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April 30, 2003

My Favourite Music Genre is Neep-Neep

iTunes 4 is really very fine. Everyone's talking about the new Music Store; it's certainly nifty, but I have two problems with it. Firstly, most of the music I'm interested in isn't available; the smaller record companies have yet to come on board. Second, non-US users are currently disenfranchised, though we do get to press our little virtual noses up to the window and see what we're missing. Which is certainly better than nothing.

I'm sure all that will come, though; because I predict that this service is going to make a mint, and its successors will become the standard way of buying music. Meanwhile, though, iTunes 4 has two other features I like hugely. First, you can stream music from other iTunes libraries on your network. As I seem to have returned from the US with a largish iTunes library on my Powerbook which is completely different from the one on the iMac, and Powerbook speakers are rubbish, this is very useful.

Secondly, you can now attach album artwork (or any other pictures) to songs in your iTunes library. And you can drag these pictures directly from Safari. I did a few, experimentally, and then got to a song that I have in my library but don't own; and it occurred to me that this is a fine way to differentiate the music I own from the music I've borrowed from friends to see if I like. Not adding pictures will remind me that, if I do like it, it's probably about time I bought it.

One of the many cool toys I purchased at the Apple Store at Mall of America was a Belkin Tunecast, which transmits FM from the iPod to nearby radios (within 20 feet or so). We got it to use on our longish trips in the hire car, but it turned out to be useful for broadcasting to home stereos and (especially) those crappy little radios you get in hotel rooms, too. We easily got good value out of it just on our holiday, and the sound quality is rather better than you get with a cassette adaptor.

Sadly, it's illegal to use low-power tranmitters of this kind in the UK. Which is a shame, because as well as all the uses mentioned above, I could theoretically also attach it to the powerbook and stream anything from either of the iTunes libraries to my posh tuner in the living room.

Posted by Alison Scott at April 30, 2003 12:58 PM

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N.B.: The speakers in the TiBook are not rubbish. They're acutally very high quality, and have wondeful reproduction capability.

The problem is this: They are 1" in diameter, and they have no resonant cavity. This means they reproduce no bass whatsoever, and are weak on mids. Above about 300hz, however, they're quite the best speakers I've ever heard in a notebook. The imaging is very clean, almost transparent. Bolt on something to handle the lows and low mids (like an iSub) and those speakers are amazing.

Alas, however, this doesn't make them useful for listening to music aloud on the road, unless you want to haul a clever subwoofer (one that's USB -- if you just plug into the headphone jack, you cut out the speakers on the TiBook proper.)

It does, however, make it easy to hear spoken voice and alert tones while using the TiBook, even in noisy enviroments -- which means everyone on the plane knows when you've restarted it. :)

Posted by: Erik V. Olson at April 30, 2003 04:01 PM

OK, they're not rubbish. They are, however, completely inadequate for listening to music in my study, which was the environment in question. On the road I can use one of my other new toys, the Sony noise-cancelling headphones.

Posted by: Alison Scott at April 30, 2003 04:44 PM

Well, the answer in the study is simple. Superfulous Technology, of course, in glorious swoopy plastic. See if you can't borrow an iSub (or, take a test drive at your local shop.)

NR headphones are truly a godsend. The best of the line currently is the Bose, which has wonderful NR (and lousy reproduction, since Bose gear sucks. I'm surprised the NR works well, at all.)

I had a set of Aiwa NDR headphones, but they were noisy and hurt to wear. They were $50, rather than the $300 of the Bose.

Now I use these little Panasonic NR earbuds, which are easy to carry in the laptop case. They work better than the AIWA on NR, but leak more sound around them.

I haven't tried the Sony models, so I don't know how well the work. But, on airplanes, they're wonderful.

Now, if you want to reduce sound *and* get amazing sound reproduction, you need these: http://www.pjbox.co.uk/Etymotic/etymoticindex.htm . Warning. Staggering price for earbuds ahead. But I've heard ER-4Ps. Wow. The ER6s are only expensive, however. The good, and bad, thing about these is that you won't hear the kids.

Posted by: Erik V. Olson at April 30, 2003 06:22 PM

Actually, they were fine on the aeroplane, but I don't find aircraft terribly noisy. Why not? Because I'm a tube commuter. On the tube, they're astonishing. And although the chap in the shop said 'mostly ambient noise', they do reduce speech quite well too.

The Sonys are also seal-in-the-ear type earbuds; various reading and discussions had convinced me that that type was what I was looking for. The NR circuit (like with the Etymotics) only works if the earbuds are properly sealed; grumpy reviews of these headphones seem to be mostly by people who don't have the nerve to seal them properly. Would not be safe when walking (though of course you can turn the NR circuits off, they're still as effective as earplugs even without the NR).

Posted by: Alison Scott at April 30, 2003 10:25 PM

Tube Commuter. Of course. I thought the Blue Line in Chicago would rip your ears out, but that's nothing compared to the District on a foul day (and if there is worse, I don't want to hear it.)

NR phones would have been a godsend. I didn't bring mine last time -- I was flying in Business over, and AA gives you the Bose NR 'phones for the flight, so I didn't bring mine. We'll bring them, next time.

Posted by: Erik V. Olson at May 1, 2003 12:44 AM

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