(Cnet.com) Have we finally found an iPod killer? CNET reviews iRiver’s 20GB iHP-120 MP3 player, declaring it a “true threat to the iPod.” The iHP-120 is almost exactly the same size as the iPod — the length and width are identical — but it is a miniscule two-hundredths of an inch thicker than the 40GB iPod.

The good: Analog and digital optical inputs/outputs; 20GB hard drive; line-in and voice recording; in-line remote with LCD; long battery life; FM tuner; high-resolution display.

The bad: Display text is small; slow scrolling; slight learning curve; limited Mac compatibility.

By Eliot Van Buskirk, October 14, 2003

The iHP-120’s design is a tour de force, if only because the player squeezes so much into such a small (2.4 inches by 0.75 inches by 4.1 inches; 5.6 ounces) package. Its understated black-and-silver case is scratch resistant, and the overall construction is durable, typical of iRiver’s recent releases. The blue-backlit, high-resolution (160×128, 16-bit grayscale) LCD shows off icons and graphical sliders well, but some users might find that the small font causes a bit of eyestrain.

All the durable buttons have contextual functions, so it’s worth perusing the manual. We found the multidirectional joystick control on the front easy enough to use for navigating the deep menu structure, but compared to the iPod’s scrollwheel, it makes going through long lists of songs a tedious chore.We’re happy to see that iRiver included the first in-line remote control for an HD-based player to incorporate a display (also backlit in blue). It doesn’t show artist names, but we appreciate being able to access all functions when the player is stowed in a bag or clipped to the hip. The included carrying case has a firm belt strap for the latter option, and its padding offers protection against impact. Every control and most of the ports are accessible while the device is in its case, which also permits a full view of the display. Hold sliders disable the controls on the device, the remote, or both, to prevent accidental operation.

For higher-fidelity mono voice recordings, iRiver includes an external lavalier microphone with a clip; if you want to record live music, pick up a powered stereo mike to use with the line-in jack instead. Many third-party headphones are unusable with the step-down iHP-100, so this time around, iRiver wisely bundled a four-inch headphone extender that renders them compatible. An AC power adapter, a USB 1.1/2.0 cord, and an installation disc round out the package.

 

The versatile iRiver iHP-120 (20GB) is the first hard drive-based MP3 player we’ve seen that brings advanced features into a casing only a hair larger than the iPod’s. It has just about every input and output that the power user could ask for, excellent battery life, a fully functioning in-line remote with an LCD, and excellent playback/recording quality. This combination doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re in need of all these features, the iRiver’s $400 retail price is money well spent. (Currently, the device offers only limited Mac support; iRiver is pledging to expand the device’s Mac capabilities “soon.”)

The iHP-120 plays MP3, WMA, ASF, WAV, and OGG music files, and it shows up as a removable drive in Windows and OS X. Windows Explorer handles all file transfers via USB 1.1/2.0. After loading new music, you can right-click the Database file in the player’s root directory to start a scanning process that harvests song information for use in browsing by artist, album, genre, or song title. If you fail to do this, you’ll be able to browse only by directory. Since the software is currently Windows-only, browsing by artist, album, and genre is disabled when songs are loaded from a Mac, but iRiver is pledging to release the needed software later this autumn.The player supports standard Winamp-style M3U playlists, which you create on the PC. Unlike the latest iPods, the iHP doesn’t support on-the-fly playlists.

Holding down a single button activates the FM mode. Since FM frequencies differ by region, the player can be set to receive stations in the United States, Europe, Korea, or Japan. The tuner seeks out available stations, 20 of which you can save as presets.

The iHP-120 has a full suite of recording features. The device accepts both analog and digital optical line-level inputs (for recording from stereos or other devices) for audio recording, and it has both internal and external mikes for voice recording. All inputs can be recorded to WAV or MP3 at the standard bit rates. There’s no volume-level meter, and gain can be set for only the external mike, but you can monitor recordings as they happen in order to set the appropriate level at the source.

The playback outlook is equally rosy, with outputs for digital optical and analog line-out–great for connecting the device to any type of sound system. The company includes a full selection of shuffle, repeat, and equalization features. We configured custom settings, then toggled through them (as well as the presets) from the playback screen. The DSP settings were the best we’ve seen to date. In addition to five EQ presets and custom bass/treble controls, you also get SRS settings for spatialization effects and TruBass, both of which can be configured with extreme precision.

The features list runs too long for us to include everything, but the highlights are: a sleep timer; balance; a hard drive-activity indicator light; automatic gain control for voice recordings from the internal mike; the time; the ability to read any text file on the screen; resume on/off; a patch cable for analog input/output connections; and support for an astounding 39 languages.