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There’s a mind-bogglingly large number of CD, MiniDisc and MP3 portables on the market. We test a swagload to help you choose.

Whether you listen to your top tunes while travelling on the bus,taking the train or jogging round the park,there ‘s never been a wider variety of personal players from which to choose.You can pick a conventional CD player,often hardly bigger than the disc it-self,or buy something even smaller in the shape of a MiniDisc or MP3 player.The last There ‘s a mind-bogglingly large number of CD,MiniDisc and MP3 portables on the market.We test a swagload to help you choose.

Sony D-FJ401 |$299 |

For:Sound is outstanding whatever you want to play on it;radio included;happy with CD-R/RW media

Against:Radio no great shakes if you want to listen indoors 

Verdict:You can buy a competent CD player for less,but this is a top choice if audio quality is the priority

Sony ‘s D-FJ401 is a hybrid portable,offering CD playback plus an FM/AM radio.It offers logically laid-out controls,including five radio station preset buttons -great for when you need to shut off the sounds quickly while on the move. In action via its decent in-ear headphones, the Sony sounds detailed and involving,with fine rhythm and timing that make the most of all sorts of musical styles, from jazz to hip-hop.

There’s a two-step bass-boost option,but you ‘ll probably find little need for it,as the Sony produces a decent amount of well-controlled low-end action. As with most portables,radio reception is patchy indoors, but if you take the D-FJ401 outside you get a strong signal and FM stations offer the same rounded characteristics as CD playback.

The Sony doesn ‘t have some of its rivals ‘ capabilities,but if your priority is a CD player with superb sound, this is the one to buy.

Panasonic SL-MP35 | $359 |

For: Versatile – plays MP3-encoded discs as well as CR-R/RWs

Against: Bit of a fiddle to use; needs the bass boost engaged to sound anything other than forgettable

Verdict: Doesn’t really justify its price unless the MP3 capability is crucial to you.

The main attribute of this new Panasonic is its ability to play MP3-encoded discs as well as standard CDs and CD-R/RWs.

Special navigation buttons help you better find your way through the hundreds of tracks on an MP3 disc, and good software support makes it even easier.

The main player controls are, however, tiny. Also, a big black mark to whoever decided to add little musical notes to the display; it simply eats into battery life.

Another battery-muncher is the S-XBS bass boost. This is highly effective, giving dance music, for example, satisfying depth, but you’ll probably find yourself leaving it activated to compensate for the otherwise lightweight sound. It doesn’t sound harsh, and there’s decent detail and timing.

The in-ear headphones count as another plus. They offer a more sophisticated standard of build and performance than most of the others here.

 
Philips AX5103 | $229 |

For: Neat remote control and convenient clips; plays CD-R and CD-RW recordings

Against: Poor headphones need high volume setting and drain batteries; bass boost does more harm than good

Verdict: Persuasive specification not backed up by convincing performance.

Philips has packed an initially enticing array of features into its latest CD portable, including CD-R/RW playback and a neat, button-style in-line remote control, complete with useful clip. The main player also has a (detachable) belt clip. The AX5103 comes with a brace of rechargeable batteries, though these will give only 10 hours of operation at best; standard alkaline AAs are needed to reach the claimed 25-hour maximum. Battery life isn’t helped by the headphones – the basic, in-ear set requires the volume to be turned up to current-draining levels for you to hear music well.

Switching to better headphones allows you to lower the volume setting and the player sounds less harsh. It isn’t that the performance of the Philips is poor, but it lacks the toe-tapping qualities of the better machines on test.

Sharp MT899H | $829 |

For: Great sound – whatever you play; versatility; build quality; smart looks

Against: Not operable with Mac computers; no carry case for jogging

Verdict: A player with a vast array of talents – not cheap but excellent value

The Sharp MT899H is a versatile piece of equipment. In addition to the usual MD features, its Net function links the player to a PC (Windows-only) and downloads MP3, WMA and WAV audio files, which it then converts into ATRAC3. The Sharp package includes OpenMG Jukebox software.

The whole unit feels sturdy and build quality can’t be faulted. But the supplied earphones are mediocre. However, the MT899H sounds very good: the midrange is delivered with confidence and vocals are expressive, while the bass delves deep and drive tunes in a lively way. Clear, crisp treble and an impressive soundstage complete the presentation. The Sharp handles all types of music with poise and is notably good when challenged by the bane of many personal players, classical music.

