devices have become increasingly sophisticated over the years. In particular,
MP3 players are smaller and more powerful than ever. The tradeoff is features
versus size and weight. We've seen some very small units with decent sound
quality, but they usually don't hold much music and anything less than the
highest bit rates usually lack in audio quality. Digital Innovations has
introduced a couple of new MP3 players they refer to as MP3 Digital Audio
Computers. The features offered on these new products are nothing short
of amazing. The Neuros 128 MB model comes with 128MB of memory and retails
for $249. The more powerful Neuros HD has a 20 GB hard drive built into
the pack and retails for $399.
We reviewed the Neuros HD and did not have the Neuros 128 MB for comparison.
The Neuros HD is a well built product with tactile buttons and an intuitive
user interface. Five
preset buttons on the left side of the unit provides quick access to a variety
of favorite songs, first song of playlist, first song of album, FM stations,
etc. While listening to your favorite selection, simply holding down the
preset button for a few seconds saves the selection. The next time you want
the same selection it's a simple button push. The Up/Down/Left/Right buttons
navigate through the menus. The bottom three buttons are used for track
or seek selection (FM station selection) and play/pause features. The slide
switch just below the orange button is used to lock the controls to prevent
an accidental button push during operation.
Songs are automatically
grouped by the album when they are downloaded into the player. However,
the Neuros also categorizes the songs by Song Name, Artist, Genre and
Custom Playlists making it easier to play the songs that you like most.
This feature works well and can be improved upon by a simple firmware
update should the manufacturer decide to revise the capabilities.
encodes recordings into the MP3 format from one of three different sources
(FM radio, Built-in-microphone or the Line-In inputs). The Preference
setting for compression (64kb/s, 96kb/s, 128kb/s, or 160kb/s) determines
the quality of the recording. This has nothing to do with the decoding
rate, which can be as high as 320kb/s for audio files transferred from
the PC. Other preferences can be adjusted including contrast, backlight
timeout, and time/date.
The 128x128 orange backlit display is easy to read and has great resolution.
As a result, a wealth of information can be shown at any given time. The
backlight is very even without any of the hotspotting one sees on some
units. The artist, song title, album name and genre are displayed when
playing an MP3 file. A bargraph shows the status of the current track
along with the track time and playing order (sequential or random). The
lower part of the display also shows the memory usage, battery status
(charging or remaining capacity) and current time. The layout of the data
on the display is well organized and easy to follow. All buttons illuminate
with the backlight, making the unit completely usable in the dark. The
on-time for the backlight can be set to 10 seconds, 30 seconds or completely
The built-in FM radio is a useful features offered on the Neuros product.
I used it during the course of the review and found it worked well. Indoor
use reduced the sensitivity of the tuner allowing only the strong stations
to come through clearly, so your mileage may vary. However, the FM tuner
reception outdoors was very good here in the Los Angeles area.
The HiSi (Hear It! Save It!) feature is an automatic song recognition
system and is one of the best features of this unit. A simple click of
the orange HiSi button captures a thirty second segment of a song off
the FM radio and stores it in the unit. Each sampled clip gets its own
time and date stamp used for the MP3 filename, making it easier to recall
when it was taken. The next time the Neuros is synchronized with your
PC, the sync manager connects to the Internet and returns the title and
artist of the song to your device. There is no charge for this service.
The status of each sampled song is returned with "resolved",
"best guess" or "not found". During our tests, most
songs were returned the "resolved" status and showed the correct
information. The "best guess" status almost always returned
incorrect Artist/Song information. We even took some samples with the
built-in microphone and were able to use the HiSi feature to recognize
The MyFi (My Frequency) feature has a built-in FM modulator that transmits
the audio on an FM band. An automatic search feature scans the FM band
for an unused frequency to start transmitting on. The transmitting frequency
can be manually changed at any time by simply pressing the up and down
buttons. Our experienced with this feature was somewhat mixed. First,
we tested the Neuros in Los Angeles, which has a large number of very
strong transmitters. This certainly compounds the problem when trying
to find a free FM frequency without experiencing some bleed-over from
an adjacent station. However, even with these issues working against us,
the FM modulator worked well in our test vehicle. We did have to try different
frequencies to get the best performance from the Neuros. The MyFi feature
also worked well in our home with a Sony executive style audio system.
The bottom of the unit has a mini USB 1.1 port, 3.5mm stereo headphone
jack, 3.5mm stereo line-in jack, power input (AC or car adapter) jack
and a stereo RF jack for an external antenna. The RF jack is not currently
supported, but has the potential to be used for improved RF capabilities.
The tab in the lower left is a lock to undock the unit from the base.
While some may complain about the USB port not being 2.0 compliant, I
found the 1.1 USB port to be adequate for my music downloads. USB 2.0
or Firewire would have been optimal for this product, but it wouldn't
keep me from buying the unit. Serious users, who frequently load large
amounts of music, may have a problem with this slower interface.
Any portable device usually has some limitations in terms of sound quality.
The sonic performance of the Neuros HD was much better than we expected
for an MP3 player. We always used the highest bitrate (320kb/s) to maximize
fidelity. The MP3 decoder in the Neuros worked very well with good separation
and excellent fidelity without sounding compressed or swishy. In fact,
we ran it through a HeadRoom Little headphone amplifier and a pair
of Sennheiser HD-600 headphones for some critical listening and were amazed
at how good it sounded. We also tried out the SHURE E2c headphones connected
directly to the unit and the results were impressive. The internal headphone
amplifier used in this unit had no problem producing high volume levels
when using the SHURE E2c headphones.
The Windows based NSM (Neuros Synchronization Manager) software can easily
be updated using the user interface. In addition, the internal Neuros
firmware is also a simple process. The NSM software can check the latest
versions at the Neuros website and let you know if an update is needed.
In our case, firmware version 1.29 was released and so we decided to update
our current version of 1.25 as a test. The NSM Windows software updating
is simple to use. The updates can be checked automatically or manually
by the user. Part of Digital Innovations' commitment to improving the
product is the periodic updates available at the website. These updates
not only fix bugs, but also improve the capabilities of the player. We've
seen three NSM updates and four firmware updates since the release of
the product. The latest 1.29 firmware release fixed some clicking sounds
we heard between tracks, so we are very satisfied with the latest release.
The Neuros HD 20GB MP3 Digital
Audio Computer is an amazing product that is well designed while providing
consumers powerful value-added features. The construction of the unit
is excellent with a high resolution, easy to read backlit display.
The HiSi (Hear It! Save It!) feature worked fairly well and while not
perfect, the Neuros was able to figure out a large percentage of the sampled
recordings without a problem.
Even priced at $399, I consider this product a deal considering all the
capabilities it offers. The size of the unit may be a problem for some
wanting a small lightweight player, but for most people including myself,
this isn't an issue. In fact, it fit nicely in my front shirt pocket.
The Neuros is a lot of fun to use and is currently my favorite portable
audio player. The bottom line is that the product has been well thought
out and has excellent audio performance.
- Kevin Nakano