As his '72 Chevelle heads down Naismith Drive, Scott Hunter listens to Led Zeppelin's "D'yer Maker" on his drive toward campus.
The car and the music may be a throwback to the hard-rock, muscle-car era of nearly three decades past. But you won't find an eight-track hanging under the dash.
Like thousands of college students across the country, Hunter has shifted into a new music format MP3s.
And for the tunes he's plucked off the Internet via Napster, he's been burning them onto CDs by the dozen and playing them on his car stereo.
But, the Kansas University computer science major has found one big drawback: You can't get very many songs on a CD maybe 13 or 14 at most.
To get more of his collection of 2,400 MP3s out onto the road, Hunter plans to shift into the next wave of car stereo systems.
He's looking for an in-dash MP3 player.
More songs, fewer CDs
With an in-dash MP3 player, Hunter can play his songs as MP3 files and get as many as 120 on a single CD.
"If you have 120 songs at your fingertips, you don't have to keep putting in CDs," he told me last week.
And you don't have to worry about converting your MP3s into the CDA format that can be recognized by most CD players.
MP3s are highly compressed digital music files. You can easily download MP3 players from the Internet to play them on your computer. Steve Jobs, Apple Computer's CEO, recently introduced a snappy MP3 organizer and player application called iTunes that allows Mac users easy access to their MP3 files.
But to play your MP3 files on a music CD player, you have to "burn," or decompress and record them onto a CD in the CDA format. That increases the size of the file considerably, meaning it takes up a lot of space on the CD.
Keeping the MP3s in their original compressed format means you can pack about 10 times more of your tunes onto the same CD.
Hunter, a friend of my son, Matt, is a little out in front of the curve on in-dash MP3 players.
They've been around for a couple of years. But MP3 in-dash players for cars haven't yet hit the mainstream, at least not in Lawrence.
They're on the way
Shayne Kahle, car stereo sales manager at Kief's, 2429 Iowa, expects to start selling Alpine and Clarion in-dash models in the late spring or early summer.
"They'll be big," Kahle predicted.
While he's waiting for his Alpine and Clarion MP3 in-dash players to arrive, Kahle's been selling AM-FM CD car stereos that have an input you can use to plug in a portable MP3 player.
He also has some in-dash models available that will actually accept the small, two-inch square "flash card" that a portable MP3 player may use to store MP3s.
"Depending on the megabytes, you can get anywhere from 10 to 20 songs on them," Kahle said.
In the dash
Another, more expensive option, is to consider units sold by Empeg.com (www.empeg
.com). Empeg.com's base unit, costing $1,199, can store up to 100 hours of music on 6 gigabytes of hard drive space.
Empeg.com's top-of-the-line model, at $1,949, can store 40 GB or 680 hours of music.
To load music, you pull the player out of the docking sled (which remains in the dash) and hook it up to your PC, using Windows or Linux software to download your MP3s.
Kahle doesn't carry them, but two manufacturers, Aiwa and Kenwood, have in-dash models that look and work similar to car AM-FM CD stereos.
"By looking at them you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a regular CD player and an MP3 player," Kahle said. "Most of them will have the detachable control panel."
The Aiwa CDC-MP3, which costs $299, plays regular music CDs plus MP3 formats. It has a remote that fixes to your steering wheel, making it easier to scroll through your list of tunes.
Mazda is the first carmaker to offer an in-dash MP3 player as an option. It teamed up with Kenwood to offer it in the Mazda MP3.
Kenwood's model Z919, which costs $750 retail, will play MP3-encoded CD-Rs and conventional music CDs.
At this point, the main reason to think about MP3 players is to get more use out of the MP3s on his hard drive. He said his 2,400 MP3s take up about 12 gigabytes of the 65 gigs of storage he has on his PC.
"I've probably burned 25 to 30 CDs. That's 13 to 14 songs a CD," he said. Imagine replacing those 25 to 30 CDs with two or three CDs and you get the picture. It's much easier to get to your music.
"As far as the MP3 CD players, it eliminates the need for a six-disk changer in the trunk," he said.
So how soon is the KU freshman shifting over to MP3 in-dash player to listen to Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun"?
Hunter said he's been looking at both the Aiwa and the Kenwood models. But he's steering toward the more expensive Kenwood model, mainly because the sound is supposed to be better.
"I'm still trying to save my money," he said.