MP3 Player Saehan MPMan F20 Review

For quite a lot of money you will get only 30 minutes of fun listening to music. Though if you are really hunting for cooldevices like that some other "trifling" drawbacks may also be of no importance to you. It's up to you.

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
07/14/1999 | 12:00 AM

If you prefer to listen to music in MP3 format on your PC, then you have probably wished youcould listen to your records collection without being stuck to your home computer. Are we right?So, since your PC easily makes up for the stationary player, all you need is a portable device.And today we are going to speak about an MP3 Player - MPMan F20, which is exactly what you needin this case. But at first a few words about its predecessor. The first MP3 player that appearedin the market was MPMan F10 by Saehan Information Systems from South Korea. MPMan is a funny bald-headedfellow - the master of a portable player for MP3 files with the same name. MPMan can change the colorof his skin, is very lissome and funny and looks very much like a cyberpunk. :-)

 

However, it turned out that this MP-guy is not just the company's logo. He is also a perfect guideready to tell you about MPMan player and the way you should use it, and what is the most important -why it is the best choice you could only make! :-)

By the way, you can listen to the MP3 file, where a very nice woman's voice (it is most likely tobe the voice of our MPMan :-)) tells you about the player, its functions, etc. And the entire lectureis accompanied by various music styles. The file occupies 3.2MB. Also we would like to mention that PaulMcCartney singing "No more lonely nights…" beautifully fits into the player presentation, because withthis portable MPMan player you for sure won't be lonely until your battery needs replacement. :-)

So, please, meet MPMan F20 in person! We will compare this MP3 player with Diamond Rio PMP300, whichis quite famous. The only thing we would like to mention before we start is the fact that though MPManF20 appeared later than MPMan F10 it has absolutely no improvements compared to its predecessor, as wethink. To our great disappointment MPMan F20 is more likely to be a lighter version. Hm… Anyway, it'sall we have at our disposal right now. So, cheer up and let's start from the very beginning.

Package

MPMan F20, later referred to as simply MPMan, is supplied in a neon-colored box. On the box you cannotice not only English letters and words but also mysterious hieroglyphs, which made us think that thissupply version was surely not intended for Europe. Having opened the box we found there the following:

  1. MPMan player
  2. Headphones
  3. CD with the required software
  4. User's manual in Korean
  5. Interface cable for PC LPT-port (25-to-18 pin)
  6. Special Carrying Case
  7. 1 AA size battery

Note that the MPMan F10 package contained two rechargeable batteries instead of a regularly one asin our case. So, we may conclude that MPMan F10 needs more energy than its F20 fellow.

The Korean hieroglyphs we came across in the user's manual were a very unpleasant surprise for us,but by a lucky chance the software on the CD included an English user's manual in Word format. So,nothing terrible happened.

The following system requirements are advisable but not obligatory:

Frankly speaking, we would mark the user's manual we found on the CD as "Excellent". Everything isexplained in minute details and accompanied by colorful pictures. This manual is much better than thatof Rio even though it is not a booklet but a file.

Here is an example taken from the manual. Battery replacement instructions:

No comments are needed. Everything is as clear as ABC.

Let's take a look at the player specs:

Just for a better comparison we would like to offer you some specs of MPMan F10:

You have probably noticed that MPMan F10 is more compact, but it goes together with a dockingstation of the following size: 133 (H) x 110 (L) x 30 (W) mm, which weighs 80 grams. Oh yes, andone more thing: F10 is available in 5 different colors :-)

Compared to Rio, MPMan is a bit bigger but weighs a bit less at the same time.

Closer Look

If we take a look at the player, we'll see a black plastic case, a small LCD display, small silvercontrol buttons. Besides, the case is marked with the company's logo and a notification that it is adigital stereo player.

The picture below shows all the control buttons and the location of the external plugs:

  1. Headphones plug. Through this plug you can connect your player to the amplifier or to the speakers.
  2. "Backward" button. Moves to a previous track. If you press and hold the button you will berewinding the tape backward within the current song.
  3. "Play/Stop" button. Starts and stops the playback.
  4. "Fast forward" button. Moves to a next track. If you press and hold the button you will berewinding the tape forward within the current song.
  5. "Volume down" button. Turns down the volume.
  6. "Volume up" button. Turns up the volume.
  7. LCD display panel, which displays the volume level, remaining time, number of the current track,bitrate, the playback mode, etc.
  8. The plug for external direct current source.
  9. "Info" button. Allows choosing the playback regime from normal, middle and maximum bass level,and displays this info on the LCD panel together with the available free memory remaining in the player.
  10. "Mode" button. Allows choosing the playback regime from repeat, repeat all, shuffle and shufflerepeat all.
  11. Battery lid.
  12. The plug for the parallel port connector.
  13. The SmartMedia cards slot (for MPMan memory expansion).
  14. "Hold" switch. Serves to lock the control buttons except the volume regulators.

