The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'mp3'
Remember Muxtape, the web site where you could upload MP3s of songs you liked to make a virtual mix tape to send people, until the RIAA decided that it was too useful for them to not get paid for it and shut it down? Well, it's back, sort of. Or rather, there is a new site at muxtape.com. This time, you can't upload your stolen MP3s for anyone to criminally enjoy, but if you're in a band or make music, you can put your own music up for people to stream. Just like MySpace, only without the spammy Flash ads and generally atrocious user experience.
I was thinking that "Muxtape 2.0. Less sucky than the new Napster" would be a good slogan for it, but on reflection, this sounds needlessly sarcastic. How about: "Muxtape 2.0: less sucky than the new Napster or MySpace"?
OpenTape is a open-source (PHP-based) implementation of the late lamented Muxtape, a web app which allowed people to make streamable online mix tapes. Now you too can get taken down by the RIAA.
Muxtape.com is a new web application which allows users to make online mix tapes by uploading MP3s, which then can be arranged into a "mix tape" people can listen to online. It gets bonus points for the interface, which has a minimal elegance about it and does everything other than the actual music playing in DHTML. On the down side, you only get to put 12 MP3s in your mix, and are not supposed to have more than one mix.
(For what it's worth, my one's here.)
A man in Stoke-on-Trent was arrested by armed police, DNA tested and thrown in a cell after a bystander mistook his MP3 player for a gun. Darren Nixon was released, but
has been banned from the internet after copyright-enforcement officers found pirated MP3s on the player will now have his DNA stored on a national database for life with a record that he was arrested on suspicion of a firearms offence.
Music download/subscription site Napster is to abandon DRM, and will offer only MP3 downloads. Now why does that sound oddly familiar?
iRiver, the Korean MP3 player manufacturer started off making players that were USB mass storage devices; in other words, when plugged into a computer, they looked like a hard disk you could copy MP3 files to, which the device could then play. A while ago, seemingly persuaded by Microsoft, they abandoned this and replaced it with something called MTP, a proprietary Microsoft protocol for transferring audio files, which officially only works with Windows Media Player (sorry, Maccies and Penguinheads!). Now they seem to have realised the error of their ways (perhaps spurred on by other player makers, such as iAudio, proudly advertising that their devices look like standard USB hard drives that work with anything), and released a firmware update which lets users choose which USB protocol their player uses; for some of their players, at least.
(via Boing Boing)
If you're planning to buy a new MP3 player, beware, as many of the new ones use a proprietary interface protocol tied to Windows Media Player. Whereas a lot of older players (the Archos Jukebox series and iRiver H100 and 300 series, to name two, not to mention various generic Flash-based players) were USB Mass Storage devices (i.e., looked like external hard disks to a computer), new ones use a proprietary Microsoft protocol named MTP, to transfer data to them and possibly enforce RIAA-mandated inconveniences on the user.
MTP appears to be based on the Picture Transfer Protocol used by some digital cameras, only with some Microsoft extensions, and is tightly integrated with the Windows Media Player; it is currently possible to hack gPhoto, a command-line PTP client, to talk to at least some MTP players. There is some doubt over whether or not this infringes on patents. Users of pre-XP Windows systems, however, may be out of luck.
For Penguinheads and other Windows refuseniks, the Apple iPod is apparently still usable. It looks like a USB Mass Storage device (or a FireWire hard disk), and can be copied to/from, though requires music files to be indexed in a proprietary database file onboard, which iTunes writes; there exist open-source tools, running on UNIX-like OSes, for writing this file as well. (Disclaimer: I've never owned an iPod and so have no experience of how useful or clunky it is to use without iTunes. My way of filling my MP3 player involves mounting it as a disk and copying files or directories to it.)
While the major labels are looking for new ways to make their music more inconvenient to users, two US indie labels—Merge and Saddle Creek—are taking the opposite approach, and giving away free MP3s with each vinyl purchase. This move caters to the section of their customer base who prefer music on vinyl but also want to have copies for their MP3 players. Also note the lack of DRM on the MP3 files.
