Hot Topics - Summertime Cool Page 5

Nakamichi SoundSpace 2 Music System Cool Factor 9

Bose made boring old table radios sexy. By including a portable digital audio player with its SoundSpace 2 ($750), Nakamichi makes them cutting-edge as well. Lightweight but still substantial, the system uses aqua and sienna accents to relieve the case's gray and silver tones. The main unit has got the curve thing going for it, like the Nomad Jukebox, and at 9 x 7 x 11/2 inches, it's nicely compact, too. The top flips open to reveal stereo speakers, a digital readout, and two rows of small but easy-to-work controls.

The digital audio player, which sits cradled in a charger attached to the main unit, resembles an old-fashioned electric razor or a laser gun from a '60s sci-fi movie - in other words, cool in a very retro way. The player's display swivels up to match the angle of the main-unit readout, which makes it easy to check both readouts while you're lying in bed. You get all the information you'll need about the files you've downloaded to the player's 64-MB SmartMedia card, including playing time, track number, track name, encoding format, and bit rate.

The SoundSpace 2 also comes with an AC adapter and a small, podlike remote control that rests nicely in the palm of your hand. A CD-ROM includes Siren Jukebox PC software for creating Windows Media Audio (WMA) files and utility software for formatting the SmartMedia card and downloading and managing files, which you then transfer to the player via the supplied USB cable.

This is a table radio, so don't expect to rock out to it. That said, the sound was pretty open and detailed for such tiny speakers. Bass? Forget about it. But the 3-inch driver on the bottom of the main unit produced a solid lower midrange that will give you a bassy enough effect for late-night listening.

There's a collapsible FM antenna completely concealed within the case. Pull it out by the tip, swivel it up in the air, and you're ready to call your double agent in Moscow. The tuner pulled in about as many stations as the one in my much more expensive preamp, but it wasn't always able to lock them in.

The digital audio player plays both MP3 and WMA files, and its sound, whether through the main speakers or the supplied earbuds, was very good. And, like the iRock, you can use it as a voice recorder by talking into the tiny microphone in the base.

- Nakamichi America | www.nakamichi.com | 310-631-2122

Sharp MiniDV Camcorder Cool Factor 7

You wouldn't think it would be possible to cram professional-quality video recording and a wealth of high-tech features into a 71/4 x 43/4 x 33/4-inch case weighing less than 2 pounds, but it is. Sharp's VL-WD650U ViewCam ($1,050) lets you record in the digital MiniDV format - and thanks to the digital connection, you can hook it up to a computer or another camera for editing with as well. Its Zoom microphone works in coordination with the lens to pick up the sounds of whatever you're zooming in on. Slip in the supplied 8-MB SmartMedia card, and you can record stills, which you can then manipulate on your PC using the supplied PixLab software. Flip the LCD viewscreen 180º, and you can stand in front of the camera and see your own mug while taping. Closing the viewscreen brings the more traditional viewfinder atop the camera to life.

Along with the high-tech stuff, the ViewCam has pretty much all the standard camcorder features, like a rechargeable battery pack, VCR playback functions, effects like fades and dissolves, and digital image stabilization. There are also digital zoom settings to augment the optical zoom.

It might not be the most useful thing in the world, but I had a lot of fun with the Super Cat's Eye night-photography feature, which lets you shoot video footage or stills in no light at all. The possibilities are endless - and dangerous. If the images are murky, you can switch on an IR light that illuminates everything for 10 feet around, but with no one the wiser, giving your footage a whacked-out, Wolfen kind of look.

This camera doesn't have the best build quality I've come across, and the unnecessarily complicated loading drawer takes a while to open, receive the tape, and then close. It takes four steps to access on-the-fly features like manual focus, shutter speed, and exposure, but with many camcorders, you only have to hit a button to toggle one of these features on and off. And the various warning sounds jingle and ding like a Vegas slot machine, so when you really screw up it sounds like you've hit the jackpot.

That said, this is still a pretty complete little package that produces both first-rate video and first-rate sound.

- Sharp Electronics | www.sharp-usa.com | 800-237-4277

I came out of this little roundup feeling seriously converged. It's mind-boggling what they can get into smaller and smaller packages these days. All of this gear (well, with one obvious exception) is more portable than you would have thought possible a few years ago. And almost all of it will keep you amazed as well as amused. I don't think you could ask for a more able or entertaining bunch of companions for your summertime fun.


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