For years, the Bose Wave Music System has been a standard accessory for kitchen countertops. Two companies - B&W and Meridian - are trying to get a piece of that action with similarly sized but far fancier systems. The B&W Zeppelin ($599) is a sleek, aerodynamic take on an iPod speaker system, while the $2,995 Meridian/Ferrari F80 (reviewed in Experts' Guide to Great Gifts) adds DVD/CD playback capability, an AM/FM radio, and 80 watts of digital amplification.
DWV's Ferrari Art.Engine takes this form factor to a new extreme. With 16 woofers, two tweeters, 800 watts of internal amplification, and a billet aluminum chassis weighing 107 pounds, the $20,000 Art.Engine practically begs to hang out in 10-car garages filled with classic rides.
It's annoying to hear audiophiles deride the iPod for substandard sound quality, but if they won't listen to their kids, perhaps they'll listen to the KID - the Krell Interface Dock ($1,500). It extracts sound from an iPod using professional-style balanced-audio circuitry. You can use the KID with any amplifier, but Krell prefers that it bond with, of course, the Papa Dock ($2,000), a 150-watts-per-channel amp that cradles the KID and connects to it without wires. Add a pair of high-end speakers, and you have the world's most extravagant, extraordinary iPod audio system.
RIGHTING ROOM WRONGS
A room's acoustics have as much effect on sound quality as your choice of gear does. Until recently, getting the best sound from your room meant liberal use of unsightly acoustic-treatment products. Thanks to new high-powered digital-signal-processing chips built into A/V receivers and surround-sound processors, it's now possible to cure problems with acoustics by altering the signals going into your speakers. Just place a microphone so the receiver can "hear" what's going on in your space, then activate an automatic setup procedure and walk out of the room. Come back in a few minutes, and your sound is, in theory, perfect.
|Wisdom SC-1 speaker controller
But every manufacturer seems to have a different idea about the right way to do digital room-correction, so results will vary. One example is the Audyssey technology built into A/V receivers from Denon, Integra, Marantz, NAD, and Onkyo (the least expensive model is Onkyo's $300 TX-SR505) and the new Wisdom Sage in-wall speaker system (speakers begin at $2,250 each; the $6,000 SC-1 speaker controller is shown to the right). There's also the Anthem Room Correction System incorporated into Anthem Statement surround sound processors (the Anthem Statement D2 with the ARC-1 option is $7,499), or the RoomPerfect feature found in Lyngdorf Audio systems (Lyngdorf D1 processor with RoomPerfect: $15,000). The consensus among audio professionals seems to be that while none of these systems achieves true perfection, all can improve your sound significantly.
WALLS OF SOUND
The iPod has spoiled us. We've become so used to having immediate access to all the music we own wherever we go, we're starting to expect that same convenience at home. Digital technology delivers it easily. Just walk up to a wall-mounted control screen, or grab a home-automation touchscreen remote, or pull up a page in your Web browser, and you can scan your entire music collection - and, with some new systems, your entire family's music collection. Select a tune, album, or playlist, and your room fills instantly with sound.
All of these systems work in different ways, but the experience varies only subtly, depending for the most part on the graphic layout of the onscreen interface. NetStreams calls up digital audio from any computer or hard drive connected to your home network and plays it through compact digital amplifiers located in each room. (Prices run from $1,800 to $5,000 a room, depending on the source devices and control options.) Request's iQ system ($7,000 plus $500 to $2,500 a room for controllers) does most of the same tricks, but it uses a single, powerful multichannel amp for more oomph.
High-end speaker specialist Thiel Audio surprised CES attend- ees by incorporating similar technology right into its speakers; yes, the speakers themselves actually pull music and movie sound off an Ethernet-based network. The ThielNet system (price to be announced) works with stereo or surround sound, and it also runs wirelessly if using a network cable is impractical.
|Sennheiser MX W1 earbuds
As the iPod introduced millions of people to music on the go, it spawned a renaissance in the headphone industry. CES saw countless new models, but two in particular stood out - one for its modern technology and the other for its old-school vibe.
Sennheiser's MX W1 earbuds free you from those annoying wires that get tangled in your ski poles or your dog's leash. Each bud has a wireless audio receiver, a tiny amplifier, and a rechargeable battery. The MX W1 is among the first products to use Kleer, a licensed technology that transmits audio over short distances wirelessly and without data compression. The carrying case doubles as a charger for the earbuds.
|Beats by Dr. Dre
What do you get when a legendary rapper joins forces with a veteran cable maker? You get Beats by Dr. Dre, marketed by Monster Cable. Although the partners describe the style as "avant-garde," there's no denying the 1970s look of these big cans. The idea is to capture the fidelity of studio-style professional headphones. Whether the $399 'phones will become a common sight on the streetz, no one can say, but the fact that Monster offers an iPhone-compatible mike will surely make Beats more popular with technophiles.
Now if Monster would just come up with a 150-inch version of Beats, audio might get a little more attention at the 2009 CES.
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