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rio car dot org FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Category: Main -> Basic questions about the car player and the company
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·   What is the difference between the empeg Car and the Rio Car?
·   Has the Rio Car been discontinued?
·   Where can I buy one?
·   Will there ever be a car player Mark 3?
·   What came in the box with the Rio Car player?
·   What are the basic specifications of the player?
·   How does the Rio Car compare to other car MP3 players on the market?
·   How is the music organized on the player? Is it easy to find a given tune?
·   Do I need to know Linux to use the Rio Car player?
·   How are the hard disks going to hold up to the vibration of a car?
·   Can I use the Rio Car player in an audio competition?
·   Why were laptop drives used? Desktop drives are cheaper.
·   Why doesn't it play MP3 CD-R discs?
·   Why doesn't it have a removable faceplate? Why must the whole unit be pulled from the dash?
·   Why only 10BaseT ethernet? Why didn't you put 100BaseT on the Mark 2 player?
·   Do I need a separate amplifier, or will the Rio Car drive my speakers directly?
·   How do I put music onto the player? Do I need to bring a laptop into the car?
·   What operating systems are supported?
·   What kind of music files will it play? Will it play VQF/AAC/MPEG4/OGG/MP3Pro, etc.?
·   Does the player work with iTunes?
·   Does the player support audio books?
·   Does the tuner support XM radio or Sirius radio?
·   What RDS features does the tuner support?
·   What parts of the software are open-source?
·   I want to start encoding my CD collection for use on the Rio Car now! Is there anything I need to keep in mind?
·   What is the largest disk drive I can put in the player?
·   What do all the buttons do?
·   What does the serial number represent?
·   How do I upgrade my software?
·   How can I get a replacement blue lens? The official Rio add-on lens kits don't have blue.
·   What is the 'Security' slot on the back of the player for?
·   If my player is stolen, is there anything I can do?
·   If I purchase a player second-hand, will the one-year warranty still be honored?
·   How do I get support or repairs?

·  What is the difference between the empeg Car and the Rio Car?
 (Entry last updated on January 15th, 2009)

The Rio Car is essentially the same product as the empeg Car Mark 2. It is different from the empeg Car Mark 1. However, all three products remain fully supported.

A bit of history:

In June 1998, Hugo Fiennes founded empeg, Ltd., based in Cambridge, England. The plan was to make the first truly commercial-quality, high-capacity car MP3 player that didn't rely upon do-it-yourself kits.

The empeg Car Mark 1 was released in the late summer of 1999, and fewer than 400 units total were shipped to customers. The Mark 1 had space for two 2.5" laptop hard disks, and it had 8 megabytes of RAM for running software and caching songs. USB and Serial were the connections available to interface with your PC. It had a plain faceplate with four simple buttons. It had a built-in FM-only tuner. Despite being a "first product", its design was very advanced. The hard disks were shock mounted, its display was highly graphical, and it allowed unprecedented levels of control over your music collection. It was the first mass-market product which truly allowed you to take your entire music collection with you anywhere.

The empeg Car Mark 2 was released in the summer of 2000. It had an updated fascia design which was more stylish, and incorporated a rotary encoder knob in addition to the buttons. The sled and car docking connector were completely redesigned to be more reliable (Mark 1 and Mark 2 sleds are not compatible). It had more RAM (12mb) and added 10baseT ethernet as one of the connection options. It added a microphone connector for the possibility of adding voice recognition software in the future. An internal radio tuner was no longer included, but there was a connector plug that allowed a higher quality add-on AM/FM/RDS tuner to be attached. A real-time clock circuit was added so that the time of day could be displayed on the screen. The output stage was improved to make the unit less suceptible to DC ground loop problems and alternator whine. Its power wiring was changed, to allow it to enter standby mode when you turn off the car's ignition. A headlight-sense display dimmer circuit and a cellphone mute input were added. Finally, the internal circuit design was cleaned up and simplified to allow for easier mass production.

In November of 2000, Sonic|blue saw the promise in empeg's products and talent, and purchased the company. The empeg team was incorporated into the Rio division, and the empeg Car Mark 2 player was renamed the Rio Car. Some very minor hardware details have been improved on the Rio Car, but it remains essentially the same product as the empeg Car Mark 2. Its rotary encoder was changed from a round-shaft type to a keyed-shaft type. It has a tad more RAM (16mb), but it runs exactly the same firmware, and the difference in RAM simply means that it caches a bit more song data to RAM so it hits the hard disk slightly less often. Internally, this product is known as the Mark 2a to differentiate it from the prior hardware revision.

