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Cool Yule Tools 2012

LISTEN: Audio-related gift ideas for 2012

Speakers and headphones that will make your ears happy

By , Network World
November 19, 2012 08:09 AM ET

Page 4 of 5

V-Moda Faders VIP earplugs

$20

These earplugs are advertised as being outstanding at blocking out noise for racing, musicians, clubs, concerts and other loud events. Being unable to get to one of those, I tested these earplugs with two other happenings - mowing my lawn and going to a firing range.

V-moda Faders VIP

The great thing about these plugs is that they do a great job transmitting noise you do want to hear: voices, music, etc. But they do a great job blocking out noises that could actually damage your ears. I discovered this firsthand when I took them to a shooting range with a group of friends. Several questioned how well they would work, and I was indeed a little worried when I saw the heavy duty plugs everyone else was using - but I'm happy to report the Faders VIP did a great job! They also worked very well mowing the lawn. All in all, they're highly recommended because they're discreet, affordable, and look better than most of the competition.

If you're concerned about protecting your ears at any loud event or occasion, check them out. They make a great stocking stuffer!

- Dan Hunt

PURE Contour 200i Air

$230 to $280

The Contour 200i Air is a wireless speaker system that lets you stream audio content from a mobile device (including a notebook, iPod, iPhone, Android or iPad) to the speakers. It supports Apple's wireless streaming technology, AirPlay, as well as its own technology (Pure Stream) if you want to stream Internet radio or other music via the company's Pure Connect app (for Android or iOS devices). It also includes a dock for the iPod, iPad or iPhone that can recharge your unit (at least the older models with the Universal Dock, not the Lightning adapter models).

PURE Contour 200i Air

The ability to send something from your portable devices or computers in an instant to an audio system makes this system a hit. For example, in my case I could leave this in my baby's room at night and wirelessly send a lullaby to her, without disturbing her more if she stirs a little bit.

Setup was incredibly easy - in my case I plugged an iPhone into the dock and pressed the Wi-Fi setup button in the back of the Contour Air unit. A message window popped up on the phone, asking me if I wanted to share my network settings with the Contour 200i Air. After choosing yes, the settings transferred.

I did have one issue - my 802.11n network is set up to only allow 802.11n devices - I had to change this to a mixed network on the router in order to connect the Contour 200i Air. This likely won't be an issue for most people, but we're mentioning this because we didn't see any documentation about this from PURE. If you don't want to change a wireless-n network to allow for mixed networks, the system does have an Ethernet port.

Once connected, the system worked great. I queued up a playlist from the iPad, chose the 200i from a list of AirPlay devices, and hit the Play button. The sound is room-filling and clean at most volumes. It's also very easy to control the volume via the iPhone or iPad.

I was also impressed with the unit's design. All of the control buttons are flush with the curve of the speakers. If you aren't specifically looking for a button, you might not even see them. The unit is compact and looks great sitting on a shelf or a bookcase. Even the dock doesn't look out of place, whether there's a device docked or if it's empty.

While the sound was good, it wasn't "audiophile great". For the price ($230 to $280), you might be expecting better speakers. A good part of the price is the addition of AirPlay support. If you're looking for higher-end speakers and AirPlay support, it will cost you a lot more money. If you have an audiophile on your list, you might want to consider other systems, but for the majority of us, if you're looking for a nice wireless speaker system that is very easy to set up, the Contour 200i Air should be on the short list.

- Tom Lupien

Nuforce AirDAC iWireless Adapter

$199.99 (list; other non-Apple versions available)

With the wild (and wide) popularity of wireless media player technologies, such as Apple's AirPlay, it's no surprise that products like nuforce's AirDAC are attracting significant interest - and positive reviews from the home entertainment community. Think of AirDAC as an AirPlay alternative. The version I tested includes a receiver with stereo RCA output jacks, and a tiny 30-pin wireless transmitter that plugs into any Apple product similarly equipped.

NuForce Air DAC

I used a lowly iPad 1 for this test, and setup is literally plug-and-play. Plug the little wireless adapter into the iPad, and the also rather-petite receiver into your home entertainment or similar system. Then press play on iTunes - that's it!

The AirDAC has been praised for excellent sound quality, and I can attest to that - a lovely acoustic guitar piece from Al Petteway positively resonated, and audiophiles will rejoice at both the convenience and the sound. In addition, up to four AirDAC receivers can simultaneously receive audio, making whole-house audio easy - provided you don't exceed the wireless range. This depends on absolute distance between the endpoints as well as your building's construction particularities.

While AirPlay may be more than adequate for many, the AirDAC will thrill those looking for the ultimate in sound quality without compromising the convenience of wireless. A USB adapter for the transmitter is also included, just in case you're not an iOS user.

- Craig Mathias

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