By Richard Menta- 12/15/99
Call it Rio Book II. After several production delays, the second generation Diamond MP3 player finally hit the market last October. Our initial impressions found it to be a well thought out evolution of the original Rio, the MP3 portable that sparked a new industry. When we put the Rio 500 through its paces, the player did not disappoint.
The Rio 500 comes with 64MB of internal memory and has a slot for additional SmartMedia cards. The card presently brings the unit up to 96MB of total memory, but next year larger capacity cards will ship including a 300+ MB configuration. Running on one AA battery, the player comes in a choice of 3 colors; Gray, Teal, and Purple (only the Gray shipped as of this writing).
The player attaches to your computer via a fast USB connection, one of the first to use this over the parallel connections found on most MP3 players to date. The USB also makes the Rio 500 Mac compatible with the addition of software from SoundJam that is included on the CD.
Getting started: B
Attaching the USB cable was quick and painless, easier than the printer/keyboard port connections found on some units. We plugged the cable into the player and loaded the software from the accompanying CD.
The player's RioPort Audio Manager software interface is a good piece of software, but sometimes you have to jump through a few hoops before you can download a single track to the unit. This includes being forced to register the software online before having access to the full capabilities of the program. The RioPort Manager does not recognize zip drives, a noticeable shortcoming. Users who store their MP3 files on zip disks must first download them to their computer's hard drive before they can load them on to the Rio.
Files downloaded fast, 5-7 seconds per track. The speed advantages of USB are evident and it opens up the player to the growing iMac market. The cost is to owners of older, pre-USB pentiums who won't be able to run this player. Check out your system and make sure you have USB slots before ordering this unit, it may save you some disappointment.
The controls of this second generation Rio are the best we have come across yet. The buttons are well spaced out to avoid accidentally triggering the wrong key (there is also a hold switch for more active users) and the rotary volume dial felt precise. Press the volume control in and it clicks, offering one of several menu's including the equalizer and backlight controls. The unit also offers a handy bookmark feature and browse button to view the track list without disturbing the music. To create a program list, hold the browse button down for two seconds.
The unit is turned on and off by a power switch on top of the unit. Interesting feature, if you leave the top switch in the "on" position, you can use the play and stop buttons to power the unit on and off by simply holding them down for two seconds.
The Display: A
Excellent. The best part is, not only does the Rio 500's backlight illuminate the screen automatically whenever a key is hit, it can be set to always remain on. This option may use more of the battery, but is ideal for low light conditions.
Once again, the Rio 500 performs excellent. The sound was great and the built-in equalizer makes it better.
The Rio comes with a good set of earbuds, but we noticed a significant improvement when we shifted over to a better pair of Sennheiser MX-4 earbuds. This is the common trend among the other players we have tested so far, so rather than count against it in the scores, we simply suggest buyers incorporate the cost of a pair of Sony or Sennheiser buds (about $15-$20) when price comparing units.
Diamond did a fine job with their second Rio. The unit itself is the best we have tested to date by a slight margin, and that should help the Rio retain its leading market share. They just need to work on the RioPort Audio Manager software, which not only requires more effort to use than other player interfaces, it doesn't work with zip drives.
The USB connection downloaded songs 3-4 times faster than units with parallel connections. This is significant speed increase, though in practical use it only made a significant time difference when downloading more than 32MB (1 minute vrs. 3-4 minutes for a 32MB download is not that big a deal time-wise. Of course, when those 300+ MB cards come out, that difference becomes 10 minutes vrs. 30-40 minutes, a huge gap).
With almost a third of pentiums pre-USB models, buyers should make sure their computers are compatible with this player. For those who don't have USB, the Sensory Science RaveMP offers an excellent option. The RaveMP has the same memory configuration and scored nearly the same in our tests. It also comes with some neat voice recording and text options unavailable on the Rio.
Final Score: A-
We Test Drive the Rio 600 - 12/11/00
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