Review – MER Holiday Gift Guide 2022 – Lifestyle Products

This holiday season, we highlight some very cool lifestyle products that range from warm socks to automated drink systems. Along the way we look at the Donner Silent Guitar, bev by BLACK+DECKER™ Cocktail Maker, Urbanista Los Angeles Solar Powered Headphones, Trombe Airborne Dust Cleaner TR-600TB, VKTRY Performance Insoles, Heat Holders socks, Speck iPhone Cases, Catalyst iPhone and iWatch cases, TWT Audio Headphones, and the Vintage Home Power Plant. Read on for our reviews.


Donner HUSH-I Silent Guitar

Every guitarist at some point in their lives, has had someone come in while they were practicing and tell them to keep it down. The guitar is not exactly a quiet instrument (which, some would say, is the whole point!), and it can be hard to find a place to play where you’re not disrupting someone else’s space, especially if you live in close quarters. That’s where silent guitars come in: these deceptively small tools are often loaded with electronics to let you play directly to headphones, allowing you to keep the music to yourself.

The Donner HUSH-I is an exemplary silent guitar. It’s made from high-quality materials, is easily portable, and its onboard audio sounds excellent. This diminutive instrument’s mahogany build has quite the minimalist form, which is somewhat reminiscent of an autoharp or a box zither, and I adore its looks. Its ergonomics can take some getting used to if you’re not used to small or semi-hollow guitars, though, since the weight is almost entirely in the neck and not the body. Fortunately, Donner includes removable metallic frames that look like a Stratocaster’s double horns, and which make this instrument substantially more comfortable to play sitting down. The short-scale neck may also require an adjustment period if you’ve only ever played full-scale instruments.

The HUSH’s components are all housed in the body of the guitar, including its tuners, since there is no headstock. Tuning this guitar is something of a struggle, because the knurled knobs are tight and require a good amount of pressure to turn by hand. Fortunately, the HUSH has a place to store an onboard Allen wrench that slots into the tuners, and they stay locked when you play and aren’t liable to go out of tune. The HUSH is equipped with a compact Piezo pickup that captures the sound of the strings clearly and with minimal hum. The onboard active electronics are powered by an included 9V battery, and include your standard Volume, Low, and High controls, along with a Phase button to invert the signal and better reduce hum. There are three outputs total: two 3.5mm headphone jacks, one marked for headphone use and one marked for speaker use, and a common quarter-inch jack in case you want to hook up to an amp.

For a silent guitar, the HUSH is actually somewhat loud when playing totally unplugged! But once you plug it in, it really shines. Through headphones, the guitar sounds remarkably clear and warm. Plugging into a speaker system can be a bit risky, though, if your speakers are running hot and the phase isn’t set properly. But it always feels like a little thrill to play your guitar through a desktop, and I appreciate that there is a separate jack specifically for doing so. Although I think it sounds best through headphones, the HUSH also sounds terrific when played through a regular amp. It’s evident that a lot of care and thought went into this instrument’s output.

Donner has also thrown in a bunch of goodies to make sure that players do not start off empty-handed. The HUSH arrives inside of a gig bag, and includes the frame pieces, an Allen wrench, a clip-on tuner (which is a little tough to figure out given the lack of a headstock), earphones, picks, a cleaning rag, a user manual, and a 9V battery to power the electronics. It’s not always guaranteed that manufacturers will send along anything more than a guitar in a box, and all of these extras included is a lovely gesture.

The Donner HUSH is a stellar traveling guitar, and its price is right. If the guitarist in your family is often traveling or practicing too loud, we recommend this guitar as a great holiday buy.

Thomas Fogel

For more information the Donner HUSH-I Silent Guitar visit:


bev by BLACK+DECKER™ Cocktail Maker

We’ve attended several events sponsored by Bartesian, and their demonstration is simple. Choose your drink of choice, put the capsule into the unit, and a perfectly mixed cocktail is quickly at hand. It’s that simple.

The recipes for the best holiday parties always include the ingredients to ensure all the guests are happy – a delicious menu, a fun theme, groovy music – what’s missing? If you forgot to hire the mixologist, no worries, bev by BLACK+DECKER™ Cocktail Maker will provide any festive gathering with the perfect on-demand mixed cocktails or mocktails in just seconds.

The recipes for the best holiday parties always include the ingredients to ensure all the guests are happy – a delicious menu, a fun theme, groovy music – what’s missing? If you forgot to hire the mixologist, no worries, bev by BLACK+DECKER™ Cocktail Maker will provide any festive gathering with the perfect on-demand mixed cocktails or mocktails.

Select up to four 750-ml bottles of your favorite liquors or non-alcoholic beverage to connect to the bev, and then choose a premixed Bartesian cocktail capsule – they all include real ingredients such as juice, extracts, and bitters. Bev will provide an individually mixed drink, made to order for any guest’s request. The easy-to-use bev can be adjusted to control the amount of liquor in each drink, from mocktail to strong. And pre-measuring and barcode technology means a perfect mixed drink every time. You can even adjust the settings to make your own signature cocktail.

