Quick Takes: Digisette Duo-Aria MP3 Player

Backward-compatibility can come at the expense of innovation, as we learned from the failure of the Digital Compact Cassette in the early '90s. The DCC format enabled a new generation of hardware both to record digital tape cassettes and to play standard analog cassettes. The downside of that compatibility, though, was that it took as long to find a particular song on a new digital cassette as on an old analog one, a distinct disadvantage compared with random-access CDs.

Jump ahead a decade to today's MP3 players. While most of these devices are handheld portables used on the go with earphones, what if you want to hear tunes ripped from your CDs or downloaded from the Internet while you're driving? Or sitting in your living room, away from the computer? If you have a CD burner and a home or car CD player that can read MP3 files on disc, you're set. But what if you don't have either - but do have a cassette deck at home or a cassette head unit in your car?

Enter Digisette, which has patented an MP3 player called the Duo-Aria shaped like an audiocassette. You can use it with earphones just like any portable player, or you can insert it whole into a cassette deck, where an electromagnetic transducer along its edge lines up with the deck's pickup head. Result: your car or home speakers can now pump out the MP3-encoded tunes stored in the Duo-Aria's flash memory.

Wearing earbuds attached to the slim aluminum player is a conversation starter. "Where's the Walkman?" they'll ask. The face of the Duo-Aria has play, stop, rewind, fast-forward, and volume controls, as well as an LED that lights up for 2 seconds when you turn it on, but - unlike nearly every other MP3 player - it has no text display. You'll just have to remember which songs you transferred from your PC to the player via USB cable. (Windows 98 or higher is required, but Digisette expects to have a Macintosh version available later this year.) Another design tradeoff is that the buttons are tiny, and the on/off switch is hard to work without healthy fingernails.