IRIVER IFP-390TSmall, yetfeature-packed MP3 player

Credit: IRiver America

As a runner and cyclist for the past 25 years, I've never been a huge fan of carrying music during training.

Over the past couple of years, however, my thinking has changed after spending a lot of time bicycle commuting alone. I now carry a portable radio on almost all my solo rides and almost feel naked without the earphones.

I've considered carrying a bulkier CD or cassette player but it just doesn't seem worth the effort, especially considering how limiting a single CD or cassette can be.

Welcome to digital music. After being introduced to the the IRiver IFP-390T, a portable MP3 with built-in FM tuner and 256MB of storage, everything I always thought about music changed.

For starters, the player is so small and light you won't believe this thing can generate the quality sound it does. At just 35 grams, excluding the single AA battery it requires, you can pop this baby into your jersey pocket or connect it to the supplied arm band and barely notice you're carrying anything.

Getting started was a snap

Getting started was a snap. Since I didn't have any MP3 files, I tried out the built-in FM tuner. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it picked up stations and allowed me to preset 20 stations (as if anybody could ever find that many decent stations in a market) to quickly scroll through my presets.

Since the player is so tiny, I found the mode buttons and screen display a little too small for easy reading. It seems the best option is to learn how to manipulate the built-in joystick for navigating the myriad functions. A pleasant audible beep alerts you to a function or menu change, and the beep volume can be set as well.

OK, now the real test. After all, I didn't want to review an MP3 player to listen to FM. I had to get my hands on some MP3 files.

A friend of mine said he had a ton of albums he'd "ripped" (seems this is the hip geek term for file conversion) to MP3 format and would let me download some of the songs onto my IRiver player.

IRiver manager software

I loaded the supplied IRiver manager software, hooked up the unit to my computer's USB port and Windows XP immediately recognized the "new hardware" and installed itself automatically.

Moving songs onto the player was as easy as selecting files from the top half of the IRiver manager console and clicking the "down" arrow to download it into the appropriate folder on the IRiver player. I found I could put about 60-70 songs, ranging from 3-5 minutes in length, on the player at any time.

The one negative I experienced is that I could not move songs from one folder to another on the IRiver player. In order to move a song to another folder, I had to first delete it and then download again from my PC.

For some reason, the player will not upload MP3 files to a PC either. This would have been handy, I thought, to quickly move MP3 files to another computer. Not knowing much about MP3 technology, I figured this has to do with copyright issues and companies not wanting to make it "easy" to move music around. Since I could just as easily FTP or burn CDs filled with MP3 files, I'm not sure how much this really protects.

Playback of the MP3 audio files was outstanding. The fact you can create a custom play list, random shuffle or replay anything instantly makes this IRiver player truly amazing. Creating custom music play lists is a snap and I now completely understand why MP3 has revolutionized the music industry.

Other snazzy features

And there are other snazzy features such as voice record (yes, the player has a built-in microphone), inline recording (you can hook up an external CD device and record the music and convert the files to MP3 format), FM recorder (you can just hit "record" while listening to FM and record anything) and file transfer capability (you can transfer any computer file via USB port, turning the player into a mini 256MB hard drive).

Recorded voice and FM files are saved in another format and when you upload them to a PC, you have the option of saving them as MP3. Not only is this nifty, but there's nothing you need to do as the software automatically prompts you to make the conversion.

Since navigating through the different modes can be a little confusing, especially at first, I was pleased to learn that the IRiver player stores the last mode and song it was playing when you power it off.

So, for instance, if you were listening to a random shuffle of all the MP3 songs, it would pick up exactly where you were in a particular song and continue playing the random selection when turned back on. This assures you won't be listening to the same song twice through several training sessions until its run through the entire selection.

Being a complete digital music neophyte, I must admit that my introduction to the IRiver player has really changed the way I think about music and my seemingly archaic CD collection.

How can I quickly convert my CDs to digital format and, more importantly, how soon will all audio devices start supporting these digital formats so that my home stereo can be just one massive hard drive allowing me to categorize and search my music collection at the touch of a button?

For now, if you're in the market for a portable MP3 player, you'd be well advised to take a strong look at the IRiver players. My IFP-390T carries a suggested retail of $199. They also make a 512MB version called the IFP-395T. For more information, visit www.iriveramerica.com or call 800-399-1799.

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