All hardware attachments for the empeg Car Mark 2 and the Rio Car are identical. The sleds are compatible, the tuner attachment plug is compatible, the faceplates are compatible, etc. The only major part that's not interchangeable between the 2 and the 2a is the plastic rotary encoder knob, as the shaft of the encoder is shaped differently on the two models.

The player's firmware is exactly the same for the empeg Car Mark 2 and the Rio Car. You install the same upgrades, regardless of which of the two units you own.

However, the Mark 1 unit, for the most part, is not parts-compatible. It requires a completely different sled, it has a different faceplate and handle, etc. The internal firmware is also not compatible. The Mark 1 requires its own separate player firmware.

Finally, note that the "Emplode" Windows software which loads the music into the player is compatible across all models. In fact, Emplode is designed to work with certain other future Rio products besides the car player. So there is only one download of the Emplode software. The separate downloads for Mark 1 and Mark 2 are only needed with respect to upgrading the firmware on the player itself.

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·  Has the Rio Car been discontinued?
 (Entry last updated on May 4th, 2008)


In September 2001, Rio announced that it would EOL ("end of life") the Car Player. In other words, the empeg Car/Rio Car product will no longer be manufactured. The total number of existing players in the world is about 4000 Mk2/2a players and about 350 Mk1 players, and no more will be made.

The reason for the EOL was that they were unable to sell enough of them. The component and manufacturing costs for the player were very high, so the retail price was also very high. As a result, only a select few people purchased them: those who understood the tremendous potential of a very high quality hard-drive-based player, and were willing to pay this high price to realize that potential. It wasn't until Rio deep-discounted the players (selling them below their original cost in order to get rid of the stock) that they were able to move the units in any sort of volume.

So Rio decided that they didn't want to be in the retail car MP3 player business. The empeg team in Cambridge continued to do R&D and software development for Rio for a while afterward, until Rio eventually dissolved completely. Examples of their post-car-player work for Rio are the Rio Receiver network player, the HSX-109 Rio Central, the Rio S-series portables, the Rio Nitrus portable, and the Rio Karma portable.

This does not mean the "end" of the car player for existing owners, however. Unofficial support will be available indefinitely in the form of user-community help on this site and on the Unofficial Empeg BBS. Also, at the time of this writing, there was continuing offical support channel via a third-party service.

But what about the player software?

The 2.0 software (and its derivatives) is the final official software for the player. The 3.0 Alpha was unfinished when the team split up, and there are no plans to finish it.

Since the members of the empeg team will continue to create new products for other companies, and the owners of the empeg player software IP are using pieces of its code for future projects, the current player software cannot become open-sourced.

Finally, remember that the player is essentially a complete Linux computer in a very small box. The possibilities for future third-party software development are limitless. Even though its player software is proprietary, the kernel is open-source and its hardware specifications are well known. There is nothing preventing anyone from writing a completely new piece of player software (or any other kind of software for that matter) from scratch. Development efforts in this area are already underway, and the empeg team encourages and even offers advice to developers of third party software for the player.

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·  Where can I buy one?
 (Entry last updated on May 4th, 2008)

Some players are still changing hands among private owners. Check the For Sale forum on the Empeg BBS, or see if any have been offered on Ebay.

Accessories such as extra remote controls and extra car docking sleds were sold at the empeg international store for a while. However, this store closed on May 31, 2002, so accessories are now only available via the same channels as players (i.e., the BBS and Ebay). Note that you can use the aftermarket Kenwood KCA-R6A remote control as a subsitute for the original remote.

The original add-on tuner modules for the Mk2/2a player are sold out. There was a kit version of the tuner module being offered here which is completely compatible with the original tuner module, but that also is no longer being manufactured, and you're back to Ebay and the BBS.

Note that the custom carrying cases (with the "empeg" logo embroidered upon them) are also sold out. Sonic|blue never made any carrying cases to go with the Rio Car players in the US. If you need a carrying case for your player, please see this entry for alternatives.

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·  Will there ever be a car player Mark 3?
 (Entry last updated on May 4th, 2008)


The team that brought us the empeg/Rio Car player is no longer together and they are working at many different companies now. Some of them worked on portable players for a while, for Rio and for other companies. Hugo, the founder, is actually in Cupertino working for Apple at the time of this writing.

