Labor Day Buying Guide 2022: Cool Stuff for Those Not Into Quiet Quitting
2022 has been a memorable year for a lot of reasons and with the pandemic in the rear view mirror, inflation, the war in Ukraine, and a weird new phenomena called “quiet quitting” — those of us who get out of bed each and every day at 5 a.m. to support our families deserve to enjoy the fruits of our labor and don’t buy into this meshugas at all.
It must be a generational thing because nobody ever promised me a job or $9 smoothie — not sure why anyone would pay that much for a blended, frozen fruit drink with more sugar than 3 Mars bars but I digress.
Supply chain issues are impacting what’s available this year and if you think we’re being paranoid — take a look at the prices of almost anything and that includes electronics. We don’t need to tell anyone that gasoline, food, travel, and clothing are far more expensive at the start of Q4 2022 than they were in 2021.
We’ve been going through the first series of price sheets from a number of brands that would be considered very popular among consumers and audiophiles and everything is more expensive than it was at the start of the year. Expect to pay 20-30% more this year and going into 2023.
The amazing thing about the current round of inflation is that consumers are still spending; an informal poll of 23 audio manufacturers presented a mixed picture overall going into the start of the school year with companies projecting above average sales but also much higher costs that are taking a huge chunk out of their profits.
We are very fortunate to live in a society where hard work and long-term financial planning can create a really nice life for yourself and loved ones. We are consumers and that’s okay. Never feel bad about working hard and wanting nice things. People who stand on pulpits and preach that you are a bad person for wanting to enjoy the finer things in life are almost aways hypocrites feeding at the public trough.
Winter is coming. Donate new winter clothing to a local charity.
We might live in a very fractured society politically where everyone needs to be right all of time, get the last word in on Twitter, and the normal state of affairs is to mouth off to someone who cut you off in the deli section at Costco and then pull a weapon in the parking lot — but we still have it better than most of the world.
Think about other people. For some, it is almost unthinkable that they give up 2-3 days worth of Starbucks or overpriced cookies from Crumbl to help another person get a meal — but my gut tells me that a lot of people know it is the right thing to do.
Find a local organization that is donating toys or books and help a kid have a better Christmas or Chanukah. Donate a new school bag or series of books to someone who might need them.
Now that you’ve done the mensch-like thing and donated to charity, it’s time to splurge on something nice for yourself, kids, and the lady who made sure that your weekly time card was processed on time and you always got paid during each week of this miserable year. Our very different Labor Day buying guide awaits.
Be grateful. It could always be worse.
Rotel A14MKII Integrated Amplifier
The A14MKII (reviewed here) is an updated version of Rotel’s best-selling A14 integrated amplifier that has a lot of power under the hood. The chassis doesn’t give way just how much grunt there is under the ventilated top cover but it’s there.
80 watts/channel (8 ohms) of power makes this rather slim amplifier surprisingly powerful with bookshelf loudspeakers. It’s not going to drive 85 dB (4 ohms) loudspeakers into oblivion but the Rotel amplifier is not afraid to be driven hard. My experience with 4 pairs of loudspeakers did not require raising the volume that high to achieve very satisfactory listening levels.
A really solid integrated amplifier that flies under the radar at the price but is well above the norm and quite solid with numerous loudspeaker combinations.
Zero Tolerance Model 0357BW Pocketknife ($156)
The 0357BW is made in America and a recent addition to my collection – a working knife built for tough conditions. A 3.25-inch drop point blade gives users plenty of edge for cutting tasks. High-end CPM 20CV blade steel provides reliable edge retention and corrosion resistance. The 0357BW is an assisted knife that features ZT’s SpeedSafe® system. The blade opens easily and locks into place with a liner lock. The reversible deep-carry pocket clip works well with pants and the handle is comfortable in large hands. If you’re looking for a quality blade for work, or the outdoors – the ZT gets the job done.
Buy: $156 at Amazon
Pendleton Original Westerly Cardigan ($249)
Yes, the same sweater worn by The Dude. The Westerly cardigan was introduced in 1972 and has been worn by millions of men for almost 50 years. It may have come back into fashion following the Big Lebowski, but this amazingly warm sweater is still made in America and ideal for those of us on the larger side who need something warm and rugged for those really cold days.
