AAC on non-iPod players?
November 21, 2005 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Any good iPod alternatives that support aac?
posted by jsbww to Shopping (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Good? Not really.

The only non-Apple products I know of that play non-DRMed AAC back are the Epson P2000 (nominally a photovault) and the Sony PSP (nominally a game console).

I think there's an asian flash player or two that does it as well, but you'll probably have trouble even tracking them down.

Of course, no non-Apple player supports DRMed AAC (FairPlay).
posted by selfnoise at 11:01 AM on November 21, 2005

Response by poster: I don't get it... why are Apple's competitors making it hard to switch from iPod/iTunes? I thought aac was an open standard?
posted by jsbww at 11:10 AM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

AAC is a standard, but not an open standard.

There are two common consumer implementations of AAC: protected and unprotected AAC.

The unprotected AAC file format is supported by a number of portable and tabletop devices.

However, the protected AAC sold through the Apple iTunes Music Store is only supported by three devices: the Apple iPod, Apple iTunes, and the Motorola Rokr phone.

The protected AAC is essentially an unprotected AAC file wrapped in a DRM layer. You need to authorize yourself to the player in order to replay the AAC.

There are software tools to remove the protection on protected AAC files to turn them into unprotected AAC files. These unprotected files can then be replayed by (unprotected) AAC players.

You can also "transcode" or convert AAC to MP3 using iTunes, to remove the restriction on protected AAC files. This opens up a number of portable player options.
posted by Rothko at 11:19 AM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, I'm wondering what portable devices support unprotected aac. Any suggestions?
posted by jsbww at 11:22 AM on November 21, 2005

Rockbox for the iRiver H1x0 series of players supports AAC.
posted by scruss at 11:23 AM on November 21, 2005

Response by poster: scruss - that looks great! But do you know anything about this:

"AAC decoding is implemented but has not yet been optimised to achieve realtime playback."
posted by jsbww at 11:27 AM on November 21, 2005

I don't have any hard information on the lack of adoption, but I think it might have something to do with Microsoft pressuring manufacturers to support WMA and Playsforsure instead of AAC and FairPlay.

Basically, though, it's probably not supported for the same reason that most MP3 players these days don't support OGG. It's going to take effort, time, and presumably money to implement the feature, and since very few people use the standard (or in the case of AAC, very few people who don't have an Ipod) they just don't bother. WMA sneaks on to DAPs because more people use it, and because MS pushes it.
posted by selfnoise at 11:27 AM on November 21, 2005

A coworker just bought an iAudio X5, and I remember him telling me it supports AAC, but I can't confirm that as the specs page for the X5 won't load for me. You may have better luck than I do. Here.
posted by littlegreenlights at 11:31 AM on November 21, 2005

I know that a number of fancy cellphones will play both MP3 and AAC, especially those from Sony Ericsson. I've been thinking of getting the K750 for exactly this reason.
posted by adamrice at 11:34 AM on November 21, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks littlegreenlights. It says on the site "MPEG1/2/2.5 Layer 3, WMA, OGG, ASF, FLAC,WAV (11/22/44Khz,16Bit, MONO/STEREO),
XviD MPEG 4 Video"

I mean, wtf? Here they have MPEG 4 built in, obviously including audio. How hard could it be to play the audio files by themselves?
posted by jsbww at 11:40 AM on November 21, 2005

AFAIK the X5 does not support AAC.
posted by selfnoise at 11:41 AM on November 21, 2005

Response by poster: Does it make sense to buy a cell phone without a plan, strictly for its non phone functionality (like aac playback?)
posted by jsbww at 11:42 AM on November 21, 2005

"AAC decoding is implemented but has not yet been optimised to achieve realtime playback."

it means that the player can decode aac but not play it back quickly enough to sound properly (i.e. without any distortion, artefacts, etc.)

the iriver H1xx series has a cpu which can operate up to 120mhz. with the rockbox os, codecs that have been optimized generally run the processor at 40mhz (saving battery) -- a codec that has to run the processor at 120mhz and still cannot produce listenable results is considered not to be optimized in any sense.

flac , however, works just great on my rockbox-running iriver.
posted by dorian at 11:46 AM on November 21, 2005


Since we're still talking about this, why do you want to play AAC files so badly? Are you in possession of a large AAC library yet angry with Apple?
posted by selfnoise at 11:46 AM on November 21, 2005

Response by poster: I have an iPod that's starting to feel rather small, and the alternatives seem to have some interesting features. Dave Winer's raving about the Archos (not sure the specific model) on NerdTV especially got me interested in seeing what else is out there. The thing is, I've ripped a lot of CDs in iTunes, and I don't want to do it again.
posted by jsbww at 11:51 AM on November 21, 2005

Sigmatel just came out with a new CPU chip for portable music/video players. Sigmatel bought the rights to Rio Audio's IP and their employees, so the chip comes with great firmware including AAC support and gapless (!) playback. Now someone just needs to make a player using the chip and sell it. The waiting begins.
posted by zsazsa at 12:00 PM on November 21, 2005

To clarify re: the cellphone issue: those cellphones have relatively limited storage, poor form factors, and are VERY expensive when bought outside of contract. So they're not really worth it as MP3 players.

My personal experience with non-Apple DAPs (and I don't care for the iPod) is that the grass isn't particularly greener. A lot of the units including the Archos devices have build quality issues, and just a general feeling of un-polishedness. Unless you're really unhappy with your Pod, you might want to just buy a larger capacity version.

