Rio Volt review:

Rio Volt

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CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Rechargeable batteries; excellent navigation and display; wired remote; FM tuner.

The Bad Can't search songs by genre or year.

The Bottom Line Although somewhat bulky, this portable MP3 CD player comes through with solid features and performance.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.0 Overall

With the original Rio Volt, Sonicblue set the standard for portable MP3 CD players in terms of features and performance. It was then surpassed by the TDK Mojo, which has better antiskip protection. But now, Sonicblue has countered with our new favorite MP3 CD player, the Rio Volt SP250. This device adds useful features such as a built-in FM tuner, rechargeable batteries, and eight-minute skip protection. The Rio Volt SP250 may not be cheap, but its clever design, ease of use, and handy extras such as a leather carrying case make it well worth the money. With the original Rio Volt, Sonicblue set the standard for portable MP3 CD players in terms of features and performance. It was then surpassed by the TDK Mojo, which has better antiskip protection. But now, Sonicblue has countered with our new favorite MP3 CD player, the Rio Volt SP250. This device adds useful features such as a built-in FM tuner, rechargeable batteries, and eight-minute skip protection. The Rio Volt SP250 may not be cheap, but its clever design, ease of use, and handy extras such as a leather carrying case make it well worth the money.

Case in point
The SP250 is the same size and weight as the original Rio Volt (5.1 inches by 5.8 inches by 1.2 inches; 8.3 ounces), but it sports a sophisticated new look with a black plastic shell and gray buttons. The included form-fitting leather case offers a strong belt clip as well as a neck strap. The protective case surrounds the unit but still allows full access to the controls via button outlines etched into the leather. Two AA nickel-metal-hydride batteries offer more than 15 hours of playing time and can be recharged right in the SP250 by plugging in the included AC adapter.

There are two ways to control the Rio Volt: the large buttons on the front of the unit or the wired remote, which controls almost all features. The remote contains two buttons and two jog dials (the best choice for portables) and works in conjunction with either of the two pairs of bundled headphones or any third-party set of your choice. We were particularly impressed with the high-contrast, backlit LCD, which uses the same easy, graphical interface as the Rio 800. When playing a tune, the unit shows the battery power, the time remaining in the song, the artist, the song title, and a moving volume meter. A tab-based menu system lets the user customize an impressive array of features, including a manual equalizer with sliders, song-title display, LCD contrast, and more.

The Rio Volt offers a slew of features that make it easy to manage the scores of songs on MP3 CDs. The navigation system clearly displays folders and songs so that you can find what you're looking for. Any M3U playlists burned onto the CD are recognized, and Program mode lets you select songs to play in a specific order. The unit's Random mode can play songs within a directory or across the entire disc, and a Plus 10 button lets you skip 10 tracks ahead on the CD. The player can even remember up to five MP3 CDs and resumes right where you left off when you reinsert them. The TDK Mojo slightly outdoes the SP250's navigation with the ability to play all songs from a certain artist or genre; however, we found that the Rio Volt SP250 has sufficient options for locating and managing your tunes.

Good skip protection and sound quality
In our testing, the Rio Volt did a fine job with a wide variety of CD-Rs and CD-RWs, finding and playing both MP3 and WMA files alike. With the unit clipped firmly to our hip, we encountered a few skips while walking down the street. But once we turned up the ESP antiskip protection to 180 seconds (hold down the Menu button to access the preferences), the unit was practically impervious to jolts and jostling, with eight minutes of skip protection for MP3/WMA CDs and three minutes for audio CDs. This is the first MP3 CD player that we've seen with an FM tuner, which delivered good reception with its digital tuning and supports preset stations. Sound quality for audio CDs, WMA files, and MP3s was good, although there was an ever-so-slight background hiss, which many people probably won't even notice.

With some lower-end portable MP3 CD players available for less than $100, the Rio Volt SP250's $179.95 price places it firmly at the high end of this market. However, its power, flexibility, and ease of use more than justify this cost.

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