Best home audio gear of 2007
Ahhh, there's nothing like coming home, kicking back, and cranking some Dokken
all the way to 11. Stream your music wirelessly, get surround sound from a
single speaker, or fill your home with wall-to-wall sound with these great
Best AV receiver for under $500
AV receivers are the nexus of any good home theater system. While they were once all about audio, in the HD era, their video capabilities are more important than ever. And the Onkyo TX-SR605 represents the best value currently available. For under $500, the unit delivers a panoply of bleeding-edge future-proof features--including HDMI 1.3, analog-to-digital video conversion, and decoding of lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks--that receivers that cost twice as much often have trouble matching.
Best digital audio system
Using an iPod-like wireless remote, Sonos provides users with quick and easy access to their entire digital music collection in any room of the house. Beyond pulling your MP3 collection from a networked computer, however, the Sonos system also provides access to a growing number of streaming online audio services, including Rhapsody, Pandora, and--new for 2007--Sirius and Napster. Yes, the $1,000 price tag sounds steep at first, but the Sonos BU130 Digital Music System actually offers more flexibility and ease of use than many multiroom audio systems that cost thousands more.
Best single-speaker surround system
Surround sound is a hot commodity, but many just can't handle the aesthetic compromises that come from a full 5.1-channel speaker system in the living room--and the speaker cables that go along with it. Virtual surround systems propose an alternative: using reflective sonics and psychoacoustics to reproduce a surround-like effect from just one, two, or three speakers in the front of the room. The one that comes closest to actually delivering on the promise of single-speaker surround is the Yamaha YSP-4000 Digital Sound Projector. And because it offers an impressive jack pack and video features--including HDMI inputs and analog-to-digital video conversion--many users won't even need an AV receiver. Just be sure to get a companion subwoofer if you want some weightier bass.
Best all-in-one single-speaker home theater system
As impressive as the Yamaha YSP-4000 Digital Sound Projector is, it still requires a subwoofer and a video source. By contrast, Philips HTS8100 SoundBar is a complete home theater solution: an upscaling DVD player is built into the main speaker and a matching subwoofer is included as well. The surround imaging doesn't quite match that of the Yamaha, but with a street price south of $750--and the fact that you have to supply only the TV--it's a hard deal for home theater minimalists to pass up.
Best home-theater-in-a-box system for under $350
Home audio is one of the best investments you can make--the lifespan of quality speakers can be measured in decades--but we understand that not everybody can spare $3,000 (or more) for their audio gear. Home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs) are the perfect alternative for anyone on a budget, and Panasonic's SC-PT750 is one of the most full-featured ones you can buy for the 2007-2008 season. In addition to the five-disc DVD changer with HDMI upscaling and bundled iPod dock, the 5.1 speaker system includes a wireless rear transmitter, so there's no need to run speaker wires to the two rear speakers. And unlike a lot of cheap-and-easy HTIBs, the SC-PT750 actually sounds pretty good--especially when you consider that it's widely available for less than $350.
Best home iPod speaker system for under $200
We found a lot to like with Logitech's AudioStation iPod speaker system in 2006, but the system's touch-sensitive buttons didn't work for a lot of users, and the list price was a hefty $300. For 2007, Logitech is offering a nearly identical product--the Pure-Fi Elite--that features improved buttons and a much lower price tag (as little as $130 to $150 online). We still wish an alarm was thrown in, but at this price, it's hard to complain.
Best home iPod speaker system for over $200
In the past, "wireless speakers" was always a contradiction in terms, with the so-called wireless systems needing power cables or links to a nearby radio transceiver. But the Griffin Evolve changes all that: the iPod speaker system includes two cube-like speakers with rechargeable batteries. Once charged, they can be moved anywhere in the house, where they can play music from the base station (a docked iPod or any line-in source) for hours on end.
Best Bluetooth wireless speaker system
The Griffin Evolve is an ideal all-in-one wireless speaker system, but for those already on the Bluetooth bandwagon, there's an even better option: the Parrot Boombox. The Boombox has Bluetooth A2DP capability built right in, so you can stream music straight from any compatible music source. That includes a growing number of music phones and MP3 players, and--while the iPod isn't yet on the list--snap-on Bluetooth dongles from third-party accessory manufacturers are available. Either way, you get to navigate your music collection from your hand, but hear it on the big Parrot Boombox across the room.