HTF Review: Rio Cali 256 MB, A Jogger's Perspective

Discussion in 'Music' started by Angelo.M, Apr 17, 2004.

  1. Angelo.M

    Angelo.M Producer

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    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.
     
  2. Michael St. Clair

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    I'd love to see an area at HTF dedicated to Portables/MP3/Compression.
     
  3. Angelo.M

    Angelo.M Producer

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    Absolutely.

    We could discuss portables of all types, ripping/encoding software, encoding formats, digital media servers, etc and so on.

    At the moment, these threads are scattered among Computers, A/V Sources and Music.
     
  4. BrianShort

    BrianShort Supporting Actor

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    I've heard the HD based players weren't recommended for jogging, since they skip or the HD could crash... I guess there really isn't a problem with this, since you run with your mini?

    Brian
     
  5. TheLongshot

    TheLongshot Producer

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    I really like my MPIO FL100. At the time I got it, it was the only player of its type that was compact and expandable. It works really well for most of my athletic activities.

    Jason
     
  6. Angelo.M

    Angelo.M Producer

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    Personally, I've had no problems with the Mini skipping with running. I keep it strapped to my arm, and its small form factor and svelte profile make it very nice for running.

    Many folks report skipping after the memory buffer is exhausted, which requires a quick stop and reset, and you're back off to the races. I think that's a pretty fair trade-off for all of the other great stuff the Mini brings to the table.

    I've run a few times with a Karma in my hand, but I wouldn't choose it regularly for that purposes.
     
  7. Michael St. Clair

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    Because of the bulk?

    It does appear to buffer differently.

    I don't run, but I can appreciate your concerns.

    The arm should definitely deliver smaller shocks than the hip.
     
  8. Angelo.M

    Angelo.M Producer

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    Michael:

    Yes, the bulk.

    I don't like to hold anything in my hand while running, and I don't like hip/back/fanny packs, so I'm limited to a player attached by armband. I'd guess that the Karma is somewhat bulky for armband attachment, having tried a 15GB iPod connected by armband and being far less happy with that than with the Mini.

    The Mini is light enough to "disappear" on my arm while running.
     
  9. GlennH

    GlennH Cinematographer

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    I'm interested in the iRiver iFP-395T, a 512MB flash player that also includes an FM tuner and voice/FM recording that I would find useful and isn't generally available on hard-disk players. It (actually the 256MB version) got high marks in the current PC Magazine roundup.

    I don't like the fact that you can't transfer MP3 or WMA files from the player to a PC due to "copyright restrictions," but that's not a showstopper. I assume that would not apply to your own FM/voice recordings though. It's also a bit pricey.

    Anybody have any comments or information on the iRiver? I've seen some hints about a new line of players from them in the near future. Any details on that?
     
  10. Angelo.M

    Angelo.M Producer

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  11. Christ Reynolds

    Christ Reynolds Producer

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    angelo, is the ipod mini really small and light enough to jog with when it is strapped to your arm? if so, i'd definitely be interested in getting one. i want to buy some sort of music player for running, but i dont want it to skip, and it has to be light. if i cant run with it, i wont buy it. and thanks for your great review on the rio cali.

    CJ
     
  12. Angelo.M

    Angelo.M Producer

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    Christ:

    I'm glad you enjoyed the review. Thanks.

    Yes, the Mini is definitely small and light enough to run/jog with. There were dozens of runners at the race sporting all sorts of .mp3 players, and the Mini was the player I spotted most commonly (only saw two other folks with Rio player, one a Cali and one a Chiba, I think).

    I won't mislead you, though. I have definitely read reports of the Mini skipping once its memory buffer is used up (about 25-30 minutes, depending upon the size of your compressed files). This requires that you stop, and let the buffer refill. I haven't experienced this but I have very economical arm movement (or lack thereof) while running. And if you held the Mini while running, it might not skip at all.

    There are some other reported problems with the Mini, and you should consider these as well. Overall, however, I love the thing, and wouldn't trade it for any other player I've tried. It is not the ideal player for exercise, perhaps, but I find too many limitations in solid-state players.

    I'll do a full review of the Mini soon.

    For more information, and user experience, surf over to iPodlounge and search in the Mini forum: http://www.ipodlounge.com.
     
  13. Christ Reynolds

    Christ Reynolds Producer

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    thanks for the info. however, are they in short supply? i went on ebay to see what i could score one for, and they are selling way above their $279 msrp. most of them went for $400-$500, one went as high as $580. that is a little too expensive for me now, but $279 doesnt seem too bad. i just hope the supply comes back soon.

    CJ
     
  14. Robert James Clark

    Robert James Clark Second Unit

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    Another vote for a portable area.

    Just got a Creative Zen Xtra 40 gig model and I have 30 GB of music on it already... :b

    Gotta love classical [​IMG]
     
  15. Angelo.M

    Angelo.M Producer

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    Yes.

    At the moment, they seem to be unavaible just about everywhere, including from Apple's on-line store and B&M stores. The Apple Store I called yesterday (looking to get another Mini as a gift) hasn't had a shipment of Minis in over 1 month, and they are hoping to get a shipment within the next 2 weeks.

    I'm #9 on their "blue waiting list." [​IMG]
     
  16. Angelo.M

    Angelo.M Producer

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    Re: iPod Mini availability.

    The Apple Store that I deal with will sell its customers a 15GB iPod at the same price as the iPod Mini if they have been on the waiting list long enough. Apparently, the on-line Apple Store will do the same thing if you've already placed a Mini order and you've been waiting a while.

    Not bad customer service.
     
  17. Angelo.M

    Angelo.M Producer

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  18. Michael St. Clair

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    Argh, no new info on the Karma 2.0. It's getting tough, waiting...
     
  19. Angelo.M

    Angelo.M Producer

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    What have you heard about the 2.0?

    I recall you writing in another thread that it will sport a color screen and 40GB.

    Have you had the chance to listen to a Karma yet? The thing sounds great. Apple hasn't, as far as I know, revealed the SNR for the iPod, but I'd guess the Karma has it beat.
     
  20. Angelo.M

    Angelo.M Producer

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