Normally, we’re big fans of just about everything that Sony does. In fact, we’re hard pressed to remember the last time we didn’t actually like a product from the beneficent megacorp. The eMarker represents one of the very few times where we simply turned up our noses at something Sony has done. In a nutshell, the slightly-too-large-for-a-keychain gizmo is the ultimate evolution of American consumer mania; all your $20 gets you is a faster route to spending even more cash. Essentially, the eMarker helps you buy music you’re not really sure you need. Whenever you hear that one song on the radio that you really like, press the button on the eMarker, connect the unit to your computer and you’re given the option to instantly buy CDs from the artist or group that you’ve marked. You are very, very confused if you buy this products.
Have you ever thought to yourself, “Gosh, I like this song, but I don’t know its name. If only American radio wasn’t populated by puking morons who spend their airtime thinking up clever ways to say the words ‘boobs’ and ‘penis’ and instead had helpful DJs that would do their jobs and actually back-announce songs?” If so, the eMarker may have a place in your pocket. However, if you’re able to wait the 10 minutes for the DJ to finish with his boring, unfunny schtick, you should be able to cut out the eMarker middleman by simply using your noodle. The concept behind the eMarker is that with a press of a button and a fast link to the magical world of the Internet, you’ll be able to not only find out which band plays the song you like, but also discover which album it comes from, hear a few other tracks from the album (in some cases) and then buy that album immediately online.
In our world of microwave-friendly, fast-forward consumerism, this must have sounded like a great idea to a bored VP. One gets the sense that, much like Divx, the thankfully dead great Satan pay-per-view DVD format, the concept behind the Sony eMarker was dreamed up by a lawyer or marketing type. Clearly a soulless device intended to do nothing more than strip you of cash in a more efficient manner, the eMarker leaves a sour taste in our mouths.
The eMarker doesn’t use any high-tech wireless wizardry to mark songs. The unit itself is little more than a glorified egg timer that records the time and date whenever you press the button. The magic doesn’t begin until you connect the eMarker to your PC and register on the website, whereupon it will be able to call upon your preferred radio station playlists, compare the time, and tell you that your song was actually from Papa Roach, not Godsmack (or LeAnn Rimes, not the other hot little country chick, etc.). Ideally. In practice, however, we found that the eMarker was averaging 50/50 in accuracy.
We set up three favorite San Francisco radio stations: Live 105 (alternative), 104.9 (’80s/’90s New Wave/Modern Rock) and KFOG (an unholy mix of rock ‘n roll genres). The eMarker was pretty much dead-on with Live 105’s playlist, but comparing our marks to 104.9’s listings was entirely wrong. Instead of helping us to buy The Cult, Blondie and The Church, the eMarker told us that we were listening to Third Eye Blind, Dave Matthews and matchbox 20. That’s not only wrong, but it should be a criminal act. What if we had accidentally bought a matchbox 20 album instead of The Church? Talk about trauma. To give the eMarker props, it did identify a new Radiohead song for us we didn’t recognize and then let us listen to a sampling of Kid A, the new album, which is a sorta cool feature.
Of course, the misidentification of the songs was not actually the fault of the Sony eMarker itself, but looked like it was a problem with the data service used to correlate radio playlists with the device’s timestamp. Song information is provided to the eMarker by Broadcast Data Systems, the “world-leading provider of off-the-air music recognition for the record and radio industries.” Unfortunately, this world-leading information is usually entered by flunkies working at each radio station, which means that one inattentive college intern falling asleep while typing can screw up the song lists for an entire day. Heavy must hang the head that wears the BDS crown within the radio station. In other words: don’t blame the eMarker if your list doesn’t quite match up to the songs you heard.
We could understand if the little doodad was given away free at Wherehouse, Tower or Sam Goody’s with every purchase, but the idea of forking over $20 for faster consumerism is appalling. Twenty smackers may not sound like much, but we’d rather pass that Jackson across the counter for an actual CD, not for something that makes it easier to identify Backstreet Boys tracks.