- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

In what I’m hoping is my middle age, I’m becoming obsessed with sound: finding good sound, nurturing it and finding some more. Music, of just about any stripe, is often at my fingertips, and, well, I like it that way.

So, where have I come across good sound lately? On my desk sit a pair of JBL Duet II speakers. The list price is $99, but you can find them for a little less than $53 at Amazon.com.

The speakers are two cylinders that bulge slightly in the middle and sit on small pedestals. A power cord connects to a small adapter, while two cables join the left and right speakers. A second audio cable plugs into the headphone or speaker jack of your computer.

Connect the speakers, turn the power on and the volume up - and you're good to go. The sound is rather good for speakers of this size. They handle Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez singing “Ah! Mes Amis” from Donizetti's “Daughter of the Regiment” and “Marry for Money” by Trace Adkins.

These speakers aren't in the same class - or price range - as Bose Corp.'s Computer Monitor speakers, which cost five times the list price of the Duet II. But where the Bose is a purchase for the truly dedicated, the Duet II could be deployed in cubicles, offices and dorm rooms with ease. I like the look, and I like the sound.

Speaking of Mr. Adkins, I never imagined he and I would have all that much in common. But we do, it turns out. We're both fans of earphones made by Future Sonics (www. futuresonics.com), a Pennsylvania firm whose $199 Atrio ear buds are nothing short of astonishing. Mr. Adkins probably enjoys the $898 Ear Monitors, but the Atrios are more than enough for this listener. Connected to an iPod, they give one the desired sound. There are different sizes of ear buds and foam sleeves to truly isolate the sound and achieve the best fit; all are included with the Atrio package, along with a nice carrying case.

These are serious ear buds for serious listeners: The Atrio price, after all, is just $30 less than the cost of a 16-gigabyte Apple iPod Touch, for which these would be perfect companions. The sound produced is worth every penny and then some. I haven't flown with these yet, but I'll bet not even a plane full of unaccompanied minors with sugar cravings would make a dent in the joyous listening experience. Joyous is the operative word here: It's a delight to listen to music with these; they're easy to wear; and the result is pretty darn close to bliss.

Something about today's digital music lends itself to better reproduction. According to Amar Bose, founder of the sound-technology firm that bears his name, the fact that music is being reproduced digitally can bring out more notes and features of a piece of music than might have been heard before. That being the case, products such as the Atrio ear buds may well become essential for today's serious music listener.

Of course, what the gods give, they also can take away - or at least make other demands in return. Portable devices drain battery life, with said drain being enhanced by playing back videos and music tracks. To make life even more fun, power seems to run out at the worst possible moments.

What to do? I'm superimpressed with the Ecosol Powerstick USB Powered Portable Universal Charger, a $60 device available at Amazon.com, among other online sellers. It's about the size of a pack of chewing gum, but it packs enough juice to get your BlackBerry or iPod running again. What's more, the device comes with a bunch of adapters to connect to your specific phone or player.

That's good enough, but here's the neat part: The Powerstick gets its charge via a USB port on your computer, making it a no-brainer for most of us. What's more, the charge lasts a good three weeks at least, and I can vouch for that from personal testing. The result: You easily can carry backup power that's specific to your device, in a small package that keeps its charge fresh for a good while. Not a bad deal, I'd say, and one you should investigate - or ignore - at your peril.

c E-mail [email protected] washingtontimes.com.

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