3. Audio & compatibility tests
Review by Elias Hantzakos
Audio & compatibility tests
There aren't many 8cm pre-pressed CDs out there, apart from a few special-edition CD Singles, but you shouldn't have difficulty finding empty 8cm CD-R media, and most CD Recorders support writing on such small media. For our tests we used CD-R media from MelodyMedia, Princo, Smartmedia and two other unidentifiable manufacturers, and CD-RW media from MelodyMedia.
Both the MP-Zip and the Beatman had absolutely no problem reading any pre-pressed Audio CD, or any of the CD-R or CD-RW discs, so media compatibility does not seem to be an issue. Writing the discs in Disc-at-Once or Track-at-Once modes also causes no problems, although both devices are slower reading TAO discs than DAO ones, as expected.
What seems to be an issue sometimes is disc format: The MP-Zip cannot read mixed-mode CDs that contain both Audio CD music and data tracks. This means you won't be able to play an Audio CD single that also contains a data track (e.g. the song's video), as the MP-Zip mistakes this disc for a data-only disc, and keeps scanning it for MP3 files, which of course don't exist. Any similar combination won't work (for example, Audio CD tracks and MP3 files on the same disc). We admit that such discs are really rare, but we have to give the Beatman a thumbs-up for recognizing and reproducing mixed-mode CDs without problems.
As far as music quality is concerned, both devices perform very well. When listening to Audio CDs or well-encoded MP3s, the sound coming out form the players is really good, crisp and clear, without noise and distortions. Unfortunately, the Beatman proved sensitive to external interference, when placed near a Logitech wireless mouse transmitter, so keep this in mind before buying if you have similar equipment at your premises. The MP-Zip on the other hand, although insensitive to such interference, proved sensitive to some MP3 files, which it reproduced with audible errors and "hiccups". There is no obvious reason why it behaves like this, as it happens randomly while music is playing, and it can only be the player's fault, as the same MP3 CDs play flawlessly in the Beatman, and sometimes in the Mp-Zip itself! We can't really see a solution to this, as the MP-Zip's firmware is not flash-upgradeable, so if you decide to buy it, bear in mind that you may face some music hiccups from time to time (maybe just a couple of times on a full 185-Mbyte CD, but still annoying).
One word of caution before we close the audio quality subject: If you plan to use the MP-Zip with in-ear headphones, consider buying a decent headphone set, as the included headphones are of bad quality and just don't do justice to the player. The Beatman won't put you through this expense, as it includes a pair of high-quality Sennheiser headphones.