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How DO They Get All That Music In There?

The best kind of storage space isn't RAM, it's a good ol' hard drive. Efficient and cheap, an IBM Travelstar resides inside the mysterious musical black box. The battery, a 3.6V 1350mAh Lithium type, powers the 5V rated drive. I suppose it's nice to know that the notebook HD runs perfectly well on quite a bit less than nominal voltage. The printed circuit board (PCB) was well laid out and not especially crammed with components. This is a well made, sturdy unit that should last well beyond its factory 1 year warranty if not manhandled.

The RAM, or rather how it's used is subject for special mention. Instead of cramming everything into the RAM, why not store all your tunes on the HD and spit out one song at at time? Since the RAM is two Samsung 8MB chips, songs up to 16 minutes (at 128Kb/s encode rate) could be held in the memory while the HD spools down and conserves power.

After the warranty expires, it's relatively easy to replace the HD. Eight screws later and I popped the IBM Travelstar out for a scanning session. Let me emphasize that attempting this exercise before the 1 year warranty period will invalidate your warranty, so don't do it. Possibly larger drives would fit, I can't say for sure. I can see the ads now--holds 5,000 CD's, geez.

Inside The Case

Hard Drive

Subjective Evaluation

Ease of use is a large factor when purchasing many products today. While engineering types like myself don't mind the occasional challenging software or manual, the vast majority of consumers desire flexibility and simple procedures. The MusicCompressor lays solidly on the side termed "easy to use."

In fact, until I plugged in the USB cable and began transferring encoded-on-the-fly MP3 tracks, I didn't bother to glance at the manual. The interface is so self explanatory that you won't find a nauseatingly detailed explanation in this review. Instead, click on the pic of the Compressor itself and study the six buttons and LCD display. The buttons are up/down, left/right (or backward/forward) and play(pause)/stop. The nested menus are also easy to understand and program. If you're still lost, consult the website or manual.

The sample music included on the HD was the most eclectic I've ever heard--I dunno, maybe that's a sign of old age :) I popped in the CD and checked the size. At 1.34MB, I pondered why the format was CD; it seems like such a waste. After installing the JukeBoxManager software, I connected the Compressor to the USB cable and viewed the interface. The only remaining question I had was if I could use preexisting .wav files and have them converted to MP3's. Nope, not possible. All that you can do is insert a prerecorded music CD or import preexisting MP3 files. Also, for unfortunate legal reasons (take a peek at MP3.com for more info), once your tunes are uploaded, they cannot ever be re-downloaded from the Compressor. The only choices are to listen to them or delete them to make room for more.

The supplied Koss portapro headphones had a 60 ohm impedance and sounded better than I expected. Somewhat spitty from 6 KHz upward, the effect was not too pronounced. The amount of bass and extension to the depths below 100 Hz was admirable from such small drivers. Overall, these are satisfying to listen to over period of a few hours but no more. After 10 hours of continuous listening, I would imagine that most people would develop the dreaded case of "spock ear." For the non Star Trek savvy, spock ear feels like your ears are being manipulated into that familiar Leonard Nimoy pointy tipped shape. Ouch.

At any volume level, there was no hiss whatsoever when using sample rates at or above 128Kb/s. While I did not perform extensive 64Kb/s tests, suffice it to say that that sample rate is meant only for voice reproduction, not full frequency range and full dynamic music reproduction. MP3 files can be encoded on the fly at 64, 128, 192, 256 and 320Kb/s bitrates. The higher the bitrate, the closer to CD quality, but the more space occupied by the individual files. The five choices were well thought out and give the user maximum flexibility.

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