New York Times – My Songs, My Format

nyt article New York Times   My Songs, My Format

ABi was recently mentioned in this New York Times article which discusses file format compatibility issues associated with upgrading your MP3 player. From this, I have received an influx of emails commenting on the article. Most of the negative emails were poorly written rants with no valid arguments. However, I would like to thank the few people who have written intelligent rebuttals with valid points to the article and this site.

In this post, I would like to elaborate on some of the points in the article as well as share some of the more intelligent responses.


First off, I think that anyone who is downloading DRMed tracks for purchase is paying a premium for a mediocre product with a limited freedom to do what you want with it. I don’t care if it is Apple’s FairPlay or Microsoft’s PlaysForSure. They both suck for two reasons: they sound inferior at the encoded bit rate and you are limited on how you can listen to them.

As the article discusses, purchased music is encoded at 128 kbps to 192 kbps. Granted, some encoded formats sound better than others at the same bitrate, but they are all a lossy format, throwing away some of the music to make the file smaller for download.

The download services also limit how many times you can burn it to CD or how many computers you can listen to it on. Sure you can burn it to a CD and then do what you want with it, but you still have an inferior sounding CD. If you were to burn the downloaded music then rip it again to the same format, it would be worse then what you started with due to noise introduced during the re-burn process. It is like making a photocopy of a photocopy.

Not All DRM is Bad

The only DRM I would support is the unlimited services like Napster To Go or Yahoo! Unlimited. $5 a month to access a nearly unlimited library of music, how can you loose? Even Napster’s $15 or so a month is a good deal for nearly everything you ever want to listen to. Think of DRM subscriptions as XM radio that you control. You pick the music and when you want to play it.

Avoiding DRM

The best way to avoid the headaches of DRM is to buy the actual CD. By owning the actual CD you have the freedom to convert it to the format of your choice- anytime, anywhere, and on any player.

Most of the time you will pay the same or even less for the actual physical CD than if you downloaded it.

The best place to get new music CDs is Circuit City or Best Buy; that’s where they are the all around cheapest. Both retailers sell them as ‘loss leaders’ making little to no money to get you in the store to purchase their electronic goods. If you can wait, eBay or Amazon’s used store is a great place to get cheap CDs. Even brick and mortar used CD stores are a good place to get older CDs at a bargain price. I stay clear away from mall retailers such as FYE; $19.99 for a new CD is robbery. If you are spending less than ten bucks on a full length CD you are doing well.

Stuck With Apple Stuck With Microsoft

Dennis writes this in an email and points out this insightful article about Microsoft lock-in tactics verses Apple lock-in tactics:

With Apple and its iTMS/iTunes/iPod combo, you have a choice between Mac and Windows, a major investment as compared to an MP3 player.
With Microsoft and its PlaysForSure initiative, you have your choice of MP3 player, but zero choice of preferred computer platform. You’re stuck on Windows, which I don’t like!

Apple and Microsoft are guilty of lock-in, just at different levels!

Agreed. I don’t like Microsoft’s lock-in tactics either. Having to choose sides I choose PlaysForSure for the fact that this is a site dedicated to digital audio players and not computer OSes. A person who owns a digital audio player probably already has chosen their OS. A solution to this is as discussed before: avoid DRM.

AAC the Betamax Cliché

Some of the emails ranted about the fact that AAC is a better format than MP3. It is, kind of… It is a matter of sound quality verses file size. The AAC format is more efficient at compressing music than MP3. This means that the AAC format will take up less space than the identical sounding MP3 file. When digital audio players only had 32MB of space, compression quality was an issue. Today however, when music players commonly have more than 40GB and the increase in file size is marginal, compression efficiency is negligible.

This brings us to the modern day Betamax verses VHS analogy. Yes, AAC is more efficient, but it is not the widely aacepted format. AAC only plays on an iPod (and a few other very scarce Panasonic audio players). Why not use a just as good yet slightly bigger format like MP3, which can be played on nearly all digital audio players? You will never see a widespread adoption of AAC. Stick with a format that you will be able to play on your non-iPod as well as the iPod.

