Sound engineers are the unsung heroes of the music world. Whether they are recording engineers or running live sound, good sound engineers take all of the efforts of musical artists, producers and everybody else involved and make it all sound as beautiful as possible.
And while they might not get the fame, the recognition or the money other artists enjoy, we can make sure sound engineers at least get the very best presents – for their birthday, for Christmas or any time of the year.
So I, a decent part-time audio engineer and a world-class gift giver, have put together this buyer’s guide for the very best sound engineer gifts, from super-affordable to stunningly expensive – don’t worry, only a couple fall into the latter category, and most are quite reasonable.
This is a very long buyer’s guide, filled with dozens of fantastic ideas, but if you’re in a hurry I’ll lay out my top picks here:
- Best Present for Sound Engineers – Budget: Recording Unhinged: Creative and Unconventional Music Recording Techniques
- Best Present for Sound Engineers – Affordable: Behringer U-Phoria
- Best Present for Sound Engineers – Affordable Premium: Zoom H8 12-Track Portable Recorder
- Best Present for Sound Engineers – Premium: Allen & Heath ZED Series ZED-16FX Mixer
- Best Present for Sound Engineers – Cost-No-Object: AKG C12VR Reference Multipattern Tube Condenser Microphone
- And My Personal Favorite Gift for Sound Engineers: Sennheiser HD 820 Over-the-Ear Audiophile Reference Headphones
What Is the Best Present for a Sound Engineer?
Well, I have to say that the real recording and sound engineers I know – somewhat strange and obsessed creatures though they might be – are incredibly sweet, friendly and loveable people, as gracious as the day is long.
So really you could get them anything and they’d be pleased as punch. Socks, for instance. Everybody needs socks.
But what a sound engineer really wants is more gear. If they have 732 microphones already, the 733rd, regardless of its type, price or usage, will be their absolute favorite – at least until 734 comes along. And if they already have the very best 2,000 dollar audio mixer, and you buy them the best 500 dollar audio mixer, or the best 100 dollar audio mixer, they will be so pleased and excited that they might literally physically explode.
Socks might be appreciated, but won’t have this kind of impact.
This buyer’s guide for the best presents for audio engineers has three distinct sections:
- Hearing Protection – like socks, but for the ears, and a wonderfully thoughtful gift
- Recording Equipment – the biggest section by far, of course, and with some surprisingly inexpensive picks – mixers, microphones, speakers and headphones
- Books – ok, they might not be as exciting as a tube microphone (but really, what is?), but there are a few books on audio that any engineer – beginner to experienced professional – will find fascinating and invaluable.
But before all of that I am going to have a little preliminary Bonus Section, with a half dozen gifts that may or may not really fit in the other categories, but which are such singularly perfect gifts for sound engineers that I wanted to give them special emphasis.
The Best Gifts for Sound Engineers in 2024
Bonus Section: The Best of the Best
This is it – the very best under-100 dollar gift I can possibly imagine for any sound engineer. For a ridiculously low price, they will get a small, portable and beautiful sounding stereo recording mixer with two superb microphone preamplifiers, as well as an advanced high resolution digital interface so they can record directly onto their computer – literally everything you need, except for mics and musicians, to make a studio quality recording any time and anywhere.
A perfect portable or backup mixer for the professional, the U-Phoria is also the greatest gift I can imagine for a new or younger engineer, allowing them to make exceptionally high quality stereo recordings on their PC – in fact, combined with the Behringer C-2 Microphones, which are similarly cheap and excellent and come as a pair, you have a complete home or portable studio, and a thrilling gift!
An almost absurdly useful bag for any audio engineer, the Urban Adventure holds and protects even larger laptops, or portable mixers, and has a brilliant front organizer for cables, connectors, tools and, according to the manufacturer’s picture, Altoids. For a smaller, less expensive version – not for computers or mixers, but with a lot more organizing space for cables, mints and whatnot, the similarly beautifully made and brilliantly designed Cocoon Large Accessory Organizer makes another great gift for audio engineers at all levels and is cheap as cheap can be.
Honest, I’ve tried so hard to write one entire gift guide without a single t-shirt, but I can’t help it – I just love this shirt, and it really seems to capture much of what audio engineers love about their work.
I’m really just kidding about this, but now that I look at them they are quite nice, and it’s for a very good cause, so why not?
