Music From Tiny Player

Do good things come in small packages? Audio technology over this past half century offers pretty good evidence that they do. Fifty years ago, the long-playing record amazed people with a half-hour of music per side, compared to the 78's few minutes. Thirty years ago, the cassette tape replaced bulky open reels, ushering in a new era of recording capability—and portability—for millions of people. Twenty years ago, the CD began to push the LP out of the way because it packed a little more music into a much smaller and more durable package. Personal radios have long been hugely popular, and portable audio players are consistently among the industry's best-selling products.

The recognition that people love to take their music with them has motivated engineers to create ever smaller, and ever better, portable players. Leveraging advancements in media storage, Panasonic has developed a portable player with removable media the size of a postage stamp that is capable of an astounding 50 hours of playback time from a combination of one rechargeable NiMH battery and one AAA alkaline. The SV-SD80, the company's second-generation miniature player, gets 64 minutes of "near CD quality music" from one tiny 64Mbyte SD memory card, which are commonly used in digital cameras.

The SV-SD80 is at the forefront of a new era of what Panasonic calls "e-wear" (entertainment wear)—audio players the size of wrist watches. "Panasonic e-wear portable audio players have enjoyed immense popularity since their introduction last year," said Panasonic marketing executive James Kiczek. "They've already become the hippest new fashion accessory. The new SV-SD80 not only offers great sound and super portability, but now also offers consumers longer playing time."

The small player supports three digital formats: MP3, Windows Media Audio (WMA), and Advanced Audio Coding (AAC). Music lovers with USB-equipped computers can transfer music files to SD cards using RealNetworks' RealJukebox software and a USB read/write device included in an audio recording kit that comes bundled with the player. With no moving parts, the SV-SD80 provides skip-free playback during the most violent activities—if you want musical accompaniment for mountain biking or downhill skiing, this is the player for you. Standard features like play/stop, skip/search, volume, play mode selection, and random/repeat play are all accessible from the player's function buttons. "Earbud" phones are included, as is a water resistant case that can be worn as a belt clip or wristband. The SV-SD80 has a suggested retail price of $329.95. Audiophiles can only pray that an SACD version appears during our lifetime.