RCA makes a handful of inexpensively priced flash-based MP3 players. They're all fairly decent, but the RD1080 is clearly the best of the bunch. That doesn't mean it's perfect, but it has a nice, compact design, a built-in radio, and 128MB of memory plus an expansion slot for additional memory.
At 2 ounces with two AAA batteries installed, the RD1080, with its blue-and-gray color scheme and tapered body, is arguably the slickest-looking Lyra to date. On its face, below the LCD, is its most distinguishing cosmetic feature: a silver, four-direction, joysticklike button that makes it easy to jump between tracks and turn on the radio. At first glance, the unit looks thinner than it really is: it's easy to miss the battery compartment that protrudes from the back of the unit. It didn't bother us too much, but it would be nice if the back were flat.
Though it serves its purpose, we weren't thrilled with the thin, translucent plastic belt clip carrying case and would have preferred something in neoprene. The blue-backlit LCD is better than the one found on RCA's step-down RD1070 ($100), as it displays ID3 tags (title and artist) along with the bit rate, elapsed time, volume level, sound and playback mode settings, and a rudimentary battery life indicator. As noted, the player comes with 128MB of built-in memory and has an SD/MMC slot (on the top of the unit) for adding more memory. There's also the aforementioned FM radio with 10 station presets. Aside from that solitary extra, however, the feature selection is pretty standard: repeat, random play, program, button lock, and a five-preset equalizer onboard (no custom setting is available). There's also no on/off switch: you simply hit the Play button to fire up the unit and press Stop twice to turn it off.
You get MusicMatch Jukebox software for managing and ripping MP3 and WMA (Windows Media) tracks, and as with most other players, tunes transfer from the PC via USB 1.1. The RD1080 is supposed to support the MP3Pro format, but you'll need to download an update for the player to enable that feature. RCA says the update will be available before the end of 2002 but has given no specific date. Also, Mac users should take note that while there's no support for iTunes (or any other music-management software), the unit is detected as a mass-storage device in Mac OS X and 10.2 (Jaguar) and mounts as a volume on the desktop for drag/drop support. We had no complaints about sound quality; the included neck-band headphones are decent, and the unit plays loudly and sounds fine. Its 75dB signal-to-noise ratio is less than stellar (anything over 90dB is very good), but we didn't detect a hiss. As far as the FM radio goes, the tuner pulled in more-powerful stations just fine but had trouble with weaker stations.
Music files transfer onto the RD1080 more slowly than onto most other MP3 players we've tested. We transferred 17MB of tunes from Sonic Youth's Murray Street to the device in just a little more than two minutes, indicating a file-transfer speed of 0.14MB per second--fairly sluggish for USB 1.1. With Samsung's YEPP YP-90S, for example, we were able to transfer the same 19MB of tunes in only 52 seconds.
In our testing, the RD1080 lasted the claimed 8 hours--slightly below average for a flash-based MP3 player. Sorry, no rechargeables are included, but you do get two alkaline AAAs to start you off.