The Zoom H8 12-Track portable recorder is tailor made for any sound engineer, not just because of all its cool dials and lights (and to be sure, if the sound gal or sound guy on your list is a bit of a geek, it is a pretty amazing gadget), but because what engineers really want, above anything else, is to make the very best recordings possible, and the Zoom captures everything with incredible accuracy and fidelity and really beautiful sound. Plus it’s a full, if tiny, audio mixer and digital interface, and an incredibly useful and valuable tool in so many ways.
I don’t think there is an experienced audio engineer out there who doesn’t know about, and desperately want, this expensive, magical little box, which adds the legendary sound of the classic Putnam 610 tube recording console to any microphone. Even if they haven’t heard of the UA Solo, they will be head over heels in love with the sound it lends to their recordings.
Best Gifts for Sound Engineers – Hearing Protection
I’ll start off this guide to the best presents for sound engineers with some very affordable, very caring gifts that take care of any engineer’s most valuable asset – their ears.
Of course, unless the sound engineer on your list is your son, earwax cleaning products may be a little too personal, and even potentially insulting – although if you are mom, or want to go that way anyway, the Bebird Ear Wax Removal Tool Kit with a HD camera is apparently state of the art.
But without getting too personal there are a few really thoughtful presents for sound engineers that say you realize and appreciate how important their ears and their hearing are, and want to help protect and care for them.
There are a bunch of noise-cutting headphones out there, some quite expensive and all at least fairly effective, but the Beretta is by far the best, and a great way to protect hearing in dangerously or continuously loud environments.
Like the Beretta, these wonderful Tilwame reusable earplugs are the most effective of their type, but are a lot lower profile, for discretion, comfortable wearing and even for sleeping.
The Eargasm earplugs attenuate dangerously loud sounds but still allow for clear and accurate hearing, and are a brilliant and important tool for any sound engineer who works live shows or clubs.
To me there is something so touching and thoughtful about a present that keeps an audio engineer’s ears warm and snug, and the 180s Tec ear warmers are an effective, luxurious and affordable way to do just that. The above link is for the men’s version, but they also make the 180s Women’s Ear Warmer.
But while the 180s ear warmers are quite effective and very nice, the Stormy Kromer northwoods trapper hat is just plain cool – if you like the style, of course (and what engineer wouldn’t?) – and a very high quality premium gift at a reasonable price.
Best Gifts for Sound Engineers – Recording Equipment
The Best Microphones for Sound Engineers
It’s often said that there are two types of sound engineers – those who collect microphones and those who collect microphones.
And it’s true that perhaps the single most beautiful and desirable object to any sound engineer is a great microphone, so if you’re really stuck as to gift ideas I guarantee that you can select any one of these mics that’s within your budget and your recipient will be beyond thrilled.
After all, an engineer can never have too many mics, and loves playing with and exploring the sound of any microphone they can get their hands on – and these 10 choices are widely considered to be the best available at their respective level.
A holy grail among sound engineers and one of the most beautiful sounding microphones ever made – the single most overwhelming and special gift you could possibly give, if you happen to have a few grand burning a big hole in your e-pocket, that is.
A huge jump down from the dreamy AKG 12 above – at least in price – this Rupert Neve Signature is also one of the most desirable and beautiful sounding mics in the world. Still quite expensive, it is a steal compared to the AKG!
A new legend, the Blue Blueberry is smooth, detailed and so sweet, and is a superb mic for vocals and many other uses. Equal parts fascinating and useful, this is the type of microphone any engineer just can’t resist.
The classic AT4050 is still a pretty pricey microphone, but it is considered to be one of the truly great bargains in professional audio – a versatile multi-use mic that is sweet, smooth and incredibly reliable, and perfect for even the most demanding, high-level work.
While the Audio-Technica just above is a near-perfect affordable top-tier working microphone, this Royer is a bit of a dream piece – a gloriously beautiful sounding mic that recalls the true legends of the past fifty years. Still, it is fully up to date in design and technology, and is also a perfect multi-use working tool.
We are finally getting into what might be considered affordable for most of us, and yet the sE electronics 2200 mic is still an enormously desirable piece for engineers – that perfect balance of sweet vintage sound and true usability, this is the best professional microphone I’ve used at this level.
