UPDATE: For a complete hands-on evaluation and new pricing information on the George, check out the CNET review.
Macworld isn't until next week, but the cavalcade of new iPod accessory announcements is already getting started. Meet George: he's a high-end iPod speaker system with a built-in AM/FM clock radio, and he's the debut product from Massachusetts-based Chestnut Hill Sound. But what sets George (or is it "the George?") apart from the litany of similar products is its wireless remote. More than just a standard clicker, the George remote has a free-spinning knob and a complete LCD readout that duplicates all of the information normally found on the iPod's screen. As a result, you can navigate your music collection (songs, albums, playlists, podcasts, and the like) from the comfort of your easy chair, rather than needing to walk across the room and search using the scrollwheel each time. When not undocked, the remote doubles as the base unit's front panel, where its built-in rechargeable battery can juice up. It uses the Zigbee wireless protocol, and it's designed to work within a range of about 25 feet from its home base.
If the ability to remotely control your iPod isn't enough, George offers a handful of other useful features. You can assign 24 presets to the radio, and George's so-called "bandless" tuning puts AM and FM on one single continuum (rather than making you toggle back and forth). In addition to waking to iPod, radio, or an alarm tone, the volume of the dual alarms can be set independently of the snooze volume, so you can ease to sleep at a soothing level but wake up with one that's guaranteed to rouse you from your slumber. If you don't fancy the "iPod white" color, optional cherry, mahogany, and maple wood panels are available to customize George's look to your liking. Moreover, George has a modular expansion port for future add-ons--Chestnut Hill has already promised an HD Radio plug-in for the second half of 2007. In the meantime, auxiliary line inputs and outputs let George connect to any other audio device. Also, the system's firmware is upgradeable via a USB connection to a PC.
We had a chance to get a quick demo of George a few weeks ago. The wireless remote control performed ably, and even in the less-than-ideal listening environment of an office conference room, the two-way stereo speakers and four-inch downfiring subwoofer delivered a weighty, full-bodied sound that belied George's small size. That's a good thing, because Chestnut Hill is targeting the upscale (read: Bose) market. George will be available later this month via Chestnut Hill's Web site (chillsound.com) for $550; a separate recharging station for the remote is also available for an additional $50. As far as remote-accessible digital music solutions, that price tag puts George squarely between the