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MP3 Portables Come Home At CEDIA

9/05/2005 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Home audio companies of every stripe will try to leverage the popularity of the iPod and other brands of headphone MP3 players during the CEDIA Expo, where the selection of iPod-controlling A/V receivers and distributed-audio systems will spike up.

At least five companies — ADA, Crestron, Niles, Oxmoor and Russound — will join SpeakerCraft and Sonance in offering iPod docks that let consumers play back their iPod's music from any room in the house (see p. 25). They'll join a growing selection of home audio receivers that control docked iPods and reproduce their music files through high-quality audio systems, many of which incorporate technologies to up-scale an iPod's two-channel audio into multichannel audio.

Companies planning to show their first iPod-controlling receivers are Denon, Harman Kardon and Pioneer, joining current and new models from Onkyo USA and Integra.

Installers here will also find at least one new docking station equipped with speakers and an amplifier. It will be displayed by speaker supplier Monitor Audio and join models from Klipsch, Bose and a host of others.

Advocates don't see iPods serving as a home's main music server but as an adjunct, enabling users who download music to easily play their downloaded or PC-based songs at home without using headphones and in rooms that lack a PC. Music-server advocates also point out that their dedicated home models have the capacity to store a far greater selection of songs than iPods, particularly in the high-quality uncompressed WAV format whose enhanced sound quality is more likely to be heard through high-quality architectural and box speakers. Server makers also point out that most home servers are multizone models enabling users to play multiple songs simultaneously in different rooms, whereas the iPod is limited to playing one song at a time.

To Ray Lepper, owner of Richmond, Va.-based Home Media, it makes more sense to network a distributed-audio system to a music-laden PC, which can act as a multizone music server.

ReQuest's sales director Hank Finke believes an iPod interface makes the most sense in A/V receivers as a modest, single-zone way to listen to iPod-stored songs in higher fidelity.

Whatever niche it carves out in the home, iPod connectivity is as hot as the housing market right now — at least among suppliers. Here's what installers will find:

iPod-Controlling Receivers

Denon: The company plans to announce iPod and other-brand MP3-player connectivity for its previously announced AVR-4306 receiver, joining two previously announced two-speaker home theater systems with similar capability.

The $999-suggested S-101 and $1,599 S-301 2.1-channel virtual-surround systems each feature DVD player and Dolby Virtual Speaker to deliver multichannel sound from two satellite speakers.

Both systems control and recharge Apple HDD players through a front-panel connector. They also display photos from Apple music/photo players on a connected TV. The 301 adds the ability to control and recharge non-iPod MP3 portables equipped with USB port.

With both systems, the portables' metadata appear on the systems' front-panel display or on a connected TV screen, allowing song selection via the included IR remote. On a TV display, the iPod menu appears as it does on the iPod LCD screen. Both shipped in August.

The $1,999 two-zone AVR-4306 receiver, which is also XM-ready, offers the same iPod and USB-MP3 player functionality as the 301. When its second-zone output is used, consumers would be able to use an IR- or RS-232-based in-wall control panel to control basic iPod functions such as play, pause, stop and track up/down. The players' menus and metadata, however, wouldn't appear on the control panel. It ships in October.

Harman Kardon: The Bridge to the 21st century is the $69.99-suggested The Bridge, an iPod docking/recharging station that connects to four new A/V receivers: the AVR 740 (which does not have a suggested retail as yet), $899 AVR 340, $599 AVR 240 and $499 AVR 140.

The receivers are the company's first to connect to The Bridge to display the iPod's navigation menu on their front-panel display or on a connected TV. Each receiver's included remote controls the iPod menu, allowing for remote-control selection of songs by title, artist and genre.

The Bridge is compatible with third-generation or higher iPods, including the iPod photo, although it doesn't control the display of photos stored on the iPod Photo. Its metallic-blue finish with blue illumination matches the receivers' cosmetics.

The $499 AVR140 is a 6x40-watt receiver; the rest are seven-channel receivers.

The AVR 740 is an A-BUS-ready 7x85-watt receiver that's XM-ready and streams XM programming to multiple rooms in an A-BUS distributed-audio system. It's also the brand's first A/V receiver that up-scales 480i and 480p sources up to 1,080i through its HDMI output.

Integra: Parent Onkyo USA previously launched an iPod-connecting docking station for its Onkyo and Integra-brand receivers. The $100-suggested dock, called the Remote Interactive Dock, connects with four new Integra receivers that will be displayed and with most Onkyo audio products produced in the past 10 years through a bidirectional remote interactive (RI) port.