As for Rio, it is possible to completely switch it off manually. Besides, it also has a very specialbutton "A->B", which allowed playing a part of the song stored in the player memory. As for MPMan, itis supposed to switch off automatically, but sometimes it fails to.

Here we would like to say a bit more about the LCD display panel. It's pretty small but veryinformative. Take a look:

  1. Battery check symbol
  2. Data transfer regime indicator while downloading data from the PC.
  3. Volume level indicator
  4. Bitrate indicator. It shows the bitrate of the file during playback. When playback is stoppedit shows the volume rated from 0 to 20.
  5. Mode indicator. It shows the chosen regime: repeat, repeat all, shuffle or shuffle repeat all.
  6. Informational part. Here we can see the number of files stored in the player memory, playback time,memory size and the chosen bass regime. The point "." following the MP3-track number separates it fromthe playback time. For example, if the third file takes 4 minutes and 12 seconds, then the display willshow "3.4:12". The tracks saved in the external flash memory are enumerated starting from the number ofthe last song saved in the internal memory. For example, if the internal memory contains 5 tracks, thenthe first on in the flash memory will be number 6.

Well, in our opinion the main drawback of the LCD display panel is the fact that it doesn't show thename of the song played. However, Rio can't boast this feature as well.

Practice

MPMan can work either with one AA size battery, which is included into the package or with an external powersupply. The external source itself is of course not included into the package but it is not a problem,because any corresponding device with the appropriate plug and output voltage will fit. It is for surea great advantage. The Rio player we compare MPMan with doesn't allow any external power sources:it works only with the batteries.

MPMan doesn't have the Power Off button. There is an integrated feature, which switches it offautomatically, but as we saw it worked not that perfectly and hence the battery got weak much fasterthan in Rio. Our battery lasted us for about 5 hours though the player wasn't working much really.

We have already mentioned the carrying case, but we doubt if it is worth even mentioning. Well, thisthing looks very unattractive and proves pretty uncomfortable: it is just a brown bag with a lace. Allyou can use it for - carry in your hands, because to fasten it to your belt you will need to tie the lacein a knot, which is very awkward and uncomfortable. And besides that, there is no other way to arrange yourplayer on the belt, because there is no clip on the player itself, as we saw by Rio. It is of course a greatdisadvantage of MPMan.

The MPMan headphones are of the same category as those of Rio: cheap but quite satisfactory.

The small control buttons of MPMan are located on top of the player and the mode buttons - on thefront side. It is very uncomfortable, because you can't operate your player by touch without looking atwhat you press: you can't grope for the correct button from the first time. In this respect Rio can boasta better location of the buttons - it is considerably more convenient.

So, let's install the required software in order to download some music to our MPMan. We would liketo mention that the package was supplied with the older drivers version, but we managed to download newdrivers and player manager from http://www.mpman.com/ By the way, we really liked the design of the siteand found it very informative.

The drivers installation process went on pretty fast and without any problems.

Now let's connect the player to the parallel port.

Note that MPMan is connected directly to the LPT-port while Rio needed a special adapter, whichallowed using the port with the printer or some other peripheral device simultaneously. So, nobodywill doubt the indisputable leadership of Rio here. Of, course it is clear that you don't need theport forever - just for a short while - but in case with MPMan you will have to replug the cables hereand there all the time. You will hardly be happy with that. And for sure you will prefer to plug the cableinto the LPT-port once and then not to care about it anymore: just connect and disconnect the player anytime you need to download some new music.

By the way, since in the very beginning we mentioned MPMan F10 and the docking station, which goeswith it, we would like to say that this station allows connecting the player to the LPT-port as well asrecharging the batteries.

Besides, we also didn't like the 18 pin plug in the MPMan player. It is closed with a rubber lid, oneend of which is tightly fastened to the player: It looks just ugly and besides is not very reliable - itcan get torn one day.

The latest drivers version we managed to download from the net had the following number: 1.008:

Start the MPMan manager. If your LPT-port isn't set into ECP regime, you will get a message tellingyou to make all the required changes to your system BIOS Setup.