Bev is the perfect complement to any gathering, or for times when you’d like to chill out on the couch and be served your favorite drink, without the need to hire a bartender or fill the shelves with ingredients.

So whether you say slainte, sköl, prost, l'chaim, or just plain “Cheers!”, let bev by BLACK+DECKER™ Cocktail Maker be your personal bartender this holiday season.

For more information on the bev by BLACK+DECKER™ Cocktail Maker visit:™-cocktail-maker


Urbanista’s Los Angeles solar-powered noise canceling over-the-ear headphones

Do you hear what I hear? Some people look forward all year to the holidays just to delight in the unique sounds of the season. This year, Urbanista’s Los Angeles solar-powered noise canceling over-the-ear headphones are a wonderful way to treat your ears to your favorite tunes all year round. They are comfortable, wireless, and self-charging – the perfect gift for the environmentally conscious techie in your life!

How do these headphones do it? A layer of Powerfoyle™ solar cells are built right into the headband. So, as long as the Los Angeles headphones are exposed to sunlight there’s no need to stop and find a power cord to charge them up - although they can also be charged the old-fashioned way with a USB-C charging cable, which takes approximately three hours. We were a little suspicious and were glad to discover this is no gimmick. The patented Powerfoyle™ technology is an important part of the story, as the Urbanista Los Angeles headphones are the first of their kind to utilize this new approach to energy conversion.

Wear them around town on a sunny or partly cloudy day, or inside near a natural light source and they will keep on charging. After use, we left them on a table near a window which worked just fine to elevate the charge level. A full charge will get you about 50 hours of ANC (active noise canceling) playback, and about 80 hours when the ANC is turned off with just a touch of a button. The longer-than-average battery life is a wonderful feature and it’s super convenient to reach for your headphones and find them fully charged when you need them, even when you’ve forgotten to plug them in.

The sound might not be quite equal to what you’d expect from higher-end phones, but they get the job done, with solid bass and crisp midrange tones at a very reasonable suggested price of $199. They run on Bluetooth 5.0, and we found that the range was superior to many other wireless headphones, and allowed us to travel up to about 80 feet away from the source (a cell phone) before the sound started to drop out.

Both comfortable and stylish, the Los Angeles phones are covered in soft vegan leather and are available in Midnight Black or Sand Gold. The ear cups are soft and cushioned so they feel pretty nice to wear, but can get a little sweaty on a warm day. One drawback - neither of our testers have particularly large heads or natural hairstyles, and they found the headphones to be rather snug and not something they’d want to wear while out on an extended walk. We imagine that they might feel a bit tight for some users, especially when wearing glasses or using them for longer periods of time. We would also caution against trying to bend them in an effort to try to stretch the width – they do have a little bit of flexibility, but the headband could break if handled too strongly, according to another tester’s report.

So listen up – the Los Angeles solar-powered noise-cancelling headphones from Urbanista come highly recommended.

Nancy Burlan

For more information on the Urbanista’s Los Angeles solar-powered noise canceling over-the-ear headphones visit:

For more information on Powerfoyle™ solar cells visit:


Trombe Airborne Dust cleaner TR-600TB

We have been testing a number of air purifiers of late, and since spending more time inside the home since March 2020, we’ve all had a better appreciation of living with intentionally cleaner air. The Trombe Airborne Dust cleaner is a unique solution that takes advantage of a patented approach to drawing a higher flow rate then other solutions. According to the company, “Trombe uses Swirler Vortex Technology (SVT) and Aerodynamic Noise Control Technology (ANCT) to quietly pull in airborne particles from areas that are 30-40x larger than traditional air purifiers without spreading dust. Swirler Vortex Technology (SVT) replicates a tornado vortex providing a strong suction to pull in airborne particles from areas that are 30-40x larger than traditional air purifiers. The inlet vortex is five times stronger than the outlet force, so air impurities are directed into the inlet, eliminating the spreading of dust.”

To put things in perspective, we have two cats who, although they are wonderful companions, spread hair, dust, and dander into every corner of our house. Trombe Air Inc. president Burt Lancaster, statedthat, “the average person takes between 20-22,000 breaths a day, the majority of which occurs indoors, either at home or in the office.” This confirms that we have been breathing in quite a lot of dust, in addition to the cats’ contribution.

