This wildly popular compression format lets you shrink audio files to about a tenth of their original size while maintaining near CD-quality sound. MP3 appears lush and green now, but consider the turmoil surrounding it:
Jupiter Communications predicts only 3% of consumers will purchase downloaded digital music by 2003.
The anti-piracy standard known as the Secure Digital Music Initiative is out to squeeze MP3. However, MP3 powerhouse EMusic calls SDMI the next Divx.
Other formats such as Liquid Audio and AT&T's a2b Music are gunning for MP3's limelight. MP3 has experienced meteoric growth, but now it's going to slow down as we wait for these issues to shakeout. However, we shouldn't let that keep us from enjoying digital music now -- which means MP3. Here's a rundown of the best portables, players and download sites.
Diamond Rio 500: Scheduled for an August release, the new Rio doubles its memory to 64 MB, which translates to about two hours of playing time. It also features a slicker design (colours even), Mac compatibility, USB connection and support for MP3, MPEG2.5, G.723 (Audible's format) and ADPMC.
Creative Labs Nomad: These come in 64 MB and 32 MB options and weigh only 2.5 ounces. Along with basic player functions, the Nomads work as voice recorders, feature a FM tuner and include a handy docking station. Click for more.
raveMP: Sensory Science's player ships its pocket-sized player later this month. It packs 64 MB of memory and offers 16 MB or 32 MB expansion cards. But wait, there's more. RaveMP also acts as voice recorder and has PIM capabilities.
Thomson/RCA Lyra: Teaming up with Real Networks, Thomson's 32 MB player features the RealJukebox and support for RealAudio G2. It's expected to ship in early September for around $200 and features a software programmable chip for decoding music files, allowing the Lyra to support whichever file format prevails -- MP3, MS Audio or the Advanced Audio Coding standard.
Take me to the MP3 Special