Priced at $249 with 32 megabytes (MB) of built-in memory, the Duo-Aria also has a slot for a MultiMediaCard (MMC). The company's Web site offers SanDisk MMCs in 32-MB ($80) and 64-MB ($140) capacities. (Considering that a blank audio cassette costs about a buck and holds more music, you have to wonder about the cost-effectiveness of "progress.") Included with the player are earbuds, a rechargeable Ni-MH battery, an AC battery charger, a DC charger for use in a car, a USB cable, a carrying case with belt clip, and software.
The CD-ROM contains the free version of RealJukebox, which can rip a CD at a maximum data rate of only 96 kilobits per second (less than ideal), the Duo-Aria Manager for downloading files to the player, and the Audible Manager for accessing spoken-word programs sold at the Audible .com Web site. These include audio books, comedy and old-radio shows, and repackaged National Public Radio programs.
A RealJukebox quirk that's likely to trip you up - since there's no mention of it in the manual - is that the option to "Secure my Music Files when encoding" is the default selection. The result: you'll be able to play ripped songs from your hard drive but won't be able to transfer them into the Duo-Aria. It's only after you uncheck the option that you can actually use the product as it was intended. The company admitted that this user-unfriendliness is a nod to the record labels.
Purely as a player, the Duo-Aria sounded like an MP3 portable should, and unlike some others, you can fast forward through a song instead of simply jumping to the next one.
I was disappointed, though, that it failed to work properly in two home tape decks I tried, a JVC and an Aiwa. When I pressed the play button on each deck, the tape counters fast-forwarded nonstop. At first I also heard music through the JVC - that is, until I tried to skip to the Duo-Aria's next song. You're supposed to be able to do this by pressing and holding the tape deck's fast-forward or rewind button for less than a second, but all the JVC deck would do was play the first second of each song in turn until it eventually stopped. The Aiwa wouldn't play music from the device at all. We had the same outcome using an Aiwa boombox and an old Teac home deck. It did work in a Sony and two Aiwa shelf systems, but it wouldn't skip to the next song in a Sharp shelf system.
The Duo-Aria worked the way it was supposed to when I slipped it into the cassette player of my friend's 12-year-old sedan, and a colleague reported success in two newer car players. My selection of MP3-encoded tunes filled the car, and I was able to replay a song immediately without the customary rewinding in silence for half a mile. Who'd have thought that an automobile without a CD player could be compatible with the latest in digital music? S&V
Digisette, Dept. S&V, Village
Road, Box 435, New Vernon, NJ 07976; phone, 973-455-7899;
Web site, www.digisette.com
(Originally published in: Sound & Vision, May 2001)
Copyright © 2013 Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.