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At least sound quality is up to iRiver's usual high standards. I hooked up my reference headphones - a pair of Grado SR325is - and kicked off some listening tests with a blast of Metallica's Sad But True and found the E100 capable of a clean, yet powerful sound similar to that achieved by Creative's Zen. It's immediately clear it's a cut above the Meizu MiniPlayer SL.
The bassline isn't quite as juicy and warm as it is with Apple's accomplished nano, but there's a little more sense of detail, space and airiness to the music. And when you switch to something more acoustic, such as Newton Faulkner's Handbuilt By Robots, that quality is emphasised: the twanging strings of Faulkner's acoustic guitar have realistic metallic bite and clarity that isn't quite there on the nano.
Classical music is handled equally well. I piped one of my favourite test tracks through it - a portion of Mozart's Requiem - and it handled all the complex nuances of the choral arrangements with a light touch and ease that really impressed. As with other premium pocket MP3 players, it isn't entirely perfect: as I've mentioned, the bass isn't as full and warm as some might prefer and as such it can't compete with the superlative sound quality of the Sony NWZ-A829, but it's right up there with the likes of Creative's Zen, Apple's nano and is noticeably superior to the Sandisk Sansa View.
But, all-in-all, the E100 is not a player I'd be happy recommending. Apart from its good quality audio output, decent range of features and Flac support, there's very little about this player that makes it stand out from the competition. And it has its share of foibles and annoyances too. The price tag of £100 is reasonable and much cheaper than the 8GB Sony NWZ-A829, but again it's nothing special. Unless Flac playback is absolutely critical, the 16GB Creative Zen which is now available for the same money, is by far the better deal.
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