Saturday, February 25, 2006

More updates. Zen Vision M with Napster To Go, amped or unamped progress

Hello everyone. Just another brief update about what I'm up to these days.


I've now got the Zen Vision: M working with the Napster subscription service, Napster To Go. It was a bit of a struggle to begin with, and it included various gotchas like your DAP's clock having to be basically exactly synced with the PC. But now it's going, it's going very well indeed. I love effectively having a Virgin Megastore at my fingertips... it's fantastic and I'm kicking myself for not getting involved with this earlier. If I like a download enough I order it from Amazon on CD, simple. No worried about the download quality in the end (for the CD-buying reason), and since I can have the music on the player for as long as I like provided I pay the subscription fees, I buy no duds. Compared to this, iTunes is somewhat lame for the avid music lover. I can spend all day on Napster which is bad for productivity, but so far so great.


And what about the Zen Vision:M? Is it the iPod Killer? So far, yes and no. It's the closest thing out there which isn't an iPod. It does more, and some of what it does is clearly superior. Other things, a notable step down.

I would suggest that the hype already occuring on some boards about the Vision:M having significantly better sound quality than the iPod 5G is just that, hype. I'd say overall it's pretty similar to the iPod 5G, iRiver H3xx and the iAudio X5, with the Vision:M being somewhat smoother (some might say 'boring' but I quite like 'boring') than the iPod. You might say "Hey, it claims 97db SNR, that's got to be better, STFU!". Well, in which case I'd be asking at which point are you actually hearing anywhere near the claimed SNR of these players? And the answer to that is unless you're amping, never. And in any case, we're talking claimed SNR, something that I'll get to the bottom of when I do my now standard measurements after the listening tests. The EQ, rather like the EQ on the Muvo flash players I've used recently, are rather suspect in terms of slightly excessive sound quality degredation. I'll get to the bottom of that while doing my writeup.

The video feature is good. If you choose carefully, you can download most P2P content, stick it on the Zen without time-consuming transcoding and be on your way. If you 'roll your own' MPEG2's using a PVR card or whatever, in my experience with a Hauppauge card, you're out of luck a bit... the files need transcoding. And in this instance, the Creative video conversion software is awful but third party solutions as easy as Videora for the iPod must be available.
I haven't got around to battery testing music yet, but I was pretty surprised to discover that both Apple and Creative more or less exactly hit their claimed video playtimes. Contrary to published reviews, I'd say that videos surprisingly look a lot better on the iPod than they do on the Zen under actual portable use, but you can't beat that actual double playtime if you're a video enthusiast. The Zen Vision:M also offers the intriguing possibility of battery-powered hookup to an external monitor, which could give the guys who carry around bulky headphone amps shivers of delight, because now they can carry a bulky 7" portable LCD monitor too. It's not something I intend to try, but who knows... I'm a curious guy as the readers of this blog must know.

The photo features are fine, but... er... how do I attach a camera? No? Not supported? Well that's a bit moronic isn't it that a Photo player in this day and age ships without USB-OTG.

More in the forthcoming writeup.

I've got all the equipment back and am currently in the middle of my side of the writeup. Looking at my colleague's notes on this so far I think we'll have an interesting disparity of opinion to present with this review. Both of us can be pretty clear about why we arrived at why we preferred each solution, so I expect this to be a pretty informative article. Once again sorry it took so long, I know it was announced in December but we really haven't had the opportunity to get together often, and there was a testing miscommunication about halfway thorough.

The next post will be the amp article. I just hope I don't keep you in suspense (yeah... as if) for too long.


LFC_SL head-fier extraordinaire said...

No worries

You haven't posted that JVC budget canals writeup yet so... :D

Forget that though...I want the amp article!

P.S. CeBit is one week away

Jaron aka Bananatree said...

I always thought that the whole Napster to go thing was a bit of a sham. For me it'd either be 15 bucks per month, plus a cd now and again, or just buying CDs. Although if you had the extra 15 bucks a month, then I can totally see how it is worth it.

Nice thoughts, I was scared Napster would go *poof*, along with all my music.