Sunday 31st July 2005

Late last night I arranged to come over to see my local superhero. I had to hand over my Antec PSU, so thought I would make use of the time by also requesting The Simpson’s, direct onto one of my hard drives. When I discovered that this was over 29gb in size for all fifteen seasons, I realised my old 14gb hard drive was nothing more than a brick of metal platters, chips and plastic. The other option, was to bring my XBox. It was almost exactly a year to the day, that Hussein had modded my XBox for me. I left Wycombe early on Sunday morning, with hardly any traffic on the M40. I had fallen asleep just after 2am, but got up before 7am and felt quite awake. My first job was to upgrade the software on the console, with the latest release. Then, I quickly burnt a CD of songs from last week’s movie (in about 1 minute) and headed out the door. I arrived in Harrow just before 9am and waited for Hussein to open the door. I really need to find a portable storage solution, I can’t take my black console box everywhere I go. We set the machine up and started transferring the cartoon show. After a nice cup of tea, came the highlight of my day. For as long as I have known him, he has talked about Empeg. To the uninitiated (I include myself among you, the Empeg is an in dash MP3 player. Well to be honest, that is a lie. It is so much more. Then some. Whenever we have discussed an in car, hard disc based mp3 solution, the only response I have received from my learned friend is this. It sounded great in theory, but I had my doubts of what it would be like in practice. In a car, you need to have instant access to your music. You do not have the patience (well I certainly do not) to be mucking around with menus, sub menus and other interfaces. You want to be able to listen to your music in drive. Yet, the Empeg (here a Mark Two model) resolves this major functionality issue and so much more. Let us start at 10am, this morning. Hussein opens the door to his Skoda Fabia and asks me to sit down in the passenger seat. Switching on the power to the ignition, his Empeg came alive and were listening to Billie Jean. I was shocked at the quality of the sound and the clarity of the bass. Yet, there were still factory fit speakers. The sound stage is enhanced by the use of 4 tweeters, rather than the average two you get in the front with the component set. This adds to the vocal range, just behind your head, if you are seated up front. I have heard this song a thousand (if not more) times and know it very well. Yet, in the car, it sounded clear, almost perfect. I was asked to be pick an artist and choice Ash, hoping that would bring up a huge selection of singles. Instead it bought up only Girl From Mars, which is still an outstanding track. It took a few seconds to bring up the artist and play the song. (The fact it was the only song for the group, did help a little). One of the greatest functions is the fact that that everything you listen to is logged. So you can recall how many times a song is played. It also has exciting unique features, such as playing ‘pure’ random, whereby no song will be played twice until you reach the end of the collection. No repeats, guaranteed. Something that never happens with the radio. You can search by date, album, artist, the possibilities are endless. You can randomly play songs by one artist, but over all their albums, so you switch between their early and more recent work. Each track is tagged with a special four digit code, which can be used to pre select tracks, so you don’t need to search by artist or album.

It is no secret, Human Nature is one of my favourite songs of all time, even if based purely on my Audio Scrobbler listening figures. While Hussein was randomly selecting tracks, on came this number and he put up the volume. Having listened to this track in my own car, it was only now I realised the true downfalls of my audio system. Even from CD, the track cannot be matched when played in the Fabia. Amazing. This was the dream. Having my entire MP3 collection, at my fingertips. Yet as the player is open source and runs on Linux, it is constantly being upgraded. There are updates for everything imaginable and much much more. There is also a remote control to select most of the functions on the device. Yet the remote is nothing fancy. The great feature if from another device a PDA or in Hussein’s case, his trusty Treo. The Smart phone has some software installed which allows you to queue up music and then transmit via infrared to the head unit and it begins playing these songs straight away. Just how in genius is that? Any device capable for sending infra-red signal can do this. Let us move onto to something more simple. Visualisations are not new and have been on modern stereos for quite sometimes. While they may not be as detailed as their equivalent on Windows Media Player or Win Amp, they do work. The Empeg device has a collection build in, but one just blew me away. Called, ‘flancedoor‘, it is a stickman dancing along to the music. Yet it all depends on how ‘busy’ the song is and this is represented on how busy the dance floor will be. To test this out, I asked to Hussein to play Billie Jean again. Yes, it happened, the stickman moon walked. You have not lived until you have seen this event on a small dot matrix display. The only similarity I can find, is the Virgin Megastores advert, as screened at many cinemas. This photograph does not do the show justice! Those head spins are da bomb!

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