Can you recommend a good wireless streaming device? Nothing too fancy -- I just want to stream some MP3s around the house. Continue reading...
The buzz is building about Toshiba's Gigabeat range of MP3 players, set to launch in July. We like the look of these toothsome players, and it will be interesting to see how Apple responds to a rival taking a bite out of its portable music market with an impressively featured product.
First of all, the integrated 'Napster To Go' service lets you add anything you like to the player for £14.95 a month, with a selection of over 1 million tracks available. This should mean that filling the 10GB, 20GB, 40GB or 60GB sizes won't be too much of a challenge, but you can also transfer and store digital photos to view on the high resolution colour screen. As with the iPod photo, the screen will also display the current album cover.
When demo products arrive at Crave they look pristine. After our little devils have conducted their brutal testing, they're tangled bits of metal and broken circuit board. Not so the MP3 run: the tramp of sports players. This player arrived pre-soiled; the sweat of a dead man barely dry on its control pad.
We can already tell that the MP3 Run won't look great after a few weeks of use, because whoever reviewed it before us left sickly dark smudges on the cream coloured upholstry. There was no easy way of cleaning these stigmata off.
If there's one thing that frustrates us about the iPod, it's not being able to stop the music when you need to listen to someone -- the stranger in the lift, the friend in the street, the barista in the coffee shop. OK, the iPod has a Pause button, but pressing it doesn't do anything as we always have the Hold switch on. Otherwise the volume keeps changing as the player bumps around in our pockets. Grr.
In a perfect world, there'd be a way round this. You'd be able to configure the Pause button to override the Hold switch, in the same way that the Answer button always works on your phone, even when the other keys are locked. In our imperfect world, you can buy Apple's wired remote, but you don't get much sex appeal for your 25.
Wireless remotes are much cooler... Continue reading...
This is a device we long for so much our mouths have gone dry from dribbling all over the Cambridge Audio catalogue. The Azur 640h is Cambridge’s as-yet-unreleased music server. It’s a hybrid CD player that can store 300 uncompressed CDs on its internal hard disk and stream these over a wireless network.
If you’re a stickler for high-quality audio, MP3s don't cut it. Although they sound great on headphones and most low-end stereos, MP3s can't compete with the gut-punching authority of a 44.1kHz CD. The Azur doesn’t have to convert your CDs to MP3s (although it can). Instead, it records the uncompressed audio from your CDs at full resolution, so you won’t lose any of the original signal. Music played back from the hard disk will sound the same as the original CD.
Philips and Levi Strauss created the first MP3 jacket back in 2000. It had special pockets for a (Philips) MP3 player and a (Philips) phone, plus integrated wiring that routed the headphones and microphone up to the collar (more details here). We never wore one, but then we're leaders in tech, not fashion.
Wind forwards to 2003/4 and you'll find the Burton Amp, an iPod-compatible jacket from Burton Snowboards. It had a padded chest pocket to accommodate your iPod and a flexible control panel built in to one sleeve. The technology lives on in the Burton Shield and 2L jackets, for men and women respectively, and the Burton Amp rucksack.
After our various gripes about product names, we were pleased to discover the LaCie Bigger Disk Extreme, in capacities of 1, 1.6 and now 2TB (that's TB as in terabyte, as in 1,000,000,000,000 bytes, not TB as in tuberculosis). It's bigger than the average hard disk, it's a disk and it has an extremely fast Firewire 800 interface, hence Bigger Disk Extreme.
The only problem with this Orwellian newspeak is that it can't be sustained. The 2TB Bigger Disk Extreme holds more data than LaCie's 500Gb Big Disk Extreme, which is fair enough. However, with the upgrade to 2TB, it now holds as much data as the final model in the range, the Biggest F800. In September we'll be looking at the Bigger than the Biggest Disk Extreme, and then we'll get Even Bigger than the Biggest Disk Extreme, not to mention the Not So Big but More Extreme Disk.
This is the Sony NW-HD5, the latest MP3 player to be thrown into the gladiatorium with the iPod. Will it triumph, or will it be torn limb from limb and scattered across the sawdust like so many others?
The NW-HD5 will be officially released in the UK later today, joining the NW-HD3. Sony’s marketing department is clearly confused about how to choose catchy names for its MP3 players. We’d still rather say iPod than labour over a meaningless mush of numbers and letters.
It's not enough to travel hopefully, light of heart, unburdened by possessions. Today's backpackers stagger round the globe with rucksacks full of gadgets... and then photograph them.
Instead of snapping a picture of the Taj Mahal, or even yourself in front of the Taj Mahal, you photograph your iPod, reducing India's most famous temple to a pleasant backdrop. We're not sure what this proves, other than a) you were able to find electricity throughout your travels and b) you never left your musical comfort zone, but hey. At least you aren't taking pictures of your desk.
We’d been wondering for a while whether Sony's NW-HD3 Network Walkman would fit inside the cassette slot of the original Sony Walkman. As our picture proves, it fits perfectly. It’s almost like returning a child to the womb of its mother. Or great grandmother… eugh!
As for how the NW-HD3 compares to its ancestor, the new Walkman doesn’t chew up tapes and it doesn’t make strange demonic groans as its battery runs down. Both are welcome enhancements. The Network Walkman is actually one of the most solidly constructed MP3 players outside the iPod camp. It’s good to see that the build quality of Sony’s old and new Walkmans is identical despite the decades between them.
