The new Nomad Jukebox 3 looks like a Discman and plays music - that's where the similarities end. Creative Labs puts the Jukebox 3's capabilities quite succinctly: "[it's] like having a 250-plus disc CD changer with you all the time".
The $999 Jukebox 3 follows on from Creative's 2000 Nomad Jukebox release in much the same vein, adding a few notable features. For starters, there's the 1394 FireWire connection for faster data transfer (in addition to USB), a lithium ion rechargeable battery and a bay for a second battery, a scrolling wheel for better navigation, and increased antishock buffer (16MB SDRAM) to seven minutes.
Now for the wow factor: its 20GB can hold around 5000 MP3s encoded at 128Kbps, and with two batteries (you'll need to purchase the second) the Jukebox 3 will give you around 22 hours of continuous listening time.
Getting music into the player is simple. The bundled app Creative PlayCenter 3 rips CDs, records and encodes audio in MP3, WMA and WAV format, and transfers files between PC and player. Standard optical and analog line-in jacks allow direct source recording and MP3 encoding by the player on the fly. Line-in recording from a stereo was a snap.
Also bundled is Audio Stream Recorder (ASR), which lets you record streaming audio and transfer it to the Jukebox. But don't get too excited - to take advantage of ASR, your system will need one of the following Creative cards: SoundBlaster Live!, SoundBlaster Audigy or SoundBlaster Extigy. You'll also be able to automate recording - ASR will connect your PC to the Net at a specified time for recording. And while this is clever, it wasn't clear which time zone the software is set for, something I was a bit concerned about considering the US-biased nature of the streaming sites listed.
Extending portable audio technology further, the Jukebox 3 incorporates Smart Volume Management, an EAX audio technology, which allows users to adjust the dynamic range of music to suit the listening environment, such as loud traffic or a quiet room. What I consider less useful is EAX Environment Effects, which transforms tracks to virtual settings such as a bathroom, cathedral, and theatre. One EAX feature I quite like is Time Scaling - a handy tool to work out lyrics - which remarkably slows down tracks without distortion.
Creative has set up the Jukebox 3 for a number of after-market purchases - the player includes four-channel output for surround-sound speakers, and the optional FM Wired Remote can be connected as a remote control, microphone and FM tuner. And for the fashion conscious, there are a variety of interchangeable faceplates.
My one small criticism with the docu-mentation is that the supplied PDF is on the light side - while this may satisfy some users, others will be left with some questions unanswered.
Creative Nomad Jukebox 3 *****
Worth the hefty price tag, the capabilities of Nomad Jukebox 3 go far beyond portable audio technology as we know it.
Phone: (02) 9666 6100.