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Sony expands S-Air wireless audio line with Altus products

The offshoot of Sony's existing S-Air line of wireless audio products will get prominent placement at Best Buy.

Sony ALT-SA31iR
The Sony ALT-SA31iR system can stream iPod music into multiple rooms. Son

Sony has taken the wraps off of a new line of streaming audio products, dubbed "Altus." The four debut products will be available through Best Buy starting in September (and in the meantime), and the retailer also had a hand in their development. All of the products use Sony's proprietary S-Air wireless technology to communicate with one another, which means that other S-Air-compatible products--including many of Sony's recent home theater and home audio systems--can stream audio to the Altus products.

The initial Altus line is as follows:

Sony ALT-SA31iR ($700): This multiroom system includes three components: an iPod/iPhone dock and two wireless speakers (for listening to the iPod audio in separate rooms). Each component also has a separate built-in FM radio. While the ALT-SA31 looks to be a high-end upgrade of the Sony AIR-SA20PK with a slicker design, the new model also includes a remote control with an LCD that offers the iPod's playback info (song, artist, album, etc.), so you're not navigating blindly from another room. (Note: The CNET review of the AIR-S20PK will be posting later this week.)

Sony ALT-SA32PC ($500): This system transmits wireless audio from a PC (via a USB dongle) to two speaker systems which can reside in different rooms.

Sony ALT-SA33PC ($200): Similar to the system above, the ALT-SA33PC transmits audio from a PC USB dongle to a small wireless receiver. The receiver doesn't have built-in speakers, so it needs to be connected to a separate amp or boom box. (Compare with the similar Sound Blaster Wireless System for iTunes and Receiver, which retails for $149.)

Sony ALT-SA34R ($350): This so-called "Socket Speaker Package" is an S-Air-enabled set of powered speakers that plugs directly into any AC outlet (no cord). Like the ALT-SA31iR, it includes an LCD remote for accessing iPods or PC music based in other rooms.

Sony AIR-SW10Ti ($400): This iPod/iPhone speaker dock is packaged with a wireless subwoofer. The speaker dock also includes an FM radio, and can act as an transmitter to other S-Air products.

Most recent models of Sony home theater systems and AV receivers either include built-in S-Air functionality, or are "S-Air-ready" (with the purchase of the $50 snap-in EZW-T100 S-Air transmitter). This is normally the point where we'd harangue about Sony adopting yet another proprietary specification, but pretty much any wireless audio system we've ever seen is a walled garden that only works with products from one manufacturer--so at least Sony seems to be making sure it's supported by as many products in its lineup as possible.

That said, the prices Sony is asking for these things is straight out of the Bose or Monster Cable playbook. We'll withhold judgment until we've done a hands-on review, but we think they'll be a hard sell, especially in today's recession-addled marketplace.