Hardware review of the Sony ICF-CS15iPN Personal Audio System (“DREAM MACHINE” Lightning Connector clock radio dock)

SFFaudio Review

Sony ICF-CS15iPN Silver

“DREAM MACHINE” Personal Audio System
Product number: ICF-CS15iPN (Lightning Connector clock radio dock)
Manufacturer: Sony
UPCs: 027242866072 (silver), 027242866089 (black)

I listen to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts, but also radio. And since 2004, for those podcasts and audiobooks, I’ve been using Apple devices with the ubiquitous 30-pin dock connector. As the 30 pin dock connector has been upgraded over the years it’s meant I’ve had to swap docking equipment a couple of times already. For the last few years my go to dock/charger/clock/radio had been Sony’s ICF-CS10iP aka the “Dream Machine.” I actually had four of them: One for my bedside, one on my computer desk, one in my classroom, and one in my bathroom (for listening in the shower). The ICF-CS10iP was a robust tabletop machine. In my experience it could charge an naked iPhone 3, 3GS, 4, or 4S, and it could do so for even those wearing most iPhone cases. One thing it couldn’t do was charge (or dock) any iPad.

When I heard about Apple’s “Lightning Connector” last year I knew that the hardware I’d been using, and appreciating, would eventually come to an end. I started worrying when, last year, I got an iPad Mini (which uses a Lighting Connector). And then, recently, when I received an iPhone 5 as a gift, I knew the days of my wonderful ICF-CS10iP were coming to a close. There is actually a LIGHTNING TO 30 PIN ADAPTER available, $35 CDN from the Apple store (or a whole lot cheaper online), and it will fit and work with the ICF-CS10iP. In fact it is very usable there. That’s how my mom has adapted to the new connector. But for me stacking an iPhone on top wasn’t the ideal solution. So, I started looking into a replacement.

The Sony ICF-CS15iPN is the replacement I’ve been looking for. It has the same general shape as the ICF-CS10iP, but has actually been completely redesigned. Most importantly the Lightning Connector dock is on a swivel and is raised up. This allows for an even wider range of cases, and that’s important as I tend to have a thick case.

The controls have also been rearranged and reorganized into three separate tiers. The front most tiers (near the connector) deal with the dual alarms. The topmost tier deals with power, volume, input, and radio controls. And the rearmost buttons (invisible from the front but raised near to the top) deal with infrequently used but necessary programing like time settings and tuning. Like the ICF-CS10iP the ICF-CS15iPN comes with a simple and handy multifunction remote control.

Now the official documentation suggests that the ICF-CS15iPN is only compatible with the iPhone 5, iPod touch 5th generation, and iPod Nano 7th generation. But I can confirm it can also dock with and sync with the iPad Mini. The official documentation does not mention this functionality. Maybe the increased power needed to charge an iPad Mini will overtax the power supply? Perhaps, but I’ve not had any problems so far (after about three months worth of use).

Sony ICF-CS15iPN docked with an iPad Mini

A free app, oddly titled “D-Sappli“, available in the iTunes App Store, though getting poor reviews, seems pretty serviceable to me. It has a feature to sync your Apple device’s time and radio station presets with the dock (presumably for frequent travelers), allows for a sleep timer (usable for audiobooks), a music play timer (I havent tried it) and a sleep timer (for when the app is running). The main feature of the app though is the larger display screen of the time. The ICF-CS15iPN has a fairly large screen, but the option to have the clock running on your iOS device is there.

Sony ICF-CS15iPN docked with an iPhone 5 and displaying the D-Sappli App

Now for the hard part. Sony products have a terrible naming system. Their “Clock Radio” models, I have learned, all start with “ICF” – it took a whole lot of digging to figure out which model was which, and which was still available, and at which stores. Even when I thought I had the model number right the various iterations ended up being confused a lot of the time. To make things even more confusing the model ICF-CS15iPN comes in two different colors, “Silver” and “Black” and these are sometimes tacked on to the model number at the end as “SL” or “BK” (ICF-CS15iPNSL or ICF-CS15iPNBK).

I now have three ICF-CS15iPN devices now, and I use each one daily. The ICF-CS15iPN is fairly expensive, retail being $120 CDN, but the build quality, solidity, and sound quality all make me very satisfied.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Commentary: How to add art to your MP3 podcast episode using iTunes

SFFaudio Commentary

No podcast art!

