Admins: please relocate this thread to another area of HTF if you see fit. Any interest in a new area for digital audio hardware/software? Rio Cali 256 MB .mp3 Player This is my post-5K review of the Rio Cali 256 MB, a portable digital music player designed with the active sort in mind. Prior to using the Cali this morning in a race, my only experience with a portable player used while running is with the iPod Mini, which I now own and like very much. For grins, I purchased a Cali this week to see if it would usurp the Mini, which, although more than acceptable for active use, still has some glitches in that regard. Out of the Box Like many other .mp3 players, the Cali is packaged securely enough in plastic to survive a parachute jump behind enemy lines. Scissors are mandatory. The back of the package lists all the key features: 256 MB of memory plus SD/MMC expansion slot USB 1.1 connectivity (not 2.0) 18-hours continuous playback from one AAA battery 5-band EQ Inside are the following: the player, in Army green; a plastic carrying shell with a metal clip on the back; "Sport Clip Earphones"; one AAA battery; one USB cable; Rio software install disc; iTunes software install disc (Mac version); Quick Start Guide; warranty card. The price of the package was $179 in a B&M retailer. Installation I didn't use the include USB cable; the cable from my Canon A80 digital camera is identical. I went ahead and plugged this right into the player after installing the battery and before popping in the install disc (I have no clue if this is the recommended order of doing things). Windows XP recognized new hardware and asked for a driver. I cancelled out of that, and simply ran the install program from the disc, and the drivers installed without a problem. After booting up Rio Music Manager and moving through some install screens, a driver update automatically downloaded from the 'Net. Software The device does not appear as a generic drive; drivers and Rio Music Manager are required to transfer music to the device. This is actually a reasonably nice program. Running it the first time, it will locate your Music folder (or you can locate it yourself) and import your entire collection. The software interface resembles an XP folder, and is quite intuitive. Songs are organized by Albums, Artists, Genres, Songs, Playlists. There is a Search function also. When the Cali is connected via USB, it will appear as a drive in the left-hand side of the Music Manager window. You can simply drag-and-drop tracks from the right-hand window onto the Rio icon on the left; simple. I got no further with the software because I didn't need to. The unit also comes with iTunes for Mac. I have no idea if this means the unit will play AAC files; I suspect it will not (it will play .mp3, .wma and it claims to be compatible with realOne, whatever that means). I do run iTunes for Windows, but didn't try to use it to transfer to the Cali. All of my files are encoded as VBR .mp3 (-alt preset standard setting in CDex/Lame), and the Rio handled them without any difficulty. Operation Using Music Manager, I transferred several tracks: Led Zep's "Rock and Roll", Springsteen's "Mary's Place" and "The Rising", Counting Crow's "Murder of One", White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army", Chemical Brothers' "Block Rockin' Beats", Beatles' "Get Back", Donald Fagen's "New Frontier", Ryan Adams' "New York, New York", Radiohead's "Idioteque", Robbie Robertson's "Testimony", U2's "Walk On" and the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again." The average bit rate of the files was probably ~200-250 kbps and I used about 50% of the player's capacity. More than enough for a 5K or 10K. I used the included earphones. Sonically, they are nothing special, but they fit well, over the back of the ear (I ran the wire behind my head and through my left shirt sleeve). Using the EQ, I was able to overcome some of the phones' deficiencies. There is a 5-band EQ, with several presets as well as a Custom setting that you can save in memory. Playback is very simple, accomplished via a 5-way red toggle button. You move it in the compass directions for Play/Pause, Stop, Forward, Reverse, and you press it in to make selections on the Menu. The Menu is reached via an adjacent switch. There is also a play lock and an on/off switch. There is a "+" and "-" switch for volume control. Outputs include the USB port and the headphone port. The player fits very snuggly into the soft rubberized plastic holder, and the armband slips with only a bit of difficulty through the holder's metal clip. The unit and strap felt comfortable during operation; I never had the sense of the strap loosening or the player being in danger of slipping out; I can't imagine how it would. The player performed as advertised, which is to say that it plays back your tunes at a reasonable volume with reasonable fidelity. Tunes are played in the order they were imported, unless you select random playback from the menu. I did not explore the playlist option. Again, playlists seem to be creatable in software, not in hardware unlike some players. The sound quality is reasonably good. I imagine it will only be better with higher-quality earphones. I couldn't find the SNR for the player in the documentation, but I'd say the fidelity is a notch below the iPod Mini and two or three notches below the Rio Karma. However, it is more than acceptable for active use. Fit and Finish The player feels cheap to me. It is plastic and rubber, with a small LCD display. I wouldn't have a lot of confidence in its durability, and wouldn't purchase one without an extended service plan. It is extremely light, even with the battery in place, and I quickly forgot it was strapped to my arm while running. The headphones fit well, but are sonically deficient as noted above. The armband and carrying case are more than adequate, and it's nice to see them included in a player aimed act active individuals. Parting Shots The Cali does precisely what is asked. It carries a reasonable amount of music for use during activities such as running or hitting the gym. It has very good sonics and the software is intuitive and a pleasure to use. It does strike me as being somewhat basic for near 200 bones, and the construction is a bit suspect. For the price of this player and an expansion card, you are in iPod Mini territory and, even though the Mini may not be the ideal player for running/jogging, I have found it more than acceptable. I won't be keeping the Cali, but I would recommend it to folks who have a specific need for a decent player to be used during exercise and who are aware of its limitations. By the way, the race went OK. I was lucky enough to beat last year's time by about a minute, and crossed the finish line to the beats of the Chemical Brothers.