In the past, Rio had sought partnerships with OEM customers in order to bring their technology to the car. A prototype of an OEM car player which was the Mark 3 concept was shown at the Visteon booth at the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It was basically the Rio Central with a color screen, redesigned as an in-dash player. Whether a product like this ever sees actual production is entirely up to Visteon. We are told that car manufacturers are glacially slow to move on such products, and that design may not see the light of day.

But {company} is doing a hard disk in-car player with {features} better than the Rio?

That's nice. Let's see how many units they actually sell. But at the time of this writing, in-dash hard disk players were still very expensive to manufacture (even for giants like Sony), and therefore difficult to sell in profitable quantities.

For a while, the only commercially successful hard disk car players had been the trunk-mounted CD-changer-type units such as the Kenwood/Phatnoise and the Neo. Major props to those guys for hitting that market segment accurately for their time. But that's not the same thing as the empeg Car/Rio Car, those units are much simpler in many ways.

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·  What came in the box with the Rio Car player?
 (Entry last updated on May 15th, 2002)

When purchased new from Sonic|blue, the box included:

  • The Rio Car player, arguably the coolest car stereo ever invented.

    Disk drive size and number of disk drives varied depending on the model. All models below 60gb were single-drive models, leaving one of the two bays free for the addition of a second disk drive at a future date. The 60gb model had two 30gb disk drives, filling both bays.

    The faceplate lens was, by default, the blue color. Lens kits, which included green, amber, and red lenses, were sold separately.

    The player did not come with a radio tuner. An add-on AM/FM/RDS radio tuner module, that installs inside the dashboard behind the docking sled, was sold separately.

  • One DIN-sized car docking sled with four 4v line-level outputs (stereo front/rear) and two line-level aux inputs (stereo).

  • One credit-card sized Rio infrared remote control.

  • One AC adapter for using the player indoors.

  • One serial null modem cable for applying firmware upgrades to the player.

  • One USB cable for loading songs into the player.

  • CD-ROM disc with Windows connection software (most likely version 1.02, you can get upgrades at www.empeg.com if desired).

  • User's guide.

  • A one-year warranty.

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·  What are the basic specifications of the player?
 (Entry last updated on October 30th, 2002)

Originally from the Sonic|blue Rio Car site:

Processor   220MHz StrongARM S-1100-DA
Flash memory   1Mb
RAM   16Mb 60ns FPM
DSP   SAA7705H
DACs   16 bit sign-magnitude, fourfold oversampling digital filters, noise shaping
Display   128 x 32 dot matrix vacuum fluorescent display, 2 bits per pixel
IR   SIR IrDA I/O, Consumer IR input
Controls   4 pushbuttons, 1 rotary+push
HDD ports   ATA 2.5" HDD standard 2MM header
HDD physical   ATA 2.5" HDD up to 17mm, corner mounting screws
Serial IO   9-pin PC serial port, data rate to 230Kbits/s, also docked in-car
USB   12Mbit/s standard type B socket on head unit (slave only)
Ethernet   10BaseT RJ45 socket on head unit
Power input   +12V on ISO connector fused at 2A with inline fuseholder
Grounding   Negative earth only
Auxillary control output   +12V @ 1A maximum on ISO connector
Audio outputs   4V line level front & rear stereo RCA line jacks, 1V stereo RCA sockets on head unit
Audio inputs   1V line level stereo RCA line jacks
Other features   On board temperature sensor
Software controlled display brightness
Display night mode input (headlight dim)
Audio mute input (for mobile phones)

Optional Tuner Module
Tuner (optional)   AM/FM fuzzy logic autotuning radio, RDS/RBDS capability
FM tuning range   87.5 to 108 MHz, 12.5 kHz steps
AM tuning range   520 - 1720Khz, 12.5Khz steps
RF input   Standard antenna socket with adaptor for euro socket

