Business Excuse: You need high-fidelity speakers so you can fully appreciate the CEOs weekly inspirational talk when it goes out over the company's LAN.
Power Tool: Eminent Technology's LFT-11
Why You Really Want It: You're an audiophile, and most computer speakers have about as much sonic finesse as a Fisher Price toy.
The LFT-11 speaker system incorporates audio technology that's usually found in high-priced sound salons. The "planar magnetic design" uses aluminum diaphragms in two desktop speakers that are just one-inch thick — and sensitive enough to handle Coltrane's tenor-sax modalities. Distortion is low, bass notes are clear. The only caveat: the satellite speakers are extremely directional. If you're not sitting in the sonic sweet spot, you won't get the full effect.
Weak Factor: The price tag will not go unnoticed on your expense reports.
Coordinates: $899. Eminent Technology, 904-575-5655;
Business Excuse: You need boardroom-filling sound for those big presentations.
Power Tool: Multimedia Labs TC 1680
Why You Really Want It: So you can crank up Soul Asylum when you're crashing on a midnight deadline.
Forget finesse. You want power. Go for the TC 1680 speaker system. It delivers 22 watts of power per channel. The decibel level you can generate with these speakers will knock down cubicle walls. Better still, the amplifier includes a balance control and a five-band equalizer, so you can tweak the sound to suit your working environment.
Like the Eminent Technology setup, the TC 1680 includes two desktop satellite speakers, an under-the-desk subwoofer, and a separate amplifier — at less than half the price. The TC delivers almost the same frequency response as the LFT-11. It's just not as subtle.
Weak Factor: The TC 1680 is a bulky setup, and it ain't pretty.
Coordinates: $299. Multimedia Labs, 410-429-4300
Business Excuse: You've found a deal on speakers that even the number crunchers in the MIS department won't spike.
Power Tool: Nakamichi SP-3d
Why You Really Want It: The conical, retro-chic speakers look like they've come straight off of Flash Gordon's space ship.
The moderately priced Nakamichi SP-3d delivers good audio fidelity. Compare it with the other two systems, though, and you'll notice an immediate drop-off in the lower bass region. The amp delivers 6 watts of power to each satellite and 13 watts to the subwoofer — just enough volume to fill your office. Nakamichi has added SRS Labs's Sound Retrieval System for 3-D sound effects. Great for games, but it can wear thin when listening to music.
Weak Factor: The SP-3d's sound can overemphasize the highs and miss some lows.
Coordinates: $179. Nakamichi America, 800-421-2313;
Business Excuse: Relieve the stress-inducing drone from the jet engines on transcontinental flights, without moving up to first class.
Power Tool: Sony MDR-NC20 Noise Canceling Headphones
Why You Really Want It: So you won't have to listen to the in-flight movie through one of those cheesy headphones the airlines stick you with.
Few of the products I review are so good that I buy them myself. Sony's Noise Canceling Headphones are a rare exception. This little marvel of 20th-century acoustic science can turn frequent flyers from weary road warriors into content passengers — even when there's a two-year-old wailing away in the next row.
They work through a tiny microphone that picks up ambient noise (an engine roar, the din of a racing train). A noise-canceling circuit analyzes the sounds and produces an inverse phase signal to negate 60% to 75% of background noise — based on my tests during three different flights. Better still, you can use the noise-canceling feature while listening to music from a Discman or to the soundtrack on an in-flight movie. The benefit : recorded music no longer competes with the cabin din at 36,000 feet.
Weak Factor: While the MDR-NC20s are very effective, they won't completely eliminate that high-pitched engine whine.
Coordinates: $200. Sony Electronics, 800-488-7669; (http://www.sony.com/)