Legal Alien: A Scotsman in Montreal

Music on the Move

I've been looking into the world of MP3 players recently as I have run out of patience with my Mini-Disc player. There is nothing wrong with my MD player, in fact there are a lot of things right with it: long battery life 30-40hrs from an AA battert, acts as a charger when DC supplied, the player itself is only slightly larger than a MD and only about15mm thick, infinite storage provided you have infinite discs and each disc can hold 5 hours of music. Thus I usually find 3-4 discs is enough for a long trip (i.e. 8 hr plane journey etc) and I can sort them into categories; punk, rock, dance, chillout tend to be the usual ones.

So where's the problem? It sounds perfect. The problem is that it doesn't actually play MP3s - it plays Sony's proprietary format, ATRAC3, which is fine quality wise. Except that you have to convert all your MP3s to ATRAC before loading them onto the MD.  And to do this you have to use the worst software in the world, OMG MusicBox.

Whilst the conversion doesn't take too long, say 3-5 seconds per track - it doesn't always work. Sometimes it will refuse to accept a file for no apparent reason (may have sthg to do with variable bit rate) and sometimes it will accuse you of not having a license for it. The licensing problem would be fine were it consistent, but tends to be rather random, allowing you to copy a track some of the time but not others.

Add to this the program's tendency to crash and it becomes an immensely frustrating experience trying to create or edit a MD. Then after you've got all your tracks organised and converted (and thus have dual copies of your music on your hard drive) you have to send the files to the MD via USB and then burn them on. This takes forever - I reckon it takes you about an hour to transfer all the 80-100 songs.

And so I want something new - not an MD player - I want a hard drive player or a flash player. So I've been searching the net, reading reviews, comparing models. My first instinct was to look at an Ipod, but I soon discovered that there were a lot of competing products, most of which were functionally superior. Indeed I've come to the conclusion that Ipod's are more of a fashion accessory, they're good but not that good and they only sell so well cos of the hype.

I looked at my crucial needs for my player; I travel a lot so battery life is crucial to me, and if I run out of juice I don't want to need to find a computer to charge up again. This, in one fell swoop, has instantly knocked out every single HD-based player. And since I travel a lot I want to be able to store a lot of different music, without needing to swap via a computer, so I need high memory, around 1GB. And of course, the smaller, the lighter, the cooler, the better.

However, a 1Gb flash player does not come cheap. There are only a few competing models - 2 to be precise: the IRiver IFP-799/899 and the IAudioC4. I think the C4 is cooler and has better features as well as being smaller and lighter. However, the designers went for a AAA battery which is smaller and has less oomph than a AA (see the technical jargon we engineers love to use) and so it only runs for 15hours compared to 30 for the IRiver.

The IRiver is cheaper, but has the flaw in that it isn't recgonised as an external drive and so you can't drag and drop your files - you have to use their provided software! This makes me nervous as I hated the MD software. It's been promised to come in a firmware upgrade, but from reading the IRiver forum, this was promised a looong time ago and has yet to appear.

However, I find it hard to justify the extra cost of the C4, when it has such a big difference in battery length. And the IFP does use USB2 and it should get the upgrade... but still I'm having trouble justifying the outlay. 270 pounds, 450USD is not to be sniffed at, I guess it could be put on plastic......