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Diamond Rio review article by Jeremy Allford from agn3d.com, Dec 01, 1998:
In the beginning I can remember when I received my first Sony Walkman as a present for my birthday. Having never experienced the wonders of the portable immersive audio experience that the Walkman could provide, I was literally blown away with what I heard. Walking down the street listening to the music was like putting myself into my own world, like a person in a movie with the soundtrack playing in the background. Many years and portable players have passed since my introduction to the portable audio experience. The cassette player of the past has been improved upon and now offers features such as a radio, Dolby noise reduction, graphic equalizers and more. Also we have been introduced to new portable audio players that offer true digital playback, CD players, mini-disk players and MP3 players.
MP3 is the most popular form of audio-compression on the Internet. MP3 stands for MPEG 1 layer 3, which is a way of compressing music down to a relatively small size with very little loss in the sound quality. What the compression does is trim off the sounds that the above and below the range of human hearing and some of the background sounds that are masked by vocals and other louder instruments. The end result is a sound file that is about 10 times smaller then the original CD audio track that it was encoded from. You can learn more about MP3s and their background over on one of my favorite sites, MP3.COM.
Diamond's Rio is a portable player capable of playing the above mentioned MP3 files. Clocking in at the $199 price range, it is a little bit on the expensive side. Considering portable CD players made their debut with a over $300 price and a very large size, $199 is not much to pay for digital music that fits in the palm of your hand. Not only is the Rio small, it also weighs less then the McDonalds cheese burger that I had for lunch. This will be a definite plus in the Rio's favor when your are listening to it jogging down the street trying to work off that burger. The actual weight of the Rio is only 2.4 ounces, and the dimensions are only 3" by 2" and just a bit over half an inch thick! This makes for a device that will look right at home in the shirt pocket of James Bond. The Rio works by reading the MP3 files from the included 32MB of flash memory, and doing the decompression of the files within the hardware on the unit. By using flash memory instead of tape or even the mini-disk technology from Sony, the Rio eliminates the annoying "skipping" that the other media does when you are using it for exercising or whatever high movement pastime you may have. Another advantage of no moving parts is that there is less wear on the unit, which means less of a chance for anything to get broken. I am not saying that it is indestructible, just that it will have a longer life then a conventional portable audio playback device. The Rio has no moving parts, which also means it is not very hard on batteries. You can expect about 12 hours of playback using a single AA Cell battery! In order to conserve that battery power for your next jam session, the unit does not have a power button for you to leave on. As long as the unit is not in play mode, it will shut itself down after about a few minutes of being left alone.
Installation and bundle Installation of the Rio was quite simple and only took 5 minutes out of my workday. On the hardware side you insert the AA battery into the player and attach the data transfer cable. The Rio connects to your PC using a parallel port passthrough adapter that you plug the data-transfer cable for the Rio into. This cable provides the pipe for you to send all of those rocking MP3s to the player. The software side of the installation was just as simple, insert CD and install the programs that you want. Diamond includes the Rio manager software as well as the music match MP3 player. The version of MusicMatch that ships with the Rio is the same unregistered version that you can download from the web for free. If you want to upgrade to the full version of the software you are going to have to bring out the credit card for a full $29.95 purchase. The main limitation of the unregistered version is that it limits the amount of tracks that you can rip from a CD-Audio disk to only 5. With the registered version you will be able to rip the entire CD. MusicMatch does have quite a few nice features, the most impressive is the ability to add lyrics to your songs. As a ripper MusicMatch is one of the easiest to use on the net, but as a player the interface is almost unbearable. Call me spoiled but Winamp is all that I need for my MP3 playback needs.
The included Rio Manger program contains everything you need to play MP3s and get them into the RIO's internal memory. The Manager will also play back MP3s from your PC, with a very easy to use interface that makes up for the clunky playback abilities of the above mentioned MusicMatch. You can set up playlists for different types of music and play them back on your PC, or move them over to the Rio. Moving files to the Rio is quite simple, just select and open. When I first heard that the Rio was going to use a parallel port for data transfer, nightmares of my slow parallel backup unit came into my head. Actually testing showed that my worries were completely unwarranted and that the data transfer was quite quick. It took exactly 3 minutes and 29 seconds to move 6 songs that weighed in at 31MB to the unit. In order to keep on the recording industry's good side, the Rio does not support recording or transfer from the Rio to your computer. In order to add new songs to the Rio you must delete songs from the memory to make space for the new ones.
