Playlist's Plays of the Year: 2006

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Top products for the home: audio systems

Best High-End Audio iPod Integration: Solo and rLead ($1,599 and $85; Arcam )

I’ve often lamented the fact that the high-end-audio industry has largely ignored the iPod. After all, Apple’s player supports both uncompressed and lossless music formats, and the iPod’s line-level audio output is as good as that of many CD players—in other words, the iPod can be a high-quality source that stores hundreds of full-quality albums. So it was a significant event when upscale U.K. audio vendor ARCAM released its rLead iPod connector . Designed for use with the company’s acclaimed Solo all-in-one stereo system, the rLead is, basically, a cable that connects your iPod to the Solo for playback. But the Solo is smarter than your typical stereo: once your iPod is connected, you can control it from the Solo’s remote as if the iPod were an integral part of the system—playlists, artists, albums, and genres are all browseable via the Solo’s own screen, as if the iPod’s contents were on a hard drive inside the stereo itself. (If you have a USB power adapter handy, the rLead can charge your iPod, as well, via the attached USB plug.)

Arcam solo

Of course, to use the rLead, you need a Solo, but that’s a good thing, as the Solo is an Apple-like hybrid of functionality and simplicity—in a single, small, attractive enclosure, you get a CD player, a 75-Watt amplifier, and an AM/FM radio, all of audiophile pedigree. As one reviewer put it, “If Apple made amps and CD players, this is what they’d look like. This is what they’d feel like, too.” For discerning music fans, iPod listening doesn’t get much better than this. (Arcam gear is distributed in the U.S. by Audiophile Systems.)—DF

HomeDock Deluxe

Best Home-Entertainment System Connection: HomeDock Deluxe ($150 ; DLO )

If you need one dock that does it all, stick a HomeDock Deluxe in your system. S-Video and RCA outputs connect to your TV and stereo, while a USB port lets you connect to your computer. The end result is a dock that will charge your iPod, sync it with iTunes, and play its music and videos over your home entertainment system. In fact, DLO’s HomeDock Deluxe is the easiest way I’ve seen to view movies and television shows purchased from iTunes on a TV (at least until Apple ships its own iTV ). To sweeten the pot, DLO throws in a comprehensive remote to control all the action—you can even browse music and playlists (but, alas, not video) on your TV screen, all from the comfort of your Fatboy. Don’t have a 5G iPod (with video)? The Home Dock Deluxe works with any dockable iPod for music playback and, if you’ve got an iPod nano or a photo-capable model, will still let you view photos and slideshows on your TV. This is one dock that really rocks.—MH

Sonos Digital Music System

Best Way to Get Your Audio Around Your Home: Digital Music System (ZP100, $499 ; ZP80, $349 ; Controller, $399; Sonos )

We were duly impressed by the original Digital Music System when it was released in 2005: You could get your music to any room in your house via $499 Zone Player ZP100 units; by hooking up a set of speakers to each ZP100, the wireless Controller’s large, bright screen and iPod-like scroll wheel let you send whatever music you wanted to hear, in nearly any format (a notable exception: protected iTunes Store tracks), wherever you wanted to hear it. In 2006, the company rounded out the system by releasing the $349 ZonePlayer ZP80 —a much smaller unit that adds the ZP100’s capabilities to existing stereos—as well as the Sonos 2.0 software, which offers instant, don’t-need-a-computer access to any music available on the Rhapsody Online Music Service. Although not cheap, an under-$2,000 Sonos system can do the job of a five-figure, custom-installed, multi-room home audio system—and then some, thanks to more functionality and easier operation. My original review comments are even more true today: “I simply haven’t seen a system that so effectively combines digital music, high-quality audio, wireless convenience, ease of use, and, well, fun.”—DF

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