Five days before Christmas? Yes, that’s when I usually begin my holiday shopping. This year’s music technology has brought plenty for us materialist musicians to adore. There are some great gifts to give the budding musicians in your life — or to buy for yourself if the various December holidays didn’t give you what you want. So, in that spirit, here are the favorite choices from the CDM staff.

Big winners on all our lists: delicious hardware from Moog, Nintendo, and Apple. (Boy, there’s a list of three beloved brands!)

Warning: This list of toys has not been tested on any realistic budget. Nor do we have any idea how to wrap most of this stuff. I sure hope Santa Claus is real.

Lee Sherman

Moog Little Phatty
Because its little and it sounds phat 🙂 Seriously, its a Moog for the masses and anything that introduces the digital generation to the joys of analog circuitry is worth celebrating, cringe-inducing name and all.

Korg Kaoss Pad 3
There’s still room for hardware effects, especially when they come with this much visceral control.

Hofner Icon B violin bass
A real Hofner Beatle bass for under five bills! Let’s hear it for Chinese manufacturing.

NI Absynth 4
Still the elixir of choice for evolving soundscapes, now with a more streamlined workflow, and even more insane envelope control.

Apple MacBook
It scratches if you so much as look at it the wrong way but Apple’s cheapest notebook packs power previously reserved for high-end desktops into a computer capable of running every music program on every platform. Combine your purchase with a copy of Parallels and you can switch effortlessly between Logic and Sonar without even having to reboot.

James Grahame

Jomox M-Resonator Analog Filtermachine ($249)
The Resonator Neuronium’s seriously affordable little brother. The Neuronium is a $3495 neural synthesizer that I once described as “a robot ant playing the best of Tangerine Dream through your starship’s hyperspace drive.” Don’t have three and a half grand burning a hole in your pocket? Well, the M-Resonator is a filter box based on the same concept. It includes a differential envelope follower and the filters are “made from discreet parts and form a 24 pole lowpass filter transistor cascade.” The result is pure analog chaos.

eowave Sci-Fi Bug ($249)
Eowave is a tiny French company that makes wonderfully weird audio toys. Their Bug lineup includes four clever little boxes, but my favorite is this little 12 dB/oct stereo filter that’s driven by an 8-step analog sequencer. Perfect for mangling loops and resonating the daylights out of boring old softsynth parts.

The Future Retro Revolution ($699)
The Revolution is an honest-to-goodness monophonic analog synthesizer with a nifty 256 pattern sequencer. It includes sixteen preset 24-bit digital effects and bears more than a passing resemblance to a deep dish pizza sitting in a box. But that could just be because I skipped lunch…

James on the Revolution @ Retro Thing

These are all available from Analogue Haven, which explains why my wife doesn’t let me visit Pomona.

W. Brent Latta

Mac Pro “The Works”
Sure, my dual G5 does what I need and that’s why I haven’t replaced it. But boy, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to shave a few precious seconds (or minutes! ) off of my Logic LSO load times? Or maybe load up a full orchestra on a single machine, without having it choke due to lack of RAM?

Red Type B Microphone
Affordable, extensible, and sexy. Need we say more?

Nintendo Wii ($249)
Aside from the great game playing options, it looks like there will be some really fun musical applications for this little machine!
US$Whatever the Ebay Scalpers are asking.

Sound Devices 744T
Well out of my price range, but this thing is the field-recordists DREAM! One look at the specs and you’ll see why there’s no other portable recorder on the market.

Moog Little Phatty
A tribute to an industry great, and an amazingly fun little machine with HUGE potential.

Peter Kirn

I have a strong feeling my colleagues here have put stuff they want on their list — as well they should! But having used a lot of gear this year, I think I’ll turn first to items I’d buy someone else. And yeah, my list is the longest — sorry!

She’s got this completely backwards. It’s supposed to be Ableton tattoo, dragon shirt. For the Ableton user who has everything, see the swag, toys, and bundles at the Ableton shop.

For anyone who doesn’t have Ableton Live:
Okay, I guess you know what this one will be. Live 6 was, for my own music making, the most important software release of the year. Racks finally make it easy to build performable sets of instruments and effects without a lot of work, complete with an absurdly easy split / cross-fade / switch / layer interface. I’ve seen a lot of musicians get started with Live and find it a revelation.
US$499. UK£355.

For the power musician: Reaktor 5
There have been lots of fantastic instruments, effects, sequencers, beatboxes, and soundmakers this year, in software and hardware form. But I have to recommend Reaktor, because it’s the one tool that you can use to build your own, by customizing a deep set of instruments/effects (with more from the rich user community online), or from scratch using various levels of building blocks. This version of Reaktor easily qualifies as a desert island product, especially with the just-released Intel Mac version. A desert island with a MacBook and a copy of Reaktor? Yeah, I could survive.
US$400. UK£269.

