Diamond Rio PMP300 - The 1998 MP3 Player Experience
["A Playful Mood 2" by Peter Sandberg plays] Greetings and welcome to an LGR MP3 player thing! And today’s item of interest is the classic Rio PMP300 from Diamond Multimedia Systems in 1998. It was originally set to release on September 15th of that year, though I can’t find any records of it actually hitting store shelves until sometime in December for reasons we’ll get to soon. Regardless, in late ‘98 this would’ve cost you $199.95 for this original 32MB model. With an upgraded 64MB translucent teal special edition also available for fifty dollars more. And either unit accepted 16MB flash memory upgrades that were also available directly from Diamond Multimedia.
And yeah, that Diamond, the same ones that were perhaps most well-known back then for their PC graphics and sound cards. The Rio though, this was a new product category for them, providing INTERNET MUSIC in the palm of your hand! Weighing in at just 70 grams or 2.4 ounces, the original Rio is one petite portable packing plenty of playback power for the pricepoint. And quite the trendsetter as well, being before the Zune, before the Nomad, before the Lyra, and before the iPod by a number of years.
The PMP300 was perhaps the first widely-available portable consumer MP3 player, \ at least in North America. There were a couple of similar devices that came before like the MPMan F10 and MP32Go Player, which saw limited release. But the OG Diamond Rio was easily the first commercially successful consumer digital audio player that we got here, selling over 200,000 units in the late 90s.
Heh, and seemingly there’s no clear relation to the country band of the same name. How odd. You can indeed play Diamond Rio on a Diamond Rio, but I haven’t found anything really connecting the two otherwise. Whatever though, MP3s! The file format was a massive deal at the time, and would soon dominate the mainstream music culture regardless of anyone’s level of preparation. I remember downloading and hearing my first MP3 file sometime in 1998 and being truly taken aback by the results. The only internet-sourced audio I was familiar with were things like WAV files and low-quality RealAudio clips, files that were either very short or super compressed in order to feasibly download over dial-up.
High quality audio downloads existed, but the sizes were understandably huge. Then along came MPEG Audio Layer III compression, or MP3, and all of a sudden a 5-minute song in listenable quality went from 50MB down to just 5MB or less. Decent copies of songs could be transferred over dial-up in minutes instead of hours, and you could encode your own CDs to store digital copies of them far more effectively than before. Inevitably, a portable MP3 player was going to become a thing before long, and the race was off to get there first and do so at a reasonable price.
Diamond’s solution with the PMP300 was to use 32 megabytes of internal flash memory, which they claimed stored 60 minutes of music. And it could, albeit encoded at a bit rate of just 64 kilobits per second. Going with the more acceptable 128kbps, roughly 35 minutes of 16-bit stereo audio can be stored on the unexpanded Diamond Rio. Meaning that with either bitrate you won’t get an entire 74-minute CD on here, but it was still enough to light a wildfire in the music industry, with flames that ignited one explosive legal battle. The Recording Industry Association of America wasted no time slapping Diamond Multimedia with a lawsuit on September 10, 1998, days before the Diamond Rio was set to launch in the US. The RIAA argued that the upcoming Rio violated the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act, since in their view it was a digital recording device capable of distributing pirated copyrighted music.
Quoting RIAA president Hilary Rosen: "I know that [Diamond] explains it is making a player, but we understand it to be a recorder." "I think it's well established under copyright law, that the reproduction that occurs inside the Rio constitutes a recording." Not so according to Diamond VP of corporate marketing, Ken Wirt. Saying, "It's a playback device, not a recording device. They shouldn't be going after the playback device." "They should be shutting down the websites that are presenting illegal material."
Naturally the media were all over the story because ooh, ‘MPEG3 players’ and ‘The NET!’ The topic was exciting enough without the legal drama, but the potential for an entire new product category to get shot down in the courts was juicy. Often accompanied by some version of the headline “Blame it on Rio,” taking after the 1984 film starring Michael Caine and Michelle Johnson. So clever. Thankfully though, in the end the judges ruled that the Rio PMP300 “does not qualify as a digital audio recording device because it does not reproduce a digital music recording directly from a transmission; it only makes a copy from the computer’s hard drive to render portable use.” And this set a lasting precedent for cases involving digital download technology. The players are entirely legal, it’s just the stuff you play in them that might be iffy.