If you have connected the cable the right way and the power in your MPMan is on, the manager will getstarted and you will see the following window:

You have to admit that the manager interface is convenient. There isn't anything extraordinary,but all you need is right at hand.

As you can see from the screenshot above, there is a directory tree of your HDD on the left. Andon the right there are two windows: the upper one displays the integrated MPMan memory, and the lowerone - the external flash memory, if it is installed.

We utilized two types of the external flash memory: 16 and 32MB. When we tested Rio, the 32MB flashSmartMedia existed only as a prototype and the mass manufacturing hadn't been yet started. Today 32MBSmartMedia cards are available in the market and cost about $130. These small cards are also used indigital cameras. The card is inserted into the player the same easy way we do it with Rio: you just openthe slot and insert the flash card. After that your player initializes it and if you like you may formatit right away. Here we would like to say about a very widely spread opinion that you can't use the SmartMediacards once used in the MP3 player. Well, it is absolutely wrong. There are certain cameras, which requireflash memory marked in a non-standard way, but all the MP3 players use this memory in a standard way, sothey simply can't spoil it.

By the way, you can't enlarge the memory in MPMan F10. You can only chose a model with either 32 or a64MB integrated memory. Well, here MPMan F20 is much better than its predecessor.

As in case with Rio, in our MPMan the external and internal memory can't be regarded as a single space.We can't call it a drawback, actually, it is more likely to be just a result of the imperfectly developedtechnology. If it were possible, we could use the available memory with greater effect. And now you can onlyplay the files starting from the tracks saved in the integrated memory.

However, the indisputable advantage of MPMan, and namely of its software, is the possibility tosave any kind of files into its memory. It can be not just MP3 music but also texts, images, archives -whatever you like! But unfortunately you will be able to extract from memory everything except MP3 files.Though it is not that bad. On the contrary, it is very convenient and prevents you from breaking anycopyrights. While Rio allows extracting any files including MP3 ones only if you resort to the utilitiesprovided by some other companies.

Well, let's save some MP3 files and listen to the way they sound in our MPMan. The saving operationcan be carried out with a very dear and familiar function called "drag'n'drop", i.e. you select the filesyou need and drag them to the required window - to the internal or external memory of MPMan - with the mouse.

The saving occurs with the same speed as in Rio, nothing new here. The average saving time is about32MB for 5 minutes.

But we faced a very unpleasant problem. It turned out that MPMan plays only the files saved with thebitrate not more than 192 Kbit. Of course, we understand that since the available memory is not that large,hardly anyone decides to save there the files with the bitrate of 256Kbit and up. However, the imposedrestrictions don't make us happy.

So, we save MP3 files with the bitrate equal to 128Kbit and press the Play button. Well, we starthearing some sound, and this sound is not bad, actually, for an MP3 player, of course. Unlike Rio,MPMan has no equalizer, but it has a Mega Bass like all Walkman players do. And we find this functionmuch more useful and important for better sounding than the equalizer: the sound appears very rich andlife-like. We used the headphones of the same type in both cases: for Rio and for our MPMan, so the MegaBass in MPMan eliminated the problems with lower frequencies. In other words, MPMan proved to sound muchbetter than Rio.

Besides, we would like to mention such advantages of MPMan as small size and weight, though thesethings are very important for any portable MP3 player.

Oh yes, you are probably wondering about the coin on the photo? Well, it is one ruble!(Our Russian currency) :-)

And one more thing. A lot of problems caused the absence of the proper fastening mechanism on theMPMan, in other words we couldn't find the best way to carry it while listening. Just imagine that youneed to go somewhere and you would like to enjoy your favorite music on the way. You can put the playerinto your shirt pocket, but it will undoubtedly fall down if you stoop forward. And we are not sure thatMPMan will be able to stand the numerous falls on the asphalt or concrete. Then you may put it into yourpants pocket but in this case the headphones wire will be at its maximum limit and you will be unable tomove your head without threatening to damage the wire. Finally, you may simply carry the player in you hand,but it is also not the best way-out though the player perfectly fits there. And if you are fond of joggingand need an antishock model? Where will you fasten your MPMan? So, you see, it is a great disadvantage.Saehan decided to save money having sacrificed absolutely the wrong thing. Of course, you can use MPManas a stationary player especially keeping in mind that it allows connecting it to an external power supply.However, in this case we don't quite understand what do you need it for? To us, the computer seems more thanenough for the role of a stationary player, don't you think so?

While listening, no frames were omitted, no noises and other distortions spoilt the quality. Well, whatcan we say? The digital quality and no moving parts really tell!

