iPod Earbuds to BOOM?

I've been to London a couple of times this last week, once by train and then by car. A couple of things struck me.

First, as I was sitting on the underground fewer people were listening to music on large ear covering speakers. It seemed too that more people were using the white Apple earbuds. Now I think the latest version of Apple's free headset is much better than the original they still lack a lot compared to a bigger and / or more expensive alternative.

Second, the number of taxi drivers with white earbuds. Is this legal? Maybe they mostly use them as a hands free phone system but I did notice a couple of taxi drivers tapping their steering wheel as if they were listening to music. The Apple speakers are quite discrete so maybe the Police and the Public Carriage Office don't notice.

The thought I had in mind is that maybe the tide has turned against wearing anything larger that earbuds in public. OK the sound can be much better but they do make you look a little odd don't they? So I was surprised to read speculation yesterday, repeated this morning in The Times, that Apple are planning to buy Dr Dre, the company that produces the most iconic of the larger than life headsets. Maybe Apple have noticed a worldwide trend that has swept past London, maybe the good Dr Dre has something in the pipeline that Apple admires.

Maybe Dr Dre can work his magic and produce a future version of Apple's own product that sounds much better. Or could it be that Apple want to get hold of the music streaming service that apparently goes with Dr Dre? All will be revealed - or not - in a few days.
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More Bits?

Talking about quality yesterday, and how CD ripping has changed since we started. Gone are the days of persuading clients to move up from 128 Kbps AAC or MP3 files, squeezing music collections onto masses of CD-Rs then onto DVDs. Today's standard is Apple Lossless delivered on a small USB drive.

So what about 24-bit rips?

At heart the source of our digital music libraries hasn't changed, that being the CDs issued over the years. Just to be a little technical, the music on those discs have been mastered from an analogue source using computer software which expresses each note as a digital value, stored in 8 bits. The big "complaint" about CDs and digital music is that it loses the detail, the warmth, the "feel" in the process. Something that doesn't affect vinyl. Suppose you upgraded and converted music using more bits to represent each sound, then you'd get back the elements that were lost. Well, that's the argument and indeed there are now a number of high quality music streaming or download services which are built on 24 bit sound.

Why don't we rip at 24 bit?

First, if we just ripped from the typical CD there would be no benefit. As an 8 bit source there's no way you can get back that which was lost when the CD was created. Second, you'd need 24 bit friendly devices to store, manage and play back the music. That isn't available in iTunes, the iPod or even a system such as Sonos.

Would we rip in 24 bit? Yes, we would, even if the only justification were to future proof our clients collections. However true 24 bit music libraries would require re-mastered CDs, better ripping software, plus storage and replay systems to take advantage of all that extra data. That's not going to happen any time soon.
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End of the iPod?

Could it really be? Is Apple going to kill the iPod? Well, that's what the rumours have been in parts of the Apple watching blogosphere.

The rationale is pretty much as this - Apple is used to growing revenues across its product line, iPod revenues are falling, so the merciless suits will kill the product. Well .. revenues may be falling but even at a massively reduced level the portable music line makes lots and lots of money for Apple. Today there is certainly considerable overlap between iPods, iPhones, iPads and Apple TV but I for one don't see them as competing, more as complementing items playing roles in the Apple home entertainment ecosphere.

At the same time there are rumours that Apple will refresh the Apple TV product and (maybe) deliver on a refreshed version of iTunes. I can't see it would make sense to drop the world's most popular, biggest selling, portable music player. It would leave a massive gap in the market ready for another supplier to enter. Having digested portable music what then would the next target be?

I can't really see Apple turning their back on the iPod. And I have high expectations for a better Apple TV product, very soon.
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CD Ripping - What 2013 Holds

Welcome to the New Year, and it's hard to believe another year of CD ripping lies ahead. Born of a period of childhood fads there have been times when I've thought people would lose interest in mobile music, or maybe streaming services such as Spotify would render us all pointless; but no, we are still here and looking forward to processing more CDs.

We are resolved to do better. First, we have taken steps to significantly improve throughput. During our first few years order sizes were around 200 - 250 CDs, we could handle this best by working around 9-17 using what has become six PCs. However when we got larger orders, 500+, it was a challenge to get this voulume of music converted in seven days. Over the last couple of years CD collections of over 1,000 discs have become common. We'd like to get those out in a week but it's hard to do that using the previous process of distributed systems. About six months ago we invested in a Nimbie CD ripper. This enables us to load up around 100 CDs and leave those to be ripped in a batch. Add a few evenings of unattended operation and throughput has gone up. For this reason we have another robotic CD ripping system on its way to us and we are hopeful that big collections next year will be ripped as quickly as smaller collections.

Second, we've taken steps to improve the quality of our Data Grooming service. These are very much 'under the hood' but we hope our clients like the results, even though it is a bit frustrating that clients don't normally appreciate just how much better their metadata is than it might have been.

Third, we're gaining more experience at delivering even higher quality music. When we started iTunes Music Store supplied music at 128 Kbps but we opted for twice that level with 256 Kbps AAC files. Today more clients are looking for lossless music which means returning files on DVDs has become unrealistic. So we've been down the USB thumbdrive route into USB connected external drives and into NAS drives. Additionally we're able to supply music on hard drives which can be installed inside a tower style system or in a bay of your NAS unit.

Taking these enhancements we're confident that 2013 will be our biggest and best year yet, and if you become one of our clients, we look forward to meeting you.
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iPod Killer? Android?

Over the last seven years running a CD ripping service I have mainly been working with Apple iPods. When we started it was something of a gamble, there were so many vanilla flavoured MP3 players around, so many people preferred Windows Media Player to iTunes. Quickly it became apparent that Apple had secured pole position in the race, the rest is history. Today pretty much any portable music player will, like hoover and xerox before, will be described as an iPod.

