MP3 advice please

Posted by: Bruce Woodhouse on 06 November 2003

I bought a new PDA this week when the back of my old Psion fell off. The newcomer (Sony Clie) has also sorts of exciting gizmos including an MP3 player which I am playing with but I'm now rather confused abbout MP3.


Can anybody explain the difference between MP3 and ATRAC formats (which seem to be MP3 as well?). For some odd reason I need a different memory stick to play/access one sort but not the other.

Good sites to download free samples? I have found Lycos music on a quick search.

The bundled software looks limited and confusing. Any recomendations for a simple program to convert CD's to MP3 and load them up?


P.S. I am feeling increasingly old. Anyone care to explain electricity or the combustion engine too?
Posted on: 06 November 2003 by John Channing
Can anybody explain the difference between MP3 and ATRAC formats (which seem to be MP3 as well?).

ATRAC is the compression format Sony used for Minidisc.

The bundled software looks limited and confusing. Any recomendations for a simple program to convert CD's to MP3 and load them up?

Well, to rip your CDs to MP3 have a look at Musicmatch, Apple iTunes or Windows Media Player. To load them onto your Clie you will need a plugin for one of these media player to get at your extenal device, I'm sure if you do a search in Google you will find what you need for one of them.
Posted on: 07 November 2003 by throbnorth
The Atrac 3 format [as used in the memory stick walkman]is Sony's DRM compression system, and is actually a very different beast from the standard Atrac Type-R of Minidisc decks and portables [although confusingly, newer Net MD players can record using either system]. Atrac 3 is MP3-like with high compression & small file sizes, but with a lot of checking in and out malarkey. Normal Atrac is similar to MPEG2 or PASC, applies relatively little compression, and has no DRM except for SCMS.

Posted on: 07 November 2003 by Bruce Woodhouse
Normal Atrac is similar to MPEG2 or PASC, applies relatively little compression, and has no DRM except for SCMS

Cheers mate. Crystal clear now.

The Clie bundled software (Sonicstage) seems to only produce export files in ATRAC format. I guess this is to encourage you to buy their own brand compliant Memory Stick.

Posted on: 07 November 2003 by throbnorth
Sorry Bruce! Smile [but it is confusing to start with]

OK then - Atrac 3 [which is Sony's newest encoding system, in spite of being introduced after Atrac 4,5 & R, as used in standalone decks and older players ] was the compromise between the hardware & music divisions of Sony when they saw they were missing out on MP3 players in a big way. You can only use it by way of Sony's Sonic Stage software, although Sharp have a slightly different package written under licence. Sony do fantastic hardware, but as anyone who has ever bought a Viao and looked at the bundled apps will testify, writing software is not their strongest point. Sometimes even constructing an intelligible English phrase is a challenge. It's a shame they guard it so jealously, because although it works OK, there is a lot of room for improvement, and Sony rarely update software.

Atrac 3 offers variable bitrates, like MP3, and the higher bitrates sound very good, but the files created with the system cannot be freely transferred between devices, only one device can have a playable copy at any one time - hence all the checking in and out that Sonic Stage makes you do [DRM - Digital Rights Management]. Sending an Atrac file to a friend via email, for instance, is right out.

As an extra safeguard, Sony decided that the further protection of a music only Memory Stick [the white 'Magic Gate' variety] for solid state players would stamp out any possibility of file sharing naughtiness. Similar restrictions apply if you use a portable Net MD minidisc recorder. 'Net' of course being something of a misnomer, as the whole object of the excercise is to keep Atrac files as far away from the net as possible. Sony seems to have optimistically thought that the world would throw their hats in the air and abandon mp3 for Atrac and pay them lots of money for licences. Oddly, this hasn't happened yet. Like the Windows wmv format and Apples AAC system, Atrac3 is a more modern [and some say better] way of encoding music files than mp3, but mp3 is the standard, and there's no getting away from the fact that people like it and its lack of restrictions.

As well as being able to record in Atrac 3, Net MD portables can also use the older, high quality Atrac variant, Atrac 4.5. [portables don't do Atrac Type-R, this is just on stand alone minidisc decks. Better high frequencies, apparently]. This older system is not like mp3 at all, but more like MPEG2 [the system used for DVD sound, digital radio, SKY broadcasts and Nicam TV's] and PASC [the high-ish quality system introduced by Philips when they tried to get us to buy digital cassettes]. A standard minidisc will hold up to 80 mins of sound in this format, whereas using Atrac 3, 4hrs or more is possible [but with a consequent reduction in sound quality].

Like a stand alone CD recorder, it uses the Serial Copy Management System [SCMS] so that only one digital copy is possible in the digital domain. Unlike CD however, it has never been possible to transfer Minidisc files to a computer, even when Sony briefly produced Minidisc data drives.

