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back to article Philips GoGear Spark MP3 player

We've not looked at any of Philips' GoGear media players before, so the arrival of the new Spark seemed like a good opportunity a poke one with Reg Hardware's metaphorical sharp stick. Philips GoGear Spark Philips' GoGear Spark: nice and smooth The basic design of the Spark is a little reminiscent of iRiver's Lplayer, with …

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Hmm, no AAC

Yet another music player that doesn't support AAC. If I've got an iTunes library full of CDs ripped to AAC and/or DRM-free songs from the iTunes store, there's no point me looking at this. Do these companies not even want to try to tempt potential buyers away from Apple's products? OK, I suppose I could convert the tracks to MP3 but I really shouldn't have to.

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It'll crash

It's Philips consumer equipment. It'll be buggy and crash randomly. Avoid.

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Alert

Simulated pictures

It would be nice if you made the effort to take pictures of what the screen actually looks like - not use stock shots with those ludicrous simulated pictures which can't possibly look like that on a display of that resolution.

By the way, conversion to MP3 will introduce another encoding cycle and hence quality loss.

Personally I'm much happier with Ogg/Vorbis - an open standard coder as supported by the Sansa Fuze.

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Jobs Horns

Weight

Seriously, did you guys actually review this DAP? If you have it can't you just measure the weight yourself? What kind of budgets do you guys have?

@Chris, ever heard of FLAC? Just do like I do, rip in lossless, then re-encode to whatever format you need. You can even use a batch converter, or are you that lazy???

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Accu is the strongest pro

I've the 4GB model and I can second that the accu is the strongest point, together with the absence of really annoying detailbugs in the firmware. (IOW the product is actually finished) Not only how long it can play on a charged accu, but also that it doesn't seem to unload when turned off. (I didn't use it for 6 weeks, and it came up still fully charged).

The battery lifetime thing is more important since when on holiday I don't bring laptops (being glad to actually be free of it), so charging via USB is difficult and you can't simply pop into a shop to pick an extra pack of batteries.

The updating thing I also noticed. Mine is only about half full yet, (1.6GB) and it is still bearable.

I have a radio model and it works fine, but only FM.

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devil is in the details

Does it allow you to browse folders, or does it insist on using tags? And if you can view by folder, will it play tracks in the correct order? Gapless playback?

It is these litte details that urge me (and surely others?) to get a discrete cheap mp3 player instead of using the one on my phone. My phone's music player does stupid stuff such as willfully ignoring the numbers at the front of a filename and playing them alphabetically, e.g: [08 brain damage] > [02 breathe] instead of the correct way around.

Any illumination appreciated, ta!

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Unhappy

Only 75%??

"....one of the best small, cheap MP3 players on the market."

And only 75%? Baffling.

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Anonymous Coward

@AC: FLAC

Since when could you buy music from iTunes in FLAC format?

But like you, when I rip CDs I do so to FLAC, then oggenc converts them directly and maintains the tags.

Flac is also supported by the Sansa Fuze by the way.

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I just want the radio

I already have an MP3 player, I may get this just for the FM radio. Does it have presets and/or RDS?

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Go

this'n'that

@Alex Willmer - not sure Alex, our test unit didn't have the FM tuner. I'd suspect that yes it has pre-sets but no, probably not RDS (but I could be wrong on both counts..)

@ AC1 - we had ours for a week and it never crashed once. What more can we say?

@ AC2 - taking pics of the working screen of a DAP ain't all that easy, and anyway, the pics in the write up are very representative of the what you see when you look at the thing. If they weren't we wouldn't have used them!

@ Dave - yes you can view folders - via the Folder view. No gapless playback though.

@ AC3 - sorry, my other half was using the fine scales to baggy up some crack at the time of writing.

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Anonymous Coward

@Dave - tags

I know it's nice to use a traditional directory structure but tags are a much better idea. For instance, you can play music by genre depending on the mood/circumstance, the title you read is not encumbered by track number or extension, and you can find music by the same artist on different albums. There are many great free tagging utilities which, in conjunction with cd databases on the web, make using them mostly a breeze. The trouble with MP3 files (as opposed to FLAC or Ogg/Vorbis) is that there are so many different tagging systems that you have to experiment to see which your player supports.

I can almost guarantee it won't have gapless playback - that requires more grunt than most players possess.

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Boffin

"gapless playback - that requires more grunt than most players possess"

Isn't that one of those popular recurring mp3 myths? A good encoder stores the exact length of the track, to extremely high precision, and all the player has to do is honour that. There are some devils in the detail that mean there may theoretically be a slight glitch (mp3 being a non-linear format) but there needn't be an audible gap. There is perhaps a confusion as to what is expected of gapless playback at its simplest level; its main purpose is for "continuous mix" source material, where gaps are plain wrong - and the CD data frames will be 100% full, so no issues there either. Cross-fading etc is over and above that, and does indeed take a bit more grunt.

The reason most players don't support it at that simplest level is 99% laziness.

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Anonymous Coward

@David Gosnell - Gapless Playback

There's a very good explanation of it here:

http://forums.sandisk.com/sansa/board/message?board.id=sansafuse&view=by_date_ascending&message.id=18951#M18951

There is a lot that the player has to do before audio comes out of it at the beginning of a file, but more fundamentally, the files are composed of fixed-length packets so the last one is likely to contain some silence. Unless the file indicates where the audio actually ends, you have to play this silence or attempt to guess its extent. Ogg Vorbis and FLAC contain metadata to indicate exactly where the audio ends, as do MP3s encoded with LAME, but standard MP3s do not.

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compared to that other maker's stuff...

Quite a few drawbacks on this unit... but I totally welcome that Philips has the decency not to assume I'd want to buy a new set of phones just so I can use it. Thank you, Philips. Good thinking. Now give it proper gapless and AAC support.

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Re: Gapless Playback

Good explanation, and good summary - thanks. Being an exclusively LAME devotee, I am used to (nay complacent about) this superior facility. Shame most players don't use it if they can.

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No Bass and Treble?

Silly me, and I thought those letters on the EQ meant Bass, Lows, Mids, Highs and Treble...

Looks like a good cheap PMP, I might get one for the missus. Thanks for the review.

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Re: No Bass and Treble?

Yes, the letters are as identified. However, a traditional bass/treble control on audio equipment does not work in the same way as a graphic equaliser such as on this player.

A non-parametric graphic equaliser such as this has fixed frequency bands, and you can adjust the level of sounds within those bands. It's dead easy to add to an mp3 player because the data is already divided into frequency bands, so on playback the player just accentuates some of them as appropriate before reconstructing the sound.

In contrast, a traditional bass/treble control operates at a fixed boost level, but with the frequency bands affected able to be adjusted. When you "turn up the bass", you extend the frequency band towards the mid-ranges, so a wider range of low frequencies are boosted by that fixed amount. Similarly for the treble, from the high frequencies downwards. Computationally, this is a bit harder work for an mp3 player, and probably no better than a decent graphic equaliser anyway, so is not so common a feature.

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Anonymous Coward

OK, but costs twice as much as 2 GB Sansa Clip

> The ... GoGear Spark... will set you back around £39. That's about the same price as the 2GB Sansa Clip, which has a far less appealing screen and a much lower battery life.

Uhm, no. I'm this very minute tempted by the Sansa Clip for a little less than £18 incl. p&p on dvd.co.uk. So while I agree that the GoGear Spark sounds nicer, it also appears to cost more than twice as much.

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