Personal Tech: Portable digital music minus the PC
Who wants to fiddle with a computer, anyway? A new bookshelf audio system from RCA is an early effort to strip computers from the process of filling a portable music player with digitized tunes. The Rip & Go Digital Music Studio ($180) comes with a small MP3 player that plugs into a USB port on its top. Ripping, or copying, music from a CD is as easy as playing it on the stereo and hitting "record" on the portable device.
The stereo, with its 160 watts, sounds good, as does the portable player, which comes with 128 megabytes of flash memory, or enough to hold about 2 hours of music. The system has a built-in AM/FM tuner and can record live radio, which is a nice feature. But when it comes to ripping CDs, it's a promising effort that falls short. Recording CDs must be done in real timethat is, ripping an hours' worth of songs takes an hour, as opposed to minutes on a computer. Also, the included player is a stripped-down model that can't manage song playlists and that has a small capacity compared with most competing devices.
Those shortcomings might be forgivable for the ease of ripping songs, except the music comes over to the player nakedwith no identifying information, such as title and artist. That makes the simple MP3 player as seemingly blind as the iPod Shuffle. Unlike the Shuffle, the RCA player has a small LCD screen, but songs ripped by its partner stereo display gibberish names like DISC IT03. The player can plug into a personal computer for fixing the awkward file names or even downloading other music. Then again, adding a PC to the mix would seem to defeat this system's purpose.
A weekly feature of usnews.com, Personal Tech reviews the latest in consumer electronics and gadgets.