How many minutes did you say? Diamond claims that the Rio can hold 32MB or 60 minutes of high-quality digital music, a statement that is only partially true. Most of the MP3 rips running around the Internet currently are recorded in 160kbs or 128kbs streams, which offer higher quality but also have larger sizes. I have 6 songs that were recorded at 160kbs in the unit now and there is no room for more. This gives just under 25 minutes of music for my ears to listen to. Using lower quality 128kbs MP3 rips you should be able to fit about 7 songs in the unit and only 30 minutes of playing time. When Diamond talks about 60 minutes of music they are talking about 64kbs recorded samples that have a very noticeable difference in quality from CD-Quality. The Rio does offer you the option to spend $100 more and get another 32MB flash card that will double your storage.
When you are playing the 64kbs MP3s in the Rio unit, the differences are less apparent. Since you are using small headphones rather than larger computer speakers, the quality is not as good. This in turn makes the difference between 64kbs and 128kbs MP3s much less of a factor for your listening pleasures. There is the inconvenience of having to have different rips for your PC and for the Rio, but such is life. The controls on the Rio offer everything you need to start listening to the data in the unit's embedded flash memory. On the front of the unit there are controls for the volume, random setting, repeat play and an option for selecting an excerpt from a song. In the middle of the unit sits the control for play, pause, stop, next track and last control. Since all of these controls are standard for CD-Audio players they will no doubt look familiar to even the untrained eye. The Unit also has a display for showing current track, current playing time, battery remaining and sample rate. The display offers only the basics and does not attempt to go beyond them. It would have been nice to be able to see time remaining, total time for all tracks or even the artist and song name. After all that information is already encoded into the MP3, might as well make use of it. For those of you who like to tweak your sounds the Rio offers a very basic equalizer that offers settings for Jazz, rock, normal and classical music.
How does it sound? Diamond includes lightweight in-the-ear headphones for you to listen to the unit with. The headphones were quite comfortable to wear and did not fall out even under the most active situations. I do have to admit that I have large ears, so those of you with smaller ones may find this type of headphone uncomfortable. The quality of the sound coming from the headphones was great although lacking a little in bass. For those people who want volume levels that will shatter eardrums, you will not find it here. The unit produces fairly loud sound that will satisfy most everyone, while at the same time not blocking out the honking of the oncoming car that is about to run into you. In order to test the sound quality of the MP3s I took a RIP of my buddy Marilyn Manson and was playing musical headphone jacks with my Sony Portable Sports CD Walkman. The quality of the audio output of the Rio was just as good as that of the Sony, with the exception of the higher level of bass on the Sony. (The Sony has a bass boost feature.) For the true test of which one is better, I decided to take my butt for a jog around the block. Luckily I had the in the ear headphones on, because it blocked out the sound of the neighbor's sitting on their porch laughing at the site of my fat butt jogging. With the Sony clipped to my sweatpants, I noticed that the pants were starting to make their way towards my knees. The weight of the unit was much more than my drawstring could handle. After giving up on the clipping it to the pants idea, I just held the Sony in my hand. Even though the Sony is a fairly high-end CD-Player I noticed quite a few skips in the music during my exhausting jog down the sidewalk. Having tested the Sony and decided that it had failed the test, I clipped the Rio to my sweatpants and took off. This time around the block my pants did not move, 2.4 ounces of Rio was just not enough weight to pull them down. Also since the Rio has no moving parts, there was no skipping in the music.
Conclusion The arrival of portable MP3 audio to the mainstream consumer market marks a milestone in the ongoing evolution of audio development. Diamond's Rio is the first mainstream consumer product to put that power of portable MP3 audio into the palm of your hands. As with any new technology the Rio has its share of problems. Price and storage being are the biggest of those problems. What the Rio does offer us is our first chance to experience truly portable audio, something that until now we have not had the chance to do. I am sure that 2.4 ounces of high quality portable audio is enough to get even Richard Simmons sweating to the oldies!
Pros: Portable MP3 audio Skip-Free listening Excellent assortment of included MP3s Expansion slot for future memory upgrade Easy to use controls Multiple compression format support
Cons: Price 32MB = only 30mins of standard MP3 music Display does not show enough info
Diamond Rio Mp3 Walkman
Product Type: Portable Audio
The Diamond Rio PMP 300 introduced in January 1998 was the first commercial MP3 portable player. Rio players are now sold by Digital Networks North America.
Return to Recording Technology History | this page first published 8/1/99 and revised 1/10/04