Response to the Hate Mail

This site is here to present the other options, not to bash and hate the iPod. So don’t come here bashing this site with no supporting facts just because it goes against the grain. If you want an iPod, go buy one! Don’t waste our readers’ time as well as your own by spreading your uninformed rhetoric.

[The article appearing in New York Times was written by Sean Captain]


Mary Forbes on October 10, 2005 6:46 AM

re: your comment that buying the actual cd leaves you free to do anything you want with the music. A Swiss friend of mine says that some new cd’s also have blocking built in so that you can’t load them onto your iPod. Maybe only in Switzerland or Europe?…

BTM on October 10, 2005 3:43 PM

While I agree that depending on what a person may be looking for when purchasing a DAP that there are perhaps better (much better) options than an ipod, I doubt it can be easily concluded that all ipod owners are trendwhores or uninformed idiots. I personally ended up going with an ipod mini for a few reasons:
a) it was cheaper than the other cheapest players out there (225 compared to 250+ during that time for a rio carbon, zen micro, h10, etc),
b) it had 30 mins skip-free so I could use it while running, and it supported lossless.

For me, those were good enough reasons to buy one. While it may not have the best sound quality in the world, I personally feel it has a nice sound (then again, I am not a sound engineer). And the battery is good enough to be able to last me about 5 days before I need to recharge again (5 days * 3 hrs/day = 15 hours = great time!). And I find the complaint on warranty to be very strange considering it is about the same with most other brands (which have a 90 day warranty), especially with the rant on opening up the player. I am very certain that completely opening up any other DAP would also void its warranty.

And as much as I may sound like an “ipod-whore”, I also see the upsides to players from companies such as Cowon (makers of the iAudio line), Creative (makers of the Zen line), Dell (who technically have Creative players), iRiver (self titled line), and Rio (though technically no longer in business), all of whom make fantastic players. I also agree that (based on my older mp3 cd player being an iRiver and a friend having a Dell DJ) these players probably do sound better. Heck, I almost went with a zen micro until the mini dropped in price and found out it had shock-proofing. It also has a nice interface which is a big plus.

In regards to what Kamil is saying, yes, some cds do have blocking built in, but there are (fairly easy) ways to rip and then load on a DAP.

Mark on October 11, 2005 3:43 PM

Dear “Pisses,”It is people like you that provide endless entertainment for us normal, assimilating folks. Are you seriously that virulent about iPods and DAPs in general? If so, I suggest you put on some shades and get some light. Maybe even engage in some human intimacy. Then you may stop gratuitously co-opting events such as Columbine for your own kicks. But, then again, if you don’t I will continue to laugh at the concept of you.About your points:#1 – Battery life sucks! This could be outdated information. With all the attention over this, Apple may have improved it with the later generations. Only time will tell. You don’t know any more than the rest of us.#2 – Non-removable battery. Oh, you mean like the Cowon, IRiver, Creative, Dell, etc., players? I’ll give you that there are a couple of smaller capacity players that have removables, but they are the exceptions. The SONY player has a removable battery, but does SONY even sell one that can be used as an extra? And will they when they soon mothball the HD5?#3 – Battery charge doesn’t last. Absolutely true on the earlier generations. Not so true anymore. They have improved on this. My Photo lasts in the heighborhood of 10-15 hours depending on how much I play with it while listening. Also, check out creative and iRiver boards and see what people think about the battery charge duration on the h10′s and Sleeks.#4 – Sound Quality. I like the SQ on my SONY, iRiver, Creative players better though NONE of them have great sound. Definitely a drawback to the iPod though not as dire as you proclaim.#5 – Nano screen scratches easily. The whole Nano scratches too easily. You are 100% correct this time.#6 – EQ,lack therof. Agreed. A downside to the iPod.#7 – Why is the iPod warranty garabage? Any reasons/facts or are you just spewing venom. My experience with Macs has been that they offer strong support and solid warranties.Sounds to me that the only tortured one is you. I have yet to meet an iPod, iRiver, Creative owner, e.g., who does not think that their listening experience has not been improved by their preferred player. I just hope you seek help before you do anything drastic. I mean , we’re talking DAPs here!!!!!!!!! It’s definitely appropriate to use Columbine refernces in order to vent your anger (again, over DAPs!!!). And you have the audacity to refer to any other inhabitant of Earth as a loser or “nancy.” What a low-life.

