The TrekStor vibez -- yes, with a lower-case 'v' -- is promoted as a hip audio player with style at the forefront of importance. Its rubber scroll wheel is the most obvious characteristic, along with its unusual 12GB hard drive.
As with all products in this area, the £149 vibez is up against the dominant iPod. But with its strange amount of memory, this model curiously sits right between a solid-state nano and a larger video iPod. Is there really a gap here that needs bridging?
This is an MP3 player with a very different feel to it. It's got a chunky great rubber scroll wheel that's even larger than the LCD display. It's a very lightweight wheel too, and feels as though it could be turned with a strong gust of wind. A useless orange light will annoy obsessive-compulsives, who'll want to make sure it's always lined up with the 'menu' icon.
Overall, it's an unusually pleasant device to hold, however. The metal back has an aesthetically congenial curve and the scroll wheel is easy to spin with either thumb. Those of you with sensitive skin and short fingernails may find the rubber a little uncomfortable to the touch. Most of the controls are on the scroll wheel itself, much like the iPod's Click Wheel.
The screen is fairly small at 38mm (1.5 inches) and with a resolution of 176x132 pixels, it's not particularly sharp, but it's bright enough to work with. We did notice its vulnerability to scratches and scuffs as well. But remember, the vibez doesn't support video, so you won't be spending an ice age looking at it. Album art is utilised as a background to the whole screen. Not ideal, but at least it's there.
As an audio player, the vibez impresses. It supports standard formats such as MP3 and WMA, but it also supports OGG, FLAC and WAV. FLAC is a lossless audio codec that preserves CD-quality audio exactly. With a 12GB hard disk inside, the vibez will hold a fair few albums in their original state. WMA-DRM 9 and 10 is supported, so any songs you've bought from services such as Napster should work fine. The vibez also gives true gapless playback, meaning there's be no gaps between tracks on a live album.
Playlists can awkwardly be created on the fly, after a lengthy consultation of the instruction manual. Detailed info about individual files, such as format and bit rate, are accessible through the 'Now Playing' option. There's also a boat-load of playback options. If you switch off the player, playback of a song can resume from where it stopped. Songs can be cross-faded into each other and even have their pitches bent, should you have some perverse desire to make Meat Loaf sound like Gwen Stefani.
If your library's ID3 tags are completed, you're able to browse music by artist, album, song, year of release, genre or composer. Automatic DJ playlists, such as 'Entertain Me!', 'Memory Lane' and 'Forgotten Gems', are created based on certain parameters, such as songs not played within the last day or week.
A built-in voice recorder handles your dictation needs, with three quality settings. The lowest setting is fine for voice, but the higher-quality setting records in stereo and will suck music from the 3.5mm line-in socket too.
An optional FM radio receiver can be purchased separately and is inserted into the player like a SIM card in a mobile phone. We didn't have one available for our tests.
The vibez' sound quality is well above average. We pumped some pounding dance from the likes of Pendulum and some melodic classics from Mark Knopfler, not to mention some thrashings of riotous progressive metal from Dream Theater. The vibez excelled with each performance, giving no frequency too much or too little attention.
Only the truly hardened sceptic or nay-sayer would put this player down for its abilities with audio reproduction. MP3, WMA, OGG, WAV and FLAC music files all sound great, though FLAC -- the lossless flavour of the bunch -- sounds better still.
Even the supplied headphones are excellent. Okay, they're no competitor to a model costing £50 or more, but for bundled headphones they're truly high performing, and they should be -- they're made by Sennheiser, the German audio specialists. It's gestures like this that show the passion behind making this the best-sounding player you can get for the money.
Battery life is rated at 20 hours, though our tests with average usage ran the battery dry in just under 18 hours. Transferring 1GB of music to the player's microdrive took 5 minutes over USB 2.0. The player is compatible with Mac OS X and Linux, as well as Windows. Rejoice!
The TrekStor vibez is an excellent MP3 player. It's a feature-rich device that's built with sound quality in mind. Its unusual design may be off-putting to some -- indeed, we didn't like it when we first held it -- but it's something that can grow on you, and is at least worth trying. The support for lossless audio and open-source codecs, along with great sound quality and plenty of playback options, are a welcome addition to a market stale with players that support only MP3 and WMA formats.
If the rubber wheel is off-putting, perhaps consider an iPod. The Click Wheel works just the same. But if you're after a similar wealth of features, Creative's or Cowon's more recent players are a safe choice for a similar price.
Supplier: Advanced MP3Players.com
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide