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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

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Edison did not invent the first talking machine—he invented the first one that could be turned off.


Many of us grew up with radio. Some of us grew up with vinyl records and black-and-white television. We have all watched technology bring us new and better ways to entertain ourselves. We now have satellite radio, digital video recorders, portable music players, and noise-canceling headphones. The array of gadgets and gizmos that were made purely for our listening enjoyment is astonishing.

Audio Gadgets

We have been enjoying radio, which was our first audio entertainment device, since the early 1900s. Radio is still a major entertainment device, but even it has taken on new dimensions. We can now choose from more than 100 stations of radio programming that is beamed off of a satellite.

Many of the other audio devices available today weren't even dreamed of just a few years ago. I imagine that Thomas Edison or Henry Ford would have been amazed at a handheld music player that contained more than 1,500 songs. In fact, you might also be amazed by some of these great high-tech audio devices.

Delphi MyFi xm2go Satellite Radio

Model: MyFi xm2go

Manufacturer: Delphi

URL: http://www.xmradio.com

Price: $299; XM service $12.95 per month

With satellite radio, you can travel from New York City to the California coast listening to the same commercial-free radio station during the whole trip. XM radio has more than 150 channels of radio programming. You can choose from talk, entertainment, traffic, weather, and just about every genre of music that you can imagine. There is music from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, in addition to country, jazz, rock, blues, Latin, Christian, and more. XM currently has NASCAR and major league baseball coverage, too.

MyFi brings you the best of satellite radio. It is a handheld unit about the size of a PDA that comes with a home adapter kit, a vehicle adapter kit, antennas, carrying case, remote control, headphones, rechargeable battery, and car mounting kit. You can move it between work, home, car, or boat. At home or the office, the device hooks up to a radio or stereo system. On the road, it uses a cigarette lighter and the car or truck radio. Because the MyFi allows you to record satellite programming, you can also use it as you would a portable music player to listen to any shows or music you have recorded.

In addition to the price of the MyFi unit, you need to pay a monthly subscription fee. Keep in mind that XM has a lot of programming for the price.

Starmate Sirius Satellite Radio

Model: ST1

Manufacturer: Sirius

URL: http://www.sirius.com

Price: $99.99 plus service, $12.95 per month

The Sirius satellite radio service is similar to XM only with different programming. Like XM, you can use the Sirius service to listen to the same commercial-free radio station anywhere in the country. Sirius has more than 120 channels with music of every genre, sports, news, original programming, and top news and talk radio personalities. The sports coverage includes the National Football League, NBA basketball, and NHL hockey.

The Starmate unit is compact and portable and comes with everything you need to hook it up to your car radio. You can also use it in your home or office with the optional home kit. The three-line display is a readable red color. The well-designed unit features easy-to-use buttons and comes with a remote control.

MuVo Micro

Model: 256MB

Manufacturer: Creative Labs

URL: http://www.creative.com

Price: $79.99

At 1.32" x 2.58" x 0.51" and 2.2 oz. with the battery, the MuVo Micro, also known as the Zen Nano Plus, is so small that you barely know it's there. This rectangular music player comes in eight different colors including vibrant colors like pink, orange, and yellow.

The backlit LCD display is small but clear. It allows you to see what song is playing and to easily find the song or artist that you want to hear. The MuVo is perfect for running and working out in the gym. You can keep it securely on your arm with the included armband, or you can clip it on your belt. The integrated FM radio allows you to listen to the gym's TV when running on the treadmill or catch your favorite radio show. The built-in microphone allows the unit to be used as a voice recorder. The MuVo comes in several memory capacities up to 1GB.

If you love audio books, you can get the 128MB version of the MuVo player for free with a year's subscription to the Audible.com service. The Audible.com website has more than 25,000 books, radio shows, newspapers, and magazines to choose from. You can subscribe to one book per month for $14.95 or two books per month for $21.95. You simply download the books to your computer and transfer them to your MuVo or other audio player or burn them to a CD. The process is easy, and the selection is excellent. If you are a book lover, this is an inexpensive way to listen to audio books.

Apple iPod

Model: iPod 60GB

Manufacturer: Apple

URL: http://www.apple.com

Price: $399

The Apple iPod has become a wildly popular portable music player because it offers a simple, easy-to-use interface and storage for a lot of songs. This iPod's 60GB hard drive holds up to 15,000 songs. The clear screen and scroll wheel make it easy to choose the music you want to play. The iPod can also be used to store photos. Up to 50,000 pictures can fit on this small device. You can view the photos on the 2-inch color LCD screen. The iPod has now joined the podcasting revolution. With the latest iTunes software, the iPod has built-in support for Internet radio broadcasts called podcasts. You can sync your iPod and listen to podcasts from your favorite websites.

The iPod is small (.75" x 2.4" x 4.1") and lightweight (6.4 oz) and has outstanding battery life. The iPod comes with earbud headphones, AC adapter, USB cable, and iTunes software. Although this is an Apple product, it works with both PCs and Macs.

Archos Gmini 400

Model: 400

Manufacturer: Archos

URL: http://www.archos.com

Price: $399

The Gmini is a digital audioplayer that doubles as a photo display device and a portable video player. It has a 20GB hard drive and a 2.2" color LCD display. You can use the included cables to connect the Gmini to your television to play video or to your stereo system to play music. You can also use it to play games or to copy photos directly from a compact flash card. Connect the Gmini to your computer, and you can copy pictures, audio, or video to the device. It is excellent as an audio and video player, but it's only average for photo display.

As you might expect from a do-it-all gadget like this, you need to read the manual and search through the various menus to learn all the functionality of this device. There are myriad menu choices and an almost dizzying array of features. The Gmini has a lot of software preinstalled, but you'd never know it was there unless you searched through the files and folders on the device.

Although this is a cool device, it will take a time investment to learn all of its functionality.

iriver H1

Model: H10

Manufacturer: iriver

URL: http://www.iriver.com

Price: $279.99

iriver has come up with a good alternative to the iPod portable music player. At almost 5 inches tall, the H10 is a little larger than many other players, but it feels good in your hand, and at only .5 inches thick, it can easily slip into your pocket. Like the iPod, it has a minimum of buttons and a good clean interface that is easy to navigate. The color 1.5-inch LCD is clear. It has a 6GB hard drive that holds a ton of photos or songs and has good audio quality.

The H10 has several nice features that other music players lack. Many portable music players like the iPod have a rechargeable battery that can only be replaced by sending it back to the factory. This iriver has a swappable battery, so you can buy a spare or easily replace it if it wears out. The H10 comes in red, blue, silver, and gray. It comes with a wonderful soft molded plastic case with belt clip, and it can double as a voice recorder. A built-in FM radio lets you listen to and record radio, too.


Model: M2000

Manufacturer: Roku

URL: http://www.rokulabs.com

Price: $399

The Roku SoundBridge connects to your stereo system to play any music that you have stored on your computer. It can use a wired Ethernet connection or a wireless connection to access the music from your computer. SoundBridge uses Windows Media Connect or iTunes to serve up the music. The SoundBridge is compatible with Windows Media Player 10 and many online music stores such as MSN Music, Napster, iTunes, MusicMatch, and CinemaNow.

The elongated aluminum body of the SoundBridge is good looking. The bright blue 12-inch wide display is clear and visible from any angle. You can even see it from across the room. You can use the remote control to browse music by song, album, artist, composer, or genre. You can also use playlists that you have created in iTunes or other music software programs.

Wurlitzer Digital Jukebox

Model: Freestanding

Manufacturer: Gibson Audio

URL: http://www.wurlitzerdigitaljukebox.com

Price: $1,999

Who doesn't remember the Wurlitzer jukeboxes of the 1950s and 1960s? We slid a few coins into the jukebox and swayed while we ate hamburgers or danced the night away. Now the Wurlitzer is available to play your CDs and digital music.

There are no bubble lights around the jukebox, but the design is simple and elegant. It includes an integrated subwoofer and two tall and lanky speakers from Klipsch. The digital jukebox can hold up to 1,000 CDs. The beauty of it is that all you do is insert the CD you want to copy into the jukebox. The music, track information, titles, genre, and digital cover art are automatically stored in the jukebox. After you have inserted all your CDs, you can pack them up and store them because you won't need them anymore to play your music.

You access the music via the touch-screen remote control. The interface is simple and easy to use. This jukebox also has a variety of options. You can export songs to a portable music player. Or you can add other Wurlitzer receivers to distribute music wirelessly throughout your home. You can access the Wurlitzer Music Service through a wireless connection to your home network. With this, you can access many channels of digital radio and a download store where you can purchase thousands of songs and send them directly to the jukebox. A smaller version without the speakers is also available.

Sonos Digital Music System

Model: Sonos Introductory Bundle

Manufacturer: Sonos

URL: http://www.sonos.com

Price: Controller and 2 Zone Players, $1,199

If you have a lot of digital music stored on your computer, the Sonos digital music system lets you play that music anywhere in your home and control it from a small handheld remote. The Sonos system does it all, so you don't need a PC in every room, a music server, or a wireless network. The Sonos zone player that comes with the system distributes, plays, and amplifies the music. The Sonos controller is a wireless remote control with a full-color bright LCD screen, a scroll wheel control, and simple buttons.

You install the first zone player by attaching it to your PC via the Ethernet connection. Then you can hook up another zone player to a set of speakers in any room in the house. You can have up to 32 zone players. The installation is easy, and after it's installed, you can play any music files on your PC, Internet radio, or music from external audio sources like CD players and portable MP3 players.

The controller manages the audio of all the zone players. You can play a different song in each zone or the same music in all zones. You can also control the volume for each zone separately right from the controller. Sonos isn't cheap, but it's a great concept, and it works well.

Griffin Radio SHARK

Model: Griffin Radio SHARK

Manufacturer: Griffin

URL: http://www.griffintechnology.com

Price: $69.99

What TiVo is to television, Radio SHARK is to radio. All you need to do is install the included software and plug the Radio SHARK into the USB port on your computer, and you are ready to trawl the radio waves. You set the radio station via the onscreen menu and listen to any program on your computer speakers. The software also allows you to easily record any program or series of programs.

The "time-shift" recording is cool. When you are listening to a radio show, you can press Pause to get a sandwich or answer the door. When you return, you simply press Play again, and the programming resumes right where you left off.

Just in case you're wondering, the SHARK gets it name because it looks like a large white fin. The lighted blue wave design on the fin turns cherry red when recording. The SHARK works with both PCs and Macs and provides hours of pleasant radio listening.

QuietComfort 2 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

Model: QuietComfort 2 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

Manufacturer: Bose

URL: http://www.bose.com

Price: $299

These lightweight headphones fold for storage and come in a convenient travel case. The headphones cover your entire ear with a padded cup. They are adjustable and quite comfortable.

The beauty of these headphones lies in the sound quality and noise cancellation effects. You can wear them for air travel to block out excess noise and, of course, you can attach them to your favorite music player to enjoy personalized music at home or on the go. The headphones come with adapters and extension cable so that you can easily hook them up to your home stereo system.

Sennheiser Earbuds

Model: MX500

Manufacturer: Sennheiser Electronic Corporation

URL: http://www.sennheiserusa.com

Price: $19.95

The earbuds that come with many portable music players are pretty poor quality. Adding a good pair of earbuds can improve the sound quality of almost any player. Sennheiser is known for its sound quality, and these little earbuds don't disappoint. The buds are a cool metallic blue color. I hate wires hanging everywhere, so I really appreciate the convenient windup case that holds the excess cable. I also like the volume control that is built right into the cable for easy access.

Digital Vinyl CD-R

Model: Digital Vinyl CD-R

Manufacturer: Verbatim

URL: http://www.verbatim.com

Price: 50-pack $49.99

Bringing the old and the new together, these writable CDs look just like old 45-rpm records, complete with vinyl-like grooves. The retro look is just plain fun when you want to create and share music CDs. You can even use them when you decide to digitize those old LP records. What fun!

If you own a printer that can print on CDs, there is a special coated label area that you can use with an inkjet printer to create really impressive-looking labeled CDs.

Verbatim's special dual protective layer technology ensures that your CDs have enhanced protection against high temperatures, humidly, sunlight, and rough handling. Verbatim states that these CD-R disks have an estimated archival life of more than 100 years.

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