iPod Killer

Sansa During the process of moving a couple of years ago it hit me: how many of these CD’s in my collection have I actually listened to in the last two years? Using the idea of throwing out clothes that I don’t wear any more, I seriously reconsidered how I buy and enjoy music. In addition to never actually listening to these old CDs, there were a ton that included just a song or two that I actually liked. Even more insane is the amount of music out there that I want to hear and enjoy many times over, but just for a few months. Enter Rhapsody.

I’ve been a Rhapsody subscriber for around 4 years now and still love it like I just signed up. (Rhapsody is Real’s subscription unlimited use music service). It is ideal for those of us who rarely ever listen to our old CDs and love discovering new music. Have you heard this year’s CD by The Bravery? After loving “Beautiful Wreck“, did you hear the rest of Shawn Mullins’ 9th Ward Picking Parlor CD? It’s great! How about that great song “Built To Last” by Melee? Wanna buy that whole CD? Not so fast my friend. Rhapsody keeps me from making mistakes and keeps me fresh with great new music. Rhapsody even has music channels that emulate satellite radio’s, only Rhapsody has tons more. They also offer user-defined channels. Just list 10 artists you like and Rhapsody will create a channel of similar music.

Oh, and I still listen to the old stuff. When Rush came to Raleigh this past summer, I listened back to every song I wanted to hear by them, not just the ones from the 4 albums I purchased. I co-hosted my 20th high school class reunion and we needed some 80’s tunes fast (and not the ones I really liked all that much). Voila! The only problems I’ve run into with Rhapsody involve unavailable artists (old Dave Matthews Band, The Eagles, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and Radiohead) and being shackled to my computer to hear this music. Not any more!

A few of years ago Rhapsody introduced its togo service. Those of us with PlaysForSure devices (ie. Non-iPods) could download almost any of Rhapsody’s music to our players and listen as we please. Don’t want a song? Delete it and get something else. Want it again? No problem.

A couple of years ago Sansa introduced the E280R mp3 player and it is truly a godsend. The PlaysForSure players get a DRM (copyright) certificate per track. The R series Sansa players, on the other hand, get one updatable certificate for the entire device. Thus, the Sansa R players fly when you update them. I can download an entire CD to my Sansa player and start listening in less than 2 minutes. The other unique advantage with the R players is their ability to download any of those channels I previously mentioned. It’s almost like being able to “recharge” the player with great new music. If I don’t like a song, I can skip it with no limitations. Try that with a satellite radio!

Beyond its great unique Rhapsody features, the Sansa is a great mp3 player. It features a 5-band EQ, FM tuner, one-touch Voice recorder, photo viewing, playlist creation on the go, video viewing, song rating on the go, on-screen clock, and album art. The interface is a successful rip-off of the classic iPod interface and is controlled by spinning a (too bright) blue ring. The player has a 20-hour battery life and the batter is user-replaceable.

The disadvantages with this player are few. I would love to have a bookmark feature. There is a very immature ecosystem around this player, so it is difficult to find a clock radio, for instance, that is compatible. The screen is not large, so viewing TV programs is a bit of a stretch. The model comes in 2GB, 4GB and 8GB models, so the whole concept of video on this unit is a bit of a gimmick. Oh, and the big problem with this model is that it is on the way out. Best Buy promoted this item heavily through the end of the summer, but no longer lists it on their website. Apparently Real.com is the only seller of this device (they are now pushing the more video-capable clix unit). That shouldn’t scare you away, in fact it should entice you to strike while the iron is hot. Where else are you going to get a better mp3 player for $95-$140?

Why is this a Nano killer?

OK, obviously the product will not “kill” the Nano in the marketplace, but honestly the Nano has little going for it for music lovers. The marketing hype and the iPod ecosystem (variety of accessories) are definitely in the Nano’s corner. Audible.com’s audio book service works with the Nano and not the Sansa. The Nano is thinner than the already thin Sansa and features the touch-sensitive wheel that got people into mp3 players. Practically speaking, though, if I don’t take my tired old CDs with me in the car (a very convenient system, BTW) why would I want to bother with the hassle of ripping them and transferring them to my mp3 player? With an iPod you can only listen to bought and stolen music that is on your computer. The Sansa will do that as well as open you up to the nearly limitless world of Rhapsody as long you choose to spend your money on a service instead of buying iTunes’ DRM’d music.

The Sansa is not for everyone. Some have no use for new music and want to keep hearing the same stuff. The radio proves that point well. People will continue to buy $1 songs on iTunes, but for the price of 15 of those iTunes tracks per month with Rhapsody, I’m happier than I’ve ever been with the music arrangement in my life.

One Response to “iPod Killer”

  1. Sansa’s are great and user-friendly (bought one for my father), but I prefer the Zune. As for a music store, there is clearly only one true option out there: Amazon (www.amazonmp3.com). They are the only content provider with ALL of the major record labels on-board with DRM-free MP3s. So its compatible with anything and you can do whatever you want with it, like burn to an audio CD.