Hefty isn't a word we often associate with portable audio players, not even high-capacity hard drive models. In that sense, DMC's Xclef HD-500 is definitely a throwback: the silver-and-black case dwarfs an iPod, while enclosing a 2.5-inch notebook hard drive. It reminds us of the earliest hard drive players, where the main attraction was the ability to pack massive amounts of audio for the road. The pudgy portable has 100GB of space (or 25,000 tracks), 40GB more than the largest iPod, and delivers it for considerably less cash ($450). It also has a built-in FM tuner, a voice recorder, a text file reader, and the ability to encode to MP3 from line-in or from the radio. The HD-500's look and feel is considerably less sophisticated than that of the latest hard drive players. But if you're less interested in a stylish audio player than in a huge portable hard drive that also plays tunes, then the 100GB HD-500 might be perfect for you. We mentioned that the DMC Xclef HD-500 feels like a throwback. While it's certainly smaller than the first hard drive MP3 player, the PJB-100 (from either Hango or Remote Solutions, depending on whether you bought the Korean or U.S. import version), or Creative's early series, it's still bigger than anything we've tested in the past few years. The device measures 5.0 by 3.2 by 0.8 inches, weighs 9 ounces, and feels reasonably well constructed, though the buttons certainly feel cheap.
The big 160-by-105-pixel, seven-line LCD offers a ton of information, and fortunately is still readable through the scrapes in the vinyl window on the faux-leather belt holster. You can wear the player in the holster or in a sweatshirt pocket, but either way, you can definitely feel the weight; we'd probably put it in a backpack or leave it on a desk for extended use.
The HD-500's interface has a wealth of features, but it feels kludgey, especially with the player's awkward set of controls. A jog key sits high on the side of the unit next to the screen, while the rest of the buttons are located on the bottom half of the face of the device. Basic playback is controlled by a four-way button in the middle of the face that handles fast forward, rewind, play, and pause. Four more buttons bring up the menu, adjust the volume, and control recording and A-B loops. Only a pianist could love the layout of the buttons: the HD-500 requires two hands to operate it, as well as some practice before using both the jog key and the menu button to root through your audio collection and find the file you want.
The display is stuffed with information. Fortunately, the song title scrolls, otherwise you'd lose it amid the clutter on the screen. Said clutter includes the name of the next track to be played, the folder that the music is contained in, the length of the track, encoding information, and much more, including left- and right-channel level meters, complete with a vibrating speaker icon.
The player packs a couple of features we haven't seen on many (if any) other portable audio players. First off, it can read text files. However, since there's no way to bookmark the place you stopped reading in a file, this is of limited use for longer reads; say, that copy of Heart of Darkness you downloaded from The Gutenberg Project.
It also offers a search function that you can use to find the first three letters of a filename. It can be useful, but if your songs are titled with a track number first (so they will play in the order that they appeared on the album), you won't be able to search for, say, a particular Social Distortion tune since the first three characters in the title of "Mommy's Little Monster" become 06_, the same as every other track 6 on every album you've encoded and titled that way.