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Adamond ZK1 2GB Flash MP3 player

Watch out, low-end HDD-based devices?

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Review Asian-made MP3 players are more than ten a penny these days, all compact, feature-packed and, generally, offering decent sound quality. Finding a stand-out feature is hard, but Swedish supplier Adamond has managed it: the ZK1 is the first Flash-based music player to ship with 2GB of storage capacity, the company claims.

Adamond ZK1The ZK1 joins the mass of cigarette lighter-shaped players - circular in cross-section, a couple of inches or so long - designed to be worn round the neck. There's nothing exceptional about its looks, but it's certainly one of the more attractively-styled players out there. The front is flattened to make room for the crisp, 128 x 64 multi-line OLED panel. It's only a two-colour job, but it's infinitely clearer than any number of larger backlit LCDs, and offers better power conservation characteristics too.

Alongside the screen is the obligatory voice-recorder microphone. Round the curve is a slim Hold key - rotate the device the other way for the Record, EQ and Play/Pause/On/Off buttons. EQ buttons are commonplace, but this one is interactive, with the selected pre-set being applied immediately. The standard pre-sets are unimpressive, just as they are on other players - you either like the result or you don't. You can at least apply your own setting through the custom slider-style interface called up from the ZK1's Settings menu.

The Menu control is located on circular end of the player. It also doubles up as a four-way joypad. Push in the direction of the plus or minus icons to change the playback volume; toward the rewind or fast forward icons to track skip in the appropriate direction. Mounted round this control cluster are four blue LEDs that light up then turn off sequentially, over and over again, while music playing.

I found the control fiddly at first, but soon realised the trick is to rock the joypad with the pad of your thumb or finger rather than try and push its side. Get the handling right and the joypad works a treat. Practice makes perfect.

At the opposite end of the player you'll find the earphone socket and a small USB port, tucked away behind a sliding flap. Adamond bundled a simple 'small USB to standard USB' adaptor to make connecting the player to a host PC or Mac a cable-less business. Tracks are transferred by USB, and the player can handle songs copied over in album-containing folders. There's an on-board option to play everything, or to create a single, ad hoc playlist.

The USB port is also used as a line-in, via a bundled USB-to-3.5mm stereo jack. You'll need to experiment with the playback devices volume to ensure distortion-free encoding - what you hear through the phones isn't necessarily what's being encoded - and pressing the Rec button at the right moment is a bit hit or miss, I found. However, there's a feature Adamond calls AutoSync, which listens for a period of silence - you determine the duration - and uses it to break the recording into separate tracks.

The unit encodes to MP3 at one of a variety of user-selectable bit-rates. It will also play back DRM-less WMA files, the audio component of ASF tracks, and Ogg. You can record from the built-in FM radio too.

The ZK1 is powered by a single AAA battery, which Adamond claims will last for up to 17 hours, depending on factors like song encoding rates and the degree of sound-enhancement applied. I've already mentioned the basic EQ system, but the ZK1 offers what Adamond calls Magic Expander, or MEX for short which, apparently, "does not make you feel tired even if you listen for a long time".

Actually, it sounds rather good I thought. It's supposed to yield a more '3D' sound, but in practice it works like a superior EQ. I particularly liked the bass-boosting setting, but there's a version that accentuates the treble and a third that provides an rounder sound across the frequencies.

What lets it down are the bundled earphones, which don't sound too sloppy when held into the ear, but quickly slide out of position, weakening the audio experience. Pads would help but none were supplied with the review sample.

Verdict

From Korea by way of Sweden the Adamond ZK1 is a neat little player that packs in a significant storage capacity - think 480-odd tracks, sufficient for most listeners - a good dose of audio enhancement, a crisp OLED screen and a novel control mechanism.

Inevitably, the capacity comes at a cost. The ZK1 typically retails online for around £200, though TotalPDA.com, which supplied our review unit, has it listed for £150 - a much more reasonable price, but still more expensive than a 4GB iPod Mini. I like the ZK1, but I'm not sure I wouldn't prefer to pay less and get the Apple product's greater capacity. The ZK1 is certainly stylish but it's not an icon.

Adamond ZK1
 
Rating 75%
 
Pros Good audio enhancement; OLED screen; songs capacity.
 
Cons Expensive.
 
Price £150-200
 
More info The Adamond ZK1 site
TotalPDA.com

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