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Music Media Handhelds Hardware

Fourteen Digital Music Players Reviewed 497

prostoalex writes "The PC Magazine reviews 14 digital music players that can play MP3, WMA or AAC files. The editor's choice among the models compared includes Apple iPod Mini and iRiver iFP-390T. The editors decided to conduct a single review of both Flash- and HDD-based music players. Of special interest is the battery life test as well as sound quality test. Even though the entire article is published online in HTML, the summary of the features is available in PDF only."
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Fourteen Digital Music Players Reviewed

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  • I am French (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:29PM (#8918945)
    From article:

    "so simple even a frog could use this."

    Why must article discrimenate againt the French ? We are good people. Too much now in the US is anti-French feelings, like "freedom fries". We helped US defeat Hitler, and France is a leads computer industry.
  • by monstroyer ( 748389 ) * <devnull@slashdot.org> on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:29PM (#8918947) Homepage Journal
    And out of the 14 that are reviewed ZERO play Ogg Vorbis.

    Marketers, manufacturers, and capitalists: LISTEN UP!

    * I'm 29, single, and work [si20.com] in the computer [trotch.com] industry. Therefore, I like gadgets and have disposable income.

    * I'm a hobbiest musician [madtracker.net] and I have been encoding everything, no exception, in OGG VORBIS since 2003. Like the teenagers say, so last year.

    * It is feasible to port the Vorbis decoder/encoder to a platform without floating point support. [vorbis.com]

    There's your demographic. Stop reaching for the teenagers and start making products for people who can afford them and desperately need them.

    Your profit margins will thank you.

    PS: I'm posting this from an iBook. I won't buy an iPod until it supports OGG!
    • Two Words:
      Rio Karma

    • by Anonymous Coward
      It's a great player that competes in the same market as those test, and it plays Vorbis and FLAC.
    • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:33PM (#8918996)
      Yet OGG isn't "Where it's at" business-wise right now. Right now the handhelds are optimizing to be compatible with either Apple iTunes (FairPlay-ed AACs), RealNetworks Rhapsody (RealAudio codec), or Napster/BuyMusic/Walmart files (Microsoft WMAs).

      Each manufactuer is picking exactly one to align with... and nobody's pushing OGG from that side of the business.
      • Yet OGG isn't "Where it's at" business-wise right now.

        OGG isn't "where it's at" because everybody is too afraid to "innovate" and blaze a new path by taking a chance on an unknown, even a higher-quality, less expensive one. You'd think Apple would try this, but they are heading towards DRM, rather than away from it. But there's no reason iTunes and the iPod can't support BOTH. You can have DRM for songs you buy from iTMS, and no DRM on your own CDs you burn.

        Watch for "DRM Creep", just like the rumored
        • And why do you think Apple is going for the DRM solution? 2 reasons:

          1) Apple likes to make money. They don't make money if one person downloads a song and gives it to hundreds of friends in whatever format they want, especially if the format is freely changable thereby allowing them to put the files on non-iPod music players

          2) RIAA would sue them into the next century if they tried to do otherwise.

          • 1) Apple likes to make money. They don't make money if one person downloads a song and gives it to hundreds of friends in whatever format they want, especially if the format is freely changable thereby allowing them to put the files on non-iPod music players

            It's not like they're preventing that as it is. I know "people" who've done ALL OF THAT.

            2) RIAA would sue them into the next century if they tried to do otherwise.

            Doesn't Apple own their own software and hardware anymore? They can still sell AAC on
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:34PM (#8919012)
      You are lost in a totally different world. You represent less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the potential market for these things. If I walked down the hall where I work (made up almost entirely of accountants with plenty of disposable income) I bet not one of them knows Ogg but all of them knows MP3.

      Don't be fooled into thinking that the slashdot population is at all representative of the real world.
    • Since you represent less than 1/10th of 1% of the population, I'm sure they'll get right on it.

      Let's face it, teenagers make up a very large percentage music consumers.
      When was the last time you spent $15 on a CD? I can't remember the last time I paid for any music or even listened to a radio station that played new music. The vast majority of music listeners on any age use MP3s or CD's. Why not cater to those people first? It just doesn't make sound business sense to cater to the minority.

