Portable Music

Overview Portable CD players are no longer the cool way to enjoy music on the go. When digital audio players arrived in 1999, music lovers first embraced MP3 players, then migrated to iPods. The world of portable music players includes digital codecs like MP3, WMA, and AAC, music distribution Web sites, software for converting audio CD tracks into digital format, and portable music players.

Audio codecs In 1987, a German company called Fraunhofer developed the MP3 (MPEG Audio Layer 3) standard for encoding and compressing music into digital files about one-tenth their original size.  These small files were not quite up to the quality of the originals, but they offered convenience—files could be easily transferred over the Internet and many files could fit on a typical computer hard disk. At this About.com page, you can find a brief history of MP3 development and tables that compare sound quality using various compression techniques.

Fraunhofer also developed AAC (MPEG-2 Advanced Audio Coding) used by the Apple iPod. You can find technical details about AAC at the Fraunhofer Web site For a less technical discussion, check out the Wikipedia AAC page.

Microsoft developed the WMA (windows media audio) codec and incorporated it in the Windows operating system as the Windows Media Player. You can read details and find comparison charts with other audio codecs at www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/9series/codecs.aspx.

MP3, AAC, and WMA are proprietary codecs, which poses issues about licensing. An open source and free audio codec called Ogg Vorbis has been available since 1999, but has not yet become popular as an alternative to AAC and MP3. You can get up to listen so some audio samples of Ogg Vorbis files at www.vorbis.com.

Online music stores Lots of MP3 and AAC music is available on the Internet. The idea of downloading digital music was first popularized by a file sharing network called Napster, which was sued by the recording industry for illegally distributing copyrighted music. You can find out how Napster worked at computer.howstuffworks.com/napster.htm.

File sharing technology itself is not illegal, and it has many potential legal uses. File sharing networks are explained at compnetworking.about.com/ and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File_sharing. File swapping sites still offer digital music downloads. You can find them by entering “music download” in any search engine. Before you download, make sure the music is offered legally by checking the site’s policies.

Today, many commercial Web sites offer music downloads in a simple client/server architecture. These sites are often referred to as online music stores and typically charge a small fee for each download or require a monthly subscription for access. Before downloading music from one of these sites, you might have to download a player designed to work with MP3, AAC, WMA, or other music format. A few of the most popular online music stores include:

·MSN Music (music.msn.com)

·Apple iTunes (www.apple.com/itunes)

·Walmart Music Downloads (musicdownloads.walmart.com)

· MP3 Search.ru  (www.mp3search.ru)

·Rhapsody (mp3.rhapsody.com/home.html )

·CD Universe (www.cduniverse.com)

Ripping audio CDs In addition to obtaining music from file sharing networks and online music stores, you can convert the tracks on your audio CDs to digital format. To rip a CD, you’ll need CD ripper software. Most digital music player software utilities, such as Windows Media Player and iTunes include the software necessary to rip audio CDs.

Once this software is installed, follow the directions. In general, ripping consists of the following steps:

·Start your CD ripper software

·Insert the CD containing original music

·Select the track(s) you want to rip

·Select a format, such as MP3, AAC, WMA, or WAV, for the ripped files

·Select the destination for the ripped files

·Initiate the conversion process

If you want to get into the details of ripping, you can read all about it at mp3.radified.com.

Digital music players Music in MP3, AAC, WMA, or other digital formats can be easily stored on a computer’s hard disk, copied to CDs or DVDs, or transferred to portable devices called digital music players. The iPod has emerged as one of the most popular portable music players, but many other brands are price and feature competitive. Because new models appear so frequently, it is difficult to provide an up-to-date list.  Before you buy one, be sure to read the PC Magazine article “Digital Audio Players: The Essential Buying Guide” and “MP3 & Digital Music Players: Top 10 Buying Tips”  You can also use the MP3 Player Buying Guide to find the player that’s best for you.