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RCA Lyra 2

RCA Puts Music on the Go

New MP3 Players Offer Versatile Tunes

by Jim Bray

A new trio of RCA MP3 players offers marvelous convenience for music lovers on the move.

The Lyra2 is the "sequel" to the nifty Lyra I reviewed last year. The new version is smaller, lighter and holds more data than the original. It's cheaper, too: $149 versus $220.

Billed as a "personal digital player," the model RD2211 Lyra2 is about half the size of a cigarette pack and weighs only 3.2 ounces without the batteries or the 64 megabyte memory card it comes with. The compact flash memory card lets you store up to about 64 minutes of tunes, depending on the sound quality you opt for: the better the sound quality, the more storage space required. You can add time by "dumbing down" the sound; this may be bad news for audiophiles, but if you're going on a long trip and merely want background music it can be more than acceptable.

The Lyra2 comes with a separate compact flash card reader that connects to your computer via a USB port. You also get a wired remote control, headphones that sit very strangely on your head (making it feel as if they're going to fall off), a car DC power adapter, and the appropriate computer software that lets the Lyra2 interface with your PC or Macintosh.

Oh - the batteries are included as well!

The new Lyra is ready to play RCA's new, supposedly higher end MP3 format called MP3pro and, as if that isn't enough flexibility, there's also an FM radio tuner built in - and it works pretty well as long as you can get clean reception from your local stations.

RCA throws in two types of software to organize your music and get it from your music collection (or the Internet) and into the Lyra2: Real Jukebox and Music Match. I preferred the Real Jukebox because I'd used it before and it seemed simpler and more straightforward.

Getting music into the MP3 player requires you to set up a playlist of tunes on your hard drive, dump them into the compact flash card via the little USB drive, then take the card and insert it into the Lyra. It's easier than it sounds and once you've done it you're off to the races - or wherever you're off to.

Using the Lyra2 is straightforward. Three buttons on the front control the power, play/pause, and forward/reverse. One side has volume up/down, stop/off and lock controls, while the other has buttons for the LCD screen's backlight, a "Mode" switch (offering features like repeat, shuffle play, normal or program) and a DSP control that lets you tailor the music to FLAT, BASS BOOST, ROCK, POP, JAZZ, or EQ (equalizer) settings, depending on how much you value your long term hearing.

In all, it's a pretty neat package.

But if the Lyra2 is too big for you, try RCA's $120 RD1000 K@zoo (Gesunheidt!), which looks like but is smaller than one of those little tape measures you can get at Home Depot. It has 32 megabytes of memory built in; no memory card is included, though you can get an optional expansion unit.

K@zoo connects directly to your computer via a USB cable (included). It also comes with batteries, the same type of headphones you get with the Lyra2, the Music Match/Real Jukebox CD-ROM and a carrying strap.

This one's so small I'm sure I'd lose it at the first opportunity, which leads me to think the strap may be more of a leash than anything.

My favorite, though it's also the biggest of the three, was the RP2410 MP3 CD player. This $119 unit is a conventional portable CD player, except it also plays home made CD's and CD's recorded with MP3 files.

The drawback is that you or a friend will need a CD burner, but that isn't a big deal.

The player also supports multiple MP3 compression rates and has a buffer that picks the music up where it left off if you drive over a speed bump.

You also get an AC Adapter, headphones, and the music management Software.

This was my favorite because, unlike the others, it lets me play my existing CD library without having to convert it to MP3's.

Lazy? Perhaps. But I prefer to think of it as a need for more flexible solutions…

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by TechnoFILE Syndicate Inc. Copyright Jim Bray.


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Updated May 13, 2006