If you’re like me, your family hates shopping for you. You’re into all this weird music stuff, and they wouldn’t know where to begin. So your presents consist of envelopes with cash and gift certificates. Your grandmother apologizes for such an “impersonal” gift, but you love it. Now you can get exactly what you want.

Are you unsure what to get? The problem with Christmas cash is that it’s usually not enough to get a $2,000 preamp or guitar, but it’s still enough to get some REALLY handy items for your studio.

Here are some ideas to help you burn a whole in your pocket. 😉

1. Earbuds – This may seem odd for a home studio, but I’ve found myself using earbuds more and more for tracking instruments. Why? Well, for one thing they’re low profile, so I don’t have to have this big old pair of headphones on my head. Secondly, they isolate really well. If you’re worried about headphone bleed, in-ears can cut that down to almost nothing.

Also, just recently I’ve been toying around with using earbuds to find the right mic placement. Since they seal the ear and block out a lot of sound, I can place a mic in front of a guitar amp and move it around, all the while listening to the signal coming through my in-ears. It lets me try 10 different mic positions in just a matter of seconds, honing in on the right placement without having to resort to a bunch of trial and error recordings. Pretty fun stuff.

I own a pair of the Sennheiser IE4’s. Fairly inexpensive and sound pretty decent.

2. Percussion Instruments – Percussion adds so much life to your recordings its unbelievable, but maybe you don’t actually own any percussion instruments. I’d jump on that bandwagon if I was you. For example, you can get a simple tambourine and shaker for under $30. You might also want to check out something like a djembe or a cajón. Each percussion instrument can add a new texture to your mixes and keep them from being boring.

If you want some free cymbal swell samples (my Christmas gift to you) click here.

3. Headstock Tuner – I don’t yet own one of these, but if you record much guitar or bass in your studios, this makes a lot of sense. Sometimes guitarists (especially acoustic guitarists) don’t bring their own tuner, or it’s simply just too much hassle to power it up, find a cable, plug it in, etc.

I’ve heard good things about the Snark tuner, might have to grab one myself.

4. Music Stand – This one’s not very sexy or exciting, but if you’ve ever had to play the “balance the chord chart on my knee while I’m playing guitar” game, you know how lame that is. I’ve never bought a new music stand. I got used here. As long as it works, I’m happy.

5. IKEA Rack – What? IKEA makes racks for your gear? No, but they do make a nightstand that’s EXACTLY 19″ wide and 6U tall. It’s called the Rast. All you need to do is buy that and a pair of rack rails, and you’ve got a nice, solid wood rack for a fraction of what you’d pay at the music store. I bought one and LOVE it.

6. Re-amp Box – This is another item on my “to get” list. I’ve never played around with re-amping, but the possibilities are endless. Want to dirty up that vocal track? Send it out to your guitar amp and record that. Want to add more grit to the direct bass track? Run it through your guitar amp and blend it back in with the DI signal.

There are several re-amp boxes out there, but from the folks I’ve talked to, the $99 ProRMP from Radial works just fine.

7. Headphone Amp – If you have a musician in your studio, are you constantly using a headphone splitter cable so you both can use headphones? That’s silly. Grab a headphone amp. I use the HP4 from Presonus. 4 Channels and it even has a mono button and outputs for your monitors, too.

8. Zen & The Art of Mixing – If you’re the reading type (I got a Kindle for Christmas), I recommend picking up Mixerman’s book Zen & The Art of Mixing. While you’re at it, pick up The Daily Adventures of Mixerman, too. Fun stuff.

9. Don’t forget to invest in YOU

If you’re fairly set on gear this Christmas, may I suggest investing in yourself? Learning how to develop your skills as an engineer is the absolute best way to improve. A truckload of gear won’t make you a better engineer or musician, but learning from others can.

That’s why I’m doing my end-of-the-year sale. You can two of my products for the price of one. The deal only goes through the end of the year. Once the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, the sale is over. Here’s the link with the details:


Kick off 2012 with some great new goodies, and tell us what you got in the comments below!

*Most of the product links above are affiliate links, just so you know.

  • Tom

    These sound great. I just ordered a pair. slightly more than 20 bucks when you add shipping but still well priced.

