The Genica MPTrip MP3 CD Player

It plays CDs. It plays MP3 files. It plays CDs filled with MP3 files. It's the size of a Sony Discman and sells for as little as $99. And as of May 2000, it's been available in the United States.

Enter the Genica MPTrip Portable MP3 Disc Player, which is perhaps the most important innovation in MP3 playback since the advent of the MP3 format itself - a device which does not depend on expensive flash memory cards or a hard drive to store MP3 files. Instead, you can fill up any blank, recordable CD with standard MP3 files, pop it in the MPTrip, and play, fast forward, or move backward through tracks just as you would with any standard music CD. Except now the CDs you make can contain as many as 512 tracks, compared with an average of 12 tracks on a standard music CD - though to preserve stereo, music CD-quality audio, you'll probably max out at around 150 separate songs on a single MP3 CD.

Genica's product definitely has its advantages and disadvantages, but the former far outweigh the latter. On the bright side, my MPTrip worked right out of the box, instantly recognizing all of the 130 songs on a cheap CompUSA CD-R I had burned just for test purposes. It has a clear but simple LCD display for track number and duration (but not name) information. Critically, the MPTrip has run without problems since I purchased it, has a 50-second anti-skip feature which virtually insures against jarring, and allows me to use one of five combined bass and treble level presets. The headphones are inexpensive but completely reasonable, the power supply works well, and the MPTrip can automatically power-up rechargeable batteries if I wanted to use them. It also boasts 500 seconds of recording capability if a microphone is plugged in, a feature which I personally found no use for.

On the flip side, the MPTrip has an unmistakable but not overwhelming feeling of having been made inexpensively. The buttons and dials aren't as pleasant to the touch or eye as what you'd find on an average portable CD player, and none of the markings on the MPTrip (plus its packaging and manual) has been implemented professionally. Two different buttons on the MPTrip, for example, say "Play;" one says "Play/Pause," the other says "Play/Mode." And though I almost never have to read product manuals, MPTrip's manual is so threadbare and poorly written as to make highly difficult a fundamental feature of the unit - finding a way to skip easily through 150 separate music tracks without pressing the "Next" button, say, 75 times, to get to a favorite song. The unit can do it, but you need to use three different buttons and really screw around. A better manual would have helped - something that was not a major priority for a device that bears no manufacturer's markings or indications of country of origin, even on its packaging.

Making up for any of the problems is the price. The MPTrip retails for between $99 to $115 online, which for a first-generation MP3-CD product frankly makes me highly willing to tolerate rough edges. The important features are all there: the quality of the output is impressive, it plays even cheap recordable CDs full of MP3s right out of the box, and it's fully portable. Several other companies promised to have similar devices on the market before Genica, but they failed - this is the only portable MP3 CD player on the market as of this writing. Especially considering the price, the Genica MPTrip the single best MP3 product released to date, eliminating all of the memory limitations of Creative Labs' and Diamond Multimedia's predecessor MP3 devices. And surely next year's version - say nothing of its competitors - will be even better.

-- Jeremy Horwitz