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Christmas 2009 buyers' guide: gifts for the music lover

Earphones, phones and digital music players

Technology and music go hand in hand - after all, the Apple iPod is the most popular item of consumer technology after the laptop. A digital music player is therefore a fairly safe choice of present. You don't necessarily need to fork out for a multi-gigabyte iPod touch, though. And if you're buying for an iPod or iPhone owner, iTunes vouchers will be the most welcome gift you can give - and a lot less expensive.

Christmas 2009 buyers' guide: For the music lover...

Christmas 2009 buyers' guide: Music on your phone

Sony's Walkman brand is legendary among music buffs, but products bearing the name aren't restricted to music. Sony Ericsson produces a range of Walkman handsets that combine entertainment with communication.

The Sony Ericsson W995a slider phone has a 2.6in (320x240 QVGA) display. It has an 8.1Mp camera with flash and face-recognition technology, Wi-Fi and 3G, making it an all-in-one device.

Available in red, black or silver, the W995a takes Memory Stick media cards up to 8GB and comes with built-in stereo speakers.

Sony's PlayNow technology lets you download content such as tracks and games straight to the handset, while TrackID identifies the title and artist of clips of music. Available on Orange and O2, prices for the handset depend upon your contract.

It's not just Sony Ericsson handsets that let you download and listen to music on your mobile phone. Nokia's XpressMusic range benefits from the company's Comes with Music service, which lets you download unlimited tracks for the life of your mobile contract. You can keep the tracks even after your contract has expired.

The Nokia 5330 is a 14mm-thick slider phone that weighs 107g, has a 3.2Mp camera with 4x digital zoom and flash and has dedicated media control keys on its top. Its 70MB internal memory is bolstered by a 2GB microSD card - it's able to recognise cards up to 16GB in capacity. The 5330 also has an FM radio, comes in a choice of four colours and is available on T-Mobile, O2 or Vodafone from £15 a month on contract.

Christmas 2009 buyers' guide: Personal music players

Not everyone wants a combined phone and music player, of course. Apple's iPod touch is slimmer than the Apple iPhone 3GS and does almost everything the smartphone does - except make calls.

The touch has a 3.5in screen that you navigate using its large, finger-friendly icons and flicking and pinching motions. It offers Wi-Fi connectivity for surfing the web, while its link-up with iTunes and the Apple iTunes App Store lets you buy and play music, videos and TV clips, as well as add games and other fun items. There are 8GB, 32GB and 64GB versions, with prices starting at £149.

Existing iPod and iPhone owners, meanwhile, are spoiled for choice when it comes to cases and accessories - browse the Apple Store or head to a dedicated accessory site such as proporta.com for cases.

If you'd sooner buck the iPod trend, it's worth taking a look at Philips' latest GoGear music and video player, the Philips GoGear Muse. Significantly smaller than an iPod touch but chunkier than a nano, the Muse has a 3in colour display and an FM radio, and comes in 16GB or 32GB versions.

Philips includes high-quality noise-cancelling earphones and says you should be able to enjoy around 25 hrs of music or 5 hrs of video before recharging the player. At £159 inc VAT for the 16GB model, it's a good-value player.

Christmas 2009 buyers' guide: Earphones

Music lovers will never say no to a good-quality pair of headphones. The Etymotic hf2 premium earphones come in two versions: the excellent-quality £99 off-the-shelf version and the pricier custom-fit edition that comes with specially moulded fittings.

As with other high-quality earphones, you can choose between a range of different types of flanged and non-flanged ear tips. Tools to help remove and replace them and a storage pouch are provided. Sound reproduction and balance are outstanding, with good noise-cancelling functionality.

For those who prefer headphones, the exceptionally well-padded Sony MDR-XB500 Extra Bass models are a luxurious and very comfortable choice. Wearing them is like having cushions cosset your ears, allowing you to enjoy music to its fullest - helped, of course, by the XXL 40mm XB driver unit ramping up the bass.

We were also impressed by the Sony's non-tangling 1.2m-long flat cord, which lets you express your enjoyment of the music without getting caught up in the wires. The MDR-XB500 costs a comparatively modest £69 inc VAT (sonystyle.co.uk).

Christmas 2009 buyers' guide: Digital music accessories

Many of us have extensive music collections spread across a variety of storage formats - CD, MP3, vinyl and cassette tape. Instead of relying on an unwieldy range of players or buying your albums all over again in a new format (which may not be possible), it makes sense to convert older recordings to digital.

The ION U Record Music Converter (£42 inc VAT, amazon.co.uk) is the missing link, recording the content of LPs and cassettes and ripping them into MP3 format. It connects to a PC or laptop by USB and to a record deck and cassette player through standard audio inputs. Its pre-amp means you don't need a stereo (if you need a complete record deck that can do the whole thing, ION also makes these).

The bundled EZ Vinyl Converter PC software automatically imports the music directly to your iTunes or Windows Media Player library, removing any pops and crackles along the way.

iPod docks are an increasingly popular means of charging and playing songs stored on music players and they come in shapes, sizes and prices to suit everyone. The volume and quality of the playing experience varies greatly too, so it can pay to test out items instore before choosing one as a gift.

Gear4 is one of the best-known iPod dock brands, and its £50 CRG-70W model combines an iPod dock with speakers and an FM radio. The dock has detachable cube satellite speakers that can be connected to the alarm clock unit to form a single rectangular device. Alternatively, the speakers can be separated from the main unit and positioned where you want.

The radio has six programmable station presets and a dimmable display. Two alarms can be set to wake you up to radio, iPod, iPhone or buzzer. A line-in port can be used to connect the CRG-70W to other players.

For a really striking centerpiece of a personal music setup, the Ferguson Hill FH007 iPod speaker system (£469 inc VAT, fergusonhill.com) is one of the classiest options around. The horn-shaped speakers are made from clear-cast acrylic and resemble an elongated gramophone speaker. The effect is rather like an invisible ear trumpet - except the audio they produce is crystal clear and fills the whole room, giving the music centre stage.

At the other end of the musical scale is the anything but understated Air Guitar Rocker (£29 inc VAT, iwoot.com). This lets Guitar Hero fans play their favourite game, even when they're nowhere near their console. A mini amp is preloaded with 10 tracks including Smoke on the Water, Ace of Spades and You Really Got Me.

INDEX:

PC Advisor Christmas 2009 technology buyers' guide

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