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The Neuros II's controls are a bit uninspired, but they get the job done. Instead of a scrollwheel or a dial, you get an oval, four-way control for navigating the player menus and adjusting the volume, though a dedicated volume dial would have been better. The central power/play/pause button is flanked by the fast-forward/reverse keys. Along the left and right sides of the player are five numbered buttons for FM-radio presets and song bookmarks, a hold slider (which felt flimsy on our review model), and a button for the Neuros's HiSi feature (see Features). The USB ports--1.1 for the 256MB backpack, 2.0 for the 60GB hard drive--as well as the headphone and line-in jacks are on the bottom of the player, creating an awkward setup for on-the-go listeners used to plugging in their 'phones on top.
The Neuros II's 2-inch monochrome display isn't flashy, but it packs in plenty of information, including artist, album, and track names. Also, menu navigation was a breeze; we were browsing through the Neuros's many options within minutes of turning it on.First things first--Neuros has added a USB 2.0 connection to its hard drive backpacks, a welcome change from the old, pokey USB 1.1 versions. Unfortunately, you're stuck with the slower USB 1.1 transfers when you're using the 256MB backpack.
Loading music onto the Neuros II is relatively easy. After installing the Neuros Synchronization Manager on your PC, you can search for MP3s, unprotected WMAs, WAVs, or open-source Ogg Vorbis music files (a nice touch) on your system. You then designate which files you want on the big and small backpacks; once you're ready, you click Synchronize to begin the transfers. While the software package is easy to use, it can't play music tracks on its own, so don't trash your jukebox software just yet.
The Neuros boasts a bevy of playback options, including a five-band equalizer with Rock, Pop, Jazz, Bass Boost, and Classical presets, as well as a user-defined mode. You can also bookmark your songs, pick up where you left off with the autoresume feature, repeat and shuffle your music, and even tweak the speed and fade songs in and out with the player's nifty DJ controls.
As with the old Neuros player, the Neuros II lets you record to WAV files or directly to MP3. You can choose from bit rates of 64Kbps to 160Kbps for MP3 files and 8kHz to 48kHz for WAVs--a decent range, although we would have preferred even lower MP3 bit-rate options for recording, say, a long interview. You can record audio from the built-in microphone, a separate audio device through the line-in plug, or the Neuros's FM radio.
And how does the FM radio stack up? Not so well. While we like its ability to search for the strongest signals, the Neuros won't scan, then program its presets automatically. And speaking of presets, the Neuros only has 5, compared to the 10 to 20 for other like players.
While its FM radio falls short, the Neuros's ability to transmit music to FM frequencies clears the mark. The MiFi feature scans for the clearest FM frequency and broadcasts music to that channel. In our tests conducted in the crowded FM environment of New York City, MiFi had a tough time finding a clear FM channel on its own, but we managed to find a reasonably clear signal after some manual trial and error.
We like the idea behind Neuros's HiSi (Hear it, Save it) technology, even if its execution is a little shaky. If you hear a song you like on the Neuros's FM radio or even a car stereo, just hit the HiSi button (marked with an outstretched hand), and the Neuros will record a 30-second clip. The next time you sync the Neuros with your PC, it will attempt to match the song's digital fingerprint with those in an online database. Though a great idea, it gave us mixed real-world results. HiSi correctly identified J. Lo's "Waiting for Tonite" and "Kiss and Goodbye" by the Manhattans, both of which we recorded over the Neuros's FM radio. However, HiSi went zero-for-three in its "best guesses;" it thought, for instance, that a piece of classical music we recorded was "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart" by Britney Spears, and it couldn't make heads or tails of the two songs we recorded using the built-in mic: Britney's ubiquitous "Toxic" and the instantly recognizable Star Wars theme.While we're less than thrilled by the Neuros II's design and features, we can't complain about its excellent sound quality. Music sounded clear, with no perceptible hiss and plenty of detail on the high and low ends (20Hz to 20,000Hz). We were also able to crank the volume to earsplitting levels of 30mW per channel. Even the included earbuds sounded good, although we'd still recommend replacing them with a higher-end pair.
We got almost 10 hours of music from the player's nickel-metal-hydride batteries, about the same amount of time promised by Neuros. However, battery life dropped to 5 hours with MiFi turned on.
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