Sonuus i2M Musicport Signal Converter

The Sonuus I2M Music port is a great little device that provides a USB Audio input for guitar or other instrument via 1/4 inch jack.

Here are the things I appreciate the most about it:

  • Small and portable
  • Compatible wth iOS, both ipad and iphone via usb camera connection kit
  • Powered by USB only
  • Converts audio to midi so you can play any of the many virtual instruments on iOS with guitar. (Try the Moog app–very cool sounds!)

-- Matt Stark  

Sonuus i2M Musicport Signal Converter

Available from Amazon

Splash Tunes Speaker

I am a confirmed podcast listener following several shows a day. I usually start listening in the morning in my shower. I’ve been listening using an external speaker sitting outside the shower but, with the volume needed, voices were sometimes distorted.

I wanted a waterproof Bluetooth speaker that I could put close to my ear inside the shower. Given the environment, I didn’t want to spend a lot on a item subject to spray and accidental falls.

The Splash Tunes has been a good in-shower speaker. I’ve been using it for a few months now with no problems. The suction cup lets me put it at ear level on the shower wall making voices clearly understandable over the water noise.

It also has speakerphone capability but, not being one to answer the phone in the shower, I don’t know how well that works. Volume and pause controls do work well and the rubber-membrane covered buttons give good tactile feedback.

A good low-cost choice for wet environments when you don’t want to worry too much about damaging a more expensive product.

-- Ron McCoy  

Waterproof Wireless Bluetooth Shower Speaker

Available from Amazon

Turn a Cheap Smart Phone into a Great MP3 Player

A great way to obtain an excellent MP3 player is to re-purpose an old smart phone. I bought an LG 800 (new in box) off eBay for $10 with free shipping.

Just don’t activate it (unless you need a phone, that is). It will come with a micro USB charging cable. Charge it up, slip in a micro-SD card, put it in airplane mode (longer battery life), and presto you have an excellent Mp3 player. I have used one for over a year now and love it.

I suggest adding a grippy style cover so you can hang onto it. The protective cover will just cost a couple of bucks and you can even install a lanyard to keep the small phone around your neck while working out.

The LG 800 has a full size (3.5 mm) stereo audio jack, so no adapter is needed. Just plug in your favorite set of ear buds or headphones. The music player works great and has a slider, so you can easily jump to different parts of a podcast/audio book. I have had purpose-built MP3 players before that made this nearly impossible; you would have to sit there holding the fast forward button for 5 minutes or so.

After a few seconds, the screen will go blank while playing audio files (to save battery life), and so that you don’t accidentally turn it off or skip forward or back. Just push the center button and another onscreen button to access the music player app. An attractive “now playing” screen shows the cover art with a slider and rewind/FF buttons. Volume adjustment is done with a toggle button on the side of the phone.

Besides being able to play podcasts and songs, you also get a built-in camera, calendar, to do list, memo pad, alarm clock, and many other functions. It does not have wi-fi, but if you want your re-purposed smart phone/MP3 player to be able to be used as a small tablet, just skip the LG 800 and go with an older Android smart phone that you can buy for $30 or so on eBay. But the LG has inherent advantages — better battery life (about 10 hours of continuous listening) and it is small.

To get content onto it, simply connect it to your computer and allow it to go into connect mode — at which time you can drag and drop Mp3 files into it. This will keep an older device out of a landfill and will serve you well as a modern “Walkman.”

-- Justin Lamar  

[Some cheap phones on eBay have "bad ESN" (electronic serial number) in the description. It is a hassle to activate a bad ESN phone with a mobile carrier, but you can still use it as an MP3 player. -- Mark]

Cheap smartphones
$1 and up on eBay


I’m a chronic insomniac, and often listen to music or podcasts in the late watches of the night. SleepPhones headphones have been a godsend. Basically they’re soft, low profile headphones in a fleece headband. My husband gave me the wired version a couple of years ago, and they were an immediate hit. I have fallen asleep wearing them fairly often.

The sound quality is okay, maybe slightly soft and mushy, but they are so astonishingly comfortable and perfect for bedtime listening that it doesn’t matter. You can pull the band down over your eyes like a sleep mask as well. The fit is a little loose on my smaller-than-average head, but it still works fine. Also a small sideways adjustment will lower the volume a bit, which can be either a feature or a bug. The speakers can be removed so that you can wash the fleece band, though I’ve yet to need to do this.

I own the wired version of these, and the wire is a bit in the way, though if you run the wire straight up and over your head, it works better. I’ve just discovered that there’s a wireless bluetooth version, and I hope to upgrade to them in the near future.

-- Amy Thomson  


Available from Amazon

Guitar Pick Punch

As an amateur guitar player, this is a fantastic tool that allows me to achieve the following:

1) Save the environment by recycling plastic
2) Save money through making these for myself and friends
3) Experience different sounds through different plastics and thicknesses

I have used this tool for a year and all my friends have also benefited. This tool is compact yet quite heavy duty. It also allows me to make picks from hotel key cards which makes for great souvenirs. Highly recommend every guitar player keep one of these handy.