      With that bei
    • by cmdr_beeftaco ( 562067 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:38PM (#8919058)
      Fruitcake LISTEN UP! * I'm 31, single, and work in the computer industry. Therefore, I like gadgets and have disposable income. * I'm a hobbiest musician and I have never heard of OGG VORBIS and have been encoding everything, no exception in MP3 since 1999. * It is feasible to play mp3 everywhere, that's why I don't have to bitch on slashdot to get support. There's your demographic. Continue reaching for the teenagers because it makes me feel younger and hipper with my white headphones. Your profit margins will thank you. PS: I'm posting this from an XP. I won't buy anything unless it cost money.
    • The iRiver H120 [iriveramerica.com] and H140 are iPod-killers with better looks, cheaper prices, and Ogg/Vorbis support.

      • It really could be an iPod-killer if only it supported Macs -- all the software downloads on the support page [iriveramerica.com] are .exe files :(.
      • If by "better looks" you mean "could have come out of a cereal box in the mid-1980's when the 'Transformers' were the absolute pinnacle of industrial design for the under-12 set," then yes, better looks indeed.

        Speaking solely for myself, I prefer something that doesn't look like it came out of the "open box" bin at the Fry's in Lomo Alto.
        • Funny, I would have said pretty much the same exact thing in regards to the iPod. Except I would have added that it was designed for rich yuppies.

      • Wait -- that's better looks? It looks like a Samsonite briefcase from the 1980s, and what's up with that scroll control? Was it designed by Ed Wood?

        Furthermore, 20 gig for $400 MSRP isn't cheaper -- it's the SAME PRICE as the iPod. I know, street prices are cheaper, but MSRP was the comparison used in this article as well.

        The FM tuner, voice recorder, Vorbis support and optical out are worthwhile features for some, but then again so are AAC support iTunes integration, iTMS support, FireWire and the seamless design with only three ports.

        The size -- both physical and storage -- is dead on, as is the battery life. And I'll give you this: while the iPod looks kind of like a cross between a plastic Easter Egg and a shaving mirror, this thing looks like a high tech cell phone. If you don't like the looks of the iPod because it's too postmodern, this is what you want.

        This is no iPod killer. But is an agressive iPod competitor. That's good for us iPod fans as well as the detractors.
      • Bah!! (Score:3, Insightful)

        I wish product designers were forced to take classes in old 20's and 30's design thought. It kills me that people think that hunk of plastic shit is good looking.

        You want your electronic device to look "cool"? Manufacture it in ONE DAMNED MATERIAL. No tacky bumper pads attached to the ends as an afterthought. If iRiver is so concerned about the abuse the player might take and insist on "shock-proofing" it, they could wrap the entire thing in the black rubber-plastic that made Glock firearms famous.

    • by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) * on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:39PM (#8919088) Homepage
      Oh, get yerself a Rio Karma and quitcher whinin'. I'm a video freak, and you don't see me bitching about how hardly any consumer TV sets support anything more exotic than RCA component in, do you?

      The manufacturers have heard the Cry of the Hardcore Ogg Fan, and they've responded with a collective "meh." Most of them simply don't give a damn about your niche. Rio does. Support Rio and quit acting like you're all downtrodden.

    • The iFP390 family plays Ogg very well.
      I know first hand, I have one.

      Here is the firmware [iriver.com] for it.

    • by blackmonday ( 607916 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:40PM (#8919109) Homepage
      Unfortunately, you're not the target demographic. The target is a teenager / 20 - something with disposable income. MP3 is the standard and is what 99% of people care about. I believe the Rio Karma has Vorbis, get that one. If I hear a 17 year old girl ask about Vorbis support when she's looking at the pink iPod mini, then I'll be on board with you.

    • by chrisgeleven ( 514645 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:40PM (#8919112) Homepage
      I hate to say it, but there are what, maybe a few thousand people who even know what Ogg Vorbis is and even fewer that actually use it.

      The amount of effort required to port a decoder to a particular portable music player is probably way more then the rewards of a few more people buying their product.

      The amount of protential profit must be at least the amount spend on development tools, employee salaries, etc, if not more.