Cliff on October 12, 2005 8:02 PM

Have you tried Rhapsody?Rhapsody To Go performs the same service that Yahoo and Napster perform, but allows you to select which Bitrate you want. That way, someone like me that wants to rent their music and use it on a PDA with limited storage can use a smaller bit rate, but someone like you can go for the full 192 kbps bitrate. :) ps I just saw your site on Rhapsody and love it cause I dislike the ipod also.

br0adband on October 21, 2005 6:43 PM

I see these comments and I wonder where people come from sometimes.I owned an iPod mini Silver in the past, but ended up trading it for an older IBM ThinkPad laptop. Mind you, I did that because the laptop was a necessity while the iPod mini was a “want” for lack of a better phrase.During the time I owned the mini, I took it basically everywhere I went – I even kept the stock earbuds because I couldn’t afford the Etymotics I wanted.It worked fine, it sounded fine, I never had one issue with it and if I had $200 to blow on a DAP right now I’d most likely get another one. If I had $300 I might get the new 30GB video iPod – I’m taking a liking to that one at the moment.The iPod is fine for what it is. Whenever I see someone say something like the comment above: “While I agree that depending on what a person may be looking for when purchasing a DAP that there are perhaps better (much better) options than an ipod” I have to laugh in some respects because it’s a pretty self-centered viewpoint – and I say that knowing full well the person that posted it bought an iPod mini just like I did.”Best” is relative in almost all respects. What is “best” to you could be useless scrap electronics to me, and vice versa. I’ve been doing portable audio since the original Walkman came out in the late 1970s, gone through all the devices in between basically.Personally, I’m finding myself wanting another MiniDisc portable at the present time; some of the new Sonys with the OLED displays kick ass, in my opinion. And battery life, please. No mp3/DAP can touch a MiniDisc – hell, JVC just announced an MD unit with 250 hour battery life!!! 250 FREAKIN’ HOURS!!! For an optomechanical device!!! My God, why can’t companies like Apple, iRiver, and others take lessons from Sony and now JVC on battery life.Oh well, I guess I better get to my point: the iPod is useful for those persons that decide to get one *for whatever reason*. Slamming them just because they choose not to find some other products gets you nowhere. I love the idea of the website, though.As soon as I first loaded the main page (I found out about this site from and a forum posting), the first impression/idea that came to mind was a slogan I haven’t seen mentioned yet, so try this on for size:”Anything But iPod – The Resource For The Rest Of Us…”Plays off the original Mac slogan “The Computer For The Rest Of Us…”Bleh. Keep up the good work…bbps When I owned my iPod mini, I used Ephpod for song maintenance and transfers – I never installed iTunes because, well… it sucks.

onw on March 5, 2006 6:46 AM

Having used and owned a few DAP’s in my time, including an ipod, i feel like i have few words to share on the matter. There the obvious sides/teams to this argument, the ipod lovers and the ipod haters. Both unfortunately are equally guilty of (for lack of a better description) blind faith in their passion. Ipod lovers stand by the love of their product when it is clear there are many other superior products out there. Ipod haters too stand by their hate of the Ipod. The Ipod haters however, never really have a growing argument, alot of their gripes are based on problems that existed years back and that in one form or another have now been addressed. Having owned an ipod previously i can agree with the shouts of shitty battery life and so on, though with later generations the batteries did improve. When they work they aren’t that bad. As far as claims about having a shitty warranty i couldn’t disagree more. Any product you buy off the shelf will most likely have your basic 12 month warranty. In my dealings with Apple, everytime i returned my Ipod i received (without my asking) a complete renewal on my warranty – so 2 years later i was still completely covered. However after 2 years of returning Ipods my patience had run out. Do i like Ipods? No, not particularly. Do i hate them? Not at all. You have to keep in mind that the kind of people who so easily are swayed by any wave of Apple’s new product wand are the same kind of people who will go out and buy a Nickleback cd thinking that there generic drivel is cool. Tell people enough times that something is cool and they will believe it. For the record i am currently using a Creative Zen Vision: M – the one that ironically looks like an ipod.