Leading some to compare it to buying a bong. Sure, purchasing a bong is legal, but how many bong owners smoke tobacco in there? [dank chuckle] Ahh yes, MP3s are a gateway drug to FLAC, after all. Whatever man, the Diamond Rio was decidedly legal and hit store shelves just in time for Christmas of ‘98, sold nicely, and by 1999 the floodgates had opened. Soon there were half a dozen competitors from seemingly every other company that had even a passing ability to manufacture hardware. And the whole segment was positively nuclear by the time the iPod came out in 2001, with Apple eventually taking the lion’s share of the market and dominating for years. The Rio and Diamond Multimedia might’ve won the big early battles, but they certainly didn’t win the war.
They merged with S3 Graphics in 1999 to become SONICblue, which hummed along until SONICblue filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2003. They were gutted and sold off a couple of times after that, with the final Rio audio players barely making a dent in 2005. Of course, that’s all backstory bound for the history books. As for what it was like to actually purchase and experience the original Diamond Rio? Well, let’s get this one unboxed for the first time and see what it was like to use back in 1998! [beats beat on, box unboxes] Mm, look at that 90s new old stock goodness. First up inside the box is a bag full of paperwork and software.
One CD with the Diamond Rio program itself and related Windows 9x goodies, and another featuring an MP3 music sampler, consisting of MP3s and offline web pages for browsing them. As for the paperwork, there’s a standard company registration card, along with this sheet of paper tucked into the manual stating that the headphones and parallel port adapter had changed since the box was printed so don’t freak out about it. And finally there’s the instruction booklet, with a couple dozen black and white pages going over the basics of MP3 compression, playback, file transfers, issues of legality and so on. And it does that thing that always bothered me back then where it refers to transferring files to a device as “downloading,” where in my mind it’s should be “uploading.” I mean, I guess you can say that the MP3 player is downloading files from your PC, but you’re always the one sending the files from the PC itself which feels like uploading and it doesn’t matter moving on.
Next up is a sectioned-off bag packed with accessories. First being the parallel port adapter and 15-pin data transfer cable, which is how the Rio syncs with a PC and receives MP3s. And there’s a passthrough on the adapter itself so you can plug a printer into the port at the same time. Then there are the headphones, a pitiful pair indeed with that awful 1990s in-ear design that hurt my ears and never feels remotely comfortable enough for me to use. They also sound dreadful but that’s to be expected. And finally we’ve got the PMP300 itself, looking almost as good as the day it left the factory.
Almost. Unfortunately the buttons haven’t fared so well, with a soft gray coating that’s degraded and gotten sticky, leaving a nasty residue. It’s also reacted with the plastic bag it was sealed inside, which yeah, all par for the course when it comes to devices this age.
Thankfully, a little high proof isopropyl alcohol usually does the trick. Just gotta be careful not to wipe off any lettering or painted surfaces, and thankfully in this case it turned out nicely after a minute of cleaning. So, the device itself! It sure is a nice little nugget, something the press back in the day described as being around the size of a compact cassette case or a pack of cigarettes.
To me it looks a lot like a pager, especially with that built-in belt clip around back. The overall design feels quite nice in the hands, with rounded edges and a lightweight but solid-enough construction. No question that the plastics of the case feel cheap, though the buttons themselves feel pretty solid, with a soft but satisfying little click to them. [buttons softly clicking] Along the top beside the headphone jack are three buttons: menu, EQ, and intro.
And going in reverse order, intro plays the first few seconds of each track in succession, EQ lets you select between four audio equalization settings, and menu brings up the extremely limited on-screen menu system. It only lets you see the total and remaining memory for internal and external storage, along with the current firmware revision. That’s it.
The only other things on-screen are the play status, volume and battery level, MP3 bitrate, and the current track time and number. There’s no way to see what’s actually playing, so you’re advised to take notes when setting up a playlist on your PC. Next on front in the middle are your standard transport controls for play, pause, rewind, fast forward, and stop. With play and stop doubling as power on and off, respectively. And counterclockwise around those are controls for volume, shuffle, track repeat, and the cuRiously labeled A–B button.
Pressing this twice during playback sets two markers, trimming down the MP3 and looping it until you press it again. [track portion plays, loops] Diamond called this “Excerpt Mode,” something seen on lots of MP3, CD, and MiniDisc players. The loops aren’t perfect but it can be useful, particularly for transcribing song lyrics or listening to a language course. On a related note, spoken word audio was another big selling point, with highly compressed speech being less offensive than crunchy music. Diamond partnered with companies like Audible to sell MP3 versions of select audiobooks, with eight hours of spoken word fitting onto the PMP300. Awesome stuff considering Audible’s own 1997 MobilePlayer, which I’ve covered in the past, could only store about two hours worth.
