iPod-accessory and audio bargains

When we review audio gear and iPod accessories at Macworld and Playlist, we state the manufacturer’s official price for each product. But street prices are often lower—sometimes much lower. With the holiday-gift-buying season officially in full swing, now’s my chance to spread the word about some great deals I’ve come across. All are products we’ve rated highly, and each would make a great holiday gift while saving the gift-giver more than a pocket of change. Of course, many of these deals will be available for a limited time, so get ’em while they’re hot.

(Because I suspect some of these deals will expire, I’ve also included prices, when available, from each product’s listing in our best-price search engine; note that these prices, which appear as “Best Current Price” at the end of each product description, may include refurbished models, as well.)

Speakers

Altec Lansing inMotion iM600 and Logitech mm50 : These are two of the best truly-portable iPod speakers on the market, each with an MSRP of $150. Each offers great sound quality, rechargeable batteries, and a compact design small enough to fit in a laptop bag or carry-on. The mm50 has been replaced by a new model, the Pure-Fi Anywhere (which doesn’t sound quite as good), so the mm50 is now available from Amazon for $97 in white or black. The iM600, which includes an FM radio, is also regularly available for $100—for example, Amazon has it for $103 —and Costco was recently selling it in-store for only $66 .

JBL Creature II : When this ghoulish-looking system was released several years ago, it had an MSRP of $130 and a street price of ~$100, and it was easily one of the best-sounding “computer” speaker systems in its price range. At the current price of $39 from Amazon, it’s a steal and likely the best deal in computer audio .

Logitech Pure-Fi Elite : Logitech’s $300 AudioStation was among the best-sounding “desktop” iPod speakers of the past year. The new Pure-Fi Elite, which replaced the AudioStation less than a year after its release, improves on the AudioStation in several ways while offering roughly the same audio quality. Even better, the Pure-Fi Elite is currently available from Amazon for just $149. If you’ve been considering the $300 Bose SoundDock, the Pure-Fi Elite sounds better, gives you more features—such as an AM/FM radio, clock, and more-functional remote—and costs half as much .

Monitor Audio i-Deck : One of the few “desktop” iPod speaker systems that offers separate left and right speakers—for better stereo separation and imaging—the i-Deck is still one of the best-sounding compact systems on the market, two years after its release. It’s not for bass lovers, but for classical and jazz, it’s tough to beat without going the route of separate components. Unfortunately, Monitor Audio, a respected British audio vendor, has discontinued their iPod speaker line; the upside is that you can now pick up the i-Deck, originally $350, for only $150 from Audio Advisor.

Video Players

Sonic Impact Video 55 : Originally priced at $299, the Video 55, with its 7-inch screen, is one of the better portable video players for the iPod (although it doesn’t include a DVD player, so you’re limited to iPod-hosted video). And unlike most iPod-compatible video players, the Video 55 also serves double-duty as a decent-sounding portable speaker system. Alas, the Video 55 works with only fifth-generation (5G) iPods; the new video-capable iPod models have a modified video chip that doesn’t work with many older accessories. But if you or your gift recipient has a 5G iPod, the upside is that the Video 55’s price has dropped dramatically: it’s available for $80 or less from J&R.com and in Costco warehouses .

Headphones

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 and Panasonic RP-HC500 : A few months back we reviewed a slew of noise-canceling headphones; Audio-Technica’s $220 ATH-ANC7 took the top spot with the best combination of sound quality, noise isolation, and comfort, besting even well-regarded models that sell for $300 to $350. At Amazon’s current price of only $125, you can’t go wrong. Panasonic’s RP-HC500, though not quite as good as the ATH-ANC7, is also impressive, and Amazon is offering it for only $93. Despite the limitations of noise-canceling models, there’s never been a better time to pick one up .

Sennheiser MX 400 earbuds : Despite the fact that larger headphones and in-ear-canal models provide much better sound quality, many people still prefer basic earbuds. If you or someone you know is in the market for new ’buds, forego Apple’s stock models for Sennheiser’s better-sounding MX 400, which can be found for $12 or less (earlier this year, Amazon was selling the MX 400 for $4). The MX 500 adds an inline volume control for a few dollars more .

XtremeMac FS1 : As we noted in our primer on in-ear-canal headphones, one complaint about such models is that few have have the visceral bass impact of traditional headphones. XtremeMac’s FS1, a collaboration with respected studio monitor manufacturer Future Sonics, is one of the exceptions. If you’re a bass-lover, these are the canalphones for you, and Buy.com currently has a limited amount of stock at the incredibly-low price of $30 .

Ultimate Ears super.fi 3 Studio : Back in 2005, the super.fi 3 Studio won one of our Plays Of The Year awards for being the best bang-for-the-buck in-ear-canal headphones. As I wrote back then, “Compared directly with the best models on the market, the 3 Studio headphones show their flaws, but they offer a (sizable) taste of what you get from the big boys for just under $100.” And right now Costco.com is selling the 3 Studio for just $50 .

Happy shopping!

UPDATE 12/3/2007: Added Ultimate Ears super.fi 3 Studio.

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