DAC sample rate   fixed 44.1KHz
DAC typical S/N ratio   110dBA
DAC typical output noise   3uV
DAC typical THD + N   1Khz, 0dB -70dBA
DAC typical dynamic range   1Khz (-60dB) 102dBA
DAC max crosstalk   10Khz -69dB
Aux input frequency response   20Hz to 18KHz
Aux input typical channel seperation   50dB
Volume control range   -66dB to +20dB
Balance attenuation range LR   0dB to -30dB
Fader attenuation range FR   0dB to -30dB
Tone control range, bass/treble   -12dB to +15dB
Dynamic loudness level range   0dB to +14dB
Dynamic loudness offset range   0dB to +24dB
Dynamic bass boost level range   0dB to +14dB
Dynamic bass boost offset range   0dB to +24dB
Equaliser   20 band parametric set as 2 x 10-band or 4 x 5-band
Other audio features   Dynamic range compression

Standby power   2.75 Watts
Standby power, drive spun up   3.30 Watts
Operating power, hard drive spun down   6.20 Watts
Operating power, peak   8.90 Watts
Input voltage   7 to 16 VDC
Switched auxillary output   1A maximum load

Operating temperature range   5 deg. C to 55 deg. C
Standby temperature range   -20 deg. C to 60 deg. C
Non-operating temperature range   TBA
Humidity, operating   10% to 90% RH, non-condensing
Humidity, non-operating   5% to 95% RH, non-condensing
Shock, operating   150G
Shock, non-operating   400G

Physical (maximum)
Docking unit   2 inches (50mm) high
  7.2 inches (183mm) wide
  6.8 inches (173mm) deep
Head unit   2.2 inches (55mm) high
  7.3 inches (186mm) wide
  6.0 inches (152mm) deep
Weight   5.5 pounds (2.5kg) with two drives
Case material   0.04 inch (1mm) stainless steel

Note: figures vary depending on hard drive type fitted, power consumption figures are shown with a single 20Gb drive. Drives are kept spun down as much as possible during operation.

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·  How does the Rio Car compare to other car MP3 players on the market?
 (Entry last updated on September 9th, 2003)

Not counting CD-R based players (which don't even come close to the Rio Car because of the limited capacity of the CD-R format), you can see a comparison matrix here.

At the time of its writing, the comparison matrix covered the Rio Car's two main competitors at the time, the PhatNoise and the Neo Car.

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·  How is the music organized on the player? Is it easy to find a given tune?

The music organization is very flexible. This is the player's strongest feature.

You can create free-form trees of hierarchical playlists, or you can organize by artist and album. You can also do both at the same time without wasting any disk space on duplicated songs.

You can also perform alphanumeric searches by song, by artist, by album, by genre, or by year. You can queue up songs, jukebox-style, without interrupting playback of the current song.

You can listen to your albums in strict sequential order, or you can shuffle the entire player's contents. The capacity is so large that you can shuffle the player's root directory and take a cross-country trip without hearing the same song twice.

If you hear an artist you like, you can press a key and it will randomly select another song by the same artist. You can also do this by album, genre, or year.

It's so flexible that it changes the way you listen to your music. No longer are you limited to the CD/Track mentality (although you're welcome to use it that way if you prefer). You are fully in control of your entire music collection. It's like being the program director of a radio station that plays only your favorite songs.

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·  Do I need to know Linux to use the Rio Car player?

No, you don't need any special knowledge to use the player.

Although the player runs the Linux operating system internally, you don't need to know anything about Linux to use it. In fact, the connection software is Windows-based.

If you happen to prefer Linux, there is also Linux-based connection software available. You can even connect with a Macintosh and load your tunes that way, using a Java-based utility.

If you want to write third-party software for the player, or you want to hack the player's internals, then you will need to know something about Linux. But this is not required.

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·  How are the hard disks going to hold up to the vibration of a car?

Very well. The disks are shock protected in three important ways:

  • The disks are laptop drives, which are inherently more shock-resistant than desktop drives.

  • The disks are mounted on a shock-absorbing tray inside the player.

  • The software has a very aggressive caching scheme which keeps the disk drives spun down for most of the time. It only spins up the disk briefly at intervals to fill the cache RAM with music data.

The specifications for the player's shock tolerance are 150g operating, 400g non-operating.

Note: One owner reported that the car player still won't tolerate being played inside the cabin of a vehicle during an SPL (Sound Pressure Level) competition. This is to be expected, since in those conditions, a human being in the same space would be seriously injured. For those competitions, the CD player is usually removed and placed outside the vehicle. If you plan to use it in an SPL competition, you should expect to do the same thing for the Rio Car.

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·  Can I use the Rio Car player in an audio competition?

