2020 has been especially hard on small business owners as lockdown regulations have been especially punitive on those who don’t qualify as “essential” businesses. One would think that putting food on the table for your family and paying your employees who make up more than 50% of the workforce would be deemed essential – but who are we to argue with those in charge. The same people who think Wal-Mart can’t be allowed to close but your local record store must remain shuttered. With that in mind – our focus needs to be on small businesses who are struggling to make it through the year. Buying Guides are our way of leading you to the smaller guys who need help.
Target and Wal-Mart will be just fine. McDonalds and Popeye’s are not struggling.
Your local record store (even if they have an established online business) has struggled. My local record store; where I shopped at least once a week for 11 years went out business leaving a huge void on the block where it existed in Asbury Park.
Government is not going to bail out small business in 2020. We’ve all been asked to follow the rules, listen to the science, and take the steps to protect one another. It looks like we’re going to have to save our economy as well.
XTRATUF Deck Boot – 6” ($95)
One of the best parts of living on the Jersey Shore, is my access to the ocean. I can walk from my front door to the surf of the Atlantic Ocean in under 10 minutes. I run along the beach almost every day. It’s been a huge part of surviving the pandemic – both mentally and physically. Our local government closed our access to the boardwalk back in March, but that didn’t stop me from fishing each week. Fluke and Bluefish are typical when casting from the beach. So is getting really wet when the tide is in and the winds are blowing onshore. Canvas shoes don’t deal well with saltwater. I’ve tossed enough to know that boots like the XTRATUF Deck Boot are the real deal and especially tough. Wear a warm pair of socks and you’re protected from the elements. The fresh air will do you good. I wear them almost everywhere.
Schiit Audio Magni 3+ Headphone Amplifier ($99)
This tiny headphone amplifier can fit inside your hand and it’s almost hard to believe how much power, transparency, and resolution it is capable of delivering. For a more detailed description of its sonic capabilities, please check out our review which was published in October. What makes it even more impressive, is its performance as a single-input pre-amplifier; I’ve been using it with the Acoustic Energy AE1 active loudspeakers for almost five weeks and while it doesn’t add the degree of color that I would like, it hasn’t diminished my sonic experience with the British loudspeakers at all. $99 for this piece of American-made audio engineering is a genuine bargain.
Buy: $99 at schiit.com
The Glenrothes 12-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($48.99/750mL)
The Glenrothes is an award-winning single malt Scotch whisky from the town of Rothes in Speyside, Scotland. My Rabbi has given me a bottle for my birthday for the past 10 years because I’m not the most sophisticated drinker – and he’s figured out that I really like this with my late-night vinyl listening. The 12 year-old Glenrothes matures only in sherry seasoned oak casks and is bottled at natural colour with a hint of vanilla, melon, and cinnamon. The distillery offers much more expensive bottles that can run closer to $200 (I’ve tried them), but this hits the spot on a cold night and will make you quite clumsy with your tonearm. Been there.
Buy: $48.99 at Caskers
Proof Foundation 5-Pocket Pant ($118)
Not to disclose too much about my post-COVID eating habits (all of the running should tell you what you need to know), but it’s been a hard year for both my body and eating habits I lost 17 pounds in late-March when COVID hit me rather hard and the weight gain that came during the aftermath wasn’t too kind on my pants. When my day job went remote, I no longer needed to wear dress pants. Proof makes exceptionally comfortable pants that look fancy enough for the office (including the virtual one), but are definitely comfortable enough for the outdoors, travel, and dusty adventures like record shopping. They are manufactured from a Japanese fabric called Toray that offers just enough stretch to make them suitable for outdoor activities.
Buy: $118 at Huckberry
HiFiMan Deva Wireless Headphones ($299)
The Deva were my favorite new headphones of 2020. What makes the Deva so intriguing is that its wireless capabilities are made possible by a detachable wireless Bluetooth module that includes a DAC, and headphone amplifier. The “Bluemini” module plugs into the left ear cup and powers both channels of the Deva and does so with considerable authority. Before leaving CanJam New York 2020 for a lunch with industry PR friends, who knew it would be our last for almost five months, HiFiMan invited me upstairs for a quick audition. I knew then what I know now. The Deva is a superb sounding headphone.
Buy: $299 at Amazon
Blue Note Records 80 Vinyl Reissues and Tone Poet Series Records
Let’s not mince words. Blue Note has released some outstanding sounding jazz vinyl reissues in 2020. My wife is a tad upset that I keep buying them, but great music deserves to be purchased and it’s been impossible to listen to live music during the pandemic. Nobody knows when music venues will be allowed to reopen. Blue Note has announced some new releases for December and January, but we can vouch for the quality of these outstanding albums that are currently in our rotation.
Buy: $24.99 at Amazon
At some point, the U.S./Canada border is going to reopen without quarantine rules, and you need to be on the road to Montreal for the best bagels in N. America. Some people prefer that other bagel place in Montreal, but Fairmount is the real Montreal bagel – which is vastly superior to New York and New Jersey bagels. The best part of the Montreal Audio Show is always the 6 am trip to Fairmount for the road trip home to New Jersey. There are none left by the time we hit the Garden State Parkway. Sorry kids.
For more information: fairmountbagels.com
Isolation Platforms from IsoAcoustics and IKEA ($19.99 and $199)
Very few audiophile accessories or tweaks are worth the money some brands charge, but IsoAcoustics is one brand that we can endorse based on real-world application of their products in multiple scenarios. Their isolation stands for loudspeakers are used in major recording studios, and the engineering behind their products is backed by a few decades of experience creating acoustic solutions for radio and television stations. Their ZaZen isolation platform isn’t inexpensive but it works – exceptionally well underneath turntables. If spending $200 is not within your budget, consider the APTITLIG bamboo butcher blocks from IKEA. They don’t deliver the same level of isolation, but they do work; I’ve yet to hear one inexpensive component that doesn’t benefit from their application.
Buy Zazen: $199 at Amazon
Buy APTITLIG: $19.99 at IKEA
Men’s Washington Capitals Fanatics Branded Navy Authentic Pro Locker Room Pullover Hoodie ($84.99)
Perfect for those 5 am runs, early morning record store trips, and 11 pm trips to 7-11 after your favorite team has beaten the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs once again. Hockey is life. It’s the only thing I enjoy more than being an audiophile. 43 years and counting playing the frozen game.
Buy: $84.99 at Fanatics