I had been considering the purchase of an mp3 player for quite some time, so I wanted the choice I made to be a good one. All in all, I can say that I wasn't disappointed with Thomson's Lyra player. After all, £170 is a lot of money when you're a student, but fortunately I managed to get the price down to £155! The player came with all the usual features you would expect - pause, previous track, next track, as well as skipping forward and backwards during a track. It also came with a good graphic equalizer, with a few presets (such as rock, jazz or bass), which I was pleased with for such a small player. The player is quite small when compared with a CD player or even a cassette player, and even with batteries it is reasonably light. The headphones supplied were a bit of a disappointment, being the over-the-head type, but I had looked in the box before I had bought it, so it didn't put me off. However, they do give better sound quality than in-earphones, which I prefer as they're more discreet. The display on the player is good in comparison to others on the market, about as big as your average mobile phone screen. This gives it the right amount of space to know each of the tracks on the list it displays when it's not playing anything. A clever function is the idea of placing track names on the screen, rather than artist names. I can't imagine you'd find which track you'd want if you put the whole Manic Street Preachers album on there if it displayed artist names first. When a track is played, the artist and track name are placed on seperate lines, useful but not essential. The graphic equalizer is easy to set once you get the hang of it, but I usually stick to the presets provided, which are good, but the lack of bass is sometimes shown by the earphones. The sound quality is unrivalled - you can't say anything against it. The volume control is placed on the side of the player, separate to everyt
hing else, which makes it easy to alter if it is in a pocket or bag. The screen also has a very useful light, which stays on whilst you're pressing buttons, and then turns off when you've finished. The batteries supplied last for around 20 hours, which matches what is said in the blurb on the inside cover. This would make one set of batteries fine for a long train journey (and back) or even a flight. In my experience of listening walking to and from lectures (about 25 mins a day, 5 days a week at the least), they lasted about a month. It also has an option to plug in an external supply from the mains, but if you needed to do that it would kind of defeat the object of it being portable. The memory card supplied is 64MB, which equates to about 18 tracks, or just over an hour at 128kb per second mp3's. The can be compressed to decrease the quality so more tracks can be put on, but one hour is only what you would get from one CD anyway. I was told more memory cards would be available soon, but none have yet appeared. However, mp3's are the future of music, and it will only be a matter of time before more memory cards appear and the price of them drops. I was apprehensive about the process of transferring files from my machine to the player to say the least. The supplied software is Real Jukebox 8, not an astounding choice, but one that in the end, does the job. I deal only with mp3's, but the player can also deal with wma I believe. Once a "playlist" has been created by the Jukebox (which I made my entire collection), it is fairly easy to transfer files from the machine to the player. However, I did encounter a few problems with the Jukebox software, when I had selected all the tracks that would fill the memory card, I clicked on "Transfer", and I got the "illegal operation" message and my carefully-selected song list was down the drain. As this appeared to happen repeatedly, I now
only transfer three songs at a time, which isn't too bad. I had no problems with transferring files that I downloaded from the WWW or ones that I had ripped from CD's myself. The actual transfer is done via the parallel port at the back of your PC, which has an adapter which allows you to plug in the device (which may have been there before) at the same time. It also requires a plug into the keyboard port (and again supplies an adapter top have the keyboard in at the same time), for some bizarre reason. It takes less than 2 minutes to transfer one track from my PC to the player, bearing in mind that I have a fast PC. This is acceptable, but there is a unit available that allows transfer by USB, but I don't think I'll bother as it normally takes 30 minutes to do the entire memory card, which is fine by me. The unit which the Flash memory card is plugged into normally sits at the back of my desk, as there is no reason not to keep it plugged in all the time. The main thing is, once a lot of the setup is done, it will not need to be done again. The instructions were useful enough to allow me to set the whole thing up in less than an hour, without calling on my Computer Science degree knowledge! However, whenever I turn on my PC now, after it has finished loading Windows, there is a rather alarming internal-speaker noise that lets me know the adapter is still connected. Thanks. Overall, the player is as good as you will find for £170, although it can be bought for as little as £140 on the WWW now I believe. The functions of the player are very good, without being excessive or as bulky. If you are looking for a good mp3 player without jumping to the price level of the Creative Labs player, then I would reccomend it. As always to judge whether or not it was a good purchase, I ask myself if I were to go back in time, would I buy it again? Yes, most definetely.