Over the last seven years I've lost count of the number of times I've read of the coming of an "iPod killer". Remember the various cute players from Sony? Sansa? Archos? These devices have popped up, received critical acclaim, and largely sunk without trace. Who today even knows what ATRAC is let alone has software to play it. According to Nokia its all down to ecosystems. Certainly that's why they have done so badly in the smartphone market and why Apple and Android have done so well. Ecosystem, not the cute device, however cute.

So my mind said "iPod killer?" when I saw that a small manufacturer (Cowon of Korea) has launched an Android based portable music player. As I've read so many times before this unit has some great features (brilliant screen, wi-fi, plays any music file type, tremendous sound, apps) alongside as many negatives (price, battery life and more) but it did make me think "ecosystem". If there were an end to end music support package to compete with iPod / iTunes / iTunes Music Store the Android umbrella is a great place to be. Plus, you get the support of Google who seem to be just about the only company able to lay a finger on Apple.

Watch the Android space, an iPod killer might just be lurking in the shadows.

Jeff Underwood
www.podserve.co.uk
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iTunes + Cloud? CloudTunes?

The rumour mill is grinding away in advance of the Apple media event coming up in the next few days. Most it's concentrated on the Apple tablet (iSlate? iSlice? iSlab?) but some brave souls have been speculating on an implementation of iTunes which draws on the latest IT hot topic - cloud computing. What would this mean to most users?

The answer has to be peace of mind and convenience. Let me explain why.

About the only thing you can be sure of with computer hard drives is that sooner or later, they will fail. Today users have massive amounts of data, unbelievable only a couple of years ago. When we began ripping CDs we stored clients work on an 80 Gb drive and it tooks weeks before it was filled. Just a few years later this laptop has the same amount of storage, small by many of today's machines. Can it be backed up? Technically yes but very few of us have the discipline to backup our discs, and what do we backup to? Yes, another hard drive with all the risks of that failing. Our moves into photo scanning have shown how people are adding to their storage demands.

CloudTunes would allow you to migrate your precious music from your local PC or laptop away to a centralised data warehouse professionally managed. A location where systems and hardware are in place to keep your music safe.

Convenience? Suppose you're working late in your office and you'd like to listen to your music. Simply point your PC to your iTunes part of the cloud and play away. Kids at uni? Draw on the cloud. Pump music around the house? Just point each PC to the cloud. Tired of waiting for music to download? It will appear instantly if your library links into the cloud.

If it's not this week it is surely time for clouds to gather over iTunes.
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Glass Half Full?

A question I'm often asked at podServe is how much music should I put on my iPod? As in I'll sort through my CDs and decide which to put into my library. My answer is - all of it.

Today computers and iPods have such massive capacity that its quick, cheap and easy to have all your music in digital form. Having it all digital avoids the issue of whether deciding music contents on a CD by CD basis is the best way, if the CD you reject contains just one great track, think of what you're missing.

I just wish I'd taken my own advice. While ripping my collection I came across two CDs by Philip Glass, I know my wife loves his music but, well, I'd never got into it so I just skipped the CDs and pressed on with music I'm comfortable with. The easy choices. Well on Tuesday we went to Philip Glass's concert at the Barbican. I wasn't greatly looking forward to it but you can't deny Glass's position in modern classical music, and at around 70 there won't be many more chances for those of us outside America to hear him play his music.

From the first note I was held, right through to the dying last note. It was a brilliant concert, a great evening out and the music just wonderful. Finally I knew what I was missing. So there - do as I say, not as I do. Yesterday I dug out the CDs I'd previously skipped, put them into iTunes and I'm listening to them now.
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iPod Camera?

Just because it can be done, doesn't mean that you have to do it. Well that was one of my Mum's homespun disciplinary lines, sometimes I think computer people should have been brought up better. Technically it can be done, but should you do it?

A phone built into your iPod? There's talk that the next release of Apple's iPod range will add this to one or more models in the line.

Frankly I can't see the point. I can hardly see the point of a camera in a mobile phone, for me listening to music, talking to people, taking photos all live in their own boxes. If I listen to music I'm not going to want to whip out my iPod to take a snap of the underground station I'm passing through.

But .... the iPod touch? Having a camera in that does make sense. I love Skype with its video chat function, particularly using the camera built into my MacBook. If the iPod touch enabled me to log onto a wifi network at home, in MacDonalds or Starbucks, and then get in touch with friends and family well, that does make sense.
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Sony X Walkman

Years ago, long before podServe and any thoughts of ripping CDs, my kids loved portable music players. They were cassette tape based and everybody called them a walkman. We went through many units, some cheap some expensive, but they all snapped or collapsed in some way. Irrespective of how they met their end they were all called walkman and were replaced by another walkman even though I don't think a single machine was made by Sony.

Sony just owned the concept of portable music with their walkman brand. Along comes the Apple device and they had a mountain to climb, which they promptly did, so now a portable music player is known as an iPod. Maybe Apple have done a better job as most iPods I see on the Underground are actually made by Apple. Then this morning I opened my newspaper and there's two mentions of Sony. First, at corporate level, it seems they're not doing too well. Second, there's an advert from John Lewis for the new Sony X series Walkman. My mind went back to Sony's last revised foray into the portable music market with a device they dubbed the "iPod killer". How does this unit stack up?

Price- wise they're pitching this against the iPod Touch, and their 16Gb unit is on a par with Apple's 8Gb, same with Sony's 32Gb version. Both devices have a touchscreen, hang on - Sony's is 3 inches compared with Apple's 3.5 inch. That's a mistake, sorry Sony that simply hands buyers the first justification they need to invest in Apple. Nobody in their right mind opts for the smaller screen. If a device needs a screen bigger is better. Sony will warble about all sorts of things but nothing overcomes that extra half inch.

