By Richard Menta 5/25/01
We have heard for over a year about how the music industry was severely hurt by Napster, a dubious claim since CD sales rose during that time, but one that played big on the front pages. Here is another question, how about the industries helped by Napster?
Lets start with the manufacturers of CD burners. Now standard on any mid-priced PC, a CD burner in the pre-Napster days was considered a luxury for the geek-minded. Today, Apple's runs an ad campaign for the Mac called "Rip, Mix, and Burn" to promote the ability of their systems to create CDs capable of holding 150-200 MP3 tracks. Burning digital music is not just for the college set anymore, grandparents do it too now.
So with all these CDs getting burned and only PC's with their tiny speakers to play them on, it only makes sense manufacturers would start incorporating the ability to read and play them on their home electronic products. That is why we are so excited to test out our first MP3/CD player the Rio Volt. By this time next year we expect most if not all CD and DVD players will have MP3 capability added.
Digital music is going main stream and it will be hard for the record companies to convince the electronic manufacturers otherwise. There is money to be made with these products and money and market share to lose if manufactures don't act timely to satisfy consumer demand. Losing money is why Apple ran to the "Rip, Mix, and Burn" campaign. They were killed last Christmas as they watched buyers flock to Wintel machines because none of their available Mac systems had burners at the time. How many Rio Volt buyers would have otherwise replaced their old CD player with a regular CD unit from Panasonic or Sony if such MP3/CD hybrids didn't exist yet? You get our point.
The Rio Volt is the size and shape of a standard CD player, but plays both the MP3 and Windows Media formats as well as music from regular CD's. The unit comes with an 8 function remote, a vinyl carrying case and audio management software for PC or Mac. As of this writing, the Rio Volt was selling for about $160 street value.
Power consumption is parsimonious as the unit gets a lot of life on 2 AA batteries. An external AC adapter (included) can also power the player. The Rio Volt has a line out jack for hooking up the player to your stereo and a hold switch. RealJukebox is also supplied if you don't already have software to rip CDs.
The unit offers a healthy array of features that help the user plow through 150 tracks:
+10 button - A thoughtful feature Each time the user hits the button the player jumps 10 tracks.
Program button - Press and hold this button when the unit is not playing a track. This allows you to select specific tracks to create an on-the-fly playlist. Excellent.
Navi button - A scrolling directory of the tracks on the CD. One of the biggest advantages of MP3 tracks over conventional CD format is the ability to display track names.
Mode button - the are 8 options here including repeat, shuffle, and an Intro option that cycles through the first few seconds of every track.
EQ/Menu Mode - This button has a dual purpose. Cycle through the first menu and choose between five equalizer settings. Hold the button down for 1.5 seconds and you enter Menu Mode. Menus Mode allows you to configure your player with some excellent features. For example you can program the player to retain the settings you programmed in after being powered off. You can also choose to display either the file name or the ID3 tag of that file in the display (Tag Control) or select the speed at which you can scan through directories (Speed Scan).
Operating the Rio Volt is as simple as operating any other portable CD player, just pop in the CD and hit play. The only difference is that this player can read multiple formats. The Rio Volt comes with both a 'Get Started' sheet, and a full user manual on an accompanying CD.
Like the controls on all the Rio products we have tested they were fine. Buttons were large enough and conveniently spaced and positioned. The trademark joypad is there to facilitate basic play and scan functions. The side buttons on the remote were a little numb to the feel, but worked adequately. The joypad on the remote worked very well.
The program feature turned out to be a simple straightforward affair that easily allowed us to pull a dozen tracks and play them in the order we wanted. The navi button allowed us to easily select and jump to individual tracks. With 178 tracks on the particular CD we were using, this function coupled with the +10 button allowed us to quickly scan the song menu.
The display was fine clearly showing track information and mode icons. The icons themselves require the user to make a quick run-through of the manual so as to identify what each means, a simple enough chore. The three-line display shows only part of the track name at first, but begins to scroll to the right after a half-second to reveal the rest.
To add a little flash to the unit the player has dancing figures on the bottom of the display. We thought it was a cute idea but one that essentially has no real use except for eye candy. The space could have been used for an additional line to display track information, but that is a minor quibble as the display did what it was supposed to do and did it well.
Like all of the MP3 related products we have tested, the music sounded great. The volume control on the Rio Volt had plenty of range. It can get quite loud when necessary, great for music files recorded at lower than the standard 128Kbit rates. The five-tone presets also did their job. We favor the built-in equalizers that are cropping up in more MP3 portables these days, but we have no complaints here.
The interlude function is another useful feature. It allows you to sample the entire CD by playing the first 10 seconds of each track before jumping to the next.
Spending a few dollars for a better set of headphones will do more to improve the sound quality than anything else, this is true with any player we review. Connecting the Volt to your stereo will offer the best audible quality when not on the go.
If you have a CD burner, several hundred MP3 or WMA tracks, and you want to listen to music beyond the confines of your PC, then you can use a portable MP3/CD player. The Rio Volt will more than do the job. It's well laid out, convenient and a pleasure to use.
Even if you don't have a CD burner, you may want to consider the Rio Volt when it comes time to replace your standard portable CD player. You don't have to burn CDs to get MP3 laden discs these days. General Mills has shipped millions of them in cereal boxes, and sites like MP3.com and EMusic sell them to promote the artists on their site. It only makes sense to contemplate a single unit that can read multiple formats as it may save you from having to buy a second player later.
Final Score: A
Copyright 2001 MP3 Newswire
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We Test Drive the Audio ReQuest MP3 Rack Player
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Sony Memory Stick Walkman
Test Driving the i2Go eGo
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