TerraTec M3PO Stereo MP3 Player

The M3PO, which resembles a standard home CD player, competes with the Audio ReQuest ($799) from ReQuest Multimedia. It lacks some of the connectivity features of the Audio ReQuest and does not come preconfigured with a hard drive, but at $499 the M3PO is significantly less than the AudioRequest.
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Terratec's M3PO is a clever solution for integrating an MP3 collection into a commercial or home entertainment system. The M3PO can play both regular audio CDs - either store-bought or writable - and MP3 data CDs (essentially CD-ROMs containing MP3 files). It can also be fitted with an internal hard drive of any size. Do the math and it becomes clear that this little puppy can store quite a bit of music for nonstop background sound in a hotel, restaurant or other venue - even a home system.
Product PointsApplications: Music library organization; house jukebox installations

Key Features: CD/DA and CD-ROM format support; internal hard drive-ready; support for MP3 playlists

Price: $499

Contact: TerraTec at 407-331-4002 www.terratec-us.com/ttus/products.htm.
The M3PO, which resembles a standard home CD player, competes with the Audio ReQuest ($799) from ReQuest Multimedia. It lacks some of the connectivity features of the Audio ReQuest and does not come preconfigured with a hard drive, but at $499 the M3PO is significantly less than the AudioRequest.

Applications for the M3PO range from simple organization of a music library to business jukebox-type installations. I think bar owners would find the clean, uncluttered look of the M3PO, combined with a massive music selection, very attractive. It's like a custom DMX service featuring customized playlists.

In use

Using the M3PO is as easy as using a standard CD player. Simply load an audio CD or CD-ROM containing MP3 files and hit play. The M3PO does not have a bunch of buttons but, rather, a master controller with a few small buttons. You navigate through folders just like on a computer, but instead of moving a mouse you turn the master wheel.

You could, for example, burn a CD with several folders containing different types of music and create playlists - using Winamp - that refer to these songs. When the CD is in the M3PO, push a couple of buttons, spin the wheel to find your favorites and play back your tunes. It's easy to make a party mix using just one CD, when you consider you can cram 150 tunes of average length in MP3 format onto a single 650 MB disc.

The real fun starts when you take advantage of the expandability of the M3PO, which has an internal drive bay for a standard IDE drive. The unit's case is held together with a handful of standard Phillips-head screws. The case easily slides apart to reveal the guts of the M3PO.

There is not much to it really - basically a simple circuit board, a CD-ROM-drive and an empty slot for the hard drive with the IDE cable already in place. I added a 20 GB Maxtor that I picked up for about $100. It took less than 15 minutes to take the M3PO apart, install the drive and put the case back together.

The unit automatically searches for new CD-ROM and hard drives each time it is turned on. Upon finding a new hard drive, the M3PO asks if you want to format the drive. Soon I was ready to start loading my CD-ROM discs containing MP3 files onto the internal hard drive.

About a 1,000 songs later I had barely put a dent in the 20 GB drive's capacity. Then I simply put the M3PO on shuffle play and was entertained by the crazy combinations of tunes that sprang forth.

The M3PO comes with a remote control, but I mostly used the controls on the unit itself. I found it a bit confusing at first; I prefer dedicated controls to the computerlike menu structure of the unit. Perhaps TerraTec will address the interface in future versions of the product.

Users can lock out unauthorized users with a code, maintaining secure control of the music. At professional installations, venue owners can set the M3PO to play for a month or more at a time without worrying about anyone messing around with the unit or walking off with CDs.

I would like to see TerraTec add some real-world connectivity to the M3PO. A simple USB interface that would allow me to dump songs directly from my computer to the M3PO would be nice. It's cumbersome to copy songs to the hard drive, once it is installed in the M3PO. In this world of home networks and fast Internet connections, like cable and DSL, I just don't have the patience to wait for songs to be copied from CD-ROM to hard disk. It is much slower than the same data transfer inside a regular computer.

I like the brushed aluminum case of the M3PO, but I would prefer more money spent on insulating the noise of the internal components. Better controls are also needed; the current buttons feel a bit cheap and loose. They don't have the fit and finish normally found on a $400 stereo component.

Summary

The M3PO is certainly a unique device in its price range. I have not had this much fun with a stereo component in a long time. Sure, it's a bit quirky. And if you are not comfortable opening up a computer - which is really what this is - and adding a hard drive, then don't bother. The massive music storage capability is really the attraction here. If you or your clients are looking for better ways to manage your music collections, the M3PO is a great way to take advantage of music compression, preserve your CDs and make one killer jukebox the size of a small preamp.