- MP3 Audio
- Small, lightweight digital audio player--size of a pager
- Supports MP3, WMA, and AAC--upgradable to new formats
- Bundled software makes it easy to organize and play music
- Shuffle/repeat functions, backlit LCD screen
- Fast USB connection
Compaq's Personal Audio Player PA-1 has most of the features one looks for when buying a portable MP3 player--a compact design, backlit display, and 64 MB of expandable memory--but unfortunately comes up short in sound quality. The sturdy little player measures only 2.7 by 2.1 by 0.8 inches and comes with all the software and cables you need to start transferring MP3, WMA, and AAC files right away. It can run for more than 12 hours on a pair of AAA batteries under ideal circumstances and comes with a handy belt clip for listening on the go. The solid-state design uses no moving parts, meaning that it won't skip when jostled and it's less susceptible to breaking if dropped.
The backlit LCD scrolls the track number and title of the song that's currently playing. It also shows the volume level, battery strength, and selected playback mode (regular, shuffle, or repeat). Dedicated volume buttons on the front can also be used to change the bass and treble levels, or you can choose the jazz, rock, or classical presets. We didn't notice much difference between these modes and used either the default or custom settings for most of our songs.
Overall, the sound quality from the player didn't match the crispness displayed by the best players we've tested, and the flat bass response was particularly disappointing. It's hard to notice with the wimpy earbud headphones that come with the iPAQ, but it's immediately apparent when a more capable set of headphones is connected to the device.
The PA-1 comes with 64 MB of memory, but it's split into two 32 MB Multimedia Cards (MMC). This makes managing music far more involved than it would be if 64 MB of contiguous memory was included, because each card must be filled separately. Although the product uses a USB connection to communicate with the PC, transfer rates were a little sluggish. It took more than six minutes to fill one of the 32 MB cards, but reformatting a card to make room for more music took only a few seconds.
Overall, the PA-1 is easy to use, its expandability is nice, and it would be a good choice for those who listen mainly to pop and other types of music that don't rely on deep bass lines. --T. Byrl Baker
- Plays WMA and AAC files in addition to MP3 tracks
- Memory is expandable
- Excellent battery life
- Included headphones have virtually no bass response
- Overall playback quality is somewhat flat relative to the best players in this price range