Q: I have a question about the new Walkman or really any MP3 player. How do I know the Walkman or the Creative Zen will work with iTunes? The rest of my family already have iPods, and I want something different but my concern is all the music I have tied up in iTunes, how do I know what MP3 players will work with that music?--Marty, via e-mail
A: The short answer is: it depends. First off, if we're taking about working with iTunes the software, the answer is no...unless you want to use a "hack" such as iTunes agent. Now, when it comes to iTunes, the music store, things get a bit more complicated. If the music was purchased in iTunes at 99 cents a pop before the DRM restrictions lifted (which happened on April 7 of this year), then it will only be compatible with the iPod, since that is the only MP3 player that supports protected AAC. However, if the files are unprotected AAC--purchased after the date above or as AAC+ tracks at $1.29 per--they will play on the most recent Walkmans and the most recent Zens (as well as other players, such as the Sansa Clip).
If you're really gung ho about not using an iPod and have a bunch of protected music, you can run it through a program like TuneBite. This will convert the DRM'd AAC tracks into an unrestricted file type of your choosing (MP3 is the most universal).
The good news is that any music you purchase going forward will not have DRM, as all major online stores have done away with it...at least for the time being.
Q: Good review and maybe the product I'm looking for. Have one question, though. Tried to find out from the Sony site if this new product supports DRM subscription music, a la Rhapsody. They could not answer the question one way or another. The Sony Web site does not indicate it either. So, any chance you can answer?--Neil, via e-mail
A: The X-Series Walkman I got to play with was a preproduction sample, so any information I can provide on it at the moment is by no means final. However, I was able to transfer some subscription music from Rhapsody to the player, so I assume the retail units will have this capability. I'm expecting a fully reviewable device in the next two weeks, so keep an eye out for the complete review in the near future.
Q: I'm a big fan of the podcast and had a question about the upcoming Sony X-Series Walkman. I was really exited to see they were including native YouTube and Slacker applications, but I'm a Rhapsody subscriber and wondered if this player would have Rhapsody DNA like some of the previous Sony players. I currently use and love my Sansa Clip (based on your recommendation), but would like to upgrade to the OLED screen and Internet access the X-Series provides. I would only do this if the X series offers tight integration with Rhapsody.--Peter, via e-mail
A: You can get the gist of my answer in the response above, but to delve a little further into Rhapsody DNA integration in particular, my feeling is that the X-Series will not have the DNA software. When I connected the preproduction sample to Rhapsody, I didn't see a Channels option in the tree descending from the player, nor did I see a specific designation on the interface of the device itself. Plus, due to the BestBuy/Napster acquisition, I doubt that Sony will be making a concerted effort to have a strict alliance with Rhapsody. That being said, the Walkman should work with the to-go features at the basic level (just no Channels). Again, take all of this with a grain of salt, since I have yet to lay my hands on a final model.
MP3 Mailbox Monday is a recurring feature where I answer a selection of questions about MP3 players and accessories, such as headphones, speakers, and music services and software. Check back often to see if the advice presented here might be of some use to you, or send your questions directly to me. (Note: We never include last names, but if you prefer to remain completely anonymous, please state as much in your e-mail.)