April 15, 2005
Apple iPod Shuffle VS. Commodore MpetII
Apple's recent introduction of the iPod Shuffle caused us to re-examine the Flash music player landscape. In the past, we
were less than impressed with many of the MP3 Flash players on the market. Bulky, unreliable, poor sound quality, short battery life, and Windows integration problems are just a few of
the many problems encountered with the units that the leading manufacturers sent us for evaluation.
With the debut of the iPod Shuffle, we knew it was time to revisit the market and see how the technology has progressed.
For this Head2Head we chose the aforementioned Shuffle,
and to complete the computer theme, the Commodore MpetII player from Yeahronimo Media Ventures. The
iPod Shuffle is a
very simple MP3 or AAC digital player that comes in two memory incarnations, 512MB for $99 and a 1 GIG model for $149. The
Commodore, with many more features, also has two memory versions, a 256MB for $99 and a 512MB for $139.
Like many of the leading MP3 Flash players on the market, the Commodore comes with a miniature information LCD screen and an FM Radio.
It also has the ability to record via a built-in microphone, or an external mic with the provided mini-jack record in. We were impressed with the Commodore unit from the get-go. Although,
it's not the smallest unit on the market, we found the retro design to be attractive with an easy-to-use joystick controller.
The unit, like the iPod Shuffle, is meant to be worn as a necklace, however, neither manufacturer took the concept to the next level by
integrating the provided earbuds into the provided lanyard for a seamless look. So what's the best thing about the Commodore MpetII?
It simply works.
We didn't encounter one problem when integrating the Commodore with Windows, no additional software to install, no hoops of fire
to jump through, we installed the software and we're immediately able to transfer songs to the player. The screen, though small, was easy
enough to read and provided all the necessary functions for tweaking the unit's sound parameters to your particular taste with five EQ settings. The sound quality was adequate, not breathtaking,
but for a Flash player good-enough quality for active portable play. The on/off button is located on the side of the player and several of us often turned the unit off by mistake when grabbing the unit
to examine the screen - a significant design flaw. The recorder worked well and was great for recording mental notes and
drunken friends meandering, yet committed, diatribes about how a Twinkie is not actually baked, it's a chemical reaction.
The iPod Shuffle is an entirely different beast. Its super small and only plays music files in two modes: shuffle and ordered play.
If you're a gym rat or someone who runs hard, then the iPod Shuffle is your ticket. Its compact size is perfect for physical activity
where you do not need to address the device, and with no moving parts, uninterrupted play is a truly a reality and not another
advertising exaggeration. Many will forego the lanyard and simply stick the iPod Shuffle in a shirt pocket, or my personal favorite,
in your hat. In fact, I'm surprised no one has come out with an iPod Shuffle baseball hat. A small pouch in the hat with a
hidden "curtain" to hold the earbud wires would be the quintessential accessory. For my own workouts, I simply inserted the
iPod Shuffle in the upturned band of my Nike Skull Cap and routed the wires around the side for a sleek, integrated look.
Coming soon to your Grocer's Freezer
When the iPod Shuffle was just a gleam in Steve Jobs eye, he assigned the task of convincing the buying public that the player
did not need a screen to his crack marketing team. In pure Apple brilliance, an ad campaign was created with catchy phrases
like: "Life Is Random" to emphasize the you have no idea what song is going to play next attribute and to de-emphasize
the lack of an informative screen. Apple even went so far to create an "AutoFill" feature in the latest iTunes update
which tops off your iPod Shuffle with a random selection of songs from your collection. Unfortunately, many of us have an enormous iTunes
music library, and this is where the whole concept of shuffling comes crashing down. Inevitably you are going to discover a previously unknown musical gem from your collection that
AutoFill has loaded into your iPod Shuffle. The bad part is that once you discover this diamond in the rough - a jamming, yet unfamiliar, song that you have no idea who the artist is -
there is no way to ID the track for future reference. If Apple saw the concept through, then they would have
provided a method for bookmarking the song, so the next time you attached the iPod Shuffle to your computer the song would be flagged.
It shows that Apple is fallable. They're smart, but not that smart.
The ear buds on both units suffer, especially when listening to music with a deep low-end. Both units provide nothing below 100
Hz and the high end is overly crisp, like a piece of toast that snaps in half when you try to butter it. If you're looking for a
very economical alternative check out
Plug by Koss. It sells on Amazon for only $12.99
and "Pimps Your Ride" by adding much needed bass for electronic music. If the Commodore's earbuds are like a Toyota Corolla's
standard sound system, then the Plug by Koss is like an Escalade with eight 15" woofers thumping. (All right, we get it --Ed.)
In other words, to obtain the best possible listening experience, you'll need to go out a buy another pair of earbuds, which
brings us to the sound.
The sound quality of the iPod Shuffle is superior to the MpetII; its not a huge difference, but enough to be noticeable in our
Head2Head tests where we loaded the same MP3 song on both units and listened with the Shure E5C and the Etymotic ER-4P, two of the best earbuds you can buy.
The iPod Shuffle is just a tad warmer on the high end, provides much more bass, contains more depth, and has an extremely "hot" output.
