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CDs A-Go-Go
Even as digital music files have gained popularity, the compact disc is still going strong. It's still the medium of choice for pre-recorded music and often the basis for storing and trading digital music files like MP3s.

Since CD "burners" that let you save music files directly to a recordable CD or CD-R are becoming increasingly common either as a PC peripheral or built-in to a PC, a few consumer electronics companies have bravely faced the world of digital music by creating CD players that will play both conventional audio CDs and homemade CD-Rs. SONICblue 's Rio Volt portable CD player comes to mind.

Now Blaupunkt , the German car audio company, has brought out an in-dash CD player that can handle both types of CDs. It's called the San Jose MP41 and, while it will play typical audio CDs as usual, it will also work with digital music files burned onto a CD in both MP3 and Microsoft 's Windows Media format.

The difference between Windows Media Audio (WMA) files and MP3s, Microsoft says, is the size of the file itself. The same song saved as a WMA file will take up between one-half and one-third as much space--depending on which version of the software was used to create the file, the company says. It's also a little more copyright-friendly than the MP3 format has proven to be so far, and lets the song's owner set the rules as to how many times a song can be copied.

The player can search the contents of a disc and also lets you create custom playlists. That's helpful, since a CD-R full of music files can hold ten times as much music as a regular CD. That's enough for a full day of driving. It also has a built-in AM/FM tuner, with presets for 12 FM and six AM stations.

It's not the first aftermarket car audio system to support digital music. SONICblue has the RioCar and Visteon has a car-based player called the Mach MP3. SONICBlue's offering uses a compact hard drive to store the music files, while the Visteon product uses removable storage cartridges. In both cases, the storage technology used only serves to drive up the price. When first announced, the Mach was to sell for about $550. SONICBlue's RioHome starts at about $1,000--and can reach about $1,900 depending on how much storage you buy.

By sticking with the tried-and-true CD, Blaupunkt is able to sell its player for about $400. It will start shipping to retailers next month.




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