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Brennan JB7 Digital Jukebox
Until the iPod came along and turned 'ripping' from something that applied to fishermen's yarns to something you did with a CD, digital music was the premise of the computer enthusiast. Obviously a lot has changed since the first Apple portable players were brought out in 2001, but still, it seems, the impact of Apple's player has yet to make a serious impact on the world of 'proper' hi-fi.
Obviously, there are plenty of iPod hi-fi systems on the market, and some are very good. Check out Riyad's review of the B&W Zeppelin, which coupled great design with wonderful sound quality. I was also impressed with Fatman's iTube system when I reviewed it at the end of last year - a valve amplifier with an iPod dock attached.
But not everyone owns an iPod, and using one as your main hi-fi isn't a particularly great way to browse music from the sofa - the screen is fine from a metre away, but sit on the sofa and you'll struggle to make out what's going on the 2.5in screen of an iPod Classic.
As an alternative, I think you'd struggle to match the simplicity and elegance of the Brennan JB7. Now I'd always prefer to use an audio streamer to listen to my digital music collection, pumping a digital signal out through a DAC to my amp and speakers, but that adds a layer of complication (and mess) that most people simply can't be bothered with. This device keeps it simple, allowing you to rip CDs directly to its internal hard disk and listen to them from there.
And it's as easy a device to use as the original iPod. Minutes after plugging it in and hooking it up to a pair of speakers I had ripped a couple of CDs and was happily listening away to them. All you do is pop a disc into the slot-loading drive, hit the big round button on the front and a few minutes later the JB7 will have compressed and transferred the tracks directly to the device's hard disk drive. A mighty impressive performance from a component this small.
You get the option to rip CDs in uncompressed state, at 320Kbit/sec, 192Kbit/sec or 128Kbit/sec, and with a built-in music database from CDDB, the device should recognise most CDs' titles artists and track names without recourse to the remote control's keypad. It struggled with a couple of newer discs I stuck in but you can manually name albums, which doesn't take long, and updating the database is a simple matter of downloading the ISO image from FreeDB, burning it to a blank CD-R and sticking it into the device's CD drive.