Anyway, the only other controls on the Rio are both sliders, with a hold switch on the left hand side for disabling all the controls, and a set of latches around back for dealing with memory cards. Yeah, this slot along the bottom is easy to miss, it’s the expansion slot for adding external storage. Y’know those flash memory upgrades sold by Diamond? Yeah they were standard SmartMedia cards, as often used in early digital cameras, and any generic card will work as long as it’s 3.3-volts and not five. They just pop right on in with a little switch locking it in place, and you retrieve it doing the same thing in reverse with a satisfying downward slide of that latch. Lastly there’s the battery door, which is easily one of the worst components.
It’s unusually hard to open, takes some force to close, and it feels friggin’ flimsy and prone to breaking. Which it did. It wasn’t uncommon at all to see these early Rio devices with a rubber band or something elastic around it holding it shut. On the plus side, it runs off a single AA battery, supposedly for up to 12 hours of frequent use. The battery also isn’t necessary for storing internal files, since the built-in flash memory is non-volatile.
And yeah, I suppose that’s enough preamble! Let’s get this hooked up to an old PC, configure the software, and copy over some entirely-legal audio files for the full 1998 MP3 player experience! [music fades] All right, got the LGR Windows 98 PC, the Megaluminum Monster, going here. And the Diamond Rio PMP300 connected to the parallel port around the back of the computer. And yeah in terms of connecting it, it doesn't actually need to be fully powered on, it just needs to be connected to parallel and configured correctly in the software.
And it'll turn it on and off as it needs if you're doing anything with it. Which, uh yeah. I've already got the software installed so it just put some things on here, Music Match Jukebox, classic throwback. And also Rio Manager, and it puts some example MP3 files on here for us as well. And this is not including the CD Sampler MP3 thing that also came with.
But let's just open up Rio Manager. And this is a very simple little app with some delightful late 90s design going on, it kind of blends into the background doesn't it? Let me change that. I'll go back to good ol’ Clouds. Anyway.
Yeah the Rio program here, so PMP300 version 0.9 point a lot of things. And yeah this is just what it came with, so you have mainly three different options here a playlist editor, CD track information, the viewing of the Rio memory itself. And and then you got some options and just a player for actually looking at individual playlists of MP3 files, or you can actually listen to straight-up audio CDs. Yeah in terms of the options there's not a whole lot, it pretty much just choose which of the LPT printer ports you need it to be. But yeah, let's just go ahead and open the memory of it here, and this is when it's activating the actual Rio MP3 player itself.
And at the moment, I don't have anything in memory. And you can see you have the remaining size, the full 32 megs. And just a tiny bit of it is taken up with, I don't know, operating system stuff or something. And you can initialize it, that pretty much just reformats the whole thing.
And you can also switch to external memory, which I don't have a card plugged in at the moment so, can't do that. So the way this works is you have this playlist editor that we had earlier, and you actually have to create playlists to do anything on the MP3 player itself. And whichever order that you add files... to this playlist-- let's just select a bunch of these.
Okay so. This specific order right here, the... the names don't matter, numbers, file names, none of that, you don't have to worry about it.
It's just whatever order these are in, these will be the order it'll be in on the actual Diamond Rio itself. So yeah, you can save it as a playlist and just like, play it back within this Rio program itself. Or, you can just straight-up copy them over, either from the files or from that playlist. And it's just drag and drop man.
And it starts synchronizing through the parallel cable there, and it takes a little while. Y’know, faster or longer, depending on the type of parallel connection you've got set up. But yeah! It's as simple as that and again, whatever order that you drop things in on this playlist, this will be track one, two and three that you'll see on the Diamond Rio display itself. No track names on the actual device. Now just let this go for a little bit. [chuckle of slowness] Ah, parallel.
[piano-laden jazz] Yay. And there we go! So, that is the order of things that will play on the device itself. And now if I disconnect it and turn it on... yeah, we have those three tracks on there. And that's it! And so that's why you're encouraged to take notes when you're synchronizing things to the memory of the device, because it doesn't actually tell you what they are. So you just have to either remember it or write things down. And yeah each of those sample files that it came with are 128Kbps, which is pretty much the maximum that this wants you to use.
