Product: iHP-120 Hard-Drive Recorder
Thanks to: www.advancedmp3players.co.uk
Cost: approx - 370 €
Reviewer: Geoff Husband - TNT France
Reviewed: June, 2004
A few months ago I did a preliminary report on what was then the new iRiver iHP-120. It was a rush job because I wanted to get out the first hi-fi review of the thing, and also because I thought at the time that it was probably the most significant component release of the year. I also promised an update in a couple of months time...
Doesn't time fly!
So having being hassled by many emails as to when I'd complete the job I thought I'd better put fingers to keyboard and get on with it...
So what has happened? Well first I bought one... No reviewers "trade" discount, no special offer, I actually had to cough up the full price. Amazon, aware of the huge price differential between the USA and Europe dropped their price to around 380e. Trouble was they were selling airware. Six weeks later nothing had arrived, I don't know whether this is a normal tactic of Amazon - i.e. advertise something at a discount price that they expect the product to fall to, then sit on the orders until said item is available at that price - but I for one was very unimpressed. Meantime the only retailer with any interest in supplying a second review item turned out to be www.advancedmp3players.co.uk. They provided a machine and information when they said they would. And in the end I bought the review sample (at full price...).
Now armed with my own machine I had more time and freedom. I also had more correspondence on the subject than any other review I've done and much of it was advice and help on various points I'd raised in the original review. So now for some updates for that review.
1 - The battery is now mysteriously replaceable :-) I won't be so vain as to suppose the mighty iRiver were swayed by my review, but I hope the power of the people made them reverse this ludicrous position...
2 - As predicted there is now a 40 gig version, the iHP-140 (original eh?).
3 - As mentioned the price has now fallen to more reasonable level in Europe
4 - Various recommendations for software for burning CD's came in, the best news being that Roxio CD creator which a lot of PC's come bundled with will rip CD's to .wav, however as various emails confirm the track ordering issue still causes problems.
5 - the 120 won't play protected WMA files - i.e. if you legally download and buy songs from one of the commercial providers such as MusicMatch the iRiver won't play them. Children of all ages read this august organ so I can't say what I really think about this, but it looks like the lunacy of format wars now continues into 'protection' wars - and the music industry is upset because music sales have fallen for the first time since recording began...
5 - Last but not least, the thing is tough. 3 weeks cycling on lumpy tarmac, much of the time bouncing around in a front bag didn't bother it at all.
So on to further experiments.
The pathetically short time available to me for the last review of the iHP-120 meant that some of its capabilities remained unexplored. Most important was its ability to record and encode in .wav (i.e. CD quality), not only from a line in, but also a digital 'in'.
In my stock of obsolete gear I have an old Onkyo R1 CD player. Built like a tank and with such delights as a motorised Alps pot and a hefty all metal CDM it cost me 80e in a second hand stall... The relevance of this is that it has an optical digital out - exactly what I needed for the iRiver. Slipping in a CD of Ted Saratoga's 'Rebel Souls' and pressing a couple of buttons to record direct to .wav was simplicity itself. No worries about levels, much easier than using the "tape recorder bodge" from the last review.
The result? Now the signal was taken from a decent CD drive rather than the computer, and yes, the result was very gratifying. Whereas before the .wav files sounded rounded and slugged compared to the CD played on the Audiomeca Mephisto. Now playing the recording using the line-out direct to the AudioNote M3 pre-amp the difference between the iRiver and the CD player narrowed considerably. This thing actually imaged! This is something that many dedicated CD players struggle with, but that little player pulled the trick. As a recording tool the iRiver was in Nakamichi Dragon territory or more significantly in Sony Walkman D6 Pro 'land'. As a source it managed to sit comfortably in a high-end system. No, it wasn't as good as the Mephisto, there was still a lack of spatial information, a lack of atmosphere, but not all CD's have these either. Bass was still a little soft and detail levels lower, but this is in comparison with one of the best CD players on the market, and once again the recording chain of CD player, optical-out, cable and optical-in has losses of its own. As it stands I'd be happy with a 400e CD player that performed as well. But I still think the iRiver could show an improvement given an even better source. The one addition to its armoury would be to make the digital 'in' an electrical connection, surely not too difficult using the standard mini-jack?
What can't I test?
With that nice .wav file sitting on it's hard disc, the iRiver can play them as a digital stream straight into a DAC - I still haven't got one with an optical input... And perhaps most importantly, delay in getting a second review sample meant that I missed the opportunity to take the recorder to a recording studio and see what the recorder could do direct - I have no doubt it'll be special, but I just don't know how special. So - in a few months I will have these aspects sorted and an iRiver iHP-120 test part III will be forthcoming:-)
The iRiver is a near perfect piece of modern equipment - which just makes the software problems (i.e. there isn't any) and incompatibility with protected .wma all the more baffling. But... need music on the move - buy one. Need to record your LP's, for listening or transfer to CD - buy one. Want to record live music - buy one. Need a 'juke box' type source for continuous music - buy one. In car player? Buy one. You get the idea...
© Copyright 2004 Geoff Husband - www.tnt-audio.com