The Future Of MP3 Players? Hope Not.

It will fall to future generations to grasp how truly shitty the aughts were. They won't believe it at first. They'll say, "You mean to tell me Mel Gibson didn't specially build New Orleans as a place to film biblical tales?" Or, "If the emoticon wasn't the 43rd president, then who was?" Or, "I thought Russell Brand was one of those Borat-type characters, no?"

But there's one thing we can all celebrate about the past decade: the iPod. In a moment of Fitzgerald-ish whimsy, we're even tempted to sum up these sleekly designed years of tinny resonance by calling them the iPod Age.

Which is why it pains us to tell you this golden era of portable audio is nearing its end and, in the coming 10 years, personal stereos will take a nightmarish turn. Sure, the sound quality will improve. The treble will shimmer. The bass will rumble. And you'll be able to discretely hear Benny's foot, keeping time throughout "Knowing Me, Knowing You."

But at what price?

The MP3-D

Just as the MP3's popularity begins to wane, Phillips introduces the MP3-D, the digital audio format that adds a holographic image only the listener can see. It's a boon for major labels—that is, until 3-D R. Kelly breaks free from the video realm and sublets the duplex next door. Music sales plummet as 3-D R. Kelly's lack of lawn care skills keeps the nation on edge for days.

Pros: Lightweight; good value; hallucinatory.

Cons: Headphones are of poor quality; 3-D R. Kelly is a surprisingly quiet and respectful neighbor, which only unnerves you more.

The Genius

This is the smartest personal stereo ever. In fact, The Genius is so clever that when you first see it at Best Buy, you feel a little intimidated and pass on it. So many functions, so few buttons. But within months, The Genius infiltrates your life. First, it gets an entry-level position in your office. Next, it makes fast friends with your foodie spouse by feigning a passion for Mediterranean cuisine. By the time you find yourself up at 4:30 a.m., driving The Genius to the airport, you realize you've been duped—because data-entry clerks don't have summer homes in Corsica (and people fresh out of law school don't come with touch screens). But the audio quality is so high and the storage space so vast, you decide to let it go.

Pros: An excellent dinner guest.

Cons: A little pedantic about the pronunciation of those Ethiopian musicians you claim to love.

The iTodd

This Apple product comes in two styles. The first, the iTodd Classic, is a robot that looks like a dashing, '70s-era Todd Rundgren and sings from his large repertoire of alternate versions of "Hello It's Me." The second model, the iTodd Blotto, does everything the original does—but only as prelude to a sloppy threesome with the actual Todd Rundgren. Plus, it has instant messaging.

Pros: Instant messaging.

Cons: Instant massaging.

The Deliberator

Inspired by social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, Sony introduces a portable device that allows all registered users to listen in on each others' lives, recording the best parts for a super surveillance mash-up laying bare the popularity of Chipotle.

Pros: Great audio performance...

Cons: ...if by "audio" you mean incessant smacking at your ex's dinner table.

The MaxiDisc

The decades-long trend toward increasingly smaller players is reversed by upstart electronics company Nekonokoi, who introduces the MaxiDisc, a luxurious audio format 8 feet in diameter which fits in a 12-foot-tall off-road device the listener rides like a Hummer.

Pros: Decent hook-per-gallon rate.

Cons: Owning one is a sure sign you're the problem—not the solution—in several Jared Diamond books' worth of civilization-wide pitfalls.

 
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