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i, Pod

Apple's outstanding iPod portable music player By Frank Moldstad

Ive had it less than a week, but already Apples iPod version 4 has become an umbilical attachment -- like a wallet, cell phone, and keys.

This is unusual, because Ive owned several CD Walkmans, but rarely carried them around. Too big and too much hassle. But the iPod is a different animal. Self-contained, needing no disc wallet. A huge storage capacity. Excellent sound. Small size. 12-hour battery life between charges. Mac or PC compatible. Instant access to any song. The ability to import music from CDs and various other formats. It can even function as a hard drive, for storage of graphics or other digital files. Plus, the new models were just introduced at $100 less than the previous ones. This is an outstanding device, with great flexibility that even audio professionals will appreciate.

The companion software, iTunes, is included on CD with iPod and launches automatically when iPod is plugged into the computer. The iTunes web site has more than 700,000 songs downloadable for 99 cents each. Apple recently announced a big milestone, with more than 100 million songs downloaded from iTunes. Its not an overstatement to say that the iPod and iTunes represent a model for the future distribution of music. So, I figured Id better get on board.

iTunes is not only a viable business model, its an extremely successful one that has everyone from Wal-Mart to Sony launching their own variations. Sooner or later, others will catch on. Its inevitable, given the evident consumer preference for music downloading, not to mention the lower distribution costs.

The new iPod comes in two models. A 20 GB iPod goes for $299, and a 40 GB one is $399. (I once had a 20 GB hard drive in my computer!) For speedy navigation, theyre now equipped with the Apple Click Wheel, first introduced on the smaller iPod mini. The other major feature of the new iPods is a 12-hour battery life -- as Apple says, long enough to fly from New York to Paris and then walk around the Champs Elysées before recharging. 

In practical terms, you can store 5,000 songs on the 20 GB model, and 10,000 on the 40GB model, with songs that average four minutes encoded in the 128Kbps AAC format. I bought the 20 gigger, figuring it would be a long time until I had 5,000 songs. Ive downloaded about 50 songs from iTunes in the past year, just to play on my computer. Since I bought the iPod, Ive downloaded 30 more iTunes. Now Ive only got 4,920 to go before I fill this thing up.

But the iPod is more than just a jukebox with a pretty face. It has hidden potential as a professional device. One of the things that attracted me to it was is its ability to handle a variety of audio file formats, including WAV, AIFF, and the new AAC (see below). The iPod can even convert and save unprotected WMA files. To set up iTunes for importing different audio formats, go to  Edit>Preferences>Importing. There you have the option to import AAC, MP3, MP3 VBR, Audible, AIFF and WAV files, and the new Apple Lossless encoder format. Apple Lossless provides CD-comparable sound at about half the file size of the original CD track.

By default, iTunes and iPod use the AAC, or Advanced Audio Coding, format. The heir apparent to the 10 year-old MP3 format, AAC was developed by the MPEG group, including Dolby, Fraunhofer (FhG), AT&T, Sony, and Nokia. It sounds a lot better than MP3, thanks to improved compression with smaller file sizes. It also supports multichannel audio (up to 48 channels) and sampling rates up to 96 kHz.

But with the inclusion of  WAV and AIFF file support, the iPod is also fully compatible with the two leading pro audio file formats on the PC and Mac. Such versatility opens up all kinds of professional uses. Tired of burning multiple rough mix demo CDs after a session? Tell everyone to bring their iPods and download a stereo 44.1kHz/16-bit mix from your computer via iTunes, using either a FireWire or USB2 connection.

Or, you can save CD-quality files to the iPod, then connect it to another computer elsewhere. The files can be dragged and dropped from the iPods Library for use in an audio recording or looping program, such as ? Garage Band. The iPods ability to store thousands of files is great for composers, scorers, songwriters, keyboard players or DJs, because loops, sound fx files and other files can be transported easily and then accessed at another location. Plus, anyone who has to keep dozens of sample loop CDs organized will appreciate being able to load entire loop libraries into the iPod, making them accessible on the computer at any time.

The iPod is a portable idea bank, too.You can record something onto a DAW, save it as 16-bit/44.1kHz wavefile, then drag and drop into the iTunes Library folder. When you connect the iPod to the computer it automatically downloads any new files from the Library. 

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Related Keywords:iPod, Apple, iTunes, portable jukebox, AAC format, Apple Lossless encoder, Advanced Audio Coding


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