Mini-CD players, which allow you to play back MP3s burned onto 8cm CD-Rs and CD-RWs, are gradually growing in number. These devices are smaller than standard portable CD players, yet each mini-CD still holds as much music (compressed) as three traditional CDs. Compaq's PM-1 steps up to this plate with an appealing design and good extras for a relatively low price. Mini-CD players, which allow you to play back MP3s burned onto 8cm CD-Rs and CD-RWs, are gradually growing in number. These devices are smaller than standard portable CD players, yet each mini-CD still holds as much music (compressed) as three traditional CDs. Compaq's PM-1 steps up to this plate with an appealing design and good extras for a relatively low price.
With its silver-colored, iPaq-themed top, the device looks pretty slick from a distance. But hold it in your hand, and it feels just like any low-priced portable CD player, albeit a shrunken one. Of course, its small size (3.9 by 3.9 by 1.2 inches and 7.1 ounces) is one of the PM-1's and other mini-CD players' big selling points.
Mini-CDs can be burned using any CD-RW drive and have a storage capacity of 185MB, which Compaq says will allow you to record up to 80 songs--or six hours' worth of music--to them. However, if you rip your MP3s with less compression (say, at 160Kbps), expect to get closer to 25 songs on a disc, which is equivalent to almost two CDs' worth of music. Encoding tunes at 128Kbps gets you about three CDs' worth of music per mini-CD. That's still pretty good, and the discs themselves will run you only about 50 cents each when you buy them in bulk.
As far as features go, the PM-1 has what you'd expect to find in a portable CD player, including Random and Repeat modes as well as four preset EQs. More advanced functions are controlled via the nicely designed in-line remote, which also displays ID3 tag information on its ample LCD. We appreciated that you can detach the headphones from the remote and swap in another pair if you want. We also like the fact that Compaq has included a line-out jack in case you want to connect the device to your stereo without passing through the PM-1's volume circuitry.
Easy ripping and burning
The PM-1 comes with MusicMatch Jukebox, which you can use to rip MP3s and burn them to mini-CDs. You can also use other programs, such as Roxio Easy CD Creator, to burn the files, and Compaq even throws in three mini-CDs to get you started. We had no trouble creating a test disc of 20 songs, but we should note that if you pick up some of your MP3s from file-swapping services, the player might not be able to read all of them; the PM-1 rejected 2 such songs.
All in all, the player's sound quality was quite good, and the included neckband headphones were respectable enough. Battery life isn't great--we got only about eight hours from two AA alkalines--but Compaq does include a set of nickel-metal-hydride rechargeable batteries and a charger, which makes the short battery life more palatable.
Compaq says that the PM-1 offers eight minutes of Electronic Skip Protection, but the truth is a little more complicated than that. The PM-1, like most other MP3 CD players, streams your tunes onto a flash memory buffer, then plays audio back from there (the disc spins for about 10 seconds, then stops). Once the song is in the memory buffer, the device becomes skip-proof. But during the copying process while the disc is spinning, the PM-1 is susceptible to skipping if you shake or jolt it hard enough.
That said, with a list price of $100, the PM-1 is a pretty decent bargain, particularly when you consider the included extras. Could it be a little thinner? Sure. Could it have a little sturdier construction? Yes. But if you can live with those imperfections, the PM-1 is worth considering, especially since no company has hit a home run out of the mini-MP3-CD-player park as of yet.