      Trust me on this. They aren't going to go through the effort if it ends up making them lose money doing it.
    • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:54PM (#8919314)
      Do you hear that rumble in the distance - the growing outcry for Ogg Vorbis support on portable music players?


      Well I don't hear it either. That's because ALMOST NO ONE CARES. Outside of a small minority of the Slashdot crowd, there is basically no consumer demand for Ogg Vorbis. Deal with it.

      (Well, that's sure to burn some karma...)

      • by Mr Smidge ( 668120 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @04:19PM (#8921342) Homepage
        Think about this for a second, even if it's not a plausible idea. I believe that if Vorbis and FLAC were the de-facto codecs for lossy and lossless compression, then we could be making far more technological advances in the multimedia field, and that businesses selling digital music playing devices would be more competitive.

        Even if there were tons of audio codecs, but all of them open and unencumbered, I believe that the situation would be better because we could all concentrate on making our products and not worry about codecs, because they'd all be cheap to implement, and no licensing to worry about.

        So, in my eyes, that's a good *ideal* situation. Can we get near to that ideal situation? Is it worth getting to that ideal situation?

        Of course, most people are generally lazy, but is there anything that a few people that do care about Vorbis etc. can do? How can we encourage adoption of Vorbis/FLAC?

        Off the top of my head:
        * In whatever next kick-ass all-in-one media playing/ripping solution comes with KDE/Gnome, make it rip to Vorbis by default.
        * A community effort towards making optimised hardware implementations of the Vorbis/FLAC codecs designs freely available. That would allow the chips to be made relatively easily once some company wants to pick it up.
        * A vorbis-biased portable media player made by Vorbis enthusiasts who know what they're on about? Perhaps in the same vein as that Linux-only HDTV PCI card?
        * Bundle said portable media player with the latest packaged version of Linux Distribution XYZ? Proclaim loudly "free portable music player!" all over it.

        I *know* that few people care. A bit like lots of people don't care about voting, or who runs the country. But it's still pretty important. We certainly don't want to be in the situation (heaven forbid this should ever happen) where WMA is the only format around and licensing costs are continually hiked up by Microsoft.
    • Yes! I couldn't agree with you more. But I won't hold my breath. At the moment I play oggalicious files on my Zaurus. Sucks battery, but it may suit your needs...it's also a PDA running GNU/Linux to boot... ;o)
    • I always use a program to reduce the bitrate of an audio file when i copy it over to my muvo nx, dbcpower amp can convert ogg -> mp3 as well so until ogg support is in every player you can just do that.
    • Neuros [neurosaudio.com]
    • doesn't currently have it on the iFP-39x model reviewed (a firmware upgrade is planned), but does on the iFP-59x series, as well as all their HDD players and the newer CD players. (Basically, the older players don't have the processor or the flash ROM capacity to be able to use it.)
    • *** I am 22, Single and work in technology. (read bling bling)
      *** I am fresh out of college (1yr) and don't know how to manage money (read bling bling)
      *** I AM your demographic.

      And I Demand WAV format. :D
  • Rio Karma (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dante ( 3418 ) * on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:32PM (#8918975) Journal

    Christ where is the Karma? My Karma just kicks ass, It uses USB 2.0 and Ethernet. Supports Linux. Sounds great, gets loud when I want it to be. Came with decent earphones Sennheisers no less. Has amazing battery life and weights just a few ounces, and holds 20 gigs.

    And get this, it does ogg and flac, why would I want anything else?
    • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:35PM (#8919022)
      Slashdot Error: Karma-whore detected. :)
    • Re:Rio Karma (Score:2, Informative)

      by zoobaby ( 583075 )
      They left the RIO's off completely. Kind of funny if you ask me. I have the RIO Nitrus and love it. It is 1.5Gb and small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. The batterylife is rated at 16 hours, but I usually get about 20 on mine. It is (IMHO) the perfect size. I can fit enough music on it to keep me happy during a three day trip.