For PC lovers in need of an upgrade: Cakewalk SONAR Power Studio 250/660
Most audio interfaces bundle a grab bag of software, but Cakewalk’s Power Studio bundles feature the full Studio Edition of SONAR, my favorite sequencer on Windows bar-none, pre-configured for an excellent USB or FireWire interface made by Edirol. This would make a great gift for a Windows-loving musician ready to get into some serious recording; I’d opt for the USB-powered 250 model so you can play and record on the go with a laptop without a power dongle, or the FireWire 660 for someone who wants to record more channels at home. Just got mine, and will travel with it over the holidays to get some music making done.
US$450. UK£249.

For your DJ nephew/niece/cousin: M-Audio Torq MixLab ($129)
Finally, an affordable gift that will make just about anyone happy. Your novice wannabe DJ nephew can have a blast getting started spinning tunes with the included Torq software. Your guru VJ niece gets a terrific control surface with a crossfader. Yeah, we’ve heard readers gripe about “wannabe DJs”. Get over it: this thing is fun, and there’s nothing stopping you from using the controller to make original music or VJ. Everyone wins.

For your software-loving keyboardist: Novation ReMote SL
I won’t say too much about the SL, as I think that thanks to major improvements over the course of the year, the SL will be among my technologies of 2006. Suffice to say, this dreamy controller keyboard will integrate perfectly with software. It may not make any sound itself, but coupled with software it’s the dream synth that does everything.
US$499. UK£289.

And for me …

This has to be damned near the perfect mobile machine. Mac and Windows support finally frees you from OS angst. The magnetic power connector, case design, glossy screen, redesigned keyboard, and integrated camera really are better than competing hardware in this form factor from Dell, Lenovo, Sony, and others. No FireWire 800, and no high-end graphics card — but I say save your money and swap in a big, fast hard drive and load it up with RAM instead. I can’t think of a better no-hassle mobile music machine, and I want one badly. Black, please — in honor of my beloved old PowerBook G3.

Yamaha CP33
I may be a computer and synth lover, but I like the feel of a piano, and even though I want to use it to control software instruments, Yamaha and others call this category “digital piano.” The CP33 finally hits the sweet spot: it’s luggable at 39 lbs., but it plays like instruments weighing 20 lbs. — and costing $1000 and up — more.
US$1300. UK£765.

Nintendo DS Lite
I love the chiptune music making on the Game Boy, but I’m ready for a twist — wireless interaction with computers, and a super-bright, super-pretty portable game system that plays some truly brilliant game designs. Mix gaming and on-the-go music creation. And to go with it …

This hardware for the Nintendo DS is a hacker’s dream: USB connectivity, plug-and-play homebrew development and compatibility, and media storage. Launching wireless-savvy DS games and trackers? Priceless. Wish-list indeed, as this model keeps selling out. No worries: I’m sure it’ll come in time for my birthday on January 13.

DS-Xtreme update, DS-X on CDM; DS-X product page

Moog Voyager
And, darnit, I sure want a Moog, too. The Little Phatty looks lovely, but I’m still partial to the higher-end Voyager, and its compact companion, the Rack Mount Edition. Maybe someone out there has a major wedding anniversary or something and can blow the holiday budget. (Get one for each of you!)

US$1995 (RME), $?? (full keyboard)

Moog Theremin Kit
Fortunately, you don’t have to spend near this much to get a great Moog. Bob Moog’s favorite instrument, much as he loved the keyboards, remained the Theremin. The kit looks like endless fun: assemble the instrument (as you should, in the Theremin tradition — it’s how Moog himself got started), finish the wood, and then follow the instructional tapes to try to learn how to play (the hard bit). Theremin remains one of the most expressive instruments ever powered by electricity.


  • my $3000 christmas list (tax not included) would be this:

    Black Macbook $1499

    2GB RAM Upgrade $175

    Ableton Live 6 $599

    Ableton Sampler $199

    Ableton Operator $140

    Novation SL37 $749

    Ableton Bundle -$369

    TOTAL $3001

    Impulse, Simpler, Operator, Sampler, BassStation (included with Novation), Apple AUs, Automat, Crystal, Fineline, Orca, DestroyFX & other assorted free UB AU's would make a bad-ass, automappable, rack-friendly setup.

    this is coming from a disgruntled PC user with a non-upgradable version of Live5 (NFR).

    ah, dreams.

  • not to mention the Essential Instrument Collection and putting ableton stickers on the SL and the Black transpartent ableton line design logo (as seen on the shirt) on the Apple so the crowd just sees a glowing Live logo.

    la la la i'm in dream land.

    merry x-mas!

  • im a total idiot when it comes to all this, but i have been using Live 5 on my 2.4 ghz and 512 mb ram pc, and im desperate to change to a laptop so i can do mobile/live music production and gig playing, will a MacBook Pro with 2.3ghz and 2gb ram really do the business?? thanks

  • Hey Dave,

    Absolutely, that configuration MacBook Pro should run very, very well. The hard disk is another variable; if you're running a whole lot of clips at once, or doing multitrack recording, you might consider a fast external FW800 drive (or fast FW400/USB2 drive, too; it's just nice to have the 800 port on the new MBPs). But 2 MB RAM is a very good idea (in fact, I'd upgrade the PC RAM while I was at it).

