A commonly held view about South Korean-manufactured consumer electronics is that they are cheap and boring. The newly released MPIO portable MP3 player from Daewoo does little to change this perception. Usually, consumers who buy South Korean electronics are willing to make the trade-off of having the latest and best technology for a middle-of-the-road product at a lower price. However, priced at $1,180, which puts this player in the middle of the range, few people will find the MPIO appealing. For those who have been living in a cave for the past year, the MP3 player is the latest in a line of portable audio technologies that began with the venerable, 20-year-old Sony Walkman. Much like the Walkman, the portable MP3 player has had the music industry in a legal frenzy with its potential to turn upside down the traditional pre-recorded market, such as for CDs. Last summer, the United States recording industry tried unsuccessfully to torpedo the Rio MP300 - manufactured by Diamond Multimedia Systems - and the MP3 digital storage standard as a major source of music piracy. Using MP3 software, storing songs takes up much less hard-disk space than .wav files, while still getting near-CD-quality audio. The MPIO comes with all the software needed to 'rip' songs out of CDs, converting them into MP3s. The music industry is running because some people have not been limiting these 'ripped' tracks to personal use. Unlike CD to audio tape recording, MP3s are virtually identical digital copies of songs from CDs which can then be easily distributed over the Internet. These tracks can in turn be copied on to minidiscs or CDs again. With a device such as the MPIO, you can download 32 megabytes of digital MP3 music, taking it with you anywhere. Once you have MP3 files in your hard drive, you can simply use the MPIO manager software to drop the songs into the player. The MP3 songs are sent through your parallel port to the MPIO at speeds of up to 1.3 Mbps. If you use 128 kbps compression (which is as close to CD quality as MP3 can get), you can fit about 30 minutes of music on to the MPIO's on-board memory. FM radio-quality, 64 kbps compression will give you 70 minutes of music. The MPIO is about the size of a packet of cigarettes, and weighs about the same, which is an average size for the latest crop of portable MP3 players. It is one of the more basic MP3 players on the market, with few new features to make it stand out. In addition to its on-board 32 MB memory, it stores music on old-style removable SmartMedia-style cards rather than the newer-style CompactFlash memory cards, which hold more memory. More important than the missing extras is the poor sound quality. With a quoted signal-to-noise ratio of 90 decibels and higher, there is considerable hiss during quiet parts of a song and distortion when tuned to higher volumes. There is also little bass, although that may have been the fault of a cheap-looking set of earplug-style headphones that came with the MPIO. A swap for a higher-quality set of Sony headphones improved the tonal qualities of the player but could not compensate for the background noise. Does the MPIO have what it takes to compete with your portable CD player or minidisc player? The answer is no, especially compared with some of the rival portable MP3 players on the market. There is not enough on-board memory - you quickly become frustrated with hearing the same half-dozen songs all day. The sound quality is horrendous for audiophiles who have become accustomed to the highly developed minidisc and CD players on the market.