If you’re shopping for a Mac user (whether it be yourself or someone else), there are more USB and FireWire peripherals than ever before that make nice holiday gifts.
Through an exclusive arrangement with MacCentral, Apple’s Macintosh Products Guide has setup a special page on Apple’s Web site to give you a way to view a brief description and prices of the products mentioned in this gift guide.
One of the first things that you may want to do is beef up your Mac’s sound system. You can’t go wrong with SoundSticks, a US$199 high-powered three-piece speaker system for the Mac that houses Harman Multimedia audio equipment inside a case designed by Apple. They sound and look great.
The SoundSticks are based on the iSub subwoofer system. If you already have a set of Apple Pro Speakers and don’t want to spring for the SoundSticks, shell out $49 for the iSub — another Harman Multimedia-Apple collaboration — and you’ll notice a noticeable improvement in your Mac’s sound output, especially when it comes to bass. Both the SoundSticks and iSub offer USB connectivity.
My favorite speakers for the Mac at present are the Creature, a three-piece speaker system from Harman Multimedia (yep, them again). The Creature is comprised of a subwoofer (27 watts at 10 percent THD) and two satellites (each with 9 watts at 10 percent THD). The audio system plugs into a headphone jack on a Mac (or PC or iPod).
The most striking thing about the Creature is its appearance. It has a flowing design without sharp edges and the sound quality is very impressive, especially for such a small system. The satellite speakers are three inches tall and three inches wide, while the subwoofer is nine inches high and nine inches deep. The Creature incorporates the latest in Odyssey transducer technology called the Odyssey Plus. It’s a full range transducer designed for extremely small speaker enclosures. The audio system also offers soft-touch tactile controls. The Creature has a suggested retail price of $129.
One of the reasons I’m fond of the Creature is because it works well with Sonica, a $90 product from M-Audio that adds professional-grade, 24bit/96kHz audio to your desktop or laptop Mac. It’s small, plugs into a USB port and requires no power supply.
The Sonica supports such popular sound formats as Dolby Digital 5.1 (AC3), Dolby Pro Logic, and DTS.
The software Preference Panel offers ear-boggling control over your system’s sound with optional SRS TruSound XT (which enables TruSound or Dialog Enhancement) and Speaker settings (setting both speaker size and adjustable TruBass). Hook up some good speakers, enable all the software options — there are separate ones for music and cinema — and you’ll be amazed at what you were missing.
The audio device also offers a pure digital connection so you can connect stereo receivers or powered speakers with digital input. You can even digitally transfer CD or MP3 music to MiniDisc players or other digital recorders. The Sonica software requires Mac OS X (10.1 or higher) or Mac OS 9.2 or higher and 64MB of RAM.
If you already have some great stereo speakers and aren’t interested in playing around with TruSound, check out Griffin Technology’s $25 ProSpeaker Breakout Cable. The device enables Power Mac G4 and flat panel-equipped iMac users to connect their computers to a pair of home stereo speakers without requiring an external amplifier.
The cable works by connecting to a Mac’s Pro Speaker Jack. The other side of the cable sports a pair of spring-loaded speaker connectors, which can be used to wire up speakers. The power to drive the speakers comes from the Mac.
Griffin Technology also makes another audio product, the iMic, as well as two items with a high “cool” factor, the iCurve and the PowerMate. The iMic is a $35 USB-based stereo audio input device that works with any USB Mac and can switch between microphone or line inputs.
iCurve is a $39.99 clear laptop stand designed for PowerBooks and iBooks. Besides looking sharp, it’s designed to place a PowerBook or iBook in an ergonomically correct position when using the laptop as a permanent desktop computer. Also, when placed on iCurve, a PowerBook screen tiles perfectly with the height of Apple’s Cinema Displays.
The PowerMate is a $45 USB peripheral designed to serve as a volume knob, jog/shuttle wheel for digital video editing or scroll wheel for long documents. It can also be programmed for many other purposes too, using the included driver software.
As much as great sound and cool looks are important, all Mac users need the capability of printing. There are a variety of excellent choices from companies such as Hewlett Packard and Epson, but a fine, all-around, affordable choice is Lexmark’s PrinTrio printer-scanner-copier. The device prints, scans, copies and PC-faxes with Mac OS X and Mac OS 9.0. The Lexmark PrinTrio has an estimated street price of US$149. It ships with one high-resolution black cartridge and one high-resolution color cartridge.
Once your USB and FireWire devices start proliferating, you’ll need a hub to connect those goodies once all your Mac’s ports are occupied. Hubs aren’t too expensive (under $100) and are available from such companies as Keyspan, Belkin, Entrega, and others.
And when you load up your Mac with songs, iMovies, videogames, and other necessities, you may find yourself running out of hard disk space. The best solution is an external FireWire drive (they’re faster than USB versions). You can get them in a variety of sizes (from slim and transportable to bulkier-but-beefier) and storage capabilities (up to 500MB).