Sunday, June 02, 2002

MP3 format boosts music options

The Associated Press

        Question: I've recently started burning my own compact discs using my computer, but is there a way I can play MP3s on my Walkman or boom box?

Answer: There are several ways to get more music on your portable stereo, and with the popularity of MP3s reaching new heights, most electronics manufacturers are beginning to make portable CD players and boom boxes that play not only regular audio CDs, but discs crammed full of MP3s.

        A little background: There are two ways to record your own CDs. One is to simply copy one CD, or tracks from a CD, to a blank recordable CD. You'll end up with a disc that technologically is quite similar to those you'd buy in a store.

        On the other hand, MP3 (it stands for MPEG Audio Layer-3) is a technology and format that compresses sound into about a 12th of its normal size. Using a computer to record songs from CDs, records and cassettes, a person can convert the songs into the MP3 format. The result: Much more music on a single CD than a prerecorded one bought from the local record store, or a CD you've recorded yourself with regular technology.

        Case in point: The average CD can hold as much as 74 minutes of music, but that depends on the artist and number of songs. A CD recorded at home and filled with MP3s can hold three or four hours of music, sometimes more.

        If your player is 2 or 3 years old, chances are it won't be able to play MP3 files. However, if you burn a CD with normal audio tracks using your PC, it will work just as if you had a store-bought CD in the player.

        Many computer users already download Shakira or Elvis Costello MP3s from Web sites and swap them with friends because of their portability. But many others believe it is dishonest — and music companies are fighting the practice, saying it denies them and their artists sales and royalties.

        Go to any store that sells electronics and you'll see what sort of options are available. Many makers have players that can meet your needs.

        Finding out if a device is MP3 compatible should be easy, because most manufacturers advertise whether their players work with MP3s, recorded compact discs and regular CDs.

        The use of MP3s doesn't stop at boom boxes and portable CD players. Most newer home CD and DVD players are also compatible, and that means the music can be played through your home stereo.


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