Cool Stuff: Your 2007 Holiday Gift Guide

More than 50 amazing gifts for the technology lovers in your life

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The Connected Home

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Know an audiophile with a vast digital music library? These devices will spread that music throughout his or her home in style. Digital sound system: Sonos Digital Music System

It's nice to have thousands of songs on your PC, but finding a good way to listen to them can be frustrating. You can always listen through your computer speakers, but let's face it, they don't do the best job of reproducing music.

Meanwhile, you've probably got a better listening environment -- amplifier, kick-ass speakers, comfy chair -- set up someplace away from your computer. Wouldn't it be nice to have a way to access the music on your PC throughout the house?

The top-of-the-line solution here is the Sonos Digital Music System -- but you'll pay for its top-of-the-line-ness. The Sonos relies on ZonePlayers, tissue-box-sized components you distribute to the locations you want music in. (The ZonePlayers come in two models, one with a built-in amplifier and one without.)

You plug a ZonePlayer into your home network via Ethernet, grab the remote control, and fire up the music. You can also listen to Internet radio, assuming you have a broadband connection.

Sonos Digital Music System, courtesy of Sonos.

Sonos Digital Music System, courtesy of Sonos.

The screen on the remote control makes it easy to navigate your music collection and gives you room-by-room control of the ZonePlayers. The Sonos system lets you have different music playing in each room, or the same music playing throughout the house.

The chief drawback to the Sonos system is its cost: The ZonePlayers cost $350 (unamplified) and $500 (amplified) each, and the remote costs $400. If your house isn't wired for Ethernet, you can connect the players wirelessly -- with the addition of the $100 ZoneBridge, which creates a proprietary wireless network called SonosNet.

There's no simpler or more flexible digital music offering than the Sonos, but you're looking at about a $1,000 gift. We recommend giving this one to someone you live with, so you can enjoy it too.

Honorable mention: If the Sonos system is a bit much for your budget, consider the $300 Squeezebox from Logitech instead. It requires more setup than the Sonos system, and you'll need to BYO amplifier, but you'll end up with much the same funtionality.

The Squeezebox is a slab of circuitry measuring 7.5 x 3.75 x 3 in. and sporting a two-line display, Ethernet port, built-in 802.11g wireless, and RCA analog and optical and co-ax digital outputs.

You download and install the SlimServer software (available for Windows, OS X, and varieties of Linux, as well for an Infrant ReadyNAS) and point it at your music folder (or at your iTunes library). Then you hook the Squeezebox up to your amplifier, plug it in, and use the included (screenless) remote to connect it to your network.

Squeezebox, courtesy of Slim Devices/Logitech.

Squeezebox, courtesy of Slim Devices/Logitech.

You can browse playlists, listen to Internet radio, and even access your Rhapsody or Pandora accounts. You can put another Squeezebox in another room, and play either different music or the same music. The only real limitation is that it can't stream iTunes-purchased AAC songs. (Neither can the Sonos, or any other third-party player.) But as your giftee sits on the couch listening to his Best of 2007 playlist, he'll be thanking you with every song.

—Jake Widman  

Sonos Digital Music System from Sonos, Inc.

Price: $350-$1,200 for various configurations | Store locator | Phone: (800) 680-2345

Summary: The most flexible and capable home streaming music system available, the Sonos is definitely a high-end gift. Buy it for someone who'll let you listen too.
Squeezebox from Slim Devices/Logitech Inc.

Price: $299-$305 | Tech specs | Where to buy

Summary: The Squeezebox lets you stream the music on your PC to any room in the house -- just supply amplifier and speakers.
Geneva Sound System model XL, courtesy of Geneva.

Geneva Sound System model XL, courtesy of Geneva. iPod speaker system: Geneva Sound System Most iPod speaker systems take their function quite literally: They're iPod docks with speakers attached. Not that there's anything wrong with that. If you just want to listen to your iPod over something other than earphones, there are several models that do a fine to good job.

