cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Sony Just Doesn't Get It

What kind of modern digital music player doesn't play MP3s?

Competing with the iPod is a very difficult thing to do. You need to get a lot right to be even in the same league. In typical Sony fashion, they have spent a lot of marketing, design and PR dollars creating and promoting their "iPod killing" Network Walkman. This is a device roughly the same size as an iPod--or smaller, depending on if you believe the PR, but not smaller than an iPod mini...but whatever.

Before I rant a bit, let's compare their features:

  • Hard Drive Size: Sony appears to be offering a 20 gigabyte version or a 40 gigabyte version for its Network Walkman, depending on which report you believe. Either way, the iPod has a range of capacities as well.

  • Price: Sony's offering costs a bit less when comparing comparable capacities with the iPod. Yay Sony!

  • Support Software: Sony Connect vs. iTunes. iTunes is good, Sony Connect is not. But hey, you might like Sony Connect, so that's up to you. I prefer to encode my CDs myself at the insane bit rates I prefer.

  • Formats Supported: Sony likes you to use Atrac, Apple likes AAC, so who cares, right? You simply can play MP3s on them and forget their DRMed proprietary formats. Right? Right? Well, on the iPod you can. And on every portable player made in the last five years, you can. I don't have enough room or time to list every player that does, really.

    But Sony doesn't play MP3. It seems it "supports" MP3 through conversion, and we all love trans-coded music, right? But nope, no playback of MP3.

Yes, seriously. Really, stop laughing. Transcoding is an abomination. Running your music through two lossy encoding steps is plain bad for the music if your standards are anywhere above 1950's AM radio technology. It would be like using a Xerox machine to do micrography, as in that old AIR article, which I couldn't find on-line.

So, in short, Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

Take a perfectly interesting product and make it sucky in one fell swoop. I mean, I know that Sony has their stuff together much of the time--don't ask me about VAIO build quality, please, I've repressed that. The PS/2 is a fine product, and the Sony classical label does some remarkable recordings, but these landfill worthy players should be abandoned as some Sony executive's bad-trip drug dream. Better yet, the firmware should be upgraded to play the freaking MP3 standard that litters most people's music collections.

This isn't the first time Sony has done this. About four years ago, it had a pretty drop-dead sexy little MP3, um, Atrac player that looked like a stuppy pen, and I would have bought one in a second had it played MP3s.

I know what you are thinking: "What about Ogg? MP3 is stinky patent encumbered crapola." All I can say is iRiver seems to get it, and its player looks very nice; I want one and all that (I'd love to review one, fellas). But you have to support MP3 if you want a player to be a commercial success. Sony obviously is the kind of company that, even if Ogg were the dominant encoding system the way MP3 is today, would not support it in favor of Atrac-on-memory-stick.

Also, can I say that Atrac stinks? Good. Atrac stinks. I have an old minidisk player that is great for recording lectures and interviews and such, but past that? Crap.

Thanks for listening to my rant.

Chris DiBona is the Co-Founder of Damage Studios, a San Francisco-based game company working on the next generation massively multiplayer on-line game, Rekonstruction. He was formerly an editor for and was the co-editor of Open Sources: Voices From the Open Source Software Revolution.



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actually, it ain't transcoded

Waider's picture

I've spent the last two weeks tooling around with a Sony NW-S23, reverse-engineering the file format that my MP3 files ended up in when I copied them over using the MP3FileManager tool on the device itself.

They're still MP3 files.

They're obfuscated, but they retain the exact same bitrate, etc. as the original files. No transcoding, no recompression.


Darek's picture

I believe the PS/2 is a product of IBM, not Sony.

your old

Anonymous's picture

your old
these kids meant playstation 2

The Horrors of MiniDisc

Anonymous's picture

I too own a MiniDisc player/recorder. The audio quality is great for recording events and lectures (which usually don't require such high quality).

Sony failed with the MiniDisc format as a long-term standard because recordists and radio programmers cannot upload their own warez to their home computer. How simple could it have been to add a flag to personally recorded files to permit this?

No, recording people -- the people who generally know music and audio technology from end to end -- are forced to use real-time analog recording to get materials OUT of the device.

On top of this, as mentioned, one must re-encode audio to put MP3s on the device. Or, if you use Linux as I do, you must again use an analog patch cable. Don't bother using a longer recording mode -- your music will have that high-pitch hiss that "most people can't hear."

Sony should die.

Sony is a record company

Anonymous's picture

You can feely copy MP3s and Sony, as a record company, doesn't want you to do that. Seems pretty simple to me. Their software won't let you trade ATRAC tracks with friends, and only allows 3 copies of a track to be "checked out" from your computer at any one time. You don't delete a track from your MP3 player, you have to check it back into your computer!

PS2 is a sloppy piece of hardware.

Anonymous's picture

"The PS/2 is a fine product"? I think not. The PS2 is a stunning example of how not to design a console.

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Sony Just Doesn't Get It

Anonymous's picture

Maybe EFF will add Sony to their samplecomplaint under the INDUCE Act.

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Sony Just Doesn't Get It

Anonymous's picture

The US doesn't drive SONY's product line. SONY produces cell phones, computers, TV, camcorders and Mini-Disc players that the USA never sees in stores because the US market is too slow to pick up a new media.
Take a look at's equipment list to see all the MD products that SONY and other companies manufacture for the Japanese market. In Japan, Atrac is huge. It makes sense for them to make this product. They are probably looking to see if the US will pick up on this time.
The other reason to go with Atrac over MP3 is that they are getting a better compression rate. Sony is comparing their storage by the number of songs instead of the number of Gigs.
I do agree with Chris on the fact that it would be nicer to make high bitrates to get the best quality then to be able to fit 18,000 songs on the player. I don't know 18,000 songs.

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Sony Just Doesn't Get It

Anonymous's picture

Betamax was technically better than VHS, but everyone had their content in VHS form, so Sony finally gave up and made VHS VCRs like the rest of the industry.

In this situation, though, Sony wouldn't even have to give up support for their own pet codec -- it would be as if they could add VHS support to a Betamax VCR for a few dollars, then try to convince the user to keep renting VHS, but put their time-shifted recordings on Betamax tapes. Failing to support MP3 is pure butt-headedness.

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Sony Just Doesn't Get It

Anonymous's picture

iRiver gets it in regard to Ogg - but not Linux. For the moment, you must use proprietary software (Windows/Mac only) to copy content to/from the players.

They are supposed to be working on adding "memory drive" capability to their devices... But, I'll be waiting until they have it working before buying.

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Sony Just Doesn't Get It

Anonymous's picture

That's only true for some of iRivers flashmemory players that doesn't support UMS (USB Mass Storage).
My iRiver H120 havn't even been used in Windows, I bought it, plugged in the USB cabel and mounted the device in my filesystem, no software needed.

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Sony Just Doesn't Get It

Anonymous's picture

I am new to Linux, thinking of buying the iRiver H120. Culd you please tell me what USB port I need. Is it USB 2? And are there any problems with running iRiver on Linux?



Untrue no problems xferng under Linux

Anonymous's picture

My igp-100 plugs in and is seen as a usb hard drive.

Mount the sucker and if you need a pretty picture fire up mc to watch the files move

Re: iriver / linux

Anonymous's picture

I have a iRiver IHP-120 and its "just works" on linux. No problems at all...

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Sony Just Doesn't Get It

Anonymous's picture

Um....I've used ogg/linux and my iRiver....