We Test Drive the Lyra 2 MP3 Portable.

By Richard Menta 4/4/01

The Lyra 2 is the second-generation MP3 portable released by RCA. The original Lyra was a good, if basic player that was the first to find it way to retail stores thanks to the parent company's huge distribution network. The Lyra 2 replaces that unit with the addition of several nice features.

The Hardware

The Lyra 2 comes with 64MB of memory, an FM radio and an auto kit for playing tunes off of your car's cassette player. You can order it from Amazon.

The Lyra 2 comes with 64MB of CompactFlash memory, which is loaded with tunes via a USB flash card reader that comes with the unit. The previous Lyra relied on a slower parallel connection for its reader. The new USB reader will work for the older Lyra for those who have that player and can be purchased separately from the Lyra Web site.

Unlike most portables using the SmartMedia flash card format that can't yet read any card over 64MB, CompactFlash card players don't have a maximum of memory that the player can read. CompactFlash cards also have a higher top end memory with 448MB cards already on the market.

The player is powered by 2 AA batteries which handled the power needs of the player well. The Lyra 2 has an FM radio built into it, handy for people on the go when they have already run through the tunes in memory. The Lyra 2 also comes with an auto kit standard with a cassette adapter and cigarette lighter adapter to power and play the unit in the car.

The player is encased in a half metal, half plastic box and while smaller than the original Lyra it is still heavier than most competing MP3 portables.

One interesting note, when MP3 files are transferred to the player, the unit adds protection code over it converting the MP3 to and MPX file. The purpose of this is to prevent file trading. This originally concerned us with the first Lyra, but since the files are converted during the upload process we found it didn't make a difference. Compare this with the Sony line of digital music products which require the user to convert all their MP3 files into ATRAC3 files first!

Getting Started

Loading the drivers and hooking up the external USB CompactFlash drive was simple and uneventful. The Lyra 2 uses a customized version of MusicMatch Jukebox to transfer files. MusicMatch is an excellent MP3 player for you desktop. Unfortunately, the program has a similar trait found in the tranfer program used by the Rio line of products, forcing the user to jump through several of hoops before they can download a song.

The first step once you open the program is to add your music collection into the music library window, a process that can take a little time if you have a large collection of music files. The next step is to then select songs and drag them to a playlist window just above the music library window. Only tracks made available in the playlist window can be transferred. The final step is to pull down the Options menu, select Send to Device, and then Download Playlist to Lyra. This opens up the actual transfer window where you can select some or all of the files available on the playlist for download to the flash card. This can be a tedious process, especially when compared to the gracefully easy file transfer programs found on the Rave MP players and the Creative Nomad Jukebox.

Controls

The button layout on the Lyra 2 were nicely placed, large enough and spread out enough for easy manipulation. A rocker switch for the volume control was a nice continuation of the one found on the original Lyra, so good Sonic Blue borrowed it for its Rio 500 player. The Lyra's remote worked perfectly even though we did break the pen clip when it we caught the cord on a chair.

There was a slight but noticeable lag every time the player changed to the next song. This is probably a product of the MPX format though we don't know for sure. It was not a big deal, but it may annoy some type A personalities.

Display

Excellent. The original Lyra set the standard and was a direct influence on the superior displays found on the Creative Nomad Jukebox and the Sensory Science Rave 2200 and 2300. The Lyra 2 continues the tradition, shrinking the display a bit, but with attentions to detail that made the display lose none of its punch. The best feature is the built-in graphic equalizer that we found a pleasure to use. The units backlight was bright and lit up the screen clearly.

Another fine feature the Lyra 2 carried over from the original was a menu display that shows all the available tracks and allows the user to select them without having to jump from track to track to track as with most units. It's not a big deal when you only have 64MB of memory in your player, but CompactFlash cards are already available with 448MB and prices are dropping. Such a card holds over 100 songs and with that many tunes to rifle through the menu becomes a godsend.

Sound

Excellent. The Lyra 2 has the loudest volume controls we have come across, great for music files recorded at lower that the standard 128Kbit rate. The player's built-in graphic equalizer improves that sound with one of the most desirable features to be found on an MP3 or in this case MPX player. If sound is the most important aspect to which digital music portable you buy, their graphic equalizer gives the Lyra 2 a step up over those units without one and even some units with.

The FM radio worked well outdoors offering good selectivity and fine sound. Indoors, the radio fared a bit worse as it was only able to tune in local stations.

Conclusion

The Lyra 2 is a fine evolution from the original Lyra offering more features, faster transfers through a USB connection and an FM radio. Of course, the competition has improved significantly too, coming up with several striking innovations as found on the Creative Nomad Jukebox and the athletic armband design of the Nike PSA[Play 120.

The Lyra 2 retains a couple of quirks from the original Lyra, most noticeably a short time lag every time the player changes to the next track. It's also a heavy unit when compared with other traditional designed (if traditional can be used for an item that has only been around since the end of 1998) players like the Rio 500 and 600 and the excellent Sensory Science RaveMP 2200.

Despite its minor flaws, the Lyra 2 is a solid player with a superior display and excellent sound. The equalizer alone makes the Lyra 2 worthy of serious consideration when making your purchase. Because it was the first and still one of the few MP3 portables available is retail stores like Sears and K-Mart, This will be a leading contender for consumer dollars this summer.

Final Score: B+

Copyright 2001 MP3 Newswire


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Other MP3 Portable Reviews:
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We Test Drive the Rio 600
We Test Drive the Creative Nomad Jukebox
We Test Drive the Audio ReQuest MP3 Rack Player
Test Driving the Sensory Science Rave MP2200
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Test Driving the i2Go eGo
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