By Matt Wendel 5/20/02
We have covered several devices that try to solve a problem collectors of numerous MP3 files encounter. That problem is how to liberate those music files from the PC to a higher quality sound system in another room without having to run back to the PC every time you want to select a new song or playlist. We reported on one solution that was in its development stages last summer called the SliMP3 - a then Linux only based player, but since expanded to other OS's - that used Ethernet to control and transmit tunes about the house or office. Developed by Slim Devices inc., we recently received the latest version of that player and put it to the test.
Selling for $249.00 the SliMP3 MP3 player comes packaged with the following:
The SliMP3 player an Ethernet port and RCA jacks located on the back. The RCA jacks on the back allow for the device to be easily hooked up to any home stereo or receiver. Photos of the unit at various angles with the back removed can be viewed here.
The SliMP3 software that is required to run your SliMP3 server needs to be downloaded from the website.
Decisions… decisions… decisions. Once we received the SliMP3 player, the biggest decision was where to put it. Placement of the SliMP3 device was difficult because the device needs to have an Ethernet cable plug into the back. A downside was that the device came packaged with 10 ft. Ethernet cable. Therefore, location of the SliMP3 player was kind of limited because the SliMP3 player has to be placed within the vicinity of a hub/switch connected to your home network.
In our case, the computer we were planning on making the SliMP3 server happen to be right next to the switch. However, we were lucky enough to have a 25 foot Ethernet cable lying around that allowed us to put the SliMP3 player in a different room. If you think you are going to need a cable longer than 10 feet, plan on spending about an extra $10 to get a longer cable. Without the longer cable, you are going to be limited as to where you can put the SliMP3 device.
Once we decided where to put the SliMP3 device and arranged everything so the Ethernet cable as inconspicuous as possible, we were ready to start the installation process. The installation process can be divided into two types: 1) SliMP3 Server and 2) SliMP3 device.
SliMP3 Server Installation
The SliMP3 server is the computer that has all the MP3 files on it. If you have multiple computers running on your home network, you will only be able to access one of those computer's hard drive. SliMP3 software must be installed on the machine chosen. We refer to this machine as the SliMP3 server for the rest of this review.
Our SliMP3 server we used had 256 MB of RAM and 40 gigabyte hard drive running on Windows 2000 Professional operating system. The SliMP3 server also runs on different platforms (Linux Red Hat, MAC, etc). Installation of the SliMP3 software differs depending on which operating system is chosen. Our evaluation of the installation process discussed in this review is based on a Windows 2000 install.
On Windows 2000, it is necessary to install Perl and the SliMP3 software on to the server. The installation of Perl is very simple, and can be found at the following site (www.perl.org). Once we finished with the quick installation of Perl, we started to install the SliMP3 server software. This SliMP3 software runs as a service on the computer it is installed on, which allows the MP3 Slim Device to communicate with your computer. On a Windows platform, the installation process of the MP3 slim device software seemed to be a little more involved than we would have liked, and the documentation provided on the SliMP3 website wasn't necessarily the greatest.
The SliMP3 software is a Perl application that allows the SliMP3 device to communicate with your computer. However, running this application opens up a window on the server's desktop that must be kept open in order for the SliMP3 device to have the ability to communicate with the computer. You can minimize the screen, but it still takes up a spot on the bottom of the task bar. If the computer is rebooted, the SliMP3 server must be started again by running the SliMP3 application. There are instructions provided on SliMP3's website that explain how to run the SliMP3 server application as a background service. This comes in handy because it doesn't make that annoying window open on the server's desktop. We found the instructions to be a little difficult to follow, yet we were able to make our way through them and effectively run the application as a background service.
Our understanding is that if you are using a Unix environment to run the SliMP3 server, then the software is automatically installed and run as a background service. The website can provide more details on the server installations on different platforms.
During the installation process of the server software, there is a point at which you specify the directory location of your MP3 files. If all your mp3 files are organized in a particular directory, then you have nothing to worry about. If your mp3 files are scattered amongst different hard drives, then you will have a problem. The highest directory level you can have is the C:\. For our evaluation processes, we had an entire 35 gigabyte hard drive that was dedicated to MP3 files, so it was very straightforward.
SliMP3 Device Installation & Setup
Once the SliMP3 server is installed with the software, most of the installation work is done. The configuration of the SliMP3 device is very easy.
The first step is to configure the Sony Universal remote to work with the SliMP3 player. There are instructions provided with the package that describe very easy steps to program the remote. It is very easy and takes less than a minute.
