David’s Take: My Real Life Tested 2020 Holiday Shopping Guide

Every year at about this time I usually write about the things I’ll be bringing to CES, the annual consumer technology show held in Las Vegas around the first week of January. Since there will be no physical CES 2021and no pilgrimage to Vegas, I’m writing this holiday gift guide instead.

Through 2020, I have tested and reviewed a long list of products across a variety of categories. Based on this in-depth testing, I have put together a gift guide that includes the items I consider worthy to be gifted based on my personal experience, not to mention gear that I have actually purchased throughout the year.  Below are my favourites for 2020.

Three Tributes audio CD Perfect for anyone who appreciates the sounds of a chamber orchestra, Three Tributes is a music CD (and accompanying booklet) featuring three magnificent original scores from award-winning composers, performed by world-class musicians. The works were commissioned by musicians and brothers James and Robert Freeman. The recording quality of this CD is of top notch making it a perfect source when I am analyzing and reviewing audio systems, regardless of their price level. Running this CD through Dolby Surround Upmixer, DTS Neural X and AuroMatic unfolds the sense of being in-the-room-with-the-musician quite realistically. 

Quincy Jones “Q Soul” audio CD Testing audio equipment doesn’t need to be based on nose-in-the-air music alone (although there is nothing wrong with that!). Quincy Jones’ Q Soul Bossa Nostra audio CD showcases clean and dynamic recordings with very wide frequency response that will easily trip many audio systems.

Technics AZ70 ANC TWS Earbuds For the first time in my life, I’m completely satisfied with the performance from ANC TWS earbuds. The big bass (but not overly so), fit, ANC quality and TWS stability of this Technics set have inspired me to rediscover many of my older song selections all over again. At $329, they are on par with other reference-level ANC TWS on the market… but I would say…better.

Creative Outlier Air II TWS Earbuds This is a pair of budget earbuds that are just too good for their own good. What I mean is that these buds are not only clearly better than their predecessor, but also have a very similar quality (if not better) than Creative’s own Outlier Gold which are priced higher than the Outlier Air II $89.99 MSRP

Panasonic UB9000 Reference UHD Player If you care at all about 4K disc presentation for your home theatre, you’ll need the best performing spinner available. Although it’s lacking in the playback of DVD-A and SACD, when it comes to video playback from BD and UHD-BD, this is the best player ($1,299 MSRP) that’s available on the market. And yes, it is better than the Oppo 205 (currently being sold at $2,000 or higher on the used market) and one that I used to own.

Nvidia Shield Pro Streaming Box I’m absolutely certain that anybody who is streaming video doesn’t always stream in 4K. This means that any video lesser than 4K will be upscaled to 4K somewhere by either the source unit, receiver, or the display unit. The AI 4K up-scaler of this $259.99 unit bests everything I’ve seen thus far. If you use a 4K display and use any type of streaming at all, you NEED this unit.

Nextbase 622GW Dash Cam This top-of-the-line quality dash cam is the best unit I’ve tried regardless of price. The image quality, 4K/30 capability, night vision with image stabilizer and a full range of features and doo-da’s, makes the $499 Canadian MSRP an absolute steal.

Divoom Ditoo Pixel Art “Thingie” It’s difficult to categorize this unit. It’s a pixel art display, a Bluetooth speaker, alarm clock, an MP3 player and internet radio streamer. It is the most stylish “thingie” I’ve ever seen. The retro look and fun things it can do makes Divoom Ditoo, albeit the high price (C$209.99/US$160 through Divoom webpage), worth the purchase. The Bluetooth speaker function itself is surprisingly good. Its built in 10W of digital amplification and passive radiator produces sound much greater than what this miniature unit implies. By the way, it plays Tetris too!

FiiO Q3 THX AAA DAC/Amp As people are more and more leaning towards their phones and/or portable devices for audio listening, the need for better DAC and headphone amps are getting more important everyday. FiiO, using THX AAA amplification and AK4462 DAC chip, just released this wonderful unit just in time for the holidays. Available at various Canadian vendors at around $210. Yes, it is currently my reference headphone DAC/amp by surpassing the quality of my used-to-be reference, Parasound Zdac II.

JVC NX7/RS2000 True-4K Projector I know this is insane, nobody I know will actually gift a projector of this calibre. However, I have to include this projector due to its bang-for-the-buck when compared to ANY true-4K projector of any model of any brand. Not only is it fully equipped with JVC’s industry-best and exclusive frame-by-frame HDR Optimizer, but recently it’s been upgraded with Theater Optimizer to maximize the projector for even better viewing conditions regardless of the light interference or screen used. 

Happy shopping everyone!