Hi guys! i was asked by the folk at talk.maemo.org to make a review of the Nokia N9 standard music player, and so i did. After posting it, i was suggested to post it once again here at head-fi. It's my first review, so you are welcome to give me some feedback. I've just copied my review from http://talk.maemo.org/showthread.php?p=1102756#post1102756 .
This review is a walkthrough of the music players of the Nokia N900, iPhone 3GS and the Nokia N9 as well as comparison of critical points. Enjoy!!
I have used the following equipment:
Nokia N900 (PR 1.3) – Standard player
Nokia N9 (PR_001) – Standard player
Iphone 3GS (iOS 4.3.5) – Standard player
Sennheiser HD595 50 Ω
Sennheiser HD800 (S/N 10XXX) 300Ω
David Arnold – Dinner Jackets (Casino Royale)
Daft Punk – The Grid (Tron Legacy)
Gorillaz – Stylo (Plastic Beach)
Rammstein – Frühling in Paris (LiFAD)
Tchaikovsky (Prague Philharmonic Orchestra) – 1812 Ouverture (conclusion)
Music player overview
The N900’s Music player is very intuitive. You can choose between artists, albums, genres, playlists and songs. The Hardware keyboard can be used for searching anywhere in the five categories just by starting typing. The “Now Playing” screen is very easy to navigate, with a big album artwork, and buttons for changing track, shuffle, repeat and volume control. You also have the option to switch between the current playlist and search in the current song. It also has the ability to enable the fm transmitter, which is pretty neat. There is a desktop widget for the basic controls, so that you don’t have to enter the full player when changing track.
The N900 can pretty much chew through anything you throw at it (if you have extra decoders support enables from the repositories). This test uses FLAC files for the N900, and it has no problems playing without a hassle. The phone however does have some hiccups when searching for tracks or albums. Sometimes you have to give it a second; otherwise it won’t be able to find anything.
To get music on the device you just plug it into the computer and drag and drop from the file manager. When a lot of music has been transferred it takes a couple of seconds to index everything.
The output voltage of the N900 is very high, which means that you’ll almost never have to turn the volume all the way up. When you turn the volume down the dynamic range seems to be going down as well. When you reach half volume the dynamics are full again. This is NOT an issue on every source I’ve tried, so it’s not just my ears. I haven’t researched its volume function, but if it’s just bit shifting to turn down volume, you’ll automatically lose some detail when turning the volume down (winamp, wmp, itunes does this I know). Unfortunately the N900 does not have gapless playback, which gives a small pause between tracks. This is especially annoying when listening to album, where the tracks are connected. It also lacks an equalizer as standard. When playing music while doing other tasks you sometimes get some stuttering. The N900 does not stop the music when you unplug your headphones unless you have a plugin installed, and that can lead to some nasty public transport scenarios. When the screen is turned off you are able to turn the volume up and down.
Due to the high output voltage the N900 does not fail when asked to feed the 300 Ω HD800. The bass of heavy-to-drive headphones is often an issue when using a source which lacks power. The Bass in ‘Dinner jackets’ is a contrabass which goes very low, without being “synthetic”. This is handled very well by the N900. You get enough punch, but without it being muddy. The synthetic bass of ‘The Grid’ is also handled very well. It’s a deep rumble in the background, which tends to just be a muddy rumble, but the HD800 and N900 combo handles it very well.
When using the HD595 the output voltage is not as important as when using the HD800. The sound quality is of course very different than that of the HD800. As this is NOT a review of the headphones, I’ll just skip it very fast. The N900 actually does not output much louder in the HD595 than in the HD800. The N900 (almost) utilizes the full potential of the HD595. A headphone amplifier opens a new world, but that’s an entirely different story.
All in all, the N900 is a very solid music player. The drawbacks are loss of quality at low listening levels, a bit slow search function, stuttering during load, and the lack of gapless playback and equalizer.
I think that most people have tried the iPhone’s music player, and that everyone has their own opinion regarding it. I will, however try to describe it. The main screen has 5 different views: playlists, artists, songs videos and more. There is no album view, which I find a bit odd. You can, however find albums, when choosing artist, but still, that’s a kind of a detour. When playing, you have a big album cover art, and buttons for next, previous, back, current album and a volume slider. When out of the player you can double press the home button to get a mini control on the screen. From there you can skip tracks, pause and turn volume up and down.
Due to the fact that the iPhone is an apple device, you have to use itunes, unless you jailbreak it. This means that you cannot just drop and drag from a file manager, and it also has the disadvantage that you are locked to using either apple formats or mp3. Some find it nice, some don’t, I personally don’t like the fact that I’m tied to one computer, and one format, but some prefer that they only have to plug in their device, and then the new music pops in.
When using other programs while listening, I have not had any problems regarding stuttering in playback. This I probably due to the lack of multitasking, but it is indeed very nice that no stuttering occurs. Regarding equalizer, it is present, but not in the music player(!). You have to enter settings->iPod and from there choose one of the equalizers. It’s not the most convenient way of doing it, but it most certainly is better than not having anything at all, even though you can only choose between presets. The iPhone stops the music when you unplug your headphone as default. As in the N900 when the screen is turned off you are able to turn the volume up and down.
The output of the iPhone is pretty regular, not very loud, but not very silent either. When using the HD800 some of the bass disappears. I guess it’s because the bass requires more power than treble or midrange, and thus the lack of power punishes the bass. The “real” bass of ‘Dinner Jackets’ is much more silent than it should be (compared to reference). The synthetic bass of ‘The Grid’ also lacks some power. It’s not unclear, but it’s just not as powerful as it should be. When turning the volume down, the same problem as on the N900 occurs. The iPhone does however feature gapless playback, which is a great advantage when dealing with albums that are meant to be heard as one.
When using the HD595 the difference towards the N900 regarding sound quality is minimal. I was not really able to tell the difference when blind-testing. This is very good as it bring the sound quality on par with the N900.
The iPhone is a nice music player, but it does have some drawbacks: The itunes dependability, the difficult way to find the EQ, the low listening loss, and, if you are picky and do not use an amp, low power output when using high impedance headphones.
The N9 chews through loads of formats like its sibling the N900. These tests are made using FLAC
The main screen of the N9 music player is quite like the others. In the top you have some albums (possibly most heard, I haven’t heard that much), and in the bottom you have the choice between artist, albums, songs, playlists and Ovi music. When choosing one of the mentioned, not counting Ovi music, you are taken to a scrollable list. In the top you can tap to search, or you can scroll, either normally, or letter wise in the side, as most people know it from iPhone. When you choose a song, it begins to play and takes you to the now playing screen. It features a big album art in the top, and buttons for changing track, pause, favourite, repeat, shuffle go back and info about the current song (bit rate, size and so on). When you favourite a song, it can be found in the favourites playlist. When no album art is present a big, very sharply coloured text simply writes the album name, where the cover art should have been. If you are in now playing mode, you can just swipe across the album art to change track. This enables track changing without having to look at the phone.
To get music on the phone you can either use Nokia link, or simply drag and drop using a file explorer. I had one problem, though. I thought I was meant to put the music in the ‘music’ folder. When I unplugged the phone and wanted to start listening, it couldn’t find any music. If you put the music in the content folder inside the music folder it is able to find it, but that was very strange I think. During search for tracks I didn’t find any hiccups or stuttering, and the results came up almost immediately (<0.5sec). When listening to a song in a long playlist, you also have the option to listen to that song’s album. If you unplug your headphones, the music stops playing. Unfortunately the standard player does not support gapless playback.
Regarding the sound quality, the output is not as loud as on the N900. As on the iPhone this affects the bass impact, when using HD800. In ‘The Grid’ the bass was a bit weaker than on the N900. In ‘Dinner Jackets’, however, the bass wasn’t lacking anything, unlike the iPhone. Besides the fact that the N900’s output was louder, the N9 was on par quality-wise. When turning the volume down, the device acted as the others as well. Until you turn on the Dolby Headphones in settings. Then the lover listening levels is not as bad is on the other two. I haven’t had the time to test movies with and without Dolby, but I suppose that the difference is bigger there. This review is made without the Dolby Headphones on, as it gave a very subtle, but unnatural sound, when listening at high levels. At low levels I would recommend it though.
The Ovi Music I am unfortunately unable to test, as it is not available in my country (Denmark), but it seems like an itunes kind of store.
With the HD595 the difference is, once again, close to non-existent, which makes it up to the different interfaces and features to determine a winner.
Some of the tracks in the listing are not mentioned in the main part, and that is because the tracks I chose was where the largest differences were found. The more deep bass, the harder running high impedance headphones becomes.
The N9 is, like the two others a very good music player too. It settles in the middle of the two others with slightly better sound quality than the iPhone, and I bit lower maximum volume. On the other hand I haven’t experienced any hiccups whatsoever, which places it on par with the iPhone and on above the N900. In my opinion you can very well use the N9 as a music player unless you are very picky.