The man who built his own MP3 player

Like to tinker with electronics devices? So does Takeshi Akamatsu. Here's how he built his own digital music player.

Have you ever walked through an electronics store and asked yourself, "I wonder if I could build my own MP3 player"? Probably not. You may be techno-savvy, and can even program your VCR, but have no real idea where to begin. Well, ZDNet Music has found the anomaly among us. For most of us, building a portable MP3 player is a near-impossibility. For one man, though, it's like playing with LEGOs.

The main stumbling block is that there are no technical resources available that answer common equipment and technology questions. At least your VCR comes with instructions that demystify the remote control.

Takeshi Akamatsu has set out to solve that problem. His Web site contains specific instructions on how to compile the proper materials and build your own MP3 player.

Why would someone undertake such a chore, one that could only benefit people with way too much time on their hands? "To design and build the electronics devices, such as an MP3 player, is my hobby," Akamatsu said. "The MP3 player project is one of my trials."

Normally, a hand-built device will cost significantly more than those available for retail. Think of assembling a car from purchased parts. Similarly, a complete MP3 player costs less than the sum of its parts. But Akamatsu couldn't care less. "Yes, the MP3 player (you build) will (be) more expensive than any other cheap MP3 players," he said. "However, the significance is to build my own work, not cost."

Akamatsu said his site is a valuable resource for MP3 builders because visitors only need "experience in designing embedded microcontroller systems to understand the instructions." Unfortunately, most normal people have none. Further, if you're not up to speed on designing embedded microsystems, there are no "Embedded Micro-Controller Systems for Dummies" or "Learn Embedded Micro-Controller Systems in Under 12 Minutes" texts to consult. The tedium is almost oppressive.

How did Akamatsu figure out how to build his own MP3 player? "One day I found and bought the chip set for an MP3 player at a parts shop in Akihabara electric-town, Tokyo," he said. "At the beginning, I was planning to do only an experiment (with) the MP3 decoding. However, I (decided to) build a complete MP3 player."

If you're still serious about building your own MP3 player, and you've brushed up on your embedded microcontroller systems, move to Akihabara, a neighborhood in Tokyo, ASAP. Akihabara is the only place Akamatsu knows to buy parts for custom MP3 players. "I have been receiving many responses on the MP3 player, so that it seems many people are trying to build MP3 players," he said. Most responses say 'Where I can buy important parts in my country?' However, I don't know of any part shops outside of Japan."

So what are the benefits of building your own MP3 player? Akamatsu said he believes his audio features are superior to conventional players. "I think at least the audio characteristics are better than any other MP3 players (because) everybody is saying so."

What are "audio characteristics"? We have no idea. What are the drawbacks of building your own MP3 player? Spending two years of your life assembling a device that you can purchase online in 2 minutes.

If you're still reading, you must be serious. You need to procure an embedded microcontroller systems book, buy a plane ticket to Tokyo and get ready to listen to MP3s on your own player!