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MP3 PLAYER/SOFTWARE ROUNDUP – ISSUE 4

 

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NIKE PSA PLAY-120

 

The Nike brand might be one of the world’s leading style icons and all that but the psa[play 120 MP3 player still looks like a miniature toilet seat…  Something else that caught our eye was the price, it costs the thick end of £290, which is a fair whack for any MP3 player these days, even one with a Nike logo slapped on it. To be fair it has quite a good pedigree, the software and guts are all sourced from Diamond Multimedia Systems, the people who make the Rio players, though apart from a few shared processing chips there are no obvious crossovers with Diamond’s current range.

 

It’s a three-part design with a sporty theme. The player electronics and battery housed in the toilet seat, sorry, main module. Into that plugs a cute little remote control with LCD display and the third bit is a pair of foldaway in-ear headphones that plug into the remote. The outfit also comes with a belt clip and a snazzy ‘sports band’ so you can display it proudly on your arm when you go jogging or indulge in a few physical jerks.

 

A useful 64Mb of memory is supplied as standard; optional MMC cards, which slot into a reader in the battery compartment, can take this to a maximum of 96Mb. Power comes from a single AA cell that should last for around 8 to 10 hours replay at normal listening levels. The main controls are clustered together in what would be the ‘bowl’ under a bumpy rubber membrane. Control legends are embossed into the rubber but they’re almost impossible to see and you can only really use it by feel, once you’ve memorised the positions of the buttons. Playback options include track skip and search, there’s a five-mode equaliser and that’s about it, no track/disc repeat or shuffle or any extras like voice or data storage (though that is something it can do), which is quite unusual.

 

The LCD on the remote control module shows track title and artist as well as normal track/time data, there are also battery and equaliser mode indicators. The display is unlit and quite small making it hard to read in normal room lighting conditions. The remote sports a set of transport and volume controls, though for some reason it doesn’t have an equaliser button. The headphones are a real disaster area. It’s not obvious which way around they go, until you try them on, when it becomes abundantly clear that there’s the painful way, and the not quite so painful way.

 

Sorry Windows 95 users this player is not for you, file transfer is via USB cable, which only Windows 98 and 2000 and the recently launched Windows ME supports. There’s good news for Mac fans though (OS 8.1 and higher), there’s an Apple compatible version of the file manager program on the installation CD ROM. Talking of which, installation proceeds at a fairly leisurely pace, in fact it froze completely on one of our test bed PCs (233MHz laptop); it had to be uninstalled and it took two attempts to get it up and running.

 

It only had problems with one very well used PC, on the others it fired up without any problems and configuration is fully automatic. The Nike Audio Manager program is neatly presented. The program searches out all of the music files stored on your PC and lists them in an Explorer type window on the left side of the screen. The contents of the player’s memory and MMC card are shown on the right. Unfortunately this is overlaid with a toilet seat graphic that, even more unfortunately, appears to be in the process of flushing… Copying tracks across from the PC to the player is a simple drag and drop process, a bargraph display clearly shows how much free space remains. The CD Ripper is quite well appointed with bit-rate options up to 160kbps. File transfer is very quick, taking on around ten seconds to copy a 4-minute track.

 

As is so often the case sound quality is entirely dependent on the ear or headphones supplied with a player and the ones that come with the psa[play are not very good at all. The shape of the headband and the bits that poke into your ear-holes are completely the wrong shape (we’d be most interested to meet the person who provided the templates for this design…) so they are bound to irritate. As they burrow into your head they become increasingly muffled, even if you do manage to find a tolerable position for a few minutes it is apparent that the treble content is very lightweight and no amount of fiddling with the equaliser presets can do anything about it. The only good thing we can think of to say about the sound is that it’s quite loud.

 

Shoe making is an old and honourable profession and Nike are doubtless proud to be called a load of cobblers. It is clearly very successful at making things to put on people’s feet, but we must question the company’s abilities when it comes to designing (or paying others to design) personal stereo equipment. The psa[play certainly isn’t the worst player we’ve tested, in fact in some respects it is quite good, and if you junk the headphones it can actually sound half decent, but the price is way too high for what it is, and whilst we’re sure it looked great in the preliminary sketches, we just can get the image of lavatory seats out of our mind…

 

Typical price             £289

Media                           MMC

Memory (int/sup)            64Mb

Memory (max)            96Mb

Formats                        MP3, wma

PC min sys                   Pentium or higher/32Mb/35Mb free/Windows 98/ME/2000, Mac, OS8.1 or higher, 32Mb RAM

PC I/O              USB

Software                        Nike Audio file manager/CD Ripper

Phones             in-ear headphones      

Power   /life                   1 x AA/10 hours

Size                              70 x 80 x 28mm (main unit)

Weight              80g

 

Features                       5-mode equaliser, title/artist/track/time display, fwd/rev search & track skip, repeat 1/repeat all/shuffle, sport band, belt clip

 

Contact Nike UK Ltd., 0191 4016453, www.nike.com

 

Ease of use                   7

Features                       8

Performance                  7

 

 

MICROBOSS MP3 MAGIC

So far the all of the personal CD players we’ve seen, that can also play recordable CDs containing MP3 files, have tended to look pretty much like regular CD players but the Microboss MP3 Magic is clearly different since it is based on a PC type CD-ROM deck mechanism. Although reasonably compact it’s not actually portable since it relies on an external power supply (mains adaptor and card cord supplied). The idea is you use it with your home hi-fi system or car stereo (it comes with a cassette adaptor and Velcro pads), or you can listen to it directly through small speakers or a set of headphones.

 

The player supports the three most common recordable CD formats able to play MP3 files with bit rates up to 192kbps. The spec list is brief; it has a 63-track memory, intro/repeat and shuffle play, an on-board volume control and it comes with a remote control handset. The backlit LCD on the top panel is large and easy to read and shows track number and player mode but no time information. There’s no track search facility either, (even though there are fast forward and reverse buttons on the remote handset) just forward and reverse track skip.

 

PC CD-ROM mechanisms are designed for a quiet life so we were interested to find out how the Microboss would fare in a moving vehicle on a bumpy road. Surprisingly it did very well and never missed a beat. Actual sound quality is not too bad and MP3 files sound about as good as they can get, though in the end it all though it all depends on what you have it connected to. The cassette adaptor is the least satisfactory option, it clips high frequencies and introduces some background motor whine into the sound output. It’s much happier hooked up to a hi-fi system, the line-level output is clean with a wide flat and uncoloured response, comparable with most mid-market decks. However, since most home hi-fis already have a CD deck the only reason to buy one is to be able to play MP3 recordings. Audio quality is less of an issue and in that context Microboss looks quite pricey; portable MP3 compatible CD players are available for a good deal less than £170.

 

Typical price             £170

Media                           n/a

Memory (int/sup)            n/a

Memory (max)            n/a

Formats                        MP3 CD Audio, CD-R/RW (ISO 9660, Joliet & Romeo)

PC min sys                   Pentium or higher/XMb/XMb free/Windows 95/98

PC I/O              parallel/USB/serial

Software                        n/a

Phones             n/a       

Power                           AC mains adaptor and DC car power cord supplied

Size                              170 x 44 180mm

Weight              760g

 

Features                       repeat/shuffle/intro/program (63 tracks) play, remote control, cassette adaptor and velcro car fixing kit supplied

 

Contact SCB Electronics, 0161 723 5442, www.starman.demon.co.uk/scb/scb/index.htm

 

Ease of use                   8

Features                       7

Performance                  8

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2000, 1610

 

 


 

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