The Code M shoe has finally been released, after being announced at CES 2006, and maybe the idea is crazy enough to find an audience. It's a high-top court shoe that comes in three men's styles so far: all-white, all-black, and a tan/brown combo. The right shoe has a 128MB MP3 player embedded in the sole with playback controls on the tongue. Both shoes have speakers built in, or you can wirelessly send your music to a pair of included headphones. It's a novel idea, but, as we found in our testing, the Code M isn't a strong performer.
Code Ms are only in a few stores right now; if you're interested, you can buy them from Shiekh Shoes online for $210. The official site says that when your shoes wear out, you can buy a replacement pair for $99 from "select retailers," but doesn't say who those are or how to go about it.
Besides the shoes and the headphones, you get a USB 1.1 cable with three mini-USB heads, which lets you connect your shoes and headphones all at once. Plug the cable into your computer or use the included power adapter to plug it into an outlet. The right shoe, which holds the MP3 player, mounts to any Macintosh or Windows computer; you add tracks by dragging and dropping. You won't add many, though: we filled it up with between 31 and 37 tracks. Only MP3s work, despite the site's claim to work with iTunes downloads.
Turning the player on is a simple matter of pressing the Dada button on the right tongue for 3 seconds. A power light on the sole illuminates when the shoe is in use, which is odd, since if you're wearing the shoe you can't see it. Once you've turned on the shoe, other controls on the tongue let you play your music. There's no shuffle option, so you're limited to hearing your tunes straight through, but the shoe does remember where you left off, so you don't need to start at the beginning each time.
For street-level stereo, press the crown logo on the left shoe's tongue and that shoe's speaker will activate. The two built-in speakers produce a sound that's tinny, slight, and completely lacking in bass--but they look cool. If you're in a quiet area, you can hear the music while you're walking. We got 4 hours 56 minutes of playback using the built-in speakers, which isn't terribly impressive, though it's certainly adequate for a couple of pick-up games.
To get better sound, press the headphone button on the right shoe as well as the power button on the included headphones. This turns off the speakers and beams music to the headphones. The headphones are nicely compact and provide a rich, balanced sound. They communicate with the shoes by radio frequency and also hold playback controls.
Our only serious glitch with the Code M came when using the headphones outdoors. While inside a building, the whole package worked perfectly, but the minute we stepped outside we experienced major interference with the headphones, causing huge dropouts of the signal. We'd previously tested a pre-production model of the shoes and were hoping this serious problem would be fixed in the production models, but it wasn't. The interference was so bad that sometimes we could only barely hear the song. And, unfortunately, there's no support information listed on the site, so if you have a problem--and don't have the luxury of contacting a press agent, like we do--you're out of luck.
We did our testing in the New York City area, so headphone performance could possibly be better in a less urban environment. However, the shoes strike us as urban in nature, so we can't help being a bit disappointed. On the plus side, they are pretty comfortable, with lots of cushioning.
The Code M is certainly expensive for a 128MB music player, and its performance leaves a lot to be desired, but perhaps some buyers will look past that. After all, you can't put a price on fashion.