Portable MP3 players

Introduction

The MP3 craze is transforming the way people buy, sell, steal, and play music – more and more music lovers are not only playing MP3 tunes on their computers, but also taking their favourite tracks on the road with portable MP3 players. Until recently, the selection of Mac-compatible MP3 portables has been sparse. Now, several portables are vying for your shirt pocket. We tested two: Creative Labs’ DAP II MG and S3’s Rio 600. Both have unique strengths, but the Rio 600 is the pick of the two. Memory transfers
Both players rely on USB for transfers from the Mac to the player’s memory. But transfer speeds vary widely. In our tests, the Rio 600 handled transfers three times faster than as the DAP II MG. Each player includes Casady & Greene’s SoundJam MP software, for encoding MP3 tracks from CDs and organizing them into playlists. After 14 days, the version of SoundJam MP bundled with the players turns into a shadow of itself, disabling many features unless you pony-up more cash. With the DAP II MG and Rio 600, you use SoundJam MP to transfer tracks to the player and to delete them from its memory. Both players let you adjust a track’s bass and treble, and they also have presets for common musical styles, but the Rio has the larger selection. The amount of memory in an MP3 player determines how much music you can take with you. The Rio 600 contains 32MB of internal memory – enough to store about 30 minutes of near CD-quality music, that’s MP3-encoded at 128Kbps. You can expand the Rio 600’s memory by replacing the player’s back cover with one that contains expansion memory. The DAP II MG lacks internal memory, relying instead on flash-memory cards . Our review unit included a 64MB card. The DAP II MG also contains an FM radio tuner – an optional tuner for the Rio 600 has not yet been released. In our tests, the DAP II MG did a good job of picking up weak stations. It also has a unique voice-mode for recording dictation. It’s handy, but switching the DAP II MG to voice mode requires a trip into the menu system. Designing a user interface for a device that has a tiny LCD screen and minuscule buttons is a challenge, and the Rio 600 does the best job of meeting it. Its LCD shows more information than the other player and it’s attractive and easy to read.
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