Overall, there is very little to criticise.

Sony MZ-R909 | $799 |

For: Excellent recordings whatever music you decide to play; superior build quality

Against: Bass can get boomy; no USB link

Verdict: Great sound and easy to use.

Sony’s MZ-R909 is refreshingly simple to use. The brushed metal front panel features a mere five buttons, plus a three-line LCD. A backlit remote operates practically all the functions and is light enough to clip to a shirt pocket. Sony’s package includes a carrying case with a secure belt clip, which, combined with G-protection anti-shock buffering, means jogging while listening poses no problems.

The R909’s Digital Signal Processor features Sony’s Type R ATRAC, which gives this model twice the signal processing capability of the brand’s previous MiniDisc devices. Recorded tracks are delivered with infectious rhythm. High frequencies are clear and detailed; lower frequencies go deep and are powerful. Although bass and treble can be adjusted individually, lower levels can get out of hand, and the R909 tends to sound a little sharp up among the highest frequencies. The R909 is a neatly built and fine-sounding player, including the vast array of features that fans of MD have come to expect from Sony and it’s straightforward to operate.

 
Panasonic SV-SD50 | $439 |

For: Deep bass; simple operation; plays Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) files

Against: Looks; no belt clip; cost; not Mac-compatible

Verdict: You’d expect a bit better sound, features, build and looks than you get

The Panasonic SV-SD50’s hollow-sounding plastic casing resembles a fairground imitation mobile phone. This is, though, the only player here able to play AAC files, plus MP3 and WMA recordings. AAC promises smaller file sizes and better sound quality than MP3. The package includes earphones (not the best), a neck strap and mediamanagement software. The software uses RealOne to transfer files and organise your music library, and can employ a 64MB SD card via a USB reader. The system pilfers file associations automatically, so plays formats from MP3 to AVI with RealOne rather than your usual application. Go into the program’s preferences menu and deselect associated file types to sort it out.

The SD-50 sound quality is just above average. Thirty-one hours’ play is impressive, though, and if you need AAC capability it’s worth considering.

Creative MuVo | $399 |

For: Lightweight design; dual function; rhythmic

Against: No display; no EQ mode; brightness at high volumes

Verdict: Resourceful, compact player.

The MuVo may look like a cigarette lighter, but it’s actually an MP3 player and a USB storage device all in one. Creative’s smallest MP3 player to date holds an hour of MP3 music at 128kbps or two hours of WMA music – or 44 floppies’ worth of data.

This player is simple to use. The greycoloured memory unit detaches and plugs into the USB port. If you have a PC running Windows 2000/Me/XP, the memory module will be recognised as a hard disk and you can drag and drop straight onto the MuVo. USB drivers for Windows 98/98SE are included on the accompanying CD.

You need a better set of earphones than the ones supplied. With a good pair of earphones, the MuVo produces reasonably deep, albeit slightly rounded, bass. Presentation is rhythmic and rock tunes sound aggressive.

Still, if you’re looking for a lightweight, cablefree player that you can use as a USB storage device, the MuVo is a reasonable proposition.

Samsung Yepp YP-20T | $299 |

For: Cute looks; easy to use; Mac-compatible

Against: Bright treble and shallow bass

Verdict: Very small and lightweight – but the Baby Yepp needs a bass booster to satisfy.

The ‘baby Yepp’ is one of the lightest MP3 players in the world so far. Yet Samsung manages to include a display panel, a four-mode equaliser and a clock within this extremely compact device. The 32MB memory will hold half an hour of music, in MP3 format only, and the player is compatible with both PC and Macintosh operating systems.

The display is very clear and functions are simple to operate. A useful feature is the hold mode, selection of which prevents the buttons reacting when pressed – handy, as the player is small enough to pop into a pocket.

Treble is harsh, even using quality headphones, and listening at higher volumes soon becomes wearing. The bass is decidedly shallow – and what is delivered lacks tightness. Sticking to low-volume levels does not rectify matters as bass is then negligible and high frequencies are cluttered. The Yepp’s build is solid, the software is simple and it’s easy to load files. Unfortunately, it falls down exactly where it matters most – on sound.

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