Author: Austin Bailey
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, December 19th, 2000
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/mp2300/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
Sensory Science has made itself a name in the portable digital music market with their popular rave:mp mp2200 player, which we found to be an excellent entry chock full of features and backed by good quality sound. Its one of the more popular players here at Neoseekers portable MP3 section, and Sensory Science, encouraged by their players success, has come out with the latest member of their rave:mp portables: the rave:mp MP2300.
|The MP-2300 Boxshot & Standing Shot with Headphones|
A different kind of beast
The MP2300 is based on a completely different idea than its MP2200 sibling: it runs off of Iomegas new ultra thin Clik! disks. Iomegas Clik! disks are designed just for this type of task storage of portable media in a compact, reusable medium that is MUCH less expensive than solid state media (ie CompactFlash and SmartMedia, amongst others). Each of the Clik! disks store around 40MB of files, and the MP2300 comes with 2 disks for a total of 80MB of storage. A 10 pack of these disks cost only around $75-90, which means you are paying less than 23 cents a meg, not bad for a storage medium! Compare that to the cost of a 128MB CompactFlash card that costs $200 that works out to more than 6 times as expensive than Clik! media, at $1.50 and above per MB of storage!!
The reason why portable digital music players have gone the way of using SmartMedia and other solid state storage is because of the many advantages of solid state over any other available media at the time. Solid state removes the need for mechanical and moving parts in the players, which results in less risk of mechanical failure, and also a smaller package. It is also a lot faster to read and write to solid state media than conventional storage media, and add to that the risk of skipping or other related mechanical problems, and you can see why digital music based on solid state storage was becoming so popular.
In producing the Clik! storage disks, Iomega has addressed quite a few of these concerns, and produced a very convincing platform from which manufacturers can provide portable music at a much lower cost. Clik disks have an extremely small size, and ultra thin profile, so they are very portable and should not add too much size to a portable player. The disks also do not skip like Minidisc (MD) and Compact Disc (CD) formats, and they can be written to, and read from, at speeds that far surpass any other magnetic media previously available. In fact, in our testing, we found that there to be no noticeable and effective difference in using the player, compared to a normal portable player using solid state memory to store music. We also found that Clik! media is amazingly fast with writes, and this made it a superb alternative because the MP2300 does NOT take any extra time to write songs to its Clik! disks.
Having gone through all of the benefits of the Clik! media and how it shouldnt add too much to the size of a player, there is something very important that you will immediately notice about the MP2300 it is unusually large for a portable digital player! Although it isnt very thick (certainly no thicker than the RCA Lyra, or the Creative Nomad II), it is definitely very large in its width and height dimensions and weighs 204g (or 7.2 oz) with its built in battery.
The immediate response of most consumers will be to blame the size on the Clik! drive. But I think there is a good chance that the large, backlit LCD may contribute to the overall size of the player. Recall that both the Nomad II and the RCA Lyra had large and complicated LCD displays, and both of those players are the largest in their class. By contrast, the super slim and lightweight Jungle-I player had the most basic of LCDs, which lacked even a backlight.
All that being said, you would be justified in expecting a high resolution backlit display on the MP2300. This is one of the more detailed displays on the market, and even manages to fit a little more information onscreen than the awesome Nomad II. Because of the high resolution, text is crisp and you can actually identify a font type!
|The Box's Contents & A closeup of the Headphones|
The player starts off with its graphical main menu, from which you can navigate to the different functions of the player, which include the music player, the voice recorder, the file management (where you delete files), the Outlook compatible address book, the calendar, and the date/timezone settings. As you can see from the list of functions, this is a very full-featured player.
While playing music, the LCD displays a myriad of things that surpasses any other information display in current portable players. Not only does the display fit 15 characters on its title/artist scroll, it also has the songs elapsed time, and the total length of the song. Above all this is a volume indicator, batter indicator, time of day, and EQ mode and play mode indicators. Just below everything is a progress bar, which shows you, visually, where you are located in the current track (this becomes even more handy when seeking through a track).
In the player mode, there is also a primitive map of the music files on the current Clik! disc. If you stop playback, you can scroll through the files and it will list the title and filesize of each track. I would have liked to see the filetypes and bitrates for each file too, since other players have had this capability in the past, but the lack of that information isnt too devastating.
After having taken a look at a few basic players like the Nike PSA Play, I am once again faced with a player that includes all possible playback modes. These include repeat single track, repeat all, random shuffle, scan and A-B playback modes. Neither the player nor the players management software will let you reorder tracks once theyve been uploaded to the Clik! disk, so a programmed playback mode, which is missing, would have been nice.
Voice recording and playback can all be handled in the voice recording mode. Voice files, which are stored in .ADP files, can be downloaded from the player as WAV files. Voice recordings arent important to me, but when used properly, the player made some decent recordings that lacked the extra microphone noise that plagues lesser players. Other than personal memos though, the voice recording wont be of any use, because the microphone gain levels are not set to pick up far away voices or sounds (ie: lectures etc).
Using the Mp2300
The MP2300 is actually pretty darn cool. When you plug it into your computer, it acts like a removable drive, and you can actually store things other than music files in the Clik! disks. That can become mighty convenient when you visit some friends, and just HAVE to trade some files. Iomega also claims that the Clik media actually writes FASTER than FLASH. I can vouch for this, because transfer of our songs to and from the player was significantly faster than any other USB based player weve tried to date. The Clik! drive is rated at 1MB/sec for writes, and the USB connection is good for about 350Kb/sec, so you can see that the Clik! drive is NOT the bottleneck for transfers. We timed a 35MB download into the player, using the included media management software, and it took 1minute and 31 seconds thats less than half the time to transfer an equivalent amount of music to most other USB based players, including Diamonds Rio players and Creatives Nomads and is one of the highest rates weve ever experienced in USB based devices.
