The Top 10 Tested MP3 Portables For Xmas.

By Richard Menta- 11/27/00

Looking at a digital music player for under the tree? The best news about the MP3 portables that have crossed our path is that all of them gave fine sound. Even the lesser models managed the basics of cranking out the tunes adequately. Since digital music players are not cheap, that's comforting to know.

Beyond that the virtues of memory capacity, options, quality of transfer software, display, cost and overall usability separate the wheat from the chaff. Below is the first of what we hope will be an annual Christmas wish list of digital music players ranked in order of performance in our ongoing reviews. Next to each listing is a link to the original review and to the latest street pricing from Amazon if available.

Because we are sometimes at the mercy of manufacturer schedules, we were not always able to test every MP3 portable as soon as it was available. One glaring omission you may notice is Creative's Nomad II player. When we made our arrangements we had the choice between the Nomad II and the Nomad Jukebox to test first. We selected the Jukebox because of its huge memory capacity and unique features. We will test the Nomad II after the holidays and publish a full report.

So Christmas shoppers, here is out top player list. Hopefully it will help make your buying decision easier. If we can give one more word of advice, don't wait until the last minute if you are sure you will buy a player. Some of the better (and more reasonably priced) units may sell out early this year. Also, online orders will not be guarenteed by most vendors to arrive in time for the holidays for purchases after Dec 14th.

Good shopping!

1. Creative Nomad Jukebox
The Nomad Jukebox was not only an excellent performer with some smart new features, but it offers the best bang for the buck when it comes to dollars per MB of memory. Cheaper than its jukebox competitor, Remote Solution's Personal Jukebox, it still lists for a pricey $500.00. The unique array of well-conceived options should see their way in other players in the future. This includes the ability to convert music from album and cassette directly into the player, a well-designed search tool, an excellent flash tutorial, the introduction of 'soft buttons', and a robust sound equalizer system. The player had a couple of minor annoyances like button lag and its large size, but the sheer convenience of its 6GB capacity far outweigh the inconveniences.

Creative NOMAD Jukebox
- Read Full Review
- Order from Amazon. Available in
Blue and Silver.

2. Sensory Science Rave MP2300
This player introduced Iomega's inexpensive Clik! (recently renamed PocketZip) disks to solve the MP3 memory cost issues. Flash memory runs between $60-$100 for a 32MB card. Clik!/PoketZips costs $10 for 40MB. We found the cards to be the equal of the flash memory cards and at $100 for 400MB's, a better deal.

Without taking the Clik! technology into consideration, the Rave MP2300 was the best MP3 portable we tested to date. Sensory Science's Digital Media Manager software was great, the display was one of the best we had come across, and the player itself was a well executed piece of electronic design. It was a tossup between the Nomad Jukebox and this player for first place. The smaller MP2300 does list for $200 less and is a better choice for the exercise minded and those on the go.

- Read Full Review

3. Sensory Science Rave MP2200
FM Radio, remote control, text and recording capabilities, the Rave MP2300 is a class act all the way. Encased in a brushed aluminum body, this unit was a well rounded player that performed excellently throughout.

The MP2200 is an example of the classic MP3 portable style (if classic is the right term only two Xmas's after the release of the original Rio 300). It comes with 64MB of memory and is upgradeable to 128 via Smart Card format flash memory. The player is light and quite a bit smaller than the units above, making it among the best players for those who like do take that morning run every day. Offering considerable refinement, the MP2200 is a polished update of the original Rave MP3 player offering a solid package of features and price. We found it to be the best of the flash card players on the market today.

- Read the Full Review
The Rave MP2200 is available on Amazon

4. Remote Solution's Personal Jukebox
Released a year ago, this portable invented the jukebox concept of using a laptop drive to offer several gigs of memory. It is an excellent player that set new standards in the display and the controls, as well as storage capacity. Seized upon by Creative, many of the Personal Jukebox's ground breaking features found their way into the Nomad Jukebox above. It's expensive, though, selling to date for about $600.

