Audio quality is even better. Once again, the supplied earbuds are virtually useless, though employing the bass boost preset in the MS equalizer will help a little, but with a set of wallet-friendly iGrados or Etymotic HF-5s the sound is punchy, rich and detailed. The Archos 3 has a few processing options, including a 3D sound option which widens the soundstage, though at the expense of mid-range depth, and a range of over-egged EQ presets. However, this is one of those players where you’re better off sticking with the flat ‘Normal’ setting or twitching the manual EQ settings to your taste.
I’ve heard more clarity and sparkle from some Sony, Samsung and Cowon players, but the Archos did a great job with music ranging from The Dead Weather’s Horehound to Bill Evans’ Portrait in Jazz and Royskopp’s Junior, performing especially well with upfront, rocky material like Muse’s The Resistance or Pearl Jam’s Backspacer.
FLAC rips of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir and Talk Talk frontman Mark Hollis’ single, self-titled album prove that the player can wring fine detail from uncompressed tracks, with an incredibly intimate, in the studio feel to the latter. As ever, though, I’m a little cynical about the benefits of FLAC on a small, limited capacity device. Is a negligible difference in audible quality really worth it?
Finally, we come to battery life. Archos states 14 hours of audio and four of video, which isn’t great by today’s standards, and in actual use roughly ninety minutes of video and seven hours of audio was enough to drain the cells. This isn’t bad enough to be a deal-breaker, but it might affect the purchase decisions of anyone wanting to use a PMP for cross-Atlantic flights or long-distance train travel.
So what to make of the Archos 3 overall? Well, on the one hand it’s a player that looks, feels and performs better than you might expect given the price point, particularly if you want to watch video. Yet, on the other hand, it would be wrong to ignore the failings of the UI, the unresponsive touchscreen and the issues with H.264 files and iPlayer downloads. Sheer value for money could make it worth ignoring these if you want a cheap and effective video/audio player for your daily commute, but – much as I like the Archos 3 Vision – these things hold it back from a warmer recommendation.
A near miss for Archos. The 3 Vision offers a compelling combination of style, features and A/V performance for comparatively little money, but usability issues hold it back.