I recently met (at the only trade show held in NYC) the folks from Pendleton and we have a fun article coming in September about the history of this sweater and how it became a huge part of pop culture.
Marantz CD60 CD Player ($995)
Don’t be the last person on your block to not own a CD player in 2022. CDs may not have experienced the same rebirth as vinyl, but millions of people still buy them and there are some exceptional CD players still available like the Marantz CD60 reviewed here.
The CD60 features an industrial design and sturdy build that not only looks good but contributes to stable performance free of unnecessary vibration. The chassis is quite large; perhaps even too large for everything that resides under the cover. Marantz is sticking with a similar chassis for all of the components in this lineup because it is easier to manufacture that way and there is a consistency to the industrial design that most buyers will like.
The Marantz CD60 has a rather warm and organic tonal balance and it is one of those components that makes even the worst recordings sound almost listenable; it does some truly wonderful things with DCC, MoFi, and JVC XRCD recordings that pushed the envelope when it came to digital recordings in the 1990s.
XTRATUF Deck Boot – 6” ($95)
One of the best parts of living on the Jersey Shore, is my access to the ocean. I can walk from my front door to the surf of the Atlantic Ocean in under 10 minutes. I run along the beach almost every day. It’s been a huge part of surviving the pandemic – both mentally and physically. Our local government closed our access to the boardwalk back in March 2020, but that didn’t stop me from fishing each week. Fluke and Bluefish are typical when casting from the beach.
So is getting really wet when the tide is in and the winds are blowing onshore. Canvas shoes don’t deal well with saltwater. I’ve tossed enough to know that boots like the XTRATUF Deck Boot are the real deal and especially tough. Wear a warm pair of socks and you’re protected from the elements. The fresh air will do you good. I wear them almost everywhere. Even to Starbucks for my $9 smoothies.
Schiit Audio Magni 3+ Headphone Amplifier ($99)
This tiny headphone amplifier can fit inside your hand and it’s almost hard to believe how much power, transparency, and resolution it is capable of delivering. For a more detailed description of its sonic capabilities, please check out our Schiit Magni 3+ review.
What makes it even more impressive, is its performance as a single-input pre-amplifier; I’ve been using it with the Acoustic Energy AE1 active loudspeakers for almost five weeks and while it doesn’t add the degree of color that I would like, it hasn’t diminished my sonic experience with the British loudspeakers at all. $99 for this piece of American-made audio engineering is a genuine bargain.
Buy: $99 at schiit.com
The Glenrothes 12-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($56.99/750mL)
The Glenrothes is an award-winning single malt Scotch whisky from the town of Rothes in Speyside, Scotland. My Rabbi has given me a bottle for my birthday for the past 10 years because I’m not the most sophisticated drinker – and he’s figured out that I really like this with my late-night vinyl listening. The 12 year-old Glenrothes matures only in sherry seasoned oak casks and is bottled at natural colour with a hint of vanilla, melon, and cinnamon. The distillery offers much more expensive bottles that can run closer to $200 (I’ve tried them), but this hits the spot on a cold night and will make you quite clumsy with your tonearm. Been there.
Buy: $56.99 at Caskers
At some point, the U.S./Canada border is going to reopen without quarantine rules, and you need to be on the road to Montreal for the best bagels in N. America. Some people prefer that other bagel place in Montreal, but Fairmount is the real Montreal bagel – which is vastly superior to New York and New Jersey bagels. The best part of the Montreal Audio Show is always the 6 am trip to Fairmount for the road trip home to New Jersey. There are none left by the time we hit the Garden State Parkway. Sorry kids.
For more information: fairmountbagels.com
Allagash White Belgian-style Wheat Beer
Brewed in Maine, Allagash White popped up on my radar during the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown in New Jersey. Our local liquor store was not allowed to let anyone inside, but they could bring it out to the curb. Sold in a package of 4, Allagash White features a refreshing balance of citrus and spice. Coriander and Curaçao orange peel round out the flavor and it’s a refreshing and not overly heavy beer that goes well with meat, pizza, and even sushi. A medium rare kosher ribeye is a personal favorite with this excellent beer.
I’ve had the chance to try a number of their other products this summer and this remains my favorite for its crispness on a very hot and humid day.
