Lexar’s LDP-600 is another fuller featured portable flash based music player. Lexar has traditionally made flash memory chips (see this for a comprehensive review), but recently they have branched out into making flash based music players. For the evaluation, I reviewed the 512 MB model, there is also a 256 MB available. They retail at $149 and $199 respectively.
What’s In The Box
The 512 MB Lexar LDP-600 included the following:
-black music player
-Sennheiser ear buds
-quick start pamphlet (full manual on website as PDF)
-USB connector cable
-the lithium ion battery is preinstalled
-clear carrying case
I used a 128 MB Secure Digital flash card during the course of my testing of the device.
The unit itself is a mere 3.2 by 1.5 by 0.7 inches. This makes it slightly larger than the iAudio 5, but still quite small. I can put in my shirt pocket all day and not even notice it. The LDP-600 is made of a matte black rubberized plastic and is accented with silver switches and buttons. The top of the unit has the headphone jack, the microphone, and the slot to attach the necklace. The right side has two toggle switches for on/off, play/pause, advancing tracks, volume control, and menu navigation. The left side has three buttons for controlling the recording, the FM transmitter, and toggling into FM radio mode. The back has a recessed switch for adjusting the FM transmitter strength, a recessed hold switch, and a reset pinhole (like on a Palm handheld) is there as well. The bottom of the unit has the connector for the USB cable and the slot for a Secure Digital card. Again, both were covered in rubber and attached to the unit to prevent loss. I found the switches and buttons slightly larger than on the iAudio 5. They also felt significantly more refined and solid; like a Lexus on the Lexar, versus a Hyundai on the iAudio 5.
Features In Use
The Lexar LDP-600 is powered by an included lithium ion battery. It is claimed to provide a 14 hour battery life. I think it is closer to 12 hours in actual use. It is great to have an included, rechargeable battery for obvious reasons. However, there are a few downsides. When the battery won’t take a charge anymore, be prepared to throw the whole thing out as I doubt it can be swapped out and replaced (this may be a good reason to buy that extended and overpriced warranty). This limits the long term usefulness of such a device. Also, the only way to charge the Lexar unit is through the USB port, there is no way to charge this from a wall outlet or a car power source. If you take this as your music player on that cross country road trip, than you better bring your laptop as well, or you’ll be dead on music once you get 14 hours away from home. And you don’t buy an MP3 player to listen to sing-a-longs so plan accordingly.
The music formats played by the player are limited to MP3 and WMA music files. It is not specified in the manual what bit rates playback is limited to. The LDP-600 records into WMA format, with the choices of 32 kbps (mono), 64 kbps, or 96 kbps (stereo).
The display is large enough and readable, although with a slightly pixelated appearance. The largest two lines show artist, and track name information. Above it shows the track number, the play triangle, whether internal or external memory is being used, and a battery life meter. The bottom shows time information, the bass boost, and the volume level. The display is illuminated with a choice of colors, including violet, yellow, white, blue, green, indigo, and red. Unfortunately, only yellow, white and red are really bright enough to be useful, the rest are rather dim even viewed in total darkness. I was a little disappointed to see that white appears very yellow. The iAudio 5 clearly has a better display with the colors much brighter and richer. Even with the duller colors, the Lexar unit was more readable while on the run or in the car, because the text is larger and darker.
The player boots quickly, and turns off quickly which means you can hear your music with minimal delay. Files can be deleted and playlists up to 20 songs can be created from the unit itself, without using a computer. The menu system is somewhat complex, and requires a steep learning curve. I referred to the PDF documentation (which comes preloaded on the device) several times during testing and had to follow the complex key sequences line by line to accomplish some tasks. Aside from play and volume control, everything else is buried in menus. An example: changing the background color is under the category “system,” and under the designation “light source.” These types of things are not intuitively obvious to most users.
The LDP-600 also has a built in FM tuner that can be programmed with presets, and has a seek feature for use in unfamiliar locations. Like the iAudio 5, it is tuned in 0.1 increments. This can be annoying if you don’t leave the States, or can be a nice plus for international travelers. Like most personal FM radios, the headphone cable doubles as an antenna. The reception was adequate, but not spectacular equivalent to a Sony Walkman. The FM radio does keep users from running out of music during their airport layover so it is a nice feature to have.
Leave it to a memory company like Lexar to build an MP3 player with removable storage. In my mind this is a stand-out feature. The player supports Secure Digital cards up to a capacity of 1 GB. I am of the opinion that Secure Digital cards are the new dominant flash card, and this is an example of why. (LINK TO FLASH MEMORY PIECE) This allows the player to expand its memory using inexpensive and reusable cards. When the player is connected via USB to a computer it shows up as 2 drives: one for the internal memory, and the other for the SD card. Unfortunately, you need to go into the menus to switch between the 2 memories, not something you should do while cruising down the interstate. Also, there is no way to have it play from both the internal memory and SD card as one large collection. These shortcomings almost overshadow this otherwise exemplary feature. A dedicated switch to access the two memories would go a long way to remedying this deficit. One more annoying quirk: after listening to music on the SD card, and turning off the player, it reverts to the internal memory when rebooted.
One other significant shortcoming is the USB 1.1 interface. This is rather outdated, and really slows the loading of songs down. The bottleneck speed took over five minutes to load 53 MP3s. To fully load the player takes over 20 minutes, and that is just for the internal memory. Most current players utilize the faster USB 2.0 connection, which is at least four times faster. I believe the newer players from Lexar will use the faster connection. In the meantime, a possible work around (for inpatient users) is to load a permanent set of songs to the internal memory, and a rotating set to the SD card via a dedicated flash card writer thereby bypassing the player. One bonus feature is that the player can be used as a SD flash card reader/writer which makes it easy to justify a place in your notebook bag with the cable.
The other notable feature of the player is the FM transmitter. The package includes a short antenna that is placed into the headphone jack. The player then can transmit over the FM radio band on a frequency of the user’s choosing (although finding an unused band in metro areas can be a challenge). The headphones can also be used as a transmitter, but my results were definitely better with the antenna. I could transmit music to a Sony boombox from as far as 10 feet away. Also, in a car with no cassette player the results were equally good. The sound is as good as any other FM radio station, less than CD quality, but still quite good. This FM transmitting feature injects new life into old radios. It takes MP3 listening from a solitary experience through headphones, and makes it social through a set of speakers. Sure, there are accessories that can do the same thing, but having it built in is very convenient. Show up at your next party with the Lexar loaded with music, and you’ll get to be the DJ with your own radio station!
The recording was similar to the iAudio 5. It was more than adequate for voice into the microphone, and barely adequate for TV across the room. You can record from the FM radio, but there is no line-in jack to record from other sources.