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Reviewed By: Raindog [2.13.01]
Manufactured by: A-Max HK
Suggested Price: $199

Audio Features

As far as audio goes you can use the 309 in two different modes, CD audio and MP3 audio. CD audio is pretty much what you would expect from a Discman, the sound is clear, comes through well on headphones, but doesn't exactly rock as hard as a full stereo. The unit also supports playback of MP3s burned onto CD-R/RW media. Probably the best thing about the 309's functionality is this, while most MP3 players hold an hour or two of music recorded at the standard 128/44 rate... a CD-R is capable of holding upwards of 12 hours of music at this rate! Combine that with the fact that the media is interchangeable and the 309 has the potential to become your own personal jukebox, able to play hundreds of songs from your personal library all off a single CD.

Of course the capacity of CD media has its drawbacks... when you've got over 150 songs on a CD, finding the song you want to listen to becomes a bit challenging. Because the 309 has only a tiny LCD display that shows only the track time and number, finding the song you want is going to take a lot of trial and error unless you've printed out a list of the files on the CD and numbered them yourself. Short of having a much larger LCD screen which displayed filenames or ID3 information there is really no other solution to this problem when using the 309 as a portable player.

The great thing about CD-R media, and even CD-RW media, is that it's relatively cheap for the storage you get. Compared with other MP3 players that use flash or smart card memory, a CD-R/RW solution is far cheaper. However, while you can easily load up a flash or smart card with other MP3 players, you're going to need a separate CD-R/RW drive to burn CDs for the Napa. While this represents an additional cost, many of us already have burners so this becomes less of an issue.

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MP3 playback was of acceptable quality, for MP3s that is. MP3 quality will typically vary depending on the encoder and bit rate/frequency used. For a portable player with simple ear bud headphones, something like the standard 128/44 will be sufficient quality. Additionally you can record at higher bit rates and play around with different encoders to come up with a combination that you like. However, if you're going to be looking for good quality sound you'll probably want to ditch the stock ear buds in favor of something better. While I'd normally knock Napa for including cheap ear buds, they are cheap, which keeps the total cost down. Few portable audio players come with really good headphones, and phones are more of a personal choice anyway... So I think Napa was smart including something that's just good enough, but also cheap enough to be replaced by the user.

When playing in audio mode the 309 has a claimed 50 seconds of anti-shock protection for both CD and MP3 playback. As we all know, CD players spin the disc and use a laser to read information off its surface. With a spinning audio source, any jostling of the unit can cause the spinning CD to move slightly and skip the track it's playing. CD players use anti-shock to lessen this effect, reading information off the disc first into a static memory module before actually playing it. With static memory you don't have to worry about skipping because there are no moving parts.

Did you get off your lazy ass to test the anti-skip?

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