Music, Technology

Hunting for a new MP3 Player

I have long been a customer of Yahoo Music Unlimited, a subscription music service competing with the likes of the new Napster and Rhapsody.  When I first signed up, the service was compatible with the RCA Lyra 1070, a small, flash-based MP3 player with an SD slot to expand the capacity.  You could copy any song from their library of millions of songs to the Lyra, so long as you periodically connected the Lyra to a computer to re-authorize the music library.  At some point, I begin going to the gym less, and Yahoo & Microsoft made some DRM “enhancements” that rendered this device incompatible with that feature (and they made support of this feature an add-on cost).  Now that Yahoo is quitting the music subscription business and handing my account over to Rhapsody, I’m looking at Rhapsody’s higher base monthly rate ($13/month) and thinking the meager $2/month add-on to copy any tracks to a portable MP3 player looks pretty nice.  To do this, I’m going to need a new MP3 player.

My main criteria for this new MP3 player are a) supports subscription music services, b) accepts flash memory cards to upgrade capacity, and c) costs less than $100.  Presumably a device meeting these criteria will be small enough that size isn’t an explicit criterion.  The subscription issue is non-negotiable for me.  The whole idea of paying $1/song has never sat well with me.  I like listening to the entire discography of an artist I’ve never heard of – I recently became a huge fan of Explosions in the Sky doing this.  I enjoy listening to entire albums, even the less popular songs, to discover hidden gems.  It’s awesome to be able to queue up a few hours of obscure Australian or Greek music to set the ambiance for a themed dinner party (and not have to buy the music).  With some nagging exceptions (Metallica, movie soundtracks), almost all the music I could ever want to listen to is immediately available at no additional cost.  Upgradeable capacity is another hot-button issue for me.  Upgradeable capacity takes away that temptation to pay $50 more for a $20-30 memory-upgraded-model now, and $200 more when the capacity of the shiny new players on the market are an order of magnitude larger than yours.  Buy a 2 GB player right now, and by this time next year, a $30 SD card will probably take you to 10 or 18 GB.

So far, my search is pointing to the Sandisk Sansa e250, which can be had refurbished for $40.  It has a color screen and video playback – I honestly don’t care about this since I don’t care to load TV and movies onto it – if I could find an audio only device like my old Lyra, I’d take it, though I’ll probably find a reason to like the video.  It comes with 2 GB of internal memory and is upgradeable with a microSD card (I would prefer a full-size SD card for cost/capacity reasons).  It has an FM tuner and can record FM radio – not a big draw, but interesting.  It has an internal, rechargeable, user-replaceable battery – another nice plus.  Anyone have good/bad experiences with this player?  Good experiences with another player that seems to hit the criteria?  Just want to tell me to suck it up and buy an iPod nano instead?  Comment away.


Rock! Smashing Pumpkins Zeitgeist brings back angry Billy

This week, The Smashing Pumpkins released “Zeitgeist”, their first album of consequence since 2000.  Their “Siamese Dream” album is among my favorite albums of all time, and certainly among the cream of the 90’s grunge movement.  Their later work is fine by me, but trended toward more electronic influence and mellower songs, marking a slight downward trend (to me).

The new album, Zeitgeist, is half of an awesome album.  Which half is awesome apparently depends on your Pumpkins history.  “Cherub Rock”, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, “Rocket”, and “Zero” are among my favorite Pumpkins songs, so the thunderous first half of the album is right up my alley.  From reviews I’ve seen, fans of “Disarm”, “1979”, “Perfect”, “Thirty Three”, etc. seem to enjoy the latter half of the album more.  People who never liked band still won’t, and folks who are fixated on the current lineup of the band (only half of the original lineup returns) will hate it, because lead singer Billy Corgan seems to be an odd and contentious dude.

The return of the angry Pumpkins is awesome.  Thick, layered, angry, driving guitars move the songs along, and Jimmy Chamberlin’s intricate, expressive drumming may be more prominent and important to the music than ever.  From the massive opening track, “Doomsday Clock” to the first half of track 7, “United States”, the intensity and quality of the songs should send all the whiny, derivative, emo bands running for the exits (I can only hope).  Radio and mp3s don’t do these songs justice – listen to them on big speakers at high volume.  “United States” clocks in at almost 10 minutes long, and signals the album’s shift into music for patient people – ballads,  jam tracks, etc.  They’re not bad, not a departure from the band’s sound – they’re just not the Pumpkins that appeal to me.

But the first half of the album is entirely worth it.


Ashlee Simpson (train wreck) Roundup

Much of the U.S. is fascinated by train wrecks, both figurative and literal. From the “rubbernecking” phenomenon in traffic to the obsessive tabloids at the grocery store, we are fascinated by sudden and overwhelming destruction. I’m usually NOT the one obsessed with celebrity culture, and the one who actually attempts to focus on the road ahead more than the wreckage in the emergency lane, but the interruption of an otherwise boring, lopsided national title game between Oklahoma and USC by a travesty of a halftime show has me fascinated for pure, unintentional humor value.

I despise the invasion of privacy conducted by rags like the Enquirer, InTouch Weekly, etc, simply to sell magazines, but public performances are fair game. Clearly, technical difficulties hampered all 3 performers in Tuesday’s Orange Bowl – Kelly Clarkson, Chet Adkins, and Ashlee Simpson, but the train wreck of the night was Ashlee Simpson (which is saying something, given the Drubbing the Oklahoma Sooners received). Her performance made viewers WISH she was lip-synching like the incident that embarrassed her on Saturday Night Live. From the start of her singing career, it has been clear that she should have simply continued the acting career she began on 7th Heaven. On her MTV show, her vocal strains attempting to record “Pieces of Me” should have been clear indications that her singing career should have been short-lived, but MTV flexed their marketing muscle to the masses who are clearly tone-deaf, and a platinum-selling album was born. (As an aside, I grant her sister Jessica, points for having vocal talent. A simple listen to Jessica’s first single demonstrates that the girl has some pipes, even if lacking some common sense and originality.) I don’t wish failure on anyone, but I resent being sold a fake bill of goods, which is what much of modern music is designed to do. Thus I enjoy those rare moments when it’s crystal clear that the emporer has no clothes.

That being said, there are a few links I found this evening that are well worth sharing: