Written on: 12/01/2006 by evansncl (2 reviews written)
Robust design, easy menu navigation, large screen with back-light, good battery life (10-12hrs), firmware and hard disk upgradable, USB 2.0, great range of sound equalizers. Since deletion - very cheap and perfect for DIY.
Big and heavy.
I bought an XClef HD500 a good few years ago, and as my first MP3 player it was perfect. 20GB hard disk, which, back then was enough for my whole collection. However, as the MP3's mounted up I invested in a 2.5" disk and took my player apart and installed this instead. Now, the player is obsolete, but still available on eBay and some sites that stocked it when in production; and Digital Mind Corporation, the American wing of the XClef distribution offers it with different sizes of disk all the way up to 100GB. A world first when they announced it. It is also sold as a shell without any disk, which is a great alternative to a player when you have old laptop drives hanging around being used for external storage. I'd recommend this player to anyone who isn't bothered about portability above everything else, and it doubles up as a simple drag-and-drop storage device, if and when users upgrade to a new smaller player, as I did with the Sony HD5.
So, the player itself has a reasonably large back-lit LCD screen, and runs on a root directory system like the iRiver H140 and many third-party players. This means you just copy your MP3 directory straight onto its drive, using whatever system you like. I found alphabetical directories with sub-directories for artists to be easiest to navigate. However, it is possible to put groups together in directories based on genre or other reasoning, which gives you the flexibility that is enforced on you by ID3-based players like the iPod. There is no need to update all your MP3's to one uniform standard of ID3 format or file name. Practically this means you can move between computers and update your music collection whenever you like, as well as uploading all other content. Any system running Windows XP or later will do this with no bother.
The sound quality on the player is excellent, with a huge range for bass and treble, as well as its own presets. An FM tuner is included, and this can be recorded directly onto the disk as MP3 in bit rates up to 320kps. Direct recording via either an analogue or digital wire is also possible from any sound source with an output. The input can obviously also be an active mike, which means the XClef is great for voice or studio-based recording from a mixing desk, as long as the sound levels are adjusted correctly on the player. There is also an internal voice recorder with a maximum bit rate of 128kps, but be warned, it is an internal mic with a lot of drive noise when the disk is accessed, which is every five minutes or so.
The firmware is upgradable via an easy process given a little PC knowledge, and recent updates include support for Ogg/Vorbis, though some firmware is better than others, with an annoying bug causing one version to crash when searching through directories. However, pressing the off button for 10 seconds sorts every problem out. There is a thriving online community of users who aim to open source the player as far as possible. This currently includes a program to edit the fonts and graphics of every part of the player's system, as well as start-up and end logo's.
Battery life is reasonable by modern standards, around 10-12hrs, and it uses a lithium-ion battery that is removable (useful for dealing with serious errors on the system) and replaceable. That's really about it for the Xclef, it's a hard disk caddy with audio functions and a good screen. It won't win any awards for prettiness, but it is upgradable and held together by screws (curiosity will win out, I guarantee). Its power supply is the same polarity as the iRiver H140, but it must be powered during any USB transfer as the drive cannot get enough power from USB alone. There is a powered inline remote also available. If you like the features of the HD500 but not the size, there is also a 1.8" drive version, similar in many ways, called the HD800, which is similarly upgradeable and runs on the same menu system plus some extra tweaks.
My player ran without fault until recently, and it has only been partly superseded by a 20GB Sony player, which is more to do with size than features. I am planning on keeping the XClef as storage for my entire collection, and the ability to open it up means it can be used just as a caddy for a range of disk drives.