Because the functionality of the unit is dependent on being able to read the media, Sensory Science uses buffer memory to prevent skipping. They even boldly claim that no other CD or MD portable is as skip free as the MP2300, and we took up that challenge to lay some smack on their claims. To our surprise, we couldnt get the player to skip at all, despite almost dangerously vigorous shaking of the player for periods way above the norm (ie: 5+ consecutive minutes). Ive seen some commercial CD portables with 2 minute anti shock buffers, but were pretty sure nothing on the market can withstand 5 minutes of vigorous shaking. That makes the MP2300 effectively as skip free as any solid state player. Pretty cool.
|Product Shots showing each side of the Player|
When operating the player, we noticed the whirring and clicking normally associated with a disk based player. Anyone familiar with MD players will find the sounds pretty similar. The noise isnt distracting, but it WILL be noticeable to others around you when the disk is being read. Seeking through tracks is relatively quick the seek speed is somewhere between the slug pace of the Rio 500, and the ultra quick seek on the Rio600. When you seek through songs, you can hear the drive whirring. You can also hear some seek noise as you switch from song to song, and the ONLY time we found the player falling behind in speed is when we started to move from track to track mercilessly. When doing so, the poor Clik! drive is tracking back and forth as it seeks towards the tracks we are requesting. During normal playback, you dont even really notice any pause intervals as you switch tracks. In fact, the pause is less significant on the MP2300 than on some pure memory based players like the slow Samsung Yepp, so the decoder for the MP2300 must be pretty high powered. The speed with which you can navigate menus is also really quick. The responsiveness of menus far surpasses that of the Nomad II (though the Nomad had more complicated menus, and more features), so again, the processing power behind the MP2300 is pretty impressive.
All this power, this mechanical operation, and the LCD (which is beautifully backlit) gave us some battery scares. We were mightily worried that the player would have a poor battery life, because of all these extra power requirements. Fortunately for us, Sensory Science rates the MP2300 at 12 hours of operation off of a full battery, and in our tests, we were able to run the player for 10-11 hours before it finally gave out.
The media management software that Sensory Science has designed for the MP2300 has a pretty new age persona. You can choose from 4 skins presets, but the features of the software are pretty sparse. The software does not allow batch uploads, nor does it empower you to reorder tracks once theyve been transferred. The lack of batch transfers isnt too bad, since individual file transfers are lightning fast on the MP2300. You'll also find that managers like those that came with Rio series also have these same shortcomings.
Sound Quality & Final Thoughts
Sensory Science included a pair of Sennheiser HD 36 headphones with the MP2300. Finally, someone that tries to include a pair of phones worth keeping right? Well the phones look awful compared to the super slick phones that we saw with some other players, but what they lack in looks, they make up in sound quality. The MP2300 and Senheiser combo didnt strike us immediately as the best sounding player ever. It DID provide some of the most accurate bass reproduction in the history of our portable testing, and it DID sound decent, but I wouldnt rate it particularly any more impressive than other players. Certainly the Nomad II and Rio 600 sound better overall, and other players like like the MP2200 offered a better high-end.
I tested the Sennheisers on their own and found them to blunt the upper end frequencies. Ironically, my reference headphones found that the MP2300 tended to exaggerate the upper end, with a slightly harsh and brighter sound on their own. Paired with a good set of speakers that have excellent high-end reproduction, I found the MP2300 to provide above average quality that was just too bright for my tastes. My ears were tired after even short listening sessions, and though bass output was decent, and surprisingly clean and defined, the upper end lacked finite detail and was weaker than I would have expected.
|All connections attached & comparing the size of the Clik Disc|
I know a lot of people are going to be skeptical when I say that the Sennheisers are one of the worst earphones to be included with any MP3 portable. I plugged these into my Sony MZ-E70 portable MD player, and used material that I literally listen to on a daily basis, and found the Sennheisers to severely muffle the entire upper range. Instrument detail, vocal detail, and just about ANY detail was so hampered that I couldnt help but wonder just what Sennheiser could have been thinking when they designed these. Bass was nicely represented, but lacked any serious definition. These headphones simply will not do most players justice!
The funny thing is that, when paired with the MP2300, the sound quality evens out somewhat. You will still notice a significant lack of detail, because blunting an overly bright sound with muffled headphones isnt going to recover the detail that was never there in the first place but at least the sound is decent. I somewhat doubt you can use a good pair of headphones with this player, because it would bring out the harshness and probably provide a negative experience.
One last note on the headphones these Sennheisers are obviously designed for some pretty high powered systems, because they required an absolutely HUGE amount of power to run. On the Mp2300 you really have to push the volume past the 3/4 mark to get a good listening level. For a reference point, I was able to get LOUD music to come out several other headphones and earbuds using 1/3-1/2 the total volume output of the player.
This has been one of the longest reviews Ive ever written for a portable player. The player is definitely a step in the right direction, and is chock full of features that really impress me. I am particularly surprised, and fond of the Clik! mechanism that powers the whole thing. It is certainly an excellent alternative to the more expensive and prevalent solid state media. The fact that Clik! media can be purchased at 1/6th the price of CompactFlash should be a huge factor in your purchase decision, but it should also be tempered by the limited quality of the player and the players inconvenient size. Given the versatility of the Clik! media, I wouldnt be surprised to see other companies coming out with their own Clik! players, though this may never happen, now that players like the Nomad Jukebox can provide 6GB of storage, while portable CD MP3 players are making their own inroads.
Overall Score: 78%
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