A classic case of style over substance, the $129 MobiBlu DAH-900 will turn heads when it's strapped to your arm, but this 128MB MP3 player makes installation a hassle, saddles you with some annoying quirks, and is relatively heavy for its class. Competing compact models, such as the Creative Rhomba, do everything the DAH-900 does but better. The flat, oval, and silver MobiBlu DAH-900 cuts a fine figure. Measuring 3.38 by 2.36 by 0.59 inches and weighing 2.1 ounces, the player is bulkier and heavier than most other new flash-memory models we've tested, so it's a bit large to dangle from your neck on the included lanyard. But the arm strap, also provided, lets you listen to tunes during a workout, and rubberized sides help the unit fit snugly in your palm.
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The seven-button remote is great for navigating tracks and adjusting the volume when the DAH-900 is stowed away.
In the top half of the DAH-900's face is the four-line LCD, where you find the track name, the elapsed time, file information, and the battery-life indicator. We were disappointed to discover that the player shows you only the song title in play mode; despite the fact that the screen has plenty of room to list the album and the artist, they're conspicuously absent.
Below the LCD, the volume, forward, reverse, stop, and play buttons encircle the large Mode key; all are rubberized and within easy reach of your thumb. A tiny built-in microphone sits to the screen's left.
The included carrying case clips to your belt or the armband. You also get a handy seven-button in-line remote. It doesn't have a display, but it's great for navigating tracks and adjusting the volume when the player is strapped to your arm or stowed away. Setting up the MobiBlu DAH-900 is needlessly difficult. Unlike many of the latest models, this player requires drivers and doesn't appear on your desktop as a removable drive. Even though you transfer MP3 and WMA tunes by dragging and dropping within Windows Explorer, you need to install a small software package (Windows only). Because the DAH-900 doesn't come with a music-management application, such as Musicmatch Jukebox, for playlist creation, you'll have to listen to songs in alphabetical order or change their sequence by appending numbers to their filenames. Also, this MobiBlu will not play tracks purchased from online stores.
But the DAH-900 regains some ground with its playback features. The equalizer provides rock, jazz, classical, and pop presets and--a first for MP3 players--two user-defined settings. The SRS option gives your music surround-sound effects, TruBass enhances bass, and you get both with the Wow function. Purists probably won't like SRS's echoey sound, but we appreciated the added sonic oomph.
You can surf the airwaves with the DAH-900's built-in FM tuner. It cleverly scans for the strongest signals and keeps up to 20 as presets; that number is generous compared with the competition's offerings. The player can also capture your favorite FM broadcasts, and you can save voice memos through the built-in microphone. Both types of recordings are stored as low-quality WAV files; up to nine hours of them will fit on the full 128MB of flash memory. The MobiBlu DAH-900's sonics were excellent, especially when we used the built-in equalizer. At 7mW per channel, the power output is too weak for some headphones and people, but the volume was plenty loud through the included earbuds. They sounded surprisingly good, with decent bass and clear highs, but as usual, audiophiles will want to upgrade. The player's 90dB signal-to-noise ratio made for clean audio with little hiss, even when we switched to our reference headphones, the Shure E3c.
In our battery test, the DAH-900 ran for 28 hours on a pair of AAA cells, beating MobiBlu's ambitious 26-hour playback rating.
One performance annoyance was the DAH-900's sluggish track browsing. The cursor took nearly a second to jump from one entry to the next. Most of the players we've tested recently scrolled through songs in a flash.
The unit's incomplete VBR compatibility was also irritating. When an MP3 file's bit rate jumped between 8Kbps and 911Kbps, the DAH-900 correctly detected the variations, but the elapsed-time indicator ticked along at 10 times the normal speed at first, then more slowly than real time. The aberrations didn't disrupt music playback, but they could bother picky users.