-- Paul  

Pick Punch

Available from Amazon

FlexSMART Wireless In-Car Bluetooth FM Transmitter

My car doesn’t have an auxiliary port jack, let alone a fancy USB or iPod connector. I’ve tried headphone jack-to-cassette adapters but they fail after a few months. I a tried headphone jack-to-FM transmitter but I could never keep them positioned for good reception. Both solutions required using my phone (if I could find it under the seat it slid under) for playback controls.

Finally I found a Bluetooth-to-FM transmitter that solved the issue for me. The GOgroove FlexSMART X2 connects to your media player via Bluetooth and to your car radio via a tunable FM transmitter. It has a microphone on the device so you can use it as a hands-free speakerphone. It also includes a USB port for charging your device and an line-in jack to connect a Bluetoothless device.

I purchased the model where the adapter is on a long stem because my car’s power outlet (formally the cigarette lighter socket) is near the floor. The stem brings the adapter close to the front of my radio, close enough that the radio gets a clean signal at all times. (A version of the adapter without the stem is also available.)

I’ve had the GOgroove over a year and a half now and it has been worth every penny. While I initially bought it for podcasts and music, it turns out it is great for voice over GPS navigation as well. Finally I can actually hear the instructions.

I’ve only run into a few issues, mostly during the initial setup. I had a problem with static on the FM signal when using the USB charger. I found tuning to a higher FM station mostly resolved that problem (I only use the charger on long road trips anyway).

I also had a problem with volume at different times. In general you want to turn the bluetooth volume from your device as loud as possible, then control the volume you hear with the radio volume. I found doing this I could use my normal radio volume setting. If I did switch to radio it didn’t suddenly blare because I had to turn it up for my phone.

However the iPhone seems to set all Bluetooth volumes separately and they have to be set via the Bluetooth device. I thought I had a problem with the Siri volume not working properly even though I would increase the volume on the phone. Instead I had to activate Siri, and turn the volume up via the GOgroove. I did this once and the volume level has been remembered correctly since. I had to do the same for ringtone volume as well (trickier in that I had to wait for someone to call me, then get the volume up before voicemail kicked in.)

The only ongoing issue I’ve had is that in cold conditions (< 20°F in the US Midwest) the radio doesn’t connect immediately as it does in warmer weather. I turn the GOgroove off, wait about 30 seconds, and turn it back on. It connects immediately after that. Not sure if this is a problem with my car radio, or the GOgroove, but it’s only a minor inconvenience. My final concern was with security and privacy. I’ve not had a chance to test how far away from my car it’s possible to tune into my signal but radio waves can be weird and picked up much further away from the broadcaster than you might expect. Using the microphone on the device your side of the conversation is via encrypted bluetooth only, but any response from the other person is broadcast FM radio. If you have Siri read a text to you, it is being broadcast as well. As it is, I avoid most of the handsfree interactive stuff and just use it as a podcast/music/GPS player.

-- Kevin van Haaren  

GOgroove FlexSMART X2 Wireless In-Car Bluetooth FM Transmitter

Available from Amazon

Tingsha Cymbals

I’ve used these humble, handheld cymbals for two years running, and they have become an invaluable part of my meeting facilitation toolkit.

I often convene large groups for collaborative working sessions, brainstorming exercises, PechaKucha presentations and the like. When trying to keep 50-60 creative people to a fixed schedule, transitioning from one activity to the next can easily eat into your productive time. Enter tingsha cymbals: one strike of the cymbals produces a high, pure ringing sound that instantly cuts through the chatter and brings everybody to attention–with a relatively low volume output.

Designed for meditative purposes, these cymbals are a portable, low-tech cool tool for corralling large groups.

-- John Appiah-Duffell  

“Om Nama Shiva” Tingsha Cymbals 2.5-inch

Available from Amazon

Blue Piston Wireless Rechargeable Speaker

One of the drawbacks I have found with iDevices is the limited way they have of sharing sound with others. They work great with an ear bud. You can buy a splitter and have two people listening at the same time, but they have to be close together. Their speaker system is hardly loud enough. You have to be sitting right beside it to hear it. As always, when a problem occurs, industry is quick to find solutions. This problem has been answered with a profusion of speakers that can be used with them. Many of these are not really portable in that you would not carry them around since they are too large. They produce great sound but they are best used in one place. I prefer to have a speaker that is more versatile, one that I can easily take anywhere with me. Logiix has the perfect solution for me, having come up with the Blue Piston Wireless Bluetooth Speaker. I have been using it for about fourteen months and it has worked perfectly for me.

The Blue Piston Speaker gets its name from the compact circular design. You are not limited to the blue color as there are seven colors to choose from, of which blue is one. It is lightweight (180 grams) and compact (Dimensions: Height – 5 cm (2″) Diameter 6 cm (2.5″)), which is perfect for traveling. The Blue Piston even fits in a car’s standard drink coaster. This speaker is designed to communicate seamlessly and wirelessly with any Bluetooth device. The wireless component gives you the freedom to place your speakers anywhere you like. This portable bluetooth speaker has a brushed aluminum military grade shell and built-in low frequency resonance system for a clear sound. The maximum volume that you can get out of it far exceeds what the iPad can give you. You will be able to blast the sound all through the house if you want.