(via bOING bOING)
The first MP3 player I owned was an Archos Jukebox Recorder. This was a relatively bulky unit consisting of a low-power CPU, monochrome bitmap display and notebook hard drive (20Gb, though it was easy enough to open it up and swap the hard disk for a larger one, at least until Archos started soldering their hard drives into cages of circuit boards).
Just under a year ago, I bought an iRiver H340; this is a smaller unit, with a more powerful CPU (Motorola ColdFire; it's powerful enough to decode MP3 and OGG in software, and someone has gotten an iRiver emulating a GameBoy), a colour display, two USB ports (device and host), and based around a smaller (1.8", i.e., iPod-sized) hard drive. Like the Archos, it could record to MP3, from a (crap) built-in microphone or line in (I think it even has a microphone preamp built in, unlike the Archos). However, it seemed to have one crucial missing feature: no real-time clock.
Why is that such a big problem, you ask? Well, when you suddenly record something on the go, how will you know what it is that you recorded later on? The files it makes are named VOICE001.MP3, VOICE002.MP3 and so on, which doesn't say much. There is no keypad, touch screen or other data-entry method to give them names either. Of course, if the device has a real-time clock, you can look at the timestamp of the file to see when it was recorded, but with no such clock, all files created get an arbitrary creation time such as midnight on 1/1/2002, so you're left guessing.
Mind you, now it emerges that the H340 hardware does have a real-time clock, just that the firmware didn't use it. I just found out the most recent firmware upgrade adds a clock function, displaying the current time, and adding sensible timestamps to any files recorded. Which makes the iRiver slightly more useful for things other than listening to music.
(Of course, the firmware is still annoyingly clunky when it comes to doing some things; though now that it is confirmed that there is a clock inside the unit, Rockbox can make use of it when it is ported to it.)
Limor Fried, the designer of the home-made Altoids-tin MP3 player and television-sensitive sunglasses, has done it again, with a honest-to-goodness DIY analogue TB-303 clone. The x0xb0x, as she calls it, is apparently as close to a real 303 as one can get; Fried and her collaborators actually took apart a 303 and analysed the characteristics of all the components. Where it differs from a 303 is that it has USB and MIDI (and can be, literally, computer controlled), can control external synths, and has extra modes in the firmware. The unit will be available in kit form for around US$300 (about £160 or A$400); additionally, the designs will be released as open-source, which means that if you can source the exotic transistors used in it (and a list is given), you can make your own.
It looks like the people behind the Rockbox* MP3 player firmware/OS (which runs on Archos Jukebox series hardware) have started preliminary work on porting it to iRiver devices; they're starting on the (discontinued?) iHP-1x0 series, but hopefully that'll lead to an H-3x0 version as well (assuming that they're based on a similar architecture).
* not to be confused with Rocbox, a MP3 player brought out by rap record/fashion label Roc-A-Fella. (Hang on, aren't they part of Def Jam/Universal? If so, I wonder if their corporate parent knows that they're putting out a MP3 player.)
In MP3 player news, hackers are making progress reverse-engineering the iRiver firmware and loading mechanism, with a view to loading custom firmware into the unit. iRiver have used various mechanisms (checksums, encryption, disabling hardware debugging access) to make things difficult for them, but to no avail. Of course, iRiver could very easily sue them into oblivion under the DMCA, though would probably lose lots of sales doing that (including your humble narrator, who'd probably get another Archos instead); let's hope that iRiver decide not to be asshats about this.
Meanwhile, on the Rockbox mailing lists, this is being viewed with some excitement; there is already talk of expanding the Rockbox project from just the Archos Jukebox/Recorder platform to the iRiver. Which would be incredibly cool; it could be the first step towards Rockbox becoming the Linux of portable media player OSes. If that happens, I wonder how long until companies stop making (and maintaining) their own firmware and start building players around Rockbox.
North Korea bans mobile phones, shortly after encouraging the few foreign business travellers in Pyongyang to use the devices. Meanwhile, South Korea's phone carriers merely configured their phones to destroy uploaded MP3 files after 72 hours, in an effort to placate the recording industry. It failed, and the pigopolists are suing the phone carrier anyway. (via Techdirt)
The Archos Gmini units look really nifty. As long as they are USB Mass Storage devices, and don't need any proprietary Windows-only "media manager" software to upload MP3s (and manage your unwieldy collection of digital rights).
