Diamond Rio 500

Our review unit featured a translucent purple plastic case, allowing you to take a look at the structure and layout of the internal components that are the driving force behind the Rio 500's superb stereo fidelity. Music encoded at 128Kbps streams through the RioPort headphones clear and crisp - and loud, too. Indeed, turning the volume knob further towards the maximum setting will earn you all sorts of stares, particularly on packed public transport!

The player includes an equaliser with three pre-sets, while the customise option offers full control over bass and treble settings. Other features include the ability to repeat one or all songs, or to randomise the playing order. These functions are all controlled using the rotational volume knob, which scrolls through the available selections. An A-B loop function is offered, while there is also a bookmark feature for voice recordings.

The Rio's function keys are well laid out on the front, left and right sides, as well as the top of the player. The back-lit LCD displays mode details and battery life, and even scrolls the name of the current MP3 file across the screen.

Speaking of battery life, the playing time of the Rio 500 is more than adequate on its single AA power source. As I did with the JazPiper review last month, I inserted a brand-new battery and looped my favourite list of songs continuously at the maximum volume setting until the player stopped. The Rio 500 ran from morning until night, offering a playing time of just over 12 hours.

Supporting a maximum capacity of 96MB (64MB on-board, 32MB SmartMedia flashcard option), the Rio 500 can comfortably hold up to 90 minutes' worth of CD-quality music (encoded at 128Kbps). This means that skip-free portable MP3 players can finally challenge skip-prone portable CD players as the hardware of choice for the frequent traveller, as a single CD cannot hold up to 90 minutes of music.

Another boon for the Rio 500 is its use of the universal serial bus. You won't be waiting an eternity for all of your favourite songs to download to the player. The Rio 500 is one of the first MP3 players on the market to feature USB connectivity, meaning it is available for use on both Windows 98 PCs and the new Macs. The Rio's designers must have envisaged the player with this in mind, as it is the perfect accessory for the grape-coloured iMac.

For managing your playlists and transferring them to the Rio 500, the player ships with the RioPort Audio Manager. This is a powerful program that takes a little getting used to, but once mastered will allow you to easily organise, rip, play back and transfer music to the player, all from the same window. The software is limited to 50 recordings though, and must be registered (free) for unlimited use. Other software found on the installation CD-ROM includes Sonic Foundry Acid Style, a fun program that lets you create your own loop-based compositions.

Available in three different colours (translucent purple, teal and metallic grey), the Rio 500 is priced at $599 for the standard 64MB configuration. The optional 16MB and 32MB 3.3V SmartMedia flash memory cards will set you back $159 and $235 respectively. The player supports future memory expansion, has upgradable firmware and, in Windows 98, will support MetaTrust security for copyright protection.

Diamond Rio 500

Price: $599

Distributor: Chips & Bits

Phone: (03) 9696 1911

URL: www.rioport.com

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