Musical gizmos offer superb sound

Technophobes watch out! A flood of innovative, user-friendly, small and often eye-catching digital music devices have been launched to bring better sound into cars, mobile phones, portable jukeboxes and even video-games consoles.

    Mobile jukeboxes will come onto the market

    Phatboxes, Pictones and media handsets were among the new gadgets flaunted at the MIDEM trade fair last week, the international music industry's most influential annual gathering.

    The following are some of the new digital music devices that could help boost the ailing music industry, hit by piracy and falling sales: 
    • PhatBox is aimed at music lovers looking at updating their car sound systems. A digital in-car jukebox, PhatBox is similar in concept to Apple's iPod. Up to 15,000 songs can be downloaded on a PhatBox, which slots into the car dashboard and works on its stereo system. For safety reasons, voice prompting gives the style of music, name of the artist or albums, selected using the car stereo's buttons. It is not inexpensive at between $400 and $900 (320-730 euros) but this has not prevented it from being made available already through VW, Audi and Kenwood.
    • For the 1.5 billion handset users worldwide, there is a new musical and visual treat via MUSIWAVE's new Pictones, launched at MIDEM and offering animated visual images along with musical ringtones. Nokia has already snapped up the technology, which will enable its 3G phone users to download a video clip of their favourite singer to enhance their ringtones.

    • Nokia is pushing a "media" handset that offers an extra large screen, big memory and touch-screen options. The Nokia 7700's latest 3G technology enables users to stream videos and surf the Web as well as access Nokia's brand-new Visual Radio Service. Due to be launched throughout Europe and the Asia-Pacific region in the second quarter of this year, the 7700's visual radio also shows who is playing the music and enables extra information about the musician or group. It will even let users click on the screen to rate the track.

    Videoclip of a favourite singer
    may be downloaded onto mobiles

    • A rash of iPod-style mobile jukeboxes are starting to come onto the market. British phone carrier O2's own player is unusual in that it plugs into compatible mobile phones to download tracks. O2 believes mobile phone music downloads should prove more popular in Europe where people are comfortable with sending SMS text messages.

    • Budding pop stars are also being targeted by the gadget inventors. Pop Idol Talentbox, a home computer-based karaoke system and associated website is currently available in Britain, the Netherlands and the United States and will soon be launched in France, Spain, Canada and Australia. Buyers receive a microphone, a selection of songs on CD and access to the website where they can download more songs or tunes. A live competition between online victors has been tried out in Britain, with the winner offered a recording deal.

    • The most unusual concept of all at this year's MIDEM was probably the Surround Sound Tube Headphone, a black tube that wraps around the head unlike conventional headphones. Its inventor, Denmark-based American pianist and vocalist Yul Anderson, claims his headphone provides far better all round sound than the 2.0 stereo phones or even the other 5.1 surround sound headphones on the market that provide the digital magic but not the ambiance. 



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