2013 InnerFidelity Holiday Gift Guide

Editor's note: Woo-hoo! It's that time of year again. Candles, hot chocolate, snow, and the good fun of finding just the right gift for your favorite music lover. The InnerFidelity writers have assembled their lists of favorite goodies from the year, we hope you find something cool to give...or, as in my case with Nate Maher's Snap Circuit recommendation, drop hints about to your loved ones.

Nate, with his bent for DIY gear, is up first!

Nate Maher's Gift Recommendations
Looking to take your DIY toolkit to the next level? Any of the next four items can help in a big way.

Panavice Model 301 (~$50)
131125_Blog_2013GiftGuide_PanaviceThe venerable Standard Panavise (model 301) has been a workhorse in my stable of tools for the last 10 years. It is reliable and versatile, holding anything from RCA plugs, wire, small PCBs, etc. For me it's done it all without complaint other than some chipping paint from abuse and a little melted plastic on the soft jaws. It's a great step up from your typical "helping hands" device and won't break the bank.

Panavice Model 324 (~$80)
131125_Blog_2013GiftGuide_Panavice324The second item is for those who have started to tackle larger PCB-based projects. The Panavise Electronic Work Center (Model 324) makes a great centerpiece for any DIY toolkit. With its integrated solder station, parts-tray base, standard vise base and circuit board holder it's actually several tools in one. The PCB holder can accommodate boards up to 12" wide and .156" thick and is spring loaded to allow for quick flips of the board when working both sides is required. The integrated parts base and iron holder put everything at your fingertips and trust me, really can help speed up the sometimes mundane process of stuffing parts. Finally, the standard base is compatible with all of Panavise's 300 series heads with eight or so options for different ways to hold whatever it is that you want work on.

Unibit Model #10231 (~$25)
131125_Blog_2013GiftGuide_UnibitThe do-it-all chassis fabrication tool that is the Unibit. I own the Irwin Unibit, model #10231, and can't tell you how many times that I've used this. I'd say it's the #1 tool used in my kit. So much so that I bought a few other, larger sizes to compliment it. For pretty much any panel-mounted piece of hardware it's done the job just fine. I've drilled aluminum and even steel and to this day, some ten years after I purchased it, it's still going strong. I would add that I always try to use cutting fluid of some kind to aid in the drilling process and I'm sure that has helped keep it as sharp as it is. I built my first 50 or so projects using this bit and a cordless drill. Personally I'd steer clear of generic, no-name brand versions of these bits. The Irwin's aren't that much more expensive and if you end up with a dud you'll be kicking yourself.

Porter Cable Heat Gun PC1500HG (~$40)
131125_Blog_2013GiftGuide_HeatGunFor those that decide they want to get into building cables (and I'm one of you) there will come a time early in your DIY career when you tire of melting heat shrink with a lighter or (gasp!) your soldering iron. Do yourself a favor, buy a heat gun and make sure that it's one that has some sort of temperature variation. One size fits all models are likely to frustrate you as much as the aforementioned crimes against heat shrink. Not only is a heat gun faster but it's certainly safer to use than an open flame. More importantly the results produced by being able to accurately and consistently modulate the heat you are applying are worth it if you care about what you're making.

Snap Circuits Experimenter Kits (~$20 and up)
131125_Blog_2013GiftGuide_SnapCircuitsThe last item on my last is one that will definitely find its way under my tree this year and is for the parent looking to make DIY a family activity. Let's face it, most of the projects that you're going to be working on are mildly dangerous for little kids in one way or another. Whether it's the lead-based solder, sharp pointy things or the value of the parts that you're assembling it's pretty hard to share this hobby if you have smaller children. But wait, there's hope! Enter the good folks at Snap Circuits who have devised the perfect remedy. Snap Circuits produces a line of kits designed to make DIY electronics safe and accessible for children ages 8+—although most reviews I've read online indicate that with a little supervision you can safely lower that threshold considerably. Even their most basic kit (the SC-100) offers hundreds of potential projects from doorbells to burglar alarms and more. I can't wait to get mine...I mean for my daughter to open hers!


ultrabike's picture

Welp. I got myself an B&K Precission 2709B some time ago thanks to Nate's recommends last year:


I can say it was a great purchase. All the places I've worked we have Fluke's to throw around (I think mostly 87s but several models here and there). Same at school several years ago.

Fluke are pricy though, and for x or y reason, didn't have a multimeter at home. So I said FTS, getting one of those B&Ks.

Not too long ago, a friend and I discussed headphone cable impedance. I told him I measured about 0.9 ohms out of my HD558. I was told his HD518s measured less then 0.1 ohm. So I asked about his multimeter... Yup, he had Harbor Freight. We brought our cables and measured with a Fluke: 0.9 ohms.

Solid Panavice recommendations and heat gun!

mward's picture

Good call on the Sufjan Christmas box set. It's my preferred holiday music. There's a sequel out now, though I'm not quite as crazy about it. 

John Grandberg's picture

The more recent "Silver & Gold" album, which continues where the original left off, is not as good imho. Still maybe worth checking out but ultimately not on the same level. I thought all those guest artists might be interesting, yet in the end I kind of wish he just did it himself. 

deckeda's picture

I'm picking up one of the earlier recommendations here for my nephew, who always busts his headphones: the Philips "O'Neill Bend", for less than $30 at Amazon. I think they were closer to $100 when reviewed. 

Looking forward to using my Panavise 324, just arrived in the mail from Radio Shack, who had a sale last week on it.

macnbone's picture

Thanks for this Gift Guide. Nice to have the variety of ideas listed.

Wondering if any of you (or readers) have listened to both the PSB M4U2 and Bose QC20 noise cancelling headphones/IEMs and can offer a comparison? Seriously considering one of these for a gift this Christmas. Thanks ahead of time.

firebook23's picture

I would say the general concensous around the web is that the NC is a little better in the Bose. But the PSB's sound better. 

Also I like that the PSB's work with regular batteries and in passive mode if you run out of power in the middle of a commute or trip. 

macnbone's picture

Thanks firebook23.

Long time listener's picture

Tyll, I'm discovering that those Tascam phones can be modded so that they have less of a "monitor" sound and more of a "fun" sound--i.e., less of a treble peak and a little more bass. It's a work in progress, but already they're sounding very very good. Makes you wonder why they can put such a fine driver in a $30 headphone but other people can't.

surajsinghbhui2's picture