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DMC Xclef HD-500 review: DMC Xclef HD-500

DMC Xclef HD-500

Patrick Norton
5 min read
Hefty isn't a word we often associate with portable audio players, not even high-capacity hard drive models. In that sense, DMC's Xclef HD-500 is definitely a throwback: the silver-and-black case dwarfs an iPod, while enclosing a 2.5-inch notebook hard drive. It reminds us of the earliest hard drive players, where the main attraction was the ability to pack massive amounts of audio for the road. The pudgy portable has 100GB of space (or 25,000 tracks), 40GB more than the largest iPod, and delivers it for considerably less cash ($450). It also has a built-in FM tuner, a voice recorder, a text file reader, and the ability to encode to MP3 from line-in or from the radio. The HD-500's look and feel is considerably less sophisticated than that of the latest hard drive players. But if you're less interested in a stylish audio player than in a huge portable hard drive that also plays tunes, then the 100GB HD-500 might be perfect for you. We mentioned that the DMC Xclef HD-500 feels like a throwback. While it's certainly smaller than the first hard drive MP3 player, the PJB-100 (from either Hango or Remote Solutions, depending on whether you bought the Korean or U.S. import version), or Creative's early Nomad Jukebox series, it's still bigger than anything we've tested in the past few years. The device measures 5.0 by 3.2 by 0.8 inches, weighs 9 ounces, and feels reasonably well constructed, though the buttons certainly feel cheap.


DMC Xclef HD-500

The Good

Humongous amount of storage; reasonable audio quality; big but busy screen; detailed manual; decent FM radio; includes voice, line-in, and FM audio encoding; average battery life; awesome transfer speeds.

The Bad

The biggest (and heftiest) MP3 player we've tested in years, thanks to its 2.5 inch notebook hard drive; beefy portable drive inside doesn't come cheap; doesn't play DRM-protected WMA files; weak Web site support.

The Bottom Line

If it wasn't for the huge 100GB hard drive inside the chunky Xclef HD-500, we'd swear it was the year 2000 and we were reviewing the Hango PJB-100 all over again.

The HD-500 next to a 60GB iPod Photo. Enough said.

The big 160-by-105-pixel, seven-line LCD offers a ton of information, and fortunately is still readable through the scrapes in the vinyl window on the faux-leather belt holster. You can wear the player in the holster or in a sweatshirt pocket, but either way, you can definitely feel the weight; we'd probably put it in a backpack or leave it on a desk for extended use.

The HD-500's interface has a wealth of features, but it feels kludgey, especially with the player's awkward set of controls. A jog key sits high on the side of the unit next to the screen, while the rest of the buttons are located on the bottom half of the face of the device. Basic playback is controlled by a four-way button in the middle of the face that handles fast forward, rewind, play, and pause. Four more buttons bring up the menu, adjust the volume, and control recording and A-B loops. Only a pianist could love the layout of the buttons: the HD-500 requires two hands to operate it, as well as some practice before using both the jog key and the menu button to root through your audio collection and find the file you want.

The display is stuffed with information. Fortunately, the song title scrolls, otherwise you'd lose it amid the clutter on the screen. Said clutter includes the name of the next track to be played, the folder that the music is contained in, the length of the track, encoding information, and much more, including left- and right-channel level meters, complete with a vibrating speaker icon.

The HD-500 in its case with power adapter, headphones, USB cable, and stereo-to-stereo minijack cable.

The DMC Xclef HD-500 plays MP3, OGG, WAV, ASF, and non-DRM WMA files and records to MP3 (at bit rates as high as 320Kbps) from an internal mic, from the built-in FM radio (which has 20 presets), or from a line-in source. The device takes advantage of the speed of a USB 2.0 connection but doesn't require drivers to attach to a Windows XP system.

The player packs a couple of features we haven't seen on many (if any) other portable audio players. First off, it can read text files. However, since there's no way to bookmark the place you stopped reading in a file, this is of limited use for longer reads; say, that copy of Heart of Darkness you downloaded from The Gutenberg Project.

It also offers a search function that you can use to find the first three letters of a filename. It can be useful, but if your songs are titled with a track number first (so they will play in the order that they appeared on the album), you won't be able to search for, say, a particular Social Distortion tune since the first three characters in the title of "Mommy's Little Monster" become 06_, the same as every other track 6 on every album you've encoded and titled that way.

The manual for the HD-500 is well written and offers loads of detail. It does cover one thing a lot of audio-player manuals somehow miss: how to turn the device on and off. However, it also pointed us to the wrong Web site--the original manufacturer Xclef's site, rather than that of the U.S. maker, Digital Mind Corporation. The DMC site offers considerably more tech support along with newer firmware updates.

A wired remote control for the HD-500 is sold separately for $15.

Like most digital audio players, the sound of the DMC Xclef HD-500 picks up both detail and bottom end oomph if you ditch the earbuds that were included in the box and upgrade to a good set of over-the-ear headphones. That said, the 'buds that came with the unit were as good as any we've tested. Overall, we were very pleased with the audio quality and the various EQ settings.

The device takes a long time to boot up, especially compared to the "instant on" style of the iPod. And the more files you store on the HD-500, the longer it takes. With a mere 6GB of data on the 100GB player, it took 18 seconds. Adding a couple of thousand more MP3 files (just over 12GB of data) left us staring at the screen for more than 25 seconds. Loading another 12GB of random files from our hard drive tacked on even more time. Waiting for the device to boot could become a rather lengthy process if you max out the hard drive.

The voice recorder in the HD-500 works quite well even though we couldn't figure out where the mic is located. You won't want to move your hands on the unit while you're recording. If you do, the mic will pick up the sounds of your fingers on the case.

In CNET Labs' tests, the USB 2.0 connection yielded a blazing transfer time of 11.47MB per second. This is a huge plus for audio- and data-file lovers.

In the battery-life department, the XD-500 stayed powered on for an impressive 20.4 hours, just a couple of hours less than the company's claims.


DMC Xclef HD-500

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 8Performance 7