An incredibly useful and beautiful sounding microphone, the Sennheiser e609 comes quite close to top-tier mics, and is the perfect choice for a new or younger sound engineer, as well as a fantastic backup piece for the working professional.
The least expensive mic on my list of best microphones for sound engineers, the Behringer C-2 is even cheaper when you realize that you actually get two excellent mics! To me this is absolutely the perfect gift for any younger engineer or student, and gets my warmest recommendation.
The Best Mixers for Sound Engineers
There is nothing more confusing than buying a mixer. With thousands of choices these days, digital interfaces and effects, anywhere from 2 to seemingly 2,000 tracks, analog and digital inputs and outputs, even a seasoned professional can get a bit lost.
So I’m keeping it simple, with a half dozen mixers that are absolutely ideal for professional sound engineers – even the cheap ones (mixers, that is, not engineers), which are simple and easy to use, and while ideal for beginners are still essentially professional level.
Any of these six beloved and widely used mixers allow any engineer to realize the best recordings and live sound possible, and any of them would make a perfect gift.
Don’t worry – my other choices for best mixer for sound engineers are a lot less expensive, but if the recordist on your list is serious about setting up the best studio and making the best professional level recordings, this Behringer X32 analog/digital mixer is the answer – the finest mixer I know without spending tens of thousands of dollars.
If you know a sound engineer who is intent on making the very best recordings or running the very best sound possible, but you can’t quite stretch to get the superlative Behringer X32, this Allen & Heath ZED is the perfect choice. Absolutely top-tier sound from in to out, with incredible power and flexibility and industrial material and build quality, this is by far the best mixer under a thousand dollars.
For the audio engineer who is working live, recording or doing sound at concerts or clubs, this superb and relatively affordable Roland MX-1 is a dream come true – easy to use, incredibly advanced, totally capable and versatile and with beautiful sound.
An incredibly powerful and advanced audio mixer, the Behringer Xenyx provides professional quality, durability and versatility, as well as the legendary Behringer sound – or lack of sound – for a very low price, and makes a wonderful present for engineers on all levels.
A great mixer for beginners, the Yamaha MG10XU is incredibly simple to use, with a clean and intelligent layout, and is built like a tank. One of the most popular audio mixers in the world, the 10 really focuses on what’s important – usability and pure, honest sound.
In a world of flashing lights, often useless digital effects and row after row of perplexing controls, the super-cheap Mackie Mx8 is a refreshingly simple mixer that is incredibly easy to use, provides all the flexibility and power you’d need for a wide range of jobs, and has superb sound. Absolutely the perfect beginner mixer, and very highly recommended.
The Best Headphones for Sound Engineers
There may be nothing hotter in personal electronics these days than headphones, with seemingly thousands of new products, designs and technologies introduced each year.
Thing is, pretty much none of them is suitable for, or attractive to, a sound engineer.
No, audio engineers love and need the most flat, accurate and honest headphones available – the fun, bass-heavy, hyper-dynamic sound of something like a pair of Beats, for instance – or almost any mainstream headphones from JBL, Sony, Skullcandy, Apple or others – may sound great to us, but they don’t let an engineer really hear, with perfect fidelity, what the musicians, the microphones and the space sound like.
So here are five perfect headphones for audio engineers, from very expensive to quite cheap, all of which are exactly what sound professionals want and need.
Everybody and their brother makes what they call “studio monitor” headphones, but the top sound engineers – whether in the studio or on site – are all using 820s, which are not only the best, most accurate and honest headphones for engineering, but also one of the most beautiful sounding audiophile headphones for listening.
The brand new Edifier Stax Spirit S3 are the most honest, highest resolution and lowest distortion wireless headphones anywhere near this price, with an effortless and musical sound that is as disarming as it is truly useful for engineering. They are also super-cool, and a great pair of daily use ‘phones, and have the very best tech – including audiophile wireless circuitry and phenomenal battery life..
These beyerdynamic 990s are incredibly detailed and accurate, with deep, powerful bass and amazing imaging, and are the best value available today for top-level engineering. They are also comfortable, even during long work sessions, sound incredibly beautiful and are a joy to work with.
The legend, and the standard choice for music professionals, musicians and studios all around the world, the Sony MDR7506 are the best engineering headphones under a hundred dollars by far, and some would say they’re the best budget headphones period!
