iRiver X20 (4GB)

Asia gets all the cool stuff. Case in point: the iRiver X20, a flash MP3 player with tons of features and great sound quality. Why iRiver decided to keep this lovely device from the Americans is beyond me, but luckily, we’ve tracked down a site that sells the player in the States. You can pick up the 4GB X20 for $159.99 over at warehouse123.com 

The iRiver X20 is pretty hefty for a flash player. It measures 3.8 inches tall by 2 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and weighs 3.2 ounces–you won’t be wearing this thing around your neck. On the plus side, this relative bulk allows for a 2.3-inch screen. I wouldn’t watch a movie on it, but it’s ample for short video clips and  photos.

To the right of the screen is a five-way control pad surrounded by an ultrathin mechanical scroll wheel (á la the SanDisk Sansa e200 series). As with the e200 series, the X20‘s scroll ring lights up blue when activated. It’s also on the too-thin side, making it a little hard to use, but it has some raised bumps that help provide traction. Inside the ring is a white control pad (up, down, left, and right) surrounding a play/pause key. A power button resides below the control pad and there’s a menu key above it.

 The face of the X20 also features a pinhole mic for making voice recordings, and the right side offers a line-in port for that style of recording as well. For line-in, you can choose from low-, medium-, and high-quality settings, and files are saved as MP3; voice recording offers no settings and files are saved as WAV. Alongside the line-in port is a standard headphone jack, followed by a standard mini USB port. The back of the X20 reveals two nifty features–a user-replaceable battery and dual external speakers–and the bottom of the unit offers yet another compelling extra: a microSD card expansion slot for adding more memory.  

When you connect the iRiver X20 to your computer, it mounts as removable storage (the internal memory and SD card show up as separate drives). Transferring files is a simple drag-and-drop affair–no software required–but if you prefer to use a jukebox, the player also works with the standard WMA players (Rhapsody, Windows Media Player, and so on). The jukeboxes could come in handy for transferring playlists (though you may also drag in M3U files), but keep in mind that the X20 does not support subscriptions, just purchased music (WMA DRM9). It also supports a variety of unprotected audio formats including MP3, WMA, WAV, and Ogg Vorbis. In addition, the player takes MPEG-4 and WMV video and JPEG images. 

Once there’s some content on the device, navigating through it is a pleasantly simple task. The X20‘s interface is nearly identical to that of the Insignia MP3 Player & Image Viewer. In fact, the software is so similar that I’m sure the two companies share it; Best Buy likely commissioned iRiver for the task–the latter’s is slightly more refined. The top menu is circular and icon driven, with the current selection magnified in the center.  Digging down into the music menu provides the standard Creative interface hierarchy, with selections sorted by artist, album, genre, and so on. The X20 also has an onboard browser for navigating via folders, if that suits your fancy. Should you get sick of your own music, you can switch over to the FM radio. The tuner offers an autoscan feature with an auto-preset function (up to 20 slots), and you can make recordings here, as well.

In our performance benchmarks, the iRiver X20 performed well overall, though I noticed a few subpar qualities. Voice recordings sounded muffled, video was fairly pixelated, and bass-heavy tracks suffered from distortion on all but the flat EQ setting (other choices include Rock, Jazz, Classical, Pop, and Custom). However, music sounded very good on the whole, even through the included earbuds.  Swapping in a set of Shure SE310s brought out the low-end. Tracks from varying genres sounded clear, rich, and warm. Surprisingly, FM radio quality sounded better than normal on the X20, and reception was great. The screen also provided great contrast and color saturation, and photos looked very good (though there is a screen-door effect). The battery is rated for an adequate 22 hours of juice. (Check back for CNET Labs test results.)  In final analysis, the iRiver X20 is a top-notch MP3 player and should satisfy a variety of users–especially those who crave every feature in the book. And at $160, it’s priced competitively with other players in the 4GB range.

 

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