21st Nov 1999

Rio MP3 player

For those not familiar with it, the Rio player is a compact portable music player capable of playing quality music files downloaded from the Internet or from CD’s. The player is about the size of a deck of cards and roughly the same weight. Even better, it has no moving parts so it won’t skip. It comes with 32MB of rewritable built-in flash memory which holds about 30-35 minutes of CD-quality music (128 kbps). A 16MB external flash card can increase playing time. Included with the Rio Player is a bonus MP3.com CD with over 100 songs and other software and music files. Also included is a single AA battery good for 12 hours playing time, headphones and a short User Guide booklet. All of this is available at a reasonable price of $200 (memory upgrade is $50).

I spent a couple days testing and playing with the Rio and I have to say it’s a great product and works as advertised. Some may think this is just another Walkman-type player. Like various music players, it promises to let you take music wherever you want to go. But don’t mistake the Rio for a minidisc or a new portable CD. The combination of several features make the Rio unique: the ability to play music files downloaded from the Internet, skip-free durability, CD-quality sound and rewritable media. However, I did find some room for improvement and have made some suggestions. Overall, it’s a more than worthy alternative to the conventional portable player.

Getting Started

I usually get nervous when connecting new hardware on my computer but installing the Rio was quick, painless and finished in under ten minutes. There were two parts to the installation process, hardware and software. The Rio interfaces with the PC through the computer’s printer port. I turned my computer off and replaced my printer cable connector with a Rio printer port connector (included). A special cable included connected the printer port and the player itself. Honestly, the most difficult part of this process was clearing the dust from the back of my computer!

Next, I followed the easy installation instructions. The software included a proprietary Diamond MP3 player and playlist editor and the MusicMatch Jukebox program which makes MP3 files from CD’s. The Rio is a relatively simple product and experienced MP3 users will have no problem getting started. However, beginners may have to spend extra time learning about MP3-basic concepts are explained only briefly in the sparse User Guide booklet. The MP3 format is attracting many new users and the Rio is a new kind of technology so a detailed guide is important.

Getting Songs to the Rio

After installing the hardware connection and software, I loaded the Rio player with music using the software. There are three main parts to the Rio Manager software: the MP3 software player, the playlist and the internal memory editor. All three software components had a clean and easy to use interface. The software player performed basic MP3 playing functions familiar in programs like Microsoft’s Media Player and WinAmp. The playlist editor was good for browsing MP3 files on my hard drive and creating a temporary playlist before downloading to the Rio player. The playlist editor can load playlists that have been previously saved using other MP3 programs. Finally, the internal memory editor is used to download songs to the Rio and shows which songs are currently being stored. The internal memory window contains info like the amount of memory remaining, song titles, song order, size and date of the download. Click on the “initialize” button and it only takes about three seconds to erase the songs stored on the player.

The actual downloading of the MP3 files was relatively simple. My routine was to “zero out” or initialize the Rio then search my hard drive for MP3 files using the playlist editor. Once I developed and narrowed down a playlist, I then drag and dropped the MP3 files from the playlist into the internal memory window where downloading begins. The download process from PC to Rio is actually faster than I expected. I transferred 8 songs with about 30MB of memory in 3 minutes 22 seconds. If you try to transfer too much data the Rio will drop songs from the end of your list. As a side note, a peculiarity which I did not encounter but is listed in the book is a possible error message if you try to copy a first generation copyrighted MP3 file.

While testing the downloading process, I did have one minor problem in the beginning which was quickly resolved. Occasionally I got an error message: “Unstable memory: refresh and initialize internal memory”. After checking all my cables and experimenting a bit I discovered my printer was sometimes interfering with the transfer process. I turned my printer off and everything worked perfectly. I didn’t