Let's face it: I know I have a problem. A few years ago, I started converting all my music CDs into MP3 files (and AAC files for my iPod), and realize now that by any standard of sanity, I'm clearly unwell. Having filled up hundreds of gigabytes of Maxtor hard drives with (all legal mind you!) music I find that I'm still at it: organizing and reorganizing this vast collection by genre, performer, composer, by prima donna, etc. My own digital music revolution raises some questions: Will I ever listen to all the stuff collected? When can I divest myself of the thousands of transferred (and now unused) CDS in my closets? Will improved digital codecs and new storage technology emerge that will force me to transfer all the music over again? Faced with tough questions like these, I just slip on my beloved iPod, shove the Etymotic 6 Isolator earphones deep into ear canal and, uh… what were those questions again?
Fashionable Mr. Karl Lagerfeld supposedly has as many as 60 individual iPods, laser etched with the different categories of music he has collected on each. I'm sure that is understatement. If he loves the iPod as much as I love mine, I'm convinced he's already added another score or more to his collection. Sadly, my skills as a couturier are somewhat less pronounced, so I have become more economical: I just get one of each of these new iPods as they are launched.
iPod (20GB and 40GB)
Early this summer, I moved up to the latest incarnation of the iPod, a 40 GB delight that was a tad thinner and even more wondrous than the unit I had before. Battery life is now more than a third better than previous models: 12 hours of use is standard between recharges. Gone are buttons: just a slick Apple Click Wheel that makes navigation a snap (more of a "finger-twist" to be precise.) I could enthuse about the additional categories and settings the new iPod provides or the ease of the iTunes software. Instead, it's all about volume: as in how much music I can take with me at once. The fact that I carry 10,000 or more songs with me anywhere I go. The fact that I risk carpal tunnel syndrome whipping my finger around and around to navigate through individual songs for a melody no one would dare play on the radio. The fact that, with the iPod, I can tune out the world and tune in precisely some strange genre of Reggae/Opera or Klezmer/Elvis I just have to hear. The 20GB version is $299 and the 40GB version is $399.
You also can't beat the cost of iTunes software (for Windows or Mac): free is a good price. You don't need an iPod to enjoy using iTunes as standalone music software on your computer, by the way. The downside is that once you become addicted to the software, then the iTunes music store, you may spend a small fortune on music downloads of the weirdest kind. Sadly, Apple's musical offerings are not fully comprehensive: there's a huge void in the Classical, Jazz, Foreign, and Oldies collections. To be fair, I'm finding new additions every day.
iPods change our social behavior: on the train with my family all four of us were in our own separate place, listening to the beat of different drums. To keep the family (with four iPods) together, here are two great new sound systems that turn your iPod into a full home sound experience: JBL's OnStage and the Bose SoundDock Music System:
Weighing a mere pound, the OnStage speaker system is ultra-portable but doesn't compromise on sound. Compatible with all iPod versions (including the iPod mini), this speaker dock is perfect to take along on a holiday or for a vacation home. (The system is ideally suited for the newer iPods as the "Classic" version needs to be connected to this sleek unit with an unsightly cable.) JBL's donut-of-sound sounds marvelous. A connection in the rear of OnStage allows the iPod to continue to be attached to the computer if you so desire. In addition, a stereo-mini plug allows you to connect other audio devices to this sweet and rounded speaker ring. The JBL OnStage retails for $199.95, and will be sold exclusively through Apple until December 31st.
For those with enough aural savvy to own a Bose Wave radio or the spectacular and tiny Jewel Cube speakers, it will come as no surprise that the Queen Mary II of iPod speaker sets is the great white SoundDock. When my wife hears the rich, deep, and sharp wonderful sound of this bad-boy, she's going to make me throw out all the rest of the audio gear I've accumulated. She's right: once you hear the remarkable clarity and depth of music coming from the SoundStage you'll wonder why you ever needed another speaker. It's elegant, compact, and without compromise. (Frankly, hearing this beauty, my "good speakers" aren't "good" anymore.) Easily worth the $299, the Bose SoundStage also recharges your iPod and features a nifty credit-card remote that controls the play and volume from anywhere in the room. Available early October.