If Sony had not been so paranoid about protecting its music interests, and allowed Minidisc to swap data freely and use a variety of formats, there probably wouldn't be such a thing as an iPod. The magneto-optical technology that Minidisc uses is incredibly reliable, and has greater longevity than CD-R as an archival medium.

There are signs of Sony slightly changing its mind in some areas though. In some recent Clie software bundles, there is a utility which enables you to [I think] convert Atrac 3 files to mp3, and definitely to use mp3's on a Clie using a standard purple memory stick.

Hope this is clearer.....

Posted on: 07 November 2003 by Bruce Woodhouse
Clearer, and interesting!


Still cannot get the bloody machine to read MP3 files off the stick though. Sony support looms. I was not that bothered about the MP3 player to start with but I refuse to be defeated.

Posted on: 07 November 2003 by throbnorth
Bruce - which Clie is it? I read something somewhere recently which covered this problem - maybe I can find it ....

Posted on: 07 November 2003 by Bruce Woodhouse
Model is NX70V.

Thanks for looking.

Posted on: 07 November 2003 by throbnorth
Very neat.... I'm jealous Smile

This [from some guy's website]isn't the original thing I saw, but initial confusion seems to be quite common - hope it helps:


How To Play Mp3's on a Clie

The Sony Clie is a great PDA (I have a PEG-NX70V) that can, among other things, play video clips and mp3 files.
The only limitation with playing mp3 files on the Clie is that it requires that the mp3 file sampling rate be 44.1KHz and the bitrate be 56kbs and up.

If you try playing a mp3 file on your Clie and get an error similar to this:

This track is not available because of either of the following reasons: Does not support the copyright system or file format. The memory stick is write-protected.

then the problem usually is that the sampling rate or bitrate of your mp3 file are not supported by the Clie.

Many people in online forums say that you need to buy the white Sony Memory Stick (Magic Gate which is more expensive than the purple Memory Stick) in order to play mp3 files on your Clie but that's not true, you can use the regular purple Memory Stick.

One caveat: if you want to use Sonic Stage (the PC software that comes bundled with Clie) that uses ATRAC encoding (instead of mp3) then you'll need to get the white Memory Stick (the purple MS can't play ATRAC encoded files), but for regular mp3 files you don't need anything special (just make sure that the sampling rate and bitrate are in the range that the Clie supports).

In order to play mp3 files then remember to always put your mp3 files in the \PALM\PROGRAMS\MSAUDIO folder.

I had several mp3 files that weren't in the correct format so I searched for a utility (preferable freeware) that could convert mp3 files to different sampling rates and bitrates.

I stumbled upon this excellent util:
dBpowerAMP Music Converter (dMC)
It lets you easily select a mp3 file for conversion, select the desired output format, and you're off.
It does have to encode the entire file (that's the whole purpose of it) so it will take some time.

It also comes with an outstanding (really!) CD ripper


[throb again] So it looks as if the problem might either be that mp3's are in the wrong place, or are not encoded at a suitable bitrate. I suspect it's the former. I presume you're using MS Import installed on your PC to transfer the files?

[Not ever having laid hands on a Clie myself, this is rather in the nature of psychic software support, Doris Stokes stylee]

Posted on: 07 November 2003 by Bruce Woodhouse
Fantastic! The error above is exactly as I have been getting. I'll look at the output from Windows Media player in terms of output/bitrate and see if I can alter these. I had sorted the directory problem.

Thanks a lot. When I get a chance this weekend I'll give it a whizz and let you know.

Posted on: 08 November 2003 by BigH47
Ain't technology fabulous. I'm glad for throbs translation of his own post. Sounded originally like when I was with BT and a couple of engineers got together and talking in BT speak or gobbledeegook as its known.
I must try to play a round with this MP3 stuff.

Posted on: 09 November 2003 by Bruce Woodhouse
Mr Throb

The dbPowerAmp utility worked a treat. Consistent bitrate/sampling was indeed the key.

Thanks agin. I've mailed Sony support suggesting that they do something about this problem.

Posted on: 10 November 2003 by throbnorth
Thanks Bruce, you're welcome. In fact I'm even more impressed with my advice than you are, as the nearest I've got to a Clie was a wistful stroke in PC World.

In a pathetic attempt to justify buying one, I mooched around on the net and came across your problem [although to be honest I assumed you must have the files in the wrong place, so I can't take that much credit - the sampling bit was entirely fortuitous]. BTW, also on my moochings, I found , which looks a fount of good stuff.

I think I'm going to wait for a Clie with integrated wifi at a sensible price before I take the plunge - I don't have a good history with PDA's I tend to be an early adopter and get landed with something that becomes junk in a few months [yes, I have a PDA running Microsoft's 'PalmPC' operating system. heard of it? No, nor has anyone..... Roll Eyes [least of all Microsoft, anymore]