We tested Kanye West’s Stem Player, the $200 MP3 player built for the year 2000

Annoyed by the streaming industry, Kanye West decided to realize one of his long-time dreams with the Stem Player, an MP3 player capable of remixing songs using physical buttons. Great anything or cool idea? Numerama tested it.

Big fans of Kanye West, we discovered the existence of the Stem Player in February, when the release of 2, the rapper’s latest album not found on streaming services. Pissed off by Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer and the like (it’s nothing new, Kanye West has always struggled with platforms), Ye, as he wants his audience to call him, decided to break free from the system by launching a conceptual product: a round MP3 player, resembling an updated iPod shuffle, on which his album has been preloaded.

Curious (and teasing), we hastened to order one. If the Stem Player costs too much (200 dollars) to really revolutionize the music market (this is not the subject of our test), it is an interesting object from a technological point of view. .

Here is our test of the most WTF musical device of recent years.

4 stems to remix his music

What is the Stem Player capable of? Designed in partnership with Kano Computing, the Stem Player is an artificial intelligence powered MP3 player. Equipped with a jack, a USB Type-C port for transfer and charging and, fortunately, Bluetooth compatible, the Stem Player strangely has no screen, which makes it quite complicated to use.

Changing songs or switching between modes requires remembering specific commands, such as holding two or three buttons at the same time. It is also impossible to select a song directly, you have to advance little by little in your unique playlist. In short, we are far from the ease of use of an iPhone or even an iPod. Note also that the user manual is drawn by hand (yes yes), which gives a very amateur side to the product.

The 4 stems of the Stem Player are tactile. // Source: Numerama

Why is the Stem Player round? Its design is explained by its functionality. “Stem” means “stem”, it just so happens that the whole concept of the product is based on stems. There are 4 (vocals, percussion, bass, sample). An artificial intelligence analyzes the tracks and separates them into “4 rods”, which allows the user to choose to hear only the voice if they wish. Pretty cool, but this technology doesn’t work well with all songs. Fortunately, on those of Kanye, it is perfectly optimized.

By pressing the top button on the Stem Player, a listener can turn into a DJ. The Stem Player lets you create loops, speed up playback, and add effects to sound. He can then record a short extract to share with his friends. It’s fun, but very random. All our beautiful creations are the result of chance, it is impossible to mix well on such a small device without a screen.

We tested Kanye West's Stem Player, the $200 MP3 player built for the year 2000
The Stem Player is controlled with these buttons. There is no smartphone app. // Source: Numerama

A product that is not designed for 2022

You now know the concept, what about the reality? In our opinion, the Stem Player makes a lot of mistakes. There is of course the absence of a screen, but also the absence of the Internet, which prevents him from accessing a streaming service (not even his own). All the songs must be stored locally, in a small flash disk of… 8 GB. It’s too little, the Stem Player saturates after a few songs (especially if you leave Kanye West’s albums pre-installed).

We tested Kanye West's Stem Player, the $200 MP3 player built for the year 2000
The Stem Player Connect interface, you can add each song one by one. // Source: Numerama

Adding pieces is a hell of a thing, by the way. There is no application to install on your smartphone or computer, you have to go to stemplayer.com from the Chrome browser, choose Connect and plug in your Stem Player via USB. A very basic interface, with only lines of text, will allow you to add songs.

Attention : you can only add one song at a time, not two. The transfer speed of a song is about 1 minute 30, which is painfully slow. The Stem Player is very cool for listening to Kanye West, but makes listening to other artists laborious. It’s a shame, because the AI ​​processing is generally satisfactory.

Other things don’t work very well for a $200 device. The built-in speaker is terrible, the touch stalks are too sensitive and mess with your pocket, the settings are too limited… The Stem Player is a toy, not a revolutionary MP3 player.

Who is the Stem Player for?

In our opinion, this is a product for hardcore Kanye West fans with a collecting bent, not others. The Stem Player is pretty cool to use (it has the merit of making everyone laugh) but, very quickly, risks ending up in a drawer. There is not a time when we have not ended up bringing out our smartphone for ease.

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