| | As regular readers
of our MP3 player coverage know, tiny one-inch hard drives have enabled a new breed of portable audio device that sits somewhere between flash-based units and larger, hard drive-based models in terms of both price ($200 to $250) and capacity (1.5GB to 4GB). These players are cheaper per megabyte than flash players and far more pocketable than larger-capacity (10GB+) hard drive-based players, providing an attractive option for those who prize compact designs in their portable gear. The heavy hitters of the MP3 player space, Apple, Creative, iRiver, RCA, and Rio, have already released one or more of these devices, which we have dubbed microdrive MP3 players.
But just because the companies build them doesn't necessarily mean that consumers understand the value of such devices. I've taken an informal poll of friends and colleagues, and the response I heard most often was, "Why should I buy a 4GB iPod Mini for $250 when I can pay another $50 for the 15GB white iPod?" The most obvious answer: The Mini, as its name suggests, is smaller than its higher-capacity cousins.
Most people prefer their portable devices as small as possible, so long as the buttons and the screen aren't so minuscule as to necessitate the inclusion of tweezers and a magnifying glass as standard accessories. Size is clearly an issue, but it's not the only one.
It's in the way that you use it
There are two main ways people listen to the large quantities of music stored on hard drive-based MP3 players: either by shuffling all tunes or creating extensive playlists. I tend to listen to my digital music in Shuffle All mode and hit the fast-forward button when I hear something I'm not in the mood for. I'm a shuffler, but I know several people who carefully set up playlists and often want to listen to a specific song or artist. I call them selectors.
As long as a shuffler doesn't mind refreshing the music on his or her MP3 player, there's no palpable difference between a 1.5GB microdrive unit and a 60GB high-capacity model. After all, you can't listen to more than one song at a time--well, I suppose you can if you're listening to one of these, but you get the idea. Shufflers should consider buying a microdrive player to conserve valuable pocket space. The 4GB models allow you to go longer between syncs, but for a shuffler who uses a computer daily, a 1.5GB model is almost as good.
On the other hand, if you're a selector (or planning a long trip away from your computer), you're going to want to take along your entire collection--no microdrive player for you.
Aside from size, capacity, and price, there's one other differentiator between microdrives and 1.8-inch drives: their diameter, which has physics-based ramifications. Their smaller diameter could make microdrives more resilient to damage or skipping due to jarring impact. And according to a spokesman from Cornice (the company that makes the 1.5GB microdrives used by iRiver and others), "By virtue of being a lighter drive, [the microdrive gives you] a shock-protection benefit. The Storage Element [Cornice's drive] is especially protected against shock. [It] is mounted in such a way to greatly reduce any effects of shock--from simple jogging to a drop of well over one meter onto concrete."
Now, I don't recommend jogging with any hard drive-based player, even though I've heard stories of people who've trained for and competed in marathons with an iPod and never experienced a skip. But I've also heard of hard drive players that have ceased to function due to jogging. If you're feeling lucky, go ahead and jog with your microdrive player; from what I can tell, odds are that it will be fine, but we're talking about potential damage to $250 devices. For that reason, jogging and other highly active pursuits might be the only remaining uses for flash players if microdrive models catch on with consumers.
If you're looking for a new MP3 player that you won't take jogging, just ask yourself one simple question: Are you a shuffler or a selector? If you classify yourself as the former, microdrive players, such as the ones in the above chart, make a world of sense. As for you selectors out there, you have lots of options--so long as you don't mind wearing cargo pants.
Three MP3 Insider columns are Maggie finalists
The Western Publishing Association has chosen three MP3 Insider columns from 2003 as finalists for the Maggie award for Best Regularly Featured Online Column.
The suits hit the fans
Five reasons not to buy an iPod
What the labels still don't comprehend
Free money from the labels
If you signed up for your CD settlement fee as I suggested you do in an earlier column, then you too recently received a check for $13.86 from the labels--compensation for their price-fixing of CDs from 1995 to 2000.
Annoying "stereo hum"
A little more than a year ago, I fried my Denon DVD surround-sound system by connecting my sound card to its auxiliary input. If I had used Xitel's $30 Ground Loop Isolator, which also stops "stereo hum," maybe my $1,100 Denon would have been saved.
Xitel Ground Loop Isolator
How I fried my Denon
New version of Audacity
My favorite free, open-source audio editor has been updated to version 1.2.0. If you dabble in digital audio recording, you should definitely give this multitrack and WAV editor a chance.
Coolest online mixer ever
When it's this fun to sculpt your own dub tracks online, who cares if dub music sometimes sounds like you're trapped inside a submarine that dolphins are trying to break into?
Infinite Wheel's most excellent DubSelector
Jay-Z construction kit
You've probably heard about DJ Danger Mouse's Grey Album, which riled certain copyright holders by mixing Jay-Z's Black Album with the Beatles' White Album. Now you can create your own mix of those two sources, using the Jay-Z construction kit.
Rolling Stone's review
Jay-Z construction kit (some assembly required)
iPod-style interface for Pocket PC
Although the company that makes it isn't allowed to use the word iPod in describing this Pocket PC download, its capacity for turning PDAs into iPod-like devices is undiminished--and it costs only $20.
Starbright Solutions pBop
eCast forges new promotional ground
Exactly four years ago today, I wrote a column in this space (archive no longer available) profiling the first Internet-connected jukebox: an eCast machine in Kennedy's Pub, here in San Francisco. I heard from eCast recently, and it seems the company has invented a new way to promote new albums, in this case, Jimmy Buffett's Live in Mansfield, MA.
eCast's press release