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Now Apple Fans Can Churn Out the Jams Too

November 02, 2000|JIM HEID |

Until recently, the Mac was almost a wallflower in the MP3 music scene. Software for downloading and playing certain kinds of MP3 content wasn't available, nor were any Mac-compatible portable MP3 players.

That's changed, and now the Mac can participate in every noisy aspect of the MP3 revolution, including the potentially illegal ones.

Making MP3s. Create MP3 files from your favorite CD tracks, and you can compile playlists that turn a Mac into a digital jukebox.

Converting audio CD tracks into MP3 files is often called "ripping" (from the Latin, meaning "to rip off"). The best Mac ripper is Casady & Greene's SoundJam MP3 Plus, available for $40 at Free rippers are available, but don't bother with them--they're hard to use, and the MP3s they create don't sound as good as SoundJam's.

If you have a CD-R drive, you can burn audio CD compilations of your MP3 collection. SoundJam works particularly well with Adaptec's Toast CD-burning software, available for $99 at

Playing MP3s. SoundJam also is a versatile playback program, able to play MP3 files and tune in to streaming MP3 feeds from such services as Shoutcast at and Live365 at

The downside to SoundJam's versatility is that its playback functions are scattered across many windows. When I just want to play audio, I use Panic's Audion, available for $18 at It packs similar playback features into a compact, elegant interface.

You can also play MP3s using Apple's QuickTime. QuickTime lacks playlist features, and it doesn't handle all forms of MP3--but it's free.

Swapping MP3s. Home usage of Napster, the controversial music-swapping service, increased more than 500% from February to August of this year, according to MediaMetrix. I'm guessing those newcomers use Windows because Napster didn't offer a Mac version of its downloading software until last week, when the company acquired Macster at, a third-party downloading utility, and renamed it Napster for the Mac. Then there's Gnutella. This grass-roots peer-to-peer swapping system is gaining momentum for sharing not only audio files but also video clips and even software. There is no Mac version of the Gnutella downloading software, but you can access Gnutella servers with your Web browser by using AudioFind's Gnute site at

The legalities behind Napster and other swapping systems are still being sorted out. Just know that almost everything available through Napster and Gnutella has been posted without the permission of its copyright owners.

MP3 to go. Transfer your MP3s to a portable player, and they can accompany you on a morning run or a cross-country flight. The best Mac-compatible MP3 portable is the Rio 600 from S3 Inc., available for $170 at This sleek player connects to the Mac's USB port and includes a scaled-down version of SoundJam for transferring files to the player's built-in memory.

All Mac MP3 portables connect via USB, but their transfer speeds are far from equal. In tests I did for a recent Macworld magazine review, the Rio 600 was three times faster than the next-fastest competitor, Creative Labs' Nomad II. That 32mb player is available for $219 at A tune that took 36 seconds to transfer to the Nomad II took just 12 seconds with the Rio 600. However, the Nomad II has a built-in FM tuner; the Rio 600 doesn't.

Making radio. Want your own radio station? Sign up for Live365's free broadcasting service, and you can use SoundJam or the AmpRadio, available for $10 at, to stream audio CDs or MP3s to as many as 365 simultaneous listeners. You can even add live, between-song commentary if you like. And yes, it's legal, provided you follow Live365's straightforward rules.

For the best results, you'll need a fast connection such as a DSL or cable modem. If you have a modem, you can upload your MP3s to Live365 for serving, but you forgo the ability to add live commentary.

Still, it's radio for the rest of us. And although it might keep recording-industry executives awake at night, this democratization of music distribution is what MP3 is all about.


Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine.

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