  • Yoav

    Hey, nice post.

    three notes about earphones:
    1. I thought of this too a couple months ago and decided to go with the Etymotic MC5 (isolation graph – http://graphs.headphone.com/graphCompare.php?graphType=6&graphID%5B%5D=2711). They had the best isolation out of all the ones I could find.
    2. If you go ahead and look at the frequency response graphs on the sight I linked to earlier (www.headphone.com), make sure you use a high end earphone as a reference, because EARPHONES AREN’T SUPPOSED TO MEASURE FLAT. This is explained in detail on the sight, but basically the proximity of the earphones to the ear makes the treble (not the bass like cardioids) more prominent, plus you don’t get the shadowing of the head effect that you get with speakers which normally reduces treble. Also, you should use a different reference for full sized headphones and earphones. I usually use the shure se535 for in-ears and the beyerdynamic Tesla T1 for full sizes.
    3. The impedance of your headphone amp needs to be an 1/8 or less of that of your earphone in order for the frequency response variations due to damping to be less than 1 dB. This is especially important with low-impedance in-ears and even more so with balanced armature driver in-ears. This fact is often neglected by pro-audio headphone amp manufacturers, with many low to mid priced head-amps having an impedance rating of 32 ohms, or even more (Samson, for example). With 16 ohm earphones this means probably around 8 dB of variation, usually a big reduction in bass and a smaller (but very noticeable) reduction in treble. The funny thing is, most consumer head-amp manufacturers do take this into account. That’s why I got a Fiio E5 (link to measurements + review – http://nwavguy.blogspot.com/2011/03/fiio-e5-headphone-amp.html) with my earphones.

    Oh, and BTW the new Ety kids have an extremely high impedance of 300 ohm, which means you’ll get great performance out of them with a high impedance head-amp, and they should isolate well (I’m really curious to see how they measure on headphone.com).

    Have a nice holiday!

  • Noah Copeland

    yes! Snarks rule! especially in you’re playing live. I got a red one, which is chromatic I believe. It was like 10 bucks, get one!

  • Xan

    You is happy Lego is in your life again??

    My eldest son, Vikaroth got some Lego for his birthday in October, and another dose ov it for a Summer Solstice present recently.

    While we wanted them to get into it, cause it’s great and they make some awesome wee things, now we have Lego strewn from one end ov the house to the other! Baphy doesn’t seem to be able to find the time to do some tracks I need because she is always having to pick up the damn stuff..!

    And Amon, the younger one, gets quite irate when his constructions sometimes don’t go to plan. To the point where we have to ban him from Lego for a day or so at times…! heh

    Lego eh.

    • Xan

      …Oh and something to actually do with recording. A reamp box is pretty much unnecessary waste ov money, especially if you just want to play around a bit.

      You can send an output from a RCA line level output into a guitar amp or pedal and it will work just fine. You can even do it from an XLR output if you have the appropriate lead made up & watch your levels.

      Because guitar amps/pedals have high impedance inputs. Line outs have relatively low impedances (very low for XLR balanced). It is no real problem driving a high impedance input with a low impedance output. The other way don’t work to well however.. 🙂

      The only issues you might have with doing this is hum loops. If you have the amp plugged into the same mains source as the recording gear (same powerboard!) then it probably wont be a problem.

      If this doesn’t solve it you might need transformer isolation. But don’t plunk down 99 bux just yet. If you go to a shop like Radioshack or a place that specialises car audio gear you can get these neat little isolation transformers that the car-boys use for eliminating groundloops. They have male RCAs on one end and female RCAs on the other end ov a short lead that has a cylindrical lump in the middle ov it where the tranny lives.

      They are stereo so they may have other uses around your studio if you get bored with re-amping. 🙂

  • Sparqee

    One of the big appeals to me is that they’re so small I’ll be able to hang them off of a gooseneck attached to my mic stand (for mid/side). Space is at a premium in my studio and setting up two mic stands makes for major tripping hazard. I’m even thinking of attaching a gooseneck to the wall so I can use one of these little beauties for over the shoulder guitar mic’ing.

  • Jonathan

    Yeah Joe, the Snark is one amazing little tuner! I picked one up the other day off of Amazon for like ten or twelve bucks. It also has a tap-tempo ability on it too, so that helps when I’m just picking around on an acoustic. You should def pick one up!

  • Sparqee

    Got a couple of 20’s laying around? Maybe you’d enjoy a pair these little beauties: http://www.karmamics.com/shop/K-Micro-Matched-Pair.html

    Another $4 for a stereo mic stand adapter and you’re ready to do some X/Y or ORTF mic’ing on your favorite acoustic instrument. 🙂

    These were a stocking stuffer this year and I’m itchin’ to try them on my acoustic guitar. After trying some X/Y I’ll set one up with my figure 8 ribbon mic and see what mid/side makes my room sound like. Lots of fun for January!

    • What a great find! I’m looking at reviews and I think I want to re-stuff my stockings now!