Every year at Part-Time Audiophile, the editors discuss whether or not we should do another year-end Holiday Gift guide. I’m not particularly fond of the idea. I’m not a big holiday person after my early and unrewarding years in retail management, and everybody knows audiophiles are notoriously picky about gifts and it’s likely that YOUR gift will wind up on the floor of a closet or, even worse, Audiogon. Nevertheless, I offer my ten favorite 2023 Stocking Stuffers, despite the fact that I still haven’t found a stocking big enough for LPs.
Garrett Hongo’s The Perfect Sound ($30 USD)
Some of you know Garrett Hongo as an audio reviewer. Others know him as a poet and an academic who was nominated for a Pulitzer. I know him as an occasional cigar buddy, as well as the first person who ever interviewed Colleen and me for an audio publication. Of course he’s a fantastic writer, and his new book The Perfect Sound is getting incredible reviews from the mainstream press. That’s right, a book about high-end audio is getting attention outside the hobby, which is remarkable.
Garrett’s book covers getting into vinyl, looking for vacuum tubes, and other misadventures, but it also sets these common themes within observations about culture, spirituality and the most important question–why do we love music? (For you audio objectivists, Garrett does provide plenty of info on audio history and technologies.) You haven’t read a high-end audio book like this one.
I had not one but TWO industry friends put out books in 2022. If you don’t know Richard Colburn, he has worked for just about everyone in this industry at one point or another. (He’s currently working for Fidelis Distribution and he’s been arranging for me to review such stellar brands as Harbeth, Lab12 and NEAT Acoustics.)
Garrett’s book is more about the spiritual side of being an audiophile, while Richard’s book is more of a collection, stories from the trenches of this crazy industry. Richard also focuses on the forgotten people and products in audio, and why we should remember them.
For many years, Richard’s been one of those people I’ve seen in the halls of high-end audio shows, and recently we’ve hung out and it isn’t long before we start telling our audio tales. This book, however, gives me additional insight to a man I’ve known since 2007 or 2008, but now I feel like I really know him and his importance in the industry. All right, Bill Leebens–it’s your turn!
Fern and Roby Vacuum Tube Coasters ($49.50 USD for a set of six)
If the audiophiles on your gift list are into vacuum tubes and drinking, these wooden coasters from Fern and Roby will make the perfect 2023 Stocking Stuffers. Each coaster features an iconic vacuum tube, along with plenty of info on the valve. I have them and love them–and I try to sneak them into review photos whenever I can.
Fern and Roby Salt Well ($65 USD)
Okay, so Fern and Roby is a great place to search for 2023 Stocking Stuffers for audiophiles. While the Salt Well has nothing do to with high-end audio–I’ve been looking for an excuse to put this in the Buyers Guide for some time now–it will be the ideal gift for an audiophiles who are also great in the kitchen. “We’ve turned it from solid stainless steel bar in our shop, and recycle the scrap that is produced from the turning process. Weighing in at over half a pound, this is made to last forever, whether it lives on your stove or on your dining table.”
Lyn Stanley’s Novel Noel (prices vary)
In my humble opinion, the only holiday album I’m willing to play for guests is A Charlie Brown Christmas. Now, Novel Noel from Lyn Stanley joins that very short list. The arrangements are unique enough so that you’re not constantly thinking about holidays–you’re thinking about great jazz, performed impeccably. I can’t think of anyone who is more committed to delivering great sound than Lyn Stanley, and this album is a sonic knockout.
You know what makes the perfect 2023 Stocking Stuffer? If you don’t opt for the vinyl, and I think you should because the pressing is unbelievably pristine, you can get the digital download in a gorgeous crystal thumb drive which will fit in even the smallest stocking.
Hilary Hahn’s Eclipse (prices vary)
Last year I picked classical violinist Hilary Hahn’s Paris as my favorite album of the year, something I’ve never done for a contemporary classical release. What made Paris so outstanding? It started off with the fact that Hahn delivered one of my favorite performances of what has become my favorite violin concerto–Prokofiev’s First. Second, the Deutsche Grammophon LP pressing is absolutely wondrous, something I didn’t expect from this label in 2022. Finally, Hahn is so charismatic and yet down-to-earth that her following is growing at a rate I haven’t seen since Yo-Yo Ma started recording. Seems like good people, too.
This time, Hahn tackles the Dvorak Violin Concerto in A minor, along with pieces from Pablo de Sarasate and Alberto Ginastera. As with Paris, Hahn is accompanied by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony. Her new album is available in several formats, with different levels of box sets, but I bought the double 45rpm LP set for less than $40, delivered to my house. While I don’t have the same history with Dvorak as I have with Prokofiev, I still absolutely love this album.
Qobuz (prices start at $10.83 USD per month)
While our holiday gift guides have been sporadic at best, we do mention Qobuz subscriptions at least twice per year (in the Buyers Guide, of course) because they really are the perfect gift for any audiophile who has taken the digital streaming plunge. If your audiophile already has a Qobuz subscription, extend it for them. Or, better yet, buy them the lifetime subscription and prepare to become their new BFF.
Les Davis Audio (prices vary)
Full disclosure–I was the first US importer and distributor of Les Davis Audio constrained-layer damping material, so you can take this 2023 Stocking Stuffer recommendation with a grain of salt. But Les Davis has continued on and flourished and developed new products that lower noise and reduce vibrations better than before, and at a stocking stuffer-friendly price. The new distributor, Ocean Audio, is having plenty of success with Les Davis Audio products, and I’m excited to have them in my system right now.
Steely Dan UHQRs ($150 USD each)
Do you know an audiophile who is eagerly awaiting the release of the entire Steely Dan UHQR catalog from Analogue Productions? Unsure about the release dates, and worried that Aja and Gaucho won’t be released before the holidays? Pre-book it for that audiophile, staple the receipt to a small note, and you have an ideal 2023 Stocking Stuffer.
Every time I check to see if Aja is available–the only SD album that’s part of my regular rotation–I see that little button to pre-book it. While I usually don’t pre-book anything because I know there will be plenty of stock for the more patient among us, this is one case where we probably should because the UHQRs do sell out quickly and SUPPLIES ARE LIMITED. And if you’re worried about your audiophile liking Steely Dan, they do.
AudioQuest GroundGoody Saturn ($30 USD)
This might be my favorite 2023 Stocking Stuffer of all–it’s inexpensive, small enough to actually fit it in a stocking and it really, really works. The GroundGoody ground wire directs low noise and RF away from source components, creating blacker silences and an overall cleaner sound. If you want to step up to the next level of gift-giving, substitute the copper of the GroundGoody Saturn for the silver of the GroundGoody Jupiter–for $300.
Thanks for reading my list of 2023 Stocking Stuffers. Our 2023 Buyers Guide will appear on December 2-4, our 2022 Best Value of the Year award will be given out on December 16, and the Part-Time Audiophile 2022 Product of the Year will be announced on December 18.
Happy holidays, and don’t forget the gift receipt (since you’ll probably need it with an audiophile).