Most MP3 players rely on expensive flash memory to store files, so you’ll need a lot of money to upgrade to 64MB or higher and to be able to listen to more than about an hour of music at a time. For a little over a hundred pounds, you can buy an entry level 32MB player that uses flash memory, or you can buy the new Napa DAV-310.
The A-Max Napa player represents a cost-effective approach, by using CD as the storage medium for MP3 files, and it also plays audio CDs and VideoCDs into the bargain, representing good value for money at entry level.
Of course, a CD writer is necessary to save your collection to CD in the first place, but these are becoming commonplace and are often supplied with retail PC systems, while the cost of CD-R media is negligible. One CD will hold around 10 hours of high quality MP3 music, at a media cost of around 75p.
The Napa player goes further, though. Haven’t converted a CD to MP3? No problem, the device plays conventional audio CDs too. It also plays Video CDs which, although they never really caught on in the UK, are widely available in other corners of the world and via the Internet.
In operation, the player is very much like a traditional CD player, but the CD is only accessed occasionally when playing MP3 files, since about 30 seconds of audio can be stored in buffer memory. This helps provide some shock resistance, and an anti-skip time of 25 seconds is quoted. We didn’t experience a single skip or jump when testing.
Unfortunately, a couple of details conspire against MP3 heaven. Poor quality buttons and a small display make it difficult to navigate through the large numbers of MP3 files that a CD-R has the potential to store, since no filename is displayed. Additionally, the budget price means that no software bundle is provided, so users must find the means to generate MP3 files and write them to disk. Although this software is widely available, it would have been nice to have it included.
Perhaps more seriously, no guidelines are given as to the format of files required for operation. It turns out that only files saved with a bit rate of over 96 are supported.
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