Last week I spent some time writing a post about a new “car mp3 player” project that I had started working on. After running into some minor roadblocks I realized it might be easier to just get a portable mp3 player and use that instead of the old laptop I was originally planning on using. The main reason I wanted to use the laptop was to make use of existing resources and save a few bucks. The laptop wasn’t being used, nor was the 20 GB hard drive pulled from Erin P’s broken Rio Karma. Portable mp3 players are generally not upgradeable and the inexpensive models offer small storage, which are both deal breakers for me
One night I was browsing through austin.craigslist electronics and came across a 30 GB Creative NOMAD Jukebox Zen NX for $50. The buyer reported it as being used for just 4 months, and in working order. I did a little research and the reviews were overall favorable. Plus, the battery and hard drive were both removable. The only potential issue was the fact that the unit did not offer a line out. It only had a headphone output, so my concern was that the pre-amplified output might sound distorted when connected to the line in of the EQ in my car. Oh well, I thought. Worst case, I could use a cassette adapter or resell the thing.
The seller was nice enough to drive down to Austin, from Cedar Park IIRC, and meet me in the smoothie area of Whole Foods on 360 & 183. It turned out that the model was the “Xtra”, not the “NX”, which was both good and bad. You see, from the small amount of research I did on these Zens, I had read of a known issue regarding the headphone jack. The plus side of the Xtra models, however, is that they have a larger display, buffer, and a blue backlight (instead of green). Want to guess what my favourite colour is? I asked him if he ever encountered issues with the headphone jack and took his word that he didn’t, so I took a chance and forked up the cash. Once back in my car, I connected it to the cable already in place and it sounded fine, as far as I could tell. Cool beans.
Mine is a 30 GB, not 60 GB, although I can put a bigger HDD in there once the warranty is void.
Later that night, Nora was over to drink beer and play video games (does it get any better than that?). While taking turns playing WarioWare: Smooth Moves on the Wii and talking with brother while he was playing with his new Power Mac G4, we played miscellaneous songs that were left on the Zen. Or should I call it NOMAD, Jukebox or Xtra? He had a mixture of Vietnamese songs, mostly from a particular artist that sounded 80s-ish, as well as the most typical music you can think of. Think The Beatles, Elvis, Depeche Mode, Two Doors Down, 10,000 Maniacs (which I only remember because it was the first artist listed), 50 cent, etc. At that time, it was connected to the hifi in the living room, which was a better test for audio quality than my car. And, once again, it sounded pretty good. The thing to keep in mind is that, of course, the quality depends on the characteristics of the songs themself, so the best test would be to put something high quality on there. At any rate, it will be in my car and the mp3s that will be on it will be either ripped from yours truly or from others’ “album rips” (NOT INDIVIDUAL TRACKS!), so rest assured that the quality will be sufficient.
I also read that the bundled software from Creative sucked, and that 3rd party software applications were recommended, so I didn’t even try Creative’s offering. I ended up getting Notmad (not a typo) Explorer from Red Chair Software, which increased my investment $25. Still, I think $75 is a very reasonable amount of dough required to play 30 GB worth of high quality mp3s in my car. I tried moving the existing songs to the file servere, where I would later go through them to delete the crap and keep the interesting things, but I kept getting error messages and would have to start the process over (from what appeared to be the very beginning) each time. This rubbed me the wrong way, as it wasn’t a nice introduction to this new software, but at least Red Chair had information related to the error message on their website. Although there wasn’t a workaround to the issue, at least I knew that it was related to the mp3s being somehow corrupt. After I found that out, I just deleted all of his stuff because I was anxious to get my stuff on there. Since then I haven’t had any errors, so I’ll give Red Chair the benefit of the doubt and point the finger at the previous user or, more specifically, the source of his purportedly corrupt mp3s.
As far as looks are concerned, I think it’s made of adonized metal. All of the buttons are on the sides and the jacks (AC, USB, headphone) are on the top. I don’t think a docking station option is available because there’s no interface on the bottom of the unit. It came with the AC adapter and a car charger, the later of which I was both glad to hear, considering the application. It’s basically as tall and wide as a 12 oz soda can and about an inch deep. It also has a black (faux leather?) case. Since there’s a hard drive inside instead of flash memory, it’s not ideal to carry around, i.e. jog with, but, again, that’s perfectly fine for what I’m using it for. Brother thinks the “Smart Volume Management (SVM)” EAX setting will normalize/compress the audio, resulting in all tracks being played at the same volume. I hope that’s indeed the case, so I don’t have to adjust the volume depending on the album, while in shuffle mode. I haven’t yet experimented with that feature enough to determine if he’s correct. The user’s guide says it “intelligently controls the dynamic range of audio, providing a superior audio experience in difficult listening environments such as in a plane or car”. WTF does that mean? Layman’s terms are great but only when bundled with technical details alongside.
It would be super if it had a remote, something I haven’t researched yet, because it’s a small nuisance to control it while driving, i.e. adjusing the volume, skipping tracks and toggling shuffle. “Right now I’ll take what I can get.” -Joel Plaskett