Buy: $12.99 at Amazon
HiFiMAN Deva Pro Wireless Headphones
The new HiFiMAN DEVA Pro (read our review) picks up where its predecessor left off, offering full-range, audiophile-grade sonics, whether listening via wired or via Bluetooth. The new model builds on the value of the original by incorporating two recent HIFIMAN developments – Stealth Magnet technology and Himalaya R2R DAC (digital to analog) architecture.
The Bluemini R2R dongle turns the DEVA Pro into a powerful wireless headphonewith superb dynamics and crystal-clear audio. In addition, the dongle supports such advanced high-resolution codecs as LDAC and aptX-HD, making it well-suited to most currently available high-definition streaming devices. Playback time is rated at eight hours.
Buy: $329 at Amazon
Lucky Foods Seoul Spicy Red Napa Cabbage Kimchi
Growing up, I was lucky to have access to a lot of Asian food. Toronto is best known for its Chinese food, but I ventured off the beaten path for Korean food when the first blasts of winter made their appearance. Kimchi (Kimchee) freaks some people out, and I’ve never been able to understand the “it’s too spicy” crowd who won’t go near it. It’s healthy, delicious with almost everything except for pancakes, and nothing like some great Korean BBQ with a few bowls of this excellent version that is very flavorful.
Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet with Assist Handle Holder, 12″, Red Silicone
Do you cook? Do you enjoy a properly grilled piece of meat or hearty serving of Shakshuka? Having worked in restaurant kitchens since the age of 14, I’ve made more than a few meals with cast iron skillets. Don’t be seduced by the $200 Smithey skillets online – the Lodge will last forever and cooks the same. Just don’t put it inside a dishwasher. Not ever.
Buy: $45 at Amazon
Q Acoustics M20 HD Speaker System
There will always be a market for high-end audio components but the future is clearly products like the Q Acoustics M20 HD Wireless Speaker System.
The $599 M20 HD Wireless Speaker system is similar in some ways to the Q Acoustics 3020i but with two big differences; more low end punch and a surprisingly larger sense of scale. Something that came in handy listening to Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and Mozart.
The M20 isn’t designed for a huge listening space but it had zero difficulty filling my dining room, home office, and den with excellent sound; transparent, spacious, and stronger bass than I would have expected.
It’s not particularly fussy about where you place it (you do have to connect the two loudspeakers together with the supplied cables), and while it did sound better on the 24″ stands I used in my den — it can work quite well on a credenza, media unit, or desktop.
Buy: $699 at Amazon
On Cloud 5 Running Shoes ($140)
My family finds its hysterical that I’ve made waking up at 5 am and running along the ocean in the dark a daily endeavor. Once upon a time, I was a scary person to play hockey against. I grew into my body at the worst possible time (when I was too old to play at a certain level) and then became the father of 3 wonderful kids. COVID forced me to double down on my heath and begin the process of getting back into fighting shape.
I hate running. I hate it a lot less wearing these super lightweight running shoes that work well for a large man who doesn’t have the most graceful running stride. The On Cloud 5 look rather sleek in Navy and have lasted a lot longer than some other more expensive running shoes that I’ve tried. These people make excellent shoes.
I love this shoes so much that I now own another pair for the coming cold months where I will be running in the rain and snow.
IFI Audio GO Bar Dongle DAC/Headphone Amplifier
The iFi Go Bar is certainly not inexpensive at $329 USD and that makes it one of the most expensive in the category filled with some excellent options from Questyle, CEntrance, Cayin, and Apogee.
iFi have never skimped when it comes to their products and the iFi Go Bar comes with everything you would need to get started; the package includes the Go Bar, USB Type-C to Type-C cable, Lightning to USB Type-C cable, and a small carrying case with a belt loop.
You do not need the Apple Camera Adapter if your iPhone still uses the Lightning connection and that was a really nice surprise to find that in the box.
The iFi Go Bar delivers power, reliability, support of almost every digital format, solid industrial design, and excellent sound quality. The price is certainly high but it is one of the best I have tried so far and I suspect a product that is going to make waves in the category considering the company behind it.
Buy: $329 at Amazon
Wills Cable Knit Wool Sweater
Have you ever flown across the country from S. California to New Jersey with stops in Winnipeg, Toronto, Sudbury? When a jacket won’t do and you want something to keep you warm on those long flights while some kid tugs at your wireless headphones and drools down the side of your seat — the Wills Cable Knit Sweater is a great option. I’ve worn one without a coat in Sudbury in some rather cold temperatures over a Merino t-shirt and I barely noticed the weather.
