The Elephant Remembers to Remember Audio

FRAMINGHAM (07/17/2000) - Gearhead is like an elephant - not in corpulence (at least, we hope not) but in memory. Some time ago you were promised more on audio, and this week Gearhead delivers. We'll deliver the heady world of Winamp from Nullsoft Inc.

If you haven't checked out this program, do so right now - it is truly excellent (www.winamp.com). Winamp is free and plays MP3, CD, MIDI, VOC, WAV, MOD, WMA, AudioSoft and MJuice audio playback formats.

The last two formats are proprietary: AudioSoft is from AudioSoft (www.audiosoft.com), a company that aims to provide copyright control for digital music as well as usage reporting. It is not surprising that few people outside of the major labels and AudioSoft like the format very much. The other format, MJuice, is an encrypted version of MP3 that seems to have more market acceptance than AudioSoft.

Anyway, installation of Winamp is so simple that we will not spend any time discussing the process.

Winamp's interface is terrific. It is a beautiful design and features something that should be in all Windows applications - the ability to seamlessly align Winamp's four components next to each other. The core component is the main window, which controls play, pause, stop, forward song, previous song and select new song. It also has a built-in spectrum analyzer and oscilloscope, a position slider (to change the point in the song where you are playing), and controls for balance, volume, shuffle and repeat (whew!).

The other windows include a combination preamplifier and graphic equalizer, a play list manager and a "Minibrowser" (which is used to access Winamp and artist-related resources).

Winamp is skinnable so you can change the look of the software as you wish. The Winamp site purports to offer 12,500 skins so you should be able to find something you like. Or you can create your own - the process is explained on the Winamp Web site (www.winamp.com/nsdn/winamp2x/dev/skins/).

Another cool thing about Winamp is it is plug-in-based. This means not only can any existing or future audio format be supported but also the input to and output from Winamp can be intercepted. This allows for lots of strange experimental tools.

But the best parts of the plug-in system are the visualization plugins. These allow the spectrum and oscilloscope outputs to drive graphical displays that are fantastic! You get scores of visualization schemes with the included Nullsoft Winamp Advanced Visualization Studio. Put aside lots of time to play with this feature.

Winamp also supports streaming media called Shoutcast and boasts a large number of online radio stations (including the first Russian streaming dance club station). If you use Winamp to play CDs, it can automatically check online CD Database for official CD information.

Gearhead loves this software! Five gear teeth out of five!

Wild enthusiasm to gh@gibbs.com.

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