While iRiver might not be a household name, the company's MP3 players rank second in popularity behind Apple's. The company first impressed us with an MP3 CD player, so we were curious to take a look at its latest, the iMP-550. It's not the cheapest MP3 CD player on the market, but by combining many of the same features included in its flash-based players with rock-solid antiskip protection, iRiver continues to lead the MP3 CD-playing pack.
|/sc/30425798-2-200-DT1.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" />|
This remote holds the unit's only LCD and buttons.
Measuring only 5 by 5.4 by 0.54 inches and weighing 5.1 ounces, the SlimX iMP-550 is even smaller than its svelte predecessor, the iMP-400. The black-and-silver casing lends it a sleek appearance, uncluttered by playback controls of any kind. Instead, the excellent, chrome-finished remote control (with spring-loaded attachment clip) puts all functions at your fingertips and can be used with alternate headphones--as long as they don't have screw-style plugs. This works just fine since most users place portable CD players in a bag when on the go. Just don't misplace the remote, or you'll need to order another one to access basic playback features and the display.
Although menus on the remote's display are fairly extensive, three jog dials make wading through them a simple affair. The bright, blue-backlit screen ensures readability even in low-light settings, although the text might be too small for some users. Finally, a firm, sliding Hold switch prevents accidental activation of the three jog dials and two buttons (Play/Pause and Stop) on the remote.
Along with a decent set of earbuds, the package includes a chic carrying case with a Velcro closure strap that can attach to your belt. A bundled car kit with a cassette adapter and a cigarette-lighter power adapter make the iMP-550 very commuter-friendly. A tubular external battery pack holds two AA batteries for additional playback time.
Along with standard audio CDs, the SlimX iMP-550 supports CD-R or CD-RW discs with up to 999 MP3, WMA, and ASF files organized in up to 255 folders. For more in-depth song organization, the player supports Winamp-style M3U playlists.
Like iRiver's award-winning iFP line of flash-based players, the SlimX iMP-550 offers several preset EQ options as well as the user-defined ExtremeEQ setting. You also get a unique Tag Auto EQ function, which uses the ID3 tag to match the EQ setting to the genre of the song currently playing. Thus, songs tagged as jazz will play in the Jazz EQ setting, rock in the Rock setting, and so on--an interesting but not particularly useful feature.
The indispensable remote displays the artist, track, and folder name of the song currently playing, as well as the tune's elapsed time, bit rate, sampling rate, codec type, track number (for playlists and audio CDs), and volume level.
The iMP-550 further improves upon the iMP-400 with a new digital optical output, which forges a cleaner connection to your home stereo than can be made via an analog connection. And like its predecessor, the iMP-550 has an FM radio tuner that remembers up to 20 presets.
|/sc/30425798-2-200-DT3.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" />|
This module holds two AA batteries, which add significantly to playback time.
The SlimX iMP-550 played every disc we created without incident. It takes a few seconds to load a disc, but that's the case with most MP3 CD players, which must index folders containing potentially hundreds of songs in multiple formats before playing them.
Music sounds clear and warm through this player, thanks in part to a largely hiss-free signal-to-noise ratio of 90dB. With a decent output level (12mW per channel at 16 ohms), it powered the included earbuds to earsplitting levels but was still loud enough for most users, with a set of larger Koss headphones (8mW per channel at 32 ohms).
With 32 minutes of skip protection, we encountered no glitches while playing the unit over a car stereo using the included car adapter. Considering that the skip-testing took place while driving the not always smooth roads of Chicago, we were particularly impressed.
The company rates the maximum continuous playback time at 55 hours, but that's only when using both the gum-stick-style rechargeables with the double AA external pack--something you're not likely to do when walking with the unit. We got less than 12 hours of use with the internal batteries only. It also took more than 6 hours to recharge the batteries, longer than the 4 to 5 hours rated by iRiver. On the plus side, we like how the external battery solution lets you power the player with two AAs when you don't have the time or an outlet to recharge the device.