Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Now my crappy music can go with me <i>everywhere</i>!

This morning I stopped by CompUSA and bought an Archos Jukebox Studio 20GB MP3 player. I've been craving an MP3 player for my car, but since the discontinuation of Rio's car MP3 stereo, I haven't been sure which way to go. In the end, I decided that a portable player (and a cassette adaptor for the car) made the most sense.

The Archos player is a 20GB USB drive, which makes it one of the first portables that's big enough to hold my entire music collection. The thing that sold me on it, though, is that the controller chipset works in Linux as of kernel 2.4.8. Just plug the drive into your USB port, mount /dev/sda1, and go nuts. No crappy custom software--it's just an external drive!

The interface on the unit is dirt simple: you navigate the filesystem with four buttons, and hit play when you get to the desired song. Only one filename is shown at a time, and you can't skip past several at a time, which makes large linear searches a pain. Luckily, the player understands .m3u files, so you can populate the drive with pre-made playlists as you see fit.

The player contains rechargable NiMH batteries, and claims between 7 and 10 hours of continuous play, though I haven't confirmed that myself. Physically, the device is a bit big for "pocket sized", but it comes with a belt-friendly carrying case to compensate.

I'm not sure if the player supports USB 2.0, but since none of my machines are bleeding edge, I'm stuck with the really slow transfer speeds of USB 1.0. It's taking all day for my 12GB music collection to transfer.

Other than the slowness of USB, my only complaint so far is the filesystem's apparent hard-coded file permisssions. Everything is writable only by the owner, and the owner is root, which means you have to be root to write to the device. Maybe mount can do some uid remapping magic. I should look into that.

All in all, I'm impressed. I shoud make frivolous gadget purchases more often.


  1. Cool! I'd been thinking about getting a CD player rather than the current ancient tape player for my car. I hadn't considered this as a snazzier option before, but it certainly seems to be... Guests can't easily bring their music into the car with them so you have total control over the selection, another bonus :-P

  2. Hmmm. I set up a playlist containing every song from every album I own--2622 tracks in all. This would be useful with "shuffle" play, which plays the tracks in random order.
    But when I told it to play that list, it started reading the playlist (slowly!), and when it got to 999 songs, it stopped
    reading the list and just started playing.
    Can the player really only handle 1000 songs in a playlist?
    While it's unlikely you'd ever sit through that many songs in one session (particularly on battery power), that limitation means a random "shuffle" of my music will never use anything past, say, "M" in the alphabet. That sucks!
    Sure, I can generate smaller random playlists on the computer and transfer them over, but that's silly. I hate stupid arbitrary limitations. Grrrrr...

  3. How did you decide on this particular player?
    I have not really been thinking of getting an MP3 player - but I have looked at them and cannot image how I would decide which one I want if I did want one.

  4. > How did you decide on this particular player?
    Well, my first criterion was "big enough to hold all my music". Since I have about 14GB (not 12, as I previously thought) of music, only the most recent disk-based players fit that bill. I never paid attention to the memory based players, so I can't offer insight into them.
    Among disk-based portables, the main contenders appear to be the iPod, the Creative Nomad, and the Archos Jukebox. (If anyone knows of other disk-based portables, let us know.) The iPod is sexy but expensive, and requires a Mac (though that's supposedly changing soon), so I never really considered it. I wouldn't be surprised if it's vastly better than the others, though.
    The Nomad and the Archos seem comparable. The Nomad looks like it has a better on-unit interface, though I haven't used one myself, so I could be wrong. The Nomad is about the size of a CD player though, which makes it more unwieldy than the Archos (which is pretty hefty to start with).
    As I mentioned in the article, Linux support is a big issue for me. Nomad support seems to be in progress, and might be usable for all I know, but I was sold on the Archos when I heard that it was supported natively in recent kernels (which means I didn't have to apply experimental patches and rebuild).
    That about summarizes my shopping process. If anybody has more insight into the market, please feel free to make me feel bad about my purchase.

  5. Oh, I forgot to mention the e.Digital players. I didn't give them much thought, since they look shoddy to me, though that's certainly a superficial judgement. They may be great, for all I know.

  6. Best Buy is currently offering a $40 mail in rebate on the 20gb Archos player.