Plugged In: Music for the Masses
Having grown up with vinyl, eight-tracks and cassettes, itís difficult for most baby boomers to get over the fact that they can now load practically their entire music collection (and an audible book or two) on one small portable device that delivers reliability, perfect sound quality, programmability, and weighs mere ounces. But itís true. Here are three of the new breed of MP3 players worth an earful.

APPLE IPOD 20GB
Apple always seems to be a light year ahead of the rest of the world. The iPod proves it. Not much larger than a deck of cards, the iPod 20GB holds some 5,000 songs in a sleek design thatís rugged and reliable. Coupled with Appleís online music software iTunes, itís an unbeatable combination for those who love music.

No longer a proprietary player for Mac owners, the device works on both platforms. Operation is touch-sensitive, with four simple buttons and a scroll pad/wheel. Sound quality borders on the aurally unbelievable. Youíll hear parts of songs you didnít know existed. Apple does it again.

www.apple.com; $399

ARCHOS GMINI 220
The Gmini rates as the smallest MP3 player weíve ever used, and offers some inspired functionality. It weighs in at a mere 6 ounces, and holds 20GB worth of audio, image or voice recordings (courtesy of its built-in microphone).

With the Photo Viewer software, 2.5-inch LCD, easily readable graphical user interface, and built-in microphone, itís a tidy little package. Available as an option is the Radio & Remote Control, which adds FM radio to the unit as well.

Despite its all-around functionality, we found the ARCLibrary and Double Browser organizing software confusing to use. We never did figure out if it has a function that will randomly select cuts to play.

www.archos.com; $349.95

CREATIVE JUKEBOX ZEN EXTRA
Weíve owned several Creative audio devices and are impressed with the companyís ability to constantly improve design, functionality and portability. The Jukebox Zen Extra is a 30GB player that lets you carry all the music (and more) youíll ever own in a great package.

Itís easy to transfer music via the Creative MediaSource software and ultra-fast USB2.0 into the player (though it works well with Music Match software as well).

Advanced features such as Quick Scroller Navigation, Find, Playlist Creation and automatic ID3 tag categorization helps manage and organize your music. And it doubles as an external hard drive for storing documents such as photos, Word documents and other data files. Press Play and youíre ready to rock.

www.creative.com; $269.99


Technophile Don Campbell lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest.
Photo by Renata Kosina