Tuneful new technology is a boon to music lovers
Monday, March 29, 1999
JULIO OJEDA-ZAPATA PioneerPlanet STAFF COLUMNIST
Pop quiz: What do a Central High School graduate and a group of Gdansk eggheads have in common? This has something to do with digital audio. Give up?
OK, that was a stumper. Maplewood native Jawed Karim and the Polish scientists are the brains behind two of the newest PC-software products for high-tech audiophiles.
Both applications capitalize on the MP3 craze involving high-quality music files that are feverishly traded on the Internet and across local- and wide-area networks.
Karim, now a University of Illinois computer-science student, has become something of a celebrity on U.S. campuses with his MP3 Voyeur, a free program for finding MP3 files on the shared folders of school networks.
The Poles, along with co-workers at the Edina-based Dartech software-development firm, have made another contribution to the digital-audio world with their CD-Recorder software for creating customized music CDs.
Let's look at CD-Recorder first. The $49 software lets computer-based music enthusiasts mix 'n' match MP3 files with other audio files (MIDI, WAV, etc.) along with tracks ``ripped'' from CDs and cleaned-up music from old LPs.
CD-Recorder (www.dartech.com) includes two crucial contributions from the Polish digital-audio-processing scientists called DeClick and DeHiss. These filters remove the clicks, pops and hisses that typically mar decades-old LPs.
The software even handles ancient 78-rpm platters. Just play them at 33-rpm on any standard turntable. After CD-Recorder records the music, it automatically adjusts the files to play properly (Ed. note: This feature he refers to is in DartPro 98 and DartPro 32, not CD-Recorder). Once CD-Recorder users have assembled playlists from digital and analog sources, they use the software and a CD-R drive to ``burn'' their own CDs.
I don't have a CD-R drive, so I asked Dartech President Henry Neils and Webmaster Edgar Dorn to help me transfer one of my dusty LPs to CD. The process proved painless, if a bit time-consuming. Along with DeClick and DeHiss, which did a nice job of restoring my long-distorted Puerto Rican tunes, the software includes a feature called Unpack. Because a side of an LP is recorded as one long track, songs must be digitally split into individual tracks. The unpacking feature handles this chore flawlessly. One final note on CD-Recorder: a nifty feature called Radio Recorder turns any PC/radio combo into an audio VCR. Tired of missing A Prairie Home Companion? If you leave your radio tuned to Minnesota Public Radio, CD-Recorder will start recording at the appointed time.
MP3 Voyeur (www.jawed.com/mp3voyeur/) is all about convenience, too. It rescues computer-network users from the tedium of manually perusing shared folders to find MP3 files. This has become an increasingly common practice among college students as high-quality MP3 files have proliferated on campus networks.
``MP3 Voyeur automates this task,'' Karim says. ``It works like a network crawler, querying each computer on the network and traversing each computer's hierarchy of shared folders to find MP3 files.''
Recent MP3 searches on several campus networks produced eye-popping results, according to Karim:
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Karim's campus): more than 25,000 MP3 files
- Carnegie Mellon University: more than 31,000
- Texas A&M University: more than 97,000
- Case Western Reserve University: more than 150,000
MP3 users on U.S. campuses are wild about MP3 Voyeur, judging from recent comments in e-mails.
``This piece of software is a must-have for any MP3 enthusiast on a large network,'' says Christopher Moon, a University of Minnesota physics major. ``Going through all of the computers on my network manually to look for MP3s would take me hours. With Voyeur, I can get a list of every single MP3 available in a matter of minutes.'' Nicolas Witkowski, a University of Southern California computer-engineering major, says, ``This is maybe the most useful freeware I have on my computer.''
One user worries that MP3 Voyeur could incur the wrath of music-industry executives who have complained, not entirely without justification, that the MP3 format encourages the illegal distribution of copyrighted music.
The Recording Industry Association of America recently tried to block the sale of Diamond Multimedia's popular Rio MP3 player. And last week, another music-industry group filed legal action against a Lycos-sponsored MP3 search engine (www.ifpi.org/press/cpage44.html). Might MP3 Voyeur be next? ``If this program gains any more popularity, it may catch the attention of parties such as the RIAA,'' says Brian Forsse, a University of California/Santa Cruz computer-engineering major.
Karim acknowledges that ``someone from the recording industry reading (this) article might not be pleased by the MP3 trading'' on college campuses. But he notes that ``there is nothing illegal at all about Voyeur.''
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