Of all the players we've seen that come with a neck lanyard, the Virgin Pulse is the only one that's actually stylish enough to sport. It's about the size of a silver dollar (1.6 inches in diameter and 0.25 inch thick), although it weighs less (just 0.6 ounce) and its fitting silver face is rimmed in white. Unfortunately, the included black-corded headphone/necklace combo detracts from the overall stylishness of the device--might we suggest a clear plastic coating instead to show off the metallic colors of the wires inside? Another startling fact: The Pulse plays only MP3s; WMA support, which we've come to expect in most digital audio players, is absent.
Due to the Pulse's diminutive size, it features just two rocker buttons, one for Play/Stop/FF/RW and one for volume Up/Down, while it lacks an LCD. A thin LED on the front shines green when the Pulse is charging, flashes when you transfer files, pulses slowly while you listen to music, and blinks red when the battery is on its deathbed. The player features a rotating loop, to which you can clip the lanyard, and a 2.5mm jack that serves both the earbuds and the USB adapter. The latter is used to charge the device and transfer files. Virgin also throws in a dual-adjusting armband and a 3.5mm minijack adapter so that you can use standard headphones. All in all, the bare-bones design and the lack of software (file transfers are a simple drag-and-drop affair through Windows Explorer) make for a very uncomplicated MP3 player.
We were impressed and surprised (considering the player's meager 50dB signal-to-noise ratio and 4mW output) by the Pulse's sound quality in our performance tests. Tunes were sufficiently loud and generally rich-sounding. Some background hiss came through the earbuds at the highest volume, but unpredictably, it was less noticeable through a set of full-size headphones. The file-transfer speed of 0.54MB per second was acceptable for USB 1.1.