Shelf systems are struggling to remain viable, and they're adopting satellite radio connectivity, connecting with MP3 players, and turning into compact surround systems to remain relevant.
Here's what various suppliers plan to introduce:
Audiovox: The CE546XM 60-watt MP3/CD microsystem is XM-ready and features digital AM/FM tuner, 20 station presets, clock with alarm, CD-R/RW compatibility and remote control at a suggested $129.99.
GPX: A $99-suggested XM-Ready home music system, due in April, is a compact shelf system with top-load CD player capable of playing MP3- and WMA-encoded CDs. The main chassis is 5.8x8.1x5.7 inches.
JVC: The company will continue to offer three microsystems with DVD-audio/video players and 3D Phonic virtual surround technology to replicate a 5.1-channel soundfield.
Among seven new shelf systems, three power up automatically when an MP3 portable or other portable audio device is connected to a system input and the portable's playback button is pressed. This new feature is called Quick P-Link.
JVC continues to offer USB connectivity in microsystems with the launch of the five-CD UX-G50 and five-DVD UX-G70, both with tray changers. They're called Power Micros because of their 240-watt output. The former features two-way speakers; the latter features three-way speakers, DVD-Audio/Video playback and 3D Phonic to replicate a 5.1-channel soundfield. It's the company's first microsystem designed to cosmetically match flat-panel TVs.
Like last year, the two other DVD-AV microsystems with 3D Phonic sport sake-soaked wood-cone drivers. One is the EX-A11, which features full-range wood drivers, JPEG-CD playback, MP3/WMA-CD playback, Quick P Link, wired USB and solid-cherry speaker enclosures. The EX-A10 is a two-chassis system with separate DVD-A/V player and brushed-aluminum chassis.
LG Electronics: A DVD microsystem planned for March availability with three-way speakers retails fort a suggested $299 and ships in April. It wasn't verified at press time whether the system would incorporate virtual surround technology.
Panasonic: Although they won't be displayed, three new minis and three micros are planned for 2006. An elevator-style five-disc changer (play one/change four) will appear in Panasonic minis for the first time. All three minis at a suggested $129 to $199 will have the changer as well as MP3/WMA-CD playback and front-panel “musicport” mini jack, allowing for the amplification of music from a connected MP3 player. The top model gets three-way speakers and separate subwoofer.
Three executive-style microsystems start with a $79-suggested vertically oriented single-CD system. A $99 model adds cassette, MP3/WMA-CD playback, and musicport. At $149, consumers get the five-disc elevator-style changer and bi-amped, bi-wired speakers.
RCA: The brand is expanding its selection of CD-ripping shelf systems to five from one and bundling 256MB MP3 players with three of them.
All are microsystems designed for first-time MP3-portable buyers who might be intimidated by PCs.
Ripping systems starts at a suggested $69, and systems with bundled 256MB player start at a suggested $129. Two times ripping speed starts at a suggested $179. All five play MP3/WMA discs but encode only in MP3. Bundled MP3 players play only MP3 files.
The models start with the $69 10-watt single-disc RS2046, due in the second quarter. The 80-watt $99 RS2048 is due in the summer with five-disc changer. The 100-watt single-disc RS 2054 at a suggested $129 is due in the second quarter with bundled 256MB player. Two-time ripping speed starts with the $179 160-watt five-disc RS2058, due in the second quarter with onboard DRM support.
The $249-suggested 160-watt RS2100 is also bundled with 256MB player, delivers 2x ripping speed, has a five-disc changer and wirelessly streams music from a PC with accessory wireless-USB dongle. It ships in the summer.
Sharp: The company's first USB-equipped microsystems for North America are the XL-UH260 and UH240, which use their USB host port to connect to an MP3 player to amplify and control the player.
Due in April at a suggested $179.99, the UH260 incorporates MP3 and WMA decoding, 230-watt amplifier, five-tray CD changer, an AM/FM tuner, and Music Glow feature, which lights up the speakers to the beat of the music. The unit supports CD, CD-R/RW, MP3 and WMA playback capability.
The $149-suggested UH240 offers the same features but drops output to 180 watts, offers different cosmetics and ships in March.