Enter HighGear's TrailAudio (256MB, $130). At 4 ounces and 5.5 by 1.3 by 0.62 inches, the player is comparable in size, shape, and layout to offerings from companies such as iRiver, with one major difference: a sleek, detachable USB carabiner cap for clipping it to your backpack, your jacket, or your clothes. Though it would be much easier to use if it had a larger gate, the carabiner is still a usefull addition and unclips from the end of the TrailAudio to reveal a USB 2.0 plug.
The TrailAudio offers a slightly heftier construction than we're used to on MP3 players, but while we appreciate the splashproof design, we're not convinced that the battery cover, which presses into a seal, will make it for the long haul. The same goes for the tiny, molded-in grabs for the line-in and headphone jack covers. Also, considering the player aspires to be a top choice for the active, we were surprised at the small size of the buttons and the three-line LCD screen, which is tiny in relation to the body. The only ample button is for recording, which seems strange since that wouldn't be an oft-used feature at the gym or on the trail. The main controls line either side of the player. On the plus side, they're fairly well spaced, which makes navigation simple.
In terms of format support and jukebox support, the TrailAudio is pretty backcountry, as it offers no support for DRM WMA files and isn't recognized by Windows Media Player 10.0 for automatic syncs. The HighGear's playback interface could also use some help. You can drag file folders onto it via Windows Explorer, but the player collapses them into one giant list of tunes that takes forever to scroll through. Fortunately, HighGear reconciles these grievances a bit by stocking the TrailAudio with a radio, as well as FM and line-in recording capabilities.
The FM radio tunes in 0.05 increments, an unnecessarily detailed amount since no radio station frequencies rest on a 0.05. Instead, the extra stops merely waste time. The FM quality was acceptable, as was the FM recording; we encoded the radio into a 128Kbps MP3 file, but you can adjust the recording settings to various bit rates.
The under-the-ear-and-around-the-neck headphones did a fine job staying clipped to our head while we bounced around on a mountain bike. Unfortunately, they sounded awful, spouting thin, thready audio. And on throbbing anthems such as the Dropkick Murphys' "The Rocky Road to Dublin," they started distorting at just past half volume. A better pair of earbuds vastly improved the sound and cleared up the distortion problems, though audio quality was by no means stellar. Also unimpressive was the TrailAudio's molasses-slow transfer time of 0.7MB per second over USB 2.0. Battery life fared better at 15.9 hours, almost 4 hours longer than HighGear's own estimate.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.