Stylish Last-Minute Retro Gifts
By James Grahame
Just because you've still got a couple of people to buy for on your Christmas list doesn't mean you have to resort to a frenetic trip to a crowded mall. There's still time to order online, and there are lots of affordable gifts that vintage aficionados will be happy to receive this year. Here are a few for under $100, curated by the Retro Thing elves.
Terrestrial analog radio still rules the roost in North America, and a decent AM/FM radio can be surprisingly useful. The Sangean WR-11 sounds great, costs well under $100 and features a real wood case and old-school styling -- a perfect countertop companion for the kitchen or workshop. Best of all, there are no monthly charges.
Make 2014 the year you dump overpriced cable TV. If you live in or near a decently sized city, there's a good chance you can receive a half dozen or more digital HD television channels over the air. The good news is that over the air broadcasts are less compressed than their cable or satellite equivalents. The bad news? Digital television is an all-or-nothing proposition. While analog TV just got fuzzy with a poor antenna, digital broadcasts degrade to a pixellated mess. That's why a good antenna is essential.
This long range model from Antennas Direct offers great suburban coverage (up to 65 mile range) without breaking the bank or requiring a signal amplifier. And if you're a satellite subscriber, you might be able to reuse your mounting post and the coax cable run from the roof.
Great sound for only $20? Seriously. I bought a pair of these surprisingly good headphones for my kid this year. Sadly, he spotted them in the closet mere hours before my wife began her annual present wrapping frenzy. Sennheiser is a storied German audio manufacturer that makes an astonishingly broad array of headphones. These may be inexpensive, but they offer clean and uncolored sound in a relatively sturdy package that could easily retail for twice as much.
Seiko 5 Automatic Wristwatch ($50 and up)
I mention these every year, simply because the Seiko 5 is a rare bargain. My only warning is that giving someone an automatic watch with a clear back can lead to an expensive collecting habit. The basic models with canvas strap start at only $50, although a variety of attractive cases and metal straps can easily push the price to $100 or more. Don't expect quartz accuracy from a mechanical self-winding wristwatch, but they can be quite accurate if you take the time to regulate the mechanism (an easy task, if you're not scared of removing the back).
Hewlett-Packard introduced the HP 35 -- the first handheld scientific calculator -- on February 1st 1972. It carried a list price of $395 and cemented HP's position at the forefront of the calculator business for decades to come. Almost forty years later, they're back with the HP 35s -- an affordable retro-styled handheld. It offers standard and Reverse Polish notation, 100+ built-in functions and constants and a classic Mad Men style. Assuming 1970s advertising execs could actually do math, that is...
Schiit makes some brilliant headphone amps, and the Magni is their most affordable. Don't let the price fool you -- it's an excellent introduction to the world of hi-fi headphone amplification. You can spend a few dollars more for a model with a hybrid tube/solid state signal path, but this one is good enough that 99% of listeners will be ecstatically happy.
I mentioned the non-USB version of this turntable on Retro Thing earlier this year because it's an excellent value. This version is slightly more expensive, but in return you get a USB jack for easy connection to your computer. Apart from that, things are straightforward. It plays 45 RPM and 33 1/3 RPM discs and has a switchable built-in pre-amplifier (just in case your modern stereo system doesn't have a phono input).
That's it for this year's Retro Thing gift roundup. We hope it sparks a few brilliant present ideas and that you have a fantastic holiday, wherever you are and whomever you're with.