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Creative Nomad Jukebox Zen 
Review

February 28, 2003



Today we are dealing with a new Creative's Mp3/WMA/WAV Player named Nomad Jukebox Zen which starts a new line of portable players on hard drives. As you know, this is not a new sphere for the company as the Nomad Jukebox3 tested before left quite pleasant impression. But in contrast to the Jukebox3, the today's hero sports a completely new design and smaller size, with the functions and hard drive size being the same.




Product Specifications

  • Size WxHxD: 75.9 x 112.6 x 24.5 mm 
  • Weight: 268g with built-in Li-ion battery 
  • Casing: Anodized Aluminium 
  • Memory: 16MB DRAM (Giving a 7 minute shock buffer for skip free music) 
  • Capacity: 20GB had drive (667 hours of 64 kbps WMA encoding; 333  hours of 128kbps MP3 encoding) 
  • Power: DC in 5V 
  • Battery Life: Up to 12 hours of continuous play 
  • Interface: USB, SB1394(TM)/FireWire®* 
  • Playback Formats: MPEG Audio Layer 3 (MP3), Windows® Media Audio  (WMA) and WAV 
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: up to 98dB 
  • Channel Separation: up to 75dB 
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz - 20kHz 
  • Harmonic Distortion Output: <0.1% 
  • Operating System/Firmware: Reprogrammable 
  • Output: 1 x 3.5mm stereo minijack headphone 
  • LCD Display: 132 x 64 pixel resolution blue LED backlit display 
  • Data Connector: USB 1.1, SB1394(TM)/FireWire®* 
  • EAX®: Smart Volume Management(TM), Environmental Effects, 4-band  Custom Equalizer, Advanced EQ presets, Headphone Spatialization, Time 
  • Scaling: Up to 1.5x faster or 0.5x slower for audio playback

Package contents

  • player; 
  • headphones; 
  • charger; 
  • leather cover for the player; 
  • USB cable; 
  • IEEE 1394 cable; 
  • installation manual. 

Appearance



If you remember, all previous HDD based Nomad Jukeboxes looked like CD players. The present design reminds an expensive cassette player. You'll even want to open a non-existant lid of the cassette-receiver. But it takes no time to get used to it. Being small, the player perfectly sits in my hand. The controls are in the positions where the fingers tend to rest. The buttons are placed asymmetrically on the player's sides for the sake of the design. It won't take much time to get used to their positions and to how they are pressed (it's not easy).

On the left are the adapter connector, power button, volume control and Now Playing button.




On the right, you will find the play/pause button, menu button, scroller, reset button, and forward/reverse button.

There is no stop button. Well, you don't need it because you can replace it with a combination of the pause button and then forward/reserve button at the same time. :)




On the top of the device you have USB, SB1394 (IEEE1394) connectors and a headphone jack. The latter supports a wired remote which has some additional features (like recording or ratio) but it is not yet available.
 





The display option provides for two letter sizes. The first one is like on the Jukebox3's display - there are 5 text lines in all. The other has smaller letters but 6 lines. The display's backlight color is blue.




You can handle the device and navigate through the tree-like menu, which is identical to the Jukebox3. The various options (including EAX effects) are described in the Jukebox3 Review.

The player is pleasantly bundled with a leather case. This case can be attached to the belt or backpack strap, attracting passers-by with the word "Creative". :) The case is attached like many others of mobile phones.




The headphones supplied are identical to those of the Jukebox 3. In spite of the original trendy design they don't sound adequately. I suggest that you buy something better.




Batteries

The player gets power from the built-in Li-Ion rechargeable battery. It takes about 4 hours to charge it up. The playback time, according to the specs and our measurements, comes to 12 hours. They player worked 12 hours non-stop at the highest volume level with the supplied headphones connected.

File support

The Jukebox Zen was tested with the firmware version 1.11.04p. For new versions check at http://www.nomadworld.com/.

The player supports almost all needed formats:

  • mp3 - from 8 to 380 Kbit/s at the sampling frequency of 44 kHz; 
  • WMA - from 64 to 160 Kbit/s V8, protected (V9 is not yet supported); 
  • WAV - 16/44, 16/48 (24/96 unsupported). 

When a track is played, you can see its genre, artist, title, album and time on the display. 

Software bundle

Interactive user guide





PlayCenter3





File manager





Sound

Sadly, the player has a limited volume reserve. The scale is divided into 25 points, and at 18 - 20 the signal gets noticeable distortions irrespective of a format - wav or mp3. It's not because of the headphones as the Sennheiser's HD600 solution has it the same. However, this unpleasant downside is not as bad as that in home conditions. 

If the volume level is not very high the sound quality is good. The quality of the headphones supplied won't affect low-bitrate MP3 and WMA files, but you'd better use something more suitable for high-quality records without compression. 

Data rate

With the test file 104.5 Mb: 

  • IEEE1394: 17 sec - 6.2 MB/s; 
  • USB1.1: 123 sec - 0.85 MB/s. 

RMAA Tests

Tested chain: Creative Zen hp out - ESI Waveterminal line-in
Operating mode: 16-bit, 44 kHz


Test Test Signal Creative Zen WAV Creative Zen MP3
Frequency response (40 Hz - 15 kHz), dB +0.00, -0.00 +0.05, -0.23 +0.18, -0.63
Noise level, dB (A) -97.8 -92.1 -92.1
Dynamic range, dB (A) 95.5 89.6 89.4
THD, % 0.0003 0.0047 0.0048
Intermodulation distortions, % 0.0057 0.014 0.015
Crosstalk, dB -92.0 -87.3 -85.2

General performance : Very good

Conclusion

In general, I've got a good impression of the Nomad Jukebox Zen Player. Thanks to its compact size the player is very easy in use (and the leather case comes in handy). It looks even greater in comparison with the bulky Jukebox3. The IEEE 1394 interface makes possible to speed downloading various compositions. A potentially possible purchase of the remote control adds such features as recording, FM tuner, radio recording. 

On the other hand, the Nomad Jukebox Zen doesn't read wav files 24/96, has inferior sound at a high volume level and is rather pricey at the moment ($350). This stylish gadget is evidently for well-off people. 

Highs

  • original and stylish design; 
  • USB 1.1 and IEEE 1394 interfaces; 
  • actual 12 hour of running from the battery; 
  • large informative display; 
  • handy menu navigation; 
  • EAX effect processor; 
  • recording (via remote control shipping separately); 
  • leather case. 

Lows

  • preamplifier overload at a high volume level (headphones-out); 
  • wav files 24/96 unsupported; 
  • WMA9 unsupported; 
  • overpriced ($350). 

 


Grigory Liadov (grigory@ixbt.com)

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