Geneva, though, is after something else. Rather than just adding speakers to an iPod, they've built iPod connectivity into a complete home stereo system in a single component. The three Geneva Sound System models ($500$1,275) feature iPod docks on the top, but they also have FM radios, CD players and jacks for attaching other components.

Model M has two tweeters and two woofers driven by a 4x25-watt amplifier; Model XL has two tweeters, two woofers and two subwoofers driven by a 6x100-watt amplifier. It's all enclosed in a seamless box made of piano-lacquered wood in black, white, or red.

Most astonishing is the way the incorporated EmbracingSound technology can create a stereo image that's much wider than the box itself. Stand in front of it, and it sounds like the sound extends a good 12 inches to the left and right of the unit; sit off to the side, and the stereo image remains intact. (Geneva claims a 120-degree sound stage.)

Available direct from Geneva or at Design Within Reach stores, the Geneva Sound System makes a great gift for someone setting up a new household in limited space.

—Jake Widman  

Geneva Sound System from Geneva Lab

Price: $499-$1,275 | Product FAQ | Phone: (877) GENEVA9

Summary: The Geneva Sound System packs a complete stereo system along with an iPod dock in a single box that can fill a room with high-quality stereo sound.
SoundBridgeRadio, courtesy of Roku.

SoundBridgeRadio, courtesy of Roku. Internet radio player: Roku SoundBridgeRadio Who doesn't like Internet radio? You can listen to stations from Poland or France, or search for programming that matches your taste or mood in a way that few over-the-air stations can.

But again, unless you have a device like the Sonos or Squeezebox, you're tethered to your computer. Wouldn't someone you know love an Internet radio that acted like a regular radio -- a radio you could put in the kitchen or the bedroom but still listen to SomaFM or AnnapurnaLive?

Give them the Roku SoundBridgeRadio ($300). Most stand-alone Internet radios look like cheap plastic clock radios designed by engineers, but the sleek Roku is something they won't mind looking at every day.

It's like a regular radio, but it's pretty well tricked out: It's got stereo speakers with a subwoofer, AM/FM, six preset buttons, a headphone jack and an alarm clock with snooze and sleep. But it's also got 802.11b Wi-Fi and can tap into your PC's music library to stream your music from iTunes, Rhapsody, or other music servers, plus an SD card slot for playing music offline. You can even assign the preset buttons to your favorite playlists.

Give that special someone the future of radio.

—Jake Widman  

SoundBridgeRadio from Roku LLC

Price: $300 | Tech specs | Phone: (888) 600-ROKU

Summary: The Roku SoundBridge Radio frees your favorite online stations from the confines of your PC -- and doesn't look like a piece of junk.
iHome Clock Radio for iPod, courtesy of SDI Technologies.

iHome Clock Radio for iPod, courtesy of SDI Technologies. iPod clock radio: iHome iH8SR Apparently, a lot of people would rather wake up to their own choice of music rather than whatever the Zoo Crew feels like playing at 7 a.m. How else to explain the proliferation of iPod clock radios that wake you up to whatever early-morning playlist you feel like putting together?

When I first saw the iHome iH8SR unit in a discount department store, I was skeptical -- I wouldn't expect a $100 unit from a rack next to the blenders to deliver decent sound quality. I figured it was another product rushed onto the market to ride the iPod wave.

But then I visited a friend who had one in her kitchen, and I had to reconsider my original impression. The silver iH8SR (there's also an iH8BR model, in black) put out well-balanced stereo sound with a surprising richness for such a small device.

It's also got a built-in AM/FM radio with presets, a line in for other audio sources, a line out for an extension speaker, and a remote control. There's nothing particularly flashy about the iHome Clock Radio for iPod, but there's a lot to be said for a product that just does what it's supposed to do and does it well.

—Jake Widman  

iHome Clock Radio for iPod (model iH8SR) from SDI Technologies Inc.

Price: $99.99 | Phone: (800) 288-2792

Summary: Surprisingly rich sound and a solid assortment of features make the iHome Clock Radio for iPod a good choice for someone who wants to wake up to their own tunes.
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