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Rock & Roll Gift Guide

The best audio tech, gadgets, box sets and books for the ultimate music fan

Mark & Bjerre/Libratone

The convenience and versatility of wireless speakers used to mean sacrificing audio quality. No longer. Apple's AirPlay technology allows streaming of Apple Lossless and other sound files from your desktop, laptop, iPod, iPhone or iPad via your home Wi-Fi network. Denmark's Libratone takes that innovation a step further with its stand-alone single-unit AirPlay-enabled speakers – encased in cashmere in an array of colors to match any décor – that look as sharp as they sound. (Lounge, from $1,299; Live, from $699; libratone.com)

Courtesy of Thodio

Thodio iBox

These quirky, portable iPod speakers, handcrafted in the Netherlands by Thomas Spaans, stand out in an already crowded market. Its two front-mounted speakers and central bass port give the Thodio iBox a "face" and also deliver a clean sound perfect for outdoors or inside. Top-mounted iPod dock is optional, but highly recommended. ($594, thodio.nl)

Courtesy of Yamaha

Yamaha PDX-11 Dock

With its chrome handle, octagonal shape and metal grille, Yamaha's bright, tough new dock is designed for people on the move. The four-inch woofer brings the bass to the party no matter where you end up. Adding to the retro vibe: The PDX-11 is powered by six AA batteries (how Eighties!). ($100, usa.yamaha.com)

Courtesy of JBL and SRS

Mobile Audio-Enhancing Gadgets

JBL MS2 Pocket Digital Processor
This small interface connects your portable music player to your car stereo or any other sound system, and enhances the sound quality using digital signal processing for stereo imaging, and time-correction technology to make sure all the sounds reach you simultaneously, significantly improving the listening experience. ($200, jbl.com)

SRS Labs makes affordable software that upgrades a PC's sound to home-theater quality. The iWow 3D, which attaches to your iPhone, iPod or iPad, expands the audio so that it sounds less compressed. A bargain. ($60, srslabs.com)

Courtesy of Rocksmith


Guitar Hero and Rock Band soared to popularity despite one major handicap: those silly plastic guitars. Ubisoft's Rocksmith – the first serious guitar-instruction game – takes care of that. As you play the games and your skill level improves, you actually learn how to play songs. Rather than clicking in approximate rhythm with the melody or guitar riff of a song, you end up playing the actual notes of that song – even if you don't know the actual names of those notes. (Maybe that's for 2.0.) You can use any electric guitar to play this game, but for an extra $120, you can get a very playable Epiphone Les Paul Jr. For Xbox 360 and PS3. (Game only, $80; Guitar Bundle, $200; rocksmith.com)

Courtesy of HEX/Apple

Apple iPod Nano and Hex Vision Metal Watch Band

The newest iPod Nano is the first to have multitouch screen technology and no click wheel. Larger icons make scrolling and tapping to your favorite music, workout, radio station or clock face even easier. (From $129, apple.com) Hex Vision's metal band turns your Nano into a stylish wristwatch. ($70, shophex.com)

Courtesy of Bowers & Wilkins

Bowers & Wilkins MM-1 Premium Desktop Speakers

These top-of-the-line desktop speakers have the best-quality highs and midrange on the market. And for tiny towers barely larger than a pint glass, an excellent amount of bass. ($500, bowers-wilkins.com)

Music Books

The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun, Robert Greenfield
Among the musicians whose careers Ahmet Ertegun launched and fostered through his Atlantic Records label are some of the greatest artists of all time: Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Longtime RS contributor Robert Greenfield recounts how an upper-class son of a Turkish ambassador fell in love with the roots and R&B music he heard in the ghettos of Washington, D.C., and how he eventually brought that music to the forefront of the newly rock-crazed culture. ($30)

House of Cash: The Legacies of My Father, Johnny Cash, John Carter Cash
Johnny Cash's only son compiled unpublished photographs, stories and replica inserts (a New Year's Eve reflection letter by the senior Cash from 1968 – the year he married June Carter; recipe cards for family favorites like soy grit bread and "Cashburgers") to illustrate the lessons he learned from the Man in Black. ($40)

Lady Gaga x Terry Richardson
Provocative fashion photographer Terry Richardson's lens followed Lady Gaga for 10 months during her global Monster Ball tour and the recording of her album Born This Way. "I have discovered through him that shame is an obsolete notion and apology is an injustice to any performance," Mother Monster writes in the foreword to this 350-picture coffee-table book, but she might be giving him too much credit. We think she was "pushing the boundaries of culture" all on her own. ($50)

Courtesy of C. F. Martin & Co.

