By Rich Menta- 10/28/99
It's plain that when Sensory Science designed the RaveMP MP2100, they were aiming for the top of the budding MP3 player market.
For starters, they put 64MB of built-in memory rather than the standard 32MB. Second they added a slot for a 32MB-memory card bringing the total to 96MB. Until the October release of Diamond's new Rio PMP500, no other MP3 portable matched the memory capability of this unit.
Combined with a superior set of Sennheiser earphones, the RaveMP became the first second-generation MP3 portable on the market. Our results show it's a winner (the same can be said for the MP2000 which is the identical unit but with only 32MB built-in memory)
The MP2100 comes with the RaveMP Media Player, an intuitive and blessedly simple file management interface. It only took us a minute to load the software and connect the RaveMP to the parallel port. The first thing we did was load sample songs into the player's built-in memory.
Transferring MP3 files is an uncomplicated process, simply highlight select files and drag or click them over to the player. (Note: The player must be turned on for the files to load properly, otherwise you may need to reinitialize the memory. Re-initialization is a simple one-button process, but it can easily be avoided by reading the straightforward manual).
The RaveMP also stores phone numbers and text messages that can be retrieved and read off the unit display. We found entering this data into the unit's memory to be just as easy.
Bundled with the RaveMP is the AudioCatalyst MP3 encoder, shareware software that did a nice job converting tracks from our CD's into MP3 files. It's a trial version that only allows the user to create MP3's at 128kbits. To create MP3's at lower bitrates - a move that lowers sound quality but generates smaller song files - users can buy the full version online for $30.00.
These days - to prevent portable units from resembling button laden TV/VCR remotes - many manufacturers design their players with only a few keys that do double duty when various button combinations are pressed. It makes the outside of the unit clean and less convoluted, but if the key combinations are not well thought out, the results can be frustrating.
Our experience with the RaveMP's key layout turned out to be quite good. The basic controls were intuitive and we had the music pumping without any problem. The competent users guide did a very good job of guiding us through the assortment of key combinations needed to access the various menus.
When we first tackled the button combo's, we did so without the aid of the manual. Too many people ignore user guides and we wanted to see how they would manage with the RaveMP. It took us a few minutes, but we were able to figure it out without too much difficulty. Still, we recommend you pick up the manual, especially if your VCR blinks 12:00.
The one minor quibble we have with the control panel is the buttons themselves, which are small and laid neatly beside each other. On several occasions, as we tried to adjust the volume, we hit the wrong key and either jumped to the next song or paused the unit. Larger buttons in future models would help. A hold switch on the side of the unit can be activated to prevent setting off the keys accidentally when jogging or exercising.
Clear, the way it should be. Unlike the original Rio 300, which only displays the file name of the song, the RaveMP pulls the artist name and song title from the ID3 tags.
Well thought-out icons help greatly in locating the proper menus, and the two-line display is fine for showing song titles and phone numbers. Even though its text features are impressive, extended scrolling passages are a little too much for the display. A variable autoscroll feature, that automatically rolls the text line-per-line at a speed you set, is a nice touch and helps compensate for the display's two-line limit.
Parallel vs. USB
Like most MP3 players out there, The RaveMP connects to your computer through the parallel port. It took between 20 and 30 seconds for the parallel connection to load a single track to the RaveMP and 8 minutes to fill the player's entire memory with music. That's quick when compared to the 15 plus minutes modem users need to get just one song off the net, but quick is a relative thing.
USB connectors are showing up in newer units and can transfer music files in about one-fourth the time. That is a significant performance leap. But, unless you are transferring more than 32MB of files to your player, it will only cost you an extra 2 or 3 more minutes of your life to use a parallel connection. Until MP3 portables exceed the 128MB limit, when the speed advantage of USB becomes more critical, parallel will do fine.
Sound quality was fine, aided by the inclusion of some pretty nifty ear-gear.
Sensory Science realized that the weakest link to sound quality is usually found in the inexpensive headphones manufacturers package with their units. By including the superior Sennheiser MX 4 earbuds with the RaveMP, Sensory Science gave their player a significant boost up from the competition. We tested the RaveMP with other headgear and, while all gave decent sound quality, none could match the MX 4 for power and fidelity.
The RaveMP MP2100 comes with a built in microphone for voice recording as well as audio in/out jacks. The MP2100 does not record in the MP3 format though. Instead, it records to an ADPCM file, a low-quality format that is adequate for voice recording but not for music. You can pipe tunes through the input jack, but you're much better off ripping them from your CD's with AudioCatalyst.
Other features include an area-code list for major US cities and a clock. The CD contains 20 bonus tracks from Emusic.com, 10 sample audio stories including Robin Hood and The Bell of Atri, and a copy of FreeAmp for listening to MP3 files on your PC. Because all new iMacs only use USB jacks, the RaveMP is strictly for Wintel machines.
The RaveMP's ability to expand to 96MB, alone, makes it one of the top picks in the present MP3 player market. It's ease of use and great sound quality will not disappoint users. Type A personalities may eschew the parallel port for a unit with a USB connection, but with almost a third of existing Pentium machines older pre-USB models, many buyers will find this is the best choice out there for them.
Final Score: A-
Copyright 1999 MP3 Newswire. All rights reserved.