Sunday, July 17, 2005

Hyun Won mobiBLU DAH-1500

Is that a pool cue chalk? No, it's an MP3 player.

At 24mm cubed (under a cubic inch), Korean-based Hyun Won's mobiBLU DAH-1500 claims to be the world's smallest MP3 player. It probably is the world's smallest in terms of the features it offers. Just for sheer 'wowsers' factor the DAH-1500 has everything else beat, especially with the OLED display taking up one side of the 'dice'.

(DAH-1500 in supplied silicone 'crate case')

However, it's not all about looks. The specs are impressive too. Despite the diminutive size, the DAH-1500 is available with 256MB, 512MB and 1Gb of flash memory. I'm reviewing the 1Gb version. It will play MP3 from 8-320Kbps bitrates, and (unsecured) WMA files of 32-192Kbps. It has an FM radio with presets, is powered by an onboard rechargeable Li-Ion battery, and claimed weight is 12g. As posted on other sites and on my Maul mail scale, it actually weighs 18g.

The DAH-1500 is also available in a wide variety of colours, the availability of which may vary. I got the black by default, but the other colours look nice too.

Super-Easy Connectivity

After you get it home, the first thing you'll need to do is to load and charge it. Attaching the DAH-1500 to the PC is via an innovative USB connection. It's actually built into the headphone socket. So you have a special USB > 3.5mm jack cable that ships with the player. This charges and also connects the player. The DAH-1500 is a Universal Mass Storage device and therefore is recognised without drivers by most modern PC's. Should you still be clinging to Win98, Hyun Won supplies a CD with drivers. Charging takes around 3.5 hours, and the battery is rated for a mamimum of 17 hours.

Unexpectedly Usable
Press and hold the Play button and the player comes to life. The first thing you'll notice is the OLED display. This uses exactly the same type of display as the iRiver N10, albeit an abbreviated version. In direct daylight and generally while outside in bright weather the display is totally invisible, and is dimmer than the Sony flash player's OLED display. Indoors and at night, the display is very legible and is a nice blue.

What's shown on the display is limited, but thanks to a well-judged scrolling speed and response, it's surprisingly usable especially after you learn the menu layout... after which you only need to hang around to see the track names. The song title display can be switched to read ID3 tags and to show it in an album/artist/song format, or just to show the filename.

The transport controls are on the right hand side of the cube, and consists of a simple circular pad with the play/pause button in the middle, and +, fwd, -, rwd controls in clockwise order. The left hand side of the cube has the menu button and the hold/clock display button. Although the menu structure and user interface design is quite similar to the iRiver N10, the separation of controls like this into a logical 'cluster' makes it significantly easier to get to grips with.

Tracks are played either in an unsorted (i.e. order as loaded) or in alphanumeric filename order in any folder. So if you want albums to play in sequence you'll either have to drag them over in the correct order, or rename the tracks with the track number at the front. Repeat modes are available for per track, per folder and all tracks. Shuffle also allows for selection within a folder or all tracks.

The player does support resume play, and even when switching between radio and MP3 playback, it will start from where it left off. There's a sleep option to switch it off after a preset time, and the player even switches off automatically after a while if you unplug the headphones.

The DAH-1500 recognises nested folders, so unlike some Creative flash players you can put music more than one folder deep. It's therefore very drag & drop friendly. The navigation is easy enough, despite the chopped-off display. No real complaints at all in the User Interface implementation.

FM radio is as well implemented as any other flash player of this type. There's an autoscan option which is reasonably quick and does pick up stations quite well, although signal pickup is largely dependent on your earphones as the cable is used as the aerial. The DAH-1500 does not record FM.

Surprisingly Not Bad Sound
I didn't think it was really worthwhile reporting on this player with my reference headphones as the basis, so my opinions in this review comes primarily from my time using it with the Sennheiser PX200.

The surprising thing given it's size and concerns over the doubled-up USB socket/headphone jack is that it doesn't sound crappy. Not the best I've heard, but certainly not the worst. Not bad at all actually. The sound is pretty clean, and as dynamic as a headphone amp of this size can be. All-round resolution is decent, trebles are well represented without being brittle or over-bright, and while the bass is not lacking, it does not unnecessarily boost it unless you want.

All in all you won't be losing anything (if at all) in sound quality compared to the vast majority of the better flash players. I'll do a more detailed listening test later and post if there are any surprises or nasties lurking but so far, it seems to play everything I throw at it and handles them with aplomb. At this stage, I can't hand on heart say it's a standout in terms of sound quality, but it is definitely more than acceptable.

I had to try it with my one of my reference phones, the Stax Omega II.
Plenty of comedy value from a source smaller than the volume knob :)

The player has 5 preset EQ modes as well as a user-definable setting, although this is limited to controlling bass and treble. However, unusually in a player of this type you get the option of cutting bass and treble as well as boosting, with the controlling range being +/- 7db. As a result, you won't get the pounding bass of iRiver's UBass modes but the included modes are effective enough without entering overkill territory. All the presets are musically usable, which is I think a first in my experience.

The maximum headphone amp power is quoted to be 15mw into 16 ohms, but it feels like a lot less. As a result, it will not work well with power-hungry headphones, although even with a variety of phones there was no distortion when volume was pegged at full. But you're better served sticking to buds, canalphones or efficient portable phones in any case.

Track gaps are a fairly noticeable couple of seconds so may bother some, and it is probably enough to temporarily dampen the 'ambience' of an album in many cases. The player fast forwards and rewinds pretty quickly (about 1.5 minutes a second's worth after an initial slower startup, which is good) which is useful for skipping boring bits in Podcasts and mixes, but no sound is heard while doing so.

