The 25 Most Innovative Products of the Year

Audio

Audio: iPod Nano, JVC RX-D702B, Yamaha RX-V4600, Sonos Digital Music System, Yamaha YSP-1000

Apple iPod Nano
PORTABLE AUDIO PLAYER ($249) Overnight, the svelte
iPod Nano (see picture

iPod Nano
) irrevocably altered the landscape for portable audio players. Not only did this model take clean design aesthetics to a new level, but it brought us the first high-capacity (4GB) flash-based player--and one priced within reach of the masses, no less. Now, if only it didn't have that scratch-prone surface.... Latest prices

JVC RX-D702B
HOME THEATER RECEIVER ($880) There are lots of ways to play digital music on your stereo system. The problem is how to make the music sound good, since speakers of any quality will show the imperfections of compressed audio files. JVC's receiver (
see picture

JVC RX-D702B
) uses a wireless USB link to transmit music from your PC to your stereo, but the real magic is what the receiver then does with it. Technology the company has dubbed "CC Conversion" cleans up digital music signals, making even music streamed off the Internet sound fabulous on my system. One caveat: We found that the wireless USB link broke up if we moved the notebook more than 15 to 20 feet from the receiver. If you want to use a distant PC, you'll need to connect it to the receiver through an ethernet cable. Latest prices

Sonos Digital Music System
AUDIO STREAMING DEVICE ($1200) The
Sonos system (see picture

Sonos Digital Music System
) is an elegant, if pricey, way of hearing digital music all around your house. Setup is simple: Load the Sonos software on your PC, and then connect the company's ZonePlayers--squat boxes that combine a wired or wireless network client and an amplifier--in any room where you want to hear tunes. You can connect any set of speakers to the ZonePlayers. Sonos's remote control combines a sharp color screen and iPod-like scroll-wheel navigation to let you manage music for a single zone or the whole house. But as with a lot of network devices, we found that the Sonos system occasionally lost contact with our network and had to be reconnected. The $1200 Introductory Bundle includes two ZonePlayers and a remote. Extra ZonePlayers cost $500 each. Latest prices

Yamaha RX-V4600
HOME THEATER RECEIVER WITH HIGH-DEFINITION RADIO ($1899) Yamaha's RX-V4600 (
see picture

Yamaha's RX-V4600
) is the first home theater receiver with an integrated high-definition radio tuner. HD radio is to FM radio as FM is to AM--the improvement in audio quality is easily discernible. Because HD is a digital format, it also addresses problems like FM multipath distortion, a type of signal interference that makes FM broadcasts almost unlistenable in, say, a house in a hilly area. The RX-V4600 initially plays the standard FM or AM broadcast, and then transitions seamlessly to the HD broadcast, so you can hear the static melt away. Too bad it can't do anything about annoying commercials, but unlike satellite radio, HD radio is free. Otherwise, the RX-V4600 is a monster of a receiver, with 7.1 channels, two zones and two remotes (so it can output different sources in two different rooms), plus Yamaha's Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer for automatically setting up the receiver for your room. Latest prices

Yamaha YSP-1000
SPEAKER SYSTEM ($1700) Surround sound generated by one box might be old news, but Yamaha's YSP-1000 (
see picture

Yamaha YSP-1000
) stands out from the rest. This unique device includes 42 speakers packed into one long horizontal unit that's compatible with the latest formats, including Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS Neo:6. Instead of hooking up to a receiver, the YSP-1000 includes its own internal amplification. Yamaha trumps its competitors and takes surround sound a step further by auto-calibrating and optimizing its sound according to the parameters of the room it's placed in. The result? Amazingly rich and vibrant surround sound. The unit's elegant design makes it a perfect match for 42-inch flat panel TVs, and as an added bonus it can be wall-mounted. At $1700 it's not a cheap alternative to a multiple-speaker setup, but auto-calibration and easy installation make this one-unit speaker a winner. Latest prices

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