As for the working temperatures, MPMan stands the +30oC heat without any problems. As for the otherextreme, there was no frost for the whole week we've been testing MPMan, and as for the freezer, we madeup our mind not to be so cruel! :-)

Undoubtedly, you may use MPMan as a mobile data storage due to the basic software, which allows downloadingany files to the player memory and uploading all the files except MP3 ones. We've checked it and are quitesatisfied with what we saw. At least MPMan is much lighter and more compact than ZIP LPT.

Conclusions

The main drawback of both: Rio and MPMan is their price. At present MPMan F20 costs about $150-170,which almost the same as Rio does. We want to draw your attention to the fact that for this money youcan only afford a basic set, i.e. 32MB integrated memory, which will last you only 30 minutes with128Kbit bitrate. The additional 32MB external memory make about $130. Well, not quite a cheap toy,actually. Everyone will be glad to get it as a present, but only a true fan will buy it for himself.All normal people, like you and we, will undoubtedly prefer to spend this money on something moredown-to-earth, for instance on new speakers (4.1) or on a new graphics accelerator.

So, we think that unless MP3 players cost $100 at the most, they won't be so popular. But if we arelucky enough and the price drops down to, shall we say, 50 bucks, MP3 players will certainly become thecoolest mass product.

Another common disadvantage of Rio and MPMan F20 is that both of them use the parallel port for datatransfer from the PC. All latest PCs are equipped with a USB-port, so we wish it were really used here aswell. However, we don't want to completely disregard the LPT-port since it is still a more all-purposeinterface.

The common highs of Rio and MPMan are:

Compared to Rio from Diamond, MPMan F20 unfortunately has the following lows:

But MPMan also has a couple of indisputable advantages, absent by its Diamond competitor:

So, if you need an expensive device for info transporting with 32MB capacity, which is veryinconvenient to carry, but which lets you listen to some music on the way (if there is any roomleft for music) with a much better sounding than provided by Rio… So, if you want to find somethinglike that, then go for MPMan F20 from Saehan.

However, if you are not sure how to spend your money earned by the sweat of your brow, then we wouldrecommend you not to waste it on portable MP3 players. Moreover, the competition in this market sectoris very likely to get tenser this year and we may expect some new cooler products to appear, so the pricewill probably get down to quite reasonable limits.

Of course, if you can't imagine you future life without MP3 music then all you can do is close youreyes to the price and dip into your pocket. As for us, we would decide on a Rio player if we chose betweenRio and MPMan, mainly because we can fasten it on the belt, it is easier to operate and the power saving iscarried out much better. As for the lower frequencies, we can buy better headphones, which will almosteliminate this drawback.

By the way, Saehan announced a couple of other new models, which are not manufactured yet but catchour eye with the brilliant features they have.

They promise the following three new models. Here is a brief description of each one:

MPMan F30. Unlike MPMan F20, it will allow recording the speaker's voice through a built-inmicrophone, i.e. it will also serve as a dictaphone. Besides, the player will also function as an electronicnotebook. And the integrated memory will be available not only in 32MB but also in 64MB version. The displaywill show the names of the songs in several languages and the info from ID3-Tag. And the special menu willallow deleting files from the player memory, without connecting it to the PC. However, it seems to beimpossible to enlarge the memory space with the external flash cards.

MPMan H10. This player will possess a built-in 2.5" hard disk of different capacities.And hence this player can be used just as an external hard disk. The display will show the names of the songsin several languages and the info from ID3-Tag. Besides, it will also have special lighting.

MPMan CL10. This player will use Clik! diskettes from Iomega as info storage. In other words,an MPMan gets a built-in Clik! disk drive, which will read and save the data to special 40MB disks. Thedisplay will show the names of the songs in several languages and the info from ID3-Tag.

According to the available specifications, all Saehan players will be provided with the same interfacefor LPT-port. We can't say it is very bad since every PC has an LPT-port and you can work with it in anyoperation system. However, it would be only to Saehan's advantage if we could also use USB.

As you have noticed, the coming models don't suffer from the drawbacks of their predecessor - MPMan F20,which is a very pleasing sight. But there is always room for improvement, and we suppose you wouldn't refuseto get an FM radio tuner as well. What do you think? In this case MP3 players could undoubtedly becomeall-purpose devices in the full meaning of this word.

Well, now we should have patience and wait for the new models to appear in retail, and probably hope fora lower price on them than we have stated today. Especially, bearing in mind that the competitors also dotheir best and don't keep hands in pockets.