Jeff on May 23, 2006 4:34 PM

This is the thing, its hard to argue that the itms is not the best of the music stores online, one of my friends was trying to find some kind of subscription service (i.e. yahoo, rhapsody, and/or napster) so he could listen to music at work without putting his collection on the computer, however, none of them had any of the music he actually wanted to listen too (this was in april 2006) whereas the itms had all of it, so he gave up on the subscription idea. my suggestion for buying music would be cd’s (which are usually drm free, for now) and are higher quality, so you can keep a high quality master copy of all your digital music. only 86 of my 5641 tracks are purchased from the itms the rest are from my cd’s or… other sources.Now as far as aac vs mp3 goes (i wont even mention wma, because it is a complete joke and pretty much solely designed for drm), i’ll choose aac any day of the week, less space is an important consideration for me, my library is 19.95 gb as aac, as mp3′s of the same quality it would probably be 25 gb, 5 gb is a significant amount of storage, and its even more critical given the fact that my 3 year old mp3 player (yes, its an ipod) is only 10 gb and i want to fit as much of my collection on it as possible.As for the battery issue, i replaced my battery approximately a year ago, after about 20 months of pretty intensive use, the replacement has a higher capacity than the original and only cost about 30 bucks, and i can afford 30 bucks every two years, its cheaper than buying some other mp3 for nano scratches, i havent seen any problems with them, i know 3 people with nanos, no major scratches, given, they use cases, but then, anyone should. you wouldnt buy a car and never wax it, would you? you have to take steps to protect your belongings from wear. if you throw any DAP in your pocket with your keys or cell phone, its gonna get, before people jump on my and proclaim me to be a “trendwhore” and an “uninformed idiot,” i got my ipod as a graduation gift 3 years ago, so i did not pick it out (though i did specifiy that i wanted an ipod, not some other dap), and i got it before the sales took off and everyone had one; i regularly see people with ipods that make me feel slightly embarassed for having one because they are very obviously trendwhores, etc. furthermore, everyone i know who tried to buy an “ipod alternative” has hated it and now wants (or has bought) an ipod (except for one girl, but she never uses her iriver player anyway).As an architecture student, design is a very important consideration to me, and for all the competition ive seen, they are pretty ugly or gimmik driven, i.e. they look like a 14 year old designed them. im not saying that nobody can match the elegance and simplicity of the ipod’s design (though i dont like the new grey clickwheels, the plastic should all be the same color) just that nobody has done it yet. bad design is simply unacceptable, we live in a world of ugly buildings and products everywhere else, im going to do what i can to encourage beauty.and finally, music software. wmp10 has made a big leap ahead of wmp9 in terms of usability, but nothing right now can match itunes (though i hear interesting things about wmp11) itunes is simple, efficient, and its sharing function is incredibly useful when on something like a studio network where everyone in our building can share their music collections, everyone in our college who used wmp at the beginning of the year (august 2005, and it was admitedly a small percentage, itunes probably had 80% of us, wmp 20%) now uses itunes. furthermore, there is no other option as far as jukebox software on my platform, not that i need one, itunes does everything i need.i chose the ipod because i knew it would meet all of my needs, and indeed it continues to meet all of them (except storage capacity) to this day, 3 years later, which is much more than i expected from an audio player of any brand.

