Review summary JetAudio recently impressed us with its sleek and slender 20GB iAudio M3, so we had high hopes for the iAudio 4 flash-based MP3 player. Also available in other capacities, the 512MB device doesn't disappoint, offering well-placed controls, plenty of features, and great sound, all for a reasonable (for a flash player) $250. Plus, it's the first player we've seen that sports a multicolored, backlit LCD. Anyone who likes to stand out in a crowd and doesn't want to sacrifice quality will dig the iAudio 4, although if you don't need the long battery life and the shock resistance of a flash player, you might prefer a microdrive model such as the Apple iPod Mini. At first, we weren't taken with the JetAudio iAudio 4's boxy design. Measuring 3 by 1.25 by 0.75 inches, the player is about the size of a large Matchbox car. However, at 1.6 ounces, it's fairly light and slips easily into a pocket. Add in its shiny silver front, spacious four-line LCD, and well-placed buttons, and you'll easily forgive its squarishness. Lining the top of the device are most of the controls, including the Mode and Record buttons, a Play/Pause key flanked by the FF/RW rocker control, and a Hold slider key. The Menu button and the Volume toggle are within quick reach on the bottom edge. On the left side, you'll find the easily accessible headphone and line-in jacks. Unfortunately, the player's USB port is not so well placed; you have to slide back the battery cover to access the slot, which usually causes the cover to fall off--a minor annoyance.
Considering the iAudio 4's relatively small size, we're impressed with the dimensions and the contents of the split-screen LCD. It takes up most of the device's front and displays a wealth of customizable information, including battery life, EQ setting, levels meters, bit rate, and song information from ID3 tags, to name a few. Accessing the player's many options takes some consultation with the included manual, but once you figure out which buttons do what, menu navigation becomes quick and intuitive. Like its hard drive-based cousin, the iAudio M3, the iAudio 4 boots up with a silhouetted dancer busting a move on the LCD (reminiscent of Apple's iPod campaign). Unlike the M3's display, however, the iAudio 4's also flashes some of its multiple backlight colors.
The iAudio 4 stands out from the crowd with its customizable multicolor backlighting. The player's LCD can light up in 124 different colors, which you toggle with red, green, and blue settings. You can even specify a different color for each function--for example, menu navigation, song playback, or FM tuning. The player also includes themes, so you can set the backlight to flash changing color patterns while you're listening to tunes. This is clearly a cool feature, but it drains the battery faster.
Along with the player, JetAudio throws in slightly large but decent earbuds and some extras. The handiest of these is the case, which can be secured to a belt or the included armband. You also get an installation disc, which includes the JetShell and JetAudio software packages and drivers for Windows 98 (none are required with subsequent Windows OSs). Keep in mind that the iAudio 4 doesn't support Windows NT, nor is it compatible with Mac for music transfers; at this time, the device works with Mac OS X for data transfers only. Although the JetAudio iAudio 4 shows up in Windows Explorer as a removable storage device, allowing for simple drag-and-drop transfers, the bundled software programs are worth installing. These include JetAudio, a feature-packed multimedia player with an attractive, user-friendly interface, and JetShell, JetAudio's software for managing and transferring music. The JetShell window appears technical, but it's easy to use. It can be somewhat time-consuming, however, if you don't keep all your music in one place since you must navigate folders to select the files you want to transfer. In other words, the program doesn't import files into its own jukebox.
The iAudio 4 supports several playback formats, including MP3, MP2, WMA, and WAV. Even better, the device can play protected WMA files, so you can buy and use songs from online music stores such as Wal-Mart and Napster. To get the most out of playback, the JetEffect menu directs you to various sound effects (including BBE, Mach3 Bass, MP Enhance, and 3D Sound) and a five-band equalizer, which has six presets (Normal, Rock, Pop, Jazz, Classical, and Vocal) and a user-defined setting. There are more options in other menus, such as Play Mode (for repeat and shuffle settings), General (for choosing different scan speeds and skip lengths and activating resume and autoplay functions), and Backlight.
Those who aren't satisfied with mere MP3 playback will be happy to hear that the iAudio 4 also features FM tuning, as well as voice, FM, and line-in recording--the last of which is useful for converting records, tapes, and copy-protected CDs to MP3s. You can set the FM tuner for China, Europe, Japan, Korea, Russia, or the United States, which should please the frequent traveler. Recordings are saved in MP3 format at any quality from 32Kbps to 128Kbps (in comparison, some other players can record up to 320Kbps). The iAudio 4 helpfully displays these levels and monitors input volume while recording. The JetAudio iAudio 4 blew us away with its exceptional sound quality. Thanks in part to the player's 95dB signal-to-noise ratio, music on the iAudio 4 sounds rich and clean, even through the included earbuds, though you'll still probably want to replace them, as you would most bundled headphones. Users who like to crank up the settings will also be pleased; the maximum volume of 13mW per channel is more than adequate for blasting tunes, although the iAudio 4 doesn't come close to being the loudest player we've seen to date.
In our tests, the iAudio 4 yielded mixed results. File transfers were lightning fast for USB 1.1, clocking in at 0.63MB per second, but considering the device's 512MB capacity, USB 2.0 support would have been a welcome addition. However, battery life was subpar; we squeezed just 9.3 hours out of a single AAA, falling short of JetAudio's rated 15 hours.