A 2023 Holiday Gift Guide

By Chris Chiarella

Easy to wrap. Easy to give. Easy to enjoy. Because the holidays are a perfect opportunity to share our love of movies and music, here are a few suggestions to brighten that someone’s season in new and different ways that can last all year.

The Noble Collection Batman Batarang and Display (noblecollection.com, $65)

Another great way to lean into our enthusiasm for a particular movie or character is to display an accurate replica of a key prop. My misgivings about Zack Snyder’s version of Batman notwithstanding, the design of Ben Affleck’s accoutrements is above reproach.

While I’m still waiting for a working grappling gun, the static Batarang has arrived in a full-sized eight-and-a-half-inch reproduction in die-cast in aluminum. It looks and even feels just like the one that Bruce Wayne flung at Barry Allen in Justice League, appropriately weighted and authentically crafted in predominately matte black, naturally, with brushed silvertone edges.

Included is a rather classy wooden display stand for the tabletop or shelf, to show it off when it’s not being deployed in the never-ending war on crime.

Soundcore Motion X600 Portable High-Fidelity Speaker (us.soundcore.com, $199.99)

There are a lot of good Bluetooth speakers out there, but could one be rightly called “immersive”? The premier speaker in Soundcore’s Motion line, the X600 houses five drivers backed by five amplifiers supporting three channels: forward-firing stereo plus a poetically dubbed, upward-firing “sky channel,” which might just be the closest we’ve come yet to wireless Atmos.

Together they deliver a wide soundstage that can cover large rooms or outdoor areas with decidedly enveloping, quasi-theatrical audio. It also supports high-datarate LDAC from compatible Bluetooth devices and despite its 50 watts of total power and oodles of bass, it’ll play for up to 12 hours on a charge. Solidly constructed without feeling bulky and rated at IPX7, the speaker is fully waterproof, not merely splash-resistant, so we can take all that sound just about anywhere.

And when summer rolls around, we can even pair two X600s together to kick our next backyard movie night up a notch.

Star Wars Gear (heroesvillains.com)

Take it from a guy with an enormous, overstuffed drawer plus a large chunk of his closet dedicated to t-shirts: Graphic t’s are a fantastic way to wear our fandom, any fandom, although at some point we might start to wonder, is that all there is? Enter Heroes & Villains, with 15 different collections at last count, (Marvel, DC, Star Trek, etc.) and 19 different sub-categories for Star Wars alone.

I’m Red Five all day so I checked out their Rogue Squadron Pilot Bomber Jacket ($125) and Rebel X-Wing Grey Belted Cargo Shorts ($75). The quality is outstanding and the design is top-notch, such as the tufted ribbing on the sleeves and the huge Rebel logo and Aurebesh lettering embroidery on the back of the bomber and the subtle patterning and quick-release buckle on the shorts.

When we’re done looking badass, both tuck neatly into the Rebel Alliance Pilot Duffle Bag ($75), generously pocketed, extremely functional and brimming with the sort of stylistic flourishes that only a true aficionado would think to include. In other words, these guys get us, and they’re standing by to deck us out proper. (And not to worry: They have literal mountains of cool t-shirts, too.)

PRO TIP: I find their size chart to be a tad conservative, so if in doubt I would recommend sizing up.

Creative Sound Blaster X5 USB DAC/Amplifier (us.creative.com, $279.99)

An audiophile headphone DAC/amp for less than $300? Believe it: Creative’s external sound card supports up to 32-bit/384 kHz playback at 130 dB DNR, built around dual Cirrus Logic DACs, an Xamp bi-amplifier, and extremely tweakable DSP EQ settings. It connects to a wide range of sources and supplies ample on-unit controls in addition to Creative’s own smartphone app.

The X5 is designed for performance--Creative says it can even drive planar-magnetic ‘phones with impedance of up to 600 ohms--so it works especially well with wired cans, via gold-plated balanced (1/4") and unbalanced (mini) ports. It also pairs with Bluetooth sources right out of the box, and it can adapt to Bluetooth headphones with the addition of a small add-on transmitter such as the Creative BT-W4 (sold separately).

House of Marley Stir It Up Lux Wireless Turntable and Get Together 2 Portable Bluetooth Audio System (thehouseofmarley.com, $399.99 & $249.99)

The deceptively beautiful choice of simple, natural materials in House of Marley’s top of the line turntable belies their clever scientific functionality: The substantial (and sustainable!) bamboo plinth absorbs all manner of vibration while the heavy glass platter adds further stability as we spin our vinyl, enhanced by an anti-skate mechanism and adjustable counter-balance. The flipside of the included cork slipmat meanwhile is a colorful zoetrope that comes alive when the belt-driven platter is turning.

Lux arrives with an easily replaceable Audio-Technica AT-95E elliptical stylus and the onboard preamp switches between 3.5mm aux out and RCA phono/line out, supporting Bluetooth v5.3 as well for easy pairing to wireless headphones or even Marley’s full-range Bluetooth speaker, the Get Together 2. Twin 2.5" woofers and 1" tweeters plus a passive radiator around back deliver the compact speaker’s 40 watts of formidable power with a pleasing stereo separation, and multiple Get Together 2s can be paired for even bigger sound. Bass Boost, Acoustic, and Marley Signature Sound EQ settings are onboard. Designed for versatility, the IP65 dustproof and water-resistant speaker contains a quick-charge battery that’s good for up to 20 hours of playtime and can also charge other devices.