Other purifiers we have tested tend to be noisier, whereas the Trombe is said to produce a sound level of 36db at its highest speed. In our experience over the past several months bears this out – it really is so silent, I’m often curious if it’s working at all. Its design is a sculptural “Y” shape, with one opening as the intake, and the other is the exhaust. It’s white with a faint blue glow in operation, and is a nice contrast to the usual rectangular box design. It’s a simpler device, yet it does contain an activated charcoal filter for odor and gas emission control, and its filters can be cleaned when the color of the light changes. It has a washable pre-filter, and a true HEPA filter to keep the dust in the filter, not blown back into the room. But wait, there’s more: a 2AH USB port, to charge your phone! This is a small but much-appreciated and practical detail. Trombe recently held a successful Indiegogo campaign, and we’re happy to support that effort.

For more information the Trombe Airborne Dust cleaner TR-600TB visit:


VKTRY Performance Insoles

Most folks think they know all about insoles. You know, the foam things that come in your new shoes. Occasionally, those wear out and that’s when you’ll need to purchase replacement insoles, either for more cushioning, or a specialty model for higher insteps, or to aid with Plantar fasciitis. Either way, most of the time, insoles are pretty much the same – a little foam, a bit of padding, and different color fabric. There are also specialized, often expensive, orthotic insoles, purchased normally in consultation with a podiatrist, and some insoles are designed for serious athletic use.

My own experience with this was when I purchased my first pair of Chuck Taylors, only to find they killed my feet. I gave up on them until twenty years later when a friend suggested some Birkenstock insoles. And voila, my feet no longer hurt, but it was clear that wearing them for sports was a huge mistake.

We were approached recently by the fine folks at VKTRY Performance Insoles, who explained how they came to create their own line of insoles, with a priority on fit, health, and performance. Unlike every insole we’ve seen, these are quite beautiful and stylishly cool, with a glistening carbon fiber pattern. Uniquely, if you try to fold them in half, they spring back with a snap, as they were designed to have a strong recoil energy pattern.

Accordingly, with every step you take, they provide a bit of lift and recoil energy, that provides a bit more spring in your step. VKTRY has a full line, from the Gold VK Carbon Fiber Performance Insoles to the Silver VK Insoles designed for more aggressive use. Lastly, their Platinum VK line of custom orthotics was created in conjunction with a board-certified podiatrist. We tried the line Gold VK insoles, which are designed for normal sporting use, as well as casual every-day walking. We used them in our athletic shoes for over a month, and found that they supported the claims made for them. In fact, after using them, we can’t imagine going back to any others. No matter if you are seeking higher performance for your sport of choice or more power in your step, we recommend VKTRY Performance Insoles.

For more information on VKTRY Performance Insoles -


Heat Holders

It’s winter, and no matter how warm your shoes are supposed to be, a cold slab floor, high energy costs, and freezing temperatures all add up the same thing: cold feet. As a former mountain guide, I’ve tried every combination of knit, material, and process for socks, so I have a pretty good sense of them.

So, when we met with the folks from Heat Holders at a recent Pepcom Digital Experience trade show, we took them up on their offer to take them for a cold weather spin. We tested their socks in a variety of different styles. I tested the Heat Holders Men’s Joshua Solid Crew Socks in Black, and the Men’s Bruce Contrast Worxx Crew Sock in Back/Yellow. Nancy tried the Heat Holders Women’s Camellia Solid Crew Sock in Black, and theHeat Holders Women’s LITE Dahlia Solid Crew Sock in Black. The Joshua Solid Crew socks were not tight fitting, but they do have a defined heel, arch, and toe design.

According to the company, “Heat Holders are the creators of the world's warmest socks. Heat Holders socks are over 7x warmer than regular cotton socks and 3x warmer than ordinary thermal socks.” We can report that they are indeed toasty warm!

We did find the interiors of the socks generated a bit of fuzz and lint, so we found that washing them inside out was a good move. One attribute that will be appreciated is that they don’t pick up much of an odor, even after extended heavy use. While socks might not be the most romantic holiday gift, they are a tradition, and these are sure to be a hit all winter long. For warm toasty feet, we recommend the Heat Holders socks!

For more information on Heat Holders socks visit:


Speck iPhone Cases

Speck is one of the oldest names in cases. Looking back, I think the first time I met with Speck it was at either MacWorld SF or Boston many moons ago, and they were offering cases for the newly introduced iPods. This is to say that Speck has always been at the ready for each new product, from phones to tablets to earpods, as well as computers. We looked at their new line of iPhone 14 accessories, including the Presidio 2 grip iPhone 14, Presidio 2 Pro, and the Presidio perfect clear.

All the cases worked as expected, and our tests showed they protected in falls, and protected the phone from jars, scratches, and more. Speck has a large line of cases, that protect a wide range of products in addition to phones, so we encourage checking them out.

For more information on Speck cases visit:

Catalyst – Cases

We’ve written about Catalyst’s reputation for their line of tough-as-nails cases. Over the years we have tested their cases for the iPad, Apple Watch, and iPhone. All have the same characteristic build quality – they are bombproof, water resistant, and stylish. We looked at their Apple AirTag cases, and you know what? They work very well. Great cases for a new product line. If you have a new Apple iPhone, Catalyst has you covered.

