You've probably already noticed, that a large number of new portable MP3 players hit the street recently, most of them being justmere clones of each other and of Diamond RIO PMP300 in particular. Fortunately, from time to time we can come across some freshcurrents in this rather stagnating domain of multimedia products. Several new product ideas were demonstrated at CeBIT annualexposition in Germany. We got an opportunity to test one of these novelties - an MP3 player from HIT (Human Information Technology Co.),a Korean manufacturer. Why did this product attract our attention? Evidently, due to a very interesting concept. So, please, welcomeC@MP from HIT, an MP3 player we wrote about in our news. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see it? That's right,you think it's an ordinary audio cassette. ;) With this player you can not only listen to MP3-files through the headphones, but alsouse it as an ordinary audio cassette with your home audio system (e.g. a boombox), as simple as that. Now let's take a closer lookat this little wonder.
HIT's C@MP MP3 player is supplied in a carton box with a dark sci-fi design. In the box we found the following:
- MP3 player itself (in an anti-static package)
- Remote control set (connects to the headphones jack)
- CD with the software
- USB cable
- Leather carrying case for C@MP
- Ni-MH rechargeable battery
- Battery charger
- Car cigarette-lighter adapter
- User's Guide
- Windows 95/98/98SE/W2K OS
- Pentium or higher PC
- USB port
- CD-ROM Drive
- 50MB of free space on the hard disk (primarily for your MP3 files, the drivers and the C@MP manager take only 10MB).
- Dimensions: 100 x 64 x 8.6mm
- Weight: 55g without the battery and 80g with the battery
- Data storage: built-in 32/64MB flash memory
- Interface: 4pin USB
- Data transfer rate via USB port: up to 4MB/sec
- Power source: one Ni-MH rechargeable battery / 1.2V, 1350mAh
- Non-stop operating time: headphones - 9 hours, Boombox - 8 hours
- Signal-to-noise ratio (SNR): headphones - 90dB, Boombox - 48dB
- Frequency range: headphones - 20Hz-20kHz, Boombox - 50Hz-15kHz
The piece we had at our disposal featured 32MB memory. Now let's take a closer look at the device itself. As it has beenpreviously mentioned, the player looks like a standard audio cassette (MC). The case is made of mat aluminum and has much ofthe so popular and stylish "titanium" design. No control buttons or switches are present on the device. There areonly two jacks on the opposite sides of the "cassette". One is a "Mini-USB B" jack for USB connection andthe other one is a remote control/headphones jack.
On the same side with the audio jack of the device there is also a battery compartment lid, which is made of plastic matchingthe case color. In case of a standard audio cassette, the sound information is read by a boombox from the magnetic tape. In caseof HIT's C@MP player a special magnetic head plays the role of the tape and transfers audio data directly into the boombox's readhead. C@MP also has fake tape spools, like a normal MC. Apparently they're used as player controls when it's inserted in a boombox.Otherwise the device is entirely controlled via the remote control unit, which is made of plastic and can be easily fastened toclothes with a clip.
Here are the control buttons and their functions:
- Play/Stop button: starts and stops music playback. If you press and hold it for more than 3 seconds, the player will turn to standby (sleep) mode.
- Forward button: skips to the next audio track. Pressing and holding the button down allows fast forwarding within the current track.
- Rewind button: moves to the previous track. Pressing and holding the button down allows fast rewinding within the current track.
- Mode button: press once to choose the repeat mode of the current track, press twice to repeat all the tracks and triple pressing will cancel all previous settings.
- Bass up button: turns on and off bass amplification. Similar to the "MegaBass" function on standard portable cassette players.
- Volume down button: turns down the volume.
Volume up button: turns up the volume.
- Hold button: locks all other buttons, preventing you from pressing them accidentally.