Buttons. iPods have a click wheel, the iPod touch has an indentation. Sony has a button with a label on it. Why? Maybe it's an on/off switch but to label it "Home"? What kind of imbecile do they think's going to buy this? You need to be told it's Home just once, everytime you see this again it's just patronising. At the top of the Sony there are more buttons - one switches on noise cancelling, the other is a volume rocker. Sorry Sony, this is just a sad reminder of all those tacky plastic cassette tape players whose failed buttons and switches consigned them to to dustbin. If you have a touchscreen that's the interface, stick to it.

The Sony has a hole. The hole says Reset. Oh dear, I would have to reset this thing? Of course I'd do that when it goes wrong. So thanks Sony for pointing that out. Apple don't have a Reset button, buyers will conclude their unit doesn't need to be reset.

The Sony is iTunes compatible, it says. I bet its not. I bet if I open iTunes and plug in this Sony iTunes will not synchronise my music library with it, not least because my music is in AAC format rather than MP3.

Anyway, enough of the gripes. Digital Noise Cancelling is what sets this apart from Apple. I've tried DNC headsets - Bose for example - and they're fabulous. Sony have something here. All these units are, as described, portable and they play music. it's a modern miracle that they port all your music, thousands of tracks, but pretty soon you decide you want better sound. Who'd opt for inferior? We rip at twice the iTunes compression setting which delivers a step function improvement, but building digital noise cancelling into the unit, now that's a step forward. You don't have to do anything else, just use this device to improve sounds at a stroke. But will it overcome the other factors?

Here's the choice. Save some money, play MP3s, and get digital noise cancelling. Get a button ridden buggy black thing with a small screen. With a Home button. Or get a sleek white and chrome, bigger screen, button-less unit instead? With Apple's implied cool chic? yes, me too - the noise cancelling headsets are available as an extra. Invest. Sony - sorry.
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iPod Service Module Error

You may have seen the earlier entry on this blog posting suggested solutions to the dreaded iPod Service Module Error. Since this was originally suggested (sadly not be me but by a blog reader) I've received many positive comments saying this soultuion has worked for others.

If you're looking at this and the earlier, longer, set of instructions and for any reason you having a problem I'd suggest you look at the responses to the posts. These don't automatically appear and one of the comments suggests an alternative location at which one of the instruction steps can be located. Best of luck with this.

Oh, and in answer to another post, I don't think there is a "simple" solution to the curse of the iPod Service Module Error.
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iPod Alaska? No iPod Sound - A Frozen , Pinched Solution

One of podServe,co.uk's clients rang earlier this morning to say that his iPod had suddenly lost sound. Had been working fine but all of a sudden nothing. He had tried connecting other headphones and using a docking system, but no sound from the iPod. If he cranked the volume up to the maximum he could hear a tinny noise, nothing more.

My suggestion was to restore the iPod as he has all his music on his PC, nothing would be lost apart from an hour or too as the iPod re-syncs. If that didn't cure the fault my only other suggestion was an iPod doctor.

Client rang back a couple of hours later. Having done some digging on the internet he found two possible solutions - to put his iPod in the freezer for a few minutes, and to pinch the bottom right corner. So, he gave it a good pinch, then froze it for 30 minutes. Much to his amazement - it worked. So if you suddenly lose sound give you iPod a pinch and if necessary the cold treatment.

iPod, no sound, podserve.co.uk
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XPlay 3 & Senuti

Ever since podServe began I've been using a great program called XPlay, now in its third incarnation. There have been so many times when this piece of software has got me (and our clients) out of a tight spot. Here's a typical case study.

Client has three iPods, a USB hard drive and a new computer replacing the machine that previously housed his music library. The old PC was damaged beyond recovery so the task we were given was to reconstruct one complete music library from four locations. The procedure is pretty simple, you just recover the music from each iPod, merge it with what's on the drive and then do some housekeeping to remove duplicates.

So each iPod was connected in turn to one of our Windows machines that runs XPlay 3, and it dutifully recovered two of the three iPods. Unfortunately it struggled with the third. XPlay recognised the iPod and opened it, but refused to display the contents of the music folder. We were able to update the iPod's firmware (an XPLay function), ran standard Windows disk checking functions, but all to no avail. Music stays stuck on iPod which by bad fortune holds more music than any of the other units.

What could be done? Nothing to be lost by trying to recover the music on one of our Macs. I didn't have much hope and was mentally planning my "Oops sorry" speech to my client. XPlay is Windows only, the equivalent software we have on Mac is called Senuti (yes, that's iTunes backwards). I was immensely relieved to find Senuti quickly grabbed the iPod and promptly started to download the music from iPod to the Apple hard drive.

I was so pleased to have achieved the recovery we needed I was more than happy to overlook the slowness of Senuti compared with XPlay. So while I remain an XPlay fan I'm finding Senuti is quickly winning a place in my heart.
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Error Code 39 - Vista - Lost DVD & CD Drives

If I ever get famous I shall use my position to publicise what will become known as Underwood's Second Law of Computing - never start a quick job on a Friday afternoon.

Client rings up, he wants some music put onto his iPod from the backup DVDs we supplied when we ripped his CD collection last summer. As he's off on holiday he wants it done quickly, and his PC has broken. Can we help? Yes, this is one for our great standby program XPlay 3 which enables you to move digital music files onto (or off) an iPod without using iTunes. "Great" says client (who lives in Chelsea) "I'm on the A12, about 10 minutes away, can you do it while I wait?"

Of course, we did, and client went away to his cottage in Suffolk very happy. But afterwards I couldn't use either of the DVD drives on the PC. They were there in the System properties boxes but with a yellow warning triangle next to them. Looking into properties it said something about Code 39, a driver being out of date. I fiddled and fiddled, by which time it was 18:00 and I had to be somewhere else. But it nagged at me all weekend, I put in an hour on Saturday and a couple of hours on Sunday, but no joy.

