November 3rd, 2008, 20:43 Posted By: Shrygue
The announcement that the DSi would have built in music playback support no doubt perked interest in the new hardware. Given that it has an SD slot, and that you're carrying it around anyway, the new system seemed like it could make for a great primary music player, or possibly a backup for when your main music player runs out of batteries.
Of course, Nintendo killed all hopes for either of these by also announcing that the player would not support MP3. So does this make the free DSi Music program a completely worthless addition to the system? This is one of the first things we attempted to find out after getting our hands on our import DSi units.
The DSi Music program is actually split into two modes: voice recording and music playback. Both offer plenty of entertainment value thanks to the tools and gimmicks Nintendo has included.
The recording mode lets you record at most 18 clips of maximum 10 seconds length. Once you've recorded a clip, you can play around with it in various ways. You can make the clip play backwards or forwards, isolate small sections using A-B repeat, and modify the speed and tone by dragging a pointer around on a 2D graph.
You can also apply twelve effects to the clip: parakeet, fan, low harmonica, trumpet, robot, tunnel, high harmonica, whistle, helium, transceiver, three-person harmonica, and buzzer. These effects do a great job on transforming the sound, and we imagine people playing around in this mode just to see what their modified voice sounds like.
If you want to hear what your voice sounds like as a parakeet, you won't need to even enter into the recording mode. The main menu for DSi Music features a parakeet mascot who, as you'd expect from a parakeet, likes to repeat what you say. This little feature has proven to be quite addictive. The parakeet does a good job of repeating lengthy phrases in high-pitched parakeet talk, although you need to make sure and speak slowly. This diversion will likely draw lots of attention especially when introducing the DSi to your non-gamer friends.
The music playback mode is also full of fun play options. Once you have a song loaded up (more on that in a bit), you can change the speed and tone just like with the recording mode. You can also overlay the recordings that you made in the recording mode to songs at any point. Nintendo has also provided a set of sound effects which can be selected quickly by using the stylus, then inserted freely using R and L. Effects include percussion instruments, record scratches, and even Mario coin and jump sounds!
This mode also has four pre-set filters: radio, echo, 8-bit, and karaoke. The radio and echo work fine, but we've found the the 8-bit and karaoke filters to be pretty much useless. The karaoke filter promises to remove vocals from songs, but we haven't found one case of it working effectively yet. The 8-bit effect promises to make your library sound like 8-bit music. Most songs that we tried ended up sounding like a complete mess. Even the original Super Mario Bros. Level 1-1 theme didn't hold up well under the filter (see the videos we uploaded today for some samples).
One of the coolest features of the music playback is the visualization schemes that are shown on the top screen along side information about the current track. Some of these are loosely interactive. There's a Super Mario Bros. visualization where Lakuta (the cloud dude) goes about setting coins against a scrolling Level 1-1 backdrop, with the height of the coin placement affected by the music. Mario runs about and picks up the coins on the ground automatically, but you can tap the L and R buttons to make him jump up to reach higher-up coins. The visualizer keeps track of your coin count, making this into somewhat of a game.
With all these fun tools, DSi Music looks like it will have the same relevance as DSi Camera. With DSi Camera, you probably won't use it as a real camera (and certainly not as a method of keeping track of your child's growth, as Nintendo's Japanese pamphlets suggest you do). However, those who want to take some pics and play around with them using graffiti and other effects, will have lots of fun with the program. The same holds true for DSi Music. For playing with sounds and music files, DSi Music is packed with features, and could likely be updated with future downloads.
Those who are interested in using this as a serious music player will find some good points. First up is improved sound volume over the DS Lite. The DSi doesn't lets you go as loud as your typical MP3 player, but we found the sound output through headphones to be adequate, even in a noisy cafe setting.
Unlike the DSi Camera program, which wouldn't read any files that weren't generated by the DSi itself, DSi Music doesn't appear to be too picky when it comes to files and directory structure. We were able to drop in a bunch of files stored in a multi-level directory structure into the root directory of our SD card, and the DSi parsed through them instantly and displayed all the internal directories for quick access.
To navigate through your library, you spin through the folders with the stylus, as if you were rotating a record. Sadly, the system doesn't offer too much in the way of organization. Aside from the folder-based view, you can view a list of all tracks on your SD card. You can also flag up to 10 songs as favorites for quick playback.
During playback, you have access to A-B repeat and volume controls. A slider lets you forward and rewind through the song, although the system goes silent while you're forwarding. If you want a more interactive seek feature, you can use the speed changer tool.
Nintendo presumably envisioned DSi Music as being a substitute for a real music player, as the music keeps on playing even when you close the system's lid, allowing you to stick the whole thing away in your pocket or bag. Unfortunately, there's no way to skip tracks without opening up the system again, meaning you'd better like the order of your music library.
Despite all the good points, the real problem with the DSi's music playback is that lack of MP3 support. The player only supports the AAC format, which will likely make it useless for most people.
We should point out that converting MP3 to AAC is an easy process. Even iTunes lets you select to convert via a quick menu selection. Having two versions of your music library would probably be a pain, though.
Almost as bad as the lack of MP3 support, though, is the difficulty you might have interfacing the DSi with your PC. There's no USB port on the system, so in order to transfer music and podcasts over, you'll need to remove the SD Card and plug it directly into your PC. Unlike the main DS cartridge slot, which lets you pop carts out easily, the SD card slot has a cover that takes a bit of fiddling to remove. It's not something you'll want to do too often.
Nintendo could probably fix a few of the problems with the music player by adding MP3 support and making a few interface changes, but it's doubtful that the DSi would ever serve as anything close to a replacement for a real music player. As with the camera tool, however, there's quite a bit of fun to be had if you don't take things too seriously. We wouldn't suggest buying a DSi for it, but as a free bonus, we think you'll get a kick out of DSi Music.
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