iRock 530 Review

Highs

  • Small formfactor

Rating

Our Score 6
User Score 8

Lows

  • Average sound
  • cheap quality construction
The iRock 530 is another addition to the fast growing portable audio device world, hoping to make an impact with its design...

Summary

The iRock 530 would be a great product 2 years ago, but the technology of MP3 players today has grown beyond what the iRock 530 offers.  Use of USB 1.0, cheap feeling plastic in the housing and buttons, non-backlit display, and no support for ID3 Tags along with a price of $125 on the http://www.myirock.com site are negatives that outweigh the few positives.

Introduction

The iRock 530 is another addition to the fast growing portable audio device world, hoping to make an impact with its design and small size.  With a decent entry level price and 128MB of storage, it appears from the initial look that this player can compete.  Portable MP3 players have been around for years, and they started out with horrible construction and design with small amounts of internal memory, if any at all.  As the market has matured and grown, the types of MP3 players have segmented to fit different types of consumer preferences.  There are CD MP3 players, MP3 players that use hard drives to store music and data, and the last group: the traditional type of MP3 players that use internal memory for storage.  The iRock fits into this last group, with a small form factor, 128 MB of internal memory for storage, and a SmartMedia expansion slot to add up to an additional 128 MB of memory.

Features

The iRock 530 doesn’t offer any special features that would make it stand out from the other MP3 players.  It does have a fairly small form factor, 2.5 inches by 2.8 inches, but it needs to be small in order to compete.  Virtually all portable MP3 players that are made today have a similar size, some are significantly smaller.  There is a LCD display, but it’s not backlit, nor does the iRock 530 support ID3 tags.  Songs show up as track number with the time played next to it.  The size of the text is large enough to read while holding the iRock, but due to the lack of a backlit display you will not be able to read it in low light conditions.  There are 4 equalizer modes: Normal, Rock, Classic and Jazz, along with a Bass Boost and the typical repeat/random functions (Repeat Single, Repeat All and Random.)  There is also an A à B repeat, which can be used for learning languages and you just want to have a particular length of a track continuously repeated.  Setting the EQ, Random or Repeat functions is easily done by pushing the mode button, which displays a two letter acronym in the display for each high level setting.  For example, hit mode once shows EQ, hit mode again shows BS for Bass Boost.  Just push in the jog dial to select that function.  For a function that multiple settings, like the EQ, you can push up on the jog dial to cycle through each setting.  A good quality of the iRock 530 is the batter life; up to 8 hours of battery life with a single AAA battery they claim.  If you have Bass Boost on, then that will significantly cut down the battery life, but we averaged a battery life of 7 hours with Bass Boost off, about 6 hours with it on.  The audio quality is good, but not spectacular and a little too much highs at high volume ranges, especially through the cheaply made ear bud headphones.  You also will not be able to tell much of a difference with the different EQ settings, but the bass boost definitely makes a difference and provides a nice deep rumble to the bass lines.  Playback, Stop, Next, Previous, Fast Forward and Reverse are all controlled by the multi-functional jog dial that is located on the right side.  Volume is controlled by two separate buttons below the jog.  There is a hold slide button on the top and the Mode button and USB port on the left side.  On the back of the iRock 530, there is a slide button used to eject the SmartMedia card you can insert into the expansion slot.  On the back bottom is the cover for the battery.

The design of the body won’t win any awards.  It’s a basic square that fits in your hand, but does not conform to well to your palm.  The top and bottom are not as thick as the middle, and all the external casing and buttons are made from what feels like cheap plastic.  The USB cover is made of rubber but attachment for it to the side of the iRock is poor.  This can cause some difficulties plugging in the USB cable into the USB port due to the stiffness of the rubber and the fact that the cover does not have a hinge.  Most other devices, like digital cameras, when you pull out the rubber cover it will flap down allowing easy insertion of the cable into the port.  The moving buttons and battery cover also feel cheap and easy to break.

The iRock only came with documentation on the CD except for the quick start pamphlet.  The product CD contains the iRock Software, User Manual & Documentation, and some sample MP3s from eMusic.

There is a 90 Day limited warranty in the event of defect or workmanship but it’s up to First International Media’s, the manufacturer, discretion on whether it’s a valid claim.

Testing and use

The audio manager software used by iRock, which is really RioPort Audio Manager, is absolutely horrible.  It crashed three times just trying to import local MP3s into the applications database.  I never was able to import all my clips via the “Search Hard Disks for Tracks” feature since it crashed every time.  The UI is clunky and unfriendly to use.  I had problems with the software dynamically updating the space available on the iRock 530 when I had queued up to many songs.  I manually removed tracks from the queue so that I could transfer the clips and I had to remove 30MG worth of clips below the available limit before I could transfer.  Restarting the software allowed me to re-add those 30MG worth of clips to the queue and the transfer them.  You also can’t just queue up a playlist, even though the whole list will not fit, and transfer the clips that will fit.  You must manually unselect clips from the list which is time consuming.  When importing clips from my local hard drive, the software imported clips from my operating system and from other applications, like Word.  This caused 3 times more clips to be imported then I had MP3s.  You also can’t manually import a hard drive or nested folders in one action.  This made it difficult for me to import my MP3 clips, since the “Search Hard Disks for Tracks” feature crashed every time I used it and I couldn’t just select my MP3 folder to import manually since all my MP3s are broken up into Artist/Album folders.  The updates for the software on the RioPort website matched the version I had, and had last been updated over a year ago (03/22/2002.) Since the iRock only uses USB 1.0, the transfer of clips is pretty slow.  The transfer of 25 clips whose average size was 3.8 MB took 8 minutes, with an average of 19.2 seconds transfer time per song.  This is definitely a “set it and walk away” function.

Conclusion

The iRock 530 would be a great product 2 years ago, but the technology of MP3 players today has grown beyond what the iRock 530 offers.  Use of USB 1.0, cheap feeling plastic in the housing and buttons, non-backlit display, and no support for ID3 Tags along with a price of $125 on the http://www.myirock.com site are negatives that outweigh the few positives.

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