Magazine article Information Today

Integrated MP3 and CD-Audio Player

Magazine article Information Today

Integrated MP3 and CD-Audio Player

Article excerpt

P[acute{e}]ter Jacs[acute{o}]

The D 'music SM-200C is a great, portable way to take your music with you

At the end of my March 1998 Multimedia Medley column (Information Today, pp. 34-35) I wrote, "I would not be surprised to see a special audio CD player soon that is endowed with a built-in microchip and firmware dedicated to the task of decompressing and converting MP3 audio into analog format.... That would really be music to our ears." It didn't happen soon, but at the last COMDEX Expo I saw two prototype models, one of which is likely to be available by the time you read this.

MP3 Music-Management Software

MP3 has been a phenomenal success, and there are millions of near-CD-quality, legitimate, and illegitimate MP3 files on the Internet. There are zillions of these files on the hard disks of users who have converted songs into MP3 format from their CDs--and even cassette tapes--using free software suites that "rip" audio tracks, then convert and organize them into playlists of MP3 files. The quality and choice of software have been breathtaking in this arena. Aside from the many teenage talents, small groups of software developers (like Nullsoft of Winamp fame), music-centered software-development companies (like Real-Networks), and some of the computer industry's most venerable companies have all engaged in developing and freely distributing music-management software.

In 1997, Adaptec started the ball rolling by enhancing its classic Easy CD Creator software with audio-conversion utilities. The recently released beta version of Microsoft Windows Media Player 7 (see Figure 1) comes with a complete suite of music-management utilities (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia).

All these software products are wonderful, but they tie you to a computer, as well as the Internet. (See this month's Internet Insights column on page 28.) Fortunately, hardware manufacturers have come up with gadgets that allow you to take your MP3 music with you.

Portable MP3 Players

Diamond Multimedia Systems, Inc. (http://www.diamondmm.com) deserves credit for inventing the Rio MP300, a gadget that can be connected to your PC for downloading and playing back highly compressed music files in near-CD-audio quality. The original 2.4-oz. Rio MP300 model, which fit in your shirt pocket, was an excellent deal for $79 (after the one-time special rebate) a year ago. The most serious limitation of the device was its storage capacity: less than 30 minutes of near-CD-quality music. (CDs are recorded at 44MHz and at 150 Kbps. Near-CD quality has the same frequency but a somewhat lower bit-rate of 128 Kbps.) For me there was no difference in performance, especially when using the superior-quality, bundled, tiny ear phones. You can buy extra flash memory cards but they are still very expensive. The current Rio 500 model with 64 MB of memory is $210 to $250, depending on the rebate you grab.

After Diamond Multimedia won a lawsuit that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) brought against it in late 1998, hardware manufacturers started to produce a variety of MP3 players. At the COMDEX Fall '99 show you could choose from tiny MP3 players that could be worn as jewelry on your wrist, arm, or around your neck. Amidst the sea of MP3 players I finally spotted what I was looking for: a device that's both an MP3 and CD player. …

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