Today, Monday, I just had to get the DVD Reader / Writers back so I sat down to crack the problem. Which I eventually did. I won't bore you with how but I will tell you why it went wrong.

Connecting an iPod to a computer incurs the risk that it will be grabbed by iTunes and automatically synchronised. Client's iPod should be linked to his PC, even though that's broken. So I didn't want to run the risk that all his music would be lost, specially as he was sitting in my kitchen reading The Times. So to be absolutely safe and sure I deleted iTunes from that PC.

Now I find that a consequence of deleting iTunes in Vista (plus a few other programs according to Microsoft's website) is that the uninstall program deletes key values in Registry. It is Registry that lets your operating system know what is attached, so the computer thought the DVD devices were corrupted.

The fix was achieved by running a downloadable fix from Microsoft, equally it would probably have been fixed when I re-install iTunes for the project that begins tomorrow. So there you have it - if you lose your ROM drives, if you get the yellow triangle and driver error code 39, you know what to do - but most of all, if you plan to attempt a quick computer job, don't do it on Friday afternoon.
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iPod Wins the Cup

Last Sunday Tottenham played the all-conquering Manchester United at Wembley. Despite being a lifelong Spurs fan I didn't watch (partly due to family commitments, mainly because this is another major sporting event on pay-per-view), perhaps couldn't bear to watch as given recent football form I expected Man U to regally thump Spurs.

I checked to find the final score, hoping it would be less than 5-0, only to find it was 0-0 and into extra time. So I switched on the radio and listened. When it went to penalties I was sure Spurs would lose, and they did. Then on Monday morning the sports pages were saying Manchester had won with the help of an iPod. How?

My first thought was the goalkeeper had used his to block out the sound of opposing fans trying to put him off but no, apparently Manchest had used an iPod to show their goalkeeper footage of Spurs players taking penalties, I assume this gave him an inside track on their preference to hit the ball to the left or right. Sure enough Tim Foster cleverly anticipated a couple of kicks and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now we at podServe have converted a lot of video to run on iPods, very good it is too. But one thing has always bothered me, and I was remined of this last night by a CNet posting on ripping videos / movies in iTunes, and that is copyright. I don't think it is a legal right to copy video onto an iPod if the source material is commercial.

So here's my issue - why aren't Man U being sued for copyright breach? My guess is that the footage they had stored for Foster was clipped off TV broadcasts. If it was then I think a little naughty has been committed - unless you know otherwise. I'd love to hear.
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iTunes Help in Video

Last week I had a few tech support calls, you know the type "How can I fix iTunes?", or "My iPod won't ..." plus a couple of very techie questions. One call came to my mobile while I was at a clients home setting up his music library and linking it to Apple TV. After the call my client asked if I'd thought of recording the instructions?

Total conceit overwhelmed me, client is an agent for artists and actors, was he thinking he'd found the next Sean Connery? Mr Bean? No, he politely pointed out that I'd delivered the instructions far too fast for person on the other end of the line to understand or make notes as we spoke. Client says this is complex, I need to take it more slowly, run through it a few times. Above all - get onto the clients screen and show him exactly what to do. Make it personal, make it interactive, bring it into the 21st century. At which point we digress into conversation about how a famous actor has just been paid a huge sum to do a voice over for some kind of instructional film.

As I chugged home on the underground I gave the idea some thought and by the time I got to Liverpool Street I made up my mind to do it. How hard can it be to record the sort of thing I say over the phone ten times a week? I'll tell you. Easy bit first.

Select some software. I wanted it to run on my Macs, a much nicer platform. So I checked a few offerings. Now I know what it's like to be truly confused. After much head scratching I homed in on ScreenFlow from Telestream. I'd like to say its the best but to be honest it was the only one I could understand and from the trial I can safely say it works pretty much out of the box. That I thought was the hard part.

It being snowing so I sat down to make my first video. Good? Am I good? No, I'm hopeless - I think I've made ten shots (could have been twenty) at getting anything. The phone rings, the central heating kicks in and the boiler fires up, I start to spout gibberish, I click the wrong bit of iTunes - we even had a pidgeon fly into the door out to the garden. Eventually, after well over an hour, I have produced my first iTunes video. It's just over two minutes, I can't believe how long its taken me to generate such a short video.

I have managed to upload it to YouTube and if you're in the mood for a giggle search for podServeVid01 and you can cringe through it. Well done Telestream, your ScreenFlow is great and I'm very glad I made the investment. All I need to do now is work out why YouTube has destroyed the quality of my first full length, feature packed, all star, low budget movie.

And if you hear of an actor being paid a fortune "just" to do a voice over, he's worth every penny.
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Senuti - I Used It

Panic phone call from a client - he has a Mac with his music on an external hard drive. With impending dinner party the hard disk failed and he's concerned that he won't be able to pump music around the house using Airport Express. Mrs Client not happy about silence and looming dinner disaster. We talk about plugging his iPod directly into one of the Airport Express units as an emergency fix, that's a possibility but he wants me to make a house call to get music off iPod onto a new drive.

Normally the way we'd handle this is for the iPod to come back here where I'd connect it to one of the PCs and use XPlay to recover the music. I've spoken about XPlay many times before and think its a great product for this type of work. However time is against us so the music has to be recovered at clients home and since my PCs are all desktops that means either using my MacBook or his Mac. Either way I can't use XPlay as that's Windows only.