Etymotic er6 Isolator earphones
iPods come with a nice set of headphones, but for the truly obsessed, Etymotic is the manufacturer of choice, and my favorite earphones are the er6 Isolator. For months, I experimented with many varieties of active-noise canceling headphones and earphones but the direct deep-in-your ear sound isolation from these tiny treats wins hands down. On flights, I barely hear the engine roar but do hear the delicate, nuanced sound of music with these snug ear-buds. I'm somewhat concerned that the world may go up in flames all around me while listening with the Isolator earphones and I just wouldn't notice. They come with filters and a filter-changing tool but I have no idea what to do with them. They also have a pair of foam eartips, which others swear by, but these I have yet to use because I enjoy the 2-flange eartips so much. For the truly nuts, custom musician earplugs can be molded to your ear canals and used instead. Don't tell my wife, but the Isolator earphones are $139 a pair.
Creative Zen Touch
Giving my beloved iPod a run for the money (and it is, indeed, less money), Creative offers a new 20 GB MP3 player (about 10,000 songs) with a terrific battery life: at least 24 hours between charges. The sleek white look and awesome sound make this new version of the Zen music player delightful. The Touch Pad navigation is slick and quick but I still prefer the iPod's dial; however that is a close call. In addition to MP3s, Creative's Zen Touch supports Window Media Player 9 and WMA files… good news to Windows enthusiasts and users of multiple music services. Create new playlists on-the-go which you also can't do with iPod. Creative does have an optional FM radio and recording device that works with this handsome stylin' handful. A mere $249.
BMW MP3 Watch
No, I'm not kidding. Whenever people ask me to show the coolest thing, I show them, the very stylish BMW watch. The part that knocks 'em dead is that it carries more than 4 hours of mp3 songs on the imbedded 256 MB flash disk. You don't need a BMW or any special cables to connect this music player to your computer: the watch strap houses an integrated USB cable. Just plug and play! Some may find it weird (even I do, actually) to walk around with a headphone cable coming out of your watch, but, on the other hand, when you're this cool who cares what people think! The battery recharges via the same USB cable that you use to upload music from your computer. Want to be better than Bond, James Bond? Store your secret files on the watch or even use the integrated microphone to record secret voice messages. BMW says it even tells time, but I never tried that part of this very cool watch. $275
SanDisk 256MB Cruzer Micro and MP3 Companion
The SanDisk Cruzer Micro isn't really an MP3 player. It's a small flash drive on which you can store documents, files – anything, and carry with you on the end of your keychain. Where this becomes musical is when you insert your drive into the Cruzer MP3 Companion, which then becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The AAA battery-powered player accesses any MP3 or WMA files on your drive and plays them through the included headphones. The sound is clear and loud, considering what you are working with. The player is small enough to fit in your pants pocket, but large enough to include a small LCD screen on which you can scan through your titles. Hey, it ain't an iPod, but it sure beats hearing the guy next to you snore on the train on the ride to work. The Cruzer Micro drive is available from $39.99 for 128MB, and the MP3 Companion is $69.99. (Reviewed by Bob Bicknell)
Virgin Electronics Wearable MP3 Player
This is another unusual and compelling form-factor: a coin-sized MP3 player . With just 128 MB, this player is not designed to take the whole music library with you: just enough for a good run in the park. Plug the player into a PC or MAC USB port and you can load up to 40 songs while charging the device. So small, it's fun (or so small I'd lose it)… I haven't decided which. The entire tiny thing is controlled by just two buttons and comes with an armband and decent earbuds. Available at Target stores for $99.
Powershred C14 Cross Cut Shredder $389
It's kind of ridiculous, I guess, after talking about music and MP3 players to suddenly lurch into a discussion of shredders, but there is some method in my madness. Fellowes makes shredders and they sent me an insanely powerful crosscut one (most paper shredders make strips… a comparatively insecure way to get rid of anything.) But this high-performance 15-sheet paper shredder also safely disintegrates CDs. Since I've spent all this time turning my music CDs into MP3s, perhaps I'll shred the whole bunch of discs? Perhaps not. Once information has been burned onto a secure media, like a DVD-Rom disk or a CD, this Fellowes shredder makes safe disposal of stuff you don't need the whole world to see pretty simple. Everyone in the office now comes into my office to use it. Get your own:$389.
By Daniel Dubno
Copyright 2004 CBS. All rights reserved.