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My Best Tech Gift Ever: Beatles catalog on a USB key

What do you get a guy who's probably seen every gadget imaginable? If he's a music fiend like Dan Ackerman, try a USB device packed with tracks by the Fab Four.

This USB key brimming with Beatles songs made CNET editor Dan Ackerman very happy.
Sarah Tew/CNET

Every day this week, a different CNET writer or editor will recall a tech or geek-centric present that left a mark. Read past stories by Eric Mack, Jeff Sparkman, and Jay Greene, and look for another installment tomorrow at midnight PT.

Maybe it's because I'm surrounded by this stuff every day, but traditional technology gifts tend to leave me cold. Even the memories of unwrapping game consoles or that first yellow Sports model Sony Walkman don't stand out in a best-gift-ever sort of way.

Beatles USB key
Sarah Tew/CNET

Instead, I turn to a more recent holiday gift, one that combines technology and art, importantly using the former in service of the latter.

In 2009, right on the heels of a pair of remastered CD box sets, the entire Beatles catalog was officially released for the first time in a digital format, but not as one might expect from iTunes or another digital download store. Instead, this was in the form of a limited-edition 16GB USB key in the shape of an apple (the Beatles finally did come to iTunes in 2010).

The 16GB USB key, tucked under the metal stem of the green-apple base, contained the 14 official Beatles releases in both 320Kbps MP3 format and, more importantly, 44.1KHz/24-bit FLAC format. FLAC is a lossless audio codec, so at least in theory, it's the best possible commercially available reproduction of the source material.

What's the best tech gift you ever got? Send your stories and photos to crave at cnet dot com (subject line: Best Tech Gift) for possible inclusion in an upcoming feature.

But beyond that (and beyond the cute-but-clunky Flash interface you can use to access the music and some mini documentaries about each album), it was a great way to give physical form to recorded music, something that's been missing since we all stopped buying CDs and started buying (or just streaming) digital music. It's not as cool as a stack of vinyl and a couple of turntables, but it's a great desktop conversation piece, and a reminder that digital music isn't just disposable ones and zeros.

Find a memorable gift for the people in your life by visiting CNET's 2012 Holiday Gift Guide.