocking out surrounding noise, a massive plus if you’re stuck on a train with noisy commuters and kids.
Sound quality is strong, with enough power to satisfy even the most hardcore metal head. Best of all, if your music is interrupted by a phone call, you don’t have to pull out the earphones or fumble for your phone. A handy button on one of the ear cords picks up the call, and a built-in mic means you can chat away without lifting the phone to your face. The ‘phones are compatible with Samsung, Apple, HTC, Nokia and many other brands of mobile.
Blue Microphones Mikey for iPhone/iPad (www.bluemic.com, £99)
If you’re a wannabe director who’s always shooting video on their smartphone, check out this excellent mini-mic for the iPhone. The MIKEY plugs into the charging port of your iPhone (note that iPhone 5 is not currently supported) and is automatically ready to use: no annoying fiddling around to set it up. There are three settings designed for a range of situations, from rock concerts to lectures, depending on noise levels.
We took to a busy tech conference to test the MIKEY out and were pleased with the results. Despite the insane background noise, the mic clearly picked up voices coming from all directions. You can clearly capture music too, making the MIKEY a solid choice whenever you’re out and about.
ION Piano Apprentice (www.amazon.co.uk, £70)
Piano Apprentice is the ultimate piano teaching tool for iPad, iPod and iPhone. Simply connect your iPad, iPod or iPhone, download the free Piano Apprentice app, and start playing piano instantly!
SteelSeries Flux headset (www.steelseries.com, £80)
These gaming headphones are a perfect way to enjoy your tablet or phone games in private, folding up neatly to be stored away for any trip. The arms are extendable and the pads are comfortably padded so you won't get earache even after hours of use. Sound quality is as strong as you'd expect from SteelSeries, so you can enjoy your music and movies as much as your games, if that's more your bag...
Edifier TickTock Dock for iPod/iPhone (www.edifier-international.com, £35)
Following on from the retro-style SwissVoice handset, here’s another smartphone accessory that gets us all nostalgic. This iPhone/iPod dock is shaped like an old school alarm clock, complete with fake bells on top. The front piece flips around to reveal the connector, and sliding on your iDevice automatically outputs all audio to the speakers covering the front of the TickTock. You can play, pause and skip through your tunes with the rubber pad on top, or simply use the screen as normal. The dock also charges your Apple kit when the two are connected.
In a neat touch, the dock can also be used on its own when your phone isn’t hooked up. The tiny round display - normally hidden behind your mobile when it’s docked - shows the time and day of the week, and can be used to select an FM radio station. There’s a built-in alarm function and you can connect other audio devices via AUX IN to play through the dock’s speakers. The speakers themselves blast your music at a surprisingly loud volume, although audio quality isn’t quite as crisp as we’d hoped.
X-Mini MINI II (www.play.com, £14.39)
This dinky portable speaker is perfect for enjoying your music when you’re kicking around outside. Closed up it’s a tiny sphere, small enough to fit into a bag or pocket, but it pops open when you’re ready to rock out. Hook up to your phone or tablet via the 3.5mm jack and it’s ready to use.
Again, considering the shrunken stature and cut-down price, this is one powerful speaker. Providing it isn’t competing with screaming kids, you’ll hear your favourite tunes clearly enough and at a surprising volume. Don’t forget to charge it up before you head out though – a USB cable is supplied for hooking up to a computer, and you’ll get almost ten hours of playback from a single charge, more than long enough for a beach or garden party.