After a bit of Googling I saw Senuti (groaned to learn thats iTunes backwards) which is Apple OS X based software intended to let you recover music from an iPod back to your Mac. And its free, always a bonus. So when I arrived amidst the stricken music scene I set up Senuti, opened iTunes and crossed my fingers. As you connect the iPod you have to hold down the two keys next to the space bar (cmd,option) which intercepts the normal iPod sync process and lets you select disk mode. Once this is done the iPod is accessible from Senuti.

I was impressed. Senuti checks the contents of the iPod against iTunes and highlights what's on the iPod and not on the hard drive. In our case that was the entire iTunes library, so I selected all the tracks and hit the green arrow in the top left of the Senuti screen and waited. About 30 minutes later the tracks had been copied off the iPod onto the new hard drive. While this was being done I'd read that I could have set Senuti to add the tracks directly back into the iTunes library but I hadn't done that so I had to spend a few minutes reloading the library into iTunes, no great hardship.

Best of all one happy client and very happy Mrs Client. History doesn't recall if the meal was a triumph, I'm sure it was, but I was certainly cooking with Senuti.
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iPod Service Module Error

Phone call asking for advice, someone's daughter away at University is having a problem with an iPod nano that can't be synched. I'm told the error message relates to iPod Service Module.

iPod Service Module? Exactly that? Are you sure? Yes, I'm told, that's exactly it. And what's the solution? Apparently sensible daughter has reinstalled iTunes, tried endlessly but iTunes will not recognise the iPod and it won't synch. Stressed parent demands an answer. Why is iTunes such rubbish?

So I try to point out - politely - that iTunes is very far from rubbish. It's a great, solid, reliable program which must by now be one of the most widely used pieces of code in the world. Actually on Windows its two programs, one iTunes itself the other a small program that runs all the time, watching and waiting for an iPod to be connected. When it detects an iPod, iPod Classic, iPod shuffle or iPod Nano it fires up its big brother and hey presto there's iTunes. If you do control/alt/delete Task Manager will show you its running processes and there you'll see it - except its called iPodService.exe. Take careful note, no space.

So I ask again, because I'd expect a genuine error message to faithfully replicate the program name - "iPodService.exe" - rather than the probably other program generated "iPod Service Error". Yes, I'm assured, the message is just as I've been told, the space is there. So being hundreds of miles from the offending PC I have to speculate and come up with an answer.

Since iPod Service Module or iPodService.exe monitors the USB ports there could be a problem there. Maybe there are too many devices attached and there isn't enough power; maybe the port has been damaged. Maybe there's a fault in the white cable causing an electrical fault. All quickly dismissed by parent (by now becoming tetchy).

What else monitors USB ports? I'd also take a look at those fierce guardians of our safety - the firewall and virus software. Daughter runs Norton. I laugh - over the years removing Norton from PCs that are playing up has been a steady source of income. So I point the finger of blame in that direction. Parent suddenly seems happy, promises to ring daughter with a shopping list of actions to tackle the issue. He promises to ring me back and let me know what works. Thus far I've heard nothing so assume it's been fixed.

Further suggestion - isolate the fault. In this case its in the iPod, the cable or the PC. Try to connect iPod to another computer, if its recognised there the problem is with your computer. Try another cable. Try another iPod with the computer, if that works you know the issue is with your iPod.
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Secret Services - That's podServe

Almost choked on my cornflakes - that could be me. Some months ago I was approached by Cary Whitley as she was compiling a new book. She was reviewing services for people who in marketing speak are cash rich, time poor. Our CD ripping service (read all about it at http://www.podserve.co.uk) was up for inclusion. I'm pleased to say after further talks our service has been listed.

So there this morning is an article by Judith Wood in The Daily Telegraph reviewing 'Secret Services'. Conceitedly I scanned through to see if podServe CD ripping service got a mention, but pride comes before a fall and we didn't get a mention in the Telegraph. Reading the article more closely (I'm not a bad loser) I was fascinated to see the basket of services we're among. I didn't know you can hire a handbag (www.be-a-fashionista.co.uk) or get a company to swoosh out your wheelie bin. I did know there are people who'll assemble flat pack furniture for you and I was pleased to see Ten UK mentioned in the side bar as we've had many of their clients using podServe over the last four years.

If you're looking for a copy of Secret Services by Cary Whitley and her company Fab Publishing, go to www.fabpublishing.co.uk or call 0870 443 0035. If you want to go direct to our CD ripping service we're at www.podserve.co.uk
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iPod Touch Springs Into Life

One of the things I like about my CD ripping service (www.podserve.co.uk) is the chance to play with new toys, and today it was the iPod Touch. A client had invested in one while on an overseas trip and plugged it into an HP Windows PC expecting it to synch music and videos.

Result - nothing. First the iPod Touch began to charge so the unit was functioning, then it appeared in My Computer as a photographic device. I was called over to try to work some magic. A quick look at the PC verified the situation being as reported with no new iPod icon in the iTunes source pane. My first thought was to install the latest version of iTunes, despite my clients belief that this was not going to solve the problem. Acording to the client iTunes update had been run when the new device was plugged in - just a matter of days ago.

"Humour me" I said, and loaded the latest iTunes from my USB drive. It took ages to load, so we made small talk about the wonders of technology, until finally the new iTunes had taken root. Instant succes, I appear to be a minor techie god, the iPod Touch starts to synch as required.

Client mainly wants video content so to check it works OK we go to the Apple site and download a couple of movie trailers. "Wow" says client (actually using another word with one more letter) at the image quality. "Can we get on the internet?' We could, in just a few seconds. I was amazed to see the iPod Touch found more wireless networks than the PC and one was unsecured, so we clicked our way onto the worldwide interweb. It was great, fast, cystal clear and easy to enlarge the page image. Client immediately notices how much better this is than BlackBerry.

Moral of the story - if you're having problems with an iPod Touch (or any other iPod for that matter), make sure you have today's version of iTunes not just what you think might be recent. Don't assume for the sake of a few minutes downloading.

