There's better news for music playback - once, that is, you jettison the absolutely wretched bundled buds and plug in something with tolerable levels of clarity and bass response. With a pair of decent in-ear ‘phones or headphones the sound isn't particularly warm, but it is clear, punchy and really very detailed, with a tight, well-defined low end and a lot of resolution at the top end. With a pair of Grado Sr60is plugged in tracks from Rilo Kiley's superb Under the Blacklight came through with great sounding vocals, lovely musical basslines and clean, chiming guitars. There's something really likeable and balanced about the output. Wading Through, from Terence Blanchard's A Tale of God's Will, also sounded brilliant, with crisp, sparkling piano, gorgeous sweeping strings and sweet, articulate acoustic bass notes. Accusations, from The Juan Maclean's The Future Will Come, provided evidence that more synthetic, electronic music isn't a problem either, and the only weak point I can find is that rock and hard rock tracks, like Mastodon's Divinations or Pearl Jam's Deep, don't sound quite as rich and beefy as they do on other players. All the same, the Zen MX is a strong performer for the cash.
That might just be enough to make up for the player's deficiencies in other areas. Audio file format support is almost as unimpressive as video file format support, with no facilities to handle OGG Vorbis or FLAC files - a real disappointment on such an expandable little player. Battery life is good for audio playback, at over 30 hours, but poor for video, at just five. Overall, the Zen MX's fine sound quality and respectable cash/capacity ratio is good enough to keep it in the game against the Samsung and Sony competition, but only just, and it's a shame that some corners have been cut to hit the aggressive price point. It's a credit to the Zen that, nearly two years on and in a cut-down form, it's still a contender for your hard-earned dosh, but I'd take a good look at the YP-Q1 or the NWZ-E436F before pushing my money its way.
The cut-price Zen is let down by a few cut corners, but the design hasn't dated badly and capacity and sound quality are both very reasonable for the money.