In an impressive feat of engineering, iRiver has crammed a full gigabyte of storage into a music player smaller than most pagers, without skimping on battery life or extra features. The iRiver iFP-599T is capable of FM-radio, voice, and straight-to-MP3 line-in recording, just like several of the company's previous devices, but the $450 price tag will limit the size of its target audience. Users who don't require a flash player's perfect antishock protection and extended battery life should instead try a micro hard drive-based unit that holds more memory for about half the price.
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Close fit: The iFP-599T's case is snug--maybe too much so, as merely inserting the device can activate the buttons.
We had to get used to the tiny (1.2-inch diagonal), blue-backlit LCD with its miniature type and icons. Unlike many other players that let you browse music by artist, album, or genre, this player requires you to browse by folder. The LCD can show only 13 characters horizontally and always displays the artist name first and the song name next. Thus, when you dive into a folder of, say, four Beastie Boys songs, all you see is Beastie Boys repeated four times down the screen.
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|The case attached to an armband, as do other flash players from iRiver.||Some users prefer the accessibility of a neck strap.|
We were eager to take advantage of the iRiver iFP-599T's myriad functions, but menu navigation was not particularly intuitive. If you're the sort of person who can program the clock on your VCR without looking at the directions, you'll have no trouble with this player. Other folks may want to shop for a simpler device, such as an iPod.
Bundled accessories include a line-in cable for recording, a carrying case with a belt loop, a neck strap for easy access, and an arm strap for use while jogging. But before you can take advantage of these various wearability options, you'll first face the more basic problem of getting the device into its carrying case. If you succeed at this task, you'll find that the fit is so snug that the pressure can activate a button. But if you prefer to store the uncased player in your pocket or on the neck strap, this won't be a factor. The iRiver iFP-599T's gigabyte of nonexpendable flash memory can store roughly 16 hours of MP3, WMA, and ASF music encoded at 128Kbps. The iFP-599T comes loaded with just about every major feature we've seen on a portable music player, but we wish they were easier to access. The iRiver has three different recording modes: MP3s from the FM tuner or any line-level source, such as a CD player, a cassette deck, or a powered microphone, as well as REC files from the built-in mike. You can adjust the recording bit rate from 32Kbps (for maximum time) to 160Kbps (for best quality) for voice, or 32Kbps to 320Kbps for music from FM or the line-in jack. You can then upload any recording on the device to your PC. However, you'll have to use iRiver's bundled software to convert voice recordings from REC to MP3 so that they'll play on your computer.
The iRiver iFP-599T includes a variety of shuffle modes and more EQ settings than most people will ever need, as well as a five-band graphic EQ. An Xtreme 3D DSP feature adds varying degrees of spatial simulation (more on that in the Performance section). The line-in jack doubles as a digital optical output, so you can play music on the iFP-599T through any stereo with an optical input without losing a single digit's worth of sound quality. This is a great feature for audiophiles, but you'll have to supply your own optical cable ($10 to $20).
The player connects to both Windows and Macs via USB 1.1. The bundled iRiver Music Manager software makes transferring files a simple, drag-and-drop process. By organizing your music in folders on the player, you can create de facto playlists--a useful function since you can't transfer existing playlists created on your PC or Mac to the device. You can, however, create and save playlists directly on the player, but the process is tedious.
iRiver offers alternate firmware (search for "UMS") that allows you to transfer files without iRiver Music Manager. Instead, you load the player directly from Windows Explorer or the Mac's Finder on recent operating systems.
The iFP-599T supports secure WMA files such as those sold by and . Software installation and device connection presented no problems. The USB 1.1 link transferred music at 0.65MB per second, which means you'll need just less than half an hour to put a gigabyte of tunes onto the device. Considering the flash player's relatively large 1GB capacity, a faster USB 2.0 connection would have been a better choice.
The player comes with a pair of unremarkable earbud headphones. But listening with our test 'phones (the Shure e3c), we noticed that the player puts out clear, quality audio, with a 90dB signal-to-noise ratio. It has a tendency to sound a little sharp and brittle, but with all the EQ adjustments on hand, that's simple to correct.
When we compared the iRiver iFP-599T to an iPod plugged into our home stereo, we noticed that the iPod did a better job with stereo imaging (locating a singer's voice in a particular location in the room's physical space, for example) than the iRiver device. This wasn't noticeable with headphones, but audiophiles who plan to connect the player optically to a high-end system might not appreciate this trait. We felt that the Xtreme 3D setting made our music come alive and appreciated its configuration options, but sound purists will likely prefer their signal unaltered, as usual.
That said, we were quite impressed with the quality of recordings we made with the analog line-in jack. They were all but indistinguishable from the original. Voice recordings were acceptable, but the tiny microphone isn't suitable for high-quality recording. FM reception, on the other hand, was extremely poor. We had a hard time picking up even powerful commercial stations that other portable radios pull in with no trouble; consequently, the FM recordings weren't good.
The company claims a full 28 hours of battery life, but our four battery tests averaged a mere 13.8 hours; it's possible that iRiver does its test at a significantly lower volume. The player's rated power output is 12mW per channel--enough to drive our large headphones to decent volumes, although it won't make your ears bleed.
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