CMC Magnetics ShellStar CM-220 review:

CMC Magnetics ShellStar CM-220

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CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Plays cheap, small, 185MB mini-CDs; doesn't skip; inexpensive.

The Bad Can't display song titles; background hiss.

The Bottom Line An affordable, cool device that has a couple of notable flaws.

5.0 Overall

Mini-CDs make perfect sense as media for portable MP3 players. Measuring only 8cm across, they store 185MB of music--enough for three albums of MP3 music encoded at a bit rate of 128Kbps. These tiny CDs are also relatively inexpensive, costing less than a dollar each in bulk, and they're compatible with practically any CD-R/RW drive. The ShellStar CM220 offers a low-cost and competent implementation of this technology. However, it has a couple of downsides, the most notable of which is a slight background hiss behind the music. Mini-CDs make perfect sense as media for portable MP3 players. Measuring only 8cm across, they store 185MB of music--enough for three albums of MP3 music encoded at a bit rate of 128Kbps. These tiny CDs are also relatively inexpensive, costing less than a dollar each in bulk, and they're compatible with practically any CD-R/RW drive. The ShellStar CM220 offers a low-cost and competent implementation of this technology. However, it has a couple of downsides, the most notable of which is a slight background hiss behind the music.

Mini but not micro
The ShellStar is bulky and heavy compared to a flash memory-based MP3 player, but it's much more compact than a full-sized MP3 CD player. (It measures about 5.0 by 4.0 by 1.25 inches and weighs about six ounces without the two AA batteries.) Using the included carrying case, it's no strain at all to walk around with it on your belt, though you have to pull out the unit to access the controls. An AC adapter is also included.

Walking around with the player, we were pleased to note that there was no skipping. But we noticed a bit of background hiss that persisted even when the volume was turned down or when we tested the unit with different headphones. This is a major problem for audiophiles, but others might not mind too much--especially if they normally listen to music without too many quiet passages. We tried to get a signal-to-noise ratio from CMC Magnetics, but the company couldn't supply us with one in time. Our ears put the ShellStar at a relatively hissy 80dB.

The unit sports all the standard features, including Random and Repeat modes, EQ presets, and a Resume function that lets you pick up where you left off on a disc. It recognizes the folder structure of a CD so that you can organize your songs by album, but the unit's small LCD doesn't show folder name or song title. Since a single disc holds more than 40 songs, this is an annoying oversight that can leave you fumbling around trying to find the track you want.

Not there yet
We're still waiting for our ideal mini-CD MP3 player: a superlight and compact unit with a rechargeable battery, good skip protection, great sound, a remote control, and a large LCD showing folder and song title. The ShellStar CM-220 falls short of this dream, but at only $100, it's a bargain if you can live with the background hiss.

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