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Serious Media Player

For geeky people (like me) who want really serious hardware that looks really serious, the Wolverine ESP media player ($329 and up, wolverinedata.com) is about as serious as you can get.

Seemingly styled by engineers for the pocket-protector set, you’ll certainly need a pocket protector for this hefty 10-ounce package. The 3.6″ display has a retro look, with monospaced fonts and icons reminiscent of Windows 3.1, and the controls include an Escape key.

Still, if you put function ahead of style it’s a killer, with up to 250GB of storage on an industry-standard hard drive that you can upgrade one day if a quarter-terabyte isn’t sufficient for your nerdy needs. The battery likewise is swappable, and is a cheaply available Sanyo item.

The ESP plays MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, OGG, and CDA, audio files, and displays MPEG-1, MPEG-4, XviD, and WMV9 video formats. It also recognizes numerous photo formats, from JPEGs to the RAW versions used in high-end digital cameras such as Canon, Nikon, and Olympus. When you’re shooting a lot of photos while traveling, you can back them up by inserting your CompactFlash or Secure Digital card in one of the slots in the ESP and review them at your leisure. When you get home, a USB cable uploads them to your desktop computer.

With 50 times the (current) storage of a Gmail account, the ESP has room for more than 50,000 songs, or thousands of photographs, or dozens of full-length movies. Alternatively, with so many megabytes to spare, you can eschew the audio compromises of MP3 compression, rip your CDs into lossless WAV format, plug your ESP into your stereo, and enjoy old-school high fidelity. That’s how I’m using mine; its battleship-gray case fits right in beside my vintage 1978 Apt Holman preamp.

Sound Grabber

As an increasing number of radio stations stream their programs, here’s a cheap and simple way to capture and save webcasts. Audio Mid Recorder (tucows.com/preview/360842) taps any audio passing through your SoundBlaster-compatible sound card and saves it to a file, allowing you to select the sound format and the level of compression.

If you use VoIP, it can record your phone conversations. You can also play a protected WMA file, capture the sound, and save it in unprotected mode, although this may degrade the quality slightly, since you’ll be re-sampling the stream.

Other options include automatic shut-off after a preset time, automatic start, and voice-actuated record.

The free download version imposes a 60-second limit on each recording, but for 25 bucks you can get the unlimited version. This is a basic tool to grab anything from sound effects to spoken word, ideal for anyone who’s into sampling.


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