Product Review (September 2004) - Neuros II
HD 20GB MP3 Digital Audio Computer

Shortly 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.

Features
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.

The 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.

Songs 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 defaults.

Something 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.

Display
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).

FM Radio
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.

HiSi
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.

MyFi
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.

I/O
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.

Sound Quality
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.

Quality 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.

Conclusion
The 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.

- Kevin Nakano


Review System

Desktop - Sony PCV-RZ22G, Pentium 4, 2.4GHz, Windows XP Home
Vehicle - 2000 Toyota Sienna LE
Headphone #1 -
Sennheiser HD-555 used with the HeadRoom Little Amplifier
Headphone #2 - SHURE E3c


Review - At a Glance


Neuros II HD 20 GB

Features

  • Intuitive navigation
  • Go anywhere size: 5.3" x 3.1" x 1.3", 9.4 oz.
  • 20GB hard drive holds up to 5,000 songs (encoded at 128kbps)
  • Use as a portable hard drive to hold any file you want to take with you
  • Digitally enhanced FM tuner
  • Recording to MP3 format from internal microphone, FM tuner, and line input
  • High resolution, backlit LCD display and button controls
  • 5 programmable preset buttons
  • 10 hours of continuous playback with rechargeable Lithium Ion battery
  • Automatic firmware and software upgrades

    Includes

  • Earphones
  • Car power adapter
  • Wall power adapter
  • USB cable
  • Neuros Synchronization Manager Software

    System Requirements

  • Operating System: Microsoft® Windows 98SE/Me/2000/XP
  • Processor: Pentium 233MHz or higher
  • Memory: 64MB minimum
  • Hard Drive Space: 160MB
  • USB Port

    Source: Manufacture loan
    Model Number: 4010301
    Serial Number: GC000810E4
    MSRP: $250
    Weight: 9.4 ounces (266 grams)
    Size: 5.3" (13.4cm) x 3.1" (7.8cm) x 1.3" (3.3cm) (HxWxD)
    Warranty: 90 Days - Labor / 1 Year - Parts


    Company Information
    Neuros Audio, L.L.C.
    2 N. Riverside Plaza
    Suite 200
    Chicago, IL 60606

    Phone: 312-601-6501
    Fax: 312-601-6504
    Web Orders: 866-5-NEUROS (866-563-8767), 8:00 am and 5:00 pm (Central Time)
    Email: support@neurosaudio.com
    URL: www.neurosaudio.com

  • Any comments or questions regarding the LAAF Web Site should be forwarded to laaudiofile@socal.rr.com

    Copyright © 1985-2004 L.A. Audio File.