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Panasonic Shockwave SV-SW30 (256MB) review: Panasonic Shockwave SV-SW30 (256MB)

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The Good Solid sound; decent but uncomfortable bundled headphones; belt holster/armband will take a crowbar to knock off; water resistant and durable.

The Bad Display small for size of unit and offers little information; USB 1.1 interface makes for slow file transfers; interface could be more intuitive; mediocre FM reception; like other "sports ready" players, a bit pricey for what you get; so-so battery life.

The Bottom Line We wouldn't pay a premium price for the lightly water-resistant Panasonic Shockwave SV-SW30, but you might if the style or the bombproof armband appeal to you.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

5.7 Overall

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There's not a lot to Panasonic's Shockwave SV-SW30, which is probably a good thing if all you want to do is listen to your favorite tunes on the fly. The 256MB flash-based player features an FM radio along with the same soft, parallelogram shape peculiar to previous Shockwave players. It weighs a touch less than 2.4 ounces with a AAA battery loaded and comes with either a silver or blue faceplate, both set against a dark-blue case. Control buttons are kept to a minimum, though their bright-orange coloring and rubbery texture certainly draw the eye.

Like the Philips Nike series of MP3 players, the SV-SW30 is aimed at the sportier segment of the digital audio audience, though frankly, the only thing that seems to entail is the inclusion of an armband in the box along with some level of water resistance, which means that a bit of rain or a splash shouldn't hurt the player. Immersing it in H20 is still a no-no, so don't try to surf with this player!

We were satisfied with the audio quality of the SV-SW30, even with the bundled over-the-ear-style headphones. Like most bundled headphones, these weren't of the most robust quality, but we found fitting them over our earlobes more annoying than the sound that came out of them--that's unusual in our experience. Also, the loop that clamps them around the back of your head sticks out a bit more than we'd like, making it hard to wear a hooded sweatshirt while using the set. The FM quality was average for a portable flash memory player. Software to set the presets on your PC rather than manually on the player would be a welcome addition.

The SV-SW30 supports playback of MP3, WAV, and unprotected WMA files, and it requires no drivers to install under Windows XP. This makes it a prime candidate for moving files between your home and office PCs, though its throughput speed of less than 0.5MB per second was on the slow side, even for a USB 1.1 interface.

We found some of the button combinations on the SV-SW30 a bit strange: there's no specific button for turning the player off, nor does the manual explain how to do it. You simply pause a tune, and a few seconds later, the player shuts down on its own. The rest of the controls were easy to remember after we studied the manual. 

On top of the player are a Select/Mode button, two volume buttons, and a rocker switch that controls playback, navigation, and FM tuning. The Mode button not only switches between the FM and digital audio modes but, with the help of the rocker switch, also controls the EQ presets, Erase mode (for deleting audio files on the fly), and Info mode, which provides more detail on the current audio track than the player normally squeezes onto the four-line LCD. The LCD usually shows a large tag reading "Player" where you might expect artist or album information. The display is already on the small side; we found the lack of information rather annoying.

Unlike many of the flash-based digital audio players we've tested, the Panasonic collapses any folders full of audio tunes you stash inside the Player folder. So, for example, if you drag and drop folders for Social Distortion's Live at the Roxy and Sleater-Kinney's The Hot Rock into the Player folder, the Panasonic will simply play them all out. If you want those subfolders to play in a specific sequence, you can prefix them with a three-digit number in the order you want them to come through.

The Shockwave SV-SW30 includes an armband that adjusts to fit around your upper arm. The elastic on the armband was stiff, though, and the tourniquet effect tended to leave our hand feeling a tad blue after extended use. On the upside, we don't expect the armband to fall off during a brisk jog, especially since it takes some wrestling to remove the SV-SW30 from the blue-plastic holster that clips to the armband (or your belt).

The Panasonic uses a single AAA battery and delivered 9.8 hours of battery life in our tests, which is below average for a flash-based player.

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