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Wednesday October 6, 2004 7:51 am

The Joys of Digital Audio

Posted by Hector Martinez Categories: Features

Apple iPod Ad

The music industry is going through a serious transformation and resurgence these days. Part of the reason for this is the popularity of portable digital music players, such as the Apple iPod and the Rio Carbon. In fact, a recent study found that the global market for mp3 players will generate $58 billion by 2008. You have to wonder, what is it that makes digital audio so enticing in the first place? Today Gear Live takes a look at the allure and the functionality of the MP3 world, so that we could all understand what the fuss is all about.


CD's are quickly becoming a thing of the past. With so many MP3 services available, it's becoming a lot easier to find your favorite artist, whether the genre is jazz, instrumental, hip-hop, rock and beyond. This means we don't need to carry around those bulky CD cases any longer. When you're commuting to work on the train, you'll have less of a chance of falling on someone because you're busy fishing through a CD storage case.

Enjoy Carrying This Around...

With 5 GB of space on a player, you could store about 80 full albums worth of music, all in the palm of your hand. The LCD screens on most players also allow you to browse through your tracks, and hand-select the exact song, from the specific artistor album that you'd like to hear. No more fumbling around while standing on a moving train or bus. Just scroll, click, scroll and you're in music heaven. Best yet, all this accessibility can fit right in your pocket. Plus, if you're stuck without a radio, digital audio can be played from a PC or Mac, using players like Winamp or Windows Media Player.


The size of your average MP3 file is around 5 megs, assuming an average bitrate. This means you can store about 140 songs on a single CD either for storage or for playback on a CD-based MP3 player. That's a far cry from the usual 15 tracks when songs are in their native format. With the proliferation of USB devices, you can also now transfer songs from one PC to another and then back to your player at pretty quick speeds. I keep my songs organized in specific directories so I have one folder or "album" per genre. If I need a quick pickup of a few titles, I search for the directory I'm in the mood for, and drag and drop the songs I need to the player.


CD's and DVD's can scratch up, despite what proponents will have you believe. Having songs in digital form means that they retain their integrity from storage to playback, for as long as you have them, assuming you have some decent virus protection on your PC, of course.

Here's the benefit: If I need to make a copy of a few songs unto a CD for playback on a non-MP3 device, I can. Windows XP comes with that function built right in. Find the songs you like in your Explorer window and select "Copy Songs to Audio CD". Simplicity itself. You'll find you can make all of your Slow Jams albums you need for your special night with a loved one. If you lose the CD, just burn another, and it will sound exactly the same.


You know how bummed out you were when you forgot to check if your new CD player had skip-proof 30-second memory? Heck, even those with 60 or 90-second buffers are prone to music skips if you jog hard enough. Not so with flash-based MP3 players. Because they offer no moving parts, there's no chance of a song bouncing on you. Hard drive based players are also less prone to skips as well, but they're not completely skip-free. For this reason, many manufacturers now sell arm-based strap-cases for players so that there's less movement when working out or doing other strenuous activity.

Flash Based Player from iRiver


You're going to save yourself trips to the music store. Just about everything can be downloaded from the comfort of your own home. Even Virgin Records needed to get itself into the act, by offering its own new monthly subscription-based music service. Many artists even offer free MP3's on the web if they're relatively new and need to get some buzz out there. With a cable connection, you can have a song on your computer and in your MP3 player in less time that it takes to hear the song itself. With wireless Internet access catching on, things are going to get even more interesting.

These are just some of the joys I've experienced with this new but exciting technology. Sure, you need a decent PC with a good USB connection, and a high speed modem get the most out of the digital music world, but then again you need that for digital photos as well, so consider it a multi-use investment.

Great-sounding, ultra-portable, and easily attainable music is worth it.

Sound off on your love for digital music on Gear Live's Message Boards.

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