Almoxil on June 15, 2006 10:30 PM

On October 10, 2005 (it’s been a while), Mary Forbes posted a message telling us about blocking on CDs.There are some problems with record labels putting protections in their CDs all around the world. They think they’re preventing people from harming their huge incomes, but they’re only causing problems to the customers that actually buy the albums and support the artists. Pirates or other “not so kind” people will always have a shortcut to copy the media and spread it or sell it, so only the honest customers will have hassles and issues trying to listen to the music.Usually those protections act when you put the CD on the tray and close it. Windows XP (for example) then tries to “autorun” the CD. When it does that, a “bootstrap” program inside the CD installs a driver (they say it’s a driver, but personally I consider it as being a virus, because of its stealthy behavior) that prevents you from ripping the CD or even playing it. This is the most common kind of protection these days, but it’s not the only one — other example is a technique that “scrambles” the audio tracks so ripping applications will have difficulties reading the digital audio.I’ve got some CDs that even came with a set of low-quality MP3 files that are played when you insert the CD in a PC CD-ROM, instead of the original high-quality tracks. THIS REALLY SUCKS!So, before trying to rip or even listen to any CD you buy in a store or in the Internet, you should disable “autorun” in Windows XP registry. It’s the only way you can prevent the protections from being installed into your PC.There’s a lot of sites that will teach you how to do it, but I wrote a step-by-step guide you can follow to disable this thing and rip your CDs seamlessly:(Note: P-L-E-A-S-E, backup your registry BEFORE performing the steps)1 – Run the Registry Editor. Choose Start / Run and type REGEDIT.EXE into the box;2 – Browse the folder structure in the left panel until you reach HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \ SYSTEM \ CurrentControlSet \ Services \ Cdrom;3 – Double-click the Autorun value and type 0 for its value. (if there’s no such value there, create it by selecting Edit / New / DWORD Value, and typing “Autorun” for its name);4 – You may have to restart the OS so the change will take effect.After that, you’ll be able to rip or listen to any audio CD in you PC without hassles from those annoying CD protections.

Issac Knowles on December 28, 2006 5:36 AM

Surgeons repair Schwarzenegger’s broken femur..

lol on January 17, 2007 12:06 PM

ipod haters are fun to read, they have this hilarious barely restrained rage. aww poor baby. Its funny because they try to come up with this reason or that, when you can just tell what they really want to say is “I hate it because everyone has one! I’m DIFFERENT DAMMIT I’M NOT LIKE EVERYONE ELSE I’M DIFFERENT AND SPECIAL GODDAMMMMITTT!! I’M NOT LIKE EVERYONE ELSSEEEEE!!!!”

ulovemikeroch on February 26, 2007 4:24 PM

True, most iPod haters only hate iPods because everyone has them or they don’t know much. But then there are the rest of us, who hate technologically inferior products. Granted, the iPod isn’t that bad. But the player… is so mediocre. It has nothing that really stands out or says it’s a good player. There are many other good DAPs out there, that are much better. Yet these are not going to get the light that the iPod is. The Toshiba Gigabeat S has so many things going for it, yet how many of those are you are going to see in a train station? The iPod still does have it’s problems though…Another thing that bothers me, and when I mean bother, I mean I want to cut Steve Job’s head off. Cause I HATE iPods. Is the fact that the iPod takes too many accomplishments of its own, yet that other players have done first. Stealing accomplishments is a pretty bad thing. Such as the first DAP that can also play Videos? Hello, hasn’t anybody heard of the iRiver h300? Alot of people also assume that an Mp3 player, is an iPod, and that it’s the only one out there. They also assume that it’s the FIRST DAP, and everything else is a copy. Sure these might sound ridiculous, but I’ve heard some pretty crazy things from various people…

Daniel on August 9, 2007 2:12 PM

I only dislike iPod’s because they have to be synced with iTunes…. so I never got one… However after discovering SongBird Media Player I went and bought an iPod. Song bird is a nice small non-memory-hogging media player that will easily sync your iPod without those bulky and unnessiary background programs that run constantly with iTunes.

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