Friday, October 17, 2014

THE MUSIC LOVER'S COMPANION - Tech Report on iBasso DX50

An early adopter of portable music player technologies, I've been frustrated for years by the reluctance of the industry to provide for those of us with large collections of music. I dearly loved that first Walkman I bought on a trip to the beach in my youth, but dreaded carrying large numbers of cassettes around with me. My first portable CD player kept me company in the car on long commutes, but I was always restricted to the CDs I had on the trip with me. Come the MP3 revolution and I was right there, despite my preference for lossless listening. My first 15 GB Archos player was a god-send, and I was one of the first buyers of an iPod, and thus one of the first recipients of a settlement when Apple was sued over the cruddy battery technology they had sealed us into.

But I always thought iTunes an abominable interface, and I hated the fact that the iPod could not be navigated by folder -- A listener is at the mercy of odd tagging and bad typing, so that any long list of artists/songs/albums is a pain to reckon with. We now have various cloud services, but the thought of renting space for my own music every month is abhorrent, and I need to be able to listen even when I don't have an internet or phone connection.

So for some years I carried my entire music collection on three 500 GB Archos 5 media tablets.  They were a bit on the bulky side compared to iPod, but they were 500 GBs! They used android operating systems and were quite easy to navigate. They had numerous other features, being full-blown media tablets, but I pretty much only used them for music listening, using tablets when I wanted a tablet.

But then Archos stopped manufacturing the 500 GB model, and I was thrown back to Apple much against my will.

For the past year or so I've been carrying my collection on the two surviving Archos devices and two iPod classics, which have 160 GB each, as you see in this array. This has taken care of the capacity issue, but has me cursing Apple every time I use the iPods; and now Apple has discontinued the iPod classic.  Eventually all four of these devices will die, and then I'd be up the creek. I have been using a quite handy little external drive that holds one TB and streams music to a tablet or computer, but that's even more bulk in my lap on the airplane.

So thanks go to Stephan Thomasopolis Grandjean who, in a post on FaceBook, happened to mention the iBasso DX50, which I have now been testing for a week.

As configured in this photo of my device, my entire jazz collection travels with me, and there is room to add about another 30 GBs of MP3s. The device itself has only 8 GB internal memory, but takes a 128 GB micro SD card in a slot. Then I have added another 256 GBs of jazz on that little thumb drive. That's 392 GB in a form equivalent to one iPod classic. And the iBasso allows navigation by folder, so I can get to the exact piece I want to hear in seconds with no sorting through badly spelled tags. Three more of the thumb drives hold the rest of my collection of rock, soul, reggae, classical, etc. I'll probably even get one more for all the poetry.  I can now travel with my entire collection of every piece of music I've accumulated since age 12 in one jacket pocket.  Further, this device plays lossless formats such as FLAC. My current plan is to reserve the paltry 8 GBs of on board memory for listening to recently downloaded lossless files I haven't gotten around to compressing yet.

Some of the early reviews of the iBasso were negative, with several people complaining of problems getting their computers to recognize the device. I gather the first firmware updates took care of that bug, though, as I have had no trouble using this with both new and old computers. I had the DX50 up and running within minutes of unboxing.

This thing is designed to work with micro sd cards up to 2 TB -- but there is no such card as yet, 128 GB being the largest generally available -- But, as you see, you can plug in a flash drive and it works like a charm, something no Apple player will permit.  There is a 500 GB thumb drive on the market, but you can get twice that capacity on 256 GB drives for the same money, so that's what I've done.

The menus are easy to use with a great touch screen.

And, I should mention, the sound is superb. I've been testing with a variety of headphones and external speakers, and am pleased with the quality. There is a sensitive volume control, and you can call up an EQ to adjust everything if you wish.There are several other lossless players on the market, but none that will allow me to have my entire collection at hand like this, and several of those are really expensive.

For once the industry has produced a good product that can grow with the technology and with my collection. We should have those 2 TB cards before too long.  Now I just have to pray these things stay on the market and don't go the way of the Archos 5 or the iPod classic.  There's always been a market for audiophiles, though the prices are out of my league.  (Early on I fell in love with the iRiver players, but that company's products are now very high-priced lossless players -- beyond my reach and not enough capacity anyway.) There should be a market for music lovers like me who need lots of memories -- 

Oh, by the way -- the battery is excellent, and unlike Apple's bad example, iBasso decided to let users replace the batteries should the need arise.

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