MP3/CD player craze
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Vertigo-1

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For the past month or so I've gone on a CD/MP3 player hunting craze. I used to be an MD fanatic, but lately I've gotten into the situation where I simply no longer have the time to record MD after MD and to maintain stacks of MDs all over the place of single albums. With MP3/CD players finally getting better battery life and flagship models dropping down to irresistable prices and the cost of CDR/CDRWs nowdays, I believe it's the way to go for me. I think I've finally made my choice on which MP3/CD player to keep...but I figured I'd log what happened along the way as a reference for others.

My first player that I got was the RioVolt SP-250, aka the iRiver 2. I figured I'd go with it over the SlimX because it seemed to have a better battery life utilizing easy to find AAs, without having to lug around battery packs. Also the fact that it had an LCD on the main unit seemed important to me, since we're dealing with onwards of 50+ files, and the ability to see where I'm browsing seemed important. On the downside, it was quite a chunky, lunky player in looks and build, which somewhat detracted from its long term appeal.

Sound quality was quite good...easily better then modern day Sony PCDPs, and closer to how a good MD player might sound. The sound was crisp, open, and clear, and not all warm and muddy like the current day Sonys seem to sound. I probably would've kept it except for two problems...it simply leaped from way too soft to way too loud right between volume level 14 to 15, and I could not find a software fix for that. The battery life was also ridiculously short...I got about 4 hours out of it before it died on me. Combine that with the thick, boatlike look and feel, and I eventually ended up turning that one back to where it came from.

It seemed MDs was still the way to go...but then I started to get the itch again, this time, for the SlimX IMP-350. My experience with the RioVolt SP-250 made me realize that a main unit LCD screen wasn't so important after all...as long as I knew how to jump from folder to folder at most, that was all I really needed. Otherwise I found myself just listening straight through a CD anyways without glancing at the LCD even once. And make no mistake about it, the SlimX is one hella sexy player. So off I went to pick one up at the local CompUSA.

Other then the slimmer size, there wasn't too much to write home about. Everything about the RioVolt 250's sound quality carried through to the SlimX. Right down to the annoying too loud-too soft volume areas.
But what got on my nerve after owning it for 2 days was the realization of the SlimX's internal battery life: 10 on MP3s, 7 on CDs. I'm just not one to enjoy using those AA battery packs, especially if they can't dock with the player. Considering the SP-250 failed to deliver a full payload of battery life, I questioned how good the SlimX could be at that. One of my worries was what if I used the player in an overseas environment, which could potentially happen next year. I'd be stuck using the AA battery pod, and apparently the SlimX sucks alkalines dry in no time. In particular I thought for a modern day PCDP to have such short CD playback times was just totally unacceptable, when both Sony and Panasonic were producing MP3/CD players with at least stellar CD playback times. Also while going through discharge/charging cycles to get the batteries up to their max potential, I discovered the SlimX took nearly most of a day to get itself charged up. That was the final straw to me. The hunt continued...

And today, after doing some research, I ended up coming home with the Sony CJ-01. I pondered the Panasonic CT-800, but Tina's review left me with a bitter taste. The Sony seemed to be the plain vanilla player that just simply worked and did its job efficiently. And as it's turning out, it does just that.

I think what particularly surprised me was its sound quality. I was expecting everybody to be wrong about it being better then modern day Sony PCDPs and for it to be another warm, murky boomy player. Definitely not the case. It's still a good deal warmer and less open sounding then my older Sony D-465, but it's also much better then the first generation G-protection players. The bass is not hollow, and while the midrange is quite warm, it's not murky warm. The highs are somewhat subdued though compared to the D-465. It's on overall a very listenable, inoffensive sound. Compared to the SlimX on flat, it sounds fuller and more at ease.

One big thing to take notice of is what 'phones are paired with it. I've had particularly excellent results using Sony A44s and EX70s and 888s. On the other hand the MX500s produced the above warmish results. All of the Sony 'phones produced a more resolute, cleaner sound and better highs. When paired with Sony 'phones, the J01 betters the SlimX on flat, making it seem thinnish sounding with a boomy upper bass. With the MX500s and some EQing, the SlimX beats the J01 in that the J01 sounds too warm and not as clear.

Both of these players are surprisingly loud little beasts when used with your typical small portable 'phones. I keep the J01 around 7-8 out of...urr, don't know, couldn't get that far, and the SlimX around 14-15 out of 40. On the other hand when I jacked my Etys directly into the J01, it just died horribly and couldn't properly drive the Etys. The SlimX did a little better presumably because it has a 12mw amp. Both my Panasonic 570 and Sony D-465 have no problems at all driving Etys.