On preview: Sigmatel's chip is theoretically great, and I really, really hope they fill the gaping void Rio left in the market. But of course it's all theoretical right now.
posted by selfnoise at 12:02 PM on November 21, 2005

It would not make sense to buy a very expensive cellphone only to use it for its non-cellphone features. However, it might make sense if A) you like it as a phone (I am accustomed to the SE user interface, and it works with my carrier, Tmo), and B) you don't want to be schlepping around multiple devices (I don't). It also has a relatively good camera, which appeals to me.

Buying a new phone via my carrier and, say, an iPod nano would cost about as much as a K750; clearly there are tradeoffs either way.
posted by adamrice at 12:27 PM on November 21, 2005

I recall certain Philips players (flash players, with OLED, marginally available outside Japan) support AAC, but I still can't find the exact models.

I can't think of any reason for you to not want an iPod. They're really great devices, even at the risk of seeming trendy.
posted by abcde at 12:58 PM on November 21, 2005

Everyone is missing a big point though - What kind of AAC?

Apple supports LC(low complexity) AAC, but not HE (High complexity) AAC. HE AAC rocks - LC will be a thing of the past in the next few years.

Yahoo!'s music plays HE AAC on your PC, but I don't thik it downloads it to a player - could be wrong.

As for players that support HE AAC - no clue.
posted by gregariousrecluse at 1:11 PM on November 21, 2005

Best answer: Discs are cheap. The "future-proof" platform-neutral solution is to begin now to rip (and re-rip older stuff) all your stuff in FLAC or some other compressed, lossless format. And use software that does transcoding on the fly for different device profiles (MC is good for this), or if disc space is not an issue at all maintain multiple lossy clones of your central library.

I have an Archos and I like it a lot. As soon as Rockbox gets "officially" released for iRiver I'll get one of those. A fully Rockboxed iRiver will probably have the broadest codec support available for any platform.

And as for Apple's DRM - Apple bought the company that made FairPlay to take it off the market. It is extremely unwilling to licence its DRM to *anyone*. This will probably produce some sort of tying or antitrust action further down the line - there are already several class action suits beginning over this very issue.
posted by meehawl at 1:29 PM on November 21, 2005

Sorry 'bout that, jsbww -- I really thought that that part of the project was working. Rockbox does still rock my world, though. The gapless playback is almost perfect.
posted by scruss at 2:09 PM on November 21, 2005

don't worry, the rockbox crew *will* get aac working -- it was not too long ago that ogg vorbis and flac did not playback on rockbox at realtime either... but now they do quite well!

also: rockbox is currently porting to ipod (most or all models, from what I've seen), and they are pretty damned far along with it.
posted by dorian at 5:38 PM on November 21, 2005

(not that I would ever buy an ipod, but it's still cool that they're doing it...)
posted by dorian at 5:55 PM on November 21, 2005

rockbox is currently porting to ipod

I believe that the rockbox people made a conscious decision a while back not to port to ipod because of the rather paranoid and closed firmware approach of PortalPlayer, the manufacturer of the ipod chipsets.

Perhaps you are thinking of ipodlinux, which cross-fertilizes somewhat with rockbox for plugins like the Gameboy emulator and Doom?
posted by meehawl at 5:09 AM on November 22, 2005

no it's definitely rockbox ^_^

I also remember them saying that, but over time and with new developers coming in with new ideas, they changed their minds...

certainly they are building upon the firmware loader and other code from ipodlinux, as it should be.

(they also said they would never port to iriver ifp series, and yet now someone is actively working on a port to the ifp7xx...)
posted by dorian at 6:19 AM on November 22, 2005

...the great thing about rockbox is that once you figure out how a device boots, and get the device drivers written (button input, lcd output, etc.) the rest of it is already written (gui, audio codecs) and pretty much just runs. well, that's an oversimplification but still...
posted by dorian at 6:23 AM on November 22, 2005

I hadn't noticed the ipod prot - thanks for pointing that out.

Rockbox on ipod - that *might* actually be enough to convince me to buy one. The way the ipodlinux and rockbox projects are now -- I hate to use the word but it seems appropriate -- "synergizing" is a classic example of open-source in action.
posted by meehawl at 7:41 AM on November 22, 2005

Best answer: well that's the thing -- if you want the goodness of rockbox there are other (and much better, in my opinion) choices than ipod.

the iriver h3xx series, while (again in my opinion) not preferable to the h1xx series, are much more readily available. and that rockbox port is pretty well along.

the thing is that iriver has been beyond-lax and pathetic in its firmware support, so at this point I find it hard to recommend buying from /supporting them.

same deal with apple, why support apple's business model when the desired functionality is coming from elsewhere?

if I were to buy a player now it would be iaudio. their m3/m5/x5 devices, will without doubt be soon supported by rockbox (since the hardware is extremely similar to iriver h1xx/h3xx). but quite honestly already have amazing/kickass firmware support from the manufacturer itself which listens to what their community wants.

that said, I don't regret my h140 now that rockbox is starting to mature for it.
posted by dorian at 8:39 AM on November 22, 2005

if you want the goodness of rockbox

I have rockbox on an ondio - archos flash player that takes MMC and narrow SD cards. It makes a hell of a tiny recorder.
posted by meehawl at 9:13 AM on November 22, 2005

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