The player's audio output circuitry is certainly of competition quality. And if your MP3s were created carefully and are of high quality, they can sound every bit as good as a CD.

However, most audio competitions don't accept MP3 players for the Sound Quality part of the competition. For example, the IASCA competitions require that the judges supply the CD itself. This might change in the future, but for now, you must use a CD player in most competitions.

Remember, though, that you can still use the Rio Car's line-level aux-in jacks for a CD player. This would let you use the player's 20-band fully parametric equalizer to adjust your sound. This might be helpful in a competition setting. You could, for example, create an EQ preset for each of the different stages of the competition.

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·  Why were laptop drives used? Desktop drives are cheaper.

  • Laptop drives are smaller than 3.5" drives, allowing room inside the case for the shock-mount mechanism.

  • Laptop drives are designed for mobile use, and have greater temperature and shock tolerances than desktop drives.

  • Laptop drives consume less power.

  • Laptop drives are quieter.

  • Laptop drives generate less heat.
You cannot retrofit a desktop drive into the car player, by the way. There's not enough room in the case and the power circuitry probably couldn't handle it.

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·  Why doesn't it play MP3 CD-R discs?

Actually, it will: If you use your PC to load the contents of the MP3 CD-R into the player ahead of time, it will play the files just fine.

It just doesn't have a CD mechanism built directly into the player. The designers felt that having room for two shock-mounted hard disks was much more useful than having a CD drive in the player.

Yes, there are other CD player products on the market which will also play MP3 CD-R discs. Sure, they're cheaper, but they'll never be as good as the Rio Car player.

The whole point of the player is so that you can have your entire music collection in the car with you at all times, without the need to shuffle CDs in and out of a player or a changer.

CD-R discs are limited to about 650 megabytes of data. At a mediocre encoding rate of 128kbps, that gives you room for about 10-12 albums' worth of MP3 files on a single CD-R. This is no better than a CD changer, and you'd still have to carry a big stack of discs around in order to have a truly large variety of music at your disposal. The Rio Car, on the other hand, allows you to go completely without CDs of any kind, and can store vast amounts of music.

There are also issues with the access and index times of MP3 CD-R systems. When you first insert a CD-R into one of these cheaper players, the disc must be indexed, so there is a pause as the player reads the information. For most, there is also a pause between songs or when you skip forward to the next track. These operations are essentially instantaneous on the Rio Car.

Finally, the advanced database features of the Rio Car, such as searching, hierarchical playlists, filters, bookmarks, etc., are all made possible because the player has hard disks instead of the read-only medium of a burned CD.

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·  Why doesn't it have a removable faceplate? Why must the whole unit be pulled from the dash?

Here's one good reason: because removable faceplates are totally useless.

I once had a removable-faceplate stereo stolen. They got my stereo and my subwoofer, even though the face was off and the subwoofer was hidden in the trunk. They broke in because they thought that they would either find the faceplate hidden in the car, or they could purchase a replacement faceplate from some other source. Whether or not they were successful is irrelevant, the fact is that the removable face did not deter them.

The main reason that the unit pulls completely out of the dash is because the player's hard disks need to be brought into the house in order to fill them with music. From an engineering and reliability standpoint, the best way to do this is to have a pullout stereo with USB and ethernet on the back.

Finally, this design allows the unit to double as a home music player. I regularly move my player between my desk at home, my car, and my desk at work. This lets me listen to the same music collection in all of those places.

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·  Why only 10BaseT ethernet? Why didn't you put 100BaseT on the Mark 2 player?

Because the hardware doesn't include the necessary PCI data bus for 100BaseT circuitry (it's ISA only). Less expensive that way, and the extra bandwidth isn't really needed.

Yes, there is a such thing as ISA-based 100BaseT adapters, but even if one of these chips were in the player, it wouldn't be able to transfer data fast enough to take advantage of the bandwidth. It would still only run at about 10mbps.

Remember that at 10mbps, it only takes a couple of minutes to upload an entire album.

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·  Do I need a separate amplifier, or will the Rio Car drive my speakers directly?

The Rio Car has line-level outputs, which require separate amplification. You can do this either by adding an amplifier, or by connecting it to the "aux-in" connectors of another stereo. Your stereo installation shop should have no trouble with it.

Please see the Installation section of this FAQ for more details.