The Thomson Lyra was one of the first MP3 players to go on general sale in Europe. Since then the market for portable digital audio has expanded dramatically, so how does this pioneer measure up against the competition in 2001? "Quite well" is the answer, but this doesn't mean the Lyra is the perfect MP3 player. It just implies that other manufacturers have failed to come up with anything much better so far. The industry is still a young one and there are surely more players to come. And let's get one thing straight: good MP3 players like the Lyra don't come cheap, so think carefully about whether digital audio would meet your needs. If you're happy with your portable cassette or CD player, it's unlikely you'll be able to justify the £200 cost of the Lyra. A fine example of where portable MP3 comes into its own is in a gym, where I never go without my Lyra. CDs and tapes don't perform well when you're bouncing around, and MP3 solves this problem forever. The music never skips or jumps, and placed inside a pocket or tied to jogging pants the Lyra is so light you can forget it's there. Open the Lyra packaging and you'll find the tiny player itself, good quality "over-ear" headphones, a Compact Flash card reader to connect to a PC, one 64Mb memory card, a CD with the Real Jukebox software, and a number of manuals, mostly in foreign languages! Once you find the English version though, you'll discover it's clear and concise. The card-reader is a parallel device connected in-line with your PC printer using the cables supplied. It doesn't appear to upset printing in any way, and the use of the parallel port makes downloading music onto the card quite fast. A USB connection would have been faster still, though. Next you install the reader driver software and Real Jukebox off the CD, and you're ready to go. Real Jukebox is worthy of a review all to it
self, but suffice it to say it's an excellent product. Use this to play CDs on your PC, and record them in MP3 or RealAudio format on your hard drive. (The Lyra can handle either format, and there's not much to choose between them). You can select the level of compression at which your files are recorded up to a maximum of 128 kb/s. I tend to use 96 kb/s, at which you will store about 90 minutes of music onto the flash card. 64 kb/s is an acceptable option if you need to get a double CD onto the player. Even at this compression, a copied CD sounds a lot better than a tape cassette. Copying a CD with RealJukebox takes just a few minutes since write speeds are typically 5x or 6x. Then just select all the files you want on the flash card to move them across to the card reader, and the transfer takes just a couple of minutes. Easy! The Lyra itself is simple to use. The flash card presses into a slot at the side, but take care to insert it the right way round by lining up the arrows. The card is ejected by means of a slider that gently forces the card from the slot. Power is provided by two AA batteries, and will play many hours of music. You can get away with using NiCAD rechargeables but they will only last around 90 minutes so make sure you're carrying a spare set. The battery cover does not detach completely from the compartment, so you'll not drop the loose cover onto the gym floor while you're rifling through your sportsbag for batteries. It would have been nice to see a charger/mains adapter included in the price rather than as an optional add-on. MP3 players have often been criticised for rather lightweight construction, and the Lyra does indeed seem to have a "tinny" feel to it. But over a year's use I have found it actually quite robust. Since the player has no moving parts there is little inside that would warrant protection by a more substantial casing. There is a removable belt clip on the back which holds
the Lyra securely in position. The headphones supplied don't really fit the bill. If you are exercising you'll probably want to substitute them with very lightweight "in-ear" phones, which are more secure. For serious listening sat at home, good quality hi-fi headphones really do justice to the Lyra playing files recorded at 128kb/s compression. The Lyra front panel consists of a small backlit LCD which shows the track playing, volume level etc. Dainty little silver buttons give you all the controls of a basic CD player. These are quite easy to manipulate but won't get knocked accidentally. Volume control is via a rotating knob at the side of the player, which also doubles as a selector switch in some modes. Playing music is simplicity itself, and there are some pre-programmed tone settings you can toggle through to change the sound. It's also possible to set up a basic graphic equaliser to shape your own sound. Tracks can be programmed to play randomly, to a set program, or repeat, much as in a CD player. The software controlling this is not too intuitive, however, and it takes a while to master the art of programming the Lyra. The player's inability to store any settings in a permanent memory is its most frustrating limitation. When the battery goes dead, or you remove the flash card, the volume returns to the default level, and you'll lose the settings on the graphic equaliser. So while it might take ten seconds to replace the batteries, it takes much longer to return the player to the settings you were using previously. The volume level is only displayed when the level is adjusted, which is also rather tiresome. It's possible to navigate easily from track to track using the skip facility, but if you want to reach the middle of a track you'll need to shuttle-search from the beginning, which can take ages. It would be better to have a progress bar displayed on screen, which the user
can drag to access any point on the track. This facility is available on the RealJukebox software, but curiously not the player itself. There is a short pause between each track while the file loads. This is hardly noticeable when playing studio albums, but it is a bit strange to hear the audience suddenly cease their applause on live tracks, only to recommence their appreciation of the artist two or three seconds later! A word on sound quality. This will always be a balance between the amount of music you wish to fit onto the player, and the sound quality you find acceptable. No MP3 file will carry quite the same dynamic range as its CD original, but considering these files are compressed by typically 10 times, I consider the sound quality remarkable. Few people can hear much difference between a moderately-compressed MP3 file and a CD track. Consider also that the Lyra is designed to be used on the go: in a gym, on the train etc. These are not environments where it is possible to appreciate the very highest sound quality. So in summary, consider carefully if the very concept of portable MP3 is for you. If you're fed up with a skipping CD or fluttering cassette when on the move, the Lyra might just fit the bill. There are a few annoying design limitations, but these are not limited just to the Lyra. In the imperfect world of portable MP3, the Lyra gets my vote.
