Top 5 Music Players for Audiophiles

Audiophile Players

Anyone with a smartphone has a portable music player in their pocket, but while that might be okay for the average punter, anyone with a desire to listen to digital music at the best possible quality will likely be left disappointed. If sound quality is the key driver in your next music player purchase, then one of these five models should be on your shopping list depending on your demands and budget.

ColorFly-C4

Colorfly Pocket Hi-Fi C4 Pro 
from Advanced MP3 Players

The C4 Pro is more than just an audiophile’s choice; it’s the professional musician’s choice too, thanks to its high-end DAC and sampling capabilities. The DAC – a single CIRRUS Logic CS4398 chip – is usually found in top-notch hi-fi equipment, and delivers gob-smacking sound that includes every last detail yet manages to be both clear and punchy too when utilised with lossless formats such as FLAC or APE.
There’s a generous 32GB onboard storage and a micro-SD slot to double it to 64GB, 6.4mm and 3.5mm headphone sockets, plus twin SPDIF sockets that support input and output, allowing the C4 Pro to be used as a dedicated DAC or sample converter. Throw in its old-school walnut veneer and yellowed metal fascia, and this is a player that raises the bar for other players to aspire to.

Yours for £549

More on Colorfly

Astell-and-Kern

Astell and Kern AK100

from Advanced MP3 Players

If proof were needed that the audiophile market is a growing one, this new player from iRiver provides it in spades. It sports a Woflson WM8740 DAC, delivering gorgeous sound to rival the Colorfly models, but unlike the C4 Pro, manages to bundle all of this in a pocket-friendly case and with a screen that’s closer to the Cowon’s in terms of colour and functionality, although like its top-notch rivals, the AK100’s UI can feel quite sluggish.
But elsewhere there are some nice touches to accompany the glorious sound quality on offer: the 32GB internal memory is augmented with not one, but two micro-SD slots giving it a theoretical maximum of 96GB. The AK100 also includes a high-quality headphone amp, Bluetooth wireless support and a recent firmware update extended support to Apple-friendly formats, including its own lossless ALAC format.
The obvious question is whether you plump for this over the C4 Pro. With sound quality this good on both devices, you’re left choosing between size – this is far more pocket-friendly, aesthetics and additional capabilities, with the C4 Pro just winning out if you’re a pro musician.

Yours for £569

ColorFly-C3

Colorfly Pocket Hi-Fi C3
from Advanced MP3 Players

The Hi-Fi C3 is aimed at those who can’t justify the huge outlay demanded by the C4 Pro. That’s evident in its choice of DAC (the cheaper TI PCM1770), aluminium-style finish and reduced capacity (8GB plus micro-SD slot). Nevertheless, while the C3 can’t scale the heights of its bigger brother, it’s still a superb-sounding device, with precise, clean and rich tones to leave you in little doubt that Colorfly’s excellent technical knowledge has been put to good use even at this reduced budget.
There are major issues with the interface and awkward navigation controls that could prove troublesome, but this player is all about the superlative sound quality at a price that won’t break the bank.

Yours for £149

More on Colorfly

Cowon-x932

Cowon iAudio X9
from Advanced MP3 Players

While Cowon can’t quite scale the heights of Colorfly and iRiver, the iAudio X9’s JetEffect 5 audio engine ensures it’s still head and shoulders above the likes of the iPhone 5 and iPod touch. And what you lose in top-notch quality you more than gain elsewhere, whether it’s the 110-hour battery life, larger 4.3-inch screen, more intuitive interface and ability to more precisely shape the sound to your personal tastes using the built-in equalizer controls – a staggering 44 presets are supplied, with four customizable slots available.

The iAudio X9 also has some built-in video capabilities, but they’re limited to the point of being a distraction to the unit’s main appeal. The resistive touchscreen can be awkward to use too, but thankfully the iAudio X9 sports all the physical buttons you need for playback so you can limit your exposure to it, leaving you free to enjoy audio bliss without having to reach for the charger.