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·  How do I put music onto the player? Do I need to bring a laptop into the car?
 (Entry last updated on July 1st, 2006)

You do not need to bring a laptop into the car. The player pulls out of the dash so you can bring it to your PC in the house.

First, you get some digital music files, such as MP3s. You can create them yourself from your own CD collection, using one of many different PC software titles. These programs are widely available, some are even free. You probably already have one on your PC, they often come bundled with new PCs or CD-R drives. Or, you can download your music from internet sites such as mp3.com.

If you are on a Windows PC, install and run the included Emplode software. Plug the player into the USB port using the included cable (ethernet and serial connections are also supported). Drag your music files from the Windows explorer onto Emplode. If desired, organize your music by creating playlists of your songs. Then press the Synchronize button. It will take a few moments to send the songs to the player.

If you are on a Macintosh, you may use the free JEmplode utility with the serial or ethernet connectors.

If you are on a Linux PC, you may use the Emptool utility, available from the empeg web site. JEmplode also works great on Linux, or in fact, almost any operating system, since it's written in Java.

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·  What operating systems are supported?
 (Entry last updated on February 14th, 2002)

  • Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows 2000, and Windows XP: Fully supported. Emplode was designed to run under these operating systems.

  • Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0: Partly supported. USB devices do not work under '95 or NT4, since those operating systems do not have any USB support at all. Ethernet and serial will work as long as you have Internet Explorer 4.0 or later installed.

  • MacOS: Supported by the free JEmplode utility.

  • Linux: Fully supported, by both Emptool and JEmplode.

  • Windows 3.1 and NT 3.51: Shyeah, right.

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·  What kind of music files will it play? Will it play VQF/AAC/MPEG4/OGG/MP3Pro, etc.?
 (Entry last updated on May 4th, 2008)

As of software version 2.0, the player will play MP2, MP3, WMA (unprotected), and WAV files. Variable bit rate MP3 files are fully supported.

Other formats are not supported at this time, due to a lack of demand. OGG and FLAC have been added in the version 3.0 software, although that version was Alpha when development on it was stopped.

You should be able to convert other formats into MP3 or WMA, provided that there's not any Digital Rights Management (DRM) copy-protection to get around. Many file formats can be converted using utilities found by doing a web search.

Please note that songs purchased from Apple's iTunes service are both (a) copy protected using a proprietary Apple scheme, and (b) encoded in AAC format, which is not supported by the empeg (or anything other than an iPod for the most part). Some utilities are available to work around this, such as the Hymn project.

If you can't transcode a file directly into MP3, then at the very least you should be able to use something like Total Recorder to do the conversion for you. Also keep in mind that many of these kinds of files (such as iTunes files) can be burned as audio tracks onto an audio CD, which you can then turn around and rip as an MP3. Please have a peek at this entry for things to keep in mind regarding audio file format conversion.

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·  Does the player work with iTunes?
 (Entry last updated on July 3rd, 2006)

The Rio Car player was made long before the iPod or iTunes existed. So iTunes cannot be used to manage the songs on it. You must use Emplode or Jemplode to manage the songs on the player. Note that Jemplode is cross-platform and will work fine on an Apple Macintosh. Click here for more information about which operating systems are supported by the car player.

You can rip your CDs with iTunes, as long as you configure iTunes to make MP3 files instead of its default AAC files.

MP3 files are widely used and can be played on nearly all portable digital music players including iPods. AAC is a newer file format that does not currently enjoy as widespread compatibility as MP3 has. Due to the end of life status of the Rio Car, it is highly unlikely AAC support will ever be added.

If you use iTunes and you have already saved all of your songs in AAC format, you must convert them all to MP3 before you can put them on the car player. One way to do this is just to re-rip your CDs in iTunes, configured so that it makes MP3 files instead of AAC files. If you have purchased songs from the iTunes online service, those files are copy-protected and must have the copy protection removed in order to convert them to other formats. Methods for converting audio files to the MP3 format are discussed here.

Note that it is possible to get mt-daapd running on a Rio Car, thus making its library of MP3s visible on a network as if it were an iTunes server. This isn't for novices, however, as it can be tricky to install.

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·  Does the player support audio books?


As long as the files are in one of the supported file formats, they will work very well on the player.

You can even use some of the player's advanced features (bookmarking, nested playlists, and the "Ignore as Child" tag) to make the audio books even more useful.

