RCA RS2052 5-CD Digital Music Studio

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In these days of iPods, desktop stereos seem so 20th Century. Still, when I heard about RCA's new contraption, I was intrigued. Like VCR/DVD combos and camera-docking printers, it's an innovation designed not for early adopters but for late adopters. The stereo comes with a tiny 128MB MP3 player that connects at the top. Pop in a CD (or five), press Record and the songs load themselves onto the portable player as you listen to them.

If you're afraid of going digital with your music, but want something portable to take to the gym, you might want to check this out. It's crossing over to digital without learning a single new concept or program—the same as making a mix tape, only it sounds a lot better.

The downside? Like a mix tape, the music isn't labeled when you record it to the MP3 player. The boombox has no way to identify CDs, and so it doesn't. Tracks, as they're recorded, are called things like "Disc2T13" (as in "disc 2, track 13"). You can see how that could get confusing after a while. Since you can only store about 2 hours of music on the player, I suppose you really just pick a few songs at a time, make your mix, get bored with it then spend time making another one. That's another thing: because it has to play each song in order to record it, you run the risk of getting pretty bored with your mix before it's even ported over to the portable.

You can connect the MP3 player to your PC and look at the tracks. If you want, you can edit their tags with a music jukebox program like iTunes or Windows Media Player. More likely, you'd go the other way around: rip the CDs in MP3 format and then drag them over to the MP3 player. This defeats the purpose of the stereo.

The stereo does have a few other talents. The card slot takes cards you fill with music from your PC, and the CD players can play CDs full of MP3s that you burn on your PC. You can make a mix fast, and enjoy the benefits of a boomin' system.

While I'm still convinced this is a product for beginners who don't want to be bothered with the whole PC thing, it seems to be blossoming into a tech category: in September, Panasonic will introduce the SC-PM71SD for $400, a very stylish product with a similar set of features.