- Read Full Review
5. Rio 600
We are still finishing up on our final test of the Rio 600, but so far it's proving to be a solid player. A unique backpack feature means the 600 is not slave to any particular memory format, whether CompactFlash or Smart Media, and the display is terrific. We still aren't overly fond of the Rio Audio Manager which makes you jump through too many hoops to download a file, but it is improved over the previous version. The Rio 600 also adds new optional features including an external FM radio and remote control. The $169 list price is excellent for a recently released USB portable.

- order from Amazon.
6. Rio 500
Our former benchmark portable, the Rio has sold more players than any other unit. The best news for consumers is that competing manufacturers like Creative and Sensory Science took aim at bettering the Rio's advancements and succeeded. That's a complement to the Rio people. Among the first to employ USB transfer technology, the street price on this 64MB unit has dropped below $200 making it a very good buy. It doesn't have a lot of the features found in some players like an FM radio and voice recording, and the transfer software isn't our favorite. Still it's a fine player and the fact it holds its own despite being over a year old is testament to the Rio's vision.

- Read Full Review
7. i2Go eGo
We called the i2Go eGo the MP3 equivalent of a Cadillac. Chock full of the latest features (some unique to the model), clever in detail, and big. Still, the player is less than half the size and weight of the Nomad Jukebox and is capable of running two IBM Microdrives simultaneously, giving it a 2GB top end. The i2Go's features and flexibility, especially in the memory category, could easily make it the top MP3 player out there now. What holds it back are several minor annoyances involving its file transfer software, controls, instruction manual, and display.

- Read Full Review
- Order from Amazon. 340MB for $459,
96MB for $289, 64MB for $279, 32MB for $229
8. Sensory Science Rave MP2100
The original Rave player was the first to break the 64MB barrier and is still a fine player despite being 1 1/2 years old. It offers the same text capabilities and voice recording option as all Sensory Science players and recent price drop to under $100 have made this a superior buy. 64MB flash cards alone cost that much. It also comes with Sennheiser earbuds, a step up from the cheap headphones found on most other portables. The parallel port connection dates it though, but that is a virtue for those who still use older, pre-USB Pentiums or newer Pentiums running on Windows 95, an operating system no longer supported by many of the newer portables because of its sub-USB capabilities. Overall, at $99 this unit is very competitive and gets a Best Buy rating from us.

- Read Full Review

9. I-Jam
One of the Original Five MP3 portables to be released, the I-Jam is blessedly tiny and was the first to include an FM radio making it an early favorite of joggers and the like. It's still a good player, but alas time has not been the best friend of the I-Jam.

The display was awful then and has only become worse when compared to the improved displays of the Rio 600 and the Rave MP2300. Like the MP2100 above, the slower parallel port connection is only a positive for Windows NT and pre-USB pentium users. Finally, the MMC flash cards used by the I-Jam are more expensive than competing Smart Media cards and have only just recently broken the 32MB barrier. A $50 rebate does bring this 32MB player below the $90 mark which is excellent for a player with a radio.

- Read Full Review
10. RCA Lyra
Another parallel port player, the RCA Lyra is a pretty unit with some very nice touches, specifically the excellent display and the graphic equalizer. We are not particularly fond of it converting MP3 and G2 files to a proprietary MPX format, but overall we find it to be a solid, but basic, 32MB unit. $70 more puts you in a 64MB version of the Lyra, with a cassette/cigarette lighter adapter for the car. It's well worth spending the extra money for the latter.

- Read Full Review

11. Sony Memory Stick Walkman (honorary mention)
If we just focus on actual box itself, the Sony Memory Stick Walkman is a damn good 64MB USB player that gives terrific sound. It's when we go beyond that box that we have reservations.

First, the player's $400 price tag is way too high for a basic unit, a few dollars more puts you into a Nomad Jukebox and its 6GB. Second, in an effort to protect its copyrights, Sony Music thrust upon Sony Electronics an unwieldy, awkward, and annoying check-in/check-out upload process for this player. Third, it isn't an MP3 player at all but an ATRAC3 player. This requires users to convert all the MP3 files they presently have to ATRAC3 to run them.

- Read Full Review

Other Stories:
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Big Music's Best Tool Against Napster - DVD

We Test Drive the Rave Clik! Drive MP3 Portable ( Rave MP2300)
Test Driving the Sensory Science Rave MP2200


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