Second moral - if you want to play with cool toys set up a CD ripping service in London.
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Brilliant Stereo Sound That Follows You Across the Room

I’ve got a new best friend. It’s cool white, very discrete and called Dias. Thanks to Dias for the past week I’ve been listening to some great sounds while I work or unwind.

Brilliant sound is what Dias is about. I like a good stereo sound, over the years I’ve invested a lot in audio equipment and music CD ripping is my business now. But getting a good sound here, while I work, is difficult so I love the sound I get now. Yes, the quality is high – very high – but that’s not the main thing. Thanks to Dias I get a great stereo sound wherever I am in the office.

Incredibly Dias stereo sound follows you round the room.

Just think about that. Like me you’ve probably tried speakers attached to your PC, or maybe driven by your iPod. You probably set things up so you get the best sound where you sit, but then when you move, you lose the stereo. Not with Dias – now, my stereo sound really does follow me round the room. Doesn’t matter which PC I’m working on (I rip CDs using six computers), doesn’t matter which end of the office I am, standing up or sitting down, the same great sound.

I’ll try to describe the quality of the sound from Dias. The first thing that struck me is that it’s loud. Some music just needs muscle, rock for sure but a lot of classical music just is loud. An orchestra is loud, and there’s no point in trying to relive an orchestral experience when you can’t make the windows rattle.

Dias, if you want, is thumping loud. Wind up the bass and my wooden floor does overtime transmitting the low notes. That brings me on to the next thing I noticed. Perhaps it’s best described as detail and I hear it in two ways, First, with a good bass setting the music isn’t lost to a dull thump. Dias delivers the bass I love without smothering the rest of the music. Second, there’s a lot of fine points in sound that Dias delivers brilliantly. Sometimes that’s high notes, but I’ve also noticed (I love live recordings) its often little things like a shout from someone in the audience or an aside to another musician, this new system brings out music data I’d expect to hear only on much more expensive systems.

Great at the top, solid at the bottom and faithfully reproducing everything in between. It’s hard to describe what I hear but Dias conveys emotion. Maybe I should call it a warm sound, maybe it’s a human sound quality rather than an overly technical rendition you get with some computer generated sound. Thanks to that emotional quality the Dias is easy to listen to and doesn’t leave you feeling strained. Dias is a good colleague at work and a relaxing friend indoors in the evening.

Where does Dias stack up among the competition? Well, most of my clients connect their iPods to Bose units and Dias can hold its head up in that company. The sound is every bit as good. Both Bose and Dias have that effortless quality people love, plus a handy credit card style remote – all the sound settings are at hand plus a mute button when the phone rings. Subjective comparisons are hard to make but I’d give Dias the edge over Bose because it generates sound over a larger area and is better at carrying that sound round the room.

I’d love to explain how Dias stereo sound follows me when I move and does so without the traditional two speaker system, but I can’t. Try the Dias website – www.diasmusic.com. I’ll just tell you what you get. The biggest of the three ice white units generates the bass and has a black knob labelled ‘spatial level’ which is what does the clever bit – getting stereo in effect from a single speaker. This box can be hidden out of the way, at the moment it’s living under my desk.

Next is the small white satellite unit with speakers at the front and on either side. By the clever use of sound from these outlets Dias generates the great stereo. Because the sound is outstanding anywhere in the room, the location of this unit isn’t as critical as you’d expect in a good stereo. When I set the system up I played with its location but the Dias sounds good wherever the satellite sits. There’s a docking station for my iPod (which charges the iPod while it plays). The cabling is simple to connect and long enough to enable you to locate the units where you want them.

Finally the small remote control. I put my iPod into the dock, hit a playlist and using the remote got the sound I wanted within a couple of minutes. I tweaked the spatial sound knob and found half way round worked great and I’ve left it there. You can use the iPod dock as a sound source – with the new iPod having such a massive disk all your music would be at hand – or connect your computer’s sound card to listen not just to music but internet radio or sound streamed from websites. If you connected this to Apple’s AirPort Express, or a Roku unit, you’d have a brilliant distributed sound system.

That’s my new friend, my best friend. If you love music check out Dias. If you’re interested in digital music check out how Dias makes sound, it’s just so much better than the old two speaker approach. If you’re thinking of pumping sound round your house, check out Dias. If you’re thinking of Bose, check out Dias – sounds better and its £100 less expensive. Dias should be your new best friend too
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iPod Moves To Kill Sonos

In various places I've speculated on the possibility of using the new iPod Touch, with its wi-fi capabilities upgraded, to act as a remote control for a home music / entertainment system. One of the attractions of such a device for me, being so associated with Apple as I am through podServe.co.uk, is to be able to take on Sonos.

The term in my mind for such a device was 'Sonos killer'. In my opinion it would lever Apple into a whole new dimension for complex home audio. Yet being Apple, it would look great, work out of the box, have a cool user interface and a realistic price tag.

Is this simply a pipe dream? Well apparently not, because judging by Apple's patent applications they're heading in that direction. This great blog post explains it all:-

http://www.macnn.com/blogs/?p=311

Please Apple, get moving on this. I'd place a small wager that this will be the in-demand boys toy for Christmas 2008.
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podServe For Sale on eBay

You can imagine my surprise when I received an email saying my business - podServe (www.podserve.co.uk) - was up for sale. On eBay!

A snip it seemed, with starting bids of $10,000, although as of writing there aren't any bidders.

