Neat Gadgets to Drool Over
A child tracker, CD-ROM changer and autofocus binoculars are among the 14 choices
Few new products manage to break away from the pack. These 14 do. All meet a critical need, ease a chore or add fun to life, and they do so creatively. Hands-on testing showed that even these winners have blemishes, but their appeal far outweighs their flaws. Note: Prices are suggested retail, with discounts sometimes available.
SONY ORBIT VIP-1000 VIDEO HEADPHONES ($699). When you watch a blockbuster movie at home, you want the sound big. Have to keep the volume down? You can resort to headphones--that is, if you can live with the drawback, well known to headphone users, of the sound often seeming to emanate from the middle of your head. That's not the case, however, with Sony's new video headphones, which rest on the head with the earpieces about an inch away from the ears--a comfortable arrangement that feels natural and open. A digital processing unit, supplied, works with the headphones to simulate the experience of listening to room speakers. The system can also lock in the position from which the video sound comes, so that unlike with ordinary headphones, when you turn your head the sound doesn't turn with you. That adds to the illusion of reality by, for example, cementing the dialogue in a movie to the part of the screen where your ears expect it to be found. The bigger the screen, the more you'll appreciate these headphones. Most buyers will want to audition them before buying, since some people find they just don't like listening through headphones--any headphones.
REEL-TALK TALK SHOW RECORDER ($100). Talk radio devotees who can't bear to miss out on the chatter when they're away from a radio can now easily tape a show of up to four hours long for later listening. Reel-Talk's AM-FM radio with a built-in, ultra-slow-speed cassette recorder has a timer to automatically begin and end recording of radio shows. To squeeze as much as four hours of talk onto one side of a cassette, the machine, standing 12 inches high and 6 inches square, records at 15/32 inch per second--one fourth the usual speed. The low-fi result is passable for listening to talk, but music sounds muffled and distorted. Moreover, the oddball speed means you can play the tape only on a Reel-Talk machine. When setting the timer, you're limited to one selection, since the unit cannot be programmed to switch stations or make multiple recordings. And some of the operating procedures are a bit convoluted. But when there's something on radio you can't miss, this recorder can be a handy tool. The radio is currently sold only direct from Reel-Talk (800-766-8255), with a $15 shipping charge.
BANG & OLUFSEN BEOCOM 1600 PHONE ($199). When guests ask to use your phone, you'll be sure to get a reaction if you direct them to the latest model from Denmark's B&O. But you may get a second and much different reaction if you 'fess up to how much you paid. You can use the keypad to control the volume during a call, or switch to the built-in speaker and microphone for speakerphone conversation. Up to 12 phone numbers can be entered into a memory for instant dialing. The phone remembers the last six phone numbers you dialed, and you can use its LCD readout to scroll through them to get the one you want. The display can also show the elapsed time of a call. For owners of B&O audio systems: A small infrared attachment (about $50) that clips to the side of the phone's base lets you turn down the volume on B&O stereo equipment when you reach for the phone.