Amax Napa DAV310

For under $300 this unit will play regular CDs, video CDs and CD-R or CD-RW discs filled with MP3s. The only catch - you'll need a CD burner to get your favourite files on disk.

Physically, the player is the size of a regular portable CD player and its plastic exterior makes it very light. Playback function keys are scattered around the centrally located LCD screen and are clearly labelled. The LCD screen is small and displays the track number, time, playback mode and format type. On the side of the player are the output jacks and a hold switch, while on the front there is an infrared port for the remote control and a bass boost switch - which was guilty of a little distortion.

There is no battery level indicator, and file or song names can't be displayed. The omission of a battery level indicator means that the music will come to a dead halt without warning and the player will shut itself off automatically. Another flaw is the fact that the screen is not backlit, making it impossible to view in dark environments or at night.

The ESP anti-shock function didn't seem to have much effect while playing regular audio CDs, as the smallest bump would set off a flurry of stutters. The output quality of MP3s on the supplied earphones was adequate at best and, during soft tunes, noise from the player was clearly audible. The end of each track also seemed to get cut off a couple of seconds prematurely. Audio CD output was perfect, though, with no audible background noise.

When an MP3 CD is inserted, the player will scan the disk to look for all available files and will display the total number of files once it has finished. Files can be stored either in the root directory or in individual folders. With the ability to hold so many files, yet no support for playlists, a facility to skip ahead quickly is essential: this is achieved by either repeatedly pressing the skip button on the player or by using the number pad available on the remote control.

The remote control is the size of "a credit card and also comes in handy when watching video CDs. All necessary cabling for watching video is provided and the small manual will show you how to hook up everything correctly.

As was the case with the audio, playback was not perfect and the VCDs seemed to suffer a little from occasional stuttering. For the most part, though, video CDs are easily watchable (the Napa doesn't play DVDs).

The player is powered by a built-in Lithium-Ion battery and my endurance tests showed that this will give you just under four hours of continuous play at the maximum volume level and default energy saving and ESP modes, while playing MP3s. Music CDs with the default ESP setting and maximum volume will continuously play for just over four hours. Unfortunately, the built-in battery prevents you from extending the portable playing time of the unit by carrying extra batteries. When at home, though, you can use the DC transformer that ships with the unit and doubles as a charger for the battery. VCD movies will only play with the transformer as the power source.

The Napa player is based on a good idea, and may well foreshadow the future of portable entertainment. It's easy to foresee an updated version that also plays DVDs, which would enable it to support all currently available optical disc formats. However, this model is far from perfect, and seems to have a number of flaws that may be caused by an attempt to rush it to production. Still, this is potentially a lucrative idea, since the limiting factor for most MP3 players is the expense of flash memory. By developing a product which allows users to carry around a large number of MP3s at a low price, Amax could well find a reasonably large market for this product.

As previously mentioned, all cables for hooking up the player are provided, but unfortunately the package lacks a carry bag or pouch for the player and also lacks software for encoding your own MP3 files.

All things considered, if you already have a CD burner then this player is a viable portable audio/visual solution that will save you a reasonable amount of money. It will also provide you with versatility that other MP3 players on the market so far lack - in particular, the ability to store MP3 files on inexpensive and widely available media. It's available from Datawell and comes with a one-year warranty.

Amax Napa DAV310

Price: $279

Distributor: Datawell

Phone: (02) 9748 8688

URL: www.amaxhk.com

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