The MP3 patentholders are rewriting the standard to include DRM copy-denial. Owning the patents, they are entitled to crack down on encoders using the old unencumbered MP3 format, or even borrow the RIAA's internet-user-suing infrastructure to go after indie bands who unlawfully put non-DRM-enhanced MP3s on their websites. Not that they'd necessarily do something like that; except, perhaps, if the RIAA paid them under the table to do so or something.
The penguinheads, of course, will go to Ogg Vorbis; apparently, there are now hardware devices which play Ogg files. (No word on whether this is done in a DSP chip, as MP3 decoding is, or whether the device's poor little CPU has to decode the OGG files itself, undoubtedly cutting battery life in half; I'd bet the latter.) Though there may be a window of time during which you cannot legally obtain a new device that plays your "old MP3" files (or even a secondhand one, especially if it relies on Flash ROM firmware which deteriorates within 10 years). All because the recording racket is desperate to preserve its precious scarcity from the depredations of the evil pirasites.
Ah yes, Rockbox 2.1 is out now, with a raft of new enhancements, including loadable plugins, a calendar application, a swag of new games, and a Chip 8 emulator. (I believe Chip 8 was some very primitive hobbyist home computer of the 1980s, and allowed the sufficiently masochistic to program games in machine code or something like it. It's not quite a Commodore 64 emulator on your MP3 player, but it's something.)
Rockbox, the open-source Archos Jukebox Recorder firmware that wipes the floor with Archos' official firmware, is now able to be flashed into ROM. This makes it quicker to start (no loading from hard disk); but it also completely eliminates the need for Archos' firmware, the last proprietary component of the Jukebox.
I was thinking a few days ago that the Jukebox Recorder hardware appears to be made entirely from commodity parts; it basically consists of a laptop hard disk, a USB-IDE interface chip, a MP3 decoder chip, a display, some buttons, and an off-the-shelf Hitachi RISC CPU to control everything, with no custom chips anywhere. Even the batteries are commodity AA-size NiMH cells (unlike Apple's 18-month, non-removable iPod battery). Now that there is complete open-source firmware that runs on the hardware, how long until third-party manufacturers start cobbling together Archos-like MP3 players running Rockbox, or possibly improved hardware running hacked versions of Rockbox? Imagine dozens of small south-east-Asian tech firms making their own 20-60Gb MP3 players and selling them at the cutthroat discounts that Flash-based MP3 players have come down to (the most basic 128Mb ones can be had for just over A$100, with ones with displays and recording starting at A$125), and Rockbox becoming the Linux of HD-based music player firmware (Linux was once bound to one hardware platform; the IBM 386 PC architecture).
So we'll have MP3 players which anybody can build from off-the-shelf parts given the right equipment (you could possibly do so at home, if you really wanted to), which is not controlled by any one company, and whose firmware is entirely hackable. Which sounds very good to me.
(Of course, the Archos Jukebox hardware is rather inflexible; for instance, it has only one MP3 decoder chip wired directly to the headphone socket, which immediately rules out things such as crossfading or playing non-MP3 audio. But that's not to say that third-party variations on the theme wouldn't remedy this.)
This sounds interesting: A new MP3 player from Archos, the Gmini, which is claimed to be the smallest 20Gb MP3 player in existence (which means it's probably based on one of those 1.8" sub-notebook hard disks). The interesting part is that it will work with plug-in accessory modules, including a voice recorder, a photo viewer and music composition software (which could be anything from a glorified ringtone composer to a Cubase-like studio package to a loop-based dance-music production toy).
The Guardian's roundup of new hard disk-based MP3 players, competing with the iPod (stocks of which have been sold out across both the UK and US). The Archos unit looks interesting (though chances are there's no third-party firmware for it; hope Archos have lifted their game in that area; also, it seems that Archos haven't updated their Jukebox Recorders with disks larger than 20Gb; for anything bigger you need to buy the more expensive MPEG4 video jukebox), and the Rio Karma also looks like it could be good. It's also interesting to see that the drugmusic empire Ministry of Sound have their own branded product in that particular market.