      One con for it is that it is not USB2.0 High Speed. So when you transfer a gig, it takes some time.
    • Re:Rio Karma (Score:2, Informative)

      by falconed ( 645790 )
      Also missing is Dell's music player [dell.com]. My wife bought me one; it holds 20gb, the battery seems to last forever and the sound is great. Best of all, it's priced at only $250 for the 20gb model. Odd that pcmag didn't include the Dell in this lineup since they already reviewed it [pcmag.com] last year.
    • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @03:09PM (#8920310) Homepage
      My iRiver IHP-120 holds 20GB, connects via USB 2.0, mounts as a filesystem and lets you organize your MP3s using the filesystem (unlike the Karma, which wants you to use its software), plays OGG, gets 12-14hrs battery life, is just a hair larger than the iPod and the same weight. Plus it has an FM tuner for those days you want to listen to NPR, and it records -- either to MP3 on the fly, or to 44KHz uncompressed WAV. And it has optical in and out.

      Choosing between it and the Karma was tough for me, but I decided the iRiver had cooler features and was just a hair more open; not to mention that iRiver has a good track record for upgrades. They've publicly announced fixes for some problems with shuffle and playlist creation that should arrive in May, and by June the IHP series should have gapless playback like the Karma.

  • by ElGnomo ( 612336 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:32PM (#8918976)
    earbud quality != player sound quality
    • Wow, you're on of the few people I know who don't like the iPods earbuds. I do tons of audio work recording bands and such, and I use high end headphones, and I think the white earbuds are awesome. I thought I broke em once and I freaked, because they're a special order item unless you feel like springing for the iPod remote too.

    • earbud quality != player sound quality

      Technically true, but poor-quality or poor-fitting earbuds are the biggest factor (by far) of inferior sound quality.

      The best thing to do is find some good-quality earbuds that fit your ears well. It will make a huge difference, no matter the player.

      Unfortunately most people don't do that. Therefore, I can see the point of a consumer magazine rating players by earbud quality.
    • No, but sound is only as good as your weakest component.

      Personally, I'm glad they did that review, because you can't listen to the in-ear phones before you buy them. I stupidly crushed my Sennheiser buds (cord was never long enough on those anyway and an extension would make it too long) and the original iPod phones blew out the second week I had them...and it's nice to know there's a solution between the $20 phones I got at Target and the $99 studio in-ear phones...
  • This might be off-topic, but does anyone remember the name of that MP3/etc player that is shaped like a cassette and plays inside a cassette tape player?
    • That is the Rome MP3 player. Tech Report Review [tech-report.com]

    • This might be off-topic, but does anyone remember the name of that MP3/etc player that is shaped like a cassette and plays inside a cassette tape player?

      This one? [digisette.com]
    • by SydShamino ( 547793 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @02:14PM (#8919559)
      It is the Digisette, as another poster says.

      I have a Digisette DUO-DX AR-496 digital music player. It supports MP3 and WMA and AudioBook formats, though I've only used it with MP3. Note that it can also record MP3s on the fly, using an audio-in jack. Useful if you want a digital tape recorder in a pinch. It also has a headphone jack and sounds great as a stand-along portable player.

      It comes with built-in 96 MB flash memory. It has an expansion slot for an MMC upgrade. Note that the manual and website might just mention a 64 MB upgrade, but I -confirm- that it works with a 256 MB MMC. With about 350 MB of music on it now, I have more music than battery life (which is about 5 hours).

      I drive a convertible, and I would never consider putting a custom stereo into it. My wife has a nifty iPod, but her stereo retransmit thingy gets a lot of static, and the whole arrangement is much more cumbersome than a single unit I can drop into the built-in tape player. Despite what some reviews of the product have said, you can skip tracks without taking the thing out of the tape deck.

      While I would have tried a 512 MB MMC if I had found one, I think 256 MB were the largest made before the shift to SD whatever, which it does not support. I would eventually like more space than I have now, but it is perfectly usable as is for my commutes to and from work, with the nice variety of happy music I can sing to on a nice Spring drive in a convertible in Texas. It makes commuting fun. :)
      • If it matters to the Slashdot crowd, its manager software does NOT work well in Linux under Crossover Office. The software installed, but it couldn't find its language or player type libraries, and it didn't see the USB ports or the device.
        • If it matters to the Slashdot crowd, its manager software does NOT work well in Linux

          Thanks for the answers, all. And unless you are new to Slashdot, you will realize that "how well it works in Linux" DOES matter here. Soon you will also realize that the Borg Bill Gates icon is not a compliment, not a "Trekkie denotation of love for this man who has given us so many great products".

