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Audio Systems: What’s Next For ’08

Dealers attending International CES found a cache of systems to replenish their audio arsenal in the coming months. Here’s a look at some of their finds:

iLive: Three new amplified speaker bars in the Studio series incorporate Apple’s authentication chip to pass through videos from old and new iPods to a connected TV. All also dock with iPhones, which go into airplane mode.

The series starts with the $99 T188B 2.1-channel system, which incorporates AM/FM, alarm-clock functions, built-in subwoofer and a subwoofer output. It ships in January. The series tops out with the 5.1-channel $399 iT818B, which incorporates slot-load DVD player with 1080i-up-scaling HDMI 1.3 output, AM/FM, SRS TruSurround HD4 virtual-surround technology, Circle Surround II technology to create a 5.1-channel soundfield from two-channel sources and a virtual 5.1-channel music surround mode. It ships in February.

iLuv: The jWIN brand’s introductions included the $229-suggested i399, an iPod-docking one-piece tabletop stereo system with FM stereo and BluePin II technology, which permits reproduction of music streamed from a Bluetooth-equipped cellphone or other device. BluePin also connects to Bluetooth-equipped stereo headphones.

BluePin II technology extends the range of previous BluePin-equipped systems to 300 feet from 33 feet for use with Bluetooth-equipped cellphone and headphones with Class 1 (300-foot) and Class 2 (150-foot) ranges. The system ships in February at a suggested $229.

Another new product, the i1255, is a low-profile desktop DVD player with iPod dock on top at a suggested $129. It’s due in March and features an Apple authentication chip to enable iPod-stored videos and the iPod menu to appear on a connected TV.

With both products, consumers can dock an iPhone and manually put it into airplane mode to play back stored music.

JVC: Besides launching its first two dedicated iPod speaker systems, the company unveiled three iPod-docking HTiBs, two new docking minisystems and one docking microsystem. They follow the launch of the company’s first docking products in late 2006 and in 2007.

Overall, the company is paring its minisystem selection to two SKUs from three, scaling back its selection of shelf systems and HTiBs with USB Host to one in each category, but will continue to offer one HTiB with Ethernet port and DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) certification to stream music from a networked PC.

The iPod-docking HTiBs start with the 5.1-channel TH-G40 with stand-alone included dock at an expected everyday of about $300, down from $399 in the 2007 lineup. The $400 iPod-docking TH-G50 HTiB is JVC’s first HTiB with wireless surround speakers. Both systems ship in April.

Next, the $500 TH-F3 virtual-surround system consists of an aluminum tabletop control unit incorporating AM/FM, DVD player, JVC’s proprietary Front Surround processing and four-channel amp driving a pair of small cylindrical speakers. Each speaker incorporates a surround driver and a front-channel driver. A subwoofer is included with the system. The F3 is due in June with USB Host, HDMI output, 1080p up-scaling and HDMI CEC to coordinate operation of a connected HDMI CEC TV. It’s JVC’s first audio product with CEC.

One of two new minisystems with embedded iPod docks is the $180 MX-KC38 with AM/FM, and MP3/WMA-CD playback and 2×100-watt output. It ships in May. The $200 MK-KC68, due in April, adds separate powered subwoofer and total 400-watt output.

The docking microsystem is the three-piece UX-GP5 with flip-down dock, MP3/WMA-CD playback and 70-watt output at an expected everyday $150. It ships in April.

LG: Six new systems include the iPod-docking LFD850 with embedded iPod dock, proprietary virtual-surround technology, vacuum-loading vertical-slot CD/DVD player, AM/FM, clock-radio functions, front touch-panel controls, and ability to display photos and videos stored on USB-connected devices. Pricing was unavailable.

The five other systems include four DVD-equipped HTiBs and one compact CD-stereo shelf system. The shelf system and three of the HTiBs feature iPod dock. At least two of the systems feature USB port. All four HTiBs also feature 1080p-up-scaling HDMI output.

Pricing was unavailable.

Polk: The $1,099-suggested SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater, due in the first quarter, is the brand’s first powered virtual-surround soundbar, which is packaged with control console that features embedded DVD player, AM/FM tuner, amplifier and Dolby and DTS 5.1-channel surround processors.

The company’s two passive Surround Bars uses passive SDA Surround technology to deliver surround effects without reflecting sound off side walls. The technology widens the soundstage and equalizes the surround drivers’ signals in a way that alters the perceived direction of sound. The SurroundBar 360, on the other hand, “is capable of producing an even more enveloping sound field with the use of fewer drivers than either of the passive units by virtue of a combination of active and passive SDA circuitry,” said product manager Al Baron. The new unit’s 44.5-inch by 4.9-inch by 4.1-inch gloss-black speaker chassis reproduces the center channel as well as front and surround channels via eight “very-high-output, high-excursion drivers,” and it delivers plenty of bass without the need for an additional subwoofer, he added.

The speaker bar comes with wall-mount bracket and cradles for placement above or below the flat-panel display. Other features include Faroudja DCDi up-scaling to concert any video input up to 1080i quality. A USB port enables playback of MP3 music from USB flash-memory drives and display of stores photos in the JPEG and Kodak Picture Disc formats. The surround-decoder complement consists of Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital EX, DTS and DTS EX, and Dolby Pro Logic II.The system is compatible with CDs burned with MP3 and JPEG and Kodak photo files.

Sharp: Two new iElegance Music systems with embedded iPod docks replace two previous models but add iPhone-docking compatibility. The iPhones go into airplane mode when docked. The one-piece units feature embedded iPod dock, clock-radio functions, 14-watt amplification and side-firing woofers that illuminate to the beat of the music. Both are available in black or white. The DK-A1, due in May at a suggested $199, features AM/FM tuner. The DK-A10 adds front-load CD slot at a suggested $299. It ships in June.

Sherwood: The company is packaging its flagship Newcastle-series $1,799-suggested R-972 A/V receiver with a high-end 7.2-channel speaker system featuring a choice of bookshelf or in-wall versions of two-way satellites, which incorporate horn-loaded tweeter and 6.5-inch vented woofer. They’ll be packaged with two sixth-order vented subwoofers, which, when combined with the receiver’s room-acoustics compensation circuitry, will deliver bass within 1dB accuracy within the listening area, the company said.

The R-972 incorporates Trinnov Optimizer room correction technology previously available only in $13,000 professional equipment, Sherwood said. The 7×100-watt receiver comes with RF remote, internal decoding of all mandatory and optional surround-sound formats approved for use on Blu-ray and HD DVD discs, and HDMI 1.3 connections that support Deep Color and xvYCC.