MP3 players continue to grow in popularity but are still held back by two things; price and memory capacity. Absolute aims to address the first of these problems with the introduction of its Outrageous SoundMaster. It has taken the bright step of splitting the two functions of an MP3 unit, namely to record music onto a memory card from your PC, and to play it back on the move.
You can buy the Writer and Player units separately and, of course, use more than one Player with a single Writer. A family could build a database of different music and top up Players of their own each day from the same Writer. The Player unit has a recommended price of just £34.99, while the Writer costs £54.99 and a combined starter pack, with one of each unit, costs £79.99.
The reason Absolute can adopt these comparatively low prices is that the units are trimmed to the bone. The Player is a tiny little box, only a bit bigger than a cigarette lighter and with a minimum of controls and indicators. There’s no display on board, just buttons for the transport functions, a rotary volume control, a slide switch for rock and jazz equalisation settings and a button for the built-in SRS sound enhancement. There’s a headphone socket on one side and a slot for twin memory cards on the other.
The SoundMaster Player uses MMC cards, a format different from SmartMedia and CompactFlash and physically smaller than both. With twin 64MB cards you could cram 128MB into the machine – enough for a couple of albums, but it comes as standard with just one 16MB card. This is only enough for around four typical tracks. Absolute claims read-only cards of popular albums will be available in this format by the end of the year. We’ll wait and see.
All this may keep the cost of the units down, but if you want to store more than a few tracks, you’ll have to budget for between £30 and £60 more for extra memory.
The SoundMaster Writer connects into a PC parallel port and powers itself from a connection into the keyboard line. It comes with reasonably good database and ripping software, so you can compile your own selection of MP3 tracks. Ripped MP3 tracks played back through the Player give fair reproduction for MP3, but it’s not as detailed or bright as from a premium player like Diamond’s Rio.
The concept of splitting Writer and Player is a clever one and is well implemented here. It’s still let down, though, by the cost of memory, which either limits the length of music replay or remains a hidden cost for the whole system.
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