You can go higher or lower or whatever, but as the examples that it came with, I mean y’know. That's what they I think called “near CD quality” or, they might have even just called it “CD quality” in the manual. But yeah, that's almost like 15 megabytes right there.
So not quite half of the memory is full with just three songs, and those are like, yeah almost all five minutes long. Eh-heh. Nothing too crazy going on at this point. However, things do get a little more interesting once you start using some of the other features that it comes with. Like for instance... getting a CD going and then ripping it and making your own MP3s. So if you weren't just going and downloading things, which you might not have been -- I dunno, was Napster even around in ‘98? I didn't start using it until ‘99, 2000? Anyway. I got a *supremely legit CD* here so uh.
Let's see what we got. Man I used to borrow so many CDs from friends and whatnot -- okay this is just... it's just playing. So yeah that's a CD I’ve put together here of various LGR songs. [chuckles] Anyway yeah, I used to borrow a bunch of CDs from friends and library and just like, rip ‘em all to MP3s and just fill up a hard drive and then... anyway. Yeah you open the CD section of the Rio program here, and yeah as long as it's got either CD text written to the disc, or it's been in Windows and you've added stuff, it'll show up here.
Which is nice. You can actually play the CD through here but it doesn't actually let you rip the MP3s through here, which is kind of odd? You'd think that they would include that in the Rio program itself. So in order to do that it also came with Music Match Jukebox, which does other things like it's going on about something here. “Your version of Music Match Jukebox came with several MP3 songs on a CD." "However...” uh yeah it's not in there so we'll just cancel that for now.
Anyway. This is a pretty early version, version 2.51, and it's not even like a full thing. Like it's got an area here where you can upgrade to the complete version of Jukebox. But yeah this has -- [music plays] okay. Don't know if that's copyrighted, probably is. Anyway, it's got the sample files.
This also lets you, this is where you play through all of the stuff that is on the sampler CD, we'll get to that. But I just want to show MP3 ripping, or you know ripping a CD to MP3s, so let's go into the recorder feature here. And yeah, that shows up yet again and you can choose all of the different tracks that you want to rip to MP3s. And it's got an options section, so yeah yeah it does call it “CD quality,” MP3 128Kbps.
It'll also rip it to WAV if you want those gigantic files we saw earlier, it's like 10 times as big as MP3s. “Near CD quality,” 80Kbps, wow. And then high capacity, 64Kbps, or you can also put those to RealAudio, which yeah... it sounds like crap. But I don't know, oddly nostalgic crap in a way. Got some advanced options, it auto configures all that stuff if you want. And then it does connect to the Compact Disc Database online.
I don't know if the servers that it uses are still up or not, but anyway. Yeah let's just rip a few tracks, and do that here. And there we go, it'll start putting those over to 128Kbps MP3s. And we'll just let that go for a bit! Alright so we got those three tracks ripped to MP3s which should be...
somewhere in here, yeah. There we go. Noice. And now that just lets us, uh -- let's just minimize that.
And we can take those, go straight to the memory of the MP3 player. [chuckle of self-realization] This is so strange to describe as if it's like, an obscure process because I did this a trillion times back in the day. Let's just reinitialize it. [sighs] But man, I forget how much time has passed.
[laughs] So anyway! You can just take those and drag and drop them in there, and then yeah look at that. Now we've got CD tracks ripped to MP3s, and they're copying over to my MP3 player -- how exciting! This was so exciting back in the late 90s, it was unthinkable. I didn't even get my first MP3 player until I think 2001? Or two? Maybe, cuz I had an MP3 CD player at first by Memorex.
I think that was 2000... eh, ish. But there was a friend of mine who did get an MP3 player earlier and I remember seeing it it was in 1999, it was like “oh my goodness.” And the process was pretty much like this, connecting, syncing, and all the slowness. But at the time it seemed completely magical.
Anyway. And of course, since we have just the MP3 files in there we can just get something going to play them, like good old Winamp. Because it really whips the llama’s... “whips the llama’s ass!” Sure does.
Anyway. We can add those to this and can play them back here. [jazz MP3 plays] Yeah dude. Yeah, MP3s! And now they are synchronized to the Diamond Rio. How fun. Bout the only other thing I want to show is of course, the music sampler.
So let's get that going, this is kind of fascinating. So this really is just filled with a bunch of offline web pages. Yeah look at this man, I think it's pretty neat.