Wear it with jeans for a casual cool fit for everyday comfort, or dress it up by pulling it over a button down and pairing with chinos for a more refined look that’ll get you through even the longest family holiday dinners this year with relatives you don’t like.
Combine it with the 72-hour Merino Tee from Proof and you have a great combination that won’t stink even after 3 days — I took one for the team here.
Buy: $148 at Huckberry
Andover Audio SpinDeck Max Turntable
The Andover SpinDeck Max completes the circle from the Massachusetts-based manufacturer. With its fully automatic operation, flick the start/stop switch, and let SpinDeck MAX do the rest.
The tonearm will automatically lift from its rest position and start playing at the beginning of the record; at the end, it will lift up automatically and return to rest again. The design also easily allows the user to change turntable speeds or raise the tonearm with damped action.
The highly respected Ortofon OM10 cartridge features an elliptical stylus and light 1.5g tracking force. The cartridge comes pre-mounted with all tonearm settings pre-set for optimum performance.
A vastly underrated table that takes 10 minutes to setup and sounds ever better with an upgraded cartridge from Sumiko or Grado Labs. We’ve tried both and the uptick in sound quality was surprising.
Flint and Tinder 365 Pant
Having lost 43 pounds (and counting) since March, my body now allows me to wear these incredibly well made pants on a daily basis and always feel stylish and ready to crate dig or visit a manufacturer. The fabric wears and washes well and these feel like a bargain at a time when men’s premium clothing is getting beyond expensive.
These are cut like a jean but feel like a pair of dress chinos and everyone asks me where I get them. I like to get dirty in record stores or on factory floors in Binghamton and Toronto and these never fail. My wardrobe now includes 4 different colors and I can match them with t-shirts, dress shirts, and every type of jacket.
Buy: $98 at Huckberry
Criterion Collection Blu-ray Releases
I purchased my first Criterion Collection laser disc in 1989 from Tower Video while a freshman at GWU, and I’ve never stopped buying from them. With over 300 DVDs and Blu-ray releases, it’s fair to say that I’m fully committed to their exceptional restorations of classic films. Not every Criterion selection is my cup of tea, but 2022 has been a solid year with some excellent options.
Buy: $11+ at Amazon
Almost 78 years have passed, and there are few films that can rival the brilliant screenplay of this Billy Wilder gem. Dialogue is everything and Hollywood has seemingly forgotten that a film requires it to be great. Barbara Stanwyck could have charmed (or scared) the pants off of anyone and her fiery delivery in this noir classic is only matched by the brilliant performances of Edward G. Robinson and Fred MacMurray. It is somewhat appalling that an entire generation of moviegoers have probably never seen this cinematic hellfire that broke every rule and changed American cinema forever.
Buy: $27.99 at Amazon
Burt Lancaster plays the heavy in this rather brutal prison drama released in 1947 which was directed by Jules Dassin. The 4K transfer is a huge improvement over the version that was available for free on Hulu (before Criterion pulled its entire library) and the cleaned up monaural soundtrack is much cleaner sounding and free of the artifacts that were audible in the streaming version. Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, and Hume Cronyn star in this gritty film noir classic.
Buy: $19.99 at Amazon
Who doesn’t love a scary WW3 drama with a first-rate cast and the prospects of nuclear annihilation? Henry Fonda and Walther Matthau star in this Cold War thriller directed by Sidney Lumet that took the opposite approach of Dr. Strangelove and tackled the military doctrine of MAD with not one ounce of satire. Lumet’s decision to use a very small set and create an overwhelming sensation of claustrophobia only adds to the tension as the fate of the world is fought over. The 4K transfer offers a significant step-up in image quality; the DVD looked rather worn and dated.
Buy: $19.99 at Amazon
NAD C 316BEE V2 Integrated Amplifier ($449)
You can find our NAD C 316BEE V2 review here (and we suggest you read it), but we are pretty confident putting this on our list for 2022. NAD is clearly focused on the network amplifier category right now and that’s fine. But for everyone else who still wants a great sounding class AB integrated amplifier with an excellent MM phono stage – the C 316BEE is one of the top options out there. It’s more powerful in real life than the specs would suggest, and it will likely last a very long time in your system.
Buy: $499 at Amazon
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