As well as regular posts, I’ve been working on some overview pages, two of which are now visible below the image header: Overview: mp3 players and Overview: music recommendations. These pages aren’t finished, but I wanted to publish them to get going on on them. I’ll be updating and extending them as I go. I hope they prove useful. Any advice gratefully received. I will be adding one or two more of these overviews in the future.
“ITunes Music Store and others are unfair to consumers no matter how many download services follow the proprietary approach,” wrote Torgeir Waterhouse, a senior advisor at The Norwegian Consumer Council, in response to a letter written by Apple CEO Steve Jobs and posted on the Apple Web site on Tuesday.
In an unprecedented move, Steve Jobs has published a statement entitled Thoughts On Music in which he details his views on DRM. Unsurprisingly, he states that iPods can freely play music ripped from CDs and other media before laying responsibility for the increasingly unpopular rights management applied to music sold via the iTunes Music Store fairly and squarely at the feet of the big record companies:
Since Apple does not own or control any music itself, it must license the rights to distribute music from others, primarily the “big four” music companies: Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI. These four companies control the distribution of over 70% of the world’s music. When Apple approached these companies to license their music to distribute legally over the Internet, they were extremely cautious and required Apple to protect their music from being illegally copied. The solution was to create a DRM system, which envelopes each song purchased from the iTunes store in special and secret software so that it cannot be played on unauthorized devices.
He then goes on to suggest three future scenarios: continuing on the current course with incompatible players and systems (not at all desirable for users), licensing Apple’s Fairplay DRM to third parties (deemed highly problematic because difficult to control) and thirdly to abolish DRM (is that cheering I hear in the distance?) with the following argument:
In 2006, under 2 billion DRM-protected songs were sold worldwide by online stores, while over 20 billion songs were sold completely DRM-free and unprotected on CDs by the music companies themselves. The music companies sell the vast majority of their music DRM-free, and show no signs of changing this behavior, since the overwhelming majority of their revenues depend on selling CDs which must play in CD players that support no DRM system.
Given the growing number of European countries threatening to pursue Apple in the courts, Jobs’ statement is timely. Needless to say, the web is awash with the news, it’s excellent PR and it puts Jobs firmly on the side of the consumer.
As more and more people own iPods, Zens, and Zunes, and use those players in noisy environments, in-ear-canal headphones—commonly known as “canalphones” or “in-ear monitors”—have become increasingly popular. As a high-quality option for replacing the cheap headphones included with portable music and media players, the selection of canalphones has, over the past decade, evolved from a few expensive models to a wide-open market with dozens of choices across a wide price range.
I bought my first pair of ear-canal headphones a couple of years ago – Shure E3Cs. Once I’d got the hang of how best to wear them (over the ear, but with the cord hanging down under my chin), I’ve found them to be really comfortable to the point of not being aware that I’m wearing them. The sound is generally excellent – though the sub-bass of Dubstep and Jungle does get rather lost, however I suspect the same would happen to other types of headphone as well. Needless to say, I’d love to hear what the top end ear-canal versions sound like. Even before buying my Shures I used what the article refers to as canalbuds, but the difference in the general richness of the sound is really noticeable. I did notice when getting friends to try out the canalbuds that the sound took a little while to get used to – particularly when swapping from the iPod default headphones which although woolly and undistinguished sound initially a little fuller. Once acclimatised there was no way of going back though.
Link: Playlist article
There’s another shorted and less detailed introduction just been published at MacWorld.
I just stumbled across this video on an MP3 blog and think it’s absolutely brilliant. It cycles through and literally explodes a small number of key pieces of music playback hardware, ending up with what my awfully limited knowledge of Spanish translates as ‘music is never going to die’ (la musica nunca va a morir). It appears to be an ad for a Spanish design/music/technology magazine. Do follow the link below to watch it all!
(Oh and seeing one of the old cassette players with the piano keys and integrated mono speaker (do they still make them?) reminds me that I used to borrow my dad’s one – a weighty brushed metal and black plastic affair protected by a leather outer cover – and take it to school. In particularly boring lessons I’d plug in a mono ear piece, snake the wire through my jacket, plug it into the cassette recorder secreted in my school bag and listen to my recently recorded John Peel compilation tapes. This was, for sure, before the mainstream popularity of Sony Walkmans. I never did get caught…)
iConcertCal is a free iTunes plug-in that monitors your music library and generates a personalized calendar of upcoming concerts in your city. It is available for both Windows and Mac OS X.
iConcertCal is a bit of a clumsy name, but I like the implementation. The idea of a gig notification website was something a friend and I did a little preparatory work on a few months ago. It’s a distinct gap in the market – how many times have you discovered too late that a band was playing in your local area, but the concert is sold out or it took place two days ago? How great would it be if you could visit one easy to use website, select the bands whose gigs you want to be notified of, submit your email address and forget about the whole thing until you receive an email saying that band X have announced they’re visiting your town in two months’ time and you can ‘buy your tickets by clicking on this link’. After some initial research, it turned out this wasn’t exactly an original idea and ultimately, it looked like too much work so we shelved it. None of the sites we looked at though, were as easy to use as our concept which was built around a set of expanding choices in an Ajax interface that aspired to the simplicity of the Google homepage.
These people (their About page states “We are not a company and this is not a commercial venture. We are just two grad students in electrical engineering. We wrote this plug-in in our spare time because we were tired of missing concerts for our favorite bands and we figured other people probably are too” – my hats off to them!) have taken an attractively different approach by integrating their interface into iTunes and using iTunes’ library as a basis on which to search the web for relevant listings. Very nice. Unfortunately it doesn’t list a single upcoming concert. I know I have fairly obscure music tastes, but a quick read of the FAQ revealed that it doesn’t do listings outside the US which is a great shame. Fingers crossed that the service can be extended.