Oh how I'd torn my hair out deciding whether to go for a Mini-Disk or an MP3 player. In the end I plumped for a MP3 player. Don't know why but I'm not regretting the decision yet. Seeing as the Creative Labs Jukebox was a bit expensive and heavy, I decided I'd go for a player that was small enough to carry around but had fairly a good memory capacity. Didn't like the sound of that Sony Stick effort so I chose the Thomson Lyra player which I had seen advertised on the net. The Lyra player has a removable memory card called a Compact Flash Card (CFC) that can hold up to 64mb of songs which translates to about 20 songs or just over 1 hour of music. You can buy replacement cards and the hope is that their memory capacity will expand in time. As yet I haven't seen these cards on sale but I was told they would be in the near future. The Lyra's screen is about the same size as a mobile phone screen and boasts a nifty inbuilt light. As such Lyra can only display about 15 characters per line but this is enough to let you know what you're listening to. The player has all the usual features that you would expect to find on a standard CD player including skip, forward, rewind, pause, repeat and adjustments to tone for the genre of music you are listening to. The Lyra player itself is very light and small enough to fit in your pocket. There are earphones supplied but they are a bit on the clunky side. Batteries are also supplied but you need to buy a power source plug if you want the player to work off the mains. I found the playback perfect for jogging with not a skip in sight. There is an external drive supplied which must be attached to the keyboard port for transferring PC files to the CFC. I felt the warnings about connecting the drive to the PC to be very OTT. It was a bit off-putting and at the time I thought that this process should have been easy enough for anybody to do, let alone people with a Mas
ters in IT! In reality the set-up procedure is much simpler than the supplied documentation makes out. The external drive has a slot where the CFC is inserted. Curiously the CFC is placed in the drive with the downside facing up. I can't really understand the logic to this and this all adds to the confusion during those tentative early days. The software supplied includes Real Player 8, which is required to transfer files from your PC to the external drive and ultimately the CFC. I've always been a bit suspicious of Real Player and I'm afraid my fears were borne out. In order to transfer files to the external drive you need to add the tracks to Real Players master library. I had downloaded a couple of tracks from Napster and when I tried to add them to the Real Player library the dreaded error box appeared. The error informed me that another device was sharing the file for audio output. The help suggests closing down all applications that are capable of audio output. This I did but the error message remained. When I ripped tracks from a CD using Real Player there was no such problem. Once the tracks were added to the Real Player library I could easily transfer the files to the Flash Card. My own conspiracy theory is that when it looks like the authenticity of an MP3 file is in doubt Real Player wants nothing to do with it. Microsoft with their WMA format (I'm hoping against hope that this format fails to take off, long live MP3!) look like setting out to do the same thing. Luckily I found out that the MusicMatch software was Lyra compliant once you downloaded a skin from the net. This instantly recognised my downloaded files and were transferable to the CFC. The only problem with MusicMatch was that it doesn't offer a delete function for files you want to remove from the CFC. I needed to use Real Player to do this. It's a bit of a mess really having to flip between the 2 players to get the tracks I need
onto the Lyra player but I'll cope for the moment. Hopefully MusicMatch will add the delete function with their next upgrade and I can drop Real Player altogether. MP3 players are a relatively new medium so I was prepared for a few hitches along the way when I got the Lyra. I have a feeling that the transfer process to the CFC could be off putting for some people. At £199 it is not cheap. This price is likely to drop and I have since seen cheaper prices for the player on the Net. I found the Thomson-Lyra website a little underwhelming, lacking any sort of meaningful tips or information not supplied in the manual. Overall then, just about a thumbs up. The Lyra is probably as good as you'll get in this class of MP3 player at the moment. The wise ones amongst you will probably wait for six months for the next generation of MP3 players!