Digital music systems allow you to free your music, videos and photos from your computer hard drive and send them anywhere in your house wirelessly. Several companies have decided to join the bandwagon making this new technology more and more accessible to the mainstream consumer market. Most of the network audio players with basic features run at about $200 to $300. However, the Sonos Music System, for example, starts at around $1000 and others cost even more.
What you can expect from all the players on the market is an intuitive interface and easy setup. Compatibility for both Macs and PCs is fairly good across the board. The best connectivity features include both analog and coaxial/optical digital outputs, wired Ethernet, Wi-Fi connectivity, USB jump drive hubs, and jacks for iPods and MP3 players. Nearly all systems include a remote control, the best of which have big screens to search through tracks and albums. So far, only a few systems are easily expandible (to integrate various audio visual systems throughout the house). The majority only include a single base system for use in one or two rooms. To get the most out of any system, verify a few key points:
* That it can stream the files you are most interested in playing, whether they be MP3s, WAVs, Internet or satellite radio, downloads from iTunes, Rhapsody, PlayForSure, or other programs that you may be accustomed to using.
* Check what restrictions a unit might have regarding copy protection or digital rights management (DRM).
* Consider systems that stream, not only music, but also photos and videos. Not all models have all three capabilities.
* Look for the ability to stream for your MP3 player, as well as from your PC.
* Decide whether you want the unit to be able to record and/or play CDs.
Below, a quick snapshot of the lineup to help you learn about the various systems that are available.