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Burn, Baby, Burn

Can't tell an MP3 from a BMG? These music sites and tech toys will help you get downloads.


Feel the Burn
We like the idea of being able to record CDs, but the potential trauma of installing a disc burner in the PC almost put us off the idea entirely. The Iomega Predator CD-RW ($269.99, J&R Music World, 21-23 Park Row; Circuit City, Union Square) eliminates the anxiety: It's an external drive that quickly hooks up through a USB (or FireWire or PCMCIA) connection. Unlike similar products, it's a worthy companion to even the sleekest machine (yeah, it's iMac-compatible). It comes with software that not only lets you put MP3s onto CD-R or CD-RW discs but also backs up hard-drive-hogging multimedia files, like digital photo albums.

Kind of Blue
The new Sonic Blue RioVolt Digital Audio Player ($169.99, J&R Music World) looks like any other portable disc player -- only it has the extra brainpower needed to read MP3-encoded discs. What this means, basically, is that it can switch back and forth between standard music CDs and CD-R discs with digital music (in either MP3 or Windows Media Audio format). Even if you have no interest in downloading music, you can use a CD-RW drive (like the Iomega Predator, above) to "rip" and compress up to twenty hours worth of tunes on a single CD-R disc the Sonic Blue can play. How's that for smart?

Matchbox Teeny
MP3 players are unlikely to get any smaller than the new Panasonic SV-SD75 ($399.99, J&R Music World), simply because it's not much bigger than what's inside it: a single rechargeable AAA battery and a memory card. An extra 64MB card is included, along with a card reader that quickly hooks up to your computer through a standard USB connection, so you never actually have to tether the SV-SD75 to your desk to load it up with music. And the XBS (extra bass system) gives a nice boost to compressed tracks that otherwise might sound a little tinny.

Site Specific
Napster has had its legal problems, but the verdict on online music is that it's here to stay. So if you couldn't tell the difference between a ripper and an encoder if your Elvis Costello LPs depended on it, you need's "Beginner's Guide," a no-nonsense tutorial that shows you how to find, download, and play music. It even includes a glossary to spare you the embarrassment of saying "EMI" when you mean "SDMI." can also help you find up to a million downloadable songs -- by everyone from the Backstreet Boys to the Beatles. If you're searching for something specific, try Lycos's MP3 search engine, at downloads. You can search the database by artist or genre (show tunes, anyone?), or try the "independent" area for unsigned acts.

For a more indie vibe, try, an online store for "Indiemogaragepunknoiselectronic+essentials" that features a rotating roster of downloadable songs. Up your street cred by downloading tracks by Spanish hardcore band Aina, or "icy post-punk" riffs from the band Gwen Mars.

If all you need is digitized Madonna, you can go to and click on "free downloads" for a menu of chart-toppers from Smashing Pumpkins to Emmylou Harris. It's no harder than waiting for a new CD to arrive in the mail.


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