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by Steve Siercks, Jordan Streiff, & Chris Rogers
computer news with the teen perspective

The Rio 600 Reviewed
by Brandon Drezner
January 25th, 2000

Music has been an integral part of life since cavemen started banging two stones together. Over the years, we evolved, and so have our methods of listening to music. The Rio 600 from Sonic Blue is the next step in the evolution of portable MP3 players.

The Rio 600 is to the portable music industry, what the iMac is to the computer world. Unlike it's predecessors, the Rio 500, 300, etc., the 600 sports a new look. It has an ergonomic shape that fits easily into your hand, making it perfect for exercising, especially running. Don't get your hopes up on using it for arm curls since it weighs only a couple of ounces. Like many peripherals designed for the iMac, it can change colors to fit your moods with different colored face plates. Sonic Blue is helping the portable MP3 industry to "Think Different." With that said, it stands to reason that something as unique as the iMac, would be as simple to use.

Simplicity is the essence of the Rio 600. For those audiophiles who already use SoundJam MP from Casady & Green, connecting and transferring music to the Rio is as easy as making a play list. If you use MacAST or Audion, tough luck because the Rio 600 will only interface with SoundJam. If you don't have SoundJam, the Rio ships with a copy of it. Once SoundJam is launched, connecting the Rio is as easy as plugging in the USB cable. A window pops up that allows you to drag and drop files from an existing play list or directly from your hard drive. The files copy fast enough to fill the built-in 32mb chip in roughly a minute.

The Rio itself is also a breeze to navigate. A thumb pad provides the majority of the input for the Rio. Not only are there the standard music navigation buttons, but also menu and hold buttons. The menu provides the ability to create custom play orders, set backlight timing, delete tracks, and best of all, set the equalizer. The equalizer isn't as good as SoundJam's but it certainly beats a disc-man.

Just how much listening pleasure can you get in per sitting with the Rio 600? Well the battery lasts for approximately 10 hours. However the biggest and probably only problem with the new Rio is the meager amount of built-in memory. The 32mb chip provides about a half an hour's worth of music, but if you encode your music at higher bit rates than 128, that number can drop even lower. Conversely, if you don't mind lower quality recordings, you can pack in more songs. The solution to the problem - optional memory backpacks. The backpacks come in 32mb and 64mb sizes which would alleviate the memory shortage.

Memory backpacks aren't the only accessories for the Rio. It comes with a set of sport earphones. They wrap around the earlobe so the earphones don't pop out during any form of strenuous activity. Along with the ear phones comes a neoprene belt clip case. If this isn't enough, you can purchase extra colored face-plates, different headphones, and even an audio amplifier to boost the volume. (Not that it is really necessary, I found the built in amplification to be quite powerful. I set the volume to 6-10 out of 20.) There are plenty of add-ons and plenty more are sure to come.

OK, so you want to buy a backpack for it, but are afraid of it becoming obsolete before your song ends, never fear. The Rio 600's firmware can be upgraded to support future music formats and functions. Don't worry, upgrading the firmware is as easy as clicking a button. As of right now, the Rio supports MP3 and WMA formats. (But what Mac user wants to use WMA? ;-) All in all, the Rio 600 does a pretty good job of meeting the well deserved hype of the entire Rio line.

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