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Fun Zone | e-Review

Online Audio Recording Software Sounds Good but Fails in Practice

October 26, 2000|KAREN KAPLAN | Times staff writer Karen Kaplan covers Southern California technology companies. karen.kaplan@latimes.com

These days, when high-tech start-ups are churning out expensive and complicated products meant to solve problems that don't really exist--I mean, who really needs to spend $299 to turn their $149 Visor hand-held computer into a wireless phone?--it's tough not to admire Voquette.

The company makes free software to record Internet audio files onto cassette tapes, MP3 players or digital minidiscs. This could be really useful for those of us who missed the latest edition of "This American Life" and don't want to sit tethered to a PC for the hour it would take to listen online. It could also make it possible to listen to an Internet-only radio station in the car, which is more satisfying than tuning in at a desk surrounded by piles of work.

Voquette could do those things--and more--if it were more reliable and user-friendly. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the Voquette Media Manager to do much more than I could have accomplished by simply plugging a tape recorder into the audio output jack in the back of my PC using a standard speaker line.

If Voquette improves its software it certainly has the potential to make the recording process more convenient. For instance, users can set the Voquette Media Manager to record streaming audio from specific sites at specific times, much like a VCR. VMM is also supposed to let users select a variety of MP3 music files, arrange them in order and then record them onto a tape, MP3 player or minidisc. The feature worked fine in my test, but VMM had trouble recognizing and playing the MP3 files I tried.

The free Voquette Media Manager is compatible only with Windows PCs and can be downloaded from http://www.voquette.com. After a relatively straightforward setup process, users can start looking for streaming audio channels and MP3 files to place in the Voquette Basket for VMM to play.

Voquette has already collected audio that users might want--such as news stories, educational programs, sports updates and book excerpts--and assembled the selections on the Voquette Web site. In theory, users can also find audio files elsewhere on the Net and drop them in the Voquette basket. But Voquette frequently rejected the files I chose, and the ones it did play were sometimes garbled.

I tested Voquette with the $19.95 NetRecorder, a fancy name for a standard Philips cassette recorder. It comes with a four-pronged NetLink adapter to connect the NetRecorder to the PC. But any tape recorder with voice activation and any speaker line would work just as well.

In my case, that wasn't very well at all. Voquette recorded radio station streams best, but from time to time it would suddenly switch to the empty documents basket and stop recording. MP3 files were even worse. Most of the songs I tried to load were rejected by Voquette Media Manager for reasons that Voquette's friendly technical support representatives couldn't explain. I was able to play one MP3 file, but it sounded as if it were recorded underwater in slow motion. Even the audio streams that recorded with relative ease had about the same sound quality as the mix tapes I used to make in the early 1980s.

Voquette Media Manager also did a poor job of communicating with the NetRecorder. Because it is voice activated, it started recording even when I clicked "play" instead of "record." Although I couldn't get it to record the MP3 files I had loaded into the Voquette Media Manager, the NetRecorder decided to tape them when I played them on the MP3.com Web site--independently of Voquette Media Manager.

Voquette plans to release a new version of VMM in early November that a company executive says will be "more stable and more reliable." If so, it may well be worth the price of a free download. In its present state, though, it's a great idea that fails in execution.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Gadgets & Gizmos

Voquette

* What it Does: Allows users to copy digital audio files to cassettes, minidiscs or MP3 players

* Price: Free (Premium version available

for $19.95)

* Manufacturer: Voquette

* Availability: Downloadable at http://www.voquette.com

* The good: Great concept

* The bad: It doesn't work most of the time

* Bottom line: If the bugs get worked out in the next version, it could be cool

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