| Home Theater Audio-Video Calibration DVDs
Avia Home Theater Audio-Video Calibration DVD. A fine home theater surround system and video display needs to be fine-tuned to extract the best possible performance. The “Avia Guide to Home Theater” from Ovation Software has all the elaborate audio and video test signals to do the job right. About $39 from Amazon.com. For newbies to home theater, consider the easy-to-use “Sound&Vision Home Theater Tune-Up” DVD at $22 ( http://shop.soundandvisionmag.com ), which also uses some of the Ovation Software test signals and shows how to use the Radio Shack Sound Level Meter, below. Serious enthusiasts and inveterate video tweakers will appreciate the "Digital Video Essentials" setup DVD from video guru Joe Kane, which is inexpensive ($19) but technically more detailed and harder to use than the Avia Calibration DVD.
Radio Shack Sound Level (SPL) Meter. Available in analog ($45) or digital display ($50) versions, the Radio Shack Sound Level Meter is a genuinely useful device that measures the relative loudness of each speaker in a home theater system far more accurately than your ears can, enabling precise level set-up and a top-notch surround-sound experience. Check on-line to see which Radio Shack stores in your area carry them. www.radioshack.com (Note: Available only at Radio Shack stores in the USA.)
Wideband Component Video Cables. A set of high-quality wideband HDTV-compatible component-video cables is always handy to hook up that new HDTV display or DVD player. Expect to pay $50 and up for high quality interconnects with gold-plated RCA connectors in lengths of 3 feet or more.
High-Quality In-ear Headphones. The three mentioned here offer vastly better sound than the mediocre earbuds supplied with iPods and other portable music players. But get several sizes of flange and foam ear tips to try out because peoples' ear canals are different sizes. The fit to the ear canal is crucial to getting solid deep bass. At stocking stuffer level, Koss's The Spark Plug (about $13) delivers remarkably full-bodied sound with good bass and clear highs. For the critical audiophile, depending on the fit, I'd rank the Etymotic Research ER6 ($79) along with the Shure E4c. The ER6 has crystalline sound and once the fit to the ear canal is tight, offers superb rejection of outside sounds, even noisy subway trains or jet plane interiors. The Shure E4c ($299) offers very good isolation and excellent sound quality with more deep bass than the ER6. I found the Shure E4c fit my ear canal a little better than the Etymotic but this varies with each individual. At the very high end, the choice of many pro on-stage musicians and performers are Ultimate Ears' 10 Pro ( www.ultimateears.com ) Custom Personal Monitors, custom-molded to your ear canal with liquid foam by an audio technician. Supplied with an aluminum case engraved with your name. About $900.
Speaker Stand Weights. In households with active kids and pets, a box of weights (usually in the form of steel balls) will add stability to any hollow metal speaker stand. About $75.
Gift Certificates (for a pair of quality bookshelf speakers). A nice pair of excellent bookshelf speakers can bring harmony to a bedroom, den or other area in your house, and most A/V receivers will drive one extra set of speakers in a different room with no hassle. Look at highly reviewed brands like Axiom's M3ti or M22ti, Paradigm's Reference Studio 20, or PSB's Alpha series. Priced from $300 to $800 a pair.
Home Theater Projection Screen. If the videophile in your life is still using the wall as a screen for his video projector, a real projection screen will significantly increase contrast, color brilliance, and overall clarity. Choose from low-priced do-it-yourself (but outstanding value) screens from Goo Systems, medium-priced screens from Da-lite, Vutec or Carada, or top of the line automatic electric models from Stewart. From $100 to over $1,000.
Upconverting or Universal DVD Player. Specialized DVD players that “upconvert” DVD images to images that come close to true HD picture quality are the obvious upgrade from an aging first-generation DVD player. For enthusiasts who want a taste of high-resolution DVD-Audio and SACD multichannel sound, the Oppo Digital DV-970HD delivers excellent DVD video quality and plays both DVD-A and SACD hi-resolution audio discs as well. And it's a bargain—about $150 on-line ( www.oppodigital.com ). Owners of new 1080p HD displays would like the new Oppo DV-981HD ($229), which up-converts standard DVDs to 1080p resolution and also plays hi-res DVD-Audio and SACD audio discs.
Axiom Epic80/600 5.1 Home Theater System. This top-flight home theater surround speaker system gets spectacular independent reviews and includes a digital subwoofer that is both scary with blockbuster DVD soundtracks yet delivers tight musical performance with all genres of music. You could pay three to four times as much for prestigious British or American brands and get sonic quality no better than this Canadian overachiever will provide. $4,214.20 USD
including free delivery anywhere in North America. www.axiomaudio.com
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