So I got the AIWA CDC-MP3. It kicks ass. It’s got a hell of a lot more power than the little guy that was in the car already (so much so that I had to invest in “speaker savers”) and it of course plays MP3’s. Plus it’s got these cool blue colors happening. The wife and I headed to Whataburger bumping Garbage, Mick Jagger and the KISS box set while we fiddled with the dials and crap. It’s got the whole detachable faceplate dealie and I put it in the case and took it with me to work – not sure how long I’ll continue this practice, but I figured someone might want this thing.

It’s ironic – this MP3 player was the second car deck on the market, after a $750 entry friom Kenwood. This is now the affordable entry. There’s one from Jensen but I’ve been warned away from that brand. There’s also a Sony one that’s more expensive, but this one looked fine. The irony is that Sony stands to lose out on the MP3 deal – they do own a few record labels after all. Then again this is the same mega-conglomerate which put DVD playback in the PlayStation 2, which then went on to compete with Sony DVD players.

MP3 is a “lossy” compression scheme – it obscures or removes the sounds you don’t hear in favor of the ones you do hear. Normal audio CD’s use a lossless scheme – every sample/sound is represented. Picture yourself at a rock concert in the 99th row. What do you hear? The music and crowd noise. Now pretend you’re right in front of the wall of speakers. What do you hear? The music – no crowd noise. The crowd noise is still there – but you can’t hear it, the music is too loud. MP3 in a sense removes the crowd noise. However, if you have, say, the best stereo setup in the world and your ear is trained to hear what others don’t, MP3 sounds awful to you. For the other 99% of us however, it does just fine.

MP3’s been around for a decade now but it didn’t start becoming popular until a utility called AMP in 1997 made it accessible to most people. MP3’s numbers show on average a 90% drop in the amount of data needed to represent an audio track. Whereas an audio CD averages 10MB a minute, MP3 averages 1MB a minute at 128 kbps, 44.1 KHz. Consequently a 700MB CD can hold an average of 11 and 2/3 hours of music – considerably more than the 80 minutes an audio one can hold. The main exploit of the size, of course, has been in the trade of MP3’s online, and the basic invention of music piracy.

MP3 came together more or less in 1998-9 with the convergence of several key technologies, most of which grew completely independently of each other:

  1. Winamp – the Windows port of AMP, it was the first feasible MP3 player for Windows, the most popular operating system. Winamp was small, it was fast (didn’t require too much CPU) and had a ton of features – still adds more every version.
  2. Broadband – back in the 14.4 days it was still a chore to download a megabyte – now it’s a breeze to download hundreds of them.
  3. The CD-ROM Drive – laugh if you will, these things were a rarity when MP3 was unveiled, and ripping a CD directlyis impossible without them.
  4. The large hard drive – hard drives used to be small, now they’re huge. One reason for consumer demand for these things exploded was software bloat (larger versions of Windows, Office) but the other reason was for a place to hold MP3’s.
  5. The CD Burner – now you could turn your MP3 collection into a set of audio or data CD’s. Or both.

And this isn’t taking into account Napster. MP3 was and is complicated, what with FTP rights negotiation and the intelligence factor neccessary to operate all the terms involved – Napster removed a lot of these barriers. Some people were furious over Napster’s introduction because it seemed to bring to the foreground something which had been silently occuring in the underground for some time. However were MP3 never brought into the mainstream we probably wouldn’t have products like we do today.

In late 1998 Diamond Multimedia introduced a player called the Rio (geddit – Diamond Rio?). It had 32MB of memory and it could play MP3’s stored in that space. Instantly the RIAA sued Diamond to take it off the market but Diamond successfully defended the player – noting that there’s nothing to say that people couldn’t use it to play MP3 files of songs they had ripped off of their own CD’s or MP3 files obtained from legal websites. This set a precedent, and soon other MP3 appliances followed. APEX, an obscure DVD player manufacturer whose name came to prominence when it was “discovered” that their DVD player, the AD-600, could do some dodgy things, also had the first MP3 playback capability in a home stereo component. Today hard drive-based MP3 players allow you to take your entire audio collection with you. Coming soon will be CD players with hard drives to rip your entire CD collection onto. And of course Kenwood was the first to have MP3 playback from CD-R’s in automobiles.

I’ve been backing up my MP3’s to CD-R’s for about 2.5 years now – before I even had a burer I finagled others to help me out. Many times I would make a CD of the MP3’s and then make audio CD’s of the albums I downloaded. This meant a lot of CD’s. However I’m glad I backed up the MP3’s now. I even have “themed” CD-R’s – a CD of every Led Zeppelin song ever, one of every Nirvana song, one of all the GWAR material, two of Aerosmith, three of Insane Clown Posse (they’re busy).

In any event, it’s neat to pop in a CD, hit shuffle, and forget about it for 11 hours.