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iTunes 2 Is the Maestro Behind iPod

November 08, 2001|JIM HEID | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Behind every great band is a great arranger. The same might be said of Apple's new iPod portable music player. Yes, its sleek design is marvelous, but what really sets the iPod apart from the pack is how well it works with iTunes 2, the latest version of Apple's MP3 music software. Included with the iPod and available as a free download, iTunes 2 is the arranger that manages an iPod's music library.

iTunes' basic design is unchanged: A single window lists the contents of your music library and enables you to search for specific songs and create your own song playlists. Like its predecessor, iTunes 2 can convert audio CD tracks into MP3 and other formats, and it can tune in to Internet radio.

The real difference surfaces when you connect an iPod to the Mac's FireWire port. When you do, iTunes 2 starts up and offers to copy your iTunes music library to the iPod's 5-gigabyte hard drive. If you add new tracks or playlists to iTunes later, they're automatically copied to the iPod the next time you connect it. It's effortless.

It's fast too, thanks to the iPod's FireWire connection. I transferred an entire CD to the iPod in nine seconds; by comparison, transferring the same MP3 tracks to a Sonic Blue Rio 800--which connects to the slower Universal Serial Bus port--took more than two minutes. And the Rio 800 is one of the faster USB portables available.

Normally, iTunes 2 automatically synchronizes your music library each time you connect the iPod. If you connect your iPod to a different Mac, that Mac will ask you whether you want to replace the music on the iPod with its music library. According to Apple, this design thwarts music pirates by preventing the copying of tunes from the iPod to a friend's Mac.

You also can switch iTunes to a manual-updating mode that lets you copy tracks by dragging them from one window to another. In manual mode, I was able to copy my iPod's entire music library to a different Mac. Apple says this was a prerelease quirk, and the final version of iTunes 2 won't permit copying. If it does, Apple can expect a phone call from some recording industry lawyers.

Support for the iPod isn't the only new feature in iTunes 2. The program now has an equalizer--sophisticated bass and treble controls--and lets you assign different EQ settings to the tracks in your music library. Your EQ settings aren't transferred to the iPod, however.

iTunes 2 also does cross fades: As one song ends, it fades out as the next song fades in. And a new "sound enhancer" option adds aural punch by improving what audio gurus call presence, the perception that instruments are right in the room with you.

As for CD burning, iTunes 2 can burn tracks in MP3 format rather than converting them into standard audio CD format. A growing number of CD and DVD players can play MP3 CDs, one of which can hold about 150 tracks.

Finally, some iPod miscellany. The iPod's polished steel case picks up fingerprints faster than a forensic team. The iPod needs a carrying case, and several should be available soon.

Although the iPod doesn't work with Windows MP3 software, Apple says it will work as an external hard drive with Windows computers containing FireWire ports. Thus, you can use the iPod to shuttle documents between the Mac at home and the Windows computer in the office.

The iPod's battery recharges when you plug it into a Mac's FireWire jack, but the iPod also includes an elegantly designed power adapter. The power adapter can use a standard electric razor cord, so if you're traveling abroad, you can use, say, a European shaver cord to recharge the iPod.

The iPod's internal software is designed to be upgraded via the Internet. This suggests the iPod could evolve to store more than music--digital camera images, for example. Something tells me Apple has big plans for this device.

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Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine. He can be reached at jim@jimheid.com.

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