Sapphire Ivory Digital Audio Player

You can pick up an iPod Shuffle 512Mb for £50, although that has no screen of course, which is why Sapphire, who are better known for their PC graphics cards, has to bring something special to the table with its entry into an already very crowded marketplace.

The fact that the Ivory features a voice recording function via a built-in microphone might be it. But then you realise that Dabs sells its own DabsValue 512Mb MP3 player with both screen and voice recording at just £29.

It doesn't look good. It is not that the Ivory does anything particularly badly, it's just that it does nothing spectacularly well enough to justify spending more than twice as much as that Dabs unit.

It's small, 65x50x19mm, and light, 52g, and it looks like a bar of soap. This wouldn't be so bad were it not for the fact that it feels like one as well. Just what sort of plastic is this thing made from? The surface is slightly slippery, like soap, which isn't the greatest quality for an MP3 player seeing as they tend not to like crashing down onto hard surfaces like the pavement.

Having said that, we dropped it onto the pavement from as far up as a couple of metres and it bounced back to life, literally. The construction is excellent and very durable. The look is better than the feel, although the design suffers a little when it comes to functionality.

There are too many buttons, and they are scattered all over the thing. The thumb-operated scroll wheel falls nicely into place and works well, but the use of a single button for both menu and equaliser (pressing opposite ends for either function) isn't quite so practical in practise.

The same holds true for the folder-based navigation interface which fails to make the most of the otherwise excellent 25mm square, 8 line, blue backlit LCD screen.

Sound quality is what you'd expect at this end of the market: adequate but not excellent. This isn't as bad as it seems, many budget players have truly budget sound and the Ivory raises itself above these proudly.

You can read up on the frequency and SN rates at www.saphhiretech.com if you must, we are happy to just say that it's loud and won't distort Coldplay at volumes that don't make your ears bleed.

Battery life is good, although we couldn't get anywhere near 35 hours out of it, our best attempt at playing audio over and over again lasted for 19 hours which, it has to be noted, isn't half bad.

Considering the battery can charge, via USB, in just 2.5 hours this is probably the thing that makes the Ivory stand out from the crowd the most.

Certainly the standard MP3, WMA and ASF music format support, nor even the fact that it can be used as a USB storage device, separate it from the masses anymore.

Apparently you can "create, mix and play karaoke songs with the Voka Pro Editor" although why you'd want to do this on a MP3 player we really can't start to imagine. Nor, we must add, can we imagine why you'd want to read a book using the e-book function unless your eyesight is considerably better than ours.

Verdict

We have mixed feelings about the Ivory. It's small, light and durable while delivering the audio goods as capably as most other players in this price range. But with the iPod Shuffle undercutting it by £15 and the similar specced DabsValue one by £35, it's simply impossible to recommend.


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