What goes surround: Death and taxes aren’t the only things in life worthy of the tag “certain.” Equally unavoidable is the obsolescence of technology standards: What was cutting-edge yesterday will be so last week by tomorrow.

In the realm of portable sound, stereo is no longer the best. If you really want to hit the right note, you need 5.1-channel surround sound. Originally designed for a theater setting, a 5.1 system has three speakers in front of the listener and two behind, plus a subwoofer. Making such a sound cocoon portable is technically feasible, but few of today’s plethora of portable music players deliver more than basic stereo reproduction.

Electronics maker Sizen Corp. is offering something of a solution with its iM10 sound adapter. A tad larger than a matchbox, the iM10 is a square gadget that you connect in between your portable device and your headphones.

The iM10 upscales the stereo output of your player to emulate 5.1 surround sound, employing two different technologies to achieve its effect. First, ATX technology reinforces the bass and treble sounds, then DBEX (DiMagic Bandwidth Expander) is used to balance the resulting output. The iM10 is suitable for devices with a standard 3.5-mm stereo jack such as MP3 players, mobile phones and portable games consoles. It has three sound modes: normal stereo, enhanced and movie surround. The unit is a slim 66.5×52.5×8 mm and weighs a featherweight 25 grams including the rechargeable battery, which provides 7.5 hours of usage and takes 2.5 hours to recharge.

This little gadget is reminiscent of the nerdy gray Walkman equalizers that came out in the early 1980s, albeit smaller and in more color choices: black, blue, silver, green, pink and white. The Walkman EQs did a great job of enhancing the audio from cassette tapes, but when the novelty wore off, their bulkiness and the superior sound from CDs relegated the gadgets to the closet.

The iM10 is available now for ¥9,480 from Sizen. www.sizen.com.tw

Sony’s laptop diet: Laptop computers today are a bit like fashion models. On the catwalk, the push for “size zero” has produced models that often verge on anorexic (read: underpowered).

While the likes of Apple’s supermodel MacBook Air have pushed the mantra to its limits, the thinness and light weight come at a price. One key asset for any laptop, the MacBook Air and some others aside, is what optical drive it offers.

For Sony Corp., this means Blu-ray drives for its just-released VaioTT Series notebooks.

Sony is trumpeting its new VGN-TT70B as the world’s lightest computer with Blu-ray ability. Thanks to a lighter carbon-fiber chassis, the 2.5-cm-thick model tips the scales at only 1.31 kg. The big advantage of Blu-ray, especially on a laptop, is that you can backup up to 25 gigabytes of data on a single disk.

Unfortunately, keeping weight and size down also means limiting the breadth of the screen, in this case an 11.1-inch widescreen display. Sony does claim its XBRITE-DuraView LCD screen technology provides top-notch color saturation for the display. While the quality of the screen makes it perfect for playing movies on Blu-ray, to play movies off the drive in Full-HD resolution, you need to connect the laptop to a suitable TV.

The VGN-TT70B’s specs include a 1.2-gigahertz Intel Core2Duo SU9300 processor, a generous 4 gigabytes of memory, a 160-gigabyte hard drive, built-in wireless (IEEE 802.11 a to g) and Bluetooth. The operating system is Windows Vista Home Premium and it comes with Microsoft Office Personal 2007. The cover can be trimmed in crimson red, champagne, or two styles of black.

This wee Sony is an impressive package that compromises as little as possible in the interests of portability. The pity is the retail price — ¥299,800. There are plenty of options that cost far less and even weigh less, but those come without the Blu-ray cachet. www.sony.jp

Can’t escape the iPod: Yamaha Corp.’s four new mini audio systems cater to today’s marketing reality that a home-stereo system just has to include an iPod dock.

Starting with the top-shelf MCS-1330, each of the new models includes a CD player and a dock that accommodates the iPod Nano, Mini, Classic and Touch players.

The MCS-1330 packs an amplifier that pumps out 60 watts per channel through its twin speakers (2.5-cm tweeter and 13-cm woofer.) It also includes a USB port and an AM/FM radio. It can play CD-R/RW, MP3 and WMA music files.

At the next level down are the MCR-330 and MCR-230 models, which are smaller but support the same music files as their big brother and also have the USB port, but only an FM radio.

Providing an even more compact package is the CRX-430, which lacks the USB port but includes an AM/FM radio.

While not being completely sold on the need for home-music systems to cooperate with iPods, no doubt it is a worthy selling point, considering how many stereo systems include such docks these days.

The MCR-330, MCR-230 and CRX-430 will retail for less than ¥40,000 each when they are released in November. For the MCS-1330, due out in December, expect to pay a hefty ¥130,000. www.yamaha.co.jp


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