The J01 happens to have an onboard easy to read LCD screen, so not much to worry about there. It didn't come with a remote, but any of my 2 or 3 Sony MD remotes that I have lying around work just fine with it. It's definitely the player that I feel most comfortable living with long term, in terms of battery life (24 MP3, 32 CD...now that's more like it), reliability, looks, and sound quality. So, and this comes as a big surprise to me given Sony PCDP quality nowdays, it seems like I'll actually be keeping the J01. I felt safe buying it now as well because according to rumor, Sony has no plans to ever make another MP3/CD player. So this might be as good as they get. The SlimX goes back to CompUSA tomorrow.

Questions, comments, flames? Post away.
 
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jpelg

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Thanks Vert. Very informative. Sometimes it is the details that can make or break our level of satisfaction with a device, as you have shown here.

I had been recently looking at CD/mp3 players recently as well. I was not happy with the Rio 90, particularly the (non)line-out, as I wanted to use it with my Airhead. Wanting a remote also, I considered the 250 or the Sony, but could not envision the navigation process for multiple folders with their spartan remotes. I liked the looks of the SlimX and (seemingly) more informative remote, but have (temporarily at least) put that on the back burner for similiar reasons you cite.

Can you describe how a folder tree is viewed and navigated on the Rio250 and/or the Sony w/remote? What about compared to the SlimX remote? Also, can you confirm or deny whether the Rio250 and SlimX have true line-outs (unlike the Rio90 which does not)?

For now I am back to using my MD for most of my portable applications. Small and stealth, it does not take any consideration whether I have enough space to take it with me all the time. CD/mp3 is tempting, and some type of mp3 player is in my future. Probably something along the form factor of an iPod, but as inexpensive as a Treo. In the meantime...

 
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Joe Bloggs

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I also own the D-CJ01 and although it is the best mp3 player I've owned to date, by no means do I think it's perfect. In particular, it has some issues with VBR mp3s, something that the iRiver SlimX has got completely sorted out, apparently... VBR mp3s encoded with LAME --alt-preset-standard would skip like mad unless you set a bitrate ceiling of 256kbps or disable the bit reservoir, both options being detrimental to the sound quality. Pick your poison. I haven't proved that I can actually hear any difference between mp3s encoded this way and the original CD tracks, so this is still sort of ok for me... unfortunately, using 256kbps ceiling, some glitches still remain--coincidentally, 1 glitch per CD, on every CD I've burned so far!!
I'm experimenting with setting the -F switch to strictly enforce the lower bitrate limit--maybe this will eliminate that one glitch.

Someone with a more discriminating ear for compression artifacts would have been forced to encode at a flat 256 or 320kbps CBR... not a Good Thing(tm).

Oh, and not having FF / RW in mp3 playback sucks too


Overall I think it will still take quite a while for mp3 CD players to reach the same quality as other portable players...

Apart from the decoding problems, sound quality is good, noise floor is lower than the SlimX I auditioned side by side at the shop, but still just barely noticeable (I think?? It's at the point where you don't know whether it's noise from the recording or noise from the amp) using Ety ER4Ps.

My unit drove clean up to 30/30 driving the 4S, or even the 4P with 120ohm adapter, reaching quite loud enough levels too. Since my listening levels using buds are about as high as yours, I really don't understand you'd say the 4S 'kills' the CJ01...


On the Sony you see one file or folder at a time and you can either navigate forward / backward through files in a folder or different folders, sorted in alphabetical order.
 
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purk

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Vertigo,
My experience with the dc-j01 soud quality is very similar. I think it has a good headphone out and line out. The D-CJ01 headphone is bad at all. However, I choose the SlimX over it instead. I have a seperate charger for any gumstick battery (need 20 mins to full charge) so charging for 6-7 hours in not an issue for me, so I opt for the slimx.

To my ears, the C-J01 has the signature sound of the D-777, while being very similar, D-777 is more powerful and liquid. Imho, the slimx has better clarity and details. The line out on the slimx is a let down. Otherwise, I think the slimx is a slightly
better performer.
 
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Purk

Could you please post details of this external 'gumstick' charger - I too have the slimx and would be very interested in it.

Many thanks.

BTW - I don't use the SlimX much now I've got the Nomad Jukebox 3 but I still rate the SlimX fairly highly.
 
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dparrish

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My guess would be that the SlimX's shorter battery life is related to the relatively higher amp output, no?

I bought a SlimX for my wife, and I like it so much I"m going to hold out for the new IMP-400, which is supposed to have even better sound quality.

