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Friday, October 30 Front Page >> Random Rants >> A new DAP player

Sep 11, 2005, 3:40pm

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So I got a new DAP recently.

What's a DAP? Why, it's a digital audio player. I don't call it an MP3 player (except to people like my Dad, who probably wouldn’t understand what it is).

I already have a DAP - a gen two ipod (10gb model). I never use it in a portable capacity any longer, even though I spent some quality dollars to get a double capacity super internal battery for it (and I even did the battery swap myself). The iPod is great, and is almost permanently hooked up to my bedroom clock radio (a Tivoli)... but I may sell it (anyone interested? make me an offer!).

And I have a cell phone that lets me play OGG and MP3 files (and WMA files) that's with me all the time. However, that device requires me to use the included voice / headphones that it came with, which for audio, are not the best of quality.

And, as I get into the whole podcast thing, my cell phone, with it's limit of 128mb stupid sony memory stick duos is not big enough for more than 3 or 4 shows at a time.

So I started thinking about a new DAP to buy, but I had very specific requirements.

  • large (1gb or bigger) storage capacity
  • line in recording ability with good quality recording, not just super tinny, low bitrate recording.
  • built in mic that doesn't suck (my P900 phone has recording ability but the mic is not good enough for podcast recordings)
  • fm radio - I miss fm radio, believe it or not. Especially CBC Radio One.
  • support for formats other than what Microsoft of Apple deem all we need. In other words, OGG!!! (the PhatBox in my VW Jetta supports ogg, so almost all my music is in the excellent ogg vorbis format)
  • ability to bookmark - some podcasts I listen to are 2 hours long, and I wanted the ability to bookmark where I left off.
  • wide dB range. The iPod's Achilles heel is it's lack of a truly wide dB range.
  • ability to store my calendar and phone numbers.
  • insanely small. I wanted a DAP that weighed last than 2 ounces.
  • flash based - being insanely small negates a hard drive based player.

In Canada, we have a range of choices. iRiver, from Futile Shop. Samsung, Sandisk (insanely cheap!), Mpio, Creative, Lexar, Rio, and others. And of course the ubiquitous Apple iPod family is everywhere. But we don't have some of the best of the Korean players - namely Cowon, sold as iAudio products. Only in the US.

I'd heard that for in line recording the iRivers were the absolute best, having a built in pre-amp, and the largest range of encoding options on any flash player. But I didn't like the bulky size or designs of the iRivers.

I'd heard that the iAudio 5 and iAudio U2 had the most amazing quality built in mic, and their line in plugs were full (3.5mm) size plugs - one problem with players like Samsungs with line in plugs is they are proprietary sizes - 2mm, 2.5mm.

For a special six month anniversary present, I decided to buy Beata a DAP player, something she didn't have, and Amazon had a Friday Sale on the iAudio U2 1gb model. I bought it for her. When it arrived, I set it up for her, loading up music and showing her how to use it. This was when I found out the built in mic, under certain recording conditions, sounded even better than a $140 Sony Microphone I bought for podcasting. I was blown away.

But 1gb was a bit small for my long term wants. I was torn. I needed a very simple and efficient remote recording option for podcasting, but I needed 2gb. Then I found out that iAudio, through their US store, sold an "iPod" white 2gb model of the U2. Two big problems - it was out of my price range and they only sold to Americans. And I heard rumours of a new iPod coming out (read about the nano a week before I made my purchase decision). The new iPod sounded interesting.

But at the end of the day, the iPod wasn't an option. Still too big (length - the depth is sweet, the width is okay, but it's too long, top to bottom). And no ogg support - why Apple doesn't support this format I dunno, but I'll never buy an iPod until they do. And no FM radio. No line in recording (though aftermarket options are available).

Click for larger image
Smaller than...
About as wide as a lighter, and shorter than one. Thicker though.
Click for larger image
Very intuitive controls. Beata hasn't read her manual. I barely did.

So, after weeks of thinking about it, I discovered that Cowan's American site had had a big sale where if you buy two DAPs - the iAudio 5 512mb and the U2 2gb, you save a lot of money. And I knew someone who wanted a DAP - Jeanette!

Now, for the American I needed to buy it. Nick at Murky Coffee came to the rescue. He bought them, had them shipped to him, then shipped them to Pt. Roberts for me to pick up.

Woot. Now today, I have my 2gb U2 in pearl white, and Jeanette has the very cool iAudio 5. I don't have a calendar function or my contacts on the device, but I have everything else I wanted. A device that weighs 1.2ounces (it has a built in battery). It lasts 20 hours on a single charge. It has a very good FM radio. It has lots of tricky stuff associated with that radio - if I want to start listening to Larry and Willy again, I can set it so every morning, it records any radio station I program for any length of time I set - so I can set it to turn on, and record 96.9 from 6:30 to 9:00am each day, then turn off again. Sweet.

I can encode audio, but only up to 128kbit quality, which isn't the greatest for audio, but more than fine for spoken word.

And the sound quality? iAudio is considered, amongst most discerning audiophiles, to have the best dynamic range ability of any flash based player on the common market (ie, readily available). I have the same mp3 files on my iPod and the U2. I use the same headphones (Ultimate Ears Studio.3 canal phones). When I swap back and forth listening to them, there's a clear winner in sound quality - the U2. I'm actually surprised at how bad the iPod is, even with tweaked settings in the equalizers.

It's so tiny too - it hangs around my next most of the time, and is about the size of a pack of Wrigley Juicyfruit gum (the stick kind).

There's not much to want on this device. Is it too much to ask for a 4gb version? A colour screen would be nice, but not necessary (though an OLED colour screen would actually improve the battery life over the current LCD screen). Perhaps a bigger screen even - filling up more of the device's front, edge to edge to edge to navigation joystick.And maybe just a bit thinner, front to back, but you know what? When Steve Jobs was going on about the size of the Nano, 64% smaller than this, 72% smaller than that, 56% smaller than this, I was like "how about the U2, Stevie!!!". I did the math. Here's the numbers:

iPod Nano: 3.5" x 1.6" x 0.27", 1.51 cubic inches, and weighs 1.6 ounces. 14 hours claimed battery life

iAudio U2: 2.9" x 1" x 0.7", or 2.03 cubic inches, and weighs 1.2 ounces. 20 hours claimed (21 tested on one site) battery life.

So, I guess if you look at cubic size, Stevie can claim the U2 is 25% bigger than the iPod Nano. But it weighs less, offers more overall, and well, was definitely a no brainer choice for me.

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