These are picks from the best products of 2013, as well as some enduring choices that prove their value year after year.
Great gifts for under $100
MONOPRICE HDMI CABLES: Don't waste your money on expensive HDMI cables sold in stores. These cables are just as good as the expensive ones and sell for under $5 each. www.monoprice.com
NAKAMICHI 780M HEADPHONES: Selling for $25 online as well as at Sears and Kmart, these over-the-ear headphones come in many colors, fit comfortably and sound surprisingly good. I recommended these last year and readers loved them, so they are back again this year.
RCA RTS735E SOUND BAR: Flat screen televisions have notoriously bad sound. For only $59, this sound bar provides a lot of performance for the money and is easily found online and in big-box stores.
OONTZ BLUETOOTH SPEAKERS: Cambridge SoundWorks' line of OontZ Bluetooth speakers has been critically acclaimed for sound quality and value. The top-of-the-line OontZ XL is on sale for holidays for $99 using promo code XLSALE99. The OontZ XL was recently reviewed by Sound and Vision magazine and found to have better sound quality than the $249 Jawbone Jambox. The original OontZ sells for $49 and is much smaller and lighter, while delivering excellent sound quality in smaller spaces, and the new, pocket-sized OontZ Curve is on sale for the holidays for $29.99. All have class-leading performance at lower prices than the competition and long battery life, making them standout values. www.theoontz.com
D-LINK SHAREPORT GO: For $45, this nifty device is sure to be appreciated by tablet and smartphone fans, especially those who travel. The D-Link SharePort Go can transform any Internet connection into a secure wireless hotspot, has a high-capacity battery that can be used to recharge a smartphone or tablet, and includes a USB port that can be used to add storage to a device or stream music, photographs and movies. www.dlink.com
SPIN-CLEAN RECORD WASHER: This $79 record cleaner is sure to be loved by vinyl record lovers. It duplicates the cleaning efficiency of far more expensive vacuum record cleaning machines, though it requires a bit more effort. www.spincleanrecordwasher.com
RHA MA450I NOISE-ISOLATING EARBUDS: Available at The Apple Store, these $50 earbuds are a nice, affordable upgrade to any device.
PANASONIC DMP-BDT230 BLU-RAY PLAYER: If you do not have a Blu-ray player yet, what are you waiting for? For $99.99, this great Blu-ray player provides 1080p movies from Blu-ray, streaming from Amazon and Netflix, upconversion to improve the picture of your DVDs on your HDTV, and adds Smart TV features to any television using Panasonic's VieraConnect.
Great gifts under $500
SAMSUNG GALAXY TAB 3 7.0 Widely available for $200 or less, this 7-inch tablet is a good introduction to tablet computing.
THINK TANK PHOTO AIRPORT NAVIGATOR CAMERA BAG: This $289 rolling camera bag features premium construction, smooth inline skate wheels and enough capacity to fit a large laptop, an iPad, a professional camera system with multiple cameras and several large lenses, and plenty of pockets and cubbyholes for storing batteries, chargers and accessories. www.thinktankphoto.com
SAMSUNG PN43F4500 PLASMA HDTV: Samsung 720p plasma TVs in the 40-inch size range have been perennial favorites for their great picture quality at a low price. The $399 Samsung 43-inch 720p plasma TV has a very natural picture and is fantastic for sports, movies, and general TV watching.
PIONEER SP-FS51-LR TOWER SPEAKERS AND ELITE A-20 AMPLIFIER: Designed by audiophile speaker designer Andrew Jones, these clean-looking speakers sound much better than anyone would expect for $259 a pair. They are a great match with Pioneer's excellent Elite A-20 amplifier, $299. www.pioneerelectronics.com
AUDIO-TECHNICA AT-LP120-USB TURNTABLE: This $235 turntable looks like a clone of the legendary Technics SL-1200 and offers robust construction and great sound. It has an internal phono preamplifier and USB connection so it can be used with any audio receiver. Comparing this turntable to a typical sub-$200 turntable sold in stores is like comparing a BMW to a bicycle. www.audio-technica.com
MARANTZ NR1403 HOME THEATER RECEIVER: This $399 home theater receiver is small, easy to set up, runs coolly and sounds great even with expensive, demanding speakers. It's everything most people want, while omitting confusing features which most people never use. www.marantz.com
PENTAX MX-1 CAMERA: This high-end compact camera is built as solid as a brick and has a user interface meant for serious photographers. High quality lens ensures great images and the flash pictures are excellent, as well.
