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2004-08-02My review: Proline DM1945MP3 personal CD/MP3 player

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Proline DM1945MP3 (For the benefit of search engines, I should point out that this model may also be referred to as the DM 1945MP3, DM1945 MP3 or simply Proline 1945. At time of writing it's sold by the Comet product code 125962.)

In the market for an MP3/CD player? Ever wanted to fit a dozen albums onto one CD for the convenience and portability? Ever thought solid-state compact flash MP3 players were too expensive? This slim gadget might be the solution you've been waiting for. Or not. It has downsides.

The first thing people are likely to notice is how inexpensive the unit is. I still can't quite believe that the RRP is £24.99 ...Sony and other companies apparently have an even more gouging mark-up than we thought. I mean, it's virtually impossible to find companies which don't rely on exploiting cheap foreign labour, but few of them are known for passing on the savings to us.

An AC adaptor is included, which is even more surprising... and the player itself reads CDs, CD-Rs, data CD-Rs containing MP3s, and doubles as a charger for AA batteries. It doesn't read CD-RW discs, but I doubt many people will care. It does read multi-session CD-Rs, so you can burn a few folders of MP3s to a disc and go back and add more folders later, if your CD burning software supports it.

Directory playing is something I had a hell of a time getting concrete information on where MP3 CD players were concerned... for this money, it wouldn't be too surprising if the player couldn't cope with reading files sorted into directories. Rest assured that it can. I haven't tested it with large root-stored collecting, and complicated subdirectory hierarchies are almost certainly out, but for just burning album folders to the root of a CD, it's entirely A-okay. It also has enough LCD space to scroll directory names and ID3 info comfortably.

I said I had difficulty finding this out... initial enquiries at Comet were obstructed by someone having put instructions for the 1845 (non-MP3) model into the 1945 show case (and the units are vacuum-sealed, so the staff are reluctant to be helpful and open one to answer questions.) I had similar difficulties obtaining information on the Packard Bell OP4... the guy behind the desk at Currys said he didn't think the model handled directory playback, and Google turned up no useful reviews on the OP3 or OP4 models. In fact, it appears that Packard Bell have discontinued that line. Bear with me, because this review is likely to end up being about an OP4. Or perhaps I shall start a fresh and hopefully happier blog entry after I go back and get one from Currys.

There was a similar paucity of information on the Proline model, which is why I'm bothering to write this. The lone review I did find [at Pocket-Lint.co.uk] was fairly helpful, though somewhat misleading. When the author says "it has none of the folder management features of smaller and sexier MP3 units" he seems to have been expecting functionality appropriate to an iPod-type device, not a player which uses read-only media. The DM1945 scans folders absolutely fine; it would be impossible for it to allow you to organise files once they've been etched onto a disc. However, he was spot-on about the audio quality, which is great. Some of you will know I've been using a portable player plugged into larger passive hi-fi speakers, and the Proline player produces enough output to be used in a similar manner. Even the supplied in-ear headphones are pretty decent for freebies.

Unfortunately, this model has a flaw which renders it useless as an audio CD player (the last two paragraphs of this review will be about its MP3 functionality.) The supplied 40 second anti-shock comes at a price: the unit rarely manages to play an entire CD. Typically it will fail on the last-but-one track, resetting to an earlier track or skipping to the last. Experimentation with the replacement model obtained after a return visit to Comet reveals that the unit can't cope with being unable to fill its 'read-ahead' buffer. In practise, this means that if the next track is shorter than 40 seconds, the final track of a CD, or even just quite short and towards the end of a CD, the unit reliably fucks up, even on pristine CDs. It choked completely on the disc of 30 second punk songs I have, playing most tracks twice and jumping all over the place, and the Buffy musical soundtrack dies towards the end of track 2 (as track 3 is only a handful of seconds long.) Having figured this out and reproducibly demonstrated it, I'm torn between self-congratulation for the deduction and the frustrating realisation I need now to take the replacement back to a store, get a refund, and get a different model of unknown quality from another retailer.

MP3-related stuff: this player handles variable bitrate files comfortably, sometimes with a clipping of the first fraction of a second per track, but this is typical of many players and rarely noticeable. With low bitrate files, you may find the equaliser settings more useful to reinforce parts of the audio signal lost in the encoding. The navigation system for skipping directories is nicely intuitive, and there's a handy function to skip 10 tracks ahead if you like having lots of tracks to a directory. It doesn't handle playlists, so you'll need to number files.

For less than the price of two new CDs at high street prices, this player would be a great buy if it weren't for the irredeemably buggy anti-shock. Words cannot adequately describe how pissed off I am at this moment in time: an overall above-average design and implementation is rendered useless by this fault. Indeed, if you're just after an MP3 player, it might still be worth a look.


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