Some people have a tendency to tote tunes on their travels. Perhaps you’re a hopeless music incurable. Years ago you might have had a Sony Walkman. Then you got a portable CD player. If you’re hip, you now listen to your music on one of those MP3 players-a palm-sized device that plays music either downloaded from the Internet or “ripped” yourself from a CD.I’m not one of you. I like my music, but the sound track for my life informs and educates. I admit: I’m a National Public Radio junkie. I like listening to my news on a tiny FM tuner, no bigger than a pack of cough drops, and a tiny headset that folds away when not in use. But even I can get my fill of NPR, and when I do, I want to be able to play some music.
Basically, I want it all: One device that plays FM radio and MP3s, and lets me-a student and journalist-record lectures and interviews as MP3 files. These wishes must be pretty common, because there are now at least three devices on the market that combine these functions. In my quest for the perfect electronic companion I tried them all. None were perfect for me, but they might work for you.
Archos Jukebox Recorder FM: $299
It’s a MP3 player that holds more than 300 hours of high-quality music. It’s a portable FM stereo. It’s a MP3 recorder that can record from its built-in microphone, from a digital source, or even off the air. And it’s a 20 gigabyte external hard drive that connects to your computer through the ultra-fast USB 2.0 standard.
The Archos Jukebox Recorder (JBR) FM is about the same size as a Sports Walkman (circa 1995) and weighs in 10.3 ounces, making this trendy gem the “must have” MP3 player among the technological elite. Beautifully styled with a light silver case and rubber corners, the JBR does quadruple duty and is compatible with computers running Window, MacOS, and even Linux. Plug this unit into your computer and it appears on the desktop as another drive, then drag and drop MP3 files between JBR and your hard drive.
Playback sound quality is fabulous. Unfortunately, both the FM receiver and the MP3 recorder suffer. The FM receiver had no trouble pulling in strong stations, but gave me lots of static with weak stations and had a hard time playing any public radio stations when I sit in the back of a transit bus. (Why? The bus engine generates electrical noise that the cheap FM receiver has a hard time rejecting.) As for the MP3 recorder, the built-in microphone was good for somebody standing nearby, but it did only a fair job in my attempts to record a lecture. Worse, the microphone picked up noise and clicking sounds from the hard drive. While the JBR FM has a “Line In” jack to record from a stereo, it doesn’t have a microphone input, so you can’t record using an external mike unless you also have a preamplifier.