Yours for £159

More on Cowon

Cowon-E2L

Cowon i10
from Advanced MP3 Players

If your budget is excruciatingly tight, then Cowon’s entry level i10 player is the one to check out. Like the iAudio X9, despite some limited video support the i10 is best thought of purely in audio terms. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised too – despite sporting Cowon’s older, less-advanced JetEffect 3.0 engine, the sound is clearly a cut above most music players out there, and there’s plenty of options for tweaking it to your tastes. While doing so, we were pleased to see that like its peers it’s capable of delivering extra bass without overwhelming the mid and high levels.
The price you do pay is with limited storage – with no expansion slot available, make sure you purchase the largest capacity (8GB-32GB models are available) you can afford. The touchscreen controls on the front can be a little confusing too, but it’s light, feels durable thanks to the rubberised casing, and delivers where it matters: in the sound department.

Yours for £99

More on Cowon

Denon MC2000 DJ interface: USB power to the people

DJing has always fascinated me as a transformative “power to the people” interaction of music and technology. Taking the music given to you by record companies and radio stations and being able to repurpose it to express yourself was all at once revolutionary and ancient – harking back to folk songs shared around the campfire and changing over time.

Denon-MC2000

In keeping with this idea of non-exclusive DJing Denon have released the MC2000 – a USB DJ controller that welcomes novices and pros alike and invites them to mix it up and start again.

The plug and play controller is really easy to get going. Denon lent me one for the weekend and I simply had to install Serato DJ Intro, pop the controller in and I was good to go. The software is pretty simple to use and you pretty much just have to drag a track into the respective window to get going. If you want to bring all your iTunes music and playlists into the fold you just hit a button and everything is set up for you.

In terms of hardware, Denon haven’t skimped and there’s a rugged metal chassis combined with the jog wheels and faders. Nothing feels at all plasticky and everything feels reassuringly solid. The whole unit runs off USB power making it pretty portable and there are a host of illuminated buttons which makes essential controls easy enough to access.

As you’d expect the MC2000 has twin jog wheels and faders for vinyl-like mixing so you can scratch and mix to your heart’s content. I will never enjoy mixing on a USB controller as much as an old fashioned vinyl but this is much, much easier to pack up and take to a house party, wedding or small club.

If you want a to make things a little more fancy the MC2000 also includes full sample control, loop control, on-board effects and auxiliary as well as microphone input.There’s high-quality audio output from both the RCA sockets on the rear panel and the front mounted headphone socket.

The Denon MC2000 is available for about £260 from October.

Native Instruments KONTROL S2: DJing on a diet

DJing is a lot lot more than “playing someone else’s records and looking cool in front of a crowd” although admittedly that is a large part of it. Continued innovation in the field has turned DJing into an artform in its own right and it’s very hard to argue with the stance that the turntable is a legitimate musical instrument in it’s own right.

KONTROL-S2

Even more exciting that rocking a crossfader and two 1210s is the possibilities opened up by digital DJing via timecode vinyl systems and hardware controllers. One of the pioneers in this area of DJing is Native Instruments, who have released a slimmed down version of their market-leading KONTROL S4 hardware (which is currently taking up way too much space on my desk). While the S4 has been making waves in the four-deck market, the S2 brings the same build quality to the ‘old-fashioned’ two deck market.

The new KONTROL S2 provides a “2+1” setup with sample decks as well as comprehensive mixing and effect features, all based on the same full-featured TRAKTOR PRO 2 software that you would find on the S4. It provides the same patent-pending high-resolution jog wheels, which have a great weight and feel to them, as well ergonomic controls for cueing, looping and effects – all with the sort of build quality people expect from Native Intruments.

There is an integrated 24bit/96 kHz sound card with dual stereo outputs, which maintains clarity even at high output volume, you you can happily ‘turn it up’ and make the crowd go wild.

In addition to the two full-featured playback decks there are versatile Sample Decks, which can add up to eight simultaneous one-shot samples or beat-synced loops to the mix, making it easier to be musically creative during your set – or even to slowly build tracks yourself.

TRAKTOR KONTROL S2 is available from authorized dealers and in the NI Online Shop for a suggested retail price of $669 / 599 EUR.

