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Creative Nomad Jukebox 3 (20GB) review: Creative Nomad Jukebox 3 (20GB)

Creative Nomad Jukebox 3 (20GB)

Eliot Van Buskirk
Evolver.fm Editor Eliot Van Buskirk has covered and occasionally anticipated music and technology intersections for 15 years for CNET, Wired.com, McGraw-Hill, and The Echo Nest. He is not currently an employee of CNET.
Eliot Van Buskirk
4 min read
At first glance, Creative Labs' Nomad Jukebox 3 doesn't look all that different from the original Jukebox. But this hard drive-based MP3 player is smaller and sports a vastly improved user interface and feature set as well as comprehensive connectivity options. True, it may not be as slick-looking or as compact as the iPod, but the 20GB Nomad Jukebox 3 still stands out from the rest of the hard drive-based pack in terms of features.

The slot at the back holds an extra battery, adding to both the weight and the battery life.
Like its predecessor, the 10.5-ounce Jukebox 3 resembles a shrunken portable CD player, barely passing the jacket-pocket test at 5.5 by 5.5 by 1.5 inches. Creative has added a jog dial as well as Back and Find buttons, making for a more user-friendly interface than the one found on the previous version. We had a few 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 button--but they're pretty minor. You'll find an extra battery slot on the back of the unit, to double battery life with a second battery (not included).
Creative offers two optional accessories for the Nomad Jukebox 3 that you should know about, although they cost extra. The Nomad Jukebox 3 Home Kit includes a cradle for connecting to your stereo as well as a small wireless remote control, while the Car Kit includes cigarette-lighter and cassette adapters.

Creative includes both FireWire and USB ports--a great idea.
Creative includes both a FireWire port (Creative calls it SB1394) and a USB port, which translates into a nice combination of compatibility and speed. The Nomad 3 can sync with multiple PCs if they have the Creative PlayCenter software installed. What's the big deal about this? 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 folder on only a single Mac.
On top of its unique--and possibly unkosher--autosyncing capabilities, the PlayCenter software 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 software's autosync feature makes file transfers almost effortless.

If that's not enough, another area in which the Nomad Jukebox 3 breaks new ground is recording options. Using the analog-in or digital-in connections, you can record straight to the unit's hard drive from a variety of sources, including a powered mike. You can choose to record files as uncompressed WAVs or as MP3s compressed at bit rates of 128Kbps to 320Kbps. In other words, with the right accoutrements, you can easily turn old records, lectures, and concert recordings into MP3s or WAVs, upload them to your PC, and e-mail them or burn them onto a CD. We do wish that there were a way to monitor recording levels, but still, this is a great function.
Soundwise, the Nomad 3's DSP settings take advantage of Creative Labs' 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.

The included headphones are good enough, but audiophiles--as usual--will wish to upgrade.
We're happy to note that the Nomad 3 features a crystal-clear 98dB signal-to-noise ratio and full, rich sound. The Nomad 3 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 over the included FireWire cable at a brisk 3.73MB per second, while the USB 1.1 connection manages a decent 0.46MB per second. Again, the inclusion of both of these ports is a great marriage of speed and convenience.
The standard battery life is pretty average for a hard drive-based MP3 player, at 11 hours on a single charge. But the unit can accept an extra battery (retails for $50, available for less), which doubles the battery life to 22 hours.

Creative Nomad Jukebox 3 (20GB)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 9