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Creative Labs D.A.P Jukebox Portable MP3 player

Portable music is not a new concept, "Walkmans" have been around for ages now but nowadays it is digital that counts. MiniDisc players are quite popular in the mass-consumer market but are now experiencing competition from the MP3 players. Creative Labs have been in the MP3 player game for some time now with their Nomad line of players.

New for this year is the Jukebox, in Europe known as the D.A.P Jukebox (Digital Audio Player) and in the US as NOMAD Jukebox. What makes this Jukebox so special? Well first of all it offers the highest capacity (in the box) of all the players (6GB) and has a myriad of connectors. There is of course the HanGo Personal Jukebox (which has been out for a while) and I will explain later why it is not considered to be a competition to the CL Jukebox.

Many people wonder why someone would need 6GB of storage space and the truth is that not many do. By offering 6GB the Jukebox ensures that no one will run out of space and it also effectively removes the need for memory cards or any type of catridges.

In The Box

The unit I got to review is a white-box beta unit which means that it did not arrive in a retail box with retail software. However I got all the accessories that will be found in the retail box:

The Jukebox

-8 rechargeable AA batteries
-Creative Labs "street" headphones
-Power adapter for stationary useage and recharging of batteries
-Software CD containing the PlayCenter 2
-A carrying pouch

More on the D.A.P Jukebox

The unit I received, as mentioned before, is a beta unit because the software installed in it (drivers if you insist) is not final and does contain bugs. The same goes for the PlayCenter 2. The silicon itself is however final and no further changes will be made to it. What makes the D.A.P Jukebox special is its ability to be flash-upgraded as the processor is fully programmable (E-Mu had their share in the development). By having this feature the D.A.P Jukebox can be upgraded with new codecs as those are made available in the future (if there is the need) but it doesn't stop there. Almost everything with the D.A.P Jukebox can be re-configured and changed using the flash-technology, menu items, codecs, EAX effects, etc.

The D.A.P Jukebox supports the MP3 (variable bitrate is also supported) and WMA compression formats and it also plays wave files. Thanks to its programmable nature future compression formats can be supported just by downloading new "drivers". It uses USB connection as the interface between your computer and the Jukebox which is much better/faster than serial or parallell links.

Audio connectivity

Two line-outs and some fancy software work give the Jukebox the ability to output the sound to 4 speakers with two different modes - duplicate or surround. The duplicate mode will send out the exact same signal to both outputs and the surround mode will apply effects to the rear output giving a more "3D" feel. Frankly the duplicate mode is the one that is preferred here..

In addition to the two speaker outputs is the headphones jack and a dial that controls the volume of the jack as well. While the two line-outs' volume level is controlled via the menu system (or via the speakers themselves) the headphones jack's volume can be controlled with the separate volume dial. Unlike the majority of the headphones jack found on audio-equipment the D.A.P Jukebox one does not cut the sound from all other outputs thus enabling you to hook up three sets of speakers to it. The soundlevel output of the headphones jack is somewhat lower than the two line-outs but I've been told that this is a known "bug" and can, and will, be fixed for the retail version of the player.

Control features

The standard control buttons are all located on the front of the player and they work in the same way as we're used to. The play and stop buttons are the largest ones and their function is quite obvious. To the left and right of those are the RW and FF buttons and they are used for track skipping as well. Seven menu buttons are used to access and control everything else on the Jukebox, the up and down buttons are used to navigate through the menu system and the three control buttons (situated just below the display) are assigned different functions depending on where in the menu you are. Furthermore there are the 'LIB' and 'EAX' buttons. The 'LIB' button gives you access to your library of tracks and/or your current playlist. The 'EAX' button takes you to the system configurations menus.

The D.A.P Jukebox will read playlists and you can create your own playlists, either through the PlayCenter 2 software or directly on the D.A.P Jukebox, and adding additional tracks to existing playlists is also very easy. Pressing 'LIB' will take you to the root library menu where you can choose between 'Playlists', 'Artists', 'Albums' and 'Genres'. A song is categorised using the ID3 tags and thus can be easily located. When you have entered any of the sub-menus you can add a song to your current playing list by using the Queue button (which is one of the three command buttons that can be assigned to anything, found directly under the display) or just by pushing play. Choose another song, push play, and it will automatically jump up ahead of the previous song creating a list of two songs, and so on. You can also Queue entire playlists or categories. Three play modes are available: Shuffle, Random and Repeat. They're pretty self-explanatory. There is a search function included and is quite easy to use albeit it takes time to search for songs. A good feature is that it will display all available songs matching what you have entered in the search field so far. I.e if you start by entering an 'A' it will display all songs starting with 'A' and if you continue with 'All' it will display all songs starting with 'All'. You can delete songs too!

Effects

A parametric EQ function is built into the D.A.P Jukebox and contains the ability to change the Bass, Mid and Treble sounds from -12dB to +12dB in hops of 2dB. You can also set what the sound engine should recoginise as the Mid frequency (1100Hz default). A fully functioning EAX engine is included in the D.A.P Jukebox, just as the SB Live! card adds effects to any sound source, and gives the user the ability to add effects to the playbacked sound. The total amount of effects is lower than found with the Live! cards but through a software upgrade more effects can be added in the future. There is also a playback speed effect which lets the user choose from 0.5X all the way to 1.4X playback speeds.

 

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