  • Grrrr.... (Score:3, Funny)

    by telstar ( 236404 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:33PM (#8918990)
    Anybody have the summary PDF mirrored? I don't feel like creating another account with another password, and nobody's offered me chocolate [slashdot.org] to do so.
  • Karma has OGG (Score:4, Informative)

    by ponds ( 728911 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:34PM (#8919009)
    My Rio Karma is full of 20 GBs of ogg vorbis encoded lovin' .

    It has about 13 hours of battery life, and can talk by USB 2.0, USB 1.1, or even 100mbit ethernet. When I plug it into the ethernet, it runs a webserver with a java applet that allows you to send and receive software.

    It works on any operating system with a VM/java plugin without a hitch. I use it in Linux and didn't have to set up anythign when I got it.

    Don't know why they didnt review it...
  • Strange Selection (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jhage ( 9442 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:35PM (#8919021)
    No Rio players at all (either Nitrus, Karma or any other). One Creative. Whole bunch of really odd choices (Sony MD player?). Given what they reviewed, I guess the iPod would come out on top.
  • FM support (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dark Paladin ( 116525 ) * <jhummel@joh[ ]mmel.net ['nhu' in gap]> on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:35PM (#8919023) Homepage
    I'm rather interested in seeing some of these that support FM radio. I hadn't really thought about it, since other than NPR I haven't listened to much radio for the last 18 months (why bother? It's the same damned stuff they were playing 3 years before that!).

    But it makes some sense - most walkman's, even CD based ones, have AM/FM radio support. A MP3 player shouldn't be that different.

    Though, maybe there is a very small portable XM radio player. Hm - something to look into.
    • My iRiver CD/MP3 player supports Ogg Vorbis (beta) and has an FM-tuner. I don't know whether the Flash/HDD iRiver players have a tuner though...
    • iRiver iFP-390T (Score:2, Informative)

      by xlurker ( 253257 )
      has an FM reciever...
    • I really want AM radio. I listen to AM in the mornings while jogging. Although the "flash key plus mp3 decoder" looks interesting.


    • I know the jokes about the original N-Gage never seem to end around here, but I've been perfectly happy with mine and I still fail to find anything today that comes close in terms of functionality. Consider this:

      * State of the art phone

      Tri-band GSM (I live and am using it in France, but it worked flawlessly during my trip to the Bay Area a few months ago) with the IMHO great Nokia usability.

      And please, the whole sidetalkin' stuff is really overblown : I see no reason not to always use it as I do with the
    • Re:FM support (Score:3, Informative)

      by extra88 ( 1003 )
      All but the lowest-end flash-based iRiver players [iriveramerica.com] include an FM tuner. Even the lowest-end ones include a microphone for voice recording (the format is mp3) and many of the models can record FM broadcasts and from a line-in jack.

      I have the iFP-380T (128MB), the cheapest model with line-in recording. To be honest, I haven't used it a lot. Most of my time is spent at my home or office computer where I can listen to all my mp3s or radio streams but I do use the iRiver at the gym. I've also used it a bit for v
  • Missing choices (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wizarddc ( 105860 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:39PM (#8919073) Homepage Journal
    I know they could review only so many devices, but I'm disappointed they didn't review any Archos [archos.com] products at all. I've had my Jukebox Studio 20 for 2 years and it still works great. It might be a little heavier than most, but battery life has never been an issue for me. This thing rules. Why did they review 9 Memory players, and only 3 HD ones? What gives?

    Who else had their favorite player ignored in this?
  • by MrBlic ( 27241 ) * on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:40PM (#8919097) Homepage
    They missed my favorite player, the Jens (sounds like yens 'cause it's Sweedish.)

    It was the editor's choice for one of those sites (ziff davis or pcweek or something) a few months ago when I bought it. It's the size of a stick of chewing gum, has 512MB Ram, USB connector at one end, and it's also an FM Radio and a voice recorder. Even better, it comes with a really cool neckstrap with built-in earphones. The icing on the cake is that it is delivered in a really sexy black aluminum tube.

