ALMOST THIRTY YEARS AGO (can it be?) the compact disc promised "perfect sound forever." Two decades later the iPod, iTunes, and their ilk offered all music, everywhere, all the time.
Today, the first innovation is in decline while the second - despite all the quibbles about data-compressed sound quality, piracy, and the degradation of music into a disposable, mixable, mashable commodity - is ascendant. And yet, some few of us are ungrateful enough to want both; the convenience and ubiquity of iPod-like music files, and the listening experience that digital audio at its best can deliver.
Of course, the people in Hell want ice water too.
But our deserts may be a bit more promising. Sound+Vision has rounded up three approaches to "better sound, at least for now." Two, SRS Labs' iWow and Bongiovi Acoustics' Digital Power Station, are entirely iTunes-centric; one, Prosoft's Hear is a Mac/Windows all-audio-source solution, but all three promise, to one degree or another, to empower listeners to right the wrongs done to music by digitizing it, bit-squeezing it, and reproducing it via tiny earbuds or 10 cc computer speakers.