Digital Music Player Might Be Music to Your Ears

I've been reviewing products for more than 15 years and rarely is my first reaction Wow! I'm going to buy one of these! But that was my reaction when I opened the box containing Turtle Beach's AudioTron Digital Music Player. This device is the answer to my prayers: It's inexpensive ($299), it easily plugs into my stereo equipment, and it can play my collection of Windows Media Audio (WMA) and MP3 files without any special effort on my part. I can see a couple of these units in my future—connected to all my disparate stereo systems so that I can eliminate the computers plugged into my stereos to do the same thing.

Turtle Beach AudioTron Digital Music Player

Configuring the AudioTron was simple. I connected the unit to my network using an Ethernet cable (the unit also supports the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance—HPNA standard and 10Mbps Ethernet), turned the system on, and it went out to find my music. The system didn't locate anything because I hadn't yet configured an account that would let it access my Windows 2000 network shares. It was a simple task to set up the appropriate name and password so that the system could find my music files. Then I had to make sure that all my music files were in visible shares and contained in folders called Music or My Music.

My home network is a bit more complex than most home networks. I have about 20,000 music files on my network; fewer than 100 are MP3 files, and the rest are WMA files. The files are scattered over all the machines on the network, with the bulk of them (approximately 17,000) split between two computers. The other 3000 files are on various machines, and, in most cases, duplicate the core 17,000 files. The number of files, along with my network layout, presented a series of headaches in getting the AudioTron to work.

When you cold-start the AudioTron, it enumerates your network and checks all your systems for music files. You can't stop the unit and tell it to check later; nor can you specify which machines to check. If a system on your network has a visible share, the unit checks the share for a folder that meets its music-storage requirements. If the player finds music files, it begins to enumerate all the files in the directories.

I couldn't tell the AudioTron to look only at a specific machine for music. For example, the player found my notebook, which always contains about a hundred music files that I pull from the network when I travel. To stop the player from counting those files, I had to disconnect the notebook's network cable when the AudioTron enumerated machines. Conversely, the only way the AudioTron could discover a system that wasn't on the network when the unit booted was to cold-start the AudioTron again and start the whole process over. The player doesn't retain music-file information after a cold start (the on/off cycle doesn't affect stored music information). The player will find additional music that you add to known computers if you select the Find new music option, but if you add a new computer, the player starts the scanning process all over.

I configured the AudioTron and set it loose on my network. The unit enumerated the songs it found at a rate of about 100 songs every 25 seconds, so I was looking at just under an hour and a half for the AudioTron to complete its scan. But the unit never completed its scan. After about 8000 songs, the process hung. I repeated the process twice more with firmware upgrades that Turtle Beach provided, but the file discovery process always hung at some point.

Of course, each time I tried something new, I had to cold-start the AudioTron, with its resultant network search. To simplify matters, I made only a single music share visible to the AudioTron (by disconnecting the network cables for the other machines when the AudioTron booted). This approach gave me a little more control over what the AudioTron tried to do.

After I set up a share with several hundred files, the AudioTron worked perfectly. The unit found the machine, enumerated the files, and presented a list of available music. But when I went back to trying to get the player to read just one of my server shares containing 8500+ files, the unit died every time. I renamed the Music folder so the AudioTron wouldn't detect it. I then created a Music folder the player could see and added 100 files to it. I cold-started the AudioTron and let it detect the music files. I repeated the process until the AudioTron hung; then I stepped the system back before the prior hundred-file addition and added 10 files at a time, then 1 file at a time. The AudioTron hung when I reached 1800 files. I identified the file that seemed to cause the problem and played it back in each of the four media players installed on one of my network machines. The file played correctly in each of the players except the Turtle Beach Audio Station 4.

The problem file was from the middle of a classical music CD, and all of the other files from the CD worked fine. I shipped the file to Turtle Beach tech support, who said the problem was the file tag length. The firmware supports a tag limit of 128 characters per tag. Turtle Beach will double this limit in version 2.0 of the firmware (I was working with beta 1.9.11).

Even with my tag-length problem, I think the AudioTron is a great idea. I'm not likely to run out and buy the product until version 2 of the firmware is available, but if you don't have a large music file collection, the AudioTron is an inexpensive way to get music from your computer to your stereo. I suggest that you double-check the music files you rip by scanning the Music share with the AudioTron after each CD you rip or each downloaded music file you add, and you'll have minimal overhead in your music management. And if Turtle Beach irons out all the bugs by version 2 of the firmware, the AudioTron will be a great choice for those of us with larger collections.

AudioTron Digital Music Player

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