Just as cell phones are becoming ever more powerful übergadgets, and flat TV screens get larger even as their prices drop, so, too, do the gadgets of the upper crust further distance themselves from the trinkets of the masses. For better or worse, most of the guts of even the priciest pieces of tech are pretty much the same as those of the glitterati — even if the oil sheiks and Level III Scientologists of the world can afford to house those guts in 24-karat gold inlaid with Babe Ruth's bone fragments.
Still, sometimes the superrich get what they pay for, or at least far more bang for their Black AmEx swipe than the Wal-Mart shoppers can get on layaway. Here are the 10 most extravagant electronics for the techy bajillionaires on your gift list, and be sure to come back tomorrow for our companion piece, the 10 Tech Toys You Can Actually Afford.
UE's $1,150 phones are the company's most sophisticated pro models yet, housing not a double but a quad armature speaker configuration with a three-way crossover. The results — delivered via dual subwoofers, a midrange driver, and a tweeter directly into your eardrum — is the most precise sound capable short of a miniaturized Christina Aguilera living in your brain. Ultimate Ears UE-11
When it comes to iPod docks, there are a lot of them: No audio-equipment manufacturer wants to be without one. So high-end component maker Krell introduced its own $1,200 entry this past January, attracting attention as the most expensive iPod accessory — an erroneous qualification, seeing as how there's BMW that docks a 'pod. No matter. Krell left out its supersensitive tubes when developing the Krell iPod Dock (disparagingly nicknamed by the acronym KID), instead optimizing the output of the iPod's digital-to-analog converter. Otherwise, the KID serves its simple purpose of passing along iPod (or auxiliary Zune or other input) signals with panache, offering balanced outputs, bass and treble adjustments, and video out for the discerning entertainment rack. Krell KID
When buying audio equipment, the rules of diminishing returns inevitably require we budget-minded folks avail ourselves of the cost-value proposition. Yes, $100 headphones sound better than $20 headphones, but do they sound 5 times better? And does that mean that $1,500 headphones sound 15 times better than $100 headphones? Of course the answer is not frickin' likely. But when cost is no option, plugging in a pair of bass-heavy Bose phones into a $7,000 receiver is tantamount to casting Charlize Theron as the She-Thing in FF3.
Audio-Technica's $1,670 striped ebony-cased cans (that's wood — better material for producing richer sound) enhance acoustics, output precise audio fidelity, and reduce noise. Leather ear fittings provide a comfortable hold, but not even the unique wood-y look of the things can communicate "rich audiophile" anywhere outside a specialty show, nor can they diminish the dork factor of DJ-style headphones. Audio-Technica ATH-W5000 headphones
Fans of Men in Black (the movie — not the comic book, and definitely not the kid's cartoon show) may recognize the iconic Egg Chair. Everyone else will recognize it from breakfast. And while the unique retro design isn't conducive to test-taking, it's rather ideal for sound immersion — hence, the iPod integration with surround sound speakers. Each chair is custom upholstered in a choice of fabric, adding to the appeal/cost; a model with shaken-not-stirred rumble action goes for $1,800. modPod Egg Chair
Nothing says, "I have money to burn" like a smoldering cigar. True tobacco aficionados keep their imported-at-great-human-and-fiscal-cost Cubabos in unnecessarily expensive humidors. This $6,400 jobby is cased in solid walnut, spiced up with Burr Walnut veneer and details of ebony and silver; a premium Credo humidity regulator (humidifier and hydrometer) — ostensibly the mechanism that justifies its gadget designation — is the best of its kind. A winged Bentley logo adorns the front to remind guest tokers that his other car is a lot more impressive than whatever you rolled up in. Bentley Humidor
If the iPhone is the Mercedes sedan of cellies — superperforming, aspirational, slobber worthy — than this $7,500 phone is the… Ferrari GT — a showy, overstated midlife crisis wrapped up in metal and leather. "Exclusive handset crafters" Vertu (a subsidiary of flashy-forward cell maker Nokia) has tweaked the styles of its Ascent line to feature various automotive masterpieces; the individually numbered Ascent Ferrari 1947 phone gets its cues from the GT models of that obsessive Italian carmaker's lineup, pairing hand-polished titanium with red and black leather, tarted up with black lacquer racing stripes and a to-scale aluminum brake pedal adorning the back.
