I have a long-standing rant against Apple’s iPod and iTunes system of consumer enslavement, and have managed to stay well away from their products. I’m afraid things have not gone as well for my friends. I’ve wanted to explain my hatred for the iPod in so many words for some time and my recent purchase of the Sony Walkman D-NE320 has provided a reason.
I like to listen to mp3’s. A lot. I download several hundred dollars worth of music a quarter, and that stuff has to be listened to. Most of my listening has been done on the computer or at work. [Have a look at my Last.fm profile to see what I’m up to recently.] I usually burn cd’s to pop into the magazine of my BMW, but this has become a problem since I had the battery replaced. See second post of this CODE WAIT thread.
I have been hungrily eyeing a number of Sony Walkman cd/mp3 players at the local Fred Meyer, but have never been able to bring myself to drop the 40-80 bucks they wanted for one. Enter my father, who was in the Christmas spirit this week. He hooked me up with a Sony DEJ001, which turned out to be not so great. It was priced at $39.99 and had a crappy little lcd display on the side. the DEJ001 requires two double-A batteries which makes it heavy. It comes with a pair of incredibly shitty ear buds–it just sucked. (note: I picked it out on impulse when he said I could get one more thing. And yes, I am a spoiled brat.)
So I took it back and exchanged it for the Sony Walkman D-NE320. Now this is a really cool player. It has a big nice LCD on the top of the player that shows a little animation while it is reading the disc the first time. It displays its progress as it scans the disc and has a GUI that shows folders and songs inside them. (Album and song names are read from ID3 information imbedded in the mp3s) Rather than worry about some more crappy ear buds, I went ahead and got a pair of Sony Walkman MDR-EX51LP ear buds. They were overpriced at $35.00.
Some bummers about the setup are that this particular player doesn’t have a Radio built in. There is another one a step up with a radio, but it costs about $20 more. I need this mostly for air travel, so a radio is not really necessary for me. My biggest grievance with the D-NE320 is that the LCD is not back-lit. This would have made it a truly killer device. For some reason I don’t feel like the buttons are well placed for menu navigation, but I’m getting the hang of it. The inclusion of a remote control and being able to run on a single AA battery makes up for these points though.
Finally, I can not say enough how important it is to avoid Apple’s “Playfair” DRM scheme. This discman includes support for Sony’s Atrac3Plus DRM, but has no qualms about playing mp3s. Indeed mp3’s remain the true music listeners choice until realistic pricing on FLAC quality music comes about.
If Sony would have created a discman of this calibre in 2000 and sold it for a reasonable price they could have had a shot at seriously disrupting the growth of the iPod. The problem is that Sony is embroiled in the ownership of their own media from the Sony/BMG library. They are continually at a conflict of interest in creating any technology that allows consumers to circumvent copyright law on media they have a vested interest in protecting.
I want to have free license to copyrighted materials until an album is $5 or less. I’ll buy a $5 David Bowie album if it comes in FLAC, and includes high-res scans of album art and more. Just show me this offering Mr. Bowie and I will give you my credit card.
Eventually a hardware company like Samsung will create a portable music device that allows the sharing of mp3’s and DRM protected music wirelessly with your friends. Imagine you come over to visit me with your Samsung audio player and (thanks to some yet to be conceivedstandards set by the major media and hardware production companies) immediatelymy Sony audio player recognizes you as a friend and tells me what music you’ve acquired since we last saw each other. I can browse and preview these songs while you are nearby, then have the option to purchase them once you leave.
This type of organic, yet monetized sharing of music is the future of the music business. Once consumers pull their heads out of their asses and realize that the iPod is an overpriced red-taped piece of shit, I believe we’ll see a real audio revolution. All it will take is a new killer hardware device that allows some sharing of illegal music, but more easily incorporates fluid aquisition of reasonably priced licensed music.
In many ways, my Sony D-NE320 is much closer to this future than your iPod. I at least have control of the high-quality original CD’s I purchased from my local record store, and can give it to you if I choose. I can preview lots of music by illegally downloading it via Bit Torrent off of OiNK, and move it around between machines as I develop a taste for different artists–and maybe even buy some of their work. Your iPod offers a very restrictive two lane road patrolled by the Playfair police. If you bring your iPod over, I can’t take anything off of it. It’s just a brick that needs to be recharged pretty soon.
12/8/05: I got into a drawn out IM conversation about this blog and iPod/iTunes with my pal Bryan. You can read the text of this discussion on why the ipod sucks.