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Summertime Serenade

From MP3 players to home-studio software, the stuff that musical dreams are made of.

Ever wonder why there are so many great summer songs? “Summer in the City,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Summertime Blues”–the list goes on. The reason odes to summer prevail while tributes to, say, the fall colors are so rare is that summer and music seem to go together like sand and suntan lotion.

But wanting music with your summer means having to take it with you. If you like your music summery and your summer musical, it’s a good time to be alive, because there are all kinds of options for packing up your tunes wherever you happen to be summering. In that spirit, here are some music products that promise to make what’s left of summer positively tuneful.

Some alternatives

iPod this, iPod that. Sure, it’s a great product, but you’d think there wasn’t another audio player worth considering. We both know that’s not true, so here are some other audio player options worth singing about.

iZon Wireless Bluetooth MP3 Player GNOME

Two of the hottest technology segments going-wireless and portable music-join hands on this nifty item. A rechargeable Bluetooth 1.1-compliant mobile headset/MP3 player features a 128MB memory card (and slot) for music storage, and it can receive calls and stream music just like a standard BT headset.

And so you’re not flying blind, there’s a LCD for song selection as well as an FM radio.

The iZon currently carries a $249 suggested retail price, although as with most tech gadgets, finding it cheaper should take little effort.

RCA Lyra 256MB Flash Digital Audio Player

Another entry in the versatility sweepstakes, TCA’s Lyra is an MP3 player, flash drive, and FM tuner in one. What makes it stand out is an attractive price point: We had no trouble finding a recent model of the Lyra (the 2012) online for around $100.

Commodore Mpet II data and music player

Yes, ’80s PC maker Commodore is still around-or rather, it went away and came back as a provider of digital entertainment items, with the Mpet II being the reborn company’s first significant venture.

The Mpet is a Flash memory-based MP3 player (256MB and 512MB, retailing for $99 and $139 respectively), and it’s so tiny and lightweight that you’ll barely even notice it’s there.

It contains a basic equalizer, and it’s compatible with WMA DRM, meaning it can sync up with Windows Media Player. It also includes an FM tuner and a voice recorder, making it very feature-rich for the money.

Olympus M:robe 500i Digital Media Player

Another Swiss army knife-type player, the M:robe ($500) provides one of the most dazzling of what’s quickly becoming the standard audio player/digital image holder/flash drive combo platter. What makes it special is 20GB of data storage space, an intuitive, graphically impressive 3.7-inch touchscreen and a built-in 1.2-megapixel camera.

Rio Carbon Pearl 6GB MP3 player

Rio’s been doing MP3 players right ever since there was such a thing, and if there’s a true Windows-based competitor to the iPod, this little wonder might be it. Rio’s Carbon Pearl ($230) is about the size of a matchbox, but it can hold up to 96 hours of MP3 (192 hours WMA) music.

It also supports USB 2.0, can handle just about any music file format, and contains a built-in voice recorder. For a list price that’s about two-thirds that of the comparable model of iPod Mini, the Carbon Pearl is a tempting alternative.

Play it Now Personal Digital Music Recorder

A little something for the kiddies, the Playitnow recorder ($30) lets the user record from a variety of sources, such as a CD player, computer, or TV.

It doesn’t include a microphone, so it does line recordings only, and it records in real time-audio files can’t be loaded onto it. It also includes six arcade games in case the young users tire of the recording business.

Actiontec Wireless Digital Media Player

Enough of players aimed at those on the go; what about at home? One option is the Actiontec Wireless Digital Media Player ($200). It handles not only music, but also high-definition photos, photos with music tracks, and video when hooked to your TV or PC.

It can connect wirelessly with your home stereo, letting you play streaming audio or satellite radio through your component system. It also contains a Web browser, not to mention an 802.11b Wi-Fi card that comes standard.

MediaReady VWB Flyboy portable media player/recorder

What’s that? Portable music’s not enough? The $349 Flyboy is a portable MPEG4 media player and recorder whose 40GB hard drive is capable of carrying up to 80 hours of video or 740 hours music or 200,000 digital photos (if you use the lowest quality setting in all three cases, of course).

The 3.5-inch LCD screen and built-in speakers make it easier on the eyes and ears than most such contraptions, and even if it’s not good enough, you can use RCA interconnects to hook the device to your TV.

What makes the Flyboy stand out even more is that it’s Linux-compatible, one of the few media players that can make that claim..

And Some Accessories

Man (and woman, and child) does not live by players alone. One must accessorize, and if necessary (like, if you’re disenchanted with your music collection), one must even create one’s own music. Here are some more fab music products that will give you more to listen to, and more ways to listen to it:

Plantronics MX100 Mobile + Music headset

Convergence meets multitasking in this nifty item, which has dual 3.5mm plugs-one for your audio player and one for your phone.

The touch of a button lets you toggle from one to the other, and the mini-mouthpiece integrated into the headphone wire means you don’t even have to bother picking up. The MX100s ($45) are compatible with most headset-ready cell phones, including those from Samsung, Kyocera, Audiovoc, Motorola, and LG.

Skullcandy SCS-SC Skullcrushers

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Portable headphones are nice, but most of them are–how can we say this nicely?–really wimpy. Bass response, especially on open-air headphones, is all but out of the question, and noise-cancelling headphones can be treacherous while biking or running.

The Skullcrushers bass-amplified headphones ($89) feature an adjustable in-line bass amplifier and speakers with what the company says is the first built-in vibrating subwoofers for headphones. On-the-go music lovers and gamers now have the best of both worlds.

Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5 Pro headphones

I’ve got a pair of Ultimate Ears headphones, and they’ve got a customer for life in me. Boasting both integrated high-frequency and low-frequency speakers, the studio-quality, $250 Super.Fi 5 Pro headphones outclass other portable headsets by not only sounding great, but also by providing practical extras: They come with ear loops to keep them in place, and different-sized earbud covers so that you can custom-fit them.

Kontakt 2

Magix Music Maker 10 Deluxe

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Enough with spending all your time listening to other people’s music; how about making some of your own? Native Instruments’ Kontakt 2 isn’t cheap, ($579), but it’s a top-of-the-line, exceptionally feature-rich sampling and looping package that will have you making spectacular beats in no time (with surround-sound capabilities, no less).

Magix’s Music Maker 10 Deluxe is aimed more at the hobbyist music-maker, and it’s comparable (and superior, in some ways) to its chief competition, Cakewalk Music Creator and Sony Acid Music Studio. It comes with 1,600 loops, a vintage effects simulator, a nice sound-restoration function, and much more. At $60, making your PC into a home recording studio couldn’t be much easier or cheaper.

Sony DRX-720UL/T CD/DVD burner

Sony’s latest line of external CD/DVD burners is notable for lots of reasons: This double-layer, dual-format burner boasts DVD+R burning speed of 16X maximum, which means a full DVD is yours in about six minutes (slower for double-layer recording, of course).CD burning speed is a similarly zippy 48X.

The DRX-720UL-T ($230) comes bundled with tons of necessary software, and, maybe best of all for those in the Macintosh ghetto, it’s OS X-compatible.

Keith Mansfield writes from Mt. Laurel, N.J.

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