We’re doing out best to support small business in 2021 because the pandemic refuses to go away and inflation is the highest it has been in a very long time. While one can’t imagine government ordering any form of lockdowns again; something that would be catastrophic for the economy and for our collective mental health — 200,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported on August 27th and 1,300 new deaths (even if they happened months ago…whatever). I just dropped my eldest off at college and many of us here have much younger children returning to school this week (wearing masks) across N. America. Our Labor Day Buying Guide is meant to encourage spending early this year before supply chain issues make the Holidays very frustrating. We know things about product availability and you might want to start shopping early.
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 Schiit Magni 3+ review. 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 ($56.99/750mL)
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: $56.99 at Caskers
Proof Meridian Pant ($128)
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.
Fast forward to September 2021 and I’m down 40 pounds from my COVID-19 Door Dash eating orgy (I’m now a healthy 210 pounds) and feeling great. These pants have been on 5 flights this year and I’m taking them to Italy with me in June 2022.
Buy: $128 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.
We recently interviewed Joe Harley and Kevin Gray about the Tone Poet reissues on our podcast which is available here.
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
Seattle Kraken Fanatics Branded Fleece Pullover Jacket ($49.00)
Perfect for those 5 a.m. runs, early morning record store trips, and 11 p.m. trips to 7-Eleven after your favorite expansion 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.