The 10GB Nomad Jukebox 2 is the least expensive of Creative's hard drive-based MP3 players and a bargain-hunter's dream. With its speedy USB 2.0 connection, pristine sound quality, and ability to sync to multiple computers, this player is quite a deal, even though it lacks a remote control and other amenities. With its gray color, round faceplate, and slightly smaller size, the Nomad Jukebox 2 is nearly the spitting image of its more feature-laden sibling, the Jukebox 3. This Creative resembles a shrunken portable CD player and barely passes the jacket-pocket test at 4.8 by 5.1 by 1.3 inches. It has all the same controls as the original Nomad Jukebox and even includes a jog dial, as well as Back and Find buttons, for easier operation. We had a few minor gripes: Song titles don't scroll as tunes play, and the Lock Buttons feature must be activated via the Settings menu rather than by a dedicated control.
The Nomad 3 has an extra slot for a second flat lithium-ion battery, but the Nomad 2's design features only one slot, for a round lithium-ion cell. The Jukebox 2's USB 2.0 connection is backward-compatible with USB 1.1, which translates into a nice combination of compatibility and speed. Like the Nomad 3, this model can sync with multiple PCs if they have Creative PlayCenter installed. What's the big deal about this ability? Well, it means that you can trade entire MP3 collections in a relatively short period of time. In contrast, the iPod has built-in copy protection that allows you to sync with the iTunes library on only a single Mac.
On top of its unique--and possibly unkosher--autosyncing capabilities, the PlayCenter app also handles automatic song titling and organization, music importing, CD burning, and standard file transfers of any type. Third-party Notmad Explorer software also lets you access the songs on the device using Windows Explorer or a remote Web browser, among other things.
The Nomad 2's DSP settings take advantage of Creative's substantial experience with sound processing. As a result, you have more options for tweaking the way your 4,000 or so MP3s/WMAs sound. Settings include a DSP that simulates auditorium or bathroom environments (among others); eight EQ presets, none of which are manual; a Time Scale feature, which changes music from half speed to time and a half without altering pitch; a spatialization option (Wide, Narrow, or Full); and a Smart Volume feature, which tailors the sound for trains, cars, or quiet environments by calibrating EQ to compensate for outside frequencies, as well as normalizing volume across MP3s.
Overall, the Nomad 2 is essentially the same device as the Nomad 3 without the line-in-recording capability, the quadraphonic output, the double battery slot, and the option for adding an in-line remote. You can connect the Nomad 2 to your stereo with a cheap 1/8-inch-to-dual-RCA cable, but if you plan on making the player a regular part of your stereo system, opt for the Nomad 3 instead. That model has an optional home-stereo kit for easy connection to your system and a wireless remote control. We're happy to note that the Nomad 2 features a crystal-clear 98dB signal-to-noise ratio, and audio sounded rich and full through our test headphones. The player comes with decent-sounding wraparound headphones, but more discerning listeners will want to swap in a new pair. Creative claims seven minutes of antiskip protection; however, we don't recommend jogging with hard drive-based MP3 players.
Files transfer to the device over USB 2.0 at a quick--albeit unspectacular--2.84MB per second. We got speeds of 0.91MB per second with USB 1.1, which is very fast for the older type of USB connection. Again, the backward-compatibility of the USB 2.0 port blends speed and convenience.