Going straight back to the late 90s, without the actual internet, so. All these websites, I went to almost every one of these back in the day searching free MP3s. MP3.com in particular I remember being pretty cool, but. Just sort of browse through sample tracks from these different artists, it's pretty cool man.
[laughs] Does anybody else remember like actually buying MP3 sampler CDs in the store, because I know I did! Like that was actually a really efficient way to get a lot of music. I remember them being a little bit less than an actual album. And then it had just tons of files and that way you didn't have to spend all your time, your precious internet hours on AOL, downloading things. Which I mean, you know, you could find like, individual stuff that way that you really wanted.
But if you got one of these samplers discs then you just got all kinds of things. I have very fond memories of that, got turned on to a lot of cool artists. What is this “Boogie Beat’ by Master Zap. [snippet of Boogie Beat plays] Oh hell yeah! Oh man, I would play literally all of these if it weren't most likely gonna be copyright struck. [more music clips play] Dude! Oh yeah.
I’m gonna have fun going through these, just on my own. So all the actual tunes are just in here, so we've got around 300 megabytes, wow. So you could fill up 10 times, almost, with just this one folder. And yeah, that's what that is. [chuckling] And you know, it comes with installation files for Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator 4.0 and like, all kinds of exciting stuff for 1998.
Seriously. This was so new, and just a fresh idea at the time. But yeah you could also go back into Music Match Jukebox, we got the CD in there and now we can go to... I think it's this? Yeah here we go. So here is um, a list of things that it came with that are in this particular database.
You can create your own database, get a database online. But yeah, the sample tracks. Pretty cool. I really need extra resolution for this, I should have been doing this at 800x600 but I am not. I don't, yeah, that's my fault. Whatever man, not redoing all this.
There's another one, one more thing I find pretty amusing. “Buy CD.” “Do you want to buy a CD? [goofy laugh] Buying a CD requires a connection to the internet. If you connect to the internet using a phone line and are not already connected we will connect for you.” All right.
So you can do yes or no, don't show it again ever. But yeah buying CDs online! It would take you to Music Match and you could if you liked some of those sample songs, then you could go and buy the full album like straight through here. Again, wild concept. It's something I never did back then, it just seemed so weird like, giving out any kind of personal information on the internet, much less like a credit card, your address. Like ooh, don't do that! And then you got some update options.
“Purchase the full version of Music Match Jukebox for only $29.99!” I actually do have this complete in box. I don't know if it's the same version but I've been meaning to do a video on that, anyway. Yeah that's about it, I suppose, for this side of things. It was just like opening up a whole new world here, a new fantastic point of view. Just, MP3s.
So, so, exciting back then, and just seeing this again... ahh, I don't know, if you've never seen this maybe it just doesn't make sense. But if you were around anywhere near the beginning of this MP3 revolution, and MP3 players and things like the Diamond Rio, I hope that this brought back a little bit of that excitement. And maybe a few memories, fond or not so fond, in some cases. [chuckles] Yeah I mean you know, at this point it really is just playing MP3s you know? You don't get very much on here at all, it kind of reminds me of like an iPod Shuffle or something. You know you just don't really know exactly what's playing, unless you'd memorize what's on there, or you can just hit the random button and there you go.
It's pretty appealing, in a weird way, just having listened to -- well, if I ever listen to MP3s, which I haven't even done that in a long time. But you know, streaming music and having everything on phones and just everything at your fingertips at all times, whether it's streaming or digital files or whatever else. Like just having such simplicity here, and like, just the music... I don't know, I didn't expect to enjoy going back to this early era of “MP3 everything” as much as I have for this video, so I hope that you enjoyed as well! And yeah, let me know if you'd like to see any more of this kind of thing in the future. I know there's other channels of a rather dank appeal that definitely cover more of this stuff than I do. But yeah, i've got a few other players hanging around that I might like to dive into in the future that I have more of a personal connection to even than this.
And I mean that's not even... you start getting into like, peer-to-peer file sharing MP3 stuff, that's a whole ‘nother thing, I mean a Napster video would make sense. Anyway, I’m just rambling. Thank you very much for watching LGR. I'm going to listen to some MP3s on these terrible earphones. Ugh, I don't want to...
They hurt so bad. [jazz intensifies] Yeeeaaah. Don't be deceived by the bobbing head, those in-ear headphones are awful. Anyway if you would like to see more videos that hopefully are not awful here on LGR, then stick around.
There are new things always in the works coming soon, as well as stuff that I have covered in the past. And as always, thank you very much for watching!