The 20GB/40GB Rio Karma Plays Ogg Vorbis

By Richard Menta 9/22/03

Just year-and-a-half ago the Rio line of MP3 players were king. They were the most popular digital music portables and were faring quite well against the world electronic giants who, with the exception of Samsung and RCA, never really divied up much market share. The Rios' biggest competitor was Creative, whose Nomad series still remain popular.

Then came the Apple iPod.

The Rio Karma is listed on Amazon.

The company was already dealing with financial issues and the iPod's immediate success didn't help. That portable quickly became number one and took almost a quarter of all digital player sales. Today that number is half and last spring the parent of the former Diamond company, SonicBlue, broke apart and sold the Rio line off.

The good news is this does not mean that the Rio players are destined to become a trivia question. As of this writing, the best selling flash-based portable on Amazon is the gym-targeted Rio S35S Sport. Also, the company is releasing an updated line of competitive players.

The most interesting of the new portable lineup is the Rio Karma whose introduction is significant in three ways. First, it is only the second jukebox style portable released by the company, a niche they came to surprisingly late to with the post-iPod Rio Riot.

Second, the Karma will be among the first of a new crop of players to playback music compressed using the Ogg Vorbis codec. For newbies, Ogg Vorbis is the first license-free codec. Developed by Xiph, "Ogg Vorbis is a completely open, patent-free, professional audio encoding and streaming technology with all the benefits of Open Source". In this world where almost every story on digital music seems to include the words "litigation" or "monopoly" Ogg offers a potentially strong contender to the powers of Microsoft on one side and RCA's control of the MP3 format on the other.

Then comes the third and most compelling reason. The Rio Karma is a 20GB - 40GB player that weighs only 5.5 oz. 0.1 oz lighter than the new iPod.

This may not seem so significant, but it is. The success of the iPod mostly comes because it was the first unit to house the capacity of a hard drive based player in a unit the near size and weight of the much smaller flash players. Oddly, the majority of the newer jukebox units from other manufacturers have taken to calling themselves iPod killers despite being much bigger and heavier. This includes Creative's once dominant portables.

Rio's move to shed the weight and dimensional excess on the new portable makes it a true contender to take back some of the market share stolen by the iPod. The Rio name will at least get the unit looks from consumers. The Ogg Vorbis capability - a codec Apple will probably not adopt as that company champions the AAC codec its iTunes serves utilizes - give it immediate access to an under-served market niche.

The Apple iPod comes in at 5.6 oz and 4.1 by 2.4 by 0.62 inches. The Karma comes in at 5.5 oz and 3.0 by 2.7 by 0.9 inches. This puts the Karma square in the class of the iPod, a claim very few other portables can claim.

As we said the Rio Karma offers a 20GB or 40GB drive and it comes with Ogg Vorbis and FLAC support. File transfers are handled by USB 2.0 using an included docking station that also offers an RCA Line-Out and an Ethernet port for networking. The unit claimes 15 hours of battery life from its Li Ion battery. Avoiding the cheap ear-gear that normally is packaged with digital music portables the Karma offers Sennheiser MX300 Earbuds.

There is no release date for the Karma yet, it is reasonable to assume it will appear this fall for the holday season. List price for the 20GB player is $399.00. The 40GB unit lists at $449.00. We will do a review of the unit when it is available.


The Rio Karma is listed on Amazon.


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