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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.

The Solution: There are four things I need to do before I can rock out to anything from Dave Mathews to Lemon Jelly at the push of a button.

  1. 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.

    After contemplation spanning weeks (for serious) and considering the iRiver H140, the 20 gig 4th generation iPod, and the iAudio M3, I opted for the iLatter.

    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?

  2. 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).
  3. 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.

  4. 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!

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Comments (Post | Latest)

1. sujal said on Jan 3 2005:

Everything I can find says that the iPod mounts as a USB drive in windows, too... think you may have some bum info there...

Also, about the battery life... sure people complain about the iPod's battery life... but they don't generally set up the device to extend battery life. Turn off the backlight and limit the skipping and navigation that you do and the battery will easily last a whole domestic flight or more (I've owned a first gen and now have a second gen and third gen between Heidi and I). I listened to a whole book on my iPod coming back from New Zealand (7 hours, the book, not the flight). Oh, and my batteries are still fine...

And before you fault apple for requiring "ideal" situations for their max battery life estimate, EVERYONE does this type of overestimation on their battery specs from video camera and digital camera manufacturers to laptop manufacturers... I've found that dimming my screen on my powerbook and turning off all the networking (actually disabling wireless and ethernet port) pushed my powerbook well into the 5 hour range. While people were struggling to take notes on their laptops at conferences (say, 7-8 hours of sessions), I was fine with one recharge during lunch.

I'm not saying that the iPod is it, but simply that the reasons you've given might not be that relevant... and, well, that they aren't so compelling to me... especially in a car situation where I kinda want things to be easy, especially to read.

That, and I like the wide variety of accessories, but that's just me. :-)


2. kareem said on Jan 3 2005:

So basically you're saying, all signs point to iconoclastic weenie? =)

Found the firewire info in the CNet review... on second reading, it implies that the iPod doesn't mount as a USB drive in Windows. Boo.

Agreed about overestimation of battery life. I made my decision based on the aggregate opinions of folks on CNet, but it's possible I should have considered the people using iPods (less tech-savvy, and thus less likely to limit backlight, etc.)

Plus, the nickel-and-diming turns me off.


3. Levi said on Jan 5 2005:

I haven't timed my iPod battery because I don't generally use it for long periods uncharged (longer than a couple hours anyway). However, I can confirm that the iPod is mountable as a hardrive in Windows via USB - I've been doing this with both my 3G and then my 4G iPods. I'm not a big fan of Apple and I think there are better bangs for the buck out there in terms of functionality and features, but unfortunately few do what I need and that is for them to be able to play audio book files...


Hi, I'm Kareem Mayan. I co-founded eduFire, an online video tutoring company.

I've done time at ESPN and FIM.

I advise WorldBlu, helping them build democratic companies.

I moderated a council for Creative Good.

And, I helped bring Barcamp, a technology un-conference, to LA, which is where I live. I am now living and working in cool cities around the world.

More about me.

Opinions stated here are mine alone.

Contact: blog -at- reemer


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