ARX A1B SPEAKERS: These $299 bookshelf speakers use exotic technology in ordinary-looking boxes to produce sound that can't be beat for the price. www.theaudioinsider.com
NEUHAUS LABS T-1 AMPLIFIER: This $499 amplifier has Bluetooth and uses vacuum tubes for great sound and exotic looks. www.neuhauslabs.com
MASS FIDELITY RELAY: This $249 product is perfect for audiophiles desiring Bluetooth streaming capabilities. High quality component parts maximize sound quality, making it suitable for use in even the most expensive, high-performance audio systems. www.massfidelity.com
OPPO BDP-103 BLU-RAY PLAYER: This $499 Blu-ray player is a wonderful gift for anyone with a large DVD or Blu-ray collection. The BDP-103 has finely tuned video and audio processing to make every disc look and sound its best. www.oppodigital.com
DEFINITIVE TECHNOLOGY INCLINE: These $399 powered speakers are far and away the best desktop speakers I have ever heard. They look like small versions of the monolith from "2001: A Space Odyssey" and have multiple inputs as well as subwoofer output, though you don't need a sub given the big sound. Sound is radiated from the front and back and is full and satisfying, with deep bass, precise, detailed highs and a full midrange. They seem expensive until you hear them play. www.definitivetech.com
Great gifts under $1,000
APPLE IPAD AIR: The Apple iPads are the best tablets on the market, and the new iPad Air ($499 and up) is the best of the best.
SAMSUNG PN60F5300 HDTV: This 60-inch plasma provides a beautiful, large picture for big rooms and anyone looking for a theater experience at home.
OLYMPUS STYLUS 1: The $699 Olympus Stylus 1 takes much of the goodness of the award-winning Olympus OM-D E-M5 and distills it into a small form factor with a 10x 28-300m lens with a fixed 2.8 aperture, and a built-in electronic viewfinder. If you want one small camera that can do everything and does it very well, this is the one to get.
EMOTIVA XPA-200 / USP-1 COMBO: Stereo music lovers looking for a new receiver should consider this instead. For $769, you can get a high performance separate amplifier and preamplifier with a very strong 150 watts/channel of clean power. www.emotiva.com
PANASONIC DMC-G6: This Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens camera sells for around $600 and offers excellent still picture quality as well as video footage that looks like it came from a professional television camera. The rounded shape and small size makes it easy to carry and comfortable to hold.
SONY CYBER-SHOT RX-100: This is the king of pocket-sized cameras. The $599 RX-100 uses a 20.1 megapixel sensor that is much bigger than a typical compact camera for rich, beautiful pictures and great HD video, too. It's not cheap for a pocket camera, but it is worth it when you see the pictures.
GOLDENEAR AON 3 SPEAKERS: Probably the best-sounding bookshelf speaker I have ever heard, the $999 a pair GoldenEar Aon 3 has transparent, open sound that bested $20,000 speakers I heard at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show. www.goldenear.com
Gifts over $1,000
OLYMPUS OM-D E-M1: The OM-D E-M1 is the follow-up to last year's OM-D E-M5, a camera that practically ran the table of camera of the year awards. The E-M1 is probably the single best camera on the planet and represents the future of photography with its very clear, very large, electronic viewfinder, high-speed focus and shooting capabilities, wide variety of creative options from art filters to HD video recording, and a sensor and image processing that allow even novices to produce technically stunning images with the push of a button. Camera body is $1,399 and there are over 40 lenses available.
OHM WALSH SPEAKERS: These unique, handmade-in-the-USA speakers have stood the test of time and have been refined over 40 years of continuous production. They use patented technology to produce stunningly beautiful sound combined with a realistic 3-D sound field that must be experienced to be appreciated. There is a good chance your pair will become a family heirloom at $1,250 a pair and up. www.ohmspeaker.com
SONY XBR-55X900/XBR-65X900 XBR 4K ULTRA HDTV: There may not be much 4K content available yet, but if you want to future-proof yourself with the best 4K TV going, this is the way to go. The 55-inch version sells for $3,499, 65-inch version is $4,999.
Read product reviews by Don Lindich at soundadviceblog.com.
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