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MP3 Player Profiles & Utilities:
author netwebly updated: 2.09.2001

Napster Fast Search
The creation of a German programmer, Napster fast search will let you search all of the servers connected to the Napster network simultaneously... If you're looking for hard to find recordings, this can obviously be a tremendous time saver. Be warned however: Napster Inc. considers Napster Fast Search a bot, and as such a violation of the company's terms of use policy. Get caught using the program and it is likely you will be banned. The argument is that bots like this put a tremendous strain on server resources by firing off millions of redundant queries simultaneously. Proceed at your own risk.

Hey this sounds really bad .. Part I (Audiostocker)
If you download many MP3 files at all, you'll notice a disconcerting trend on your playlists. Because studio engineers record at different levels, the sound level of your MP3s will vary widely from file to file. One track will sound just right, but the next will be muted or way too loud. After enough listens, this gets rather annoying. To save yourself from having to keep adjusting the volume every five minutes you may want to grab this supremely useful utility which lets you remaster your files at the volume of your choosing. Of course, if you're anything like me, you're far too lazy to do anything that involves this much work.

Catching Streams
One of the most powerful programs of its kind, Totalrecorder from High Criteria, may be the closest thing there is to a universal digital tape recorder for your PC. Totalrecorder will let you capture anything that passes through your sound card on a Windows machine. This means you'll be able to grab and save nearly any stream, including live webcasts, Real Audio broadcasts, and stream-only MP3 files.

A nifty timer feature lets you program Totalrecorder to capture scheduled events, just as you would do using the same feature on your VCR. Unfortunately, in order to record more than a few seconds of a stream, you'll need to purchase the full version of the program. Luckily, at about ten bucks, its inexpensive.

Recording Shoutcast Broadcasts
In the same vein, Stream Save from Ellicit will let you record part or all of any Shoutcast broadcast and save the results in MP3 format. Perfect for saving streaming content from newscasts, pirate radio stations and an amazing assortment of indie webcasters.

Where do you get started? Try for a long list of shoutcast stations and servers.

Streambox - Grabbing Your Streams
The Streambox Ripper, available for free download at the company's web site, is simple to use and a must have for any serious Net audiophile. The program allows users to convert streaming audio into .MP3, .WAV and Windows Media Formats.

Your Basic Desktop Moltov Cocktail - WinAmp

Many have tried to duplicate the success of this early MP3 player, but so far nobody has succeeded.This free download from Arizona-based Nullsoft, which allows users to play and organize MP3 files on their desktops, has held off all challengers, including well-funded rivals like RealNetwork's RealPlayer, the Microsoft Media Player, Sonique and Musicmatch, thanks in large part to the Zen-like simplicity of this application's interface.

Windows only. Customize by choosing from a large collection of available skins.

Up and Coming - Soundjam
(Mac Only)

This state of the art mp3 player and encoder from Cassady and Greene is sadly only available for the Mac.
If it were more widely available, it is likely that this brilliantly designed and executed application would dethrone WinAmp as the reigning champion of this category.

A beautifully done interface will look a lot better on your desktop than clunkers like MusicMatch and RealPlayer - and it'll work better too.

An impressive assortment of features make fiddling around with Soundjam almost as much fun as using it to play your favorite MP3s. Especially noteworthy: the cool alarm clock feature the program comes with. It'll wake you up (or better yet signal the end of your workday) by playing the MP3 of your choice. Converting compact discs to MP3 is about as easy as humanly possible.

Full version USD 29.99 and well worth it.

Windows Media Player

Even though it is included in every copy of Windows that ships, this well conceived and designed player has yet to make significant inroads among users for one reason and one reason only - the highly politicized climate surrounding digital music.

If (imagine) a company like Nullsoft, rather than Microsoft had produced a player that operates this well, and had managed to jerry-rig a new file format that produces files of half the size and appreciably better quality than MP3, that company would be on the front page of the business section in half the papers in the country. As it is, Windows Media Player waits in the wings and will inevitably, in typical Microsoft style, penetrate and possibly even consume the market as Redmond inks the inevitable deals with ISPs, large web sites and PC vendors.

The Real Thing? RealPlayer

One of the few Net audio companies to show a profit, Seattle-based RealNetworks has nonetheless given up about as much ground as it has gained in the MP3 player sweepstakes in recent years.

Despite having a decent product which handles both audio and video fairly well, RealNetworks has not endeared itself to surfers. Increasingly vocal critics complain about the cheesy audio ads listeners are forced to endure before they can get to the content they want to download.

A flurry of bad publicity last year surrounding the company's surreptitious monitoring of user listening habits did little to improve this company's reputation. With many industry observers predicting that Internet audio advertising will soon overtake the much maligned banner ad, using RealPlayer may become an increasingly frustrating experience.

Limited functionality model available for free download, full retail version available for USD29.

Made by Aliens, For Aliens - Sonique

The success of this popular player may have less to do with audio quality than it has to do with appearances and a general aura of coolness the makers of Sonique have worked hard to cultivate.

Still there's no denying that Sonique, acquired by the Lycos Network last year, is a funky addition to your desktop. Fans rave about the hundreds of cool-looking skins available for the player.

A well-designed interface has worn over more hearts than it has attracted critics.

The only software product we know of that is marketed as being made by aliens. Full support for alternate file types. Windows only.

Software and politics: Liquid Audio

Another victim (although a willing one) of digital music politics, this player and accompanying file format has lost considerable yardage over the past year by playing it safe and siding with the recording industry.

This is likely to change as more official RIAA-approved web sites launch offering large scale distribution programs that enable Liquid Audio to show its stuff. Sound quality is widely acknowledged to be superior to that of MP3.

The emphasis here has been on developing a secure format that adheres to SDMI guidelines. To that end, the company has worked closely with the recording industry for several years. The future here appears bright - almost a sure thing. Assuming of course, that Liquid Audio is able to weather the bad kharma it has created in the minds of music fans by siding with the reviled recording industry.

Unfulfilled potential - Shoutcast

Although this plug-in for WinAmp is relatively simple to install and operate, few webcasters using Shoutcast have been able to reach anything larger than a niche audience, mostly due to regulatory resistance from America's broadcasters and the recording industry.

Faced by the prospect of competition from hundreds, if not thousands, of underground radio stations offering content ranging from amateur quality talk shows to professionally hosted broadcasts of top-40 grade music, American broadcasters and the RIAA have lobbied fiercely against applications like Shoutcast.

Strict licensing requirements make it difficult if not impossible for Shoutcast users to webcast legally.

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