Too many professionally produced podcasts, including such for profit ventures as CBS’ 60 Minutes podcast, don’t add art to their podcasts.

That’s sad.

Making sure your podcast episodes have art should be the final step before you upload your MP3 to your server.

You may think that because there is art on your iTunes page, or in your RSS feed, that means your podcast episodes automatically have art.

They may not!

To guarantee that your podcast episodes have art you must add it the individual MP3 file’s metadata.

There are other programs which allow you to edit your metadata, but there is probably already a program on your computer than can do it for you pretty easily: iTunes.

Here is the official iTunes description of the process:

To embed art within an individual episode’s metadata using iTunes, select the episode and choose Get Info from the File menu. Click the Artwork tab. Then click Add, navigate to and select the image file, and click Choose.

I found it to be a bit tricky so I’ve made a visualized step by step guide showing you how to do it.

To add art to your MP3 file follow this recipe:

1. Start iTunes.

Step 1 - Start iTunes

2. Go to File → New → Playlist (or CTRL + N) to make a new playlist.

Go to File - New - Playlist (or CTRL + N)

3. Drag the MP3 file into the now open playlist and click “DONE”.

Step 3 - Drag the MP3 file into the now open playlist and click DONE.

4. Next, navigate to “Music” (under LIBRARY).

Step 4 - Navigate to Music (under LIBRARY).

5. You should see a Playlist with the name “Unknown Album” and inside it your MP3.

Step 5 - You should see a Playlist with the name

6. Right-click on the MP3 and select “Get info” – this will create a pop-up.

Step 6 - Right-click on Get info - this will create a pop-up

7. In the pop-up select the rightmost tab, it’s labeled “Artwork.”

Step 7 - In the pop-up select the rightmost Artwork tab

8. Now, select the artwork you’d like to add to the MP3 and drag it into the tab.

Step 8 - Select the artwork you'd like to add to the MP3 and drag it into the tab.

9. Hit “Ok.” Your art will now be linked to your MP3.

Your art has now been linked to Your MP3

10. Repeat the process every time you make a new MP3 episode.

Repeat the process every time.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Commentary: How to convert iPhone Voice Memos to MP3 (or WAV) in iTunes

SFFaudio Commentary

iTunes Preferences

I use my iPhone as a portable audio recorder. But the default recording format is M4A. This is not an easily manipulable format. If you, like me, want to use Audacity (and/or Levelator) to fiddle with your files you’ll want to be able to convert your files into other formats. iTunes has this capability, but figuring out how to make it happen in iTunes is not straightforward. Here’s the process in seven steps:

1. Go into the “Music” section of iTunes (which is where Voice Memos are found)
2. Click on the “Edit” tab
3. Select “Preferences”
4. Select “General”
5. Go down to “When you insert a CD” and select “Import Settings”
6. Change “Import Using” from “AAC Encoder” to “MP3 Encoder” (or “WAV Encoder”)
7. Now, when you right click on the Voice Memo, you will now have the option to “Create MP3 Version” (or “Create WAV Version”)

Here’s a video that shows the same process:

Posted by Jesse Willis

Commentary: Radio Downloader

SFFaudio Commentary

So I’ve been singing the praises of HuffDuffer for a while now. I still love it. But that isn’t the only piece of software that’s making my listening life easier these days.

Radio Downloader is a cool piece of software called that is making me very happy.

Created by Matt Robinson, and found on his website, NerdoftheHerd.comRadio Downloader is a program that browses, automatically retrieves, downloads, and converts BBC Radio programs into MP3s.

Radio Downloader

Anything that shows up on BBC iPlayer can now be subscribed to and made ultra-portable. The only thing Radio Downloader doesn’t do is interface with iTunes or other podcatcher software. The browser is relatively simple to use and lists all the upcoming programs available (as well as older shows that may repeat). I’ve found myself subscribed to regular slots in the BBC schedule like: “Afternoon Play”, “Book At Bedtime”, “Book Of The Week”, “Saturday Play” and many many others. But you can also subscribe by title (see above). After you download and install Radio Downloader play around a bit with it. The interface is clean and simple, but requires a bit of training to find all of the goodness stored within it. Of his software Matt sez:

It brings Podcast-like abilities to stream downloading, as well as handling Podcasts. This gives you the convenience of being able to subscribe to regular downloads of your favourite programmes, which you can then listen to on your pc or mp3 player.

Radio Downloader runs on Windows 2000, XP and Vista, and requires the .Net Framework 2.0, which you can get via Windows Update, or download from microsoft.com.

