By Richard Menta 11/05/01
Sometimes it takes a little time for us to get a demo unit from a manufacturer and during that time things can happen. When we finally received the Intel Pocket Concert and put it through it paces, the unit had already been out several months and doing quite well, spending a fair amount of time in the top spot of Amazon's MP3 player sales chart.
Half way through typing up our review, the company announced that it was closing its entire consumer product division and one of the casualties of that decision is the company's MP3 line. That's a shame because the Pocket Concert is one of the best portables we have come across. Of course, this is good news for saavy consumers as a bargain may be had this winter.
Selling for about $275, what sticks out most about the Pocket Concert is the fact that it comes with 128MB of built-in memory. It is not the first MP3 player to claim that distinction. That honor goes to the otherwise mediocre AVC Soul, which we reviewed back in December 1999. Curiously, the Pocket Concert is also not expandable through the addition of flash memory cards like most other portables including Intel's new Audio Player 3000 (which was only released a month ago).
Operating off of two AAA batteries, the Pocket Concert is wrapped in a handsome aluminum shell. Features include a digital FM radio with 10 presets and a high-output amplifier to increase volume range and reduce distortion.
Files are transferred from computer to player via USB. The Pocket Concert comes with Intel's Audio Manager software to facilitate transfers. It also comes with the plus version of the MusicMatch Jukebox to rip and compress CD tracks (a nice addition as most portable that include this software package the limited free version). ]
Intel has also created an optional accessory kit for this player offering rechargeable NiMH batteries, cassette adapter for use in the car and the Intel Audio Stereo Dock, a docking station designed for convenient connection to your home stereo system. The accessory kit retails for about $60
Loading the programs and setting up the player hookup went uneventfully. When we first learned that the Pocket Concert came with MusicMatch Jukebox software we assumed that program would be used to handle file transfers for the unit. It's not a bad program for that purpose, but it is much better suited to ripping songs than as a conduit between the PC and the player.
Fortunately, Intel realized this too and developed the Intel Audio Manager, an excellent file transfer software. Audio Manager is one of the best programs we have come across when it comes to selecting through folders of songs and passing them on to the player. It was simple, intuitive, and elegant.
The Pocket Concert does a very good job of strategically placing all buttons and switches around the player to avoid them from getting in each other's way. The worst players try to dump most of the controls on the front faceplate where they not only tend to clutter, but are forced to be smaller and harder to depress. The Pocket Concert only has three buttons on the front, the play and search buttons, and they are large and easily manipulated.
The power switch and the mode button are on the left side of the unit and the volume control is a rocker switch on the top. All of them worked great with a clean click and good tactile feel. The multi-use scroll wheel on the opposite side of the player did an excellent job of handling all of the remaining functions in a way that is intuitive to users who tend not to read the player manual.
The third position of the three-way power switch engages the hold button. We first saw this type of layout on the Rio 500 and it works fine. Our only complaint with this design is that if you use too much pressure to disengage the hold function you could inadvertently shut the unit off.
When in FM mode, the stations are selected by using the scroll wheel. The Pocket Concert also has a station seek feature, enabled by depressing the FF and RW controls.
The display on the Pocket Concert is not an elaborate affair, but did the job fine and that is what's most important. Song title and artist name scroll across the screen clearly. The display handles player navigation quite deftly too.
Excellent. The unit's high-output amp offered plenty of volume and became quite loud when turned up. Because MP3 tunes drawn from the Internet come in varying and inconsistent quality, some tunes need a significant boost in volume to be heard.
The player comes with a good set of back-phones. We are not particularly fond of back-phones with respect to comfort, though we realize that is a subjective and personal preference. Sound improved when we switched to our pair of Panasonic VMSS headphones, but the back-phones handled the job well enough.
The sensitivity of the FM radio was decent, though not the greatest. Still, when the unit managed to grab firm hold of a station there was minimal station flutter even when we took the unit out for a quick run around the park.
If there is a bright side to Intel's discontinuing a player as good as the Pocket Concert, it is the fact that prices should drop significantly as they unload back stock. Intel says supplies should last until February, but the events of September 11th will probably put pressure on Intel to clear out the entire stock by Christmas day.
This means bargain pricing for an excellent player with terrific sound and, most important, ample memory. Intel may try to hold prices up a little while, but by early December consumers should see significant discounts. If the 128MB Pocket Concert drops equal in price with the average 64MB player, grab it. You won't be sorry.
Copyright 2001 MP3 Newswire
Other MP3 Portable Reviews:
Review: Aiwa MM-RX400 MP3 Portable
Review: Rio Volt
Review: Archos Jukebox
Review: RCA Kazoo
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