My Digital Audio Strategy, or, Why I Didn't Buy an iPod
The Problem: So, I've been extremely frustrated with the tools I have to listen to music. Mostly it's because my music is split between a 300+ CD collection and about 20 GB of in various digital formats, and I have no portable MP3 player. In other words, the only place I can listen to digital music is on my computer at work or on my computer at home.
Meanwhile, my car CD player gets a workout from the same one CD (currently RJD2's newest). It might be swapped out if I remember to bring my 24-CD wallet, which has had the same CDs in it since the beginning of time.
And then the are my home systems, which haven't played a CD in months.
So, I have lots of music in different formats (CD and MP3), but end up listening to the same stuff over and over because my audio-playing devices don't play songs from the same format.
Also, the notion of CDs as a portable data format is dead. I'll gladly buy discs by good artists to have as a lossless backup, but I'm looking to reduce the stuff I have to bring with me.
- Go small. I need to make sure I can play music in one format in all the different places that I listen to tunes. Getting a portable player will let me dump my CDs when travelling, on the go, and in my car. Time to join the 21st century and buy an MP3 player.
I feel like I have to justify the choice--you're asking why not the iRiver H140, right? Hah.
Based on interface alone, the iPod is a terribly compelling product. That said, there are features on the iAudio that the iPod doesn't have that are nice--like an FM tuner and a remote control--but ultimately they weren't deal breakers. The three deal breaking reasons why I didn't buy an iPod were battery life, the ability to mount the device as a hard drive, and Apple's nickel and diming.
While Apple claims that the 4th gen iPod gets 12 hours of battery life, I came across too many customer claims to the contrary. 6 or 7 hours was more the norm. I just think of the plane rides that I would have taken with this sucker in the past year, and 6 or 7 wouldn't have cut it. The iAudio offers an achievable 14 hours, according to user reviews.
The iPod is mountable as a hard drive if using firewire. That's all fine and dandy, but USB is the standard on PCs. Plug the iAudio into a USB slot, and it appears as a removable drive on Windows, ready for some hot file-transferring action.
The iPod is a premium product, so why is Apple nickel-and-diming customers with the 4th generation iPods: $299 for the product, another $39 for the dock, another $39 for the remote, $99 for a new battery when it dies in a year... forget it. The iAudio was $275 at NewEgg, all-in.
It sucks to miss out on the incredible UI, iTunes playlist management (I've heard Media Monkey does a great job, and I'm planning to use it), and the thriving third-party iPod accessories industry, but the iAudio's battery life, hard-drive mountability, and all-in purchase price made it more compelling to me than the iPod... plus, the iAudio is sexier.
Of course, I could be playing the part of iconoclastic weenie to a 'T' here. I recognize that a nicer UI is generally the optimal path for the majority of consumers, especially when the tradeoffs are reasonable (shorter battery life, no FM tuner, etc.) but I'm a geek, and will willingly sacrifice UI for features that I need. I think. Check back in a month.
So, once I've taken the first step to getting my digital audio ducks in a row and quacking nicely, what do I do next?
- Standardize, standardize. I need to get my audio in a portable format that all my devices can understand. I've had an external 160 gig hard drive named Big Bertha (natch) sitting on my desk for almost exactly a year now, and it's not even close to being an eighth full. Time to fire up the ol' CD ripper and start dumping my embarrassingly bad (you know it's bad when you can buy it used for 5c) CDs to Bertie. I considered using a service to rip my CDs, but I think I'll try it myself for now--I'm not in a huge rush to get all my music on Bertha (just the good stuff).
- Pimp my ride. The commute to work is about twenty minutes each way. If I'm not listening to Stern or NPR in the car, I'm banging my head against the steering wheel.
Because the crap on the radio is generic Clear Channel-esque shite.
While the variety of car connectivity options for the iAudio is nowhere near as large as for the iPod, I poked around and found some viable options for hooking up an MP3 player to an RSX. I don't want an FM transmitter because transmission is spotty and the the quality degrades. Luckily, it looks like this Blitzsafe bad boy will plug directly into the head unit and will provide me with hours of quality diverse tunes sans commercials.
- Fix this old house. There are two stereos in the house that don't have wireless capabilities. The Squeezebox or Roku Soundbridge (Peter Gabriel thankfully not included) look like they will meet my needs: wireless streaming, output to my stereo, remote control-compatible, and a nice, big, bright display.
Once I'm done, I'll have a centralized collection of music which will be accessible in my car, at work, in any room at my place, and in the palm of my hand on the go.
Viva la Revolucion!