And most important, RD is FREE.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Hardware review of iPod Nano: 4th Generation 16 gb (purple)

SFFaudio Review

iPod Nano 4th Generation (purple)iPod Nano 4th Generation (Purple)
Capacity: 16GB (flash)
Manufactuer: Apple Inc.
Software version: 1.0.3
Themes: / Audiobook / Podcast / iTunes /

This is my third Nano and my fourth iPod. So far I’d rank it as the 2nd best audiobook and podcast player I’ve ever used. This Nano is just a smidge smaller than my previous iPod Nano, an 8gb 3rd generation model. The 3rd generation had a couple of features that make me prefer it over this latest model.

First, though the 4th generation’s screen is exactly the same dimensions as the 3rd’s it doesn’t function as well for audiobooks and podcasts. This is because the 3rd gen’s horizontal layout was friendlier for reading. The 4th generation, when turned sideways, will NOT display text from the Audiobook or Podcast folders, you have to keep the iPod vertical, this makes the amount of time you have to wait to see what’s in a directory a second or so longer. Second, unlike ALL previous iPod models the 4th gen will not charge with my bedside charger/speaker system. In order to keep the iPod charged I have to plug it into the computer itself. I am currently looking into an adapter – the seem to be about $50.00.

The Nano model series has been the best audiobook/podcast player up to the 3rd generation. Up to that point each model and software update the iPod Nano had been improving. Adding a bigger screen and more memory. On the day my first generation Nano was stolen I went straight to the store and immediately bought the 3rd generation – not only was the memory bigger, it’s screen was too. If my new 4th generation was stolen today I’d go out and buy another today- but for if they were still making 3rd gens in 16gb models, I’d buy that instead.

There are issues with the iTunes/iPod interface, many people complain about it, I myself have bitched now and again, but compared to the vast field of MP3 and other portable media players out there iPod+iTunes combo still has no serious competitors.

Features that make the iPod Nano a winner include:

1. True audiobook and podcast bookmarking.
2. A one handed (just your thumb actually) highly intuitive interface.
3. Small size (it can fit in a shirt pocket).

The bad:

1. DRM.
Audible.com provides all of the audiobooks available through the iTunes store, all are DRM’d making sharing and sometimes even accessing audiobooks inconvenient. And, the iPod isn’t compatible with Overdrive (the other big DRM audiobook service) – libraries are wasting their money on a service that can’t be used by more than 70% of the market.

2. $$$
The price is a little high, given the competition I’m willing to pay the premium, but the fact is these devices are always more expensive than their similarly featured (though not similarily functional) rivals. My latest iPod cost me $199.99 CDN, admittedly for the highest end 16gb model. But that’s about $20.00 more than the 16gb Microsoft Zune.

3. Reliability
iPods can be fairly good or fairly bad. When they work, they can work great day after day, and week after week for more than a year. But they all seem to have a fairly short lifespan. My last iPod lasted through only a 13 months of daily use. I definitely got my money’s worth, but I’d prefer to get MORE than my money’s worth.

4. Music/Video domination.
Despite the high praise I give for the iPod Nano as an audiobook and podcast player the machine is still primarily designed for music (and increasingly video). This reveals itself further in this the newest model, which has a widescreen interface (making it harder to read text and easier to watch movies). Another new feature, “genius” idea (shake it to mix it) is also utterly useless for audiobooks and podcasts. The only shaking I do with my ipod is when I’ve had too much coffee.

iPod Nano 4th Generation (purple)

Posted by Jesse Willis

iTunes 8.0 offers more control over audiobooks

SFFaudio News

iTunes 8.0The latest version of iTunes NOW finally, gives you some more control over your own audiobooks, at least sort of. According to a post over on Podiobooks.com’s blog:

The new iTunes 8 has launched and fans of audiobooks couldn’t be happier. Prior versions of iTunes kept the Audiobooks section under lock and key. The only files that would display in the Audiobooks section on your iTunes or iPod were books purchased from the iTunes music store. Not very handy to people who buy copies of audio books on CD or download them from other sources on the interwebs.

With 8.0, iTunes now allows you to change the Media Kind for files to Audiobook, taking them out of the Music section (where they never belonged in the first place). So score one for iTunes for enabling those who just want to use the software, but exercise choice in where they get their audiobook content.

Read the full Podiobooks.com blog post HERE.

Posted by Jesse Willis