Intel audio player delivers hours of clear digital music

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April 30, 2001

Although portable digital audio players are a cool idea, they all suffer from one major drawback - they don't hold much music. Without expensive, add-on memory cards, few can store more than an hour's worth of your favorite tunes.

Now Intel has raised the bar with its Pocket Concert, a nifty little $300 player that doubles the industry standard with 128 megabytes of storage - enough for at least two hours of near CD-quality music. If you exhaust that, a pushbutton activates an FM radio with up to 10 preset channels.

Weighing in at less than 4 ounces, the palm-size player comes with a detachable belt clip for joggers and a simple if not exactly intuitive control panel. Once it's connected to a Windows PC with a USB cable, the Pocket Concert has bundled software that makes it easy to download MP3 and Windows Media audio files. Intel also includes a copy of Music Match Jukebox, the best all-around program for converting CD tracks to MP3 files and managing a digital music collection.

With its behind-the-head earphones, the Pocket Concert produced superb audio - clean and without distortion. It's one of the best-sounding players I've tried. Although it doesn't have a built-in equalizer to boost specific frequencies, treble and bass controls do a competent job of adjusting the tone. In fact, my only performance complaint involved the FM tuner, which had trouble pulling in any but the strongest signals in our area.

Unlike some players, the Pocket Concert does not have upgradable memory. You're stuck with what you get, but that's plenty for most listeners. The device runs for 10 hours on two AAA batteries. For another $60 you can buy an accessory pack that includes rechargeable batteries, a dock for attaching the gadget to your home stereo system, and a cassette adapter for the car. With or without the add-ons, this is a solid performer at an excellent price.

Information: www.intel.com/home/audio.- Mike Himowitz

Logitech speakers offer surround sound at low price

Logitech's SoundMan Xtrusio DSR-100 speakers offer excellent surround sound for your computer at a lower price than most 4.1 speaker systems on the market.

The DSR-100 system ($180), which consists of a subwoofer and four satellite speakers, plugs into the digital or analog output jack on your sound card. Once set up, you can control the volume and back-to-front fade with a wired remote that sits on your desktop. Although Logitech had the foresight to place a headphone jack on the remote (which turns off the speakers), I wish the bass and treble controls on the back of the subwoofer had been placed on the remote as well.

Gaming with the DSR-100 system was a rich experience with solid surround-sound performance. Voices were distinct from background music, and sound effects in the adventure flight game "Crimson Skies," which has great 3D sound, and Microsoft "Combat Flight Simulator II" were vibrant.

Sound through the DSR-100 speakers for DVDs had a crispness that you can't get from headphones or comparatively priced speaker systems. The speakers come bundled with a full version of PowerDVD software for DVD drives.

Music didn't fare quite as well, with classical arrangements sounding thin through the four satellite speakers, although rock 'n' roll and pop songs lost little in their musical ride from my CD-ROM to my ears. There is no center channel, and the speakers don't quite compensate well enough.

Though setup went smoothly thanks to the color-coded jacks and cables, getting the speakers to play digitally was a hassle.

According to Logitech technical support, the latest versions of the ever-popular Creative Sound Blaster Live! sound cards force you to check off a digital speakers option in the electronic control panel. You also must use a different cable from the one designated in the manual to connect the digital output on your sound card to the digital input on the subwoofer. A notice about the problem appears at Logitech's Web site.

If you want to use the speakers in analog mode or don't mind the hassle of figuring out digital hookup to your sound card, the Xtrusio remains a cheap alternative to more expensive 4.1 systems.

Information: 1-800-231-7717 or www.logitech.com.- Kevin Washington

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