Making Music: October 1999

Its name is Rio

Sean McManus reviews the tiddly Rio PMP300 and discovers it makes 'compact disc' seem as daft as 'smallish elephant'.

RIO PMP300 MP3 Player photo

Her name is Rio and she somethings in the sand?
Please. People humming similar headlines started a Duran Duran revival. It's a personal stereo that stores music downloaded from the internet as MP3 files. You plug it into your computer's parallel port and use the software supplied to copy the music into the unit.

Why bother?
It has no moving parts, so it doesn't skip. It weighs just 2.4 ounces and measures 3.5" by 2.5" by 5/8" (smaller than a cassette box, but a lot bigger than a pager).

How much music do you fit in that?
It has 32Meg by default, which holds about 30 minutes. It can be expanded to hold 60 minutes of digital music or 16 hours of voice-quality recordings.

Do I have to buy 'Dark Side of the Moon' and 'Brothers in Arms' yet again?
Not necessarily. The unit ships with MusicMatch Jukebox software that enables you to create MP3 files from CDs that you own. You can also download MP3s from the internet.

Funniest bit of the manual?
Stern reminders all over it that you're only allowed to use MP3s the record label has put online or you've created from CDs you own. You're not allowed to listen to the illegal MP3s that plague the internet.

Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you?
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued Rio manufacturers Diamond Multimedia last year alleging that the device promoted piracy.

Kiss and make up?
Diamond Multimedia joined the RIAA's Secure Digital Music Initiative in January.

How long do they take to download?
Put the kettle on. And the oven. Using a standard 28.8 modem it takes about 16.5 minutes to download a 3.5 minute song. Download times fall to 3.7 minutes using a dual channel ISDN connection. To fill the Rio from scratch, it's going to take a couple of hours if your internet connection is slow.

Do I have to pay for them?
MP3s are being sold at many labels now, at a price of around 99c a track at emusic. Names there include Frank Black, Frank Zappa, and They Might be Giants. But there are many free tracks and a lot of unknown bands are giving new songs away to promote their albums. They can be found through sites like

What's the Rio's sound quality like?
Excellent. If your CD player (like mine) sounds like it's jogging in flip-flops whenever a bit of dust gets inside, you'll love the instant playback enabled by the Rio having no moving parts. There's an EQ switch that has Normal, Classical, Rock and Jazz settings but it doesn't make much difference.

What's the software like?
The software is in three parts: a little player window, the Rio playlist compiler/downloader and the MusicMatch software for making your own MP3s from CDs. These three parts are poorly integrated and MusicMatch is poorly documented and far from intuitive. Dragging and dropping tracks into the Rio player is extremely convenient and tracks copy across nearly as quickly as they would if you were just moving them around your hard disk. The software is convenient and fast once you've worked out what you're doing with it. Once you have MP3s stored on your computer, it's surprisingly convenient to load the music into the player for a day's travelling.

Other features?
It has a hold button so that accidentally brushing the buttons in your pocket won't make it do odd things. The device incorporates serial copy management (like a minidisc). Repeat, random play.

Any drawbacks?
If your parallel port isn't set to ECP, you'll need to know your way around the BIOS. There are no track titles in the player's window.

Time to bin the CD player?
Ditch the portable CD player and consider retiring the walkman. The Rio is ideal for people who listen to music on the move and have enough storage space to archive tracks on their computer. Particularly useful if they enjoy finding undiscovered bands, because that's where most legal MP3s come from.

Photo credit: John Fader at Wikipedia


© Sean McManus. All rights reserved.

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