Martin OXK and S1 Ukuleles

In 2011, ukuleles were almost as ubiquitous as zombies, with Train winning a Grammy for their uke-centric song "Hey Soul Sister," virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro wowing millions on YouTube with his instrumental takes on rock classics, and Eddie Vedder releasing the album Ukulele Songs. The debate over whether they're serious instruments will probably never end, but one thing is for sure: They're seriously fun. Martin Guitar has gotten back into the uke business in a big way. While its premier line costs more than $5,000, the OXK and S1 soprano ukuleles are affordable but still very high-quality options for anyone wanting to do more than dabble. (OXK, $399; S1, $499; martinguitar.com)

Courtesy of Bose

Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker

The portable SoundLink connects easily to the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, tablets and laptops. The wireless speaker has a rechargeable battery and handles exceptionally loud volumes considering its compact size. (From $300, bose.com)

Courtesy of Max Borges Agency/Supertooth

SuperTooth Disco A2DP Bluetooth Speaker

Looks more like a guitar-amp head than a portable rechargeable-battery-powered speaker with its black metal meshlike grille and oversize volume and control knob. With its 28 watts of sound – 12-watt subwoofer, two eight-watt stereo drivers – it cranks like one too. ($150, supertooth.net)

Box Sets

Elvis Presley, Young Man With the Big Beat
When Elvis broke into the mainstream with "Heartbreak Hotel" in January 1956, the 21-year-old hillbilly truly became the King of Rock & Roll. The five CDs in this box set center on that year, with outtakes from his first RCA recording sessions (12 takes of "Shake, Rattle and Roll"!), remasters of live performances and non-LP singles. ($110, elvis.com)

The Smiths, Complete
While it's not the reunion hopeless Smiths romantics yearn for, fans can exult in the knowledge that their guitar hero Johnny Marr was behind the board remastering all eight of the band's LPs for this complete box set. True fanatics will give their gladioli and NHS glasses for the limited-edition Deluxe Box Set, which includes the band's albums on CD and vinyl, plus all 25 seven-inch singles and The Complete Picture DVD video compilation. (Deluxe Box Set, $500; CD Box Set, $69; rhino.com)

Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection
While producer Phil Spector was creating his Wall of Sound, he was also crafting some of the most powerful and influential girl-group numbers of the early Sixties. This seven-CD set features three full albums from Philles label superstars the Crystals ("He's a Rebel," "He's Sure the Boy I Love"); trio Bob B. Soxx ("Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah"); and the Ronettes ("Da Doo Ron Ron," "Chapel of Love"). ($55, philspector.com)

Sting, 25 Years: The Definitive Box Set Collection
Over a comprehensive three-CD set presented in a thick picture book filled with vanity shots and handwritten lyrics, this retrospective of Sting's solo career covers his post-Police exploration into jazz ("Englishman in New York"), remixed club-thumpers ("Send Your Love") and his endless supply of love songs for wife Trudie. The bonus live DVD of a 2005 Irving Plaza concert contains the only hint of Police-era youth ("Message in a Bottle," "Roxanne"), but his voice and songwriting have never lost their luster. ($125, sting.com)

Courtesy of Speaky

Pink Speaky for Breast Cancer Awareness

The Speaky Bluetooth speakerphone may look like a children's toy, but it is designed for increased audio quality while driving. Pressing its bellybutton allows you to receive or reject calls. Bluetrek is donating 10 percent of its revenues from sales of Pink Speaky to the Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation. ($70, online.bluetrek.com)

Courtesy of Joyful Noise Recordings

Of Montreal Cassette Box Set

Kevin Barnes' uncategorizable band, Of Montreal, continues to buck music trends with this custom-built, screen-printed wooden box covered with band artist David Barnes' signature illustrations. The box contains all 10 of the indie band's studio albums – on cassette. If you can't find your old Walkman, the box also offers an instant download of the albums in 320kpbs MP3. ($99, joyfulnoiserecordings.com)

