By Richard Menta- 10/10/00
Is it possible that Sensory Science is the best manufacturer of MP3 players today? Our review of the superior Rave MP2200 two months ago was the first step in that direction. That player is a fine update of its predecessor, the excellent Rave MP2100.
Now comes the release of the Rave MP2300, the first portable to use Iomega's Clik! drive and the second player to earn milestone kudos in our reviews.
What we mean by a milestone player is any product whose breakthrough innovations are so significant, they influence the future course of its industry. The iMac, which presently has PC manufacturers scrambling to breakout of the beige box routine, is a recent example of a milestone product.
The last product that we named a milestone player was Remote Solution's Personal Jukebox, the first player to crack the biggest problem of MP3 portables, low memory capacity. Well, crack isn't the word, smash is more like it. Up until then, all MP3 portables came with either 32MB or 64MB of memory, capable of holding anywhere of 9 to 20 song files at the standard 128k compression. Personal Jukebox thought out of the box and installed a 5GB laptop drive running on rechargeable lithium batteries.
The direct effect of this product was a rush by several major producers to copy the idea. Creative is the first to release such a product and the result is the Nomad Jukebox, a 6GB portable that is right now the top selling MP3 player on Amazon.com.
While the cost per MB of theses laptop drive player are by far the cheapest, the units are large and heavy compared to other MP3 players. They are also expensive, running around $500.
Enter Sensory Science. They merged the excellence of their other portables with Iomega's Clik! drive technology which the company just renamed the PocketZip to capitalize on the name recognition of its zip drive line that propelled them in the mid 90's.
Clik! disks hold 40MB of memory each and cost only $10 a piece. Compare this with the cost of Smart Media cards ($60 per 32 MB), MMC and CompactFlash cards ($100 per 32 MB) and you see the cost advantages for the user. $100 buys 400MB of memory or space to store about 12 CD's worth of music.
The Rave MP2300 sells for $290 and comes with two 40 MB Clik! disks for a total of 80MB out of the box. While considerably smaller that the laptop portables, the Rave Clik! is larger than the Smart Media card using units like the Rio 500 and Rave 2200.
Music uploaded quickly into the player via a USB connection. The Clik! disk whirred softly as it quickly wrote the song files to its plate. None of the slight vibrations transferred as extraneous sounds to the headphones, an excellent pair of Sennheisers.
The 2300 is powered by rechargeable lithium batteries, a great feature found in the better players that offers long play times between charges.
The unit has a built-in microphone to facilitate its voice recording and playback feature. Voice is recorded in the PCM format that can be transferred and played with any standard Wave player. We found the recording process was very easy and intuitive.
Another great feature of the Rave MP2300 is that it allows you to delete songs directly from the player screen. The player also has text capabilities allowing the users to collect memos as well as addresses and phone numbers. A calendar and clock (which can be set via the time zone the user lives in) round off the feature list.
Transfer MP3 from Player to Computer
In order to keep from being sued by the record companies, MP3 manufacturers became members of the SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative), a group set up by the major labels to force manufacturers to support copyright protection technology. One of the contingencies thrust upon MP3 makers is that their players can not be able to upload MP3s from the player to a computer, an act that can facilitate trading.
You CAN do this with the Rave 2200 and 2300 though it takes a little fudging.
These players allow you to use their memory as a portable hard drive, allowing you to upload and download any file format you wish to migrate to another computer. To be SDMI compliant, files with the .mp3 extension are excluded. So, all the user has to do is rename the file. We changed the extension on our songs from .mp3 to .pdf (you can use .zip, .doc, .anything) downloaded them to the player and then back up onto our computer at home. There we changed the extension back to a .mp3 and viola! It worked. Don't worry about the warnings Windows might give you, as long as you remember to change the file name back you will be fine.
Getting Started - A
We have always found the RaveMP's Digital Media Manager software to be one of the most straightforward and blessedly non-complex packages out there for uploading tunes to the player. Compare this with the Rio's offering, which we felt required the user to jump through too many hoops or Sony's annoying check-in/check out strategy and you get the idea. Sensory Science's latest version, which came with the 2300, may be the best we tested yet. Uploads and downloads were intuitive and easy. Best of all, the software now runs on Windows NT 4.0 systems, Can Mac be far behind?
Controls - A
The controls are excellent with large buttons and well laid-out keys. The unit has a scan feature, which is thankfully showing up on most of the newer MP3 players.
The Display - A
The display on the Rave MP2300 are superior, possibly the best we ever tested. Using an improved icon system derived from the original Rave MP2100, the display did a terrific job of guiding the user through the various keystrokes needed to access the various features. The icons are all clear and large enough and a backlight helps to further illuminate them and improving clarity.
Sound - A
Excellent, as have been all the Sensory Science players we tested. As we mentioned before, there was no noticeable hiss from the dive and try as we might, we could not get the player to skip despite having moving parts. Credit the MP2300's ample memory buffer for that.
Without taking the Clik! technology into consideration, the Rave MP2300 is the best MP3 portable we have ever tested. The display is superior as are the headphones and the sound in general. The RaveMP's Digital Media Manager is not only easy and convenient to use, but allows the user to upload tunes from computer to player to computer, a necessary feature denied most competing units because of the SDMI. The Rave units simply have a workaround (wink, wink) and that is a feature that may be the most desirable of all.
Add the Clik! drive to the Rave MP2300 and you get a milestone player. 40 MB disks go a long way when they run $10 each. More important, most users will actually go out and buy them, where most users who own flash media players are yet to make the investment into a single card because of prices. The MP2300 will help push flash prices down.
The MP2300 is not the cheapest player when it comes to MB's per dollar, that goes to the laptop drive units like the Creative Nomad Jukebox (a unit we will review next) which offer several Gigs of memory space. The Jukebox is a bigger, heavier unit, though, and sells for $200 more than the Rave MP2300.
Together these units will squeeze competing flash players on both sides and look to cause a major shift in the market. The Nomad Jukebox is already the top selling MP3 player on Amazon despite its price, which should give you a clue.
Final Score: A+ [a Milestone Player]
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The Rio Volt SP250 has an FM tuner and is available on Amazon