Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ipod Vs My Musix

For various reasons, i have two mp3 players. I've had both units for more than a year. In fact, both units are no longer sold as new. Even though they both have excellent sound, I really only use one of them. Try to guess which one it is after the descriptions below.

One is the original Apple iPod Shuffle. It looks like a white pack of gum with a rounded rectangle look. It has a button in a ring. The button is the play/stop button. The ring has forward a track and (hold it down) fast forward, back a track and (hold it down) rewind, volume up and volume down. There's a blinking light indicating it's on, etc. I mostly ignore it. On the back, it has a three position switch which gives you power off, sequential play and shuffle mode. There's a button which lets you check the state of the internal battery. The light shows green, amber or red.

The unit has a USB connection. You mount it on some computer, add tracks, and delete tracks. You need software which knows how to update the database on the device, otherwise, the device won't play it. I use gnupod, since other software for the iPod doesn't really work for Linux. This software works on the command line, has awful syntax, but this can be fixed with aliases and such in your shell's startup file. The key is that it works. I could say that again, but you'd get bored. You can store things on it that aren't music, for example to copy things from one place to another. Inside, there is half a GB of flash. That's enough for 12 to 20 hours of content, depending on encoding, quality, etc. While you're connected, the battery charges. I don't think about the battery unless i'm going on a long trip. It usually works. But for long trips, the limit is 18 hours of use on a full charge. I haven't tested this lately.

If you pause the unit, it will eventually turn itself off. When you turn it on, it sometimes remembers where you were in a track, and sometimes it skips to the beginning of the track. Sometimes it forgets the track, and skips to the "first track". This is the same as the first track your computer reports is on the device. Sometimes, the software records that you deleted a track, but the track isn't actually deleted. It takes up space, but isn't accessible. It can be hard to figure out which track it is, or even notice that it has happened. The tracks are always renamed with a "1_" prefix added. Sometimes, part of the file names are removed. It might have something to do with the DOS FAT 32 filesystem, and name length limitations or name mangling. Hey, blame it on Micros~1.

The other unit was on sale at Radio Shack, and is called My Musix. It is black, rounded everywhere, slightly fatter than the Shuffle, but otherwise comparable in size. On the front is a fairly large dot matrix display, which tells you what you're doing. There is a big play/stop button. There is a forward track and reverse track rocker, and if you hold them, you get fast forward/reverse. There is a volume up and volume down rocker. There is a record button. There is device lock slider switch. Lock it, and other controls will not respond. Handy for preventing error.

Turn the unit on by pressing the Play button. Turn it off by pressing (and holding) the Play button. Play by pressing Play, right? Well, that depends on what mode you're in. Mostly, i press the Record button first, which puts it into a mode menu. Modes let you change folders, each which might have different content, like a book in one, and space music in another, and podcasts in a third. Have as many as you like. Another is Play mode, where you can opt for sequential or random play. Another mode is Delete. You can delete tracks from the interface. Another mode is Repeat - including none, one track, one folder. Another mode is FM Radio. You can tune in FM stations. You can even record FM. Play the FM later, or download it to your main computer. Another mode is Record. You can record ambient audio. The sound is recorded with 8 bit samples at 8 KHz. Not very high quality. There are two levels of menu. The settings menu has a mode for setting the screen backlight. You can use a red backlight - which is good for astronomy, as it doesn't ruin your night vision.

The unit has a USB connection. You mount it on some computer, add tracks, and delete tracks. No special software. When the device turns on, it figures out what it has, and lets you play it. You can store things on it that aren't music, for example to copy things from one place to another. It ignores things it doesn't understand. Inside, there is one GB of flash. That's enough for 24 to 60 hours of content. That's enough that you can stuff content in a folder for reference. It uses a AAA battery. I use rechargeable batteries. It gets about 8 hours on a charge, but you can bring more batteries with you, so you get infinite duration with minimal preplanning. If you don't preplan, there's always 7/11. And if your rechargeable battery dies a final death, you can always pick up more at the grocery store. The design of the battery cover door suggests that you'll misplace it sometime. So far, i've been careful, and though i've lost it twice, i've also quickly found it again. It's a nuisance when you have to pull off the road to fish under the seat. Probably should have pulled over to change the battery. Think safety first.

If you pause the unit, it will eventually turn itself off. When you turn it on, it sometimes remembers where you were in a track, but always skips to the beginning of the track. Sometimes it forgets the track, folder and everything. You usually get to the first track in a random folder. Well, it's random to me. It even forgets the track when you actually turn it off gracefully, sometimes. It sometimes suffers from the Micros~1 problem. However, it doesn't, in general, rename files. Though long folder names sometimes get renamed to eight characters. This summer, i loaded Lord of the Rings audio book tracks on it, and the unit was bricked. I called customer support, and got software that let me reflash it. The new software fixed the unusual characters in the filenames can brick the unit problem, and cleaned up some display bugs too. I now have the software, and can use it any time to unbrick the unit. Since the unit behaves so much better, i'm actually glad i had to reflash it. In fact, if they had a registration system, and could, for example, send you email when new operating software was available, it would be worth signing up for spam. In any case, the customer support rocked. It's hard to remember when i've dealt with good customer support before.

Note that both units have their faults. The Apple Shuffle needed to keep the form factor, fix rewind so that it can hack into the end of the previous track, fix it so that it remembers where it is in a track when it is turned off, and remove the "off" position, letting it toggle between sequential and shuffle mode only. The form factor is fine - it didn't need to be made smaller. I'd offer it in multiple colors, not just white. Of course, then i'd buy the unpopular polka dot version at discount.

The My Musix needs to have a single menu, not two nested menus. It needs to remember where it was when turned off. If it's going to record, it needs to be high quality 16 bit sound with at least 22 KHz samples, preferably CD rate samples. Mono is OK. The battery cover design needs fixing. The display shows the current track. But if the track title doesn't fit in the display, it scrolls. It starts scrolling instantly, which doesn't give you time to consume the first few characters. Just a couple second pause before scrolling would fix this. It should be offered in multiple colors, not just black. Of course, then i'd buy the unpopular polka dot version at discount.

OK, so which one do i use? Simple interface, half storage? Or complicated interface, replaceable batteries? The answer is that i nearly never use the My Musix. But one day the battery in the Shuffle will die, and i'll switch to the My Musix, and use it for twenty years. And i'll likely pine for the good old days when life was simple.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

hopefully it samples FM at 16 bits 32 kHz and encodes mono 96 kbps mp3

i guess itd require firmware hacking to do any useful mods?

Stephen said...

I have listened to saved FM, but haven't saved it to a computer. That's worth an experiment. I'm pretty sure it saves to a wav file, probably 8 bits. Why mono? FM is stereo, and so is the unit.

Andreya said...

Hi Nice Blog .Setting the backlight to “always on” will significantly reduce your ipod batteries life. Only use the backlight when necessary.

Stephen said...

My iPod has no backlight. No display at all. Just a few blinking lights - and no options to change their behavior.

It's the My Musix that has a backlight. And i can replace the battery in it, and bring spares, and such. It has no endurance limitation. There's a 7/11 at the next exit.

But i set the backlight to a fairly short interval.