Though ridicule has befallen the poor clubber who continues to twirl her glow sticks into the 21st century, Ministry of Sound still appears to be doing rather well. The non-commercial roots of rave culture have been heartlessly stomped on by the Ministry with its branded CDs, DVDs, record decks and bags, but it's almost like commercial enterprise does subculture a favour each time it packages and sells the fringe to death. Maybe without clubs like the Ministry we'd still be going to warehouses in the Thames docks to watch a thousand Keith Flints nod along to Faithless. With every t-shirt sold, rave became that little bit less cool, and something else took its place.
Signalling a more mature era for the Ministry, the MOS MP3 FM Stix is pre-stocked with a selection of ten chill-out tracks like Das Glockenspiel, which though threatening to erupt into an all-out high-speed trance nightmare, ultimately decides to keep things on the Richter. For a player that looks and feels cheap, the Stix doesn't sound bad at all. Whether by coincidence or careful planning, it's particularly predisposed to playing dance music, delivering a respectable low-end that will keep any club bunny happy during working hours.
Picture a sausage, cut it in half length ways, then in half again -- this is the approximate shape of the Stix. It's a strange design, but it is at least novel. While two edges are flat, the third is curved. This means it'll never sit neatly on a flat surface, rocking gently instead. Since MP3 players spend most of their time in a pocket, we were pleased to find the Stix fits into almost any. Though the iPod Shuffle of the same capacity is noticibly thinner, the Stix takes a standard AAA battery so you can replace your energy source in exotic locations like the dance-infested beaches of Goa. While iPod owners hunt for a USB port to charge their batteries, you can dart into a newsagent and emerge refreshed. It may not be as environmentally friendly, but you could always use rechargable AAAs and laugh all the way to the Greenpeace tent.
The battery cover on the Stix is suspiciously flimsy and we'd bank on you losing it within the first week. If you can live with a piece of sticky tape over the hatch for the remainder of the player's life, then so be it, but it's disappointing to see that manufacturers are still using these annoyingly thin and unreliable covers. Twenty years of TV remotes with their battery covers missing was clearly not message enough for these guys. We suggest you post your snapped covers back to the vendor.
For an branded player, the Stix is fairly low-key. The MOS logo is a subtle hologram-style affair next to the 30mm LCD. You'd have to look closely at the player to uncover its clubber chic. This is certainly a world away from the branding exercises we've seen on the Xfm DAB radio, for instance. While not overly tasteful, the Stix is at least restrained in its displays of corporate endorsement.
The headphones are futuristically amorphous blobs that snuggle into your ears like comfortable little baked beans. Interestingly, the centre of the driver is obscured by a three-pronged plastic section. This may lend a better fidelity to the sound, explaining the Stix's good bass output, on the other hand it may simply be an aesthetic device to make you think there's something special going on. If we had the heart to dismantle them, we'd let you know.