    I like the fact that the non-Pro MacBook is so much cheaper and a little more compact, personally; that's why I put that on my list instead of Pro. But there are trade-offs: slower video card, smaller screen, no ExpressCard expansion slot (not a big deal now, but you might want it later on), and fewer dedicated ports / no FireWire800.

    Good luck with the new machine, if you get it!

  • yes, peter, two megs of ram are a good idea.

    my question is this, would a graphics card hinder making music.

    like with live 6's video import, would i run better on dedicated graphics?

    or would the shared graphics of the MB take away from precious ram?

    at the same time, expressCard needs an audio interface solution. Firewire400 is still latent and i can't afford the RME FF800 (dunno about any other interfaces that use FW800). the caveat here is that both ports use the same buss. and there's a big stink about new c2d mbps and FW-bus power.

    what options to apple musicians have?

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  • inSilico

    nice shopping list, for those that can afford it. the macbook would be a dream for me – im running live 6 on a dell 9400 (2ghz, 2gb) which is nice and fast, apart from the glitchtastic firewire which doesnt want to play nice with my motu. unfortunately its the not the good kind of but instead a horrible static freak out glitch.

    all i want for christmas is a stable set up.

  • Tricil: graphics, integrated or dedicated, it don't matter. Not unless you're alternating playing Unreal (the game, not … the showtune or whatever) with Ableton Live. Video playback runs just fine on the integrated Intel chip, as well; it's optimized for that (and it's faster than dedicated graphics chips on previous-generation Apple laptops).

    FYI, inSilico, "those that can afford it" most certainly does not include the writers of this site. 🙂 We decided to have some fun.

    Anyway, new or old, you've got get your drivers in order, it sounds like. Make sure you have the latest ASIO drivers, and that you've got the ASIO driver selected (not one of the other drivers). Lots of things can cause glitches, from poor power to FireWire chipset to other drivers on the system.

  • simon

    Peter: I'm right on the verge of pulling out my credit card to upgrade to Cubase 4 (for PC), but your comments about Sonar have now got me thinking. I have played with Sonar in the past (they have a demo available) but was put off by the clunky "windows-ish" interface. I have most of the instruments/plugs I need (NI Komplete, Melodyne, Bluetubes, etc.) so the bundled bits and pieces aren't really the driving factor for me.

    Just to fill in the background: I do a wide range of jobs, from band recording & mixing to my own more electronic-based material, mostly with samples/softsynths. On big jobs I bounce out and send to our engineer who mixes on a big PTHD rig, but I like to be able to do small jobs at home. I'm balanced pretty evenly between MIDI and audio recording and editing. I've been using Cubase for a long time (10 years +) but am sometimes frustrated by the interface: for example I love the way that you can quickly and easily mix in PT without having to pull up the mix window, not to mention re-arranging inserts. I've also tried to use VST system link, but it's basically useless without a "serious" (read wordclock-synced) interface on each machine, so my Firebox-equipped laptop is no good. Reading about Logic nodes makes me jealous, but I'm firmly PC based.

    So … getting to the point … what is it about Sonar that you like, and can you compare & contrast with the Windows alternatives, or point me towards good comparisons by others? Thanks.

  • @ Simon: the Firbox has s/pdif out and sync capabilities as well

    @ Insilico: have you downloaded the MS 1394 hotfix? and if that doesn't work, try the CEntrance Ideal driver (40 buck… i just got mine, i'll get back to you on how good it is).

    I use a dell inspiron 9300.

    @ Peter you missed my quip about 2 megs of RAM. re-read your post above mine. =)

  • HA!

    Whoops. I blame Thomas Dolby. Bringing back his hits from the 80s sent me into a different headspace.

    What would you ever do with 2 megs of RAM?

  • i made my first EP in 1998 on pentium 100 with double-digits of ram.

    ah the olden days

  • i just looked. it was 8 megs.

  • simon

    Actually, the Firebox can only sync to the S/PDIF input, and my other interface has the same constraint … so I end up with a kind of chicken & egg problem. Looking around at various forums (fora?) I see that I am not the only one with this problem!

  • jasnmb

    I recently bought a DS lite and plan on getting into homebrew. It looks to me like the M3 Simply would be the better choice over the DS-X. The M3 Simply is about half the cost of the DS-X and it takes micro SD cards, whereas the DS-X is limited to it's 512MB of internal memory.

    Review of the M3 Simply:

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  • Kipp

    The Moog Little Phatty makes it possible to tell the world, "I own a real Moog", but you only have to pay $1,300.00 to be able to say it.

    Actually, I don't know why it would have been such a pain in the ass for Moog to make it a three oscillator engine. I mean – for the money it is a solid monophonic 100% analog signal path synthesizer, and dose possess the trademark Moog sound, but that third oscillator would have made all the difference in the world. If you want a three-oscillator Moog, I guess you have to throw down $3,100,00 for the voyager (in whatever designer colour scheme you desire).

    Over all the Phatty is a nice unit for solos, and has some nice modern features like MIDI, but once again, its only shortcomings would be that it only has two oscillators and no noise generator (although I think they have since upgraded the OS for the Little Phatty).