My blood pressure is now back to normal but I'd like to make clear that my podServe (the CD ripping business for London) is in business, will continue to serve iPod owners and I have no intention of selling up, and certainly not for as little as $10,000. It seems that the PodServe that's on the blocks is an American podcasting platform. You can read more here:-

http://www.texasstartupblog.com/2007/08/27/podserve-for-sale-on-ebay-no-reserve/

So if you want you CDs ripped contact me, www.podserve.co.uk or ring 01277 222398, we are definitely in business.
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Sounds Odd

Don't you just love train rides? This week I've been into London twice by train so the last thing to go in my bag as I leave home is an iPod. The iPod in question is the podserve.co.uk main test platform. I hope that sounds grand but its actually three years old and if it were a car it would have been round the clock at least twice.

Leaving in a bit of a rush its pot luck as to what's on the machine. This time it was pretty full (just as well as there were some long delays) with a wide mix of music. None of this is terribly remarkable until I got to Elvis Costello. I can't vlaim to be a big fan but he's done some good stuff. I noticed my favourite, Oliver's Army, wasn't there but none the less started to listen to Elvis.

Then it screeched. Short, sharp scream. Then Elvis performs for a few seconds, then hopped on to the next track. So I skipped back to check what was happening, same thing second time around. I made a note of the track and thought I'd look in more detail when I got back to The Hutch (which is what the office has now been named).

The first thing I did this morning was to listen to the track in iTunes. It plays fine, which was a load off my mind. I wouldn't like the thought that podServe's CD ripping clients were suffering jumpy tracks. Breathe a big sigh of relief and re-synch the iPod. Track still plays up.

So I erased the iPod, and reloaded it with the same playlist. On checking, Elvis is still deformed. My thinking by this time is that there's a fault on the iPod's hard drive and by chance I've found the track that rests on the bad sector. To force a removal to another and better location I created a new playlist, with EC and other artists, and synched the iPod to that. Nothing changed, he was still skipping to the next track after a few seconds. So I again erased the iPod and forced the new, shorter playlist onto it. Crossed fingers.

So on an almost empty iPod poor old Mr Costello finds the same flawed area again. As Sherlock Holmes might say, this is a two pipe problem. Not being a pipe smoker I made do with a cup of coffee.

I thought I'd try the same exercise but rather than use iTunes to load the iPod, I'd use Xplay 2 (from www.mediafour.com). This is a great piece of software that's got me off the hook time and time again. Magic. The track loaded with Xplay works fine. But why?

I can only think that the iPod's mini operating system has a method of placing files that results in the same track landing in the same place each time. Xplay must use a different algorithm. Moral of the story - if your iPod produces odd sounds check with iTunes first for file integrity. If normal resynchs don't solve the problem try a third party product such as Xplay 2.
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Ipod Movies and iTunes

A client rang, he was struggling to get his videos into iTunes and from there onto his iPod. While trying to help I gained an understanding of how fiddly this process can be. It's something we do all the time so its a firm reality check when a client shows us how the process can go wrong.

First, the basic building blocks. You need one or more video files in the right format. These need to be MPEG files, and they need to have been created in sympathy with the iPod's screen aspect ratio. You will need specialist software to do the conversion. Dig around on the internet and you can find this at a modest price or even free.

Second, you need the right type of iPod. Videos don't play on all iPods, not surprisingly you need to have Video iPod. Sure the screen on the nano is very good and yes I'd be happy to watch old films in B&W, but NO, only the iPod Videos play movies.

The quick way to get the movie into iTunes is to drag it from its current location into the iTunes source pane. This is the area on the left of the main screen, headed Music, Video and so on. Here's the odd thing - as you drag your movie file across the space of your desktop or the main iTunes screen, the file icon (in Windows) will appear to have a 'no entry' road sign on it. Off-putting, isn't it. Just keep dragging across the screen until you get to the source panel and the icon will have a '+' sign. When you let go, it will be added to your library.

This got my client fooled, he was expecting it to take time - not unreasonably, we'd given him a large 90 minute movie to watch. Remember, if you haven't checked the box in Preferences (under Advanced) to copy to iTunes music folder when adding to library, then all that gets added in iTunes is a pointer to the source destination. Done in the blink of an eye.

Is the movie there? Click on Movies in the source pane and your film should be listed there. Use the normal play / pause button and away it goes. Can't see anything? Control+G will pop a small white preview screen in the bottom left, and your moving image will preview there. Alternatively use one of the buttons between the Apple icon and the search function at the top of the screen to let you see your film in full screen.

If you've added movies before ticking add to msuic folder etc don't lose heart. If you go to Advanced and select Consolidate iTunes will hunt down all files located outside your main music folder and copy them there at a click.

When done, you're ready to synchronise music and movement onto your iPod.
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Classical Mac

Over the last twelve months there's been a noticeable trend towards getting more classical CD collections to rip. I'd like to think this is because podServe's marketing and web site (www.podserve.co.uk) has been emphasising the extra attention we pay to classical music libraries.

Maybe we take it for granted (and our Data Grooming software helps) but classical music is better on a Mac. Earlier this week Joe put a classical CD into one of our Windows systems and found the album data that got downloaded was corrupted. Thankfully he stopped and asked for help.

My suggestion, greeted with some scorn, was to put the CD into one of our Apple Macs. He was suitably amazed to find the album data appeared, in the correct format. Well done Apple.

So, if you're thinking of buying a new computer, or looking for a CD ripping platform, opt for the Mac - your music library will thank you for it.
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iPod Mysteries

Got a call for help - an observant iPod user noticed that when he synched his iPod the scren showed that 15 Gb of his 30 Gb iPod's storage was being used by 'other'. His question was what's in this 'other' section and how can he recover it for his music?

I went through what I thought was the obvious culprits, data, contacts, photos, games. No, none of those were responsible. Each time we tried to synch the lost half a disc stayed dedicated to 'other'. We tried to restore, no good. Then we finally accepted that a factory reset was the only option left. Did that, but still found the stubborn 15 Gb was out of reach. However we did prompt an error message - error 1428.