Both products are crafted largely of mindfully sourced, recycled/recyclable materials and even the packaging is eco-amicable. In tandem, the turntable and matching speaker embody the inviting Marley esthetic, they sound terrific, and we can feel One Love--possibly more--about their impact on the world around us, too.

Dave Brubeck: A Dave Brubeck Christmas (Craft Recordings, $38)

Brubeck’s eponymous 1996 album was his only yuletide exploration, but it’s plenty: Dave’s unique spins on favorites such as “Joy to the World,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Winter Wonderland” are rounded out by a couple of catchy original grooves like “Run, Run, Run to Bethlehem,” 14 tracks total across four sides.

Why so much 180g vinyl? Craft’s premium lacquers were cut at 45RPM, as seems to be a growing a growing trend in the audiophile world, resulting in exceptional sound quality worthy of the season and the great Mr. B.

V-Moda Crossfade 3 Wireless Over-Ear Headphones (v-moda.com, $299.99)

The V-Moda Crossfade 3 offers the freedom to go wired or wireless, in a comfortable, passive noise-isolating design that enhances either option. In point of fact, these Hi-Res Audio-certified headphones do some of their best work when cabled, namely supporting an impressive frequency response of 5-40,000 Hz.

They’re rocking 50mm dual diaphragm drivers that render clean, impactful bass with smooth highs and midrange, particularly enjoyable for high-fidelity music listening as well as private movie watching.

Wirelessly, they pack Bluetooth version 5.1 with up to 30 hours battery life, and V-Moda provides a dedicated mobile app to help us get the most out of ‘em. We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the distinctive style of the Crossfade 3 as well, available in three finishes with customizable aftermarket shields sold in V-Moda’s online accessory shop.

Surely You Can't Be Serious: The True Story of Airplane! by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker (St. Martin’s Press, $35)

Typically, analyzing comedy makes it immeasurably less funny, but not so with this deep-dive tome from original creators Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker, whose personal treasure trove of lore and ephemera (all reproduced in black-and-white) somehow makes us love their age-defying laugh-fest even more. This oral history, with interviews by Will Harris, has been extensively researched, filled largely with both recent and archival recollections from just about everyone associated with the movie, their surviving family members, and a long list of famous fans.

Structured as it is as a series of focused little snippets across a wide range of topics (common lament: no one quite appreciated what they were making at the time), it’s easy to pick up and put down, perfect for today’s attention-span-challenged audiences.

The Art of Walt Disney: From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdoms by Christopher Finch (Abrams Books, $100)

Originally published in 1973, author/photographer Christopher Finch's essential The Art of Walt Disney does an admirable job with its massive subject, exploring the history of the studio, its prolific output, and even the enduring charms of theme parks.

Its contents have grown and evolved several times since, including vast updated commentary on the reign of Pixar and now for 2023 we have the 100th Anniversary Celebration Edition (that logo has appeared just about everywhere over the past year), a remarkably heavy 500-page volume filled with as many illustrations. Back in print for the centennial, this cloth-bound masterpiece arrives in a foil slipcover adorned with the iconic rodent as he’s currently seen in Paul Rudish’s animated shorts.

Elf x Goose Creek Candles (goosecreekcandle.com, $25.50 each)

Drawing their inspiration from the modern classic, all ten of these candle varieties are enlivened with images of green-and-yellow-clad Buddy (Will Ferrell) and are made with premium fragrance oils that can help banish that funk that’s been brewing in the home theater all year.

They feature three clean-burning, lead-free wicks to quickly spread the olfactory holiday cheer and are generously sized with almost a pound of Goose Creek’s proprietary soy wax blend to burn for up to 45 hours.

While the ideas behind some of the Elf scents are more on-the-nose (see what I did there?), such as Candy Cane or Maple Syrup, others have a little more fun with their theme, such as "Son of a Nutcracker" (peanut butter base note) and "Throne of Lies" which surprisingly but perhaps for the best does not smell like beef and cheese, rather an intoxicatingly woodsy blend of pine and cedar.

3ddavey13's picture

This seemed like the best place to post this. There's nothing better than some new/old Pink Floyd concerts to get you through the holidays. hdtracks.com just listed 16 Floyd concerts from 1973. I attended the one at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. I wanted to see them at Radio City Music Hall, but it sold out. Both those shows are there plus many others. The set list is virtually the same except for the shorter ones which only have the Dark Side songs. I listened to samples from several concerts and the Radio City one sounded best, so I bought the 24/44.1 download. Right now, they're offering a 25% discount (use code HD25NewDec). If anyone is interested don't wait too long. Earlier this year they offered a similar number of shows from 1972. About 2 months later they were all gone. The quality isn't the greatest, but if you were at one of these shows you can now relive it.
Merry Christmas! Happy Hanika! Happy Holidays! And thank you Pink Floyd!

3ddavey13's picture

My apologies. I'm recommending the show from Vienna, Austria over Radio City. Sound quality is similar, but the crowd noise is less obnoxious from Vienna. No idea where these recordings originated but they don't sound like soundboard recordings. A little more editing would be appreciated. They're still better than most bootlegs from that era. Listen to as many shows as you can handle.