    Oh well... (warning: very loud flash-enabled homepage!)

    http://www.jensofsweden.com/ [jensofsweden.com]

  • by radish ( 98371 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:40PM (#8919100) Homepage

    They didn't even review the Rio Karma? Are they smoking something? If there's one player out there which has repeatedly been shown to be the genuine iPod beater it's the Karma, yet a supposedly "thorough" group test doesn't even mention it.

    For the uninitiated:

    * 16 hours battery life
    * 20gb capacity
    * Smaller than an iPod
    * Plays AAC, WMA, MP3, FLAC, OGG, and more (Audible coming soon)
    * Fully supports GAPLESS Vorbis, FLAC and mp3 playback. This is unique among portable players and a very big deal for a lot of people.
    * USB2.0 & Ethernet connectivity
    * Fully supported under Windows/Mac/Linux - works on any platform with Java & Ethernet
    * Best of class sound quality
    * Full 5-band parametric EQ
    * On the fly playlists, Rio DJ (randomisation, new tracks, old tracks, most played etc)
    * Crossfade between tracks
    * The thing just ROCKS

    I will be writing to the editor...
    • by jkabbe ( 631234 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @02:18PM (#8919613)
      Smaller than an iPod

      If you're going to talk something up at least be correct.

      Karma: 2.7 * 3.0 * 1.1 = 8.91 cubic inches
      iPod: 4.1 * 2.4 * 0.62 = 6.1008 cubic inches

      If "size" = "height" then, yes, the Karma is smaller. However the iPod is smaller in the other two dimensions and smaller in overall volume. If Apple wanted the iPod to be 33% larger I am sure they could add more battery life too.
    • Smaller than an iPod

      This line item is wrong.

      By cubic volume, it is 50% larger than iPod (not the mini, either). Most of the difference is in the thickness. A 20GB iPod is 40% thinner.

      I'll grant all the other things though, it does look like a nice feature set.
  • It's strange the neither the Toshiba Gigabeat [dynamism.com] nor any of the MPMan-players [mpman.com] are included in this review. Some of the MPMan-players got a battery life of 50 and even 100 hours.

  • by Toxygen ( 738180 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:41PM (#8919119) Journal
    Maybe they were trying to review the newer players on the market, I dunno, but the iPod has seen 3 generations so far and having just bought a 3rd gen iPod a few months ago I'd be interested to see how it compares. The last generation is certainly more recent than some of the players they reviewed, so why wouldn't they include it?
  • Headphone Amplifier (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:42PM (#8919123) Journal
    Chu-Moy [dansdata.com]
    Picture [dansdata.com]

    Before I got the amp, I'd grown used to hearing clear buzzy distortion on low bass when I wound the volume up. I assumed it was the poor Sennheiser headphone transducers being pushed past their limits.

    Nope, it was the wimpy motherboard sound hardware running out of juice, and clipping
    These things are fairly simply to make & I'm going to do it as soon as i get around to it (I even have a few empty tins of Penguin Mints). I realize the thing is equal to or bigger than some of the tested players, but it is pocketsized.
  • Bah! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Espen ( 96293 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:43PM (#8919154)
    "iTunes is incapable of displaying file types"

    Give these guys a thesaurus! What do they think the "kind" column is for in "view options"?

    And is it really worth reading a review that sees anything worthwhile in: "The 3.4-ounce iPod Mini has more EQ selections than any other player"?
    • Give these guys a thesaurus! What do they think the "kind" column is for in "view options"?

      Evidently this reviewer is not the most capable computer user in the world. It seems that his computer had some performance issues too. My 450MHz PowerMac G4 can easily rip a CD to 192Kbps AAC audio in well under 1/2 hour. However maybe the Windows version of QuickTime is less optimised... Also saying that MusicMatch has better controls than iTunes is simply laugable. I know two PC users who have moved from MM to

  • iRiver! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by andrewdk ( 760436 )
    I so dearly love my iRiver(s). I bought an iFP-190TC for $200; and then I won 3rd in a contest from iRiver themselves and got an iFP-380T. Wonderful. But why didn't PCM review the iRiver H series of players? They compete with and surpass the various iPods by far, IMO.
  • by talexb ( 223672 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:46PM (#8919199) Homepage Journal

    It seems odd that they didn't include a review of the Neuros [neurosaudio.com] Audio unit. I have the unit with the 20G hard drive, and although the firmware is a little wobbly, it's a great unit with a cool feature called HiSi [neurosaudio.com], or "Hear it - See it" that lets you identify a song on the built-in radio or even on a P.A. system through the internal microphone.