Getting started with the Speaker is a snap. The first thing I had to do was to make sure it was fully charged. I plugged this into my USB plug. It has a special cable that links the speaker to any USB charging plug or your computer. A red LED on the speaker indicated that it was charging. The light turns off when fully charged. It typically takes about two or three hours to fully charge. My biggest complaint with most bluetooth devices is the charging life. The batteries always seem to need recharging. The Blue Piston lasted way longer than any other bluetooth speakers I have tried in the past. The full charge easily lasted 8 hours. The on/off switch helps to decrease the loss of battery life and the speaker is able to turn itself off after about 15 minutes of inactivity. When the speaker’s battery starts running low, an alert tone will sound every 30 seconds and the red LED will start to flash.

This speaker has a couple of extra functions. Besides the charging cable, it comes with an auxiliary cable to link the speaker to any other speaker via the headphone port. This means that the Blue Piston can be used as the speaker for any audio device, even if there is no bluetooth capability. Another plus to this speaker is the ability to control an iPhone. There is a built-in microphone. To answer a call, simply press the multifunction button and start talking. Pressing it again, ends the call. To reject a call, hold down the button until you hear an indicator tone (about 3 seconds). This then provides a hands-free iPhone that you could use when driving.

Lastly, the Blue Piston comes with a small carrying pouch which will hold the speaker and the two cables. That way, you won’t have to look around for the micro USB charging cable when you need it, as infrequently as this occurs. The speaker also has an anti-slip pad attached to the bottom of the base. The only function missing from the speaker that many other bluetooth speakers have is a volume control on the unit itself. You’ll have to rely on the volume control on the source device for that.

The Blue Piston Speaker was mainly made for enjoying stereo sound superior to the iPad’s built-in mono speakers. I like that I can move the speaker to almost anywhere in the house and still enjoy the audio. It has a range of about 10 meters as long as there are no walls in the way. I took it to my basement and there was no loss of fidelity. And the sound quality is superb. It comes with a one year warranty.

For the size, convenience, and price you will not find a better speaker out there.

Logiix Blue Piston Rechargeable Bluetooth Speaker

Available from Amazon

Dime Tech Waistband Portable Voice Amplifier

I earn a living explaining tech to people, but I have a rather soft voice. That can create some challenges, especially when I want to talk for several hours at a mini maker faire. I did some research on and opted for this portable voice amplifier. It worked very well for my needs at a recent mini maker faire. I was able to speak for several hours without going hoarse. It has rechargeable lithium batteries.

The limitations of this device? Sometimes it squeaks with feedback if you turn up the volume to the highest settings. The device is loud enough for my needs without turning it up all the way.

Another useful purpose for this device is for use at CoderDojo meetings — where children sometimes make presentations about computer programming. At one such meeting I attended, a very bright 2nd grader was explaining about the Python program she is working on. If I had owned this device before her presentation, I would have loaned it to her — and her voice would have carried further back into the room.

I’d strongly recommend this device as a purchase for school and public libraries, as some community members might need to use such a device just once or twice a year — and it might not make sense to purchase the device to own privately for such sparing use.

-- Phil Shapiro  

Available from Amazon

Korg nanoKey2

Only 20 years ago, it was almost unimaginable to have the ability to easily carry around an entire recording studio’s worth of high-end music production equipment on a laptop computer, but that is exactly where we are today. Pros and hobbyists alike can create any type of music, anywhere, at any time, by just pulling out their laptop, setting it down on a flat surface in front of them, and digging into any number of the great Digital Audio Workstations out there. Now, one thing that hasn’t changed is that notes still need to be input by hand. If you’re not working with a touch screen or, reasonably so, have a distaste for trying to enter notes on a QWERTY keyboard, a portable MIDI keyboard is a must have.

The Korg nanoKEY2 is a highly portable USB MIDI keyboard that can easily fit into a baggy jacket pocket, or be tucked into a backpack/messenger bag, taking up the same volumetric space as an average paperback. At only about 13″ wide, 3.25″ deep, and .75″ thick, there’s not much of a footprint to keep a mobile composer from having a keyboard on their person at all times. The nanoKEY2 has basic midi functionality, like Octave up and down, Pitch up and down, Sustain, and Modulation, all with back-lit buttons featuring varying levels of intensity to indicate how many steps up or down it is, a great feature to keep things simple but clear. Its 25 keys are organized like a piano, but a clear concession to portability set the sharp/flat (black) keys on a distinct row above the natural (white) keys, which will be odd to piano purists. The keys themselves feel more like laptop QWERTY presses than a natural piano key touch, but are still pressure sensitive. Finally, for connectivity, it has a micro USB port to get it connected to your laptop, simple as that.

Korg’s nanoKEY2 may handle strangely at first touch, but the fact that it can so easily be taken anywhere make it an excuse breaker. There’s no excuse to miss an opportunity to get a musical idea down with this really cool tool tucked into your laptop bag. At about $50, it doesn’t crush the wallet either.

-- Josh Eyre  

Available from Amazon