With the SliMP3server and remote control configured, the only thing left is the device itself. As soon as the device is powered on, the display asks the user whether they wish to configure the device at this time. With one click of the button on 'YES', we were ready to start configuring the device. All that is required for configuration is inputting an IP address for the device (any IP address that is available on the private network) and the IP address of the SliMP3 server. All in all, this was the easiest part of the installation process.
Finally, the installation process was complete and we were ready to start listening to our endless amount of MP3's without having to be anywhere near the computer.
A Sony Universal remote, which comes packaged with the device, is used to control the SliMP3 device. Having a universal remote helped us eliminate some remote controls from our growing supply, and definitely was an added bonus.
Going through all the mp3 files with the SliMP3 device made us feel like we were sitting at our computer. Navigating through the MP3 files is just like going through a directory tree structure. It is very straightforward, and allows the user to browse up and down within any particular directory. We thought the SliMP3 device provided very easy navigation through mp3 files, and didn't think that the size of a particular directory tree would hinder the navigation abilities.
The SliMP3 player also provides different ways to view your mp3 files. There are built in categories that allow the user to easily browse through mp3 files that are just sorted based on the chosen categories. The categories that you can choose from are 'Artist', 'Genres', 'Albums', 'Music Library', or 'Playlists'. These categories make it even easier and faster to find files, especially if you are like us and have a lot of mp3 files. These categories are dependent upon the properties associated with the mp3 files. If the mp3 files have the associated properties filled in properly (title, artist, album, etc), then the sorting feature will work great. Don't worry if your mp3 files don't necessarily have the property fields defined because it is just as easy to browse through all the mp3 files by choosing "Music Library." I actually found myself searching through my files using the "Music Library". The sorting provides a nice feature to the SliMP3 player, and offers the user a lot of flexibility. It all depends on the user's preference, how well the mp3 files are categorized/organized.
Another great feature of the SliMP3 device is the ability to create playlists on the fly. The device allows for the user to manually create a playlist while using the SliMP3 device. Most of the time when we were using the SliMP3 device, we would initially start off with one song we wanted to hear, then spend some time surfing around our mp3 files, manually adding songs to the playlist with one click of the button on the Sony Universal Remote. Once a playlist is created, there are multiple play modes the user can select from (much like on any cd player on the market now). The options range from 'Random', 'Repeat', and 'Shuffle' for all the mp3 files within a given playlist. The only downside to the playlist you just created is that it can't be saved for later use.
The SliMP3 device offers two display types. The main difference between the display types is that one offers a large font, and the other a small font. The display is green lettering on a black background. It would be nice if the display offered choices in color, but it doesn't. The only elements that a user can control on the display are the font type and brightness.
The smaller font type displays the date and time on the screen when nothing is being played. When a song is being played, it scrolls the song title across the screen of the current song being played. The font type is fairly small, yet has a clean and sharp look to it.
The larger font type isn't as sharp looking as the smaller one. The only time we found ourselves using this display mode was when the song title was difficult to read. When no song is being played, the display is of digital time. The only problem with the clock display is that the numbers shift as different numbers appear on the screen. We found this display mode to be a little annoying for everyday use just because of the clock feature that was constantly changing size as the seconds counted up on the display.
We tested the SliMP3 device on two different types of stereos. The first stereo was a bookshelf stereo. The bookshelf stereo isn't necessarily known for great sound quality, but we found the sound quality to be very good when the songs were played on the SliMP3 device. The other stereo that we tested the SliMP3 device on was a JVC Receiver with Bose speakers. Yet again the SliMP3 player offered quality sound.
Overall, the SliMP3 device has no affect on the sound quality. We tested the device with a lot of different mp3 files, both live and studio, and found no degradation in the sound quality.
The SliMP3 device is a great product for music fans that have a lot of mp3 files and want to listen to them without having to be near the computer. We have an endless number of MP3 files that we hardly get to listen too except when sitting at the computer, so the SliMP3 product came in handy because it allowed us the opportunity to enjoy all these files from anywhere within our house. The SliMP3 software didn't harm the performance of the computer, and the device allows for easy navigation through the computer's directories. Overall, the SliMP3 device performed up to our standards and would be a good fit for music lovers with a lot of MP3 files on their computer.
The ultraslim iRiver SlimX (no relation to the SliMP3) MP3/CD player is available at Amazon
Other MP3 Reviews:
Review: WinMX 3.1
Review: eDigital MXP100 with VoiceNav