Cygnett’s new affordable headphone range: Perfect for Swan Songs

Cygnett are old hands at the mobile phone accessories game – having produced a range of affordable yet innovative cases and covers for things like iPhones and Blackberries in the past (check out their Sound Scoop case for the iPad 2 that emulates the sound boost you get from cupping a speaker with your hand). One of the most essential mobile phone accessories for me are headphones, so I was pleased when Cygnett annouced they were getting into the headphone game with a new range.

Cygnett-Fusion-II

A few highlights include:

The Fusion II headphones, which are engineered with sound-isolation technology and superior bass response coupled with feature a built-in microphone with remote click to enable hands-free talk. Like most of these earphones the Fusion II comes in at £19.95.

The GroovePlatinum offer sharp sound and noise isolation but mostly seem to differ from the Fusion II in terms of design. Also £19.95.The SpaceBuds earphones are nice little compact in-ear headphones and come in a striking black and orange colour. They are also the cheapest in the range, retailing at £9.95.

Cygnett-Sonic

At the other end of the spectrum lie the Sonic headphones, which feature powerful bass and dynamic sound quality. The sound-isolation technologyis create a clearer listening experience through blocking out background noise – though as with all noise-isolation units I’d advise you test them first to see how they blend with your surroundings. The Sonic headphones retail at £39.95

For more info head to cygnett.com

Orange Liveradio team up with Logitech to ‘evolve the Squeezebox experience’

In the same way only the most respected, celebrated and legendary car manufacturers, such as Mercedes Benz and Alfa Romeo, have forums dedicated for fellow enthusiasts to share their experiences and tips, technology companies must know they’ve ‘established’ themselves when there are forums in circulation devoted to sharing knowledge about their products. Such is the case with Logitech and its award-winning Squeezebox Wi-Fi network music player and popular range of applications. Broadening the catalogue of radio stations and podcasts available on Squeezebox, Logitech has announced a new alliance with the Orange Liveradio app.

Logitech-Squeezebox

From the Beeb’s Radio 4 to France’s RTL, the Orange Liveradio app adds a further 11,000 radio stations from across the globe to a Squeezebox user’s catalogue of radio stations. For those who are unaware of the assets of the Logitech Squeezebox, this compact network music player enables users to enjoy digital music on their computer and the internet. Without the need of wires and supporting almost every format, including AIFF, AAC, WAV, Apple Lossless, FLAC, WMA and MP3, digital music collections and radio stations can be enjoyed anywhere in the home.  Squeezebox experiences can be controlled by a user’s smartphone or tablet with the Logitech Squeezebox Controller app.

In adding the Orange Liveradio catalogue to its range of apps, Logitech has created more opportunities for the discerning digital music fan. As well as creating an additional 11,000 radio stations to its index, users can access more podcasts from providers all over the world.

We’ve all had moments when we’ve heard a track we instantly love but don’t know the artist or group who are singing it. This annoying feat of listening to music can be rectified with the Orange Liveradio app, which gives users access to all the associated information supplied by the radio stations, such as song titles and artist’s names.

If Squeezebox embraces your music listening desires you may be excited by the Squeezebox/Orange Liveradio collaboration and want to check out further information on this “exciting step in the evolution of Squeezebox”, visit www.mysqueezebox.com. Or you could join other Squeezebox geeks and sign up to the Logitech Sqeezebox forum at www.forums.slimdevices.com

Sun-powered sounds on the move with the Eton Soulra XL

Back in May (which was, it now appears, when we had our summer), I enjoyed a couple of weeks of excellent quality sound in the garden thanks to the Eton Soulra solar-powered sound system.

soulraXL

I was pretty impressed by its easy of use, sound quality and compatibility, so I suspect that the same will be true of its latest release – a solar-powered boombox that goes by the name of the Soulra XL.

The device looks pretty good, and is triangular in shape – reminiscent of a giant Toblerone. The dock sits behind a waterproof antiglare glass that should protect it during outdoor use and also allow you to view the display if the sun is glaring.

The solar panel is retractable and can provide more than five hours of playing time – it will also charge up an iPad or iPhone in four hours – really handy if you’re away camping, or out for the day on the beach or in a park.

