e.Digital Releases MicroDrive MP3 Player You Talk To

By Robert Menta- 11/02/01

With all the digital audio players released recently, all of the attention has gone to the pros and cons of small flash memory players with their limited memory versus the large, heavy jukebox players running 5GB laptop drives. Left out for quite awhile was IBM remarkable MicroDrives, diminuative hard drives the size of a CompactFlash memory card, but hold as much as a gigabyte of storage.

The reason for this was the high price of that technology seemed overly expensive for an MP3 player, but with recent price drops by IBM we are beginning to see the emergence of new players using it. With their new MXP 100, e.Digital leverages the MicroDrive technology along with some other unique features to address the high end of the digital portable market. One of those features allow you to talk to it.


The e.Digital MXP 100

e.Digital's product line is interesting because they have chosen strategically to cover the gambit of memory storage. Along with flash memory players, their Portable Digital Jukebox (also known as the Treo Digital Music Jukebox) uses hard drive technology. Their Orbit player uses DataPlays 500MB optical drive. Now comes the MXP 100.

The e.Digital MXP 100 comes with a choice of 340MB, 512MB, and 1GB MicroDrives and is about 25% larger than a Rio 500 flash portable. That makes it small enough to conveniently fit in a pocket, something you can't do with a jukebox player like Creative's Nomad Jukebox. The Nomad is three times larger than the MXP 100 and quite a bit heavier.

The MXP 100 is a relatively feature-laden unit. For starters the player has digital voice recording and playback capabilities. The unit also contains an additional 8MB of built-in memory for skip protection, a backlight for the display, and runs on lithium-ion batteries, a necessity for the MicroDrive as it can be quite power hungry.

What's most interesting about this player is that the units most unique feature is not the MicroDrive itself, but a user interface called VoiceNav. VoiceNav allows the user to control the unit using vocal commands. Once engaged, the user can navigate playlist folders, select tracks, and play tunes by simply speaking one of several command words into the built-in microphone. Say the exact title of the track you are looking for and VoiceNav will theoretically jump you straight to that track (How good this works we will see in our upcoming review as eDigital has generously provided us with a demo unit).

VoiceNav was developed by Bell Labs' Advanced Technologies (a division of Lucent) and the MXP 100 is the first consumer product to use the voice navigation interface. VoiceNav is capable of recognizing over 100,000 words and names.

``We are pleased to team with Lucent on this exciting breakthrough for portable digital music players,'' said Fred Falk, president and CEO of e.Digital. ``VoiceNav's fast response, expansive English vocabulary, and speaker-independent recognition of artist, band, album, and track names, will provide end users with easy access to a complete portable, personal audio library, and allow virtually hands-free operation of the MXP 100".

Added Lucent licensing manager Monte Stimmel, "We expect this to be the first of many voice recognition applications for portable devices, and we are enthusiastic about the potential to work with e.Digital on additional product opportunities.''

Playing tunes in the MP3 and WMA format, files are transferred to the MXP 100 using MusicMatch Jukebox through a USB connection. The literature does not mention support for AAC or ePAC files - formats supported by the Treo - offering further evidence that industry focus on is now on MP3 and WMA as the de facto standards. The MXP 100 is secure music capable supporting Intertrust, Windows Media DRM and IBM's EMMS.

The MXP 100 requires an IBM compatible PC with Windows 98 or above (USB support is not a Windows 95 or NT strong point so most manufacturers bypass these operating systems). The player doesn't support Macintosh.

List Price for the various flavors of the MXP 100 are; $339.00 for the 340MB player, $399 for 521MB, and $449 for the 1GB unit. These prices bring them in direct competition with the 20GB versions of the Archos and Nomad Jukeboxes, units with considerably more capacity, but hampered by their large size and weight. For those who want something to slip into the pocket, the MXP 100 might offer the best balance of storage and size, especially since the street prices of MP3 portables tend to drop significantly as a product seasons on the market.

Below are some specs on the unit. those interested in purchasing the MXP 100 can buy it directly from e.Digital's store site.

Dimensions: 4.3" (109 mm) x 2.5" (64 mm) x (22 mm) 0.87"
Weight: 4.9 oz
Bit Rates supported MP3: 16-320 kbps
Bit Rates supported WMA: 32-128 kbps
DRAM Buffering: 8MB
Interface: USB v1.1PC
Unit Operating System: eDigital MicroOS 2.0
Digital security support: Intertrust, Windows Media DRM and EMMS
Storage: Supports Type I & II CompactFlash memory cards and IBM MicroDrive.


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