Beyond sleek, racy good looks (we'll grudgingly give it that), the Ascent, like all Vertus, connects directly to 24-hour concierge service, providing tech support and "creative and relevant solutions" to customers via a dedicated button — ostensibly saving the pampered class the trouble of texting GOOGLE for Web-accessible information. Vertu Ascent Ferrari 1947 Cell Phone
The ubiquitous iPod provides a blank palette ripe for ostentatious individualized prettying up — graphic stickers, laser engraving, plastic molding and the like. How, then, to best enhance the appearance of the stylish gadget in a truly over-the-top fashion? Perhaps German company Xexoo looked to C-3PO for inspiration, as their solution involved covering up the base, pedestrian materials (plastic, aluminum) of Apple's music players with gold — gold plating, to be precise.
A $19,000 Shuffle makes the most of little, adding diamond bling to its otherwise-$10,000, red carpet-worthy, 18-karat-covered accessory. 24-hour tech support — including damage repair and replacement worldwide — sweetens the deal, though for the price of 240-song storage on one Xexoo Shuffle, his majesty could also purchase Shuffles for each of his 240 servants/mistresses. Xexoo Gold-Plated iPod shuffle
Steinway & Sons built its reputation on building flawless pianos like its concert grand Model-D. Peter Lyngdorf has built his reputation on building high-end hi-fi equipment. Put them together and the result is a $150,000 sound system, a completely digital, ultra-high-end beaut capable of reproducing a full symphony without any sound loss — thereby scaring the bejesus out of beyond-their-prime oboists who've been phoning it in for decades.
Each speaker tower weighs 500 pounds, has four 12-inch drivers, two 5-inch midranges and a single ribbon tweeter. The hefty cost includes a visit from a sound technician to do the installation and configuration to ensure that Mr. Moneybags can hear every last piccolo inhalation from any point in his listening room. The Model-D all but requires a shrine to audiophile addiction. Further ratcheting up the exclusivity, Steinway is hand-making just 100 systems, keeping the pristine pieces out of the hands of latecomers as well as us commoners. Steinway Lyngdorf Model-D Handmade Music System
Dutch company Ego has seen the future in laptop design, and it looks like a purse. As with high fashion, utility and practicality are boring when it comes to luxury gadgets — hence the wholly underwhelming tech specifications of these Tulip Egos: single-core AMD Turion processor, 12.1-inch screen, blah blah blah. But they are so gorgeous, darling!
Women and fancy boys can customize their pocketbooks, er, notebooks with their choice of skin (leather or other fabric) and by integrating designs like embroidered initials or symbols into the case — all tailor-made. And while prices start at $5,000, the gem of the appropriately branded Ego is a $350,000 diamond-encrusted Tulip. It's named for the flower-shaped icon consisting of 470 diamonds Krazy-glued to the lid, certain to attract jealous looks from socialites and diamond thieves alike. Tulip Ego Diamond notebook PC
Vision LD Display
Sure, there are 100-plus-inch flat screens out there, but Samsung, Sharp and LG aren't likely to sell you one no matter how much scratch you bring to the electronics show. But anyone with a half-million holiday bonus (or 63 million Japanese Yen) still burning their extraordinarily large pockets can get their hands on (if not their arms around) this whoppingly huge-ormous 231-inch display consisting of huge LEDs. And as opposed to a Jumbotron, the 16-million-color monitor accepts a myriad of inputs, including DVI. Just don't expect to see larger-than-life Katherine Heigl standing in your living room in full HD: the resolution's a paltry 512 x 288 pixels, requiring a viewing distance of at least 15 feet. Fujitsu Super Frontech Vision LD display