Monday, 20 June 2005, 20:12:26 EDT
A couple months ago I purchased an iRiver ifp-899 portable music player. It had a couple quirks like restarting or even turning off randomly when playing MP3s. Since I didn't play to listen to many MP3s with it I was willing to let that slide. There was one problem that prevented me from keeping the device which I will get to in a minute.
I bought the device because it is capable of playing Ogg Vorbis files, my preferred music file format. Ogg Vorbis support is important to me because every audio CD I own is ripped to Ogg Vorbis at quality setting five; yes, I am that picky about it. After my MP3 drive's head crashed for the second time I swore off downloading music and only keeping rips of compact discs that I actually, physically, own. Ogg Vorbis had just reached a stable 1.0 release at that time so I decided to drop the non-free, aurally inferior, MP3 format in favor of Ogg Vorbis. As a result, I have a rather sizable Ogg Vorbis collection and am not keen on reconverting the whole of it to MP3 just so I can use a portable music player. So, if a portable audio player doesn't support Ogg Vorbis it will be slightly hard to sell it to me.
Most of the music that I listen to requires gapless playback support. Listening to something like Richard Humpty Vission's "Damn That DJ Made My Day" without gapless support will drive a person insane. This means that any music player I get needs to support gapless playback or I will have to convert all of my rips to single files instead of track-by-track rips. I prefer ripping albums track-by-track because it makes it easy to skip to specific spots in the album. If the rip is a single file then you have to hold down fast forward until you get to the section you want to listen to — that is just annoying. So, not only does a music player need to support a file format that is just starting to get some press it also needs to play back the files seamlessly. Such a combination is very difficult to find; especially in a well designed device. In fact, no such device currently exists. There are a few [older] players that play MP3s seamlessly but none that play Ogg Vorbis files seamlessly. The lack of gapless playback is what prompted me to return the ifp-899.
I mentioned that Ogg Vorbis is a little known format that is just starting to get some attention. Technically, it is a superior format to MP3 in every way but it doesn't have the mindshare that MP3 has. Here is a good little article that talks about this problem. Another problem is that the format usually has to be supported by individuals with the know-how and time. Linux, of course, is very well support and Windows is a close second. Mac OS X, however, is only supported through third party applications that don't use the Quicktime system to play audio as of Quicktime version seven. Once Quicktime 7 was released the Ogg Vorbis plugin for Quicktime became obsolete and will no longer work. Any application that tries to play an Ogg Vorbis file through the Quicktime plugin will crash if Quicktime 7 is installed.
Since I acquired an Apple Powerbook I have been using it more than my regular computer. This poses a problem since the only viable music application on Mac OS X is iTunes and it uses the Quicktime system to play audio. Until such time as someone produces a new plugin, preferably and actual system codec, I, and others who prefer Ogg Vorbis, are kind of screwed on OS X. Well, clever me came up with a solution to this problem. Using a combination of Automator and Darwin Ports I have created an easy way to convert Ogg Vorbis files to MP3. Not only that, but I made it easy to convert the Vorbis files straight to a single, gapless, MP3. You can find my solution at automatorworld.com (direct link to my solution). I don't really like the solution but I don't have time to learn how to write a codec implementation right now. I am hoping that the next revision of the iPod supports Ogg Vorbis; if it doesn't I will probably give up and get one any way since I now have a viable solution.
- portable audio