When inserted as a cassette in a boombox, the device is controlled this way:
- Play button starts music playback
- Stop button stops music playback
- Rewind button moves to a previous track
- Forward button skips to the next track
In fact even Setup is too much of a word for such an easy operation. Thanks to our so greatly beloved USB bus, all the setup isdone automatically in just a couple of seconds. First you can install the C@MP manager, then you connect the player to the USBport and an Installation Wizard launches automatically. You just have to indicate the path to the device drivers. And one morething, the battery must be inserted into the player when you connect it to your computer, although we think the player couldwork very well using the USB bus powering. That's how our C@MP player looks in the system registry:
Now let's pass over to practice. The player operates using one 1.2V Ni-MH rechargeable battery HF-AIU, which is includedinto the package. One fully charged battery lasts for 8-9 hours. The problem is that C@MP always stays on in a standby modewhen the battery is inserted, so it constantly uses up the power. If you want to turn the player off completely, you have toremove the battery. A separate power on/off switch wouldn't be such a bad idea here. The battery recharging is done via thesupplied recharger. It takes about 3 hours to fully charge a battery. The recharger has a special LED, which indicates when theprocess is over. The battery shouldn't remain in the recharger for more than 150 minutes. Excessive recharging may be harmful.The battery can also be recharged via a car cigarette-lighter with the help of a special adapter which is also supplied withthe player.
The device comes with a nice leather carrying case that can be clipped to a pocket or a belt like cell phones and beepers,for instance. The clip has several fixed positions (45 degrees), so that you can adjust it as you like best. The suppliedheadphones aren't of the highest quality but still not too bad.
Now let's upload several files to C@MP and try to play them. C@mp Manager V 1.0 utility that comes with the player has arather mediocre design, but is very convenient to work with. Due to the USB interface uploading goes very fast - it takes justa couple of minutes to upload 32MB. C@MP's greatest advantage is that files of any type can not only be uploaded to its memorybut also downloaded back to the PC. Many manufacturers that do not want to pander to audio piracy disable the player-to-PCdownload feature in their products. Files can be uploaded to C@MP with an intuitive drag'n'drop function.
OK, let's upload several files and press the Play button. The sound quality is rather good. In fact, we had an opportunity touse Diamond Rio MP3 player, so there something to compare C@MP with. The "Bass up" function makes the sound much deeperthan provided by Rio. The recommended bitrate for C@MP is 128kbit and frankly speaking, the use of a higher bitrate is pointless.All C@MP's controls are located in the remote control unit. Of course, if used in boomboxes, its use is absolutely justified andsince it has to fit into cassette decks all the control buttons should be situated off the case. The remote control is very handyand can be easily fastened to your pocket with a clip.
Now let's get to the most interesting part and see how this player can work with home audio systems. As a test platform we useda Panasonic RX-FS410 boombox. In fact, we were a little concerned about this part of the test because there is a message on theplayer's box saying that C@MP is incompatible with some types of home audio equipment. However, when we put the player into thecassette deck and pressed the "Play" button... Wow! Music started playing! :) Tracks could be changed with the fast forwardand rewind buttons of the boombox. All in all, no problems occurred.
As to the sound quality, we noticed an interesting peculiarity. We had a lot of MP3-files, some of which we made ourselves, somefiles were made by our friends. When we listened to them on the player via headphones, they all sounded practically the same way,although maybe it was due to the "Bass up" function. But when played on the boombox, several files sounded a littledistorted. Thus, we came to the conclusion that this depended on the type of equipment and grabbing/encoding software they weremade with. In general, the sound quality was rather good, but high frequencies were a little bit "trimmed".
C@MP is a very interesting multifunctional MP3 player model. Unfortunately, built-in memory of a rather small size is a thingthat really matters nowadays. Besides, it would be better if the device had at least a small info display. By the way, it is notnecessary to place it on the player itself - the remote control unit is an ideal place for it (just think of minidisc players).
The absence of the memory expansion feature makes you immediately think of a 64MB flash memory model. Playback quality doesn'tbring up any issues. The use of a rechargeable battery instead of ordinary alkaline ones is and unquestionable advantage. It wasa very nice surprise that the manager software supplied with the player allowed uploading into its memory any types of files anddownloading them as well. A small alternative to the ZiP-drive :).