Proline DM1945MP3 portable CD/MP3 player review

If this looks familiar it's because of heavy TV promotion by its seller, Comet. Its £30 RRP is standard, not just for seasonal sales. When we saw the advertisement, an effective MP3 player for the price of three chart CDs we doubted it was true, so we bought one. The DM1945 is actually a sell-up product from Comet, because Proline makes the CD Player alone for £12. The minimal packaging shows the mains adaptor, which will turn the unit into its own battery charger for two rechargeables.

The second surprise after the price is the fact that the supplied in-ear headphones are quite reasonable rather than the rubbish you'd expect. They are above-average quality, although can be improved upon by Sennheiser's MX500 in ear set costing £20. We used Galaxy Headphones costing £10 from Argos with an in-line volume control, which use the neckband system originated by Sony, and a selection of music from originals, to CDs burnt with radio broadcasts and MP3s to test. When listening at home we also used Hi-Tex BHP-11. These cheaper headsets were still better than the supplied in-ear models, but using £30 cans from Beyerdynamic and Audio-Technica would be the best trade-off for better quality without driving the batteries too hard.

Volume defaults to 21 when playing a new CD and can be increased to a maximum of 32. When the music has been produced in the last eight years on CD, the peak volume is too loud and we defaulted to 30. For MP3s, the music is loud enough at an encoding rate of 160kbps but the traffic was still audible when walking. For 128k encoding, preset modes according to Rock, Pop, Classical and other settings can add the bass that lower-bitrate MP3s sometimes lack. That's as long as the extra bass switch doesn't swamp the music. It's also useful that controls need a double tap so carrying the player in your pocket won't accidentally switch it off. If you want to be sure, there's the customary Hold button.

The unit boasts 40-second antishock, but fails to make clear that it takes four seconds short of that for the memory buffer to reach maximum protection. During that time it's quite easy for the unit to skip, and you have to physically hold the player and wait for the buffer to fill. 100 seconds antishock for MP3 Playback is much more impressive and practically executed, leading to a lot less skipping on test.

Taking the unadulterated “normal” source without adding bass, we employed two Marantz Hi-Fi Separates, the purely analogue CD46 and CD67OSE with digital out for MD recording, listening only through their headphone sockets with the same headphones, and the same music, to provide a pure and more refined but bassy reference.

The performance results are posted in our forums in an unedited format at the following address: http://www.pocket-lint.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?p=580#580 . This allows us to pick out the highlights when testing the player against Hi Fi separates in an attempt to gauge whether a £30 portable can compete with equipment costing five times as much.

The only time the DM1945 gave us a disappointing performance was with the Guitar heavy electronic piece Ralome by Plaid. It was slightly sibilant at the start, the bass was too forward and aggressive, unsubtle for the chilled-out strings. The problem abated at lower volumes and depending on surroundings may be less of an issue but that was the sole lowlight. However the rest of the time, this £30 player had less bass all round but as much clout as a Hi-Fi separate powerful enough to supply bass without amplification through its headphone socket.

With the Fight Club electronic dance film soundtrack, the portable caused another upset and sounded better than both separates, as it did with parts of the orchestral Entrapment score. Again it was a balance though, as the unit's volume needed reducing on later parts of Entrapment to make the horns sound as good as other instruments and the Fight Club drum tracks' top end wasn't always rimshot-sharp.

Towards the end of testing when we returned to dance music once more, we found that BT's Mercury and Solcace and the Future Shock remix of Moby's Porcelain were the only two pieces of music to be improved by changing the EQ presets from Normal. For Moby, the sibilance surrounding the filtered Bassline was removed. Extra bass was all BT needed and it didn't swamp the song. MP3 playback from a skip management point of view was excellent as the buffer was consistently emptied and refilled and the laser was making such miniscule movements that the unit skipped a lot less than for CD Testing. It has none of the folder management features of smaller and sexier MP3 units, but as an added extra it makes the player all the more attractive.

Sound quality wasn't in doubt, but the playback of CDs at a ninety-degree angle or even upside down which will merely cost you battery power on a Sony G-Protected Discman, will make music skip on the Proline, and rather than always recovering automatically, sometimes you have to pause and unpause where the unit stopped to save battery power. The DM1945 MP3's happiest at the bottom of a bag, but still flat, especially when carried in a rucksack.

Verdict

In short, take the £20 to £30 you are saving on the unit and spend that on better headphones and also the highest rated battery charger and AA cells you can afford, like the 2300 MaH variety touted for digital cameras- you'll need them if you ever want more than five to eight hours out of the unit at a time. The only real competition comes from Sony who were promoting their entry level model at the same cost- but without MP3 playback. If you can't be bothered with MP3 get the Sony, but it's hard to resist here, knowing that better headphones will bring you great quality at a rock-bottom price.

It's up to you whether you bother with the £12 warranty extension offered by Comet. We didn't intend to drop the unit six times during testing (once onto the pavement from 4ft), but it still works. From that we conclude that the DM1945MP3's as strongly constructed as any other value portable CD player. We assume no responsibility for destruction should you buy the unit and wilfully drop the unit! As the price makes it disposable it's a good thing the unit's so well built. For once plasticky looks have a silver lining. At this price it's worth a try and makes a great gift with the right supporting extras.