Their Total Protection case for the iPhone 14 Series is as good and tough a case as you can find. The Total Protection case is a bit pricey, but let’s face it, an iPhone 14 isn’t exactly bargain basement, and deserves serious protection, so we nominate a case from Catalyst for that task. We also liked The Influence for iPhone14 Series, with Magsafe Ring, The Crux Cases for iPhone 14 Series with Magsafe Ring. Top-notch, well thought-out products.

One of their strongest product lines is for Apple Watch. Their WaterProof 330 case is rated at yes, 330 feet or 100 meters underwater. We were not able to test that function ourselves, but we did use in the shower and bath, and there were no leaks. The Active Defense case isn’t waterproof, in fact it has more than 200 breathable vents for sports use, and it carries a 10-foot drop rating. The Vibe case for earbuds rounds out the perfect holiday gift list for the mobile phone lover in your life. Catalyst also offers a full line of Tempered Glass Screen Protectors, and a variety of highly recommended cases for the Apple Watch, Samsung, Google, and other devices.

For more information on Catalyst cases visit:


ThinkWrite Technologies – TWT Audio

TWT Audio, a subsidary of ThinkWrite Technologies, is a new brand showing off affordable audio products. Normally, ThinkWrite works with the educational market, and their designs are designed with two goals: superior audio at an affordable price, and (a mandate from their work in the K-12 world) their products must be abuse proof.

Just introduced, TWT Audio is the new consumer-facing sub-brand of ThinkWrite Technologies, a leader in the $1.4 trillion U.S. education sector. According to the company, “TWT Audio promises to offer ‘shockingly good’ headsets and headphones at a surprising price that everyone can afford. Developed in the U.S. under the guidance of three-time Emmy award-winning audio engineer Mark Howlett, TWT Audio products work with acoustics to deliver a more natural, enjoyable listening experience, guided by core principles: audio and optimization, comfort and durability.”

So, that’s the company line, and we wondered, just how good are these new audio products? One thing we liked is that you can exchange parts, from ear cups to cables - all are easily swapped out. Our readers know that we love low-cost audio that performs, and we are happy to say that we were pleasantly surprised. The sound was open, believable, and belied its low price point.

We tested the REVO 300 headphones and the TWT 220 headset-headphone combination. Another of their products not included here is the 250XG Victory Gaming Headset, is on our list of future products to review.

We think that if you want a sleek new audio product based on older well-established brand, look to TWT Audio’s tough, affordable, yet good sounding headphones and headsets. When they say their headphones are “Ultra Durable” we believe them! And, at an approximate cost of $30, they’re truly a bargain!

For more information on TW Audio visit:



Vintage Home 4-Port USB Red Power Charging Station With Artificial Faux Plastic Green Grass

The sight of healthy, green plants in a home or office setting can add a soothing and calm touch and enhance the lives of the human inhabitants. But, there are places where artificial plants make moresense, especially in environments where it is just not practical to have a live plant that requires water to survive near technology, which does not need water! Plus, not every workplace environment has sufficient light or the proper temperature to allow plants to thrive. The Vintage Home Power Plant combines the elegance and beauty of plant life into a desktop charging dock – a nice, stylish change from the usual nondescript black plastic boxes that house most charging stations. Vintage Home has put some thought into a line of visually pleasing products to charge your devices from freestanding plants to small desk sized versions.

One of our favorites is a wooden rectangular planter design, less than one foot long with three vibrantgreen grass faux plants “growing” in it, complete with a small shelf to hold a phone, and a four-port USB A charger. Charging never looked so nice! According to Vintage Home, it features a “super fast charge – 75% faster charge than a normal charger.” Its timeless design is “a modern aesthetic of the mid-century, turning your head immediately - with clean lines and a modern look that can complement any style in your home,” which we agree with.

If the clean lines seem faintly Scandinavian, that’s because their design aesthetic refers to that part of the world. Vintage Home states that they are “dedicated to the spirit of Hygge (hoo-gah), a Danish word used for moments that are intimate, cozy, and special.” We found that the Vintage Home 4-Port USB Red Power Charging Station With Artificial Faux Plastic Green Grass provides an antidote to the usual soulless charging solutions we are used to, and it brightened up our offices. As we went to press, Vintage Home had a great deal, purchase something on the site, and get a free charging station! Till the end of the year. We liked our sleek red-finished unit, as a nice complement to the green grass, but they have two other woodgrain finishes available as well.

For more information on the Vintage Home 4-Port USB Red Power Charging Station With Artificial Faux Plastic Green Grass visit:

Happy Lifestyle Holidays to All!

Harris Fogel, Nancy Burlan, Thomas Fogel, Frank Schramm, Posted 12/6/2022