If the audio book file is not in one of the player's supported file formats, you can usually convert it to the proper format with very little hassle. Even if it's a copy-protected format that requires a proprietary piece of player software, you can use something like Total Recorder to convert it into the desired format.

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·  Does the tuner support XM radio or Sirius radio?
 (Entry last updated on October 30th, 2002)

No. The Rio Car's tuner module is a standard AM/FM tuner (FM only on the Mark 1) with some RDS features. XM radio and Sirius radio are satellite-based subscription services, which are a completely different animal. There are no plans to integrate such a system into the Rio Car, at least not directly.

Note that the Rio Car has line-level aux-in connectors, so a third-party XM/Sirius tuner can be added quite easily.

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·  What RDS features does the tuner support?
 (Entry last updated on March 3rd, 2003)

If transmitted by the local radio stations, it displays RDS (Radio Data Service) text information, and will display the RDS clock when the display is set to the Info:Radio screen. Note that the RDS clock is separate from the player's internal real-time clock, so there may be a difference between the clock shown in the Info:Radio screen and the clock shown in the other screens.

As of version 2.0, the player also supports RDS-TA (Traffic Announce) and RDS-AF (Alternate Frequency tuning) where available. Please see the software release notes for instructions on how to use these features.

Note that, in the United States, very few radio stations support RDS at all, and even fewer support the advanced features. For those that do support it, the RDS equipment seems to get ignored quite often, almost as if the technicians don't even know it's there. As a result, they often broadcast incorrect information. So the RDS features are essentially useless for most of the United States.

However, in Europe, where RDS is widely supported, it's very cool.

If you own the tuner module in the United States, you can expect to see an RDS-capable station only once in a blue moon. And when you do see one, odds are that you'll get the station's call letters and little else. And there's no guarantee they'll even be the right call letters. If you're in "Info:Radio" mode, the RDS clock might appear once in a while, with a high probablility that it will display an incorrect time.

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·  What parts of the software are open-source?
 (Entry last updated on July 6th, 2007)

The player's Linux kernel is heavily modified from the original Linux kernel, and this modified source code is made available.

The Linux Emptool utility is open-source.

The tool which uploads data to the player's flash RAM (for things such as custom kernels or logo images) is open-source.

The specifications for the hardware and all input/output connections are freely available.

The actual player software and the Emplode utility are proprietary, and their source code is not made available to the public. The player software is part of a larger codebase which is used for newer products developed by Rio and other companies. So they can't open-source the player code.

However, there is enough available information for someone to develop their own player software if they were willing to expend the time and energy required. Others are already working on this, check around the Empeg BBS for information on these projects.

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·  I want to start encoding my CD collection for use on the Rio Car now! Is there anything I need to keep in mind?

The most important thing to consider is that you should have your tags carefully filled out ahead of time. Correct song tag information is important for many of the Rio Car's features. It is possible to correct errors in your tags after sending them to the Rio Car, but it's much easier to have everything well organized before sending the songs to the player in the first place.

As far as MP3 encoding quality is concerned, remember that the Rio Car has very high quality audio output circuitry, so it's important to make sure that your MP3 files are up to it. I recommend 160kbps or higher. Variable bit rate files are a good thing, and are fully supported on the car player.

Finally, it's a good idea to organize your MP3 files on your PC's hard disk in a directory structure that mirrors the playlists you plan to create on the player. For instance, if you want to organize things by artist/album on the player, then put album folders inside artist folders on your PC's hard disk. If you like to organize by Genre, you can do it that way instead.

Read the MP3 creation section of this FAQ for more details.

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·  What is the largest disk drive I can put in the player?
 (Entry last updated on January 24th, 2008)

For all practical purposes, there is no limit. You can install pretty much any two laptop IDE drives you like.

The largest configuration sold by Sonic|blue was 60gb, consisting of both available drive bays filled with 30gb laptop disk drives.

If you are good with tools and electronics, you can install your own laptop disk drives. Complete instructions for doing this are here.

The player's disk space is only limited by the capacity of available laptop IDE disk drives, and newer, bigger laptop disk drives are coming out all the time. At the time of this writing, there were laptop IDE drives available as big as 160gb. There is room in the player's case for two of these drives, bringing the total potential capacity to 320gb. Some users have actually done this, so it isn't just theoretical.