This is pretty cool, in a UNIX-geek sort of way: using the LPD printer spooler as a MP3 jukebox. In short, you set up a "printer" which plays MP3s (or other music files) and then "print" MP3s to it (from the local machine or remote machines). (via Slashdot)
Ah yes; the long awaited 2.0 release of Rockbox (that's the enhanced open-source firmware for the Archos Jukebox MP3 player/recorder units) is out. This update adds MP3 recording (so you don't need to boot the rather pedestrian Archos firmware), file queueing, playlist creation, allegedly improved battery life and charging, various sound enhancements (fade in/out on start/end, pitch changing and stereo wide/narrow/karaoke modes), and numerous other minor enhancements. If you have a compatible device, grab it; you probably won't be disappointed.
The Archos Jukebox Recorder arrived today. My first impressions are pretty good. It's reasonably small (larger than an iPod, but smaller than the cassette Walkman from my childhood), a bit better-looking than in the photos (they replaced the light blue with a tasteful charcoal grey), and feels fairly solid (the case seems to be made out of a light alloy of some sort). It came with a USB cable (A-A male-male, for some odd reason), a carrying pouch (which doesn't look quite as flash as the unit), a pair of cheap-looking headphones (which don't sound too bad, actually), a power adaptor (despite the fact that there's no Australian distributor, the unit shipped all the way from France packaged with an Australian power adaptor), and the obligatory headphone-plug-to-2-RCA-plugs cable.
Plugged into a computer, it looks like a USB Mass Storage device (as expected); in particular, like a hard disk containing one VFAT partition. It came with about 4 MP3s preloaded onto it, including the Thievery Corporation remix of GusGus's Polyesterday, as well as some naff country song, a generic electronic number and a track by a (presumably) French band which I've yet to listen to. (Aside to indie musicians: now there's an idea for a promotional technique...) With USB 1.1, it is rather on the slow side, but the device does USB 2.0 as well; time to get a USB 2.0 card, methinks.
Taking it for a spin, the sound quality (from 192kbps MP3s) is quite good, and the interface is quite usable too. (In case you're wondering, the first thing I played on it was Minimum Chips' Freckles EP.) I haven't tested the recording function yet. I've installed the Rockbox firmware on it, and it works quite nicely.
The only drawback I've noticed so far is that the manual seems a bit vague and short of information; for example, it doesn't tell you what the two LEDs mean, or indeed whether the S/PDIF socket is optical, coaxial or both (as it is on my old MiniDisc).
The unit ended up costing me some AUP650 in total, including shipping from France. (There was no import tarriff, as recording devices are tariff-free in Australia. If you decide to buy one and UPS tell you Customs want money for it, remind them that it's a recording device and they'll let it pass untrammelled.) That's almost 400 pesos less than an iPod costs here (and that's not counting the cost of a FireWire card one needs for talking to an iPod), and unlike the iPod, it does recording too. All in all, I'm quite pleased with it.
If this WIRED Magazine article is right, the recording industry as we know it will be dead much sooner than we expect, and it's not just the Napatistas nickel-and-diming them to death with their MP3 sharing programs: new technology is democratising music production and distribution and making it easier for artists to be independent of major labels, while the labels are still stuck in a business model which assumes that they have the whip hand, the major labels are owned by a handful of gigantic corporations and dominated by conservative bean-counters concerned with short-term risk minimisation, and even if they got their choice of draconian new copyright laws with severe penalties for violation from the government (most of whom don't particularly like the degenerate hot-tubbing filthmongers in the recording industry anyway), it'd be too late.
If the majors collapse, or are reduced to a shadow of their former selves, that could be good. It could mean less homogeneity, clearing the deadwood and allowing a new diversity to flourish. Then again, that's sort of what happened with the rise of grunge in the early 90s, or so The Sell-In suggests, and it ultimately got assimilated into the system. Chances are, the cycle would repeat itself; though hopefully, the next time around, with artists having more autonomy, the system would look more like book publishing (where authors retain their copyrights and have more control) rather than the pimplike racket of the recording industry (where the legal "author" of a piece of music is the multinational corporation who lent (that's right, lent; it all comes out of the artist's share of royalties) the artist the money to get it recorded, and contracts give companies draconian levels of control over the artists' careers). The present system is riddled with scams and systemic corruption (a throwback to the days when the nascent recording industry was dominated by organised crime), and it's about time for a change.
