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  •   Diamond in the Rough
     The Rio PMP300
    By Mike Musgrove
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    November 27, 1998

    Diamond's new piece of hardware, the Rio PMP300, doesn't look like much, but its very existence has whipped up a flurry of journalistic speculation about what it means for the future of the recording industry. The Rio, simply put, is a Walkman-style audio device that stores and plays audio files in the "MP3" format, which compresses audio files to a small, manageable fraction of their normal size without sacrificing sound quality.

    It's about the size of a deck of cards, runs on one AA battery (for only about five hours in my testing) and will hold an hour's worth of MP3 files, which you load on the thing via a parallelport connection to your PC. The sound quality is excellent – if I hadn't known better, I would have thought I was listening to a CD.

    The package comes with two separate software programs. First, there's Diamond's own slick little Rio Manager, which lets you play tracks on your computer and arrange the order of the songs stored on your Rio. The other program, MusicMatch Jukebox, converts CD tracks into MP3 format. This is where music lawyers get anxious: MP3 files are nothing but easily copied and shared digital versions of your music (it's legal to duplicate your own albums for personal use, but distributing them is illegal.)

    While Diamond's software works well enough, the lack of integration between the main program and the MusicMatch Jukebox is puzzling. Rio's box suggests that all you need is a Pentium 90 and a CD-ROM drive, but it turns out that the clunky MusicMatch software has requirements of its own: a 166 MHz processor and "a fairly good CD-ROM drive." Although this isn't mentioned on the box, it turns out that not all CD-ROM drives can perform digital audio extraction – you should check at http://www.mp3.com/cdrom.html first to see if yours is up to the job. Otherwise, you're stuck downloading MP3s off the Web.

    Fortunately, there just happens to be plenty of free, legal music on the Web. There's also illegal, pirated music, too, but this sort of thing has gotten much harder to find as record labels' lawyers have taken on the task of shutting down the sites of folks who were uploading their entire CD collections just months ago. (Not that I've gone looking for them or anything.) The aforementioned MP3.com site has free downloads available, while other sites, such as GoodNoise http://www.goodnoise.com, sell albums and individual songs in the MP3 format.

    This technology definitely seems to appeal to folks beyond the usual gadget crowd, and the price isn't bad, either. It's a little silly to forecast the death of the recording business, but calls to a few major search engines confirmed that, surprisingly enough, "MP3" consistently ranks as one of the most popular search terms on the Web, just after the porn-related keywords. We're not quite sure what to make of that, either.

    Diamond Multimedia, Rio PMP300; Win 95, $200

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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