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Sonicblue releases CD players for MP3s

The consumer-electronics maker releases two RioVolt players for CDs that store up to 350 digital-audio files.

Sonicblue on Wednesday released two RioVolt players for CDs that store digital-audio files.

The $179 RioVolt SP250 comes with an FM tuner, rechargeable batteries and enough memory to store up to eight minutes of audio to protect against skipping. The $99 RioVolt SP90 has up to 120 seconds of audio protection and runs on two AA batteries. They both play CDs burned with up to 350 digital-audio files, or 20 hours' worth of material.

The new devices come after more layoffs at the company. On Monday, Sonicblue laid off 90 of its 540 employees, or about 17 percent of its staff. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company cut about 500 jobs earlier this year.

Sonicblue is one of the largest manufacturers of portable digital-audio players in the United States. But IDC analyst Bryan Ma said the company is playing catch-up to competitors, such as Philips Electronics, in the CD-based digital-audio player market.

Most of the products in Sonicblue's Rio line of digital-audio players use flash memory to store digital-audio files. The company already sells one player for CDs burned with digital-audio files, the $149 RioVolt SP100.

Ma added that there is a larger potential for growth with digital-audio players that use CDs than for those that use flash memory because CDs are less expensive, allow consumers to store more content, and are more widely recognized and available.

In a March report, Ma projected that MP3 players using alternative forms of storage to flash memory would control the majority of the digital-audio player market by 2005.

Sonicblue Chief Technology Officer Andy Wolfe said the company is seeing double-digit growth in sales of its current RioVolt product and that the RioVolt products don't take sales away from portable players using flash memory.

"For today, CDs are a good solution," he said. "These new players allow people to play from their existing collections...they don't require someone to have as much computer knowledge as those that use our products that use flash memory."

During its most recent earnings announcement Aug. 2, Sonicblue reported net revenue of $29.5 million in its second quarter due in large part to the 54 percent growth in sales of its Rio digital-audio players. Sonicblue acquired the Rio line in 1999.