  • by 87C751 ( 205250 ) <sdotNO@SPAMrant-central.com> on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:47PM (#8919214) Homepage
    The review lists "dedicated software" as a minus for the iRiver iFP-390T. Wrong! Here is the UMS update [iriveramerica.com]. My 390T looks just like a disk drive to my Gentoo box.
  • Holy Mary! (Score:4, Informative)

    by ilikejam ( 762039 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:52PM (#8919271) Homepage
    The frequency response curves on all those headphones is absolutely horrific!
    Do yourselves a favour - buy the cheapest player and get a pair of headphones for $30. It'll sound way better than anything with the supplied headphones.
    I think I'll be sticking with my 'old school' MiniDisc Walkman (and yes it is a Sony, so yes I can call it a Walkman) and my Grado SR60s. Mmmm. Expensive.
  • by hackman ( 18896 ) <bretthall@NOSpam.ieee.org> on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @01:55PM (#8919317) Homepage
    It seems like it is hard to find factual reviews of mp3 players. This might be useful to some of you, check out the playerblog [playerblog.com] site which has postings of mp3 player reviews.
  • I bought one about two months ago and I'm extremely happy with it. Pros: - 15gb - 16hr batt life (specified, but seems to last longer) - $200 Cons - MusicMatch - Navigation not as nice as iPod
  • The only thing it lacks is usb 2.0. I actually have the 395t, the 512mb version of the 390.. and let me tell you, it takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R to transfer 512mb of stuff to it.

    That being said, the sound quality is excellent, which is why I bought it in the first place. iRiver's internal amplifiers in their players are much higher quality (and higher output) than most competing players. That was a big selling point when I was shopping for a player, and it does end up making a pretty big difference. I was very
  • For all those wondering about the selections of players for this review, it looks like this article is a review of ultra portable players. The kinds that are used for going to the gym or jogging, hence the title "Play As You Go". That's why there are a large number of flash players and such. The original iPod and its competitors are not really within this category, they are still too bulky for most people to workout with.

  • The sound quality graph is not a reflection of the sound quality of the device, instead a reflection of the supplied headphones.

    A much better test would have been to use the same headphones (preferably a good pair) with all the players and do the comparison. The last few times i've bought personal stereos/ CD players / MP3 Players. I usually end up ditching the supplied earbuds because they are usually really shit quality with most brands.

    nick ...
  • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @02:45PM (#8919983) Journal
    The technological snooty should not be complaining about lack of OGG, while free and good, there is little reason for it to superceede MP3. Sotage capacites go up, which means the rational behind Ogg goes down, since they perform compartively at medium and even more so at higher bit rates.

    The only real format is FLAC. Lossless compression. Anyone with a good ear (or a good system) can hear how much lossy compression sucks. Moving the industry to flac (50-30% WAV size, no loss) will do more for demand of players - they'll want more storage because the songs are bigger, that will drive the need for higher and higher capacities.

    Of course, this all comes down to what is the speaker? Most of these are cheap ear-bud kinds of things that suck.

