Meizu Music Card

I spent a while searching for an MP3 player in the leadup to xmas 2007. I thought my criteria were reasonable:

  • Access as a USB Mass Storage device
  • Decent enough sound quality that I’m not compelled to buy an amp
  • FLAC and ogg support
  • A form factor that I can take running with me in a pocket

I ended up with a shortlist of:

iPod nano
  • the 3rd generation form factor isn’t great
  • it can’t play ogg and flac (well, until rockbox gets ported)
  • isn’t well-regarded for its sound quality.
Sony NWZ-S61x
  • It certainly seems from Sony’s promotion, user reactions, and some RMAA tests that sound quality was a focus, and that Sony were taking advice from their users by switching to UMS.
  • The lack of ogg and flac support was disappointing
  • The form factor tipped the balance. Really it’s not that bad, but it reminded me of parley, whose appearance I loathe.
Cowon iAudio 7
Meizu M3
  • A form factor that fit my criteria
  • Comprehensive codec support
  • Some bells and whistles (FM, mic recording)
  • A decent price
  • I couldn’t find much regarding quantitative tests of the sound quality (the others had been subjected to RMAA and similar).

On separate whims I came close to getting the iAudio 7 and an NWZ-S616.

So the belated birthday present from my sister was an M3 SP, 8 GB, stocked with the T 2.003.3 firmware. I christened it “simble”. Here are my first impressions, chronologically ordered rather than logically categorised.

The form factor is about what I wanted, it’s actually a little thinner than the footprint of the UM-1 headphone jack I plugged in. It feels fairly weighty for its size, and front-heavy if anything. The aluminium back plate and the plastic laquer front protector show fingerprints easily. The control strip is pretty sensitive but is operable as long as you’re a little patient. The ports along the bottom are quite exposed, making the player sand-permeable. If parley_ is any indication, it will reach sand saturation after a couple of trips to the beach sitting in my bag.

It took about 2 hours to charge OOTB. The charging animation, pretty as it is, doesn’t actually give you a good idea of how much it’s charged, until it changes to “Fully charged”.

Turning it on was a little confusing. You actually have to hold the play button. A quick tap makes the screen flash but doesn’t boot the device.

The M3 uses UMC by default, which suited me fine (connecting it to scud). The M3 is, at a high level, in one of 4 modes: off, USB charging, USB transfer, or ready to play/playing. So no playing while transferring. It took less than 3 minutes to transfer an 821 MB FLAC rip of Big Bud’s Late Night Blues (2 CDs worth).

Subjective sound quality playing the FLACs (out through to my Westone UM-1s, no amp) is reasonable, probably slightly more detailed than what comes out of scud. The M3 has a few post-processing options. The Bass Boost was helpful at values below the default (6 seemed reasonable). The Treble Boost was best left off. The Spatializer had the ability to turn a decent sound terribly muddy at Virtual3D settings above 1. Normal sounded just like a mild gain effect, not noticeably improving the sound stage (which is narrow with the spatializer off). Virtual 3D at 1 moved the instruments away from the centre of the soundstage without actually widening it. The Phase Corrected Equalizer (PCE) is a nice effect (it adds depth and makes the low-end a little more boomy without introducing much distortion), but I left it at 1 to get a more accurate signal. The virtual base enhancement (ViBE) tended to distort the bass on tracks where it was in the foreground (such as State of Mind) and was best left at 0, the Bass Boost and +2 on the 60Hz equalizer band was more effective.

A volume of 8 was adequate to have the bass come through, 10 was immersive, and I set the restriction to 20.

There’s a noticeable ambient hiss across the tracks I listened to, which disappears as soon as the playback is paused. I’m not sure whether this is a fault of the source or not. I guess if someone’s interested I can create some genuine FLAC silence and test that.

It seemed to have a minor crash at some point (probably due to me not plugging the mini-USB plug in straight and the connection breaking during a transfer). OS X stopped being able to see the drive. I checked with scuff and the drive was mountable and browseable. “fsck.vfat“ saw a mismatch between the boot and backup boot sector, but nothing else interesting. I repaired that, but the display stopped updating as menus were scrolled (although the scroll “clicking” sound worked and new menus displayed). After rebooting simble and scud things worked again.

Other interesting observations:

  • If it goes to sleep with hold on, when you turn it on it will boot
    up, realise hold is on, and shut back down.
  • In some menu rows there is text in a left aligned cell and a right
    aligned cell. In the Spatializer menu these cells overflow with
    “Spatializer” and “Natural Headphones” overlapping.
  • The manual reads: “it is necessary to prevent strong shock when
    reading files or operating, otherwise files may be damaged or
    deleted”, which is for a flash-based device (generic handling
    instructions?).
  • I can’t get good triple J reception inside (which isn’t usually a
    problem).
  • What I thought was just me being lazy plugging the USB cable into
    the player is really more of a hardware/design fault. The plug on the
    player side makes contact and seems to come to a secure halt about
    90% of the way in (2mm of metal showing), and this is fine for transfers
    etc. However, easing it to the left gets it the full way (1mm of metal
    showing), but this will temporarily break the contact and put the device
    into a confused state (on linux this shows up as a continuous USB-2.0
    resets).

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