By Richard Heller
One of the most popular sites on the Internet has been Napster (www.napster.com).
By downloading special software from their site, you could share music files, called MP3s, with other people, thus enabling you to listen to your favorite music while at work or home without actually having the CD or cassette tape in your possession.
The idea behind this was that you owned the CD, or you wished to try before you buy and you would delete the file after you listened to it a time or two. A copyright problem developed because so many people decided that this was the ideal way to trade music without buying the CD. A lawsuit decided that what Napster was doing was illegal, that is, allowing the trading of music files. It is not illegal for you to create MP3 files for your own use.
There is software available that enables you to take your CDs and compress the music by a sampling process that throws away part of the music without distorting the sound and, to most people, sounds identical to the original. This technology is the same as that used by a satellite dish TV receiver or a DVD movie. By using this software, you can fit hours of music on a CD rather than the 74 minutes that it is designed for. A minute of CD quality muisc requires about one megabyte of memory, so 64MB of memory will hold about an hour of music, while a CD will now hold 10 hours.
There are a number of ways to listen to the files you create. You can use your computer and a program such as WinAmp or Windows Media Player 7 to create and play the files. There are portable players that are about the size of a deck of cards that contain RAM that allow you to download the music to them. They usually contain 32 MB of memory (about 1/2 hour of music) that is expandable by plugging in memory cards which sell for about $2 per megabyte. These players sell for $100 and up, depending on the amount of memory included.
Creative Labs has released a Nomad MP3 player for $500 that is about the size of a portable CD player. Rather than RAM for song storage, it contains a 6 Gigabyte hard drive and that allows it to store 400 hours of music.
Another option is a CD player that also plays MP3 CDs. By using your CD writer, you can create CDs that contain up to 10 hours of MP3 files. You can create a directory structure and search for and play only the tracks that you want. One company, Combined Luck Industries, sells a player under the classic name for $100, and other compaines are releasing similar products. By using an adapter kit, you can play the CD through your car stereo. One MP3 CD will replace up to a dozen or so music CDs, which means less clutter and less chance for damage to your valuable CD collection.