The latest offering from Bantam Interactive, the BA50, doesn't have huge capacity, a boatload of extras, or any never-before-seen features. But for the price, there's enough here--including a voice recorder and an unusual storage compartment--to make us sit up and take notice. Shaped like a black plastic bell with a handle on top (and also available in cobalt blue), Bantam Interactive's BA50 is one of the more bulbous devices we've encountered, and at 2.9 by 2.8 by 1.9 inches, it's certainly not one of the most compact. However, the BA50 is fairly lightweight at 1.9 ounces, and despite its awkward shape, fits comfortably in a pocket.
The headphone cable fits almost entirely inside the unit.
On the BA50's right side, four circular buttons handle playback. Below those sit two oval-shaped controls; one changes the player's EQ setting, while the other switches modes between digital music playback, voice recording, and FM radio. The device doesn't come with a belt clip or a carrying case, but it can be attached to backpacks, clothes, and so on by attaching a clip to its top handle.
Happily, there is a design innovation here, albeit a strange one: flip a switch on the BA50's back, tug the handle, and the top pops open to reveal a hidden compartment. Not only is there a slot for expanding the BA50's 64MB of memory with an extra MMC or SD card, there's also extra space for storing the headphones (although other items could be concealed in there as well, such as a key or some extra money). The earbuds themselves don't fit into the compartment, but you can store the headphone cable, or other small objects inside. Joggers might find it useful for storing a single key while working out. Since the BA50 is so inexpensive, we were surprised to find an expansion slot, FM radio with 20 presets, and a voice recorder. You won't get a remote control or a rechargeable battery, but considering the price, we didn't expect that you would.
Otherwise, the feature set is pretty standard: random and repeat modes, as well as five EQ presets, all of which can be changed while the BA50 plays music. Our only complaint concerns the random mode. If you try to skip a song while it's activated, the BA50 defaults to the next song on the device, not another random selection.
Files transfer from a PC via USB 1.1 using the included cable and Bantam's BitExplor 2.2 software. While this app isn't too tough to use and includes no DRM restrictions, we generally prefer a no-nonsense drag-and-drop interface where the player shows up as a removable drive in Windows. On the plus side, however, BitExplor allows you to convert your MP3 files to WMAs on the fly. Since the device ships with only 64MB of onboard memory (about an hour's worth of averagely encoded MP3s), you might want to convert some of your MP3s to 64Kbps WMAs, although the sound quality will suffer slightly.
Like other Bantam players, the BA50 uses Bantam's simple BitExplor for file transfers.
We moved 35.1MB of MP3s to the BA50 in 1 minute, 55 seconds, for a file-transfer speed of 0.31MB per second. That's about average for today's crop of flash-based players but falls short of the company's claimed transfer times of 0.49MB per second.
As noted, the BA50 doesn't ship with a rechargeable battery, so you'll have to replace the single AA cell after a very respectable 15 hours of listening.