Sony took the wraps off its first hard-disk drive based audio player Wednesday, saying the gadget, which will be sold under its Aiwa brand-name, will be available worldwide from April.

The Giga Pavit is based on a 2GB drive from Cornice. Such "storage element" drives are already used in several other digital music players. The 2GB capacity version was launched at the Consumer Electronics Show last week.

The drive provides enough storage space to accommodate around 500 songs, with the device's USB 2.0 interface able to transfer an hour's worth of CD quality audio in about 18 seconds, according to Sony. It supports MP3 format files at fixed or variable bit rate.

Two versions are available: the HZ-WS2000, which has an in-line remote control in the headphone cable; and the HZ-DS2000 in which all the components are built into the main case. The former player measures 91-x-56 millimetres and is just over a centimeter thick, while the latter player is slightly taller, wider and a good deal thicker at 94.5-x-60-x-18.4 millimetres.

The Giga Pavit's launch a week after Apple announced its iPod mini music player, with its 4GB storage capacity makes comparisons between the two almost inevitable.

Sony took the first stab and claimed, without naming the iPod mini, that the Pavit Giga is both the world's thinnest and lightest hard-disk based audio player. On face value, that appears correct; however, a closer look reveals at least grounds for an appeal from the iPod's legions of fans.

Sony's comparison is based on the HZ-WS2000 remote control version of the Giga Pavit in which the main display and controls are separate from the main body of the player, compared to the all-in-one iPod mini.

A more meaningful comparison might be between the bulkier HZ-DS2000 all-in-one version of the Giga Pavit and the iPod mini. In that case, the Apple device comes out on top, being lighter and occupying almost half the volume of the Aiwa player.

Added together, the 18 gram remote control unit takes the total weight of the HZ-WS2000 to 86 grams, which is lighter than the iPod mini but heavier than Digital Networks’ Rio Nitrus music player.

The Giga Pavit is due on sale in Japan and major international markets in April and will cost around $327, said Sony.

The device is not compatible with Macs – A PC running Windows XP, 2000 or ME with a USB interface is required.