This has been a busy year for home electronics. DVD has hit big, both in its original form which supports not only video but also music and computer data, and in its time-limited, video-only Divx variant. And this seems to be the critical year for the MiniDisc digital recording system. I think it's going to make it, but the recordable CD (another of the year's technological marvels) may prove me wrong.
And then there's DTV. Digital television broadcasting has arrived in the country's top few TV markets. It's supposed to take over all TV broadcasting by 2006. To take advantage of the best that DTV can offer, high-definition television (HDTV) sets are arriving on the scene.
But the big kahuna of home electronic entertainment is still home theater surround sound. Dolby has pretty well nailed that technology with its analog Pro-Logic decoding system and its spectacular Dolby Digital surround. But DTS still is nipping at Dolby's heels and probably will co-exist with Dolby Digital for the foreseeable future.
If you're thinking of getting into home theater for the holidays, you're certainly looking over audio-video receivers. And you're probably overwhelmed by the range of choices.
If you want the best AV receiver available, you want the stunning new AVR-202 from Buffalo's own B & K Components. This gorgeous piece of gear has all the amplifier power you need -- five channels of 105 watts each -- and decoding of all of today's popular surround formats.
This B & K receiver is not only a superlative performer for home theater purposes, it also reproduces two-channel stereo music with quality that is rivaled only by a few combinations of much more costly separate components.
B & K's AV-202 is the first receiver designed and built in the United States in many years. So it distinguishes itself from the cookie-cutter products from the international electronics giants in engineering, styling, construction and ergonomics.
The AV-202 retails for about $2,800.
A new AV receiver from Yamaha is at the other end of the price scale. The RX-V293 lists for under $200. Its decoding options include Dolby Pro-Logic and, for those people who don't have surround speakers, the Dolby 3 Stereo system. That one feeds left, right, and center channel speakers only. I'd recommend it for a small apartment, for a second system in a family room or vacation home, or for adding interest and enjoyment to basic TV viewing.
Radio is a big thing this year. Cambridge Soundworks claims to have built "the best sounding table radio in the world." It's the Model 88 and they sell it by mail for $199.99. Proton has a high-end clock radio, the model RS-330, that costs $150. It can be expanded by adding an optional stereo extension speaker for $110.
Of course the best-known of the high quality table radios is the Bose Wave Radio. The usual price of that one is $375 but Bose is cutting that price to zero this season for people who buy certain Bose Lifestyle music or home theater systems. Check with a Bose dealer for details.
Cambridge Soundworks also makes well-received powered multimedia speaker systems. Their PC Works system at $69.99 has enjoyed the reputation of being the least costly product of its type to offer really good basic audio performance. Now Cambridge has a $20 rebate offer which cuts the final cost to $49.99 and makes this system the obvious choice for souping up the sound of someone's computer games.
The PC Works system will also take signals from a portable CD player, TV, portable cassette player, video game, or anything with a headphone jack. And it can work off 12-volt power sources as well as house current. Consider the possibilities. You can reach Cambridge Soundworks mail order at (800) 367-4434.
Compact music systems abound this year. Onkyo has homed in on one of the likely markets for these jewel-like systems by calling its new line the Executive Series. The first product in that line is the EX-1850 which combines a three-disc CD changer with an AM/FM tuner, a carefully designed power amplifier, and a pair of compact speakers which are designed and built in North America.
This setup has a suggested retail price of $549.95 and there's a matching optional MiniDisc player/recorder for $429.95.
MiniDisc recording offers a nearly irresistible combination of convenience and sound quality. Sony came up with the format and for a while was practically the only company supporting the concept. Now you can buy MiniDisc decks from most major manufacturers. Sharp, JVC, Onkyo, Denon, Kenwood, and other well-known brands are out there.
Also out there are recordable CD decks. Philips, Marantz and Pioneer are big names for that. The breakthrough Philips model is the CDR-870. Retail is $649. The new Marantz deck, model DR-700, will not only record on a CD but can re-record, something new for CD technology. Price of that one is $849.99.
Finally, anyone who owns a pair of headphones should have some binaural recordings to listen to. Those are recordings made specifically for headphone listening and they deliver a sense of realism that no other form of listening can match. But you won't find them in record stores. Just about the only way to get them is to contact The Binaural Source at (800) 934-0442. Sampler cassettes start at $10 and sampler CDs at $14.