    But my empeg (0 or days of battery life (car battery), 10-60 gigs, FLAC, OGG, WMA, MP3 by Rio Corp.) still takes the cake. And it gets hooked up to a decent system. It can stram MP3s across the net, via a built-in webserver. It is truely sweet.
    But it took playing MP3s in my car (witha complete aftermarket sound system) to hear the difference. I'm actually ashamed to blast MP3s while driving. I'll throw in a CD. The bass is punchier, the treble is clearer.
  • CD players? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by W2k ( 540424 ) <wilhelm...svenselius@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @02:56PM (#8920150) Homepage Journal
    I want to know what happened to MP3-CD players and why no-one seems to care enough to review them anymore, let alone include them in large-scale comparisons such as these. I have an ancient AVC SoulPlayer DMP-201 [edgereview.com] which was cheap when I got it, and sells for even less ($99!) nowadays. Highlights in brief:
    • It plays MP3 (VBR/CBR) and WMA burned to regular CD-R or CD-RW. No OGG, but then again, very few players do.
    • It plays regular CD's! Yes, the kind you buy in a store, or the kind you have to keep around still because it's all your car's CD player supports.
    • Storage: As many tracks as you can fit on a CD(-R[W]), which is to say, about 700 MB. That is, between 150-250 songs (my regular playlist is about 50 songs, though I can see how being able to store "only" 250 tracks may be a problem for some people).
    • Battery life: 10-15 hours. Well in excess of what most flash or HD-based players can do as reported by this article.
    • Media costs: Dirt cheap and easy to replace (CD-RW's are what, $1-$2 apiece?)
    • Portability: Not as good as a flash-based player, for obvious reasons. Comparable to one of the larger HD-based players in width, but pretty thin. Fits in most pockets (goes without saying that newer MP3/CD players are smaller). Doesn't weigh much.
    • Other: Great sound. Does not crackle up when batteries run low. Headphone and line-out stereo connections. Menu-based interface, lots of options. Upgradeable firmware.
    Now, this is not to say that MP3-CD players are without their issues. Do I hear someone mention skipping? The DMP-201 has 10+ minutes of cache memory. No, you can't use it while jogging (unless your jogs are really short) but it's sufficient on a bicycle or at the gym. Again, like the storage space, this is a problem that will not affect everyone.
  • by gordguide ( 307383 ) on Tuesday April 20, 2004 @05:18PM (#8922165)
    I did a quick link to the "sound quality test" from the original Slashdot post, and we see a lone frequency response test chart. Umm, that's a half dozen tests and a few thousand words short, folks.

    What's worse, I can tell from simply viewing the graph that the lone "test" is invalid. So, off we go to the test portion of the article to see what's up, and more importantly, if there is any other real audio data other than that chart that might be useful.

    Aha. In plain English, there it is:

    " ... To verify the ear buds' frequency response, we devised the Ear 2.0, a life-size silicone rubber ear coupled with a calibrated microphone and sound level meter {Italics mine}. We played our test files into audio spectrum analyzer software and used the RightMark Audio Analyzer test suite (www.rightmark.audio.org) to verify our observations. ..."

    And pretty much that's it. Not even a voltage/impedance measurement a 15-year old nerd could do to see what 3rd party headphones would work best. Oh, well.

    Kids playing at a pro's game. I won't go into all the reasons why this is a silly idea, but for starters who told them that silicone and flesh/cartiledge have the same sonic absorption/reflection factor? Well, nobody, 'cuz they don't.

    Where is the correction factor for the ear's own frequency response in direct near-field? No, it most certainly is not the same as the response from a sound in free air at a distance.

    You could google for, i dunno, about a thousand long, confusing papers, but a nice short one that still gives the idea of how difficult (and how non-linear) this is can be found here:
    National Library of Medicine [nih.gov]

    For the lazy, the short answer is a correct earspeaker has nowhere near flat response in order for us to perceive it to be "flat" compared to sounds from what amounts to many thousand times the distance away. In their test, a "flat" response would actually be the worst performer.

    The chart linked actually states "Minimal deviation from 0db is ideal." That's out and out wrong without correction factored in.

    The problem starts with the assumptions they make for the "calibrated" microphone; it's only "calibrated" at a specific distance and frankly I don't see how you could calibrate it with their fixture at near-field. Most likely they just used a pre-calibrated mic (typically these are calibrated for a 1metre distance in free air) and ran with it. That alone could account for the wild swings, let alone their test fixture's own anomalies.

    The graph shows swings of up to 30+ dB in the midrange, where the ear is most sensitive. This is like the difference between way loud and inaudible, and if that were the case each of these headphones/earbuds would sound terrible, perhaps worse than terrible. Since they don't sound that bad, why did they not glean the test must be flawed? Nah, just publish it, nobody will know the difference.

    Excuse me, but I think I'll leave PCMac to the computer stuff and the audio stuff to the audio guys. Take it all with a grain of salt unless you're just interested in the digital details. These guys can't be trusted with a microphone.

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!