Features

I Got Yer MP3s Right Here!

Well, Napster is on its knees, but you’ve been a good soldier, downloading day and night, and now you’ve got every Hawkwind album every recorded (125 or so, including bootlegs, check http://www.ka.net/ss/d1.html if you doubt me). You even checked that the song ends weren’t cut off. With a new hard drive, a stack of CD-Rs, and a vague idea of what’s where, you’re ready to rock and roll all night. Personally, I wore out an HP 2x writer and ended up with the monster hard drive and a new operating system. It’s amazing what you can get a 486 to do with a little overclocking. Maybe you even got a little eclectic near the end – some Django Reinhardt, polka music, Lord of the Rings read by Tolkien himself. I grabbed two of Hitler’s speeches – no idea what he’s saying, but it makes you want to invade the Ukraine.

With your entire life’s musical history in a few cubic inches, what are your listening choices? Well, Winamp on a desktop is good, and you get those little add-ins that provide the low grade psychedelic experience similar to a six of Busch and half a bottle of Robitussin. And you can always make regular CDs, but let’s face it – it’s 10 times more volume, and it’s SO 1981. That leaves the portable players, which come in three flavors. There are the little digital memory stick jobs – cool if you want to listen to N*SYNC over and over again and you’re 13 and not ashamed. Then there are the monster hard drive in box types, like Nomad – everything is there if you can find it, but it costs five bills. I went for the middle ground – the CD/MP3 player. It takes regular CDs and data disks, and theoretically plays CD-RWs which could allow some editing as your taste changes.

I chose a unit called the MP3Fit, available form a Canadian online retailer. I had invested in CD-RWs, and the Phillips unit at the local big box didn’t play them. When it arrived, it was a little less forceful on this point, claiming to play “not all” CD-RWs, and when I eventually found the instructions, that was down to “well, it can’t really read them, so don’t waste your time.” This was a little annoying, but not as annoying as the fact the first one I got only worked for an hour. I travel a lot, and hoped to make it to California and back with only two disks. I got to Atlanta.

This brings up a minor point about “borderless Internet retailing”. If you buy from a foreign country, you can’t just return stuff. You have to fill out a Customs declaration, and it takes a long time for things to move around. Why they consider Canada a foreign country is beyond me, unless it’s the socialized medicine or the bad French accents. They even have the same dang VOLTAGE we use, so how foreign can they really be?

A replacement eventually arrived, and works as advertised, except for that CD-RW business. The sound is good, the interface acceptable, but there are a few quirks of which you should be aware. The most annoying is that SOME MP3s which sound fine on your big computer are garbled or full of weird noises on the portable. The portables have limited signal processing power, and unlike CD players, which only have to read the bits, convert to analog, and shoot ‘em in your ear phones, an MP3 player has to do actual arithmetic, and do it quickly. The worst songs were variable rate encoded – the processor can’t shift gears fast enough, and the results sounds like a vinyl record with a thumb dragging on it. Not good. And the processor eats batteries. Two hours is about it, so although you don’t need a lot of disks, a Costco pack of AA’s is de rigueur. And you better be encoded at 64 kbps or better, or the disk might as well not exist. So much for listening to the entire Harry Potter series while driving to Dallas.

On the plus side, when everything clicks, it sounds as good as a regular CD. It’s plenty loud, and you can listen ‘til the batteries die and never hear the same song twice. It even has a weird little remote control attachment that has a readout and a mode control, selecting random, sequential, intro (10 second clips), and directory play (plays everything in a single directory). File names are shown on the display in 8-character DOS format, unless the title and artist are encoded in the file itself. And all the songs I ripped from my own CDs sound perfectly fine. For a chubby little player, it’s not to bad.

Back in the ’70s George Carlin did a bit about ordering every single record ever made from K-Tel, delivered by flatbed truck in 24 hours. The really weird thing is, you COULD have every single song ever recorded, and they would fit in that old milk crate where you kept you Led Zep collection. The future MUST be right around the corner now.


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