CD-R Makes MP3 A-OK

by Scott Bass for Digital Living Today

This holiday season offers a much better selection of MP3 players than last year, but the same problems remain: They cost too much and don’t hold enough music. That’s because most MP3 players use flash memory to store the music. After blowing $400 on a player, you end up with something that can only handle two hours of tunes (if you’re lucky)-hardly a bargain. A new breed of MP3 machines solves this problem by scrapping flash memory in favor of much cheaper CD-R (CD-recordable) media that can hold more than ten hours of near-CD quality music and cost around a dollar a disc.

The best news is that the CD-R MP3 players cost much less than first-generation machines. Tagram’s Mambox (www.mambox.com) and Pine Technology’s D’Music player (www.pineusa.com) will be on the market any day now and will sell in the $200-$250 range. The MpTrip (www.easybuy2000.com), available now, slays its competition with an unbeatable $87 price tag and enough features to satisfy most music lovers.

The MpTrip player can handle regular CDs as well as CD-Rs with MP3 tracks. It runs on two AA batteries and comes with an AC power adapter and a set of earphones. The unit is equipped with a “Line Out” jack, which if you have an available input on your home stereo, is a major bonus. It supports random and programmed play, features a 50-second anti-shock system to prevent skipping, and even offers the ability to record 500 seconds of dictation via an external microphone. According to the instructions, the MpTrip does not support non-128 Kbps MP3s, but in our tests, it did play most of the Variable Baud Rate (VBR) files we tried.

The most impressive thing about MpTrip is that it does what it’s supposed to do. I made a CD containing 257 of my favorite MP3s, hit “Random,” and didn’t change the disc for days. My I-Jam player is now in the corner gathering dust and looking positively “pre-Mil.”

Since this is such an inexpensive player, there are some problems. Perhaps the biggest one is that you don’t get more than two hours of juice from a set of batteries. You’ll need rechargables or you’ll go broke feeding this thing Duracells. Another annoyance is that the LCD display does not support ID3 tags (used on many MP3 machines for displaying title and artist). Only the track numbers are shown, so finding a particular song can be frustrating. The player can be finicky about reading certain discs too, but if you use CD-Rs with nothing but MP3 files on them, you should be fine.

All in all, the drawbacks of the MpTrip are overshadowed by its benefits. To get the biggest bang for your holiday buck, and to catch the latest wave in MP3 technology, the MpTrip is worth a listen. It will be interesting to see how the makers of the Rio, the Nomad, and other flash-based players, respond to the coming of CD-R-based MP3.

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