In a world of sleek, ice-white and envy-inducing , the old Neuros player was an ugly duckling; it was big, bulky, and black, and it weighed as much as a brick. Even worse, its strategy of having relatively large and awkward hard drive and flash-memory backpacks didn't make much sense; it seemed like you'd be better off with a tiny flash player and, say, an iPod or an H120. Sadly, the arrival of the Neuros II Digital Audio Computer ($480, with 256MB and 60GB backpacks; other configurations are available) hasn't solved any of these problems. While the new Neuros adds much-needed USB 2.0 support, the player is as big and bulky as ever, and its high-profile features--including the ability to identify songs on FM radio--suffer from spotty performance. Our advice? Skip it. Snapped into the 256MB backpack, the boxy, black Neuros II is much larger and heavier (4.3 by 2.5 by 1.3 inches, 5.8 ounces) than its flash-memory MP3 competitors. Even with the included belt clip, the Neuros would be way too big and hefty for jogging or exercising. The Neuros expands further when you click it into the 60GB hard drive. Measuring 5.3 by 3.1 by 1.3 inches and tipping the scales at 9.4 ounces, the Neuros/hard drive combo is chunky, weighty, and not that pretty. The Neuros doesn't click into the backpack properly unless you press just so, and our fingers couldn't get much of a grip when we tried to push it out of the backpack. The Neuros's delicate 50-pin docking connector worried us, as did the bare circuit boards next to the backpack's docking port; clearly, you should think twice before swapping backpacks at the beach.
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). 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.