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5 Retro Tech Gifts for Dads

These gems combine yesterday's craftsmanship with today's technology

the tivoli audio twenty twenty sitting on a counter

Courtesy Tivoli

Tivoli Model One Digital (Generation 2).

En español | The father who regrets throwing out his old reel-to-reel tape deck or obsesses over a record collection gathering dust can still receive an ideal gift that combines yesterday's craftsmanship with today's high-tech features. Here are a few ideas.

FM radio with streaming technology

If you remember brands like Nordmende and Grundig, then you'll appreciate the retro design of the wood-encased Tivoli Model One Digital (Generation 2) tabletop FM radio. Its cloth-covered speaker evokes the high-fidelity stereo systems of the ‘60s. Resembling a small piece of furniture, it's available in a variety of veneers.

Tivoli has updated this FM radio with streaming technology. It can connect to your home Wi-Fi network to stream online music or to a smartphone via wireless Bluetooth.


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Once online, the time automatically updates, so you'll never see a flashing 12:00 again or miss an alarm because of daylight saving time. Along with listening to local FM radio, you can beam any music source from your phone to the Model One Digital, including Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify or any of the thousands of radio stations streaming online from around the world.

To match its appearance, the Tivoli radio delivers a rounded sound. It has no ragged edges on high notes, and the bass is never overwhelming. Throw on some Doors songs or tracks from Bread and this radio's buttery sound will take you back to a time when Sunday mornings meant pancakes, maple syrup and FM radio.

Price: $350

Ultramodern headphones

Made by a family-owned audio company based in Brooklyn, New York, Grado Reference Series RS2e headphones look like they're straight out of a 1930s spy movie. But these on-ear headphones produce state-of-the-art sound that will please any music lover.

The antithesis of the popular plastic Beats headphones that are all bass and no subtleties, Grado's headphones are handmade with mahogany wood enclosures and leather headbands. The open-back design makes listeners feel like they're sitting with the band.

The headphones’ tube-amp sound — the highest of audio technology before transistors became common in the 1960s — handles the rumble of classic rock and the glissandi of jazz equally well. Even violins and cellos sound limpid and natural. For music lovers missing live performances, the Grado RS2e model is as close as you can get to the real thing.

Price: $495

A high-tech turntable

Spinning platters, featherweight tonearms, and albums with extensive liner notes and cover art are back in vogue. The warm sound of records is now appreciated as an antidote to tinny digital streams.

A blue record player

Courtesy Pro-Ject Essential III

To appreciate it all, you need an updated turntable. The Pro-Ject Essential III Sgt. Pepper is an exquisite example of the genre, with a belt-driven platter and straight 8.6-inch tonearm with sapphire bearings. It comes with a Ortofon OM10 cartridge, which contains the stylus or needle, already mounted.

With its lacquered finish and dangling anti-skating counterweight, the Pro-Ject Essential III is a work of high-fidelity beauty. It's also available in several variations, including the my-first-record Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band edition, a psychedelic homage to the Beatles’ classic.

Price: $500

A quieter, cleaner grass trimmer

Invented in 1972, the original Weed Eater was a clunky, exhaust-spewing tool for yard work that could awaken an entire neighborhood trying to sleep in on a weekend. Still, it was great for quickly cutting grass and weeds that the lawn mower couldn't reach. It allowed you to get to spots that previously had to be cut by hand.

Thankfully, it's no longer necessary to mix gas and oil, because power tools have gone electric. The Ryobi One+ 12-inch String Trimmer is cordless and includes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that's compatible with scores of other Ryobi power tools. This makes the gadget lighter (around 7 pounds) and quieter.

Generally, gas-powered trimmers top out at rock-concert levels of around 100 decibels (dB). Electric models are considerably quieter, at about 80 to 84 dB, which is roughly equivalent to a living room stereo.

The string trimmer charges in 90 minutes. In tests, it lasted for well over 30 minutes, even when faced with heavy weeds and ferns. The tool produces a lot less vibration, too, making it less tiring and easier to manipulate, so Dad doesn't inadvertently chop down the roses along with the weeds.

Price: $90

A keyboard for touch typists

The clamor of dozens of IBM Selectric typewriters laboring away in an office is music to many people's ears. But aside from the nostalgia, the bouncy, clickety-clack of those keyboards brought a certain feel and responsiveness to typing that was lost with the advent of the cheap silicon contact keyboards used on most computers today.

Now you can get that bounce back. A small industry is devoted to producing keyboards designed for typists, artists, gamers and those of us who long for old-fashioned touch typing.

Many of these keyboards use Cherry switches under each key, not the hardwood but a German computer peripheral device manufacturer. These switches that register each keystroke come in several varieties, depending on whether you want a silent keyboard, one with a light touch or something noisier.

The ASUS ROG Strix Flare Cherry MX with Cherry's MX Blue keys has a medium feel for touch typists. So it's not too stiff, and it has a satisfying clickety-clack sound.

The keyboard comes with a USB port for connecting a mouse, has a detachable wrist rest and is fully programmable. The individually backlit keys can be set to light up in a rainbow of colors for flashy gaming or one color for those who need help with legibility.

Price: $130

John R. Quain is a contributing writer who covers personal technology, vehicle technology and privacy issues. His work also appears in The New York Times and PC Magazine and on CBS News.

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