South Korea-based Muro isn't exactly a household brand, but its 128MB MR-100 holds some big-name surprises. The player's stylish design, user-friendly menus, and solid feature set almost justify its $129 asking price, but some imperfections persist. While the player's music quality was generally good, the line-in recording process was not up to par, and the player's controls were hard to use. Measuring just 3.5 by 1.5 by 0.5 inches (L, W, H) and weighing 1.7 ounces, the tiny MR-100 is hardly noticeable when worn around the neck or on the arm, though it's slightly heavier than flash players that use a single AAA battery rather than a rechargeable battery. (The MR-100 runs on a rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride battery.) The player's shiny aluminum finish catches the light, and its few raised buttons complete the streamlined feel.
On the face of the MR-100 is its 1-inch, four-line monochrome display. Despite its small size, the LCD manages to pack in plenty of information, including song name, folder name, track number, volume, battery life, repeat and equalization modes, and FM frequency (if applicable). You can pick the orange or white backlight, adjust the backlighting time, and change the contrast. And though you can't toggle the brightness level, the display is bright enough to read in low light.
The sharp-looking MR-100 stumbles with its poorly designed controls. Two small scrollwheels embedded in the right side of the player govern the main functions, including play/pause, search/scan, volume, and menu navigation. While the wheels make for an interesting change over a simple button, they are much tougher to use. Selecting menu items with the jog dial was easy enough, but scrolling proved troublesome. Sometimes we had to turn and hold the wheel to scroll; other times, a simple flick did the trick. The flimsy power and Hold switches (located on the back of the unit) also disappointed us by not clicking into place.
Below the LCD are two tiny yet pressable function buttons (labeled with their short-click and long-click functions), which activate the FM-broadcast function, access the folder list, open the folder menu, and change the playing speed. A round and ample record key sits on the top edge of the device.
In addition to the player itself, the package includes an arm strap, a necklace, a carrying case, a USB cable, a battery charger, a line-in recording cable, and earphones. For line-in recording, you must use this cable since the jack is smaller than the standard 1/8-inch headphone minijack. The Muro MR-100 supports MP3 and WMA files and offers an extensive feature set, including voice recording, FM tuning and recording, line-in recording, and wireless FM broadcasting. Missing, however, is expandable memory, so you're stuck with 128MB. Navigating the player's menu options and file folders is simple--the tough-to-use scrollwheels notwithstanding.
Connecting the MR-100 to a PC is a snap. Plug the player into your computer's USB port via the 4-foot USB cable, and you're ready to go. (As usual, Windows 98 users will need a driver, which Muro provides on a disc.) Transferring files is an easy matter of dragging and dropping via Windows Explorer. Just remember to append the track numbers to the filenames, unless you want your music to play in alphabetical order.
Muro doesn't provide file-transfer software, so there's no way to set up playlists. Instead, you have to create subfolders and order the filenames within them by using numerical prefixes. You can erase files or folders while using the device, but you'll have to dig through the menu to do so. Still, it's nice to be able to make more room for voice or line-in recordings on the go.
Once you've loaded your tunes onto the MR-100, you can bookmark your songs; group them into folders; play them using one of the various random, repeat, or shuffle modes; or juice the sound with the built-in equalizer. The EQ has six presets (Normal, Classical, Live, Rock, Pop, and X-bass) and a five-band graphical custom option. You can even tweak the pitch by lowering the playback speed to either 95 percent or 75 percent, which could help with instructional language recordings.
If you get tired of listening to your own tunes, you can switch to the Muro's FM radio. You can save radio stations to the 10 presets.
The MR-100's voice- and FM-recording features are intuitive; however, we had trouble with the line-in recording and FM-broadcast features. When recording a single song from a CD using the syncing option, for instance, the player tended to cut a few seconds before the end of the song. We preferred to forgo the syncing option for a manual record/stop approach. The player's line-in and FM record modes save files in the MP3 format at four levels of quality: 8-bit mono (very low), 40Kbps stereo (low), 128Kbps stereo (middle), and 256Kbps stereo (high). Voice recordings are in the MP3 format at 32Kbps mono and have a voice-activation mode for skipping silence; you can even set the record threshold to one of three levels of sensitivity. During our tests, the Muro MR-100's 0.48MB-per-second transfer rate provided average file-transfer speed over USB 1.1. Downloaded music sounded clean enough through the included earbuds, although the player has a signal-to-noise ratio of only 80dB. The MR-100's audio quality went downhill from there, however. Voice and FM-radio recordings sounded muddier than our music files, while the in-line recordings were mediocre at best. Changing the quality settings didn't help much, although the six preset equalization modes boosted the sound quality a bit.
We got OK FM reception but noticed static when we put the player next to a TV or another electronic device. We also encountered a bit of static when broadcasting to an FM channel, especially in urban areas with a crowded radio spectrum. Once you find a clear frequency, you have to hold the MR-100's headphones (which act as an antenna) less than a foot from a radio to get it to work.
The rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride battery gave us 12.5 hours of playing time, a better-than-average performance that bested Muro's rated time by a half hour.