Blame it on Rio

Diamond Multimedia's giant killer MP3 player

Music lovers have always searched for the perfect way to listen to music while on the move. Cassette tapes are sturdy but inconvenient when you’re looking for a certain song. Portable CD players solve that problem but are too sensitive to be practical. The solution may be the Rio. The portable digital audio player from San Jose, California-based Diamond Multimedia (800-468-5846; www.rioport.com), a personal computer multimedia and Internet connectivity provider, lets you download music from the Internet and take it with you anywhere.

The ultralight, pager-size device can store nearly an hour’s worth of your favorite songs. (It runs on a AA battery, which will give you 12 hours of continuous use.) Don’t fret if you can’t find the songs you like on the hundreds of Websites that offer downloadable music. You can use the software included with the Rio to convert your music CDs to the necessary MP3 format.

Setting up the Rio to transfer files is as simple as hooking up a printer to your personal computer. But the software (and hardware) is strictly PC compatible, and if you’re not tech-savvy, it’ll take a few extra minutes to set up the software. Converting songs from your personal CD collection on to the Rio is like saving files from your hard drive on to a floppy disc. It takes about 3 minutes to download a 5-minute song, and when you’re ready to change your selections, you can erase the contents and load new music.

Though Diamond Multimedia touts the Rio as having “CD-quality sound,” that’s not quite accurate. The sound is more comparable to that from high-quality cassette tapes, but the sleek, petite design of the Rio makes it perfect for music lovers who are on the go but aren’t overly particular about sound quality. At a suggested retail price of $199.95, the Rio is relatively inexpensive. And with Samsung, Sony and e.Digital Corp. gearing up to release their own portable audio players, prices may soon drop even lower.

The larger threat for Diamond Multimedia and any company manufacturing portable audio players is the record industry’s efforts to thwart the proliferation of the MP3 format. The Recording Industry Association of America lost an attempt to legally block Diamond Multimedia from manufacturing the Rio. But the battle is far from over. The RIAA, made up of five of the world’s largest record labels, has formed the Secure Digital Music Initiative to safeguard the distribution of music on the Internet. The future of the MP3 format and downloadable music remains to be seen. But in the meantime, the Rio is a great alternative to supersensitive portable CD players.

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