Incidently, I've never heard the so-called hiss on ours, using Ety 4S's.

I'm tempted to try the Sony unit, but it seems to lack in overall features compared to the Iriver units.

What about reliability of the Sony compared to Iriver?

David
 
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Vertigo-1

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Lot's of responses...

jpelg: The SlimX's navigation system is pretty nice, just like the RioVolt 250's. There's a button on the remote called Navi, pressing it will display all tracks within the current folder you are playing, at which point you could browse up and down and fast jump to any other song in that folder. There's a button (forgot which specific one) you can hit while a track is selected, and it will queue up that song to be played next, a gimmick feature if you will. Note that this works on normal CDs as well. If you hit Stop while in this mode, you will go back out one level and be able to see all your Folders. At which point you can browse and choose which folder/album you want.

If you're not using the remote, I believe fast pressing followed by a long click of the Play button on the main unit will fast forward one folder.

The Sony J01 is much more mundane for browsing. There's simply a button (+ Folder) that allows you to jump forward one folder, and one to jump back one (- Folder). To get to any track within a folder, you have to manually use the fast forward button, like you would with an ordinary PCDP.

The SlimX's lineout is unfortunately one of those line outs that are linked to your volume control, which is umm, stupid I think.
Probably the stupidest thing is that there is no fail safe system like Sony's MD recorders have where after you're done using the line out, it will automatically jump back down to 0 volume once the player is turned off. I used the line out myself recently for something, and the next time I turned it on to use the headphone out, I nearly pissed in my pants when I flipped the volume lever BEFORE the CD started (something I always routinely do) and saw it set to 40.
OTOH, the J01 has a tried and true set volume line out. No ifs, buts, or elses about that one.

Joe: I've personally set my official level for MP3 encoding to 160kbps. Haven't fooled around much with VBR. I figured anything above 160, I can't appreciate in a true portable environment, the great outdoors, and anything below that, I'd start hearing those warbles which IS noticeable to me even out there with all that noise. So by using 160 I think I get the best ratio of storage space to sound quality.

On Etys...yes the J01 drives the Etys loud, but it does not drive them well. The Etys plainly sound thin, weak and gutless to me out of the J01, even if I can get them to a loud level. They just don't sound like they do if you had a Sugden behind them or something of that sort.
On the other hand the players with 10mw+ amps seem to have no problem driving the Etys well. With those, I don't encounter that gutless feeling.

purk: I agree about that "more powerful" feel. When I jack 'phones into my D-465, they just sound as if they aren't being limited by current draw, whereas with 5mw based players, I can hear my 'phones screaming "more please!".

I think the SlimX is the overall better performer for sound as well, by way of headphone out. I like the way Sony's MD players can sound after some EQing, which is similar to how Sharp MD players sound by default, and the SlimX is the one PCDP that approaches that sound. You know, that pristine, clear open sound? Nonetheless the battery life and its charge time doesn't fit into my lifestyle, which is what made me seek out the J01. That the J01 doesn't sound offensively bad is good enough for me. I agree the J01 isn't perfect, but it is the player that gets the job done without sacrificing too much in any one area.

Peddler: My E900 came with an external gumstick charger that charges one gumstick in about 1 and a half hours. That's probably what purk was referring to. OTOH, those chargers probably damage NIMH batteries in that I think they don't go through a discharge cycle and just simply try to ram as much power as possible down the gumstick's throat. The SlimX's charging system is capable of discharging, but the total time can add up to most of the day.

dparrish: I suppose the tradeoff for the stronger amp is the battery life. Still, one can't help but give a blank stare at that stated 7 hours CD playback. 7 hours is something that belonged in the 1990s, not now. The 10 hours for MP3 playback is more acceptable, but still a little low for my liking. I simply refuse to pratically have to come home everyday and toss my player on the charger.

I actually never heard the hiss on the SlimX with conventional earbuds. I finally got to hear it when I swapped in my EX70s, which cancel noise and have a very low impedance/high sensitivity. Then the hiss became noticeable...but I think it's at a level where it can be easily buried by music.

The Sony J01 is built very solidly, much better then I thought. It also strangely feels much smaller then I'd imagine, and doesn't feel lunky like the RioVolt 250 did. I wouldn't worry much about reliability there. Likewise I haven't heard too much problems with iRiver products, other then with the SlimX there seemed to be quite a lot of people screaming about the internal NIMH not living up to the stated battery life. At least Sony has headroom for that, but when you state 7-10 hours and can expect even less in real world usage, that's just not good enough by today's standards. I would say the sweet spot is 20 hours on internals...that's what I aim for myself.
 
