By Ric Manning
The (Louisville) Courier-Journal
Boomboxes can be difficult to love. Some are too big and too heavy. Many have too many buttons and features. And a lot of them sound pretty crummy.
Apparently, a lot of people think so, too. The consumer electronics industry trade association says sales of boomers declined almost 10 percent last year. People who want music to go are buying MP3 players and headphone stereos.
But, as Martha and the Vandellas put it, summer's here and the time is right for dancing in the street. And you can't do that with an iPod.
If you want Black Eyed Peas on the beach or Norah Jones on the deck, you need more than a pocket player.
Sony's Sports S2 boombox (about $110) fills the bill nicely. It looks, feels and, best of all, sounds good.
Start with the S2's unique design. The unit is built around two tubular speaker chambers. The front drivers are offset at an angle, which gives the sound a wider dispersion, and the chambers are vented in the back to add more power to the bass.
A thick plastic bar linking the two speaker chambers serves as the player's handle. It's more comfortable and secure than the flip-up handles found on most other blasters.
The CD player is positioned between the speakers and above a small, amber-colored display window. The unit has no cassette player, but it does have an AM/FM radio with a telescoping antenna and station presets.
The unit will run on AC power or six D-cell batteries. With the batteries installed, the unit weighs about 8 pounds.
One of the S2's primary attractions is its ability to play discs encoded with MP3 files. You can put more than 140 songs on one CD and hit shuffle play and listen to about seven hours of music.
The player takes almost half a minute to read and digest a CD-R before it starts to play. It pauses for a few seconds between cuts and occasionally clips the first second or two off the start of a song, but the S2 didn't fail to play any of the home-burned CDs tested.
The S2 also scores well in the power category. You can crank the volume up enough to fill a back yard and annoy your neighbors without hearing any distortion.
What's missing? An input for an outside source would make the S2 a great speaker and amplifier for an MP3 player.
Another missing feature is a remote control.
Satellite-radio boomboxes arrive
The next boom in boomboxes will feature players that can tune in satellite-radio services. The first of those units are starting to appear this summer.
Cambridge SoundWorks has announced plans to produce the first satellite-radio boombox with a rechargeable battery. The $199 PlayDock XM works with the $119 Delphi XM Roady receiver, which comes with a car docking kit. The PlayDock has an AC adapter, two main speakers and a bass speaker. It delivers 10 hours of operation on a fully charged battery.
Delphi's $199 XM CD Audio System is a satellite-radio boombox that also offers AM/FM radio and a CD player. Like the PlayDock, it also requires an XM receiver, Delphi's $99 SKYFi unit.
Two new portable stereos work with the Sirius satellite-radio service. Audiovox has a docking station that works with either of two Audiovox transportable Sirius tuners. The least-expensive portable satellite rig is the Streamer Boombox from Brix Labs. It consists of a $99 dock box and a $99 tuner. The Streamer is sold primarily through truck dealers and at truck stops.
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