Onkyo's docking station is compatible with third- and fourth-generation iPods, iPod Photos and iPod Minis. The Onkyo components' remote will control the iPod's play, pause, stop, skip and shuffle/repeat functions but doesn't allow song selection by title, artist or genre.

The four new A/V receivers are also XM-ready and due in November at suggested retails of $600, $800, $1,000 and $1,400. All are two-source, two-zone models.

The $600 DTR-4.6 is a 5.1-channel model with 5x90-watt output. Dolby Pro Logic IIx, DTS Neo:6, and 6.1- and 7.1-channel surround formats become available in the $800 DTR-5.6. The $1,000 DTR-6.6 and $1,400 DTR-7.6 add THX Select2 certification, which provides THX Surround EX processing modes. The 7.6 adds two HDMI 1.1 inputs and one output.

Onkyo: Three new receivers that connect to the company's iPod dock are also the brand's first XM-ready receivers. They are the $1,000-suggested TX-SR803, $800 TX-SR703, and $500 TX-SR603X. The top two are THX Select2-certified. All are 7.1-channel models. The top model adds two HDMI inputs. They're rated at 7x105, 7x100 and 7x90 watts into 8-ohm loads, respectively, and ship in October.

Pioneer: The three-source, three-zone Elite series $1,700-suggested VSX-74TXVi and $1,400 VSX-72TXi are Pioneer's first two XM-ready receivers and first iPod-controlling models. They display iPod menus and scrolling song titles on their front-panel displays and on a connected TV. Through each receiver's remote, consumers can select songs for playback by title, artist and genre.

When the receivers are connected to one-way IR-based and two-way RS-232-based distributed-audio systems, consumers could use in-wall keypads and touch screens to control basic iPod functions from remote rooms. The functions include such as on/off and track up/down. Codes for those functions will be posted on Pioneer's Web site.

Satellite radio and iPod menus would appear on remote touch screens only if the touch screens have a live video window that could display the receivers' OSD.

The receivers play up to three separate sources simultaneously, but whether in single-zone or multizone mode, the receivers stream only one XM channel at a time and one iPod song at a time. Their built-in seven-channel amplifiers drive two zones, while the third zone is driven via a digital output, by an outboard amplifier with digital input.

iPod Distributed-Audio Systems

Crestron: The CEN-IPOD is a two-way iPod dock/charging station that integrates with any Crestron touch panel-based distributed-audio system. A touch panel's GUI will duplicate the iPod's display, allowing for big-screen viewing of artist name, song title and disc title. It controls all iPod functions.

CEN-IPOD features RCA outputs, CAT-5 audio outputs and Ethernet ports. It's compatible with all iPods but the original and with the iPod Shuffle. iPod Photo images can be displayed on the touch panels. It ships in November at a price to be determined.

Niles: The IntelliControl ICS (Integrated Control Solutions) features the first Niles distributed-audio receiver to accept modular cards, including tuner cards and iPod-control cards.

The $2,799-suggested GXR2 receiver, due in the first quarter, is a six-source, six-zone model with 12x60-watt amp and six bays, which accepts a mix of AM/FM tuner modules, XM modules, Sirius modules, iPod-interface modules and source-input modules, which connect to CD changers and music servers.

iPod and satellite-radio metadata and AM/FM station frequency numbers can be displayed on the system's keypads, touch screens and two-way RF remote.

The iPod interface retails for a suggested $399; the wall-mount color touch screen is $749; and a wall-mount keypad with metadata display is $399.

Oxmoor: The SmartDock for the ZON distributed-audio system is a tabletop dock/charging station that connects directly to the system's central router. Once the iPod is connected, it's accessible from any room equipped with an LCD-equipped ZON controller, which will display iPod metadata to allow for song selection by title, artist or genre. Up to four iPods can be connected to the central router. Pricing was not set at press time.

Stand-alone iPod Docks:

Monitor Audio: The brand, distributed in the United States by Kevro International, will show its first iPod dock, called i-deck. It's a $349-suggested three-piece desktop system with separate two-way 7.5 by 5.75-inch speakers and an amplified docking station that also recharges the iPod. It bypasses the iPod's internal DACs to use its own DACs to enhance sound quality. An included RF remote controls iPod and i-deck functions from any room in the house. Interchangeable bezels allow for multiple iPod models, including the iPod Photo. An auxiliary input allows connection of other MP3 brands, the iPod Shuffle and headphone CD players.

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