Lately we’ve been testing Sony Ericsson's Akono HBH-300 Bluetooth headset. It's the least discreet of the company's headsets, with a long boom that puts the microphone halfway down your cheek. The position probably contributes to the clear audio, but it does make you feel like a telemarketer -- or one of the Borg, if you're science-fictionally inclined. At 28g it's also quite heavy, and after a few hours you can feel your head tilting to one side.
Sony Ericsson solves both problems by providing a lanyard so you can wear it round your neck. When a call comes in, you press the answer button, then hook it over your ear. Given that it looks like a high-tech take on an ancient fertility symbol, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to display the HBH-300 on your chest -- if you have space. Lately it seems as if every other gadget is supplied with a lanyard.
The Rio Forge Sport reminds us of the fleshy gamepods from David Cronenberg’s Existenz – those weird semi-organic devices that plugged straight into your body via an umbilical cord. It’s lucky the Rio Sport doesn’t come in flesh colour -- what if you dropped it while out jogging? Your first thought as you stared at the fleshy lozenge on the ground would be 'Has one of my adrenal glands just fallen out?'
The Rio is curvy and has lovely rubber grips which’ll keep your sweaty hands clasped firmly on its body during a work out. On the downside, the Rio Sport is a bit light and hollow feeling. We’re not sure how hard you could knock the Rio before it split -- a metal chassis might have been a better choice for a sports mp3 player.
While we obsess over all things new and shiny, intrepid modders are packing today's tiny products into the larger, sturdier and possibly more stylish gadgets of yesteryear.
• Matt Billings didn't want to expose his Mac Mini to thieving passers-by, so he tucked it away inside an old Dell desktop. His Flickr photoset documents the build.
A stylish choice of headphones is de riguer for the MP3-type around town. For a while we went with the excellent PX100s from Sennheiser, which sound great, are very light, have a sharp silver and black design, and are quite comfortable. They also fold up like spectacles when you’re done. They're great for commuting, because they’re robust enough to cope with being folded up and scrunched into a coat pocket when you emerge blinking from the Underground. They come with a snazzy hi-tech carry case, but we’ve never bothered with it.
However, we’ve spent enough time listening to the tinny crackling from the phones of the person sitting next to us to feel guilty about noise leaking from our open-backed PX100s. Recently we switched to the PX200s (pictured right), which have a closed earphone back to help contain the sound.
There are still some fools who clutch at your sleeve and whimper that vinyl sounds better than CD, and that their crackly old valve amplifier has a better ‘tone’ than your iPod. Although these people are clearly deranged romantics, many of their old analogue devices did have one advantage over most of the new digital gadgets: they felt great to use.
Luckily some manufacturers have agreed that the old ways are the best, and have sought to integrate an analogue feel into their digital products. One such analogue-digital crossover product is the Finalscratch system from Stanton. We want one so badly we could cry.
"I have absolutely categorically no use for a 3G phone. Fact," says the latest advert from Orange. Sounds clear to us, but the mobile phone network thinks your mind can be changed, so it's offering a three-month trial of all the services you absolutely categorically don't want: video calling, data transfer and music downloads.
So many things to try, so little time. We started with Music Player, an iTunes-alike application that lets you purchase, download and play music. To use it, you download the software to a compatible phone (an SPV C500, Nokia 6600, 6630 or 7610, or Sony Ericsson P910). You can then browse through Orange's library of over 6,000 tracks and choose the ones you want. During the trial period, you get three free tracks each month. Any additional tracks cost 1.50 each.
It sounds good in theory and the music sounds fine when you get it... Continue reading...
Bill Gates pimped the iRiver H10 at CES in January, fondling the tiny MP3 player on stage and calling it “a very nice device”. But what of the H10’s older brother, the H320? We eagerly tore one out of its packaging and took it for a walk down the Thames yesterday evening.
The first thing that strikes you about the H320 is that navigating tracks is like playing an adventure game. This is clearly what happens when you get programmers to design an interface. Everything here is quite logical to a power-user, but why would the average person want to navigate a UNIX directory structure to get to their music?
We looked at an M1000 SoundBridge with a 280x16 pixel display (about 180)... Follow the link for more Continue reading...
We note a strange omission from Sony's planned Walkman phone. Tucked away in the third paragraph of the W800 press release is the surprising news that it supports the "proven, industry standard MP3 and AAC music file formats". What, no ATRAC? We quizzed the W800 product manager, who assured us that MP3 and AAC are the business, but Sony's beleaguered ATRAC format won't be crossing over to the mobile world.
Die-hard Sony supporters who've filled their hard drives with ATRAC music won't be rewarded for drinking the Kool-Aid. Seems a bit harsh to us. Still, they can console themselves with Sony's candy-coloured flash players, which support MP3 and ATRAC3plus. The new Network Walkman range should be in the shops in April, while its Walkman phone won't appear until July or August.
Sony Ericsson's latest marketing ploy is the Walkman-branded mobile phone, aka the W800. It's a phone, it's an MP3 player (probably), it's a digital camera and it's orange. The colour might not suit everyone, but it works for us, not least because it harks back to the orange headphones that came with the Walkman II.
The WMII wasn't Sony's first Walkman (obviously). It wasn't our first personal stereo, either. That honour went to a chunkier device from a long-forgotten brand. Nevertheless, the WMII stands tall in portable audio history for taking the cool concept of the original Walkman and turning it into a cool product. It still looks pretty good today, despite the scuffs and scratches of five years in the pocket and nineteen in the attic. Continue reading...