This puppy had no problem driving even the
DJ headphones that many of us favor. The MpetII sounds good on mid-range material such as Spoken Word or eBook material, but thins out
significantly in the high end of the spectrum and on the bottom end below 80 Hz. It also didn't have the output gonads like the iPod Shuffle to drive the 50mm drivers on most DJ headphones.
The iPod Shuffle has a rechargeable battery whereas the MpetII takes one AAA. I found the
battery life on both units to be excellent and was particularly impressed with the longevity of the Commodore. Even with constant play,
the Commodore seemed to last forever, something I've never encountered on a battery-fitted MP3 player. Of course, I would have loved that the Commodore had a rechargeable battery since I don't need the
extra expense, but that said, you can take the MpetII on long trips with just a couple of AAA spares and you're good to go. With the Apple,
you're going to need to buy a dedicated charger, or worse, schlep your computer if there's no AC outlets on your mountain bike excursion
through the Moab desert.
The Commodore's FM radio was also an appreciated feature. I never listen to the radio for music, but
tuning in Howard Stern's shenanigans or listening to New York's rabid fans getting all frothy at the mouth while complaining about the
is a great bonus. As I mentioned before, all of us really appreciated the MpetII's screen. It was great to load in all the
new tracks that we received this past week, and then be able to refer to the screen when we discovered a great groove, something the iPod Shuffle can't do.
For a Flash player, the majority of us found the 1 GIG storage capacity of the iPod Shuffle to be the perfect size - enough songs to never
hear a repeat during a standard 1-2 hour session in the gym or wandering from record store to record store downtown. The MpetII, with only
512MB, came up wanting. Hopefully, they'll be able to cram a 1 GIG chip in the next generation of units.
There is absolutely nothing to complain about the iPod Shuffle's Pack-of-Doublemint-Gum-sized-case except for the on/off switch at the back.
The switch is so slippery and hard to operate that many of us felt that we were going to crush the unit when we tried manipulating the slider.
I'm sure Apple is going to be inundated with complaints about this and will simply add
an embossed texture on the back to address the problem in the next generation of units.
The MpetII's case reminded me of a submarine with its bulbous, oval shape. The unit is easily twice the thickness of the iPod Shuffle which
means that sticking it in a shirt pocket is not really an option. It works better on a neck lanyard then the iPod Shuffle, but again you have
all the sloppy wires to worry about. So for many of us, it ended up in a pant pocket with a long set of earbud wires.
So who's the winner of this shootout? Well, it was a split-decision. Four of us liked the iPod Shuffle, while the other two weighed in for
the MpetII. So the iPod Shuffle wins. The deciding factor came down to the sound
quality. However, neither one of these units is perfect.
You can't go horribly wrong with either pick, so if you're a PC user and want a FM Radio and a recorder, then go with the Commodore. If you're a
Mac owner, then nail down the iPod Shuffle in the 1 GIG size.
Commodore MpetII: FM receiver; FM recording; line-in
jack for audio recording; built-in mic; USB 2.0; ID3 tag display; WMA and MP3 playback; drag-and-drop data storage via the provided software. AAA battery. Monochromatic LCD display: 128X64 dots with
two color LED backlight. Dimensions: 98.7 x 37.5 x 24.0 mm. EQ Settings: Jazz, Classic, Rock, Pop, Bass & Normal. PC only: Windows 98SE/ME/2000 and XP. 256MB for $99 and 512MB for $139.
Apple iPod Shuffle: VBR, AAC, and MP3 up to 320 kilobits supported. Easy-To-Use iTunes software for drag-and-drop
loading, playlist control and AutoFill. USB 2.0. Internal rechargeable battery. Mac and PC. 512MB for $99
and 1 GIG for $149.
The Future: Apple needs to suck it up and add a LCD screen.
You won't see them do it in this generation of iPod Shuffles, but when they do a redesign, they will probably add one. When they do update the current version, look
for a new on/off switch and hopefully a bookmark system. Commodore needs to bump up the sound quality on the MpetII and
increase the memory capacity to at least 1 GIG. The on/off switch is also a
grave problem and needs to be relocated or be held down for a minimum of 2 seconds to engage. And will someone please make us an iPod Shuffle
Baseball Hat with a Kangaroo pouch for the iPod Shuffle and a way to stow the wires for a sleek profile...we'll buy at least six.
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The Apple iPod Shuffle scores an 80% Power Rating and the Commodore is not far behind with a 70%. Both units offer a compelling portable listening experience, but the Shuffle edges out the MpetII with superior sound quality.
As the name correctly implies, Experiments In Sound, is Futuremusic's latest endeavor for pushing electronic music technology to the very edge of what's possible.
Experiments In Sound grew out of Futuremusic's avant-garde events in
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Now Experiments In Sound has become The Ultimate Mix Contest...
After the tremendous success of our groundbreaking The Next Big Thing DJ Contest, Futuremusic has decided to once again create a new paradigm...
Learn more about Experiments In Sound!
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Think you got skills?? Then start practicing! The Next Big Thing 2005 will kick off at the end of the summer!!
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