H4x0r group claims to have written universal P2P infector, commissioned by the RIAA. The alleged worm infects MP3 files, exploits vulnerabilities in players under Windows and Linux and sends catalogues of your MP3s to the RIAA as evidence for prosecution. Oh, and did I mention that it's undetectable? So, if you have MP3s, physically destroy your hard disks NOW. (Don't just erase them; computer forensics people can recover wiped disks.) US federal prisons are not pleasant places to be.
(If the RIAA is involved, it'd be more likely that it would be a psychological warfare operation and not a technical operation; the purpose being to destroy as many unrestricted MP3s as possible. It would work like this: circulate a few things like this, stage some arrests (make sure there are TV crews to film the SWAT teams going in) and publicise that the "pirates" were brought to justice by a new P2P worm, and watch guilty geeks nuke their MP3 collections and drop their hard disks in sulphuric acid. Then, when the smoke clears, sell all the songs back to them in rights-managed pay-per-play versions, and laugh all the way to the shareholders' meeting. Could the RIAA possibly have a better way of getting all those pesky MP3 files off the market?)
(Of course, there's also the possibility that it's 100% bullshit made up by some bored teenager.) (via bOING bOING)
Scare meme of the day: can MP3s damage your hearing? The issue is whether the "inaudible" frequencies removed in the MP3 encoding process are necessary for the ear to calibrate itself, and lossily-compressed sounds can cause damage to the listener's perception of timbre. The RIAA's much-vaunted watermarking plans could also be dangerous. (via Slashdot)
In the U.S. the FCC plans to ban unserialised streaming audio players, as they don't allow listeners to be tracked enough to satisfy the copyright racket. This means that using open-source streaming audio players (such as xmms), or systems such as Ogg Vorbis, would be illegal in the Land of the Free. (via bOING bOING)
Hmmm... apparently Björk's upcoming album was written with Napster in mind; and designed to sound great when downloaded. Never mind that they've all been pulled from Napster, along with pretty much everything else. I've heard snippets on Far And Wide, and it certainly sounds very quiet and minimalistic; though perhaps too much so.
The War On MP3: Windows XP to limit MP3 quality to 56kbps, to wean users onto proprietary formats. Elsewhere this would be considered unfair restraint of trade; in this case it is a well-deserved blow against audio piracy. The fact that it will nicely lock customers into Microsoft's own proprietary platform is just a bonus for those heroic altruists in Redmond. (Who said that doing good never pays, right?)
This won't apparently block the writing of MP3 files at the filesystem level or anything quite like that, but will block recording with Microsoft's bundled tools; their hope is to make all the unsigned garage bands release all their stuff in proprietary Windows formats (after all, who cares about the 0.01% of the market who don't use Windows? Translating the lyrics into Urdu makes as much sense as supporting non-Windows platforms), thus consigning MP3 to a a historical footnote. (It would work better if they automatically degraded the playback of MP3s; though that may be in the next release.)
Though doesn't everyone use WinAMP or Sonique under Wintendo anyway? (I know I do on the NT machine at work.)
While I'm mentioning Slashdot, they have a piece on Ogg Vorbis, the upcoming free MP3 alternative, by its author Christopher Montgomery. The possibilities of behind-the-scenes machinations by Fraunhofer and the RIAA to forcibly upgrade everyone to encrypted SDMI systems are also eye-opening, in a paranoid way. Wonder whether Vorbis will achieve sufficient momentum and visibility to make it hard to "disappear".
Kid Rock starves to death. MP3 piracy blamed. (The Onion)
An all-star fundraiser CD featuring Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit, and Korn was similarly scrapped when an individual known only by the user name PimpKracker69@aol.com acquired a promotional copy and made it available to millions of fans over the Internet.
The War on MP3: Organised criminals force MP3 downloaders to view horrific scenes of teenage sex; or so the BPI (the British equivalent of the RIAA says). Meanwhile, HMV Europe blacklists artists who make tracks available for download. (NME, via Slashdot)