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Netgear MP101 wireless music player

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Review Netgear has always focused on the SOHO market and has consistently delivered a range of keenly price networking products. The MP101 represents a new direction for the company as this box is a digital media player that will play MP3 and WMA music files over wired and wireless networks. And, in keeping with Netgear's philosophy that technology shouldn't cost a packet, it comes at an affordable price, writes Dave Mitchell.

Netgear MP101 wireless music playerThe MP101's brushed steel front panel won't look out of place on a hi-fi rack. In the middle is a brightly lit four-line text display that provides information about the unit's status, its configuration and the tracks being played - title, artist, album and so forth. The machines is used solely with the remote control, which provides easy access to the unit's settings and playback menus.

Alas, Netgear has been a bit crafty about the MP101's wireless capabilities. The packaging states the machine is 802.11b and 802.11g compliant. In fact, the unit only supports 802.11b running at 11Mbps, but will connect to an 802.11g access point set up to operate in 802.11b mode too.

Streaming performance shouldn't be an issue over 802.11b wireless unless you want to stream uncompressed audio. Unfortunately, according to the spec sheet, the MP101 doesn't support uncompressed audio formats, so it's clearly not a box for audiophiles. It can't handle DRM-protected songs, nor is it Mac and/or iTunes compatible.

An additional 10/100Mbps Ethernet port on the back of the unit allows it to be wired to the network if you need the extra bandwidth - and have the cables in place. There's not much else to see at the rear: just a pair of audio jacks for connection to your stereo and a mini-jack for headphones. There are no digital outputs.

Installation is simple enough: you just power the device on and let it search for available wireless networks. The display keeps you updated on its progress and it had no problems finding our 802.11b network. It will show all discovered networks, and you use the remote control to scroll through them and select the one you want to connect to.

If you're worried about security, the MP101 supports 64/128-bit WEP encryption, though it's not up to WPA-level protection. When the unit attempts to associate with a secured access point it automatically detects that WEP is enabled and asks if you want to activate this on the player. You use the remote's alphanumeric keypad and music control buttons to enter the network's password.

We have heard reports of problems with Netgear's Media Server software but it behaved impeccably during testing. Adding music files to the Netgear collection is easy enough as the import function scans selected drives and folders looking for MP3 and WMA files. You can even use a built-in scheduler to scan selected locations at regular intervals. iTunes-style smart playlists make organising your music files even easier as you can match conditions based on any or all of these categories and use keywords to automatically populate a playlist.

The sound quality is great. Playback was very clean on both 'phones and a stereo, and at no time did the 11Mbps wireless link cause any performance problems. That said, the MP101 as supplied refused to play any of the vTuner radio streams until its firmware had been updated, so we recommend you do so regularly.

Verdict

We enjoyed testing the MP101 and found it very easy to install and use with good playback quality. The unit offers excellent levels of control over the music provided by the Media Server so you can mix and match tracks to your heart's content. The remote control was simple to get to grips with, making this package a useful addition to a home entertainment centre.

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Netgear MP101
 
Rating 70%
 
Price £82 inc. VAT
 
More info The Netgear MP101 site

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