TerraTec – M3PO review

an MP3/CD player for the home
Photo of TerraTec – M3PO
£349 + VAT

MP3′s great. You can listen to music on the move with a pocket-sized player (see here for details), store ten times as many tracks on a CD as is possible with conventional recordings, and download new tunes quickly and easily from the Web. What more could you want? Well, two things. First, an in-car MP3 player (these are slowly creeping into the UK market) and second, a home MP3 player. And that’s what this Terratec device is; a home MP3/CD player that connects to your hi-fi system. With a name that’s a cross between ‘MP3′ and a Star Wars robot.

When first taking this machine out of its box, first impressions are that it’s well made, with a metal casing and brushed aluminium front panel. This gives it something of an ’80s’ look, compared with the more conventional black used in many hi-fi components in this country, but aside from some of the switches, which aren’t quite as high quality, this is a nicely constructed piece of kit. There’s an LED panel on the front of the unit, which displays track title, time and other information, and a shuttle function takes you swiftly to the track you want to hear. Two conventional phono plugs at the rear connect the M3PO to any standard analogue amplifier.

The M3PO can play conventional audio CDs, so in the unlikely event that you don’t already have a CD player, you can use this as a dual-function machine. But its main use is, of course, as an MP3 player. You’ll need access to a CD-R drive to get the best out of it, since you can then record your own compilation CDs in MP3 format and play them on the M3PO. But pre-compiled MP3 CDs are also becoming popular. Some of them are even legal.

The drive supports ISO9660/Joliet format for CDs, and will scan the disk until it finds all MP3 tracks, regardless of which directory they are in. Track names and other details are then stored in RAM for fast access. And should you find that the storage available on a CD is not sufficient for you, there’s an optional 30GB ‘whisper quiet’ hard drive available, giving you a potential 22 days of continuous music. The unit will read FAT16 and FAT32 file systems, so it’s relatively easy – if you’re a techie – to transfer data from a PC to the drive. It would be nice to see some sort of USB or parallel connection to make this process easier, though, particularly for users who don’t have their own CD-R drives.

Included in the box is a remote control handset with an array of functions, some of which are gimmicky, some practical. There’s also a sampler CD and a voucher for an online music site. The unit features a useful search function, and supports all MP3 audio bit rates, scanning rates and variable bit rate flows, as well as play lists in the M3U format. And the sound quality? As you’d expect, it’s as near to CD quality as our untrained ears could detect.

Company: TerraTec

Contact: 0870 901 0021

Doubtless one of many convergence products that will appear this year, the M3PO is a good attempt at making MP3 accessible for home users. It would be nice to have a more convenient method of downloading the songs into the player in the first place, but once there, the track listing and remote control make playback a lot more pleasurable than it would be through a PC, sound card and cheap set of speakers.