The portable sound system includes eight speakers, two woofers, two tweeters and four passive radiators to help push out the sound from a powerful 22-watt amplifier, as well as a remote control.

It has a gel-cushioned carry strap for portability and a mains adaptor for use indoors.

Fifty quid more pricey than the last unit I reviewed, the Eton Soulra XL is still a pretty reasonable £199.99, and if portability is a big issue for you, it looks like Eton has addressed it here.

Kindle Tuff Luv cover review

We look at a lot of iPad cases here at Latest Gadget, so many in fact that it’s easy to forget that other competing devices need just as much protection from the bumps and bashes that every day life provides. One such device, is Amazon’s hugely successful Kindle. I’ve had a Kindle 3 in the house for about 7 months and it’s a testament to its durability that it’s still in one piece – its light-weight form factor means I’m constantly throwing it around or tossing it on the table like one of its paper counterparts. It’s survived despite my best efforts but with a range of cases available why take that chance?

Kindle-Cover-with-Light

One such case is the stylish and well-designed Tuff-Luv case, which has a lovely high-quality feel to it, in part because it is made from high quality 100% genuine Napa leather and the real stitching with which it is hand stitched (backed by a lifetime workmanship guarantee). The real leather exterior is extremely comfortable to hold, perfect for long-London tube journeys, but also feel pretty secure – I’d happily drop my Kindle (from a low height like a chair) with the Tuff Luv on without freaking out too much. The case also features a specially designed magnetic-fastening flap to ensure the case is firmly closed when not in use. Another feature is an integrated document and penholder allowing you to carry round small sheets of paper and scribble on them.

Unlike their flashier tablet counterparts, Kindles and e-readers in general, are no fun in the dark, without the assistance of a bed-side light of sorts. The Tuff Luv Kindle cover comes with a powerful, LED directional reading light, which allows you to use your Kindle in the dark wherever you are. The light provides up to 72 hours of light with the included batteries and includes a built-in reflector cone, which increases brightness by up to 30%.

Plus it’s a lovely green. A range of Kindle covers with lights are available from Gear Zap now. They have regular Kindle covers too.

SongGenie 2 and CoverScout review

I used to work as a music reviewer way back when CDs meant something, so while half of my physical music collection comprises proper CDs with cases and covers, the other half is a mess of flimsy plastic or cardboard sleeves with track names printed on if you’re lucky or just sort of scrawled on in biro in others. So I’m aware of how annoying a messy music collection can be. Sadly this situation has replicated itself in my iTunes library, with metadata on my files from my early days on AudioGalaxy being all over the place. Even when I tried to digitise my physical collection the CDDB would sometimes fail me and there are plenty of “01 Track 01” entries when I browse my playlists.

CoverScout-SongGenie

equinux, one of the leading developers of Mac, iPad and iPhone solutions in Europe, has two popular apps, SongGenie 2 and CoverScout, which can make an iTunes library as organised and comprehensive as a normal person’s CD collection. Currently number nine and ten respectively in the Mac App Store’s ‘top grossing music apps’, combined SongGenie 2 and CoverScout give music libraries a much needed facelift. SongGenie 2 automatically identifies unknown songs, completes missing information and corrects spellings. Using an acoustic fingerprint for each song, SongGenie 2 recognises incorrect or mislabelled titles and artists, and searches for available song information. It can also insert lyrics straight into the music files, which can then be displayed on an iPad, iPhone or iPod for those who like to read the words or sing along with their tunes. If you have lots of rare Senegalese funk tracks from the mid-seventies then it might not be able to help you and mysterious 90s trance mixes are likely to stay that way. However when testing it did a pretty impressive job of cleaning vast swathes of my iTunes library and even identified some Frank Zappa live recordings that I’d had trouble with.

CoverScout then adds the finishing touches to a music library by helping to find any missing cover art for entire albums. It also gives you the option of being creative and editing covers, such as cropping out white boarders or drawing over an image. Or can also add their own artwork to tracks, giving their library a personal touch. I went through and redid Shaolin’s finest with covers from the Wu-Note project

Both SongGenie 2 and CoverScout are available to download on the Mac App Store or from Equinux.