New York (December 14, 2007)—There is one question that plagues all live sound professionals, and that is "What do you get your fellow roadie for the holidays?" After all, a Starbucks gift card is useless when you're tethered to the mixing desk. Here's a few ideas….
Tackling this one head-on, we came up with a number of strict guidelines and then saw what products filtered through. Guideline 1: The items have to be equally appropriate for live sound pros who work locally as well as those who hit the road numerous times a year. Guideline 2: The items must be relatively small, so they can fit in a road case or bus bunk unobtrusively. And Guideline 3: The items have to be at least moderately useful—except for the ones that are totally useless, a trait which often has its charms.
• The Swiss Army USB: It's just what you think it is—a small Swiss Army knife with a detachable USB thumb drive built-in, ranging in size from 128MB to 2GB. Your sound buddy will never be without a backup of his digital desk mix, plus he can use the scissors to make snowflakes out of the set list.
• Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones: Without question, people who travel a lot want a set of noise-canceling headphones, regardless of the brand. Wired magazine rated these as their favorites of the models out there; their writers probably have less tinnitus than we do, so go with their assessment.
• SteriPEN Adventurer Handheld Water Purifier: Some venues can be, erm, challenging to one's personal hygiene; plenty of road dogs don't care, but if you know a roadie who wants to make sure the tap water he encounters is safe for interaction, this tiny gizmo uses ultraviolet light to kill viruses, bacteria and protozoa, purifying half a liter in 48 seconds.
• Navigator Talking Translator: This iPod-sized gadget speaks more than 9,000 common phrases in 12 languages and translates over 30,000 words for you. Users can also save their 25 favorite sentences to memory—starting with "Where did I put my water purifier gizmo?"
• Sennheiser VMX 100-B Bluetooth Headset: We all know sound engineers who swear by (and occasionally through) Sennheiser microphones; give this high-end cell-phone earpiece to that brand loyalist, and he'll be able to hear that the PA truck broke down 50 miles back much clearer.
• PowerStation Cable Organizer: It's the Roadie Law of Attrition; by the end of a tour, you've left behind the chargers for your cell phone, iPod, digital camera, razor, VMX 100-B earpiece and God knows what else in hotel rooms and backstage areas across the land. With this multi-charging container, your roadie pal can keep 'em all tidily in one place (or conversely, lose them all at once).
• Punk 365: A high-end coffee-table book that's small enough to fit in a road case (9.5"x5.5"x2"), it's a loud, braying, 730-page reminder of a time when quality concert audio just wasn't that high on the list of priorities.
• Gelaskins Laptop Skins Sure, your pal has so many tattoos that his arms resemble a 1970s NYC subway car—but his laptop at FOH remains a factory-direct sheen of silver. Help him deck it out—and protect it—with these removable, vinyl skins that have some of the weirdest designs around.
• Miglia TV Micro Express: Lots of tour buses have satellite TV, but the back of the rented box truck your pal is stuck in definitely does not. This tiny gadget lets him turn his laptop into a TiVo, record his favorite shows off cable and then play them back later, so the entire crew can catch up on The Hills while stuck in traffic.
• ION Tape2PC USB Cassette Deck: It doesn't fit in a road case, but it'll be a hit if the road dog in your life has a million board tapes that he's going to transfer into his computer "someday." Is it the most pristine audio capture on the planet? No, but neither are those aging cassettes; this USB cassette deck-and-software combo is fine for folks who don't have $40,000 home studios.
• Hell's Bells of Christmas: The Holiday Tribute To AC/DC: If they love the road life, they love Back In Black—simple as that. However, they haven't truly appreciated the sophistication of "You Shook Me All Night Long" until they've heard it performed Christmas Muzak-style. These guys have similar tributes to Green Day and Metallica, too. We're not kidding.