In the wake of the tidal wave of MP3 players that are currently flooding the market, it's difficult to tell the wheat from the chaff. Diamond was the first manufacturer to hit the shelves with a portable player at the end of last year, but the sound quality was disappointing, and it was overpriced.
Almost a year later, Diamond has again beaten everyone else to it with the Rio 500. It boasts a more acceptable 64Mb of memory, enough to store over an hour of CD quality music, and now actually looks and feels like a proper piece of audio hardware.
You can choose from three cool case designs: translucent teal, purple or metallic grey, catapulting the Rio 500 into the super-sexy, stylish gadget class. The user interface has been updated and now takes advantage of the ID3 tag - the track name and artist information of the songs you upload onto the 500. This information is displayed on the easily readable two-line dot matrix display. Because there are no moving parts, your listening pleasure will not be marred by any sound skipping, and you can expect to get about 13 hours of playback from just one AA battery.
We listened long and hard to the Rio 500 and came to the conclusion that the overall sound quality had clearly imporved from the original version, the Rio PMP300. To get music on the device, you have to first obtain some MP3 files on your PC or iMac. You can either download from the masses of MP3 songs on the Internet (some legal and more illegal) or convert tracks from your CD collection.
The latter option is carried out using the Rio Audio Manager 2.0 encoding software supplied with the 500, and will take your CD tracks and create MP3 versions of them on your hard disk. From there the music is speedily uploaded to the player via a USB cable, the first of this type we have seen.
So, it's got great sound quality, a quality feel and looks very chic, but at this price we would have liked to see extras such as voice recording or an FM radio, none of which feature. Also, MP3 players are still fighting a losing battle with minidisc players due to their high media cost. Even though you can add a SmartMedia card to the Rio to increase the music time, it's going to cost a lot more than carrying 10 minidiscs around with you - they only cost £1.50 a throw.