after we reviewed the original Neuros Digital Audio Computer from Digital
Innovations, the company released a faster USB 2.0 version of the backpack.
Since then, they've been working on other improvements with the product
and have recently announced the Neuros II design. The new player looks
very similar to the original product, but with a slightly darker complexion.
The Neuros II now offers larger storage options compared to the original
20 GB hard drive. Users can select drives as large as 80 GB for their
music storage as well as a smaller 128MB flash version. Swapping backpacks
is also now easier with the new firmware update. The front panel controls
are identical to the earlier design. However, the functionality has been
improved with the latest firmware update. The
company recently announced the release of not only their source code,
but of the hardware schematics of the design as well. This is great news
for those interested in improving the already great design of the Neuros.
Code writers can also build on the current user interface for added features.
There's also four versions of open source synchronization software available
for the PC with support for Linux and MAC as well. The Neuros forums on
the web have been an active exchange of information between customers
and the company. The Neuros package includes earphones, car power adapter,
wall power adapter, USB cable and Neuros Synchronization Manager (NSM)
Software and User's manual. The NSM software can also automatically upgrade
the Neuros firmware and desktop software when a new version is available.
The Neuros II HD is an easy to use product with some unique features.
Playing songs is only part of the capabilities of this unit. The player
supports MP3 VBR, OGG, WAV & WMA audio formats for playback. Also
included is a digitally enhanced FM tuner as well as an FM modulator.
The modulator allows the unit to broadcast a mono or stereo signal to
any FM tuner and has an adjustable gain control for optimal sound quality.
Five programmable preset buttons line the left side of the unit and can
be used for FM stations or music stored in memory. Neuros can also digitally
encode recordings in the MP3 or WAV format from one of three different
sources (FM radio, Built-in-microphone or the Line-In inputs). The Preference
setting for MP3 compression (64kb/s, 96kb/s, 128kb/s, or 160kb/s) determines
the quality of the recording. The user can also choose various sample
rates (8k, 44.1k or 48k) when using the WAV file format. MP3 playback
files downloaded from a PC can be encoded as high as 320kb/s.
Preferences menu allows users to adjust display contrast, backlight time-out,
record quality, repeat and shuffle settings, MyFi settings, and time/date.
The list of features has grown from the original Neuros we looked at last
year. The intuitive user interface is easy to use without having to read
the manual. While the unit is designed for portability it is a bit bigger
than one might want in a portable device. The Neuros measures 5.3"
x 3.1" x 1.3" and weighs 9.4 ounces. The built-in lithium batteries
will provide up to ten hours of continuous playback time. Up to 30 minutes
of skip protection is also possible with this design.
are automatically grouped by the album when they are downloaded into the
player. However, the Neuros also categorizes the songs alphabetically
by Song Name, Artist, Album, Genre and Custom Playlists making it easier
to play the songs that you like most. The five-band equalizer can be adjusted
±15 steps for each band. Several equalizer presets are available
for Rock , Pop , Jazz, Bass Boost and Classical. The user can also restore
new to the second generation Neuros is the ability to navigate through
the menus while listening to music. In addition, the Play Queue
lets the user line up the next song while music is currently playing.
The 128x128 orange backlit display looks the same as the one on the first
generation Neuros with easy to read graphics and great resolution. The
screen shows the artist name, song title, album name and genre when playing
an MP3 files. A high resolution bargraph shows the status of the current
track along with the track time and playing order (sequential or random).
If the Neuros is modulating on the FM band, the station frequency is displayed.
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
time-out for the backlight is adjustable (10 seconds, 30 seconds or off).
Although the Neuros is a powerful digital computer capable of decoding
a variety of music formats, the built-in FM radio is a welcome feature.
The performance of the FM tuner was pretty good overall. Indoor use reduced
the ability to pull in weak stations, but strong ones still performed
well. We didn't have any problem with outdoor reception.
The HiSi (Hear It! Save It!) feature is an automatic song recognition
system that is an impressive capability that links different resources
together. Users can start recording from the built-in microphone or FM
radio at the press of a button. The HiSi captures a thirty second segment
and stores it in the unit. Each sampled clip gets its own time and date
stamp used for the MP3 filename, making it simple to recall when it was
captured. 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 recordings.
The Neuros has a feature called MyFi (My Frequency) that transmits audio
on any FM station between 87.5MHz and 107.9MHz, resulting in 103 different
selections. An automatic search feature scans the FM band to determine
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. We definitely heard an improvement from the earlier unit we reviewed.
Here in Los Angeles, which has a large number of very strong FM transmitters,
it is difficult to find a free frequency on which to transmit without
getting some interference. However, this feature worked well on our indoor
mini stereo system that has a built-in FM tuner.
The bottom of the Neuros has two mini ports for both USB 1.1 and USB 2.0,
3.5mm stereo headphone jack, 3.5mm stereo line-in jack, power input (AC
or car adapter) jack and an RF jack. The USB 2.0 and power input jack
are actually located on the base, while the other connections are on the
smaller detachable Neuros unit. The locking tab on the lower left is used
to undock the unit from the base. The new USB 2.0 interface greatly increases
the download speed to the unit compared to the original model. The USB
2.0 interface is a big improvement that I once thought was not necessary.
After all, it takes far longer to rip MP3 files from your CD collection.
However, soon after I experienced the performance increase with the USB
2.0 interface, I was sold. Each song transfers in a fraction of a second
compared to several seconds with the slower USB interface. The headphone
jack produces 30 mW per channel and has a frequency response of 20 Hz
to 20 kHz.
Any portable device usually has some limitations in terms of sound quality.
The sonic performance of the Neuros HD was actually pretty good and much
better than we expected for an MP3 player. All our music was encoded at
the highest bitrate (320kb/s) to maximize fidelity. The MP3 decoder in
the Neuros did a great job with good separation and excellent fidelity.
We also connected the output to a HeadRoom Little headphone amplifier
and a pair of Sennheiser HD-555 headphones for some critical listening.
It was tough to tell that the audio was originating from a portable unit.
We also used a set of SHURE E3c headphones connected directly to the unit
and the results were great. Due to the high sensitivity of the SHURE E3c
earphones, the Neuros had absolutely no problem producing high volume
levels during our tests.
headphones reveal a lot about the performance of a portable unit. We think
users will be surprised just how good the Neuros sounds when compared
to many other portable products out there. Much has to do with the DACs
and amplifier electronics that drive the headphones. We did hear a slight
improvement when we used the external HeadRoom Little amplifier
module, but even without it the quality was respectable.
Neuros II HD 20GB MP3 Digital Audio Computer is a nice upgrade from the
original Neuros we reviewed last year. The latest product offers significant
performance improvements from the original model and the new user interface
has more flexibility and features. The upgradeable architecture of the
Neuros assures users that future firmware enhancements can be easily implemented
with a simple download from their PC. The new lower price also makes the
Neuros more attractive in this competitive marketplace. We would like
to see the product eventually decrease in size to make it more portable
for those who would like to use it when they workout.