Buying an MP3 player these days is a task in itself with more choice of storage capacity, file playback, design and manufacturer than ever before. The iPod remains king amongst this deluge of new players in the higher reaches, for the time being anyway as I am sure the Microsoft Zune will make its push this year. But enter the budget 1-4GB market and it’s a different story altogether. There are hundreds of differing products available and the choice at times can be confusing, but there are some real gems to be found including the Samsung YP-K5.
What is initially striking about this MP3 model is the fact you can flip the unit open to expose two small stereo speakers, which allows you and your friends to listen to some tunes without the use of headphones. Sure the market is diluted with speaker add-ons for iPods and the like, but this is the first time an actual MP3 unit has had them built in as part of the design. And it works! Big Time!
Flipping the unit open reveals a silver metal speaker grill with the Samsung logo in full view and the two stereo speakers buried inside. This design works well and build quality is sturdy, however I have found a small problem which may or may not be a design fault. After 6 weeks of use, continually opening and closing the player the metal grill has bent itself in such a way that it now catches the rear of the unit and makes closing the speakers difficult. It looks like it has bent itself out of position and now does not lie completely flat when closed. As I have said this could have been caused by me during the many hundreds of times I have passed the unit around or in daily use, or it could be a design fault, in any case it is a minor issue but one worth mentioning.
Moving around the menu system is nice and easy and opens up a few features which are invaluable. The first one which is a particular favourite of mine, is the alarm. If, like me, you have spent a few nights in hotel rooms around the country, having your own alarm system is brilliant. The K5 allows you to choose a music track or the built in sound to wake you, plus the unit also allows custom snooze options and works from the power off position. Next is the FM tuner which works only when the earphones are connected to the player, as it acts as an aerial (but you can flip the unit open to listen as well.) Using the auto preset will get you all the local & national stations which you can then flick between easily. The K5 also allows for jpeg uploads and you can have photo slideshows on the colour screen while listening to your music, which is a nice touch although the screen is rather small to make any real impact.
Also present are various sound options including a 5 band Graphic EQ system with 5 presets, Normal, Vocal, Bass Boost, 3D sound and Concert Hall. Also present is Samsungs Proprietary Sound Effect “DNSe portable,” which is claimed to work with the supplied headphones to create a more natural and full range sound. Rounding off the features are an analogue clock, screensavers and visual effects while the music is playing. Supplied with the K5 are a set of bass enhanced in-ear headphones, a usb lead and a 3.5mm jack to 2 phono lead to connect to your car headunit or AV amp. Also in the box is Samsungs proprietary software for arranging your MP3 tracks on your PC and uploading to the player. This software works in a similar way to Apple’s iTunes arranging your music files and allowing WMA and MP3 uploads. Again this software, like the actual player, is intuitive to use and will allow even the most computer illiterate amongst us to work it out.
So how does the K5 sound? First I used the supplied in-ear headphones which like many models today has a rubber shield to close around your ear and stop sound leaking, as well as improving the performance of the ‘phones. I must be honest and let you know that I detest these types of headphones as I can never get them to sit comfortably enough to enjoy the sound and experience. However, as this is important to the review, I set out using them and as I feared I hated every minute of the experience, the sound was flat and had no dynamic punch to make me want to try longer than 10 minutes. So, I then switched over to my Sennheiser HD215 cupped headphones which I use to mix the AVPodcast.
The sound from the player was transformed straight away allowing me to hear the complete dynamic range on offer which was impressive stuff indeed. Even with poorly encoded material at lower Mbps than my normal 192mbps, the player handled the material in a manner which didn’t draw on the poor encoding too much. Play an MP3 track around 320kbps and you would be fooled into believing you are listening to a far more expensive unit than the Samsung.
The most impressive part of the Samsung's sound was the bass extension which worked to add weight and authority to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and also allowed the high frequencies to come forward in the mix without being too shrill. Then moving in a completley different direction was Massive Attacks "Unfinished Sympathy" which brings the haunting strings and chilling vocals from Shara Nelson to dominate the soundstage with power, without eclipsing the subtle bass key changes in the lower realms of the song. To say this little player’s sound performance is mammoth in dynamics is an understatement, full marks to Samsung on sound quality, just make sure you have a decent set of ‘phones.
And now on to the K5’s party piece - the flip out speaker unit. Now let me be honest so we don’t get too carried away. The speakers in this unit are small and are rated at 750mW(L)+750mW(R), 8ohm. So as you can see in the specifications this unit is not going to fill a large room with any kind of volume or dynamics, however much to my surprise these speakers are far more than a gimmick.
I have used this unit more with the speakers open than with my headphones connected, which surprised me no end. I have taken the unit to work with me regularly and set it up so I had music playing while doing paperwork or driving around in the car. The reason I used it in the car with the speakers open is that our company vehicles don’t have radio headunits fitted, so the K5 fitted in brilliantly.
The units’ sound quality and loudness was clear and free from distortion and certainly loud enough to hear what was going on. It won’t compete with a properly fitted headunit, but as a stand-in device I found it really useful. Next was in the office and again it was easy to flip the unit open and listen to tracks while completing the paperwork and my colleagues could also listen in to the latest hits from Richard Cheese with me. So no, it won’t fill a room with loud dynamics, but having the speakers built in to the unit is a great idea and Samsung have implemented it in such a way that it certainly can't be called a gimmick.
- Great design
- Easy use and fabulous sound quality
- 30hrs battery life when using headphones.
- Limited storage compared to more expensive models
- Battery life is 6 hours when using the speakers
- No mains charger, USB charging only.
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But what wins it over for me is the sheer sound quality from this unit using a good set of headphones; the sound is rich, dynamic and creates a realistic and wide soundstage. To wrap it all up are the sleek dimensions and a price tag that should make the iPod Nano quiver in its boots.
The Samsung YP-K5 has certainly impressed me a great deal and I heartily recommend that if you are in the market for a budget MP3 player you shouldn't overlook this fantastic little gem! The K5 gets a best buy badge for Mp3 players in the £130 and under price bracket.
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