These Tascam TH-MX2 are the cheapest headphones I know that are good enough for sound engineering, with tons of detail, real neutrality and exceptional phase coherence and stereo imaging. For the beginning or younger sound engineer, this is a perfect gift that they’ll use all the time – not just when they’re engineering, but really all the time!
The Best Speakers for Sound Engineers
Just like with the headphones we looked at above, audio engineers don’t want speakers that have big, boomy bass, over-accentuated highs, artificially enhanced imaging or any special enhancements at all – which leaves out about 98 percent of the speakers on the market today.
And, just like the headphones, the best speakers for sound engineers can range from surprisingly inexpensive to second mortgage level, but even the cheapest ones can provide the neutral, accurate and high resolution monitoring that is perfect for recording engineers.
Please note that the consensus and overwhelming preference among studio engineers these days is for powered speakers, which can be fed right from the recording console without any need for an external amplifier. And so every choice here – even the least expensive – is for active, powered studio monitors.
The dream, and quite possibly the best studio monitor in the world, the big Adam Audio S3V would be a literally overwhelming present for any audio engineer at any level – though any of them would be happy to “settle for” a pair of Adam Audio S2V – but keep in mind that either way you go, their around 4000 dollar or around 2000 dollar respective price tags are for single speakers, and you’ll need to buy your uber-lucky gift givee two of them!
And here’s where I let you in on a little secret – Adam Audio monitors are widely considered to be among the finest on the planet, and have that knack for making any engineer’s work easier and better, but they make a few speakers which have the same knack and aren’t stupidly expensive. Any one of these, which are between 200-300 dollars apiece (remember to buy two!) would please and delight any audio engineer more than you could possibly imagine.
- Adam Audio T8V 8-Inch Powered Studio Monitor
- Adam Audio T7V 7-Inch Powered Studio Monitor
- Adam Audio T5V 5-Inch Powered Studio Monitor
- Yamaha HS8 8-Inch Powered Studio Monitor
An extremely popular choice for even very high end studios, these (relatively) affordable Yamaha monitors are known for adding nothing to the mix and revealing everything, warts and all – exactly what an engineer needs. Supremely neutral, fast and intensely resolving, with deep bass and extended highs, this is a top-tier speaker for engineering.
One of those classic speaker systems that somehow manages to offer the best of both worlds – real neutrality, transparency and accuracy on the one hand and disarmingly beautiful sound on the other – the KRK Classic 5 is a great choice for budget minded gift givers, or budget minded studios, and is also a very popular choice for engineers who want to use their monitors for both work and personal listening.
These are the least expensive studio monitors I know that can offer the kind of resolution and neutrality an engineer needs, and they are incredibly well made for the price – an amazing value on all levels!
Best Gifts for Sound Engineers – Books
One of the most admirable things about pretty much any recording engineer is that they are always trying to up their game, always trying to become a better audio artist and always trying to make better, more accurate and more musical recordings.
As such, the typical audio engineer loves books, and loves to seek out advice from others in the industry – audio engineering is, after all, one of the fields where you can learn so very, very much from experience, whether it’s yours or the experience and advice of others.
So I’ve put together a list of a half dozen of the best books in the industry, including classic reference, modern practices and beginner’s guides – and since engineers love books, but usually don’t collect them like they do microphones, any of these is not only a great choice but likely a new acquisition and fresh read for your gift givee.
by Tim Dittmar
The best introduction to audio engineering, and a perfect choice for a budding young engineer, or anybody just starting out, Dittmar’s book also ventures into advanced and professional realms, and can serve as a lifelong reference.
by David Miles Huber
The best book written for understanding and incorporating the latest techniques and technology into classic recording practices.
by James Wasem
A wonderful guide to the challenging work of making live recordings sound as good as studio work, this is a very helpful and very highly appreciated book.
by Bobby Owsinski
by Bobby Owsinski
These are the industry bibles for capturing and mixing music and sounds and achieving the best, most beautiful and consistent results every time – each book is indispensable, and together they cover every aspect of professional sound engineering.
by Sylvia Massy
A fun and fresh read which helps any working sound engineer think outside of the box, Massy’s acclaimed book is as inspiring as it is genuinely helpful.