Although there is no specific limit to the size of the disk drives you can install, there are some other limitations you might run into:

  • Laptop drives over a certain size are likely to be manufactured as SATA drives instead of IDE drives. At the time of this writing, there was not a way to install a SATA drive into the player.

  • Laptop drives over about 60 gigabytes each will cause the disk builder image to crash, requiring extra steps in the installation process. Not difficult to work around, but it makes the job slightly more tedious because it requires extra steps. These steps are outlined in the instructions.

  • Laptop drives over about 128 gigabytes each will require a special altered version of the kernel in order to work properly. This is also outlined in the instructions.

  • The player has a limited amount of RAM for caching the database of songs. Players with too many songs on the hard disk (between 10,000 and 20,000 depending on the amount of data in their tags) will hit the database size limit and will have trouble indexing the entire player contents all at once. This can be worked around by manually rebuilding the database when you add new music, and dividing the music up into smaller sub-playlists and playing only those on playback. There are also other tricks you can do that can increase those limitations, discussed in detail here.

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·  What do all the buttons do?

Here is a guide to the buttons on the remote controls and the front panel.

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·  What does the serial number represent?

For Mark 1 players, the serial number is just a sequential unit number. For instance, 00148 would be the 148th Mark 1 player made.

For the Mark 2 and Rio Car players, the serial number is in the format of MMYYNNNNN. So a player number 090000523 would be month 09 (Sept.) of year 00 (2000), serial number 00523.

Note that the initial zero is sometimes dropped, so, for example, 090000523 might be printed as 90000523.

By the way, if you're having trouble locating the serial number sticker for your player, don't forget to peek on the bottom (some players have the serial number on the bottom). It can also be found in the "About" screen from the player's main menu.

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·  How do I upgrade my software?

You can find details on how to upgrade the player firmware and the Emplode connection software here.

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·  How can I get a replacement blue lens? The official Rio add-on lens kits don't have blue.
 (Entry last updated on August 13th, 2003)

Contact support, they can help you.

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·  What is the 'Security' slot on the back of the player for?
 (Entry last updated on January 10th, 2002)

The security slot is the standard size for connecting to the little "laptop lock" mechanisms, normally used for preventing laptop computers from being shoplifted.

In practice, it's mainly been used when the player is being shown in a booth at a trade show.

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·  If my player is stolen, is there anything I can do?
 (Entry last updated on February 18th, 2002)

There is no password security or owner validation built into the player, because any truly secure system would be a terrible inconvenience for legitimate users who forget the password.

However, if your player is stolen, contact support immediately and give them your serial number. There are some things they can do which may help. Details of their procedures can't be disclosed because that would defeat their purpose.

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·  If I purchase a player second-hand, will the one-year warranty still be honored?
 (Entry last updated on May 1st, 2003)


The only problem is, as of this writing, all warranties have expired. In other words, the warranties were honored from the date of the original sale, not the date of the second-hand sale.

If you're having a problem with the player, you will probably find a solution by either reading through the troubleshooting FAQ or asking the helpful group on the Unofficial Empeg BBS. The most common issues can be solved with a little bit of do-it-yourself work.

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·  How do I get support or repairs?
 (Entry last updated on April 4th, 2010)

Software bug reporting: Empeg factory player software is no longer being developed. But if you think you've found a bug, it is probably worth discussing on the Bug Reports Forum or the Troubleshooting Forum. Perhaps the issue can be worked around.

All technical support incidents: Please read carefully through the Troubleshooting section and see if you can solve the problem yourself. Failing that, try discussing your problem on the empeg BBS to see if anyone has an answer for you.

Official repairs and parts (UK): carsupport@empegrepair.com, empegrepair.com
Unofficial player repairs and spare parts (USA): Eutronix.com.
Unofficial player repairs and spare parts (Within Canada only, last resort): Mark Lord.

The warranty period on all players has expired at this time. Therefore, you will have to pay both shipping and repair charges to send the player back for repair. It's been reported that sometimes shipping charges can be more expensive than the cost of the repair itself. Of course, some repairs don't involve shipping the player at all, sometimes support can just mail you a replacement part. It depends on the nature of the problem.

Please understand that both official and unofficial support is being handled by one person (in each of the listed countries) who do this in their spare time. The initial reply to your query may be delayed for quite a while until they can get to you.

Both the official and unofficial repair and modification services listed above are done by long time contributors to the Empeg BBS, and are known to be trustworthy and reliable at the time of this writing.

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