Sunday, March 26, 2006

My Digital Music Journey - Part One

I've never been one to fall victim to fads and fashions, prefering to be a bit different than to blend in and conform. But when the big new trend for digital portable music came along, I was lured by the attractive prospect of carrying virtually my whole record collection around with me in a tiny device. I decided to join the revolution but couldn't bear the thought of the ubiquitous iPod in my pocket, with its give-away white headphone leads. I'd seen the Sony NW-HD5 walkman and really liked its simple, black design. I figured that being Sony, the sound quality would be pretty good, so I parted with my £159 (it was reduced from £199) and began my journey into digital music.

The major stumbling block of this departure was that I don't actually own a PC. I started out using my Mum's computer, going over once a week and ripping as many CDs as I could. Luckily my husband Ant was rehearsing for a play in Eastbourne at the time, so it fitted in OK. Eventually I had a decent amount of songs uploaded (around 5,000) and was enjoying the experience of having the music I fancied on tap when I wanted it. After a few months though I discovered the drawbacks of the Sony machine - namely the terrible software Sonic Stage. Sony doesn't let you use anything else to interact with the device, and it also entails some pretty restrictive copy-protection software which stops you moving music off the device onto any computer other than the one from which it was originally uploaded. Being Mrs Geek, I ventured into the exciting but unpredictable world of hacking, finding some free software online that claimed to overcome these problems. Unfortunately I didn't quite read all the smallprint and ended up inadvertantly corrupting all the Atrac songs on the player. Ooops.

So now I had two choices - reload all the music (by now we had a laptop at home, so visits to Eastbourne were no longer needed) and live with the restrictions of Sony, or upgrade to something more flexible. After some extensive research, I narrowed it down to 3 open-source players that would work with Windows Media Player and didn't impose any restrictive copy-protection. I made my final choice mostly based on size and value for money and plumped for the newly release Archos Gmini XS202s. It is the smallest 20GB player, about the size of the iPod mini (which is only 4GB) with a massive screen in proportion to its size, and with the added bonus of being in chic black, rather than a white iPod-wannabe. It is a no-frills piece of kit, so you are not paying over the odds for added features such as photo and video storage (I can use my phone for this). Great sound quality, an intuitive menu system and the ability to easily manipulate one's music collection all contribute to the appeal of my new toy. I really hope I've got it right this time!


  1. This is sooooo not an 'I told you so', but it is really nice to see Ro coming around to the virtues of open standards digital music. iPods and iTunes are all well and good (and seem to come sugar coated in the 'apple can do no wrong 'cos they aren't microsoft' way) but we've both always known that the digital rights managmet was a nasty bit of technology that can stuff up your machine. I suspected the sony of being as malicious given their recent track record of hamfisted drm clunks, and sadly this proved the case.

    Now with the Archos Rowan should find the whole business mpre agreable, and there will be file managment tools a plenty to help her manage the collection.

    I have a cunning plan though- there must be a way to make a device that's just enough power and processing to be a music player you can plug any USB hard drive into. It's be a headphone jack, a USB, a tiny screen and some batteries, and you could keep updating the disks as they got cheaper. Mad huh!

  2. I'm feeling you about the fads. I'm my own kind of chick, but I did break down & accept the gift of an MP3 player for my b-day. Hooked now!

    Checking your blog & updating my BlogLinker links.

    Anybody digging music is cool with me.


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