Friday, June 09, 2006

finding music player, take 3...

Having endured the music, and I use the term liberally, at the gym for the past year or so, I've decided that my willingness to go there at any time is almost entirely based on whether I have music available on a portable player.

The first player I had was Flash based, 64MB, only played MP3's, and had great sound. The 64MB limitation was very painful, but was the fashion at the time. It could just about hold an album...almost. It was great for listening to low bitrate Air Traffic Control recordings though, a little hobby of mine.

With the advent of hard disk based players, and the promise of being able to store an entire music collection, I began the search for my next player. Here's the complicated bit...the only MP3's I have are live concerts (quick aside, one of my favourite bands, Primus, made recordings from their tour available for download, $10 per show. It was great, and straight from the mixing desk).

Instead, my music collection is in the Ogg Vorbis (OGG) format. For a given bitrate, OGG exhibits fewer audio artifacts than MP3 (at least that was my understanding), and is an open source format. It took quite a while for OGG-based portable music players to show up on the market, but one by one they started coming. A reasonably current list can be found here.

In the end, I purchased an atrocious looking player with a 20GB drive for $249, the Digital Mind 8280. It really would've been more efficient had I simply set fire to the money and watched it burn. The one saving grace of this player is that it weighs a ton, so it really carries some momentum when you hurl it off a cliff in frustration, even if it's in to the wind.

This player was a crime. It would take forever to start, and each time it did so, it let you know, loud and proud, through the headphones. I wouldn't be surprised if we see new jet engines in the coming years from Pratt & Whitney with a lower audio footprint than this clunker.

So, on the off chance that you are still awake, or not deaf by the time the player comes to life, you then whip out the chisel (not included) to will the buttons into submission to find the song you'd like to play. Having long since bent the chisel getting that far, you simply take the player to an olympic track, place it in the starting blocks and hope that a world class sprinter shows up and does a particularly hard start -- only then will the play button depress.

Buckle your seatbelts once again as the hard drive spins into action, almost generating enough torque for the piece of crap to take off like a helicopter,if it wasn't so damn heavy, that is (it's a feature!). At some point, the hard drive completes its startup. Fantastic, we should start hearing our track any tick of the clock....yet we're left with an eerie silence, measured in ice ages. Precisely what the hell the player is doing at this point, we may never know, but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say it's whipping out the protocol spec for the OGG format and saying, "alright, what's this all about, then?" as it strains to understand the first few bars of any track you might be trying to listen to.

Now that I think about it, you don't listen to OGG files on this player, so much as endure them. If you so much as sneeze, the player comes to grinding halt, the referree blows the whistle, and you enjoy a 3 minute stint in the penalty box while the player picks up the manual and starts again. If you're very lucky, it will continue playing a track off the same album you were listening to.

So, assuming you intend to not move or breathe while using your PORTABLE music player, you should be in good shape, right? I'm sorry, but there's more...and this, my friends, is where it gets good.

If you plan on listening to music that's at all more complicated or rich than an ensemble of 6 year olds learning the recorder (and I recommend you do), you'll find the player is, in fact, no more capable than that 6 year old at playing the tune. Like the child, it will simply ignore parts of the chart that are too hard, or equally annoying, slow down during the difficult bits.

I'll say that again, because it bears repeating...if the player encounters a hard guitar solo, it won't play it (but WILL play the backing track), or it just slows down.

Every now and then, it has a full on tantrum and just blasts white noise spikes, presumably as some form of revenge.

I should also mention that while the volume goes from zero to forty, there appears to be no noise generated whatsoever until you reach around 28. Normal listening starts at 35, with the introduction of a hiss that sounds like a gas leak. By the time you hit 38, it sounds like a Category 5 hurricane. should come as no surprise that when I accidentally left this player on the plane after a business trip, I actually smiled for the first time since buying it.

That takes us to present day. After 3 hours of research, I've settled on the IRiver CLIX as my next player. It has video capability, but I'm buying it because it's Flash based (no more hard drives for me, and 2GB is an acceptable amount of storage, my entire collection is only about 5GB), and can play Flash games (two different technologies with the same name, one is hardware, one is software).

It's coming on Monday, I'll post the review after I've used it for a few days. The next thing acquisition I need to focus on is a good set of headphones for it. It's down to the Shure 4C, or the Etymotic ER-6 Isolator (another 2 hours research).


At 12:53 PM, Blogger jeddings said...

Keith Smith -- the new Lewis Black!

I guarantee you that if the new player he gets is really good, we won't get more than a couple of sentences worth of a blog post.

But really, it's why we love him so. :-)

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Keith Smith said...

You're probably right, jeddings! If it's a great player, there's really nothing worth posting other than "boy, this player is great."

That old player was so bad, though, it really did warrant a 3 pager.

At 2:32 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Excellent review Keith! I laughed, I really did :) You should put the name of the player in the text though, so it'll be found by the Evil Indexing Machine of which you spoke last year. When I mentioned my Soyo K7-VME motherboard a while ago I consistently got (and still get) hits from people searching for information on it. And your opinion on this worthless player is too good to pass up :)


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