iDeclare: Your portable music player is now your home music server (with photos, anyone?).
We've been writing about digital music and the various hardware options, including home audio servers and portables, for several years now. Among portables, there is no denying that the iPod is king, with a popularity that transcends mere market share. People have even taken to wearing the distinctive white headphones with any old portable stereo, in an attempt to achieve that iPod look, while many old-school iPod owners (yes, it's been around long enough to give rise to different schools) have switched to more traditional ear gear, just to eschew any sense of jejune trendiness. The iPod is standard issue here in New York, along with a little vial of pepper spray and a big scoop of attitude. Thanks to Hewlett-Packard, iPod technology is now available to the teeming PC throng, although we have never had an appropriate occasion to cover the iPod in the pages of Home Theater before.
Aperion makes a big deal out of selling direct. Frankly, this implied criticism of large chain stores has the fishy odor of opportunism. There are many worse places to buy speakers than a huge electronics store. You might, for instance, buy them from the back of a van in a parking lot, as our editors once did. Or you might leave a thick wad of bills on the sidewalk, using a rock as a paperweight, then come back the next day to see if anyone has left any speakers there. When you've exhausted all of those opportunities, call Aperion and say, "Help me, please. I'm not tough enough for the retail environment." You wouldn't be the first.
It's odd that when you're really good at one thing, people tend to forget that you might be good at other things, too. Take Babe Ruth. Everyone remembers the bat, but not everyone remembers that he was strong in the field, as well. The guy even pitched in the majors, winning 23 games one year. Let's see Barry Bonds do that, with or without steroids. Sony's situation is somewhat similar. Play quick association with the word Sony, and you'll most likely get the word "video," if not "televisions" specifically. Their video reputation is well deserved, but people sometimes forget that Sony has some solid audio products as well—products that are bigger than Walkmans and headphones.
Let's see. The CP 35 features a DVD player, receiver, and 7.1-channel speaker system that arrives packaged in one box. Around these parts, we'd call that a home-theater-in-a-box, but Harman/Kardon has wisely chosen the descriptor "home theater system" instead. I say "wisely" because the HTIB moniker brings with it certain expectations (for better and for worse), and Harman/Kardon doesn't want to confuse us reviewer types by forcing us to realign our expectations when evaluating this system. How thoughtful.
Flat-panel TVs—and the speakers that love to be with them—receive such obsessive attention from the press that you'd think all other forms of video display—and the speakers that love to be with them—had disappeared. Jamo has fed the trend with their remarkable 2F speaker system, which teams perfectly with a plasma display. But rear-projection sets are still around. In fact, with DLP-, LCD-, and CRT-based models to choose from, they're taking on slimmer shapes, waxing in both cool factor and diversity.
The speakers in my walls are probably more expensive than the paintings many art lovers have on theirs. That's because good sound is important to me. Fine art is wonderful, but I get as much pleasure from accurate loudspeakers as an art lover gets from an exceptional painting or object d'art. So it doesn't bother me that the SpeakerCraft Starlet 4 in-wall speakers cost close to $4,000 per pair. I'll gladly spend more to get the performance I want.
There is something to be said for 1080p. It is, after all, the so-called holy grail of HD. As far as the mainstream end of the market is concerned, there are only three displays available now that support it: This Sharp, the "mine's bigger than yours," 1-inch-larger Samsung LCD, reviewed in the April 2005 issue, and the Sony 70-inch LCOS (sorry, SXRD) rear-projection TV. If you have money to burn, there are several front projectors that are 1080p and cost more than a Camry—and a couple of plasmas that cost more than several Camrys.
Klipsch and Yamaha show that not every Spotlight System requires a second mortgage.
So far, we may have given you the false impression that the pages of this new column were going to be dedicated almost exclusively to the rarified air of the high end. After all, there has only been one installment so far that rang in under five figures, and last month's MiCon Audio system seriously blew the curve with a price tag roughly equivalent to that of a decent house in some parts of the country. Little did you know it was all part of an ingenious plan to build momentum for the column with flashy, big-ticket systems before settling in to the meat and potatoes of the A/V world—i.e., the systems the rest of us can afford. This month's Klipsch/ Yamaha combo is just such a system. Sure, it's not something you'll be able to buy with the change you find in your sofa, but it is certainly more attainable to a broader range of people than the MiCon Audios of the world are.
Early DLP projectors gave me headaches, literally. What's more, as little as 15 minutes in a darkened room with a DLP projector left me unable to read the printed word. I doubted Texas Instruments, manufacturer of the micromirror technology used in every DLP display, would ever have considered using me in one of their commercials. Imagine staring at large red and green dots while someone shakes your head violently enough that you begin seeing yellow. Welcome to my migraine.
McIntosh ranks among the best-known names in high-end audio. Since the company's inception in the early 1950s, McIntosh products, with their immediately recognizable black-glass front panels, have earned a place in homes of passionate audiophiles throughout the world.