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Best of the Best 2008: Home Entertainment

Brent Butterworth

Although the ipod has made music more accessible than ever, the inexpensive audio systems it has spawned have earned no accolades. We hope the Krell KID iPod dock and Papa Dock amplifier (203.298.4000, www.krellonline.com) will help reverse this trend. The $1,500 KID (or Krell Interface Dock) extracts audio from an iPod and handles it with the same care Krell lavishes on CDs. The KID can connect to any audio system, but its safest home is in the $2,000 Papa Dock, a 150-watt-per-channel amplifier designed to cradle the KID. Add a good pair of speakers to the mix, and your iPod will finally enjoy the venerable company it deserves.

For decades, speaker companies have struggled to think outside the box—literally. The bulky box shape that encases most of their products makes them unpopular with design-conscious homeowners. To make their products more beautiful, manufacturers have added soft curves, rakish angles, and exotic woods. Yet still, the box lineage is evident.

With the Muon speaker (732.683. 2356, www.kef.com), KEF eschews the box entirely to produce what may be the most visually stunning speaker ever created. Its concept emanated from the pen (or, more likely, the mouse) of industrial designer Ross Lovegrove, who has fashioned products for Apple, Sony, and countless other companies. What is most remarkable is that each of Lovegrove’s design elements also enhances the Muon’s sound.

KEF crafts the Muon from 6 mm sheets of aluminum using a process called superforming; no metal sculpture in New York’s Museum of Modern Art is more meticulously fabricated. Its curved shape, thick aluminum walls, and heavy internal bracing give the 253-pound, 78.8-inch-tall Muon a rigidity that the George Washington Bridge might envy. This rigidity prevents the speaker cabinet from vibrating in sympathy with the sound waves, which would mar the Muon’s sound. The speaker’s curves eliminate edges that can reflect sound, so all you hear are the waves coming directly from the Muon’s woofers and tweeters.

Audiophiles are lauding the Muon as one of the world’s finest speakers. And anyone who finds the dozen 10-inch woofers in a pair of Muons inadequate to get his feet tapping is an extraordinarily difficult listener to please.

KEF plans to build only 100 pairs of Muons, each set priced at $140,000 and available exclusively through KEF.

Videophiles have already acknowledged Pioneer as a leader in TV technology, but the Pioneer Kuro plasma TV (800.746.6337, www.pioneerelectronics.com) secures the company’s status as the leader. Available in sizes ranging from 42 to 60 inches, at prices from $2,000 to $7,500, and in both the regular Pioneer line and the exclusive Elite line, the Kuros produce the deepest, darkest blacks ever seen on a flat-panel TV. The set’s image takes on an almost 3-D quality thanks to the realistic blacks, excellent video processing, and superb detail. We can recall no other product on which the opinion of so many video experts is this consistent.

Sooloos (866.606.0333, www.sooloos.com) eventually might make the iPod seem cumbersome. The company presently offers a $12,900 system with a 17-inch touchscreen through which you can access your entire music collection. You can browse your music by viewing cover art, just as you would flip through a shelf full of CDs, or you can search by artist, album, song title, or genre and create playlists of your favorite tunes. The company plans to offer versions with smaller, remote touchscreens. The system is equipped with audiophile-grade audio circuitry and a one-terabyte hard-drive storage unit, which is so beautifully designed you might be reluctant to hide it in a closet.

Audio enthusiasts have praised the Nagra CDC (615.726.5191, www.nagra?audio.com) as one of the best-sounding CD players ever, but even a nonenthusiast can appreciate the machine’s aesthetics. The Swiss company borrowed much of the CDC’s design from its tape recorders, which have been used to capture live sound for practically every movie you have ever seen. The CDC, which is priced at $16,750, even has a level meter, an unnecessary but playful and distinctive design touch for a CD player. A headphone jack and volume control render the use of a full audio system optional.

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