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Battery or AC?
The Kima system consists of a pair of futuristic-looking, two-tone gray devices that resemble walkie-talkies merged with toy robots. One of the units, the base station or transmitter, is hooked up directly to your music source, be it a PC, a Mac, an MP3 player, or a regular home audio system. It makes the most sense when used with a computer, since the other devices are probably close enough to your stereo for you to make the connection with a wire.
The transmitter and receiver each use AC power or four AAA batteries. A supplied stereo miniplug cable is used to attach the transmitter to your sound card's output. Each unit has a built-in antenna that resembles the one you'd find on a mobile phone. The Kima receiver includes another somewhat flimsy antenna, which can rebroadcast the audio to your FM radio at either 88.1 MHz or 88.3 MHz. For cleaner sound, we recommend just connecting the Kima receiver to your stereo with RCA cables as an auxiliary input, unless you have an older stereo with no input. The receiving unit catches the signal at distances up to 1,000 feet and can rebroadcast to an FM radio up to 10 feet away.
Choose Your Weapon
Your source material can be anything that produces sound on your computer, such as a computer game, an audio CD, a DVD, an MP3 track, or an Internet radio broadcast. The transmitting unit has a level control for adjusting overall volume. Once the Kima is set up, all you need to do is turn on your FM receiver and tune it to one of two frequencies that can be selected; your sound source is then magically reproduced just as with any other FM station. However, the sound quality is not as good, as you'll soon hear. If you don't have an FM radio, the manufacturer has thoughtfully provided standard audio cables for direct hookup.
We hooked up the Kima in minutes and connected it to our test computer, a Power Macintosh G4/500. The receiver unit was then connected to several components, including table radios from Bose and Sony, and a state-of-the-art $10,000 home audio system. To test the capabilities of the Kima system, we used several audio CDs.
Sound Quality Doesn't Measure Up
Using the rebroadcast mode, our test radios had no problems receiving the signal, but the sound quality came up short. We had to turn up the volume controls very high to get a normal level, and there was noticeable background hiss. In addition, bass reproduction seemed thin. We tried using the audio cables to connect the receiver directly to two of the FM components, but sound quality didn't improve enough to win our vote.
At $149.99, the Kima is a decent value if you don't need crystal-clear sound. It's all right for casually listening to Internet radio and MP3 tracks, but don't expect to get the best reproduction from a high-quality sound source.