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First International Digital Irock 520 review:

First International Digital Irock 520

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The Good Inexpensive; expandable memory; easy to use; lightweight.

The Bad Substandard display; doesn't support ID3 tags; lacks a belt clip, a rechargeable battery, and other extras.

The Bottom Line The Irock 520 doesn't tread any new terrain, but its low price tag might make it a good buy for MP3 novices or those on a budget.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.0 Overall

Updated 6/19/02

Editors' note:
The rating and/or Editors' Choice designation for this product has been altered since the review's original publication. The reason for this is simply the general improvement of technology over time. In order to keep our ratings fair and accurate, it's sometimes necessary to downgrade the ratings of older products relative to those of newer products.

The First International Digital Irock 520 won't blow anyone's mind with unheard-of features or a fancy design, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In this case, the adage about getting what you pay for holds true. The Irock doesn't sport the bells and whistles found on higher-end MP3 players, but it's a solid player with an appropriately painless price tag. Updated 6/19/02

Editors' note:
The rating and/or Editors' Choice designation for this product has been altered since the review's original publication. The reason for this is simply the general improvement of technology over time. In order to keep our ratings fair and accurate, it's sometimes necessary to downgrade the ratings of older products relative to those of newer products.

The First International Digital Irock 520 won't blow anyone's mind with unheard-of features or a fancy design, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In this case, the adage about getting what you pay for holds true. The Irock doesn't sport the bells and whistles found on higher-end MP3 players, but it's a solid player with an appropriately painless price tag.

Display woes
Design-wise, the Irock 520 is certainly far from the sleekest or most compact MP3 player we've seen, but this 2.1-ounce device fits easily in a pocket. One sin that's less forgiving is the display: it's small, isn't backlit, doesn't support ID3 tags, and shows only the most elementary information. At this point in time, all MP3 players should display the name of the song that they are currently playing.

On a more positive note, a SmartMedia slot on the back allows you to add as much as an additional 128MB of memory beyond the onboard 64MB. Also, we didn't have any problem with the Irock's buttons, which include a jog dial for power on/off, play, and navigation; a Hold switch, which locks buttons; and two volume buttons below the jog dial. The Mode button toggles through EQ, bass boost, and Random/Repeat modes. Changing these with the jog dial is handy, but since the numeric interface makes EQ look like E9, bass look like b5, and repeat look like rP, it's difficult at first (and annoying later on) to switch the settings. Another minor gripe: the Random mode doesn't play all the songs before it starts to repeat some.

MP3 files are transferred to the Irock 520 over USB, using the included Irock Audio Manager software. For now, it's PC-only, but First International Digital says that this player will be Mac compatible in a few weeks. While the player technically supports WMA files, the Audio Manager software must first transcode this data into MP3 format, which degrades the sound quality a bit, thanks to the doubled compression. Plus, we had to consult the manual the first few times we put songs on the player, which is not ideal. After a few tries, this program isn't too tough to use, but we would have preferred a simple drag-and-drop interface.

Gym-worthy?
The Irock's packaging features a picture of a mountain biker, so we were baffled to find no belt clip or case for enabling use under such conditions. A carrying strap of dubious utility is enclosed, but those people wishing to work out with the Irock will have to find a third-party case that fits the player snugly. Also absent was a rechargeable battery; you'll have to replace the AAA cell after every 6.5 hours of use, though the company says that you can expect up 10 hours of battery life. The included ear buds are nothing special, and ours actually broke during testing. We recommend swapping those out for a decent pair of headphones.

Ear buds aside, the audio quality was excellent and free of hiss, with a 90dB signal-to-noise ratio. However, we wish the Irock played a little louder--even at maximum volume, we couldn't drown out the noises of the big city.

A miser's dream
The Irock 520's biggest strength by far is its $100 retail price, making it one of the least expensive 64MB players available. If you're on a tight budget or are new to MP3 music, the Irock 520's good sound, ease of use, and upgradable memory make it worth considering despite its drawbacks. However, folks willing to spend more should opt for a better player.

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