Looked this up on the Apple web site and it seemed to suggest the problem here is with Windows rather than the iPod or iTunes. At this point my client expressed concern that this really was a fault with his iPod and so rang the retailer, the iPod being only three months old and he didn't want a 'Friday afternoon' device. Happy ending - iPod replaced, no problem. That's Tesco for you.

Had to go to the Apple Store to invest in (yet another) 500 Gb hard drive. While I was in the queue to pay I rudely eavesdropped on a conversation between a lady and an Apple employee. She was complaining that her iPod often seemed to stall or jam, just stopping mid track. What was the suggested solution? Take the iPod to a technicain in another part of the store who would blast it with compressed air. The customer laughed (me too) but the Apple man was serious. Her iPod was duly taken away and the young lady stood aside to wait for the air to work its magic. I hung around hoping to hear the outcome but had to leave, not wanting to get a reputation as a stalker.

Can't wait until I get an iPod in with the same symptoms to try compressed air. I didn't think to ask if it should be hot or cold.
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iTunes, Hard Drives and The Joys of Windows

Several of our clients (www.podserve.co.uk) have reached the stage where their music libraries are larger than their hard drive on their laptop or PC. So, more and more people are looking to store their music on a separate hard drive, and it particularly suits people with second homes as it allows them to take their msuic with them.

Music library on a USB connected hard drive is a simple system on our Macs. Just plug the disc in, no problems. Leave the drive unplugged, no problem.

Windows? Oh, no. If you open iTunes even once without your hard drive being connected it loses all links between its internal libraries (the itl and itx files) and the real location of your music. You see a swathe of grey exclamation marks, against every track. You can't play your music, your iPod doesn't synch properly. The 'cure' is to reload all your tracks. Not only does this take time, but it means you lose the contents of all your (simple) playlists. Small consolation in that smart playlists rebuild themselves.

Twice in the last few days we've had to fix this problem for clients, neither of whom were happy that their hard built playlists had gone.

So, if your music is on a free standing hard drive - you must hae your drive connected and powered on BEFORE you open iTunes. Each and every time. Please don't blame podServe, Apple or iTunes. This is down to Microsoft and I'm afraid I don't know a work-around.
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iPod Hardware Repairs in London

iPods are great, but like all computers they go wrong from time to time. If your iPod is in warranty Apple is the first port of call. But what if your iPod is older?

If you can get to Kensington High Street the Apple dealers there - Cancom Kensington - are worth a call. They're at 290 Kensington High Street, about ten minutes walk from Kensignton High Street tube station and the main shops. As Apple dealers they know the whole product range and can check your iPod from both a hardware and a software perspective. Talking to their staff they appear well informed, polite and very helpful.

If you'd prefer to ring them their number is 0845 686 3400. I hope your iPod never fails, but if it does, this could be your salvation.
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AAC 1 - MP3 0

Looking at the small print in the recent Apple / EMI announcment about DRM free music it seems that the music file of choice will be Apple's AAC, and not the previously universal MP3. Why?

Well, recently Microsoft got hit by a massive lawsuit alleging copyright infringement over the technical rights to the MP3 codec. Perhaps neither Apple nor EMI fancied being hit in the same way.

Maybe EMI saw this as another way of controlling the distribution of their tracks. Maybe the thinking was MP3 is synonymous with those evil file sharing pirates, so AAC could be 'safer' in that respect.

I originally thought this was a simple marketing ploy to enable Apple to market their products (ie iTunes Music Store tracks) to Zune and the users of other MP3 players. It's more than that, each MP3 manufacturer will come under pressure to release firmware updates to support AAC on their players. users will have to find the upgrade, download it, apply it to their machine - how many will just not bother and buy a new iPod instead?

At a sweep Apple and EMI may have changed the drift of digital music. Where once MP3 was seen as the universal standard that accolade could fall to AAC.
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Ripping Movies in iTunes?

So you can rip CDs, you can play CDs. You can download tracks from iTunes Music Store.

You can download movies from iTunes Music Store. You can play them in iTunes. So what's missing? Ripping DVDs.

We could be a step closer to the missing link in the entertainment puzzle, thanks to a recent ruling in America. Given Apple's great position with Apple TV, iTunes and video iPods surely ripping movies in iTunes is the logical next step.

This facility would unleash additional iPod, iMac and Apple TV sales. At podServe we have strong interest in this facility.

Watch this space. My money is on this happening in the next three months.
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Itunes Music Store Enhancements

Macrumors today annouces two significant extensions to the facilities offered by iTunes Music Store.

The first is an advice function - based on past purchases you can be alerted to the availabilty of new music by the same artist. It's a cute feature, I wonder how long it will be before we're told of similar music we would enjoy, much as Amazon does now with its 'other readers have purchased' at the same time.

The second has financial impact - the ability to 'complete my album'. Noticing you've bought one or two tracks you'll be prompted (and probably financially incented) to but the rest of the album. Not only does this make sound business sense but it would go some way to narrow the gap between a downloaded album and the low priced CD suppliers. I wonder if it's Apple or the labels who are biting the financial bullet on this one.

But ...

With a full download costing £7-99 a physical disc offers good value for money. If you'll forgive the plug for our own CD ripping service (http://www.podserve.co.uk), we can rip a CD for £1. I can source a CD in my High Street music store for as little as £5, putting the two together we can still offer a saving plus the client gets a physical CD he can enjoy anytime.

Final shameless plug - podServe also rips your CD at a higher quality than iTunes Music Store.
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iTunes Five Minute Tune Up

You could significantly improve your music enjoyment in just five minutes. We've produced a quick and easy guide to how to get the best from your iPod.

And it's free.

All you need to do is e-mail us at tuneup@podserve.co.uk, or via the contact page on the main podServe site (www.podserve.co.uk).

We'll have your iPod humming in a few minutes.
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