The DAH-1500 ships with a necklace-integrated headphone, which is not quite as clever as the similar solution on the iRiver N10, but nevertheless it does it's job. The phones aren't great, but they don't suck too badly either... just typical buds, nothing special. Thanks to the cuboid shape of the player however, it doesn't face the direction you want while on the neck as it keeps turning around, and it's sharp corners can bang your chest if you run around with it. The lanyard attachment point is a simple plastic loop so could be used with other neckbands.

The Catch?
You're saying... this can't be right! There must be a catch? Well yes, there is one major catch. Loading is pretty slow compared to many present-day USB 2.0 flash memory keys as it's a USB 1.1 device. However, the big surprise is that it's actually not very different in loading speed compared to the new Sony NW-E400/500 flash players, which are supposed to be USB 2.0. Battery life also falls short of the quoted maximum, but that's almost a given these days. ~14 hours was possible with low-bitrate Podcasts / my Internet radio recodings, with fairly minimal fiddling for volume and such. With varying degrees of fiddling, higher-bitrate MP3's and aftermarket phones, you can probably expect closer to 6~10 hours... but still, not bad.

In Closing
You expect something with such a small size usually to have a number of crippling compromises which prevent it being anything beyond a novelty toy which you tire of after a week's use. What surprises about the mobiBLU DAH-1500 is that remarkably few corners have been cut to achieve the size. The main cut corner is of course the display which had to be shortened over regular MP3 players, but the use of speedy text scrolling with a 'just right' speed at the 'Twice' mode means that it's very usable all the same. The USB1.1 transfer speed also turned out to be significantly less of a handicap compared to all but the Creative USB2.0 flash players (which are very fast to load).

Requested desktop picture of it with the Qualia 010... click for a larger one

Just don't lose the USB cable, and you'll find this a surprisingly daily-use friendly player.

Manufacturer Link: Mobiblu


Parijizzle said...

Is it a good fashion accessory or is just an mp3 meant for your pocket?

bangraman said...

I'm not sure. It's a little small and discreet to be a fashion accessory perhaps. People will wonder what it is, but it's not something that makes people go 'wow that looks good!'

I mean if you tell them it's an MP3 player (and a 1Gb one no less) there will definitely be a certain amount of awe but purely as something that invites attention as is, no I don't think it's a fashion accessory.

The iRiver N10 is a fashion accessory, as are the Sony and Apple flash players. I feel that the DAH-1500 is lacking that 'designed' look which puts it in the same class of eye candy. As a player though I think I prefer it over the N10 (tricker to use even when you're used to it, 1Gb version not available here), Sony (heavy, Sonicstage) and Apple (shuffle and ease of loading is actually quite good, but the lack of a display should not be a 'plus point'!).

ross said...

Prey tell me... what model is that particularly wonderful looking Vaio?

Anonymous said...

A TR-series???

monsteR said...

I believe the Sony NW-E400/500 players are USB 1.1. The 2.0 was pure speculation that never died after release. I get less than 1mb/sec doing file transfers, and there is no mention of 2.0 on either the US or Japan websites.

Anonymous said...

Can you use this as a flash storage drive for misc files?

Anonymous said...

yeah he said it's UMS

Anonymous said...

its an older TR series Vaio, the new ones are a graphite/grey sort of colour.

Anonymous said...

Nice, objective review Bangraman, thnaks for the info, i was kinda wondering how good the sound quality is compared to 1st generation HiMD portables (i have a MZ-NH600D)and how is it compared to other good sounding flash players like the MuvoTX and Iriver IFP-799? (im planning to buy a flash player and those 2 are my current choices)

Anonymous said...

It seems that the specs have changed since this review. Yesterday, I received my mobiBLU DAH-1500i 1GB cube. This model does have 25Mbps USB 2.0 and can record both FM radio and voice.

Anonymous said...

The DAH-1500i is a new USA model, available only at Walmart, for $130 (or $100 for 512mb). It does indeed have USB 2.0 and does record from FM and voice. Quite a remarkable gadget.

Anonymous said...

um.. just asking i found a model of the MobiBLU DAH-1500 1GB at a store, but however it said on the back that the model number was DAH - 1500S? Anything different? Seems like it doesn't have FM... Any info on this model of the DAH - 1500?

bangraman said...

There now seem to be three versions:

The S, which is a cut-down model without radio.
The (nothing), which is as I reviewed.
The i, which is the new updated model with USB2.0.

Time to upgrade again (roll eyes in exasperation...).

Anonymous said...

The mobiBLU DAH-1500i, is the new updated model with USB2.0 & DRM support

Anonymous said...

So my question is this..

Will the battery suffer from a memory effect?

I mean if I am 3 hours into using the charged battery and I plug it in to transfer files and its plugged in for 20 mintues..

Then I unplug it will it be inadvertantly charging at this time?

bangraman said...

Hard to say without knowing about the charging circuit, but probably no need to worry about it too much.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to change the battery if it dies out?

Anonymous said...

While there is nothing damnable about the sound quality (and it seems that the dual use USB/Headphone jack would be problematic in that regard), how would you say the SQ compares to that of the shuffle?

I'm really considering a flash player because my PCDP is a little unwieldy and I don't think I have HD DAP cash... Think I'll post a thread about this on Headfi.

Rad article, sir. I've seen your posts on headfi, and I'm delighted to see you have your own review site.

Anonymous said...

Anyone tried support? I've had mine for a month now and haven't heard a thing out of it. The battery had a charging issue (wouldn't) and I've been waiting a month for support to send me everything back. Right now i am waiting on the usb cable to be returned.

Glad to hear it sounds ok, can't wait to hear mine!