At first glance, Sony's MPD-AP20U may look like an average MP3 CD player, but it's much more. In fact, it's perfect for those looking to upgrade an aging system with a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, and they'll get a slightly bulky but great-sounding portable MP3 CD player as part of the deal. The player's steep list price ($299.99) is the only thing that might cool consumers' zeal. The flat, silver-and-black MPD-AP20U is roughly the size of many portable CD players on the market--albeit slightly bulkier. At 0.9 by 5.4 by 6.3 inches, the Sony barely fits in your palm, and it's difficult to stuff into anything but the roomiest of pockets.
That said, the MPD-AP20U is starkly sculpted, with a minimum of buttons and controls on the main housing. Sony added one of its signature dapper remotes to enable full control of the unit while it's stowed. This cylindrical external control is blessed with a long, blue backlit display and small yet solid-feeling controls. One particular attribute we liked is that twisting the remote left or right lets you skip ahead or back through CD tracks. Pulling the same knob up turns it into a volume control that works using the same twist action. All this adds up to simple one-handed operation, although it also means that the most common adjustment--volume tweaking--requires two manipulations.
Seven preset equalizer choices let you customize the unit's clean, rich sound. The bundled earbuds sound better than most included sets, but they lack the usual padding and are a bit uncomfortable. We found another minor flaw during the rare instances in which CDs were spinning within the player (while audio was transferred to the Sony's 8MB memory buffer); the discs had a slight tendency to skip or scrape against the case. To be fair, this did not happen until the unit was shipped across the country without the protective cardboard insert. And the MPD-AP20U had no problems keeping the beats bumpin' through the tough streets and subways of Brooklyn.
The MPD-AP20U comes with a compact cradle for battery charging and computer connection; the cradle folds to about half its full size when not in use. As a standalone portable CD player, the Sony MPD-AP20U can read just about any type of disc you dish out. It can play standard audio CDs as well as MP3, WMA, and WAV files, from CD-Rs, CD-RWs, DVD-Rs, and even DVD-RWs.
The cradle mentioned in the Design section isn't just for juicing up the batteries. Remarkably, the MPD-AP20U also functions as an external 24X/10X/24X CD burner and 8X DVD-ROM drive when seated in its holder. This cradle attaches to your PC via high-speed USB 2.0 (backward compatible with USB 1.1).
While connected, the unit enables you to view DVD movies, drag and drop data files to rewritable CD-RWs, and burn CD-Rs swiftly, as you would with any other CD burner. Somewhat unnecessarily, Sony includes a Memory Stick slot in the unit. Though the device does not ship with the proprietary flash media, the player can be used to transfer files onto or off of a Memory Stick. Setting up the Sony MPD-AP20U on our Windows XP testbed desktop was breathtakingly simple. We just attached the power cord to the cradle (with the player connected), then plugged the Sony's USB 2.0 cable into the back of our system. XP mulled over the new device for a few moments and promptly installed the player. Once that was accomplished, we quickly installed the MPD-AP20U's software package and were up and running in no time.
To get a feel for what the Sony MPD-AP20U can really do, we enlisted the device for a few tasks on our digital to-do list. First we ripped a music CD from our own collection into WAV format; then we burned those files onto a CD-R in a speedy 4 minutes and 25 seconds. Minting of data CDs was also fast, though nowhere near the speed of the fastest internal burners; we recorded 666MB of MP3 files to a CD-R in 5 minutes and 22 seconds on the fly without a hitch. To back up some important files, we dragged them onto a CD-RW in the device, and they burned just as smoothly.
We saw the real value of the MPD-AP20U when all the burning was done. Then we could scoop up the player and walk out the door with a ton of new tunes playing in the same device that had burned the MP3 disc. What also impressed us was the Sony's lengthy battery life. We were able to bop and groove for 7 hours and 22 minutes on a single charge.