Music Books

Trust Me, I'm Dr. Ozzy: Advice from Rock's Ultimate Survivor, Ozzy Osbourne
Everyone's favorite rock dad and advice columnist for Rolling Stone and the U.K.'s Sunday Times has a new collection of his priceless wisdom, based on a lifetime of surviving bats, blood and near-death at every turn. Have bad skin? Dr. Ozzy recommends "using a three-inch-deep layer of white powder foundation to cover it up." And in a Dear Abby moment, he helps a man who hates bear hugs. "You've got a mouth, so say something.…" Look, I don't like having my head in your armpit while you whack me on the back like Hulk Hogan. Can't we just shake hands or something?’ " Sound advice from the Prince of Fucking Darkness. ($27)

Dead Letters, Paul Grushkin
The Grateful Dead have one of the most legendary fan bases in rock – the tie-dye, the bears, the skulls, the traveling, the drum circles, the drugs. And also, it turns out, they were exceedingly artistic supporters of the USPS. Dead historian Paul Grushkin has compiled a visual archive of fan mail, illustrated envelopes and the elaborately designed mailers that fans used to express their love, "deadication" and dire need for tickets. ($30)

Put the Needle on the Record: The 1980s at 45 Revolutions per Minute, Matthew Chojnacki
A collection of more than 250 of the most iconic and colorful sleeves from seven- and 12-inch singles from the 1980s. Interviews with the musicians and the photographers and graphic designers tell the stories behind these memorable images. ($40)

Rolling Stone Rock Trivia: Special Collectors Edition
The music experts of Rolling Stone have put together the trivia quiz to top all trivia quizzes, 120 pages of minutiae guaranteed to challenge the most erudite rock & roll scholar – and start some loud arguments. ($12)

Music Apps

George Harrison: The Guitar Collection iPad App
This app contains 360 photos of Harrison’s guitar collection, with footage of admirers like Josh Homme, Mike Campbell and Ben Harper playing some of the instruments, playlists of the songs Harrison played them on and audio commentary from George himself on the guitars. ($10)

Rolling Stone: The Beatles Ultimate Album-by-Album Guide
Rolling Stone’s editors trace the history of the greatest band ever album by album. Track-by-track listings for each album include notes on each song as well as iTunes samples. ($10)

Songkick Concerts
This app alerts you when artists in your iTunes library are performing nearby. (Free)

Korg iElectribe Gorillaz Edition
The synth maker and Damon Albarn's electronic pop collective have teamed up to create an iPad beatbox featuring 128 Gorillaz sounds and 64 preset grooves built from exclusive samples from their album The Fall. ($20)

Scans your music library to create a personalized media music magazine that conveniently gathers all the information about all the artists you listen to most. Forget searching the Web to find out what your favorite artists are up to, this app provides that and more in one easily browsed location. (Free)

iShred LIVE with Griffin StompBox
Griffin's StompBox and the iShred Live app turn your iPad or iPhone into a guitar effects box. (iShred Live, free; StompBox, $100; griffintechnology.com)

Korg iKaossilator for iPhone
The iKaossilator simulates the original palm-size touch-screen synth and beat and effects box. You don't have to know how to play a note to have hours of fun. ($10)

The trendy, interactive music-sharing service finally makes it to app form. Take turns DJ’ing for friends and other people online. Make sure to keep the party jumping, though, because if you receive too many "lame" votes, you get kicked out of the DJ booth. (Free)

Ion Piano Apprentice
Use this free app along with Ion's mini keyboard and iPad/iPhone dock to learn how to play the piano and read music too. (App, free; keyboard/dock, $100; ionaudio.com)

iRig MIDI and SampleTank
With the latest gadget from the maker of the iRig Guitar interface and the iRig Mic, your iPhone can become a fully functional recording studio and performance device. The iRig MIDI allows you to connect any keyboard, drum machine or other MIDI-equipped musical instrument, and the SampleTank app has
hundreds of pro-quality sounds and patterns. (SampleTank, $20; iRig MIDI, $70; ikmultimedia.com)