23 February 2005, 23:01

As a late birthday present (and in large part because of my mother-in-law’s generosity and kindness), I bought myself a 512 MB iPod Shuffle last night. Ironically, given my long advocacy of headphones as the sacred way to experience music, I was never really comfortable with portable cassette players—I didn’t own one until about 9 years ago and I haven’t used it since our England trip. Portable CD players were simply too cumbersome. I never cared greatly for MP3s, something about the deliberate loss of quality always bothered me. While I liked the iPod, I could never bring myself to drop that kind of money (which shows that I’m either more miserly or responsible than the old days when all CD component decks topped US$300). The accessories tend to inflate the price to the point where I could easily back away.

The Shuffle, at $99, was increasingly hard to resist. Finding one in stock was the trickiest part of the transaction (I didn’t even bother calling the Apple Store after hearing of long waitlists). One of the local Best Buys had a shipment come in, purely by coincidence. I don’t think I spent more than 5 minutes in the store, which is unheard of.

The speed of the USB sync is impressive (even using USB 1.1), the iTunes interface is flawless (no surprise there), and the rule of thumb of 120 songs for this model (using AAC) is modesty—my first selections included 48 Beatles tracks from the Revolver and Sgt. Pepper eras, the entire contents of the Edsel/Rhino Get Happy!! reissue, plus The Apple EP, Rialto and the Don Rickles Magnum Opus Hello Dummy! (still only 99 cents at the iTunes Music Store!) with over 100MB of space left. The sound quality is formidable, even when using a proper set of headphones (e.g. my Sony MDR-V6 Studio Monitor headphones).

The AAC compression seems to be a much more acceptable compromise (the Shuffles, because of the memory limitation, will not accept Apple Lossless or AIFF files) than MP3. Even after extended wear, I’m not experiencing any harshness in sound. As for shuffling, I haven’t indulged in it much—you have the option of playing the straight playlist, which I find more soothing.

Rodney Eric Griffith


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