Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide 2013: Audio & Photography

by W. Andrew Powell
Sonos Play 5 - In the Bedroom

Still shopping for items to please the special people on your list? In the latest instalment of the Holiday Gift Guide, for last-minute shoppers, I’ve got suggestions for the gadget geeks in your life, and anyone who needs a few clever devices to play music or take photos. Featured items include the Sonos Play:1 and Sonos Play:5, Jabra Solemate, Plantronics BackBeat GO 2, Zoom H6, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7.


Sonos Play: 5

Sonos Play: 5

Sonos Play:1 and Sonos Play:5 |
Price: $219 and $449
Available at: Online, Target and Future Shop

Welcome to the future, where music is not tied down to a single chord running from the back of one box to another. Sonos’ Play speaker line might be one of my favorite gadgets out there because it transforms how you listen to music around your home and makes it as simple as tapping an icon on your tablet.

The Sonos Play:1 and Sonos Play:5 speakers connect wirelessly to your home network, computers, or devices. All you need is the Sonos Bridge, which is included in a package right now for the same price as a regular speaker, and then after a few setup steps you provide your Play speaker access to your library of music. After that, you can connect a number of audio services to the app–including Rdio, Sirius, and–and play anything you want, to any room in the house, if you have more than one speaker.

And that’s the beauty of the system, because the Sonos app and Play system supports multiple speakers, so you can connect one in every room, and then play your favorite music to a group of speakers, or just one of them.

Thanks to the amazing built-in Tune-in internet radio service, the Sonos Play system essentially is an all-in-one audio system for anything you might want to listen to, and the sound quality is tremendous. There is also a line-in to allow you to hook up just about any device you would like to the Sonos Play, which is handy if you also want to use the speaker with an MP3 player, or some other audio system.

For smaller spaces, look no further than the big-sounding Sonos Play:1, which comes in at a great price. In larger spaces, the Sonos Play:5 will fill the room with rich audio that’s great for ambient music, a party mix, or anything in between. Audiophiles can also consider getting two to use in tandem with a big-screen television for an epic cinematic experience.

Jabra Solemate

Jabra Solemate

Jabra Solemate |
Price: $159.95
Available at: Future Shop, Best Buy, The Source

Where the last speakers had you covered at home, the Jabra Solemate is the speaker you want with you on the road, or on the next hiking or camping trip.

This portable Bluetooth and NFC speaker, which has a smaller twin dubbed the Jabra Solemate Mini, delivers big sound for a not-too-big speaker, and it also doubles as a two-way speakerphone for your cell phone calls.

Offering up to 8 hours of battery life at a time, you simply pair the Solemate to your phone, tablet, or computer, and then hit play to listen to streaming audio or songs already loaded on your device. It’s simple, very easy to use, and offers good all-around sound.

The Solemate comes in four colours–red, blue, yellow and grey–and it’s also very durable, and made to resist minor damage, bumps, and little spills or splashes. It also comes with a built-in cable for wired connections to anything that may not have a wireless option.

On top of all the other features, you can download the Jabra Sound App to deliver Dolby Digital Plus audio from the Solemate, which has a “sound space enhancer” to boost your music wherever you want to listen.

BackBeat Go 2

BackBeat Go 2

Plantronics BackBeat GO 2 |
Price: $99.99
Available at: Futureshop, Best Buy

The Plantronics BackBeat GO 2 is one classy pair of earphones. Earbuds have been around for a long time, but these exercise-friendly, water-resistant headphones are actually wireless, and that’s a big deal.

Thanks to the built-in Bluetooth, you can pair the earphones with your phone or MP3 player and listen to music while you run, work, or play. Since they’re also water-resistant, you can even use them if you happen to enjoy running in the rain.

Featuring a battery that will last up to 5 hours, the BackBeat GO 2 also allows the user to answer phone calls and includes built-in controls for adjusting volume and changing tracks.

For an extended charge, the charging case comes with the BackBeat GO 2 for an extra $20 ($99.99 in total), and it adds up to 14.5 hours of listening time to the earbuds.

While these earbuds are not exactly powerful, they are a great, long-lasting gift for anyone who is tired of being tangled in wires, especially when they’re running, hiking, or walking around town.

Zoom H6

Zoom H6

Zoom H6 |
Price: $399.99
Available at: Vistek, Henry’s

For the professional audiophile, look no further than Zoom’s H6, a powerful audio tool that allows for six-track recording on one beautifully designed handheld device.

The latest version of the high-tech recorder offers interchangeable inputs that can be connected for just about any audio situation, and the base model includes an X/Y and MS microphone that will work in most ambient or close-up situations. That’s on top of four line-in inputs.

Whether the H6 is used for podcasting, music recording, interviews, or to capture additional audio for video production, the device is very versatile and includes everything from gain controls (that are actual knobs on the outside of the device), three types of phantom power for microphones, a big LCD display, and SD card recording. If the unit itself doesn’t impress, the number of built-in features will, and the list is truly exhaustive.

Best of all, for someone like me who records using the H6 with my DSLR, the H6 will mount directly on top of the camera, and 4 AA batteries power it for up to 20 hours.


Lumix DMC-GX7

Lumix DMC-GX7

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 |
Price: $949.00
Available at: Vistek, Henry’s

Give the gift of beautiful photography with the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7, a mirrorless digital camera that packs a 16-megapixel sensor with loads of features like a touch-sensitive screen, Wi-Fi, and a mini built-in flash.

Included with a 14-42mm lens for the base kit, and featuring a maximum ISO of 25600, the Lumix DMC-GX7 is versatile and generally easy to use, and the best part might be the fact that the auto focus works wonderfully in low light. Those features make the Lumix DMC-GX7 a dream to use for anyone who wants great pictures, rather than just good ones, like your average point-and-shoot counterpart.

One of the most interesting features is the intelligent viewfinder that turns on when you put your eye near it, but I also really appreciated the level feature in the viewfinder, which helps you keep your photos steady.

Thanks to the built-in Wi-Fi you can also have the Lumix DMC-GX7 automatically save your photos to a network folder or computer, share them to a specific website or service, or even save them to another device.

For anyone serious about photography, this is a great mid-range camera that blends a range of features in a travel-friendly device, and the photo possibilities are endless. The camera’s video functionality is also top-notch for budding videographers, or anyone who wants to capture video on the fly.

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