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Joe Bloggs

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Re the noise level:
I was using the ety ER4P to A/B the SlimX and CJ01 at the store...
 
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zeplin

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dparrish,

the slimX imp400 does not have any better sound quality than the 350. the 400 is just a new model with the same internal components. on the iriver website, it states that the 400 has a couple of new pre-set EQ settings...which may be why some think that the sound will be improved. i found this out by asking a person that works at iRiver by email.
 
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dparrish

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Zeplin,

You may be right


However, from Iriver's website:

"iRiver's stunning and innovative Red Wine color will shake you up! This new model will be launched in Korea market within Sept. 2002 and will be available in USA, Europe and Asia area within November 2002. With better sound quality and 9 EQ modes, iMP-400 is our state-of-art.

3. Perfect mechanical design
-After more than eight months in modifying design and specification. We are proud to present you iMP-400. "

This admittedly is not much to go on, but this does seem to indicate a different overall design, not just on the outside. Also, the specifications do say that the FM quality is supposedly better (better S/N ratio). My guess would also be that there was an attempt to eliminate the hiss that some would hear with the IMP-350/SlimX. One post on the website's forum seemed to indicate that the entire audio path was redesigned for this unit.

We shall see, because I just placed a preorder for one at J and R.
 
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zeplin

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dparrish,

you are sure right about the design. i would like to buy it just for the looks...but, looks isn't always everything. a prototype has already been reviewed at ign.com http://gear.ign.com/articles/374/374377p1.html
see what this gentleman has to say about the new imp400.
i wish i had enough money to buy the 400, but i gotta stay within reality. oh well, maybe i'll wait for the next version. good luck dparrish with your player...do tell us how you like it.
 
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Davie

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Now that the subject's come up, I'll mention the brand new CP/MP3 unit that I recently picked up, the Philips EXP431 . I've been planning to write a review, but haven't had time to put it through the paces yet. My first impression is quite positive. It's an 8cm CD player, and seems to overcome most of the shortcomings of previous players for this format.

In particular, it's SMALL -- much smaller than the earlier 8cm CD players I've seen, and smaller than typical MD players. It also has good sound, a strong amp (for PCDP/MP3), a good LCD display, and a decent feature set (including a full-featured remote) though not as good as the Riovolt 250. Philips is promising firmware upgrades, but we'll have to wait and see about that.

I also have the Sony C-J01, and would consider this Philips unit superior in features and equal in sound quality (although there is no line out). Major drawback so far seems to be battery life, which is advertised at 8 hours (on two AAAs) but seems to be less in reality. Philips does have some new regular CD/MP3 players (I've seen them at Virgin Megastore) that seem to have similar features and specs to the 431 and promise a 30 hour battery life.

If anyone's interested, I'll post more about it when I have the chance.
 
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aznhoward

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Taking a look at the spec sheet, ( http://www.philipsusa.com/global/b2c...431_us_lft.pdf )

it seems that the output power is only 3mW, and the signal to noise ratio is " >80 "

Seems like the SlimX is still a better option IMO with 12 mW output power and a signal to noise ratio of 90dB.
 
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Davie

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Quote:

Originally posted by aznhoward
Taking a look at the spec sheet, ( http://www.philipsusa.com/global/b2c...431_us_lft.pdf )

it seems that the output power is only 3mW, and the signal to noise ratio is " >80 "

Seems like the SlimX is still a better option IMO with 12 mW output power and a signal to noise ratio of 90dB.


I too was concerned when I saw that 3mW output spec (they don't say 3mW going into what) and almost didn't buy it for that reason. In reality, the Philips has *plenty* of power to drive any of my phones (Grado SR-60s, Koss KSC-50s, etc) -- it does at least as well as the Sony C-J01 or anything else I've used. I really don't know how they come up with these numbers, but in general haven't found them reliable. I haven't used the SlimX, but have tried (and returned) the RioVolt 250, which also is rated at 12mW. I bought that specifically because of the 12mW spec, but was disappointed. This little Philips unit is definitely capable of driving headphones better than the RioVolt was.

Can't say I've paid close attention to the SNR, although there has been no obviously objectionable noise. Maybe I'll do an A/B against the Sony and see how well the Philips does.
 
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Joe Bloggs

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Hey Vert,

Have you tried shaking up the player while playing mp3s? I find